Just a reminder – please feel free to pass on my blogs to others. I’m happy to know if someone finds it worth sharing.

This blog entry is excerpted from a talk I gave last September 20th at the Sonoma Ashram. I was asked to give the talk, and when I asked what the topic should be, I was told, “How to be a good container.”

“We’re not talking Tupperware here, are we….?”

First, I had to think of what the title meant: Being a Good Container. We all know what a container is – it’s something that holds and stores things. One of its characteristics is that it can be opened to distribute some of its contents, or simply emptied because the stuff in it is old, unwanted or unuseable. If all of the contents are removed, it can be filled up again, maybe with something better. So a container isn’t a static thing; it always has the potential to be filled and emptied, its contents rearranged or changed.

So here we are – all of us containers. Unlike Tupperware, which is not responsible for what we deposit in it, we as containers are responsible for everything we hold on to – beneficial or not. So a key issue is what we choose to contain, and how we use our “contents.” What’s within us and how do we use it? And when do we empty a portion of the container?

Let’s consider a refrigerator, which is, like us, a large container holding many smaller containers. I think almost everyone has had the experience of going into the refrigerator, maybe to clean it out, maybe searching for that small jar of something you know you bought last Thursday, and coming across a container that has been sitting in the fridge for a loooong time. You open the container. Your visual and olfactory senses are assaulted. ECCH! What is this stuff? What did it used to be? And why is it still in here?

And then, right next to it, is a tiny gold foil packet. You open it. It’s chocolate. Not just any chocolate, but the fabulous Belgian chocolate your friend brought back from her trip to Europe. Wow! That’s where that went!

I think this metaphor is an apt one, because there can be a lot in the container we call “I” or “Me” that has been sitting in some corner for a long time, unexamined. A prejudice, an attitude, a feeling, a fear, a grudge, a loss. And it’s not very attractive or useful, but it’s still there, festering. Or, there could be a wonderful experience or helpful thoughts, maybe a talk that we heard, but then just stored away without really using the wisdom imparted. Alongside the moldering, awful stuff, small gems sit in a corner, available, but idle, unused.

Just like the refrigerator metaphor, if you don’t open the door, shine a light, and look at what’s in there, the container we call “me, myself or I” can hold on to all sorts of stuff; it will go unexamined unless we look. After we look at what’s in there, we have to decide what we want to keep, and what we want to discard. We don’t want to be containers for putrefying, possibly poisonous stuff, and we do want to see what’s good and useful in there, maybe move it to the front of our consciousness, where it’s more readily available.

Within us are many thoughts and ideas, perhaps based on knowledge gained through experience or study, or maybe acquired second hand. Some of our ideas, often fixed in our minds, are from conclusions we drew from an experience. These can unconsciously keep us in a pattern of thought which no longer serves us well. The thought, “Well, I’ll never do that again” comes to mind. But, over time, “that” can become a large category, and we find ourselves shut off from new experiences: I’ll never fall in love again; I’ll never trust people; I’ll never leave the country. This can become a long list.

There are also deep-seated, unexamined ideas we were exposed to when we were young, that we accepted without question. These can be prejudices, belief systems, or even ideas about ourselves that we just absorbed without thinking. We need to turn a light on them and see them clearly. These can turn out to be false, but you’re still operating as if they are true, and they have power over you.. (Examples: You can’t do that. You’re so clumsy. You never do anything right. You can’t sing, draw, dance, blah blah blah. Those [pick a minority] people are lazy, cheats, shiftless, dirty…)

Along with thoughts are memories, some good, some not so good. How many bad memories are attached to bad old feelings, regrets, grudges, misunderstandings never cleared up, prejudices we took on as our own, but which we acquired from someone else? And how many of those memories are distorted by our own frame of mind and the conclusions we drew from the experience at the time, which we may now find to be false.

When we examine the negative things closely, we have to think, “Do I want to be a container for these?” “Do I want to be angry with someone, now in his late 60’s and a successful doctor, who was a bit of a jerk in high school?” “Do I want to hate someone who hurt my feelings three years ago? Three weeks ago? Yesterday?” How long do we hold on to this stuff before dumping it out?

When we hold on to hurt feelings from years ago, or even from a few days ago, the good stuff gets crowded out by them. So maybe it’s time to examine the stuff in our container and let go of those things which don’t serve us well. Forgive, release, fill it with light, transform it and send it on its way. Talking to someone who was involved in an incident in which you are stuck in negative emotions can help, and if that’s possible, try it. But work to let it go – it’s taking up too much room..

Some of our feelings may be in the form of fears. If they stay unexamined, they control us. Sometimes just admitting it, or getting to the bottom of the fear, is enough to start an exodus of those contents.

I do want to mention Emotional Freedom Technique, or Tapping. While definitely a weird-looking practice, it can help to alleviate fears, angers from an old incident, even pain. I know this from experience, and I’m just passing the information along in case you want to work yourself at getting rid of stuff that’s taking up room in your life. You can go on line to find out more.

Once we’ve looked at what we don’t want to hold on to, we look at what we want to keep, get more of, and share. We see what we want to attract and refill ourselves with. When the stuff we don’t want any more is out of the way, not blocking the good from getting in, there is lots of room for adding wonderful experiences to the container that is us. For example, when fear of intimacy is gone, we are open and free to find warm relationships, a sense of belonging within a group, and a happier life.

And to do that, look to the heart, and to imagination. “The heart has reasons whereof reason knows nothing.” (Blaise Pascal) Use your imagination to fill yourself with possibilities for a beautiful planet, a wonderful life, good relationships. Begin to devote a tiny part of every day to putting some good thoughts into the container. When you walk somewhere, even if it’s only a block or two, notice the colors, the trees, the feel of your steps as you walk. Remember that everything is made of Divine energy – we all come from stardust.

From time to time, do an “attitude” check. Attitude affects deeply the circumstances we are in. Learn to see the gift, even when it is not the gift thought we wanted. In the book Illusions by Richard Bach, is the comment: Life never gives you a problem without a gift in its hand.” It is our inner disposition that determines how we see the world, and how we see its gifts. So part of being a good container is to be always in touch with our inner disposition, the feeling in our heart. Your mind may say,”That tree is so scraggly.” But your heart might say, “That little tree is a symbol of nature surviving here. I love that tree.”

Life is not arranged for our own personal gratification; we have to do the arranging. Even the mundane, everyday things around us are filled with potential for joy if we choose to see them. I read a phrase once which was, “the irradiation of the daily life.” This phrase is so marvelous. To me it means we must learn to understand the deep significance of the familiar, to understand that we live the laws of the universe every day; our hearts beat to rhythms we cannot hear. Breathe in the joys from customary, daily existence, see the reality behind the veil. Then you live each day in the midst of the extraordinary, and then you are a container for all that is good. And when you open that container, there is so much to share, and there is so much to fill it up again, that you will never be empty.


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A portion of this blog is a reproduction of a letter – with permission from the person to whom it was originally sent. It was sent to him because he had committed a transgression which I will not reveal, but which caused him to be in disgrace with most of his family, and he was sent to prison. He is my friend, but I had lost track of him for several years, and no amount of searching, e-mailing or phoning uncovered where he was until I finally reached someone who gave me his address in prison.

He wrote to me about what had happened, and was very open about his feelings. He said he could never forgive himself for what he did, and from the way he wrote I felt that he was suffering from such self-loathing and condemnation. I began to think about this a lot. After a couple of days, I wrote to him, and, as I wrote, I had the feeling that the words I was spilling on to the page were not entirely from me – they were words that had a higher essence to them, and I simply let them flow.

My friend has since worked hard to forgive himself, and I think in so doing, he has also learned how to view others with a spirit of understanding and forgiveness.

I recently thought about this letter again, which was written over a year ago, and I wrote to ask my friend if I could post it on my blog. He agreed.

One more comment: I refer to God in this letter. I do not see God as an old person on a throne with a beard, or long hair, sitting quietly and meting out judgments, or smiling and loving everyone. The God I refer to is an intelligence, a consciousness so vast that it is incomprehensible to us. The entire universe is the manifestation of this God, this consciousness. Look closely at a pansy, a honeybee, a butterfly. Think of the miracle of a group of cells dividing over and over until they make a decision to become a specific part of a body. And think of a small group of those cells suddenly moving slowly in a rhythm that defines the heart, and begins to send blood pulsing through the veins, and on to the brain. THAT is the manifestation of the consciousness I think of as God. Not religion; not someone who must only be spoken to through intermediaries wearing special clothes or performing ceremonies. The God I refer to is living and breathing every second through every thing on this planet – from stones to stardust; from germs to geraniums; from petals to people.

Okay – looong digression – but now that I’ve made myself clear, here, with permission from my friend, is the letter he received, with some small revision. What I want to make clear is that I received this message as well, and I’m just passing it on. It is about self forgiveness, but you can also think about it with regard to someone whom you know would like your forgiveness, who hasn’t forgiven him/herself.
The most significant relationship right now is your relationship with yourself. You have expressed such deep remorse, an inability and an unwillingness to forgive yourself, and such a sense that you have lost something forever. It is very important that you take a soul view of this; do not continue to believe that if you don’t forgive yourself, that will somehow ease the fact of your transgression. It will not.

Bear in mind, I am not saying you are to be excused. But forgiveness has nothing to do with excusing behavior, or condoning it. It has to do with coming to grips with the fact that we are such flawed beings, who make horrendous misjudgments and missteps. We are frail, and we do not do the right thing all the time, or even much of the time. Yet, if you believe in God – a consciousness so vast that it is incomprehensible unless we open ourselves to it by breaking down the barriers which the personality creates – if you believe in God, then you have to realize the extreme importance of forgiveness.

Forgiveness is vital to the survival of the human race, and it supersedes any self-pity or self-flagellation we may want to engage in, in order to make ourselves feel better. Yes, I said feel better. For if we can continue to berate ourselves about having done something horrendous, then we know we are not the awful person we thought – we have the good sense to be angry with this disgusting human who did such an awful thing – but we are separate from him. Yet if we step back, face who we are, and exercise forgiveness for the wretched mess which is (part of) our personal self, then we have set the stage for redemption. Because even as you are a human being, you are also God, as is everyone and everything around you. We all reflect God in all variations, including yielding to temptation.

I wish I were saying this better. I do not think that not forgiving yourself for the rest of your life is a good or wise thing. And I think forgiving yourself may be the most difficult thing you have ever done. I will say again that forgiving is not about condoning, nor is it excusing. It is acceptance and realization. I believe that you have begun the first part of the process of rebuilding the relationship with yourself – you have looked at, seen the truth. But the truth is not just that you surrendered to temptations, urges, whatever we would call them. The truth is also that you are a decent man who made a dreadful mistake, and it has hurt others, all of which you are looking at and seeing clearly. This willingness to see clearly is the beginning of re-establishing your relationship with your Self.

As a Soul you are whole, good, and full of love. And you must act as a Soul and forgive the stupid personality who risked so much for a moment, and lost so much. You must forgive him as an act of charity for the human race, and for God, so that the energy of this act can be transmuted, rather than held in a hard block of stone for eternity. There are so many who suffer from the same realization of having done something they feel is so dreadful. Forgiveness brings light, and shifts energy, to give all transgressors a chance to do better, to redeem.

Release it – you will do better in the future. You will atone, you will carry the remembrance of it, but to not forgive is as much a sin as any other. Forgiveness says, “God is Love, and I am part of God, and I accept that Love from myself, even as I know I have done something wretched.”

Remember the golden rule, which is the key to all human behavior: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” If you wish to understand how to forgive others, you must understand what it is to forgive yourself.

If it helps any at all, I forgive you – and I, too, am a reflection of God.

Davina –

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Some time ago in one of my blogs I wrote about a guy whose girlfriend breaks up with him.  “He’s filled with despair, is tired, has no energy.  He’s dirty, hasn’t showered in days, his apartment’s a mess, he’s a mess.  His girlfriend calls. ‘I’m so, so sorry. I don’t know what I was thinking. Please, please forgive me. Can I at least come over and talk to you, explain what happened?’ He says she can come over in two hours.

Suddenly he’s full of energy. He cleans the apartment, changes the linens, showers, does a load of laundry, gets dressed and runs downstairs to the small market to get some basics.  He’s bursting with energy.  So the question is – where was all this guy’s energy before his girlfriend called? And how did he get it back?  The answer is, of course, that it was always there. And, he was using it – all of it. He was using all of his energy to feel bad – and doing a great job! It takes a LOT of energy to be miserable. And he got it back when he believed his life had changed back to what he wanted it to be.”

So that was the gist of the blog. I recently re-read it, and thought about what had been going on with me a few weeks ago. I was going in for a medical procedure, one that I had asked for, because I thought something wasn’t working right. As the day approached, and I had to go through three days of prepping for the procedure, special diet, etc., I found I was really not myself. I was a bit listless, and worried, didn’t really want to be around friends.

Then I saw what I was doing to myself, and I decided to take matters back into my own hands, realizing that I had given myself over to the scarethink of the medical community. I meditated, did some EFT (called Tapping in some circles) and also went for a walk. And during that time, which took up much of the afternoon, I had many realizations.

On my walk I came to some conclusions about what had been going on. I don’t think it’s unique to me, just as the situation above with the guy and his lost girlfriend is not unique. Maybe it’s just another another possible way of looking at the issues that plague us .

When we have been active, healthy and social, then become ill or have health concerns, the world changes. We can feel a terrible loss, and we mourn the vibrant person we once were; sometimes we act as if that person is about to disappear.  We fail to realize that much of the energy we had before we began to worry is still in there, and we lose sight of the fact that we can draw on a large pool of energy for help.

In fact, we often use some of our valuable energy to worry; we focus on what might  happen, robbing ourselves of the energy resources at our disposal. The life we expected to have, want to have, starts to get buried under all sorts of emotional considerations. And the mind doesn’t help – it goes on roiling away, reinforcing fears and anxieties.

Activities like tapping, acupressure or other techniques are invaluable in helping us regain the energy and vitality we thought was gone from life. Why? Because all of the accumulated pains and afflictions – physical as well as emotional – embed themselves in our cells, which hold on to the pain. Tapping helps to draw out this embedded pain, just the way a poultice might for a skin infection.  No only are the anxieties and worries alleviated, but the symptoms often abate as well.

What I have experienced, and what I have come to know, is that when you use acupressure points, as one does in tapping, and talk about the issues that are painful, be they physical or emotional, you actually draw out the pain locked within your body, and as that pain releases, it frees up the locked-up energy and vitality you thought was gone forever. The energy you regain may have to be channeled differently, but at least you gain a greater control of your life.

I met my friend Becca, a meditation and yoga teacher for many years, because I wanted to do some tapping with a professional after an illness that left me feeling bereft.  I found out  that she began tapping when she was bed-ridden with two disintegrating discs, was in terrible pain, and did not see much joy happening in her life. She had overworked herself into being almost crippled.

She still has the two disintegrating discs, thought you wouldn’t know it to meet her;  she’s active, teaches yoga and meditation, does retreats, and has a full life with her husband. And Sofia, the cat. (Must never forget the cat.) She changed her life through tapping, diet and yoga, and I believe this is possible for anyone.

We are each the captain of our ship, the god of the galaxy that is our body. And it is up to us to manipulate and maneuver the energy in the best way possible to make sure that we have a healthy, happy life, despite physical disabilities or emotional upsets that are part of everyday living. If it means change of diet, (it frequently does) change of lifestyle in terms of behavior, schedules and activities, (it frequently does) and change of outlook, (it frequently does) it’s worth it. It all depends upon what kind of changes you’re willing to make; what’s the tradeoff worth? For some people the tradeoff is not worth the effort involved. But for those who are willing to find a way to make life better, the results are there to be experienced.

And by the way, all the energy I used to worry about my health, I re-channeled into being proactive about it. As a result, I feel more awake and more alive, I’m dancing again, I’ve gotten rid of a medication that was used to cover up (not cure) a stress-related problem. I no longer need it. (One down, one to go!)

Life is a grand buffet – choose wisely what you take from the table.

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Who Do You Think You Are?

The writing of this blog was motivated by a series of recent realizations, and by the last paragraph in the blog called “Letting Go.”

A caveat, which I have stated before, but which I feel must now be restated: I am not, nor do I profess to be, a fully enlightened being.  I have flashes, moments.  When I write blogs like this one, it is not from an elevated place, but from a place somewhere in the trenches of consciousness work, climbing slowly upward. I write about things like this because maybe my own thinking processes might be of some use to readers, and because I have been through lots of the frustrations and difficulties associated with trying to become more conscious. So I write what I know from experiences, but not from a permanent place where I am fully conscious all of the time. But I’m working on it – all the time!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * Some of you are probably too young to remember Tammy Faye Baker, who was an evangelical singer, the wife of televangelist Jim Baker, who was convicted of defrauding their ministry (among other things). She was known partly for her over-the-top makeup, with eyelashes that had enough mascara on them to cover the entire backfield of the Minnesota Vikings in a fine layer of smudge.

In an interview I heard with Tammy Faye a few years after the scandal, she was asked, now that she had divorced her husband and left the televangelist scene, if she would continue to wear all her makeup, or would she tone it down a bit.  “Oh, no!” she replied, “I am my eyelashes.”

It sounds silly, and a bit extreme, of course, but it does get down to the title of this piece: Who do you think you are?  Or, in other words, what defines you?  What is it that you believe is so integral to your existence that without it, you are not yourself?

I retired from teaching in 2004. Then I was a teaching intern supervisor for 6 more years.  After leaving the public education scene, it took me more than a year to come to grips with the fact that I could no longer define myself as a teacher.

One day I mentioned how I felt to a friend, and she said, “You can’t help being a teacher. Put you within half a football field of a kid reading, or someone needing help understanding, and there you are. ‘Hi!  What’re you reading? Who’s your favorite character? That word? That means pretty.’ and off you go. You can’t help teaching.”  Well, that may be true, but when I stopped working as a teacher, I discovered that, though I may be a natural at it, “teacher” does not define me, any more than “dancer” or “cook” or “actress” does. What I do, how I look, what I own – none of these defines me.

In college,  I spent a lot of time pondering the question, “If I take away all my talents, abilities, interests, then who am I?”  I have found that the answer lies behind many, many layers. You would think the answer to something so basic would be easy.  Who am I?

The fact is, there is an overabundance of energies and forces designed specifically to encourage us not to look at that question, and not to seek the answer.  All sorts of outside influences tell us how we should define ourselves.  Family. Fashion. Culture. Contemporaries. Advertising. Religion. Celebrities. Political parties. The list could go on ad nauseam. But all of these are cultural influences which shape how we see ourselves, how we judge ourselves, and how we see and judge others.

Most advertisements are created with the purpose of getting you to define yourself in terms of a product. Hair, makeup, cigarettes, the “right” clothes, shoes. Even food and drink are part of the equation.  Whatever the brand – from toothpaste to makeup, from detergent to beer to cars, the implication is that if you use their product, you will be sexier, smarter, more elevated, more powerful, more popular than those who don’t use it.  Users are in the upper echelon of smart, hip, cool, knowing, wise, economical, whatever. Little kids identify with their cereal, their toys, their favorite cartoon characters

A very long time ago, when I still taught in Southern California, I watched a PBS program about a plastic surgeon who, I think, was called “Dr. Face.” He was a doctor who did pro bono work on faces of children who had been born with facial deformities of one sort or another. The last was a little boy who had been born with no ears and no jaw bone. I described the program to one of my classes, and talked about the various young people on the program.

“So,” I asked, “if one of these students were to come into this class, would you be willing to sit next to him (her)?”

Of course they all said yes. “Well, then, why is it that when someone comes in here, you immediately check out what kind of tennis shoes they’re wearing? Why do you check out their clothes, before you decide they’re acceptable?”  There was dead silence in the room. We talked then about how young people are conditioned by so many factors that lead to choices based on values that have absolutely nothing to do with who the person is.

Education is not much better. Educational institutions are designed to maintain the status quo within a society. In other words, students are often taught not how to think, but what to think. And if you are under the impression that this is just not so, you would be amazed at how many scientists struggle against the academic community in order to get their (outside the mainstream) ideas published.  I am sure that there are those of you reading this who received a lower grade from a teacher or professor because you did not spit back the opinions you had been exposed to in the class.

But to get back to the original question. Who do YOU think you are? How do you define yourself? Is there something you feel is so integral to your existence that without it, you would not be you?

The subtitle of this blog is “Letting Go – Part 2″ for a reason. And the reason is this: you can let go of any behavior, idea, thinking or feeling process, group or possession that you choose, and you will still be YOU. You can change your profession, stop wearing makeup, wear sandals instead of business shoes, decide not to associate with people whose ideas offend or bore you, and you will still be YOU. If you don’t drive a power car, dress a certain way, live in a certain home that indicates an economic level, you are still you. You can forgive someone, forgive yourself, let go of old angers, resentments and habits, and gain a lot of energy which can be used for being YOU. And – just as important – you can lose a limb or a body part, and still be YOU.

You are the one who runs the show, and therefore YOU can release yourself from whatever holds you  in place, keeps you stuck, keeps you from seeing clearly.

I feel as if I’ve come full circle, from asking when I was 22, “If I take away all the talents, my intelligence, looks, etc., who am I?”   So now I guess I’m answering my own question. I have intelligence, I have talents, I have a good mind, a healthy body, a nice place to live. But I am the being that possesses these gifts, and I can choose to use them to reflect the very best in me. Of course, I could use them to reflect the thoughts, ideas and expectations of others – but that is such a waste.

Are you your emotions? On which day? Are you your thoughts? Which ones? The fact is, I am none of those, and neither are you. These are things that I have in my repertoire of being human, but they are not me. I am the one who sees, who feels my emotions, who has and ponders my thoughts, and experiences events. I can perceive all that happens in my sphere, and change my experience of it in an instant by simply changing my perspective.

Now, I do not think this is easy. It is a long, challenging road to discerning just what ideas, attitudes and beliefs are really yours, and which ones are those society has impressed upon you. But it is also an exhilarating one.  For the record, I am not saying you shouldn’t be a thinking, feeling human being – but it is a mistake to be in bondage to your emotions, or your ideas, and treat them as if they are all you are. You are YOU; the rest is window dressing.

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Energy – Yours, Mine and Ours

We hear about energy all the time. Clean energy, green energy, sustainable energy. Wind power, water power, solar power. What about people power?  What do we do with our energy?  How do we expend our energy during the day?

Here’s a scenario to consider:  A guy’s girlfriend breaks up with him. He’s filled with despair, is tired, has no energy.  He’s dirty, hasn’t showered in days, his apartment’s a mess, he’s a mess.  His girlfriend calls. “I’m so, so sorry. I don’t know what I was thinking. Please, please forgive me. Can I at least come over and talk to you, explain what happened? He says she can come over in two hours. Suddenly he’s full of energy. He cleans the apartment, changes the linens, showers, does a load of laundry, gets dressed and runs downstairs to the small market to get some basics.  He’s bursting with energy.

It’s possible that this, or something similar, has happened to you, So the question is – where was all this guy’s energy before his girlfriend called? And how did he get it back?

The answer is, of course, that it was always there. And, he was using it – all of it. He was using all of his energy to feel bad – and doing a great job! It takes a LOT of energy to be miserable.

When I was still in college, and in love with someone I had been dating for some time, we went on a date that was just strange. He met my aunt, who interrogated him – a scene out of a Woody Allen movie, believe me.  We saw a movie that upset me, and I got emotional. Basically, it was not a fun time. So the next Tuesday – the day he usually called me to make plans for us to go out – he didn’t call. I had felt something was going to happen, but this was really bad. No communication at all. I cried.

The next day I went to my classes, had a great day, and a great week. I spent time with friends on the weekend, and came Tuesday night – no phone call.  I was devastated.  I cried, I was sobbing at one point, curled up in a little ball. Sadness personified. But then I went to classes for the rest of the week, spent time with friends on the weekend, and worked on a paper. Next Tuesday, the same thing happened – no call on Tuesday, tears and sobs.

After a few weeks of this, something strange happened.  I was sitting in my bedroom crying, and I needed to get a tissue. So I went to the bathroom, got a tissue, went to the sink to rinse my face, and looked in the mirror. The reflection of my face, crying, sobbing, made me break into hysterical laughter. It was so very funny. I was putting in so much effort to be miserable every Tuesday! How long would this last?

Not long. I realized that the situation was that my boyfriend had left, and I had a life anyway. So the next day I went to my classes, engaged myself in living happily, and the following Tuesday I went out with friends. I reclaimed my “Tuesday night energy” and reclaimed a portion of myself that my emotions had been controlling.  I didn’t even think about whether or not my boyfriend would call – and he didn’t. It was okay.  I was okay.

So – what I’m trying to say is that in most cases, no matter the tragedy, heartbreak, upset, eventually you will come out of it and feel yourself again. I am not discounting the pain of the death of a loved one, the loss of something deeply significant, or the hurt of being misjudged or found to be unworthy. What I am saying is that it helps to take the time to mourn, or to examine your pain. But then there comes a time when you reclaim the energy you are using to be unhappy, and put it to better use.


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Letting Go

This blog includes a short passage which I wrote several years ago to someone who was struggling with accepting a parent who was apparently uninterested in her daughter, or her grandchild.  The parent did and said some very hurtful things, expressing her complete lack of interest in her child or grandchild. She was not really actively engaged in their lives. I recently read it, and decided that it’s worthy of a blog posting, because I think it applies in a lot of situations.

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When I was a teenager I lived with my sister and her family.  When I decided to move out, I asked my sister, “If I were not your sister, would you still choose me as someone you would want to know?”  In other words, would she like me anyway?  It was an interesting question, because to some degree it took the personal factor out of the relationship, and gave her some space to look at how we related to one another.  (She said yes.)

There comes a point in life where we are forced – if we live long enough – to see our parents (or other relatives) as people.  Not just as people related to us, centered in our universe and significant to us, but as people who stand on their own, regardless of our connection to them.  And then we come to a place where we learn to discriminate as to whether or not the life they live, the philosophy they exhibit in their behavior, is one we admire and respect.  We might even ask ourselves, “If this person were not related to me, would I choose to have a relationship with him/her?

Now, we also have to take into account our own personalities, needs, sensitivities, etc., in order to determine what veils or lenses we are seeing through.  “Daddy’s favorite” may not want to look at how Daddy hurt her siblings by ignoring them in favor of her.  Looking at a parent objectively can help a great deal in seeing one’s relations with one’s siblings more clearly, and would also help in examining the behavior of a parent in a more objective light. A person who grew up with a single working mother may not accept the fact that the “lack of attention” he feels he suffered may have been a necessary outgrowth of the mother’s sacrifice, made in order to put food on the table and a roof over his head. There can be lots of mitigating factors.  So one has to look at the whole person and see them not only through a child’s eyes, but through the eyes of an objective adult observer.

Bottom line is this: If they weren’t your parent, sibling, child, if your family relations were not involved, would you choose to have them in your life?  What values and behaviors do they exhibit which make them someone you would want to continue to know?

All of this being said, I have learned that when looking at difficult relatives, it helps to add a dose of compassion when necessary, and a bit of empathy. If we are to truly understand another’s life and behavior, we must try to look at things from their perspective, and see if we can view them with new, perhaps more merciful eyes. This does not mean that you have to spend all your time with someone you do not respect or admire, or stay completely connected, but it does mean that you can try to look at this person and  achieve some degree of detached understanding.  Then, if you choose, you can let go, not out of anger, resentment or unhappiness, but because you don’t choose to allow someone else’s bad behavior to harm your life, and, by extension, the lives of those around you.

And, by the way, this title also applies to activities that we do, and have done for many years.  There may come a point where it’s enough.  It could be a hobby, a habit of meeting with certain people once a week, or a particular behavior/habit/ability that you exercise that you no longer choose to do.  The key is to let go without any rancor, upset, anger, resentment, or any other negative feeling.  Let go – the way you would let a helium balloon go – floating off, lifting away, free from you, and you free from it.  Release.

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I met a young man several years ago at a meeting where the holisitic physicist, author and philosopher David Peat was speaking.  After the talk, this young man and I spoke about a project he was doing involving raising irises, and using emotional energy as an aid in their growth.  He was actually expanding on experiments which have been done with plants, probing the idea that their growth was enhanced by their emotional surroundings – soft music, being spoken to, etc.

He asked me if I would help him, by focusing my energy across the country (he lived in Vermont, or New Hampshire, if I remember correctly.)  At any rate, we exchanged e-mail addresses, and at first he wrote mostly about the project, but then he started to send me e-mails in which he spoke personally about himself and his feelings of anger and hatred toward people, especially his father.  He sent me pages and pages of a journal filled with angry, hostile thoughts.

After about three of these e-mails, I decided to put a halt to the communication.  I wrote and told him that I could not continue to communicate, because the things he sent me were rather poisonous, and I did not want to have that kind of communication around me.

He wrote back and said that, yes, he had sent a lot of very emotionally volatile stuff.

I wrote and said:

You are right – you sent a lot of negative and rather hate-filled energy to me.  I have been thinking about what you wrote the other day, and I have some comments about it.

First is a story.  And old Indian man tells his little grandson that he has two wolves inside him.  One is hate, and the other is love.  They fight each other constantly for control, until eventually one will die.  The little boy asks, “Who will win?”  The grandfather responds, “The one you feed.”

Because I met you at        I made the assumption that you are aware that we are all energy, and that every particle in the universe affects the rest of the universe.   So every thought, word and deed each human creates and sends out affects the rest of the world.  It is up to us to decide – to make the active decision – as to what we feed ourselves, and what we feed the universe.  I feed flowers love, water, nutrition – they respond.  You obviously believe this can occur – but you are walking around with so much anger that there is no question that the iris will respond to that, no matter what I do at a distance.

When you started telling me about yourself, you sent me a message telling me what you hate.  I indirectly said that hate was pretty strong, and you asked, “Well, love is strong too.  Should I not say love?”  And you received my answer: ‘If I write with love, I can write forever and not harm anyone or anything on the planet.  But if I write with hate, just the words are like poison which can scar and burn.  The same is true of all actions with regard to love and hate.  Everything is energy – it’s what we do with it that makes the difference.

I believe we are all capable of love, appreciation and of seeing beauty everywhere, especially in nature.  But you seem to have made the choice for hate in so many instances.  “What feeds you – what you listen to, what you learn about from a variety of sources, are your choices – but they do not lead to happiness for anyone, especially not yourself.  If you listen to ideas that  fill you with fear, anger and distrust, then you will reflect that diet in your own beliefs.

I cannot do anything about that, but I can do something about what is sent my way.  Your communication to me has reached the point where I have decided that I cannot continue.  I wish you great joy and I hope you decide to continue helping people, to continue loving nature, and to let your hatreds go.  They serve no purpose but to feed all the things that damage this planet, and yourself.  The supposed big people don’t count in the long run – what counts is what each of us chooses to do every day with our energy.”

So that was the letter I sent.  And, having recently come across it in my files, I thought about all the hate-filled messages that are sent out over the air waves – on television, on the radio.  What’s worse is that so much of it is half-truths, insinuation, and anger.  Yet there are people who feed on this kind of thing, and begin to reflect it in various ways, and end up being angry themselves.  I am always amazed that people think that what they are hearing is true.  The fact is, we actually don’t know much at all about most political or social issues, yet many listen to speculation and opinionated rhetoric as if it were gospel.

The sad  thing is that once people are hooked on these angry,  violent messages, they continue to feed on them, and pass them on, and act as carriers of the message.  This is a sad state of affairs.  For young people who may not listen to the news, we have angry rap music for them to get their dose of anger and violent thinking.  Hatred of women, hatred of this race, or that race.

I’m not sure where this all started, or who has a vested interest in seeing people angry and upset and feeling helpless all the time.  But it certainly is a good control mechanism.  Just something to think about.

The next time you watch a television talk show, or hear angry accusations, commentary or the like on the radio, stop, and ask yourself whether you want to carry this message.  Whether it’s a good, honest message, an emotional and intellectual message you yourself would be proud to pass on.  Ask yourself who will benefit if you pass it on.   You might come to the conclusion that you’d rather change the channel.  After all, the emotional content we feed ourselves with does get reflected in our lives.

And, just as an added thought, the next time you hear yourself making negative, unkind comments to yourself, (“God, you are so stupid!”) consider whether it’s something you would “feed” to a friend, or want a friend to feed to you.  Feed yourself kindness and love – it’s a good diet!

As the grandfather in the story at the beginning of my letter said, hate and love  fight each other constantly for control.  The one who survives is the one you feed.  I know what I want my diet to be.

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What Moves Me

I wrote this about six weeks ago.  I decided I would get back to it, rework it, etc.  But I realized when I reread it just now, that I could write about this again, and it would come out as a totally different piece.  So maybe from time to time I’ll write something like this again.  But for now, this is what I wrote on one day….

In my English classes I would read aloud to my students the stories and books that were required reading, while they read along.  I used a variety of voices, and got really into these books; at intervals we would stop and discuss what was happening, and I would try to get them to discern the deeper meaning of the story or play.

Every once in a while (often at the same places in a particular book) I would become so moved by what I was reading that I would get choked up and teary.  The actress part of me would put all I had into the reading, and the listener part would become overwhelmed at what I heard.  This happened even with books or stories I’d read for many years, to many classes.  Every time, year after year.  I would ask a student to take over reading for a page or so.

The same thing happens when I am reading alone – books on philosophy, quantum physics, art, novels.   Just this morning I was re-reading a book I have read several times, and felt my heart swell with an overpowering sense of…what?  I stopped my reading and thought, “What is it that so moves me?”  Because it isn’t just books, or movies, but things I observe, or look back on in my own life.

A student interrupted me once when this happened; he wanted to know what I was feeling as I read a particular passage, and why.  I said, “I’m moved by this because it is Truth.  Not the truth, as in, ‘It’s not a lie,’ but the Truth with a capital ‘T’ – the thing we all strive to know, or understand, or perceive about life.  Those larger truths of the universe move me.”

I am moved by unselfishness demonstrated in rare and sometimes courageous ways; by beauty that would be denigrated by trying to describe it; by kindness to others, especially those who think they do not deserve it; by the plight of those creatures who are completely helpless in the face of man’s greed and unconsciousness – like polar bears.  I am moved by Canada geese migrating in formation; by the wonder of a huge flock of birds flying in an ebb and flow, creating light and dark.  A child’s  wonder and curiosity moves me.   When I teach someone something, and the light bulb goes on, I am moved and overjoyed.  In fact, even as I wrote that, I had a flash of one of many such “light bulb” experiences, and the small swell of joy filled my heart.

So I think what moves me, if I look at it in a larger context, is connecting with moments of deep inclusion, connection with the glory, the pain, and the hopeful possibilities that living on Earth provides.  I am moved by Life, and when that happens, my heart opens, and I am connected to all things.

Look out at things – there is wonder and beauty, darkness and grace, joy and confusion, hope and anticipation in each moment.   En-joy the day.  And please, if you are willing to take the time,  I would love to hear what moves you.

P.S.  One year, when I got to a point where I asked a student to take over reading, the class had obviously prepared.  When I said, “Okay, who would like to take over reading?” one student spokesperson said, “Ms. Rubin, do you remember when you said that the way out of things is to go through them?  Well, we’ve decided you should go through this.”  And so I read, with tears and also laughter.  I think my students were incredible people to have done this…

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I Can’t

“Argue for your limitations, and they are yours.”              Richard Bach, Illusions

Helen Keller was a blind, deaf, mute little girl who acted like a wild thing at the table, and could do nothing to care for herself.  Her parents hired Annie Sullivan to teach Helen to dress and feed herself properly.  What if Annie Sullivan had followed Helen Keller’s parents’ instructions to the letter, and only taught her those two skills?   If she could learn to eat properly at the table, and dress herself, well – wow!  What an accomplishment!

But Annie Sullivan saw, behind the blind eyes,  an active mind full of potential, and we know about Helen Keller today because Annie Sullivan did not see Helen’s limitations as insurmountable obstacles.  She saw them as challenges that could be overcome to reach a goal far beyond dressing and eating.  The saying “obstacles are what you see when you take your eyes off the goal” is appropriate here, because Annie didn’t look at the obstacles.  She looked at the goal – to give Helen vision through learning, to broaden Helen’s life, so she would not live in empty darkness.

Christy Brown could not walk or talk.  He had cerebral palsy;  the only part of his body under his control was his left foot.  Christy’s mother was always encouraging, but his father was not.  However, when Christy was ten he used his foot and a piece of chalk to write the word “Mother” on the floor.  Observing this, his father, too, became a strong supporter.  Through one severe hardship after another, Christy and his family survived; when his mother finally saved enough to get him a wheelchair, Christy was able to go to a school for cerebral palsy patients.  Christy had already begun to paint with his left foot, and Dr. Eileen Cole persuaded a friend to hold an exhibition of Christy’s paintings.  Eventually Christy wrote a book: My Left Foot, in which he describes his life’s struggles and his art; the book became a film.

When Ruben Rios, a former student of mine, reconnected with me on Facebook, we had a couple of message exchanges.  Another former student wrote to say, “Ask him about his paintings, Miss Rubin.”  So I asked, and he sent me some pictures that were very impressive.  I wanted to know if he was in any galleries, or showing anywhere.  He wrote back, “I am a member of the Mouth and Foot Painting Artists.  “Okay,” I wrote back, “time for e-mail and a longer explanation.”

Ruben and some friends were en route to a high school dance in his senior year when words were exchanged with men in another car at a stoplight. Ruben and a young man from the other car got out of the cars; the young man fired a shot.   The bullet went through Ruben’s neck, severely damaging his spinal cord;  he was paralyzed from the neck down.  He spent months in rehab and recovery.  He was taught to use a mouth stick, very much encouraged by his mother, and later began painting with a paintbrush.  Ruben has been able to support himself through his art, and believes that “…everyone can share something they have learned to help someone else.”  You can go to this web site: and look up Ruben Rios to see his work.  He is also associated with the Christopher Reeve Foundation, and has done art work for them.  As I write this blog Ruben is very ill and in a coma.  All of his friends are praying for him, and hoping that things turn out well for him.

UPDATE:  Ruben passed away about two weeks after this post.  He was a rather amazing man, and left a legacy of pride, endurance and strength.

The title of this blog is “I Can’t” – but from the examples I’ve used, it’s pretty obvious that I just don’t put a lot of stock in those words.  There is no question that the three people mentioned above had every reason in the world to say, “I can’t.”  But each of them, with the support of those who loved them and believed in them,  showed that their limitations could be overcome.

Most of the limitations we believe about ourselves or others are simply untrue.  Yet we manage somehow to trap ourselves, telling ourselves that we can’t do things.  There are so many ways we manage to stifle potential – not just our own, but others’ as well.  And it often seems that the people who have not succeeded themselves are frequently the ones who want to convince others that they won’t succeed either.

Now, before I go any further, let me be clear: I am a realist.  I would not expect or encourage Christy Brown to head for stardom as a basketball player.  But I also would not say that he should just sit in his chair and do nothing, because he was too handicapped.  I believe in the power of spirit, and spirit trumps matter every time.

As a new teacher I was very conscious of the fact that a lot of people simply wrote off many of the students who were not successful academically.    But there was an administrator in that school who was a shining example, because she believed that all the students could learn, and I believed it, too.

In my first year at Decatur Junior High School in the Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, I was assigned to classes 6-1, 6-2, 6-5, 6-6, and 6-8.  The higher the number, the lower the academic achievement in that subject.  I taught English, which was mostly reading and writing. 1

Class 6-8 was my biggest challenge, and I wanted to let them know from the beginning that they were not going to be doing a bunch of busy work, copying out stuff to put into an exercise book.  And I wanted them to believe in themselves.  So I talked to them about one of my favorite people in history – Helen Keller.

I told the class about her being deaf and blind, and why that meant that she was unable to speak.  And, after talking to them about how difficult things would be for her, I told them about Annie Sullivan, her teacher, and a hero of mine.  They learned that Helen Keller, in spite of all her inabilities, ended up writing, speaking, and being an example of how much could be accomplished if someone did not look at how hard something was, but instead focused on a goal.

I told them that in my class, they could say, “This is really hard,” or “I don’t understand this” or “I’m having a lot of trouble, Miss Rubin.”  The only thing they could not say: “I can’t.”

My final words in my little speech – which I used again and again over the years in many classes – were these: If a girl who can’t see, can’t hear and can’t speak can graduate first in her class at the top woman’s college in America, there is nothing I will ask you to do  in this class that you cannot do.  And the most important thing was, I believed it.

Now, over the years I have seen a bazillion ways in which we give children excuses for why they cannot learn.  The alphabetical “ailments” abound.  “ADD”  is just the beginning.  There are many challenges young people might face, but the biggest challenge to them – and their teachers – is to overcome the enabling that happens when we label them with all sorts of disabilities.  While the school districts get money for these “disabled” students, the students themselves are robbed of the belief that they can succeed.  They become crippled by an “ailment” which becomes fostered by the very people who are there to teach, to encourage, to demand of them their very best.  Their “ailment” might be a reason why things could be more difficult for them, but it should not excuse them – or the schools – from doing their best.

What is also sad is that frequently the “disability” is used to explain why they’re not learning, and the attitude of many educators is the equivalent of accepting Annie Sullivan’s teaching Helen Keller to dress and feed herself, and nothing more.  After all, if you can teach them just a little you’ve done a great job.  And I say poppycock!

Difficulties are not an excuse.  They do not excuse you from doing the best you can, or from excusing your students from producing their best.  The moment I give  a child a grade just for putting his name on the paper, what I am saying is: “I know you can’t do any better than this.”  Which essentially says he’s a loser who can’t accomplish anything.  And that is wrong, wrong, wrong.

When I began teaching drama, the same rule applied: “Do Not Say ‘Can’t’ “.  One of my students had a brain tumor; she went to St. Jude’s every three months to have it drained. Another student in another class, another year, had just wakened from six months in an unexplainable coma.  She woke, and was re-learning how to walk, talk, use her lungs.  Both of these young ladies did the work, learned lines, and did the best they could – which was actually quite good.  But the most important thing is that they walked out of the class knowing that they could hold their own, and were not pitied for their difficulties, but encouraged to rise above them.  So they really knew, when they finished, that they had truly accomplished something. (Think about how you might have felt as a child when you beat someone in a game, and then overheard the person telling someone else that they let you win.  There goes your sense of accomplishment, and maybe even your belief in yourself.)

I think the trend towards giving young people excuses for why they can’t accomplish things has been dangerous and demoralizing.  In effect, it’s telling them they can’t, even before they start.  They might seem at first to feel pretty cool about getting out of work, or not being too challenged, but I believe with all my heart that behind all the attempts to avoid work are children who want to be challenged, to meet the mark, and say, “I did it!”  This, and not trophies or grades, is what helps them to earn self-esteem and believe in their potential for future success.

Parents as well as teachers need to take heed, and not accept the idea that a child cannot succeed.  I actually once heard someone say, about her teenage daughter, “This is who she is.  She’s ADD.”  Notice – the child no longer was even described as having ADD.  The child was ADD.  Which then also became the excuse for her outrageous obesity, also encouraged by mother, who liked to eat.

It isn’t just the schools who are responsible; parents have to encourage, and help their child to see their abilities.  This takes love, caring, patience, attention and belief in the child.  It takes kindness, compassion, and a steel-like intention to help a child succeed.  Not easy, but do-able.

Our educational system is severely out of whack.  We need to focus on abilities at all levels, high and low, and make sure all students can succeed to the best of their ability.  But that means not short-changing them by dropping expectations when someone labels them with an alphabetical mishmash. Back to my original point – do we just want to teach Helen how to dress and eat, or do we want to open her mind to the world?

1.  A note here.  This was a time, in the 1960’s, when classes (at least in NYC) were all grouped according to ability.  This is called “tracking.”    At some point it was decided that this arrangement hurt students’ self-esteem, because they felt bad being in the slow (“dummy”) classes.  So then we came to heterogenous grouping, where high-, middle- and low-achieving students were all in the same class.  How exciting.  Imagine how much “self-esteem” a child will have when most of the students know the answers, and he sits there confused and embarrassed.  And imagine how challenging it is for a teacher to have to teach to several different learning styles and three or more ability levels.  At least in homogeneous grouping all the students are at about the same level, and a good teacher can bring them all along together, and raise their abilities, which, incidentally, – surprise, surprise – raises their self-esteem.  And note – a GOOD teacher means someone who believes the students can learn, and who knows how to teach.

I loved my “slower” classes, because when they learned something they lit up.  They were so impressed with what they learned, and they came to realize that the more they learned, the more they could learn.  Some of them weren’t slow at all, they were just behind a bit, maybe due to illness, parental neglect, or simply poor eyesight.  When they got to a certain point in their learning, where they were starting to accelerate at a fairly good clip, they could transfer into a higher class. I was so full of joy for them I could hardly contain it.  Okay, this was supposed to be a note, and it’s getting to be another blog.  Enough!

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I know – it has been WAY too long since my last blog.  My only explanation is that, while I am perfectly capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time, I do not seem capable of going through an “art push” and writing at the same time.    However, I wrote down about a dozen ideas for blogs, and am ready to work again, so another post should be coming fairly soon after this one.

The dictionary defines a miracle as a wonderful happening that is contrary to or independent of the known laws of nature.  Many people equate miracles with magic, something appearing out of nowhere, or disappearing for no reason.

While I certainly go along with the “wonderful happening” aspect, I’d like to look at the idea that miracles are contrary to or independent of the known laws of nature.  For the fact is, there are a LOT of things in nature that scientists explain;  they fit into the “laws of nature,” but in truth we really have no idea how they happen.

Most people would probably say that miracles are rare.  But I would have to disagree with that; in fact, miracles abound, but we don’t see them,  because we do not look closely.

Take, for instance, the circumstance of two cells meeting and joining.  They divide, so that the one cellular body they have formed multiplies to become two, then they multiply again, and again, and again, and so on, until there are billions and billions of cells.  This is in itself miraculous.  Scientists can tell you what they see happening – but they really cannot pinpoint exactly what it is that triggers this phenomenon, or what keeps it going.

After the continual multiplication of cells has occurred a sufficient number of times, groups of cells seem to “decide” to change, so they are no longer part of one homogeneous mass of cells.  Some cells become an ear, or skin, or a toenail, an eyeball, a kidney. Scientists have a name for this: cell differentiation.  But they don’t really know what makes it happen.  Not only do the cells do this, but they do it in such a way that a coherent, fully formed body is created, covered by skin, with organs in assigned places, toenails at the end of toes, eyelashes emanating from the eyelids, and blood running through arteries and veins.

And yet the greatest miracles are yet to come.  Eventually, a small group of cells begins to pulsate; they start to beat to a rhythm: lub dub; lub dub; lub dub.  We have no idea what triggers this to happen.  But when it does happen, life pours through the body, blood begins to flow to all the other organs, including the brain, and the body continues to form.

Scientists will explain;  but they don’t know why this phenomenon takes place, what triggers this to happen.

But wait – there’s more!  Within this miraculously formed body is a code.  Every single cell is encoded with all the data necessary to tell the cells what to do, how to function, not only as an individual cell, but as part of a group of cells known as an organ. And further, they are coded to interact with all the other cells, which are also differentiated into organs.  And they acquire, through this encoding, the ability to function like a perfect mechanism.

Every living thing on this planet is a miracle.  I plant a little seed no bigger than a speck.  The seed sprouts, grows roots, and a sprout of a plant pushes up through the earth (a miraculous feat in itself) and soon a creation of color and beauty and unique shape will grow.

Did I say every living thing is a miracle?  Well, even things we might not consider “alive” are also full of motion and life.  Stone – solid, stolid, still – is actually made up of particles that are in constant motion.

Flame.  Now there’s an amazing miracle.  Light a candle and look closely at it. Think about it – our universe is made of flame.  All the stars are gigantic flames.  But what is flame?  What is light?  We really don’t know.

Everything we take for granted as part of our lives – fire, water, leaves, grass…

We are surrounded by miracles..  We are miracles, you and I.  So the next time you want to see a miracle, don’t go to a magic show, or wait for a shooting star.  Just look in a mirror.  Look into your eyes, and you will see the miraculous.

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