February 21st, 2015

Golden

005

 

Love was golden barrel cactuses, candles, a brilliant red-and-orange Paradise,
Bike rides, blue skies, blue eyes,
Days of meant-to-be, forevermore, here is where I’m supposed to be.

 

Outside was wind through trees, hawks swooping close, a coyote’s cry,
Car rides, rib-eyes, no lies,
Passion splashing everywhere, pleasures never felt before.

 

Inhaling deeply the richness of orange blossoms, egg scrambles, the smell of his skin,
Wheat-colored hair, cat on the chair,
Hope for always, a picture was painted foretelling eternity.

 

Joyously casting troubles aside, talking close for hours on end, laughing, understanding,
Sharing secrets, no regrets,
Completely safe in strong arms, tall stature, warm bed.

 

Things too beautiful are frail, I come to see, and sadly cannot carry on,
Knife flashes, pain slashes,
I am cut and bleeding, but my trust remains.

 

The moon shines while again I hear the song – our song, the stars sending me messages…
Can’t believe, unable to conceive,
I cling to the precious moments, and curse myself for them still.

 

Too much loss for all at one time, I took the road of up and down,
Many years, more and more tears,
Unholy monsters drag away what is good and true.

 

The heart dies inside a whole spirit and body, and must be shed to sustain,
Nothing left, sad and bereft,
Asking Angels to hold my hand down the rougher path of the living.

 

 

 

January 6th, 2015

It’s Stronger to Forgive

032In stillness, when the silence seems almost magical and we sit by ourselves in a comforting, peaceful place…we can sometimes hear the whispers of Higher things. One of these is forgiveness. Make no mistake, however; though its voice is soft, forgiveness brings us power and strength beyond comprehension. Although many think forgiveness is a sign of weakness, of submission to or acceptance of injury from others, nothing could be further from the truth! Forgiveness comes from a highly evolved soul, one which knows that we can pardon others’ hurtful behavior while at the same time not remain a victim of it.

Forgiveness reflects love of self, so to find it we must turn our attention inward instead of outward. It is within every person’s reach, and yet impossible to achieve without at least some willingness on our part to feel it. In other words, to forgive is a choice, and some of us need to go through the pain of not forgiving before we’re ready for its healing effect.

The Pain of Anger

Why is it painful not to forgive? Because without forgiveness, hate is like a ball-and-chain, keeping us bound to the thing we loathe. In a very real sense, we give up our power to whatever we hate. Consider all the pleasures, happy thoughts, and creativity that could fill the hours we spend brooding over some person or situation we resent. Hate also breeds retaliation, causing more injury, destruction, and sadness…and of course, more hatred. Simply put, anger and animosity only lead to more of the same, and our entire lives can pass beneath this dark cloud of negativity.

Unlike the gentle tones of forgiveness, the voices of hatred, vengeance, and bitterness are loud, adamant, and raucous. They noisily grab our attention with promises of immediate gratification, causing us to say and do things we feel guilty about later on. Unfortunately, however, besides being the loudest voices, they sometimes yield short-term rewards. When we act out our resentment, we gain a false sense of power, righteousness, and superiority. In the anger equation, we are right and someone or something else is wrong! And let’s face it, who doesn’t love the satisfaction of being right? (Of course, we’re “right” according to our own view of what that is…) Also, if others cower to our bullying, we feel mighty and in control.

In its extreme form, intense anger demonstrated by tantrums, yelling, and physical aggression can be a physiological stimulant that accelerates our heart rate, breathing, and muscular tension, among other bodily effects. These sensations can actually be a “high” to some, who unconsciously look for a “fix” again and again. In this way, anger is like a drug, and one to which many become addicted. Like any addiction, however, the behavior and feelings often must be escalated to achieve the desired release.

Even on a lesser level of intensity, dwelling on the people and situations that are unacceptable to us can take up so much of our time and emotions that it becomes a distraction from dealing with other less compelling but very real emotions and problems. Things we might unconsciously wish to avoid are non-glamorous aspects of being human, including fear of close relationships, anxiety in social situations, confusion, low self-esteem, boredom, lack of motivation, feelings of failure…the list goes on and on. Like any escape from reality, however, anger blocks pleasurable feelings as well, like satisfaction at reaching a goal, appreciation of beauty in the world and people around us, and gratitude for the gifts we have in our lives. The saddest consequence of clinging to antagonism is that we become “stuck” – unable to grow emotionally and spiritually.

Working on Forgiveness

To forgive, we sometimes need more than just willingness. We actually have to work on changing our attitudes. Depending on how gravely we feel someone has injured us, this process can take time. The good news is that if we persist, we will always – ALWAYS – succeed in forgiving. Furthermore, even if we can’t forgive someone fully yet, we’ll feel better immediately just by taking small steps to try. Think of forgiveness as opening a window just a crack in a stuffy room. The fresh air we let in revitalizes us so much, we will want to open the window even more.

It’s crucial to understand that we cannot forgive others until we have forgiven ourselves. You’re probably wondering what you must forgive yourself for… The answer will be different for each one of us. What are the things you need to look at about yourself and your behavior that are or have been harmful to others or to you? It’s time to come clean about these things – write and talk about them, take responsibility for them, and make amends if needed. Now, here’s a real challenge: if you’re in conflict with someone else, say, a person you simply can’t stand, apologize to him or her for your part in the dispute! Sound crazy? You won’t believe how you’ll feel if you give it a try. Amends can also take the form of simply making better choices in the future. In many cases, we ourselves are the ones to whom we owe the greatest amends.

The hardest job is to develop more love and compassion toward yourself, but when you do this, the ability to forgive others comes naturally. If you get mired in resentment toward a particular person, here are some tricks you might try. One is to silently wish the very best for them (even if you know you’re lying initially). Do this every time you get caught up in anger at the person, and you’ll find the feelings loosen up and disappear over time. Another strategy is to make a short list of the person’s positive qualities, and read it to yourself daily or whenever negative thinking threatens to take charge of your brain!

One other fully guaranteed bitterness-buster is to make a list of the things you’re grateful for in your own life, apart from your anger at anything or anyone else. This is basically a positive displacement exercise, because if your mind is full of gratitude, there’s no room left for destructive thoughts.

Spiritual Help is Limitless

Alexander Pope said, “To err is human; to forgive divine.” In just these few words, Pope expressed that the act of forgiving requires more than just our mortal ability. As human beings, we make mistakes, have misunderstandings, and hurt each other. That’s where all the anger and hate comes from in the first place. Without something more powerful than our own limited mental and emotional capacities, we frequently aren’t able to forget or let go of that which has caused us pain. This is where we must reach out for spiritual help, and once we do, we are ultimately granted the strength to forgive no matter how deep the hurt.

What is your “something more powerful?” Many call it God, but others prefer terms like Universal Order, Higher Power, or Spiritual Center. It really doesn’t matter what we name it, as long as we are aware of two critical things: that He, She, or It has infinite power over the world and every single one of its troubles, and is a loving force that cares about us deeply as individuals.

Forgiveness and love are something we’re all born with. It is “life,” people, and painful circumstances that then start chipping away at us, teaching us to fear and to build protective shells around our core. If we didn’t have to create these insulating layers between ourselves and the world, we would all be able to trust, and freely love and forgive each other. It’s food for thought, wouldn’t you say? Maybe the true challenge and goal of life is to find your way back through all that accumulated defensiveness and hatred to reconnect with your whole, forgiving self. Seen in this way, the return journey is worth every step.

December 30th, 2014

Thoughts on Hope

Hope is the thing with feathers – That perches in the soul – And sings the tune without the words – And never stops – at all…   — Emily Dickinson

Hope. Even hearing the word brings to mind comforting thoughts of relief, satisfaction, serenity. Hope is something encouraging and enduring, filling bleak spaces with strength beyond fear, triumph over crises, and light amid darkness. The presence of hope can be the difference between joy and depression, persistence and giving up, success and failure – even life and death.

Hoping for something is not the same as wishing for it, as the things we wish for are usually more illusive. When we wish for something, there’s often regret over or denial of an unfortunate reality, like wishing you could sing as well as your favorite rock star, or wishing you’d studied math instead of history in college. Hoping, on the other hand, generally refers to more realistic things in the present or future, so there’s no sadness over past things that cannot be changed.

The dictionary defines hope as “desire accompanied by expectation of or belief in fulfillment.” However, be careful about this, because if hope comes with strong expectation, it can actually be destructive. When we don’t acknowledge that hope for something is not a guarantee of its being realized, we set ourselves up for pain and disillusion. For example, we hope our children will be healthy…we hope our finances will be stable…we hope our love relationships will last forever. But what if our children become ill, or we are laid off at work, or our marriage fails? Our hopes instantly transform into disappointment, often leading to bitterness. Reeling from the impact of these crushing emotions, we’re prime targets for the opposite of hope – despair.

Wearing us down and clouding our perspective, despair holds us back from moving toward the happier places of acceptance and gratitude. When we despair, it’s impossible for us to see the gifts that actually come from not getting what we hoped for!

If you’ve ever experienced your hopes “crumble,” chances are you have learned to be careful about allowing yourself to hope. Perhaps you’ve found that making outside, external things or situations the center of your hopes is not worth the anguish of being let down. But that doesn’t mean that you should give up on hope altogether. Doing that would make you hopeless!

Consider this: a new way to hope. Focus your hopes on yourself instead of on things, people, and situations around you. You were born with the light of hope inside you. The truth is…it has never left. Maybe it’s been buried under mounds of sorrow about things you hoped for that didn’t come true. No matter what or whom you’ve lost – no matter what fact, crisis, or circumstance you think has stolen your hope, you only think you’re out of hope. You aren’t. There is an abundant, infinite source of hope that you can see if you’re willing to look for it. This is the unfailing force giving you the power to keep walking forward when all the chips are down, the ability to enjoy a hug from a friend or the smell of a rose during troubled times, and the strength to see future possibilities ahead instead of looking backward at the things you wish had been different. What you focus on grows in strength. Focus on the hope within – the hope for your potential to grow through anything and everything “life” hands you. In the strangest of ironies, the most painful things in our life can actually help us practice the most profoundly healing application of hope. What an awesome opportunity!

Remember that hope looks forward, and regret looks behind. To look ahead or back is your choice. Yours, and yours alone.

September 16th, 2014

A Story from Iraq (excerpted from “Finding Home” by Mathew Chase)

Four days after our guys in 3rd Platoon were killed – May 10, 2007 – we were on base but had gotten word that one of the vehicles from either 1st or 2nd Platoon had been hit with an IED. We were assigned to accompany the “wrecker,” which is like a tow-truck for disabled tankers, to the scene to assist in retrieving the vehicle and bringing it back to base. Luckily, no one had been seriously injured.

As soon as we got the report, we loaded up and moved out. There were three Strykers in our convoy. Leading the way was Attack 66, with Cpt. Johnson as Vehicle Commander and Sgt. Purcell operating the 50 cal. In the rear of this vehicle were SFC (Sergeant First Class) Barron, Lt. Sabados, Sgt. Dalton Heimlich, and RTO Musick. Jason Braun was the driver.

I was in the second vehicle, Attack 65, operating the 50 cal from the TC (tactical commander) hatch. Lt. Pierce was my vehicle commander, Sgt. Gallagher and 25 Uniform Cornejo were in the rear hatches, and Ronan was in the driver’s hole… The last vehicle was Attack 8, operated by our first sergeant, Sgt. Goodman. Goodman normally rolled with our company’s three snipers.

We’d gone a few blocks, trying to get to the site as quickly as possible. It turned out that 1st and 2nd Platoon were already there. Then, suddenly, we stopped. Apparently, there had been intelligence from one of the locals that there was a deeply buried IED on the street we were about to enter. EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) hadn’t detected it, but if it were deep in the ground, it may well have escaped their radar. In my position as 50 cal gunner, I could see all the routes on a display screen in front of me. They were color-coded to show if they’d been cleared, and when.

Later we heard that while we were stopped there, Sgt. Purcell had been arguing with Cpt. Johnson, repeatedly telling him we shouldn’t drive down that road. This day, as on all previous days, Sgt. Purcell was the gunner. He was an expert operator and I had always respected his leadership decisions. Apparently, though, Cpt. Johnson disagreed with him and finally pulled rank, ordering Braun to turn left down the street.

None of us wanted to drive on that street, fully aware of what could happen. I wondered if it would be our Stryker, or Attack 66, that would be hit with an IED. Were the insurgents planning to blow up one of our vehicles, and then attempt to ambush those remaining?

Braun made the left turn and drove cautiously down the road. Seconds later, there was a thunderous BOOM! Attack 66 had been hit by an IED! In an instant, all hell broke loose. There was dust everywhere, and pieces of earth rocketed upward by the blast rained down on our vehicle. Lt. Pierce told Ronan to move our vehicle forward a bit so I had a better three o’clock view. From the driver’s hole, Ronan reported that all he could see was smoke, dust, and a tire blasted off the vehicle, which had actually been thrown up into the air by the explosion’s force, and had landed upside down.

Fire seemed to be coming at us from every direction now, as we tried to establish communication with anyone on Attack 66.

Lt. Pierce took charge from the commander hatch. “Ricky, we’re taking fire from three o’clock. Get that 50 cal over there and fire into those buildings.” He paused, then added, “That three-story house over there…the tallest one. They’re firing at us from there.”

“Roger that, sir!” I replied. I checked our RWS (Remote Weapon System) and zoomed in on the window of the tallest house. I could see a gunman popping out every now and again, but I couldn’t get a good shot. I aimed a few inches below the bottom ledge of the window, where I’d take him out if he was crouching down or standing close by in the room. I fired a quick burst, and watched as the 50 cal rounds ate right through the flimsy clay walls of the house. If the shooter was still in there, it was unlikely he was alive.

Even with the help of 1st and 2nd Platoon, we were still taking massive amounts of lead. By this time, all of our vehicles were firing their 50 cal’s. In the rear of our vehicle were 240 Bravos mounted to the hatches, and once opened, these guns fired 7.62 grade ammo from belts, machine-gun-style. Bartolo was back there, and he had opened fire also. I could no longer zero in, so I saturated the entire house with rounds. I was nearly done firing 500 rounds. The rounds were stored up top in an ammo can that feeds them straight to the 50 cal. I had to climb up and expose myself in order to reload an additional 500 rounds. Adrenaline pushed away my apprehension, allowing fight to win out over flight…

I could hear Lt. Pierce coordinating with the guys on the ground to find out the condition of Attack 66. The front of Attack 66 had taken the majority of the IED’s impact. SFC Barron was thrown from the rear of the hatch, and Ryder Musick managed to escape, as did Lt. Sabados and Sgt. Heimlich. Sgt. Purcell ended up crawling out of one of the side hatches; he had been deeper inside the overturned vehicle, so it had been a struggle, but he made it. Cpt. Johnson made it out alive as well, although his legs were twisted in three different directions. All the while, the ammunition in the vehicle was cooking from the heat, and the Stryker became engulfed in flames. It was someone’s idea of hell become real.

But what about Braun? I kept thinking. I started asking the question to Lt. Price every few seconds. “Is Braun okay, sir? Is he alive?”

Lt. Price told me, “Ricky, we don’t know yet, but they don’t think he made it out.”

Sweat poured down my face as I heard about the Stryker’s fate. It wasn’t long before someone said that Braun had been trapped inside the driver’s hole, unable to escape with the hatch flat against the ground.

One more time, I said to Lt. Pierce, “Sir! Is Braun dead?”

“Ricky, it sounds like he’s gone.”

And then I remember hearing Sgt. Gallagher scream, “FUUCCKK!! FUUCCKK!”

On hearing this, I stared at my RWS screen without really seeing it. All I could think about was that I was never going to see him again, never talk to him again. The questions I constantly pushed back sprang into my head…I had no defense against them now. What the hell was going on in this world? Were we here just to endure constant pain and loss? And what kind of fucking hero did Cpt. Perkins think he was? None of this had to happen! I sat there bathed in my sweat, thirsty as hell, but telling myself I didn’t deserve water because I was still alive.

My eyes were glassy as I struggled to hold back tears. Nonetheless, a few escaped and I brushed them away. I felt angry that we hadn’t had better resources for a situation like this or the one just four days before – Blackhawk or Apache attack helicopters, maybe even a JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munitions). We had so many restrictions on us, but the past few days should send a message. We were in a combat zone, not on some peacekeeping mission!

The day wore on. Cpt. Johnson was evacuated, and eventually they extracted Braun’s body from the wreckage of Attack 66. It was after dark when we finally made it back to base. We had stepped out of our vehicle, and Sgt. Purcell, Musick, and SFC Barron were getting checked out by Drs. Walters and Mueller.

It was time to move Braun’s body to the med station, and Doc Walters approached us. “You want to help us carry him in?”

I quickly said, “No. Are you going to look him over?” I didn’t want to feel the weight of his body in my arms…

While the others carried Braun’s body to the med station, I crept away. My chest felt like it was caving in, and I couldn’t focus my thoughts on anything. I knew I was about to lose it. Among the motor-pool, I picked my way to a dark, little space where I could be alone. There I paced back and forth, a distance not much more than five feet, as I felt myself beginning to hyperventilate. I clenched my fists until they ached, but I couldn’t take it any longer. I had to let it out! Otherwise, I knew, I’d become destructive and hurt either myself or something (or someone) around me. Then came a torrent of tears. I gasped for air as the knot in my throat pushed back against the scream that wanted to escape my chest. I hadn’t cried like that since I was five years old.

My mind tried to calculate everything, as usual – war, religion, God – but my thoughts were scattered and chaotic. I was conscious of one thing, though. It wasn’t right…it wasn’t right…it wasn’t right. I was alive and Braun was dead.

Instead of answers, or even a slight glimmer of rationality or calmness, more agonizing questions popped into my head. Like, why was I falling apart this way over Braun, whom I hadn’t even known for more than two years? I’d seen the passing of family members, for heaven’s sake, and didn’t react this way! And how long would it be before I would be over this? Only time can heal this kind of hurt, I thought. But how much time?

Order your copy of “Finding Home” at  http://www.amazon.com/Finding-Home-Mathew-Chase/dp/1499085109

May 17th, 2014

Sweetser’s “Crazy Panic”: Showing Women How to Give Anxiety the Boot!

003I’m proud to announce the publication of Crazy Panic by first-time author Jennifer Sweetser. In her straightforward, upbeat and humorous style, Jennifer describes how panic attacks and depression can make women feel like they’re crazy, obviously far from the truth. Crazy Panic is a light, easy-to-understand discussion of both the environmental and physiological causes of these disorders, and more significantly, the numerous practical – and in many cases medication-free – ways sufferers can find relief or resolution.

Sweetser shares, “When panic attacks and depression showed up in my life at a young age, I began to study these disorders like crazy. I wanted to know ‘what’ was happening to me, ‘why’ it was happening, and ‘how’ I could stop it from happening again. In this book, you will learn how to recognize symptoms and triggers, and about practical things you can do to find relief. … Anxiety and depression are very common, but also very treatable. In this book, we will discuss the mental and physical processes involved with anxiety and depressive disorders, and offer simple techniques to help you get back to doing the things you love to do, like…well…you know, shopping for fabulous handbags and adorable shoes!”

Yes, even bling-loving girly-girls like the author can be afflicted by these serious disorders. But Sweetser is living proof that women are often stronger than they look! Let her show you how to fight and win the battle for a happy, normal life. What’s even better, the boots you use to stomp out depression and anxiety may be an awesome shade of pink!

Crazy Panic, which I had the extreme pleasure of copyediting, is available now on Amazon.com.

January 29th, 2014

Breaking Down my Break-Up

“Every boyfriend is ‘the One’…
          Until otherwise proven.” ~ Marina and the Diamonds

Well, here we go again – coupledom to singleton. After five years with my boyfriend, I truly believed for a while that he was “the one.” Now I’m left to wonder if the idea of a lifelong mate is just some gimmick created by Hallmark cards, which seems likely, especially after hearing about the Captain and Tennille splitting up after 39 years! What happened to “Love Will Keep Us Together”?

Nonetheless, as the wise ones say, “It is what it is.” Fortunately, I know from experience that as bleak as something might look and feel right now, it is exactly the way it’s supposed to be. In fact, if I can see this ending as more of a beginning, my whole outlook changes from gloom to gratitude.

If you’re facing a break-up, take heart. Connect with the part of you that feels relieved, because usually by the time a relationship has come to the point of separation, you’re getting so little from your partner or hurting so bad anyway, the end is sweet freedom. Remember that when you let go of something in your life that’s not satisfying you or serving your needs, you are opening yourself to the Universe, with its infinite possibilities.

As with any loss, there is an unavoidable grieving process to endure, but with heavy doses of self-love and positive inner dialogue, it can be less of a struggle. Some people stay in a bad relationship just to avoid having to go through the grieving, but this is only delaying the inevitable and usually just compounds the pain.

Don’t Believe Everything You Tell Yourself

Grieving a relationship is not always fun (okay, it’s the opposite of fun), but we make it far worse when we listen to the drama committee in our heads, authors of ball-busting one-liners like, “I put five years into this for nothing!” and “I should’ve ended it sooner.” Really! There’s a false assumption here that the time devoted to a relationship that eventually ends, is time wasted. For me, when I was with my ex-boyfriend, I was mostly happy and full of loving feelings. How can I regret that, however it worked out?

Or how about that other little mental zinger, “I’ll never find love again”? I’m over 50 years old, so my mind is like a bull’s-eye target for this one. The good news is that age also brings some wisdom, and I’m aware that when I start using words like “never,” “ever,” and “forever,” I’m writing a bleak future based only on my current sadness. It’s pointless, untrue, and a sure way to chase off the joy available to me here and now.

Last but not least is the ever-famous, “I should’ve seen the red flags.” Okay, let’s be realistic for a moment here. Doesn’t just about everyone have a red flag of some sort? Sure, crushing a guy working on his or her criminal record might not be the greatest idea, but knowing his lifestyle, would you even be attracted to him? Certainly there are all levels of red flags, but if you trust yourself and your instincts, you’ll know whether to proceed or not. If you don’t trust your judgment, you’re probably due for an important life lesson anyway. In my experience, even those who consider themselves “careful” about love get burnt, especially since people tend to conceal their less desirable traits at the start of a relationship. Maybe this is just me, but I’d rather hold onto my optimism about love and relationships rather than avoid even taking a chance. Let’s face it – intimacy with another is never without risk, but on the other hand, staying safely alone is not exactly a recipe for happiness.

Forgiving Them, Forgiving Ourselves

After a break-up, all those much-talked-about stages of grieving start popping up. One minute you feel compassion and longing for your ex (sadness), and the next you’re wishing them a slow, agonizing death (anger). There are times we suddenly become junior psychologists, certain we know what motivated their deal-breaking behavior, i.e. “He had a really rough childhood,” or “He just never learned to express love.” Surely, if we simply explain their core issues to them, they will have all the insight they need to change (bargaining). And of course, once they realize how dysfunctional they’ve been, they’ll come back to us (denial).

It’s all normal – every crappy bit of it. Hang in there, though. The acceptance stage is on its way!

For those of us who tend to be sensitive and overly responsible, it can be tempting to try and “fix” the other person’s issues with kindness and nurturing. My attitude about this has changed, thankfully. In reality, every adult has choices, and to accept others’ unacceptable behavior, whatever the reason for it, only enables them to continue it. It’s time for both people to grow up!

Ultimately, however, unless I can find a way to forgive the other person – and that doesn’t necessarily imply ongoing interaction with them – I’ll wind up bitter and disillusioned. That’s the last place I want to be, if I am to move forward in joy and serenity. For me, forgiving someone else starts with forgiving myself.

To prevent an attitude that I “failed” in a relationship, I have to take a close look at my behavior during it. Was I controlling, demanding, or manipulative? Was I honest? It can be humbling to evaluate my part in relationship problems, but if I only focus on what “he did to me,” there is absolutely no chance I will learn and grow from the experience. My introspection may even show me I have amends to make to my ex, which is even more humbling, but can be put off until I’m on more solid emotional ground. Again, though, taking responsibility for my part, no matter what he did or did not do, offers me priceless gifts like personal growth, freedom from myself, and the certainty that my future relationships will be stronger and healthier.

Icing on the Cake

During the pain of a break-up, it’s vital to remind yourself that you are complete and whole in yourself. You have your own light already inside you, so you don’t need someone else to shine on you.

I’m a dessert-lover, so I picture myself as a cake. It is my responsibility – no one else’s – to keep me fully baked and tasting sweet. Having a boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse or partner can be incredibly fulfilling, but it’s still basically just icing on the cake. No matter whether you’re with someone or not, keep tending to the things that make you the best person…the most mouth-watering confection…you can be.

It can be difficult to focus on ourselves without blaming others. Pride steps in and blocks us. For me, it’s impossible without the strength of my spiritual Source, which I call God. I can honestly say, I have never been disappointed when I truly rely on God’s guidance and comfort. The name we give our own such Source is unimportant, as long as we realize that it is not us! This power exists independent of us and our limited thinking.

Who would think talking about a break-up could get this deep? But like all heartbreaking events and circumstances, it’s a chance to heal some old hurts and become more resilient. In the meantime, there’s the love of family and friends, satisfaction from the work we do, and of course, massages, pedicures, white buttercream frosting…whatever. There are indeed pleasures in life that rival sex, which is damn good news for us after a break-up! Why sacrifice all the beautiful parts of today by inviting more misery than is necessary because of a break-up? After all, the world awaits you – this second – with open arms!

November 26th, 2013

Overcoming the Obstacles to a Simpler Life

IMG_0241The multifaceted nature of existence itself, combined with our very human ways of trying to deal with all the variables, leads all of us, at one time or another, to wishing our lives were simpler. Tired and aggravated, we look around and point to what we think are the culprits – the out-of-control kids, unreasonable boss, lazy spouse, or too many spam emails and store coupons. Actually, though, the real cause usually has more to do with us than what’s happening in our world.

While it’s certainly true that technological advancements have led to an overabundance of information – affording us more possibilities, but also more choices and conflicts – it is doubtless that people from the beginning of time have wanted less stress and complexity in their lives. The reason is obvious…we humans are the ones who make our lives more problematical than they have to be! By our own attitudes and behavior, we create a lifestyle that frequently exceeds our ability to handle it. To make matters worse, when we inevitably lose control and fail in one or more areas, others blame us and we feel bad about ourselves.

The true keys to simplicity lie within us, regardless of the insane situations and people we feel forced to deal with. If we start focusing inward, on ourselves instead of “them,” we might spot certain attitudes and behaviors that contribute to a complicated life.

1.         Dishonesty – The admonitions against dishonesty are so universal, a phrase was coined describing the consequence…“getting caught in a web of lies.” If we are habitually dishonest, we absolutely invite complexity. This trait, however, may be the trickiest one to address, since if we’re dishonest with others, we’re usually not being honest with ourselves, either. This would apply to countless people who believe their own lies. Breaking free of our own illusions can be impossible unless we’re strongly motivated to do so. Frequently, however, the pain generated by an individual’s deceptiveness can push him or her to change.

It helps if we understand why we are duplicitous with certain people or in particular situations. The lies we tell are usually a form of protection, even though we may be unconscious of what we’re trying to protect. In many instances, we’re trying to spare ourselves embarrassment or shame at a perceived weakness. For some, the fear of exposing certain things is of the same intensity as fear of death or annihilation! Therefore, it’s best to be very patient and gentle as we strive to become more honest with ourselves about our feelings and motives. As we grow more accepting of the truth about ourselves, our need to lie and cover up lessens, along with the complexity of keeping up a false front. What a relief!

2.         Being Controlling – Trying to control or manipulate people and circumstances around us is another sure way to live in constant anxiety. The truth is, our ability to control things and people is an illusion, and when we base our life on an illusion, we’re certain to suffer. Sometimes it may seem as though we’re successfully managing all the players in our particular drama, and we feel satisfied. This lasts literally a few seconds, however, before something goes wrong.

To let other people handle their own problems, to let situations work themselves out instead of insisting on and forcing our own solutions, to keep our focus on our own life and responsibilities instead of becoming involved in others’…these are attitudes which lift the crippling burden of trying to manage things which are not ours to manage, and at the same time free others to feel good about solving their own problems.

3.         Over-Committing – Wanting acceptance and approval from others is basic to human nature, but when this approval-seeking becomes more important than our own feelings and needs, we get ourselves into trouble. Oftentimes unconsciously, we put others first, discounting our own wants and responsibilities. We drive someone here or there, take off work to help a friend move, offer to chair the monthly board meeting again…whatever. The relief we see in others’ faces when we take on extra tasks gives us the comforting feeling that they are happy with us. But our efforts backfire later in exhaustion and resentment, two unpleasant consequences of people-pleasing. When we offer favors without considering the effect on us, we fail to protect and care for ourselves, and both our schedule and feelings spiral into overwhelm.

To be of service to others is obviously a great thing, as strong individuals grow even stronger when they give of themselves. But to give in a healthy way means we are whole and able to do so, and not just reflecting a neediness to have others like us.

4.         Addiction to Drama – Usually a characteristic that operates on an unconscious level, drama addiction greatly perpetuates complexity in our lives. In this addiction, we actually crave the intense emotional highs and lows brought about by conflict. Perhaps we’ve never known anything different, or maybe we fear what would be left without constant upset. After all, in those mundane moments or when things are going well, we feel a scary emptiness. We’re left with only ourselves, and if we’re not comfortable with who we are, we subconsciously seek out a new distraction, even if it’s the negative kind.

Drama addiction robs us of peace and simplicity as we find ways to sabotage relationships with others, make choices destined to bring chaos, and often feel sorry for ourselves and like a victim. All the “excitement” is a grand escape from reality, which usually is less thrilling but far more fulfilling if given the chance!

5.         Disorganization – On both the material and emotional levels, being disorganized can lead to all sorts of complications in our lives. We have so many pots on the stove, so to speak, that it’s impossible to adequately tend to them all. We’re surrounded by loose-ended projects, goals, and relationship issues. The disorder in our houses and minds keeps us stuck dealing with emergency after emergency, with little resolution to anything. By being disorganized, we maintain the adrenaline of negative excitement in a crises-based lifestyle. Like drama addiction, being disorganized pays off in that it’s an avoidance behavior, in this case a self-generated diversion from the work involved in confronting and resolving problems.

If we’re driven by ongoing overwhelm, we’ve lost sight of the fact that we need only attend to one issue, goal, or chore at a time. By slowly – and again, gently – trying to become more organized in all areas of our lives, we find we can get rid of the ideas and belongings no longer useful to us, clearing the way for simplicity and sanity.

6.         Perfectionism and Procrastination – Both these characteristics have the same end result: we don’t get to enjoy the simple satisfaction of completing a project, knowing we’ve given our best effort. Procrastination relates directly to disorganization, already discussed as a source of needless complexity. Perfectionism can actually contribute to procrastination, since our mind can be so overwhelmed by thinking we have to finish something according to our idyllic standards, that we unconsciously (or consciously) avoid even starting on it. The same applies to projects we have started, but never wind up finishing because the outcome might be less than flawless.

Perfectionism, although a positive quality on some level, can thus lead us to a house cluttered with projects not started or not completed, and a mind cluttered with self-recrimination at all the things we haven’t accomplished. A helpful slogan to use when we start feeling those pangs of dissatisfaction or anxiety arising from perfectionism goes like this: A mistake a day keeps perfectionism at bay.

It is up to us to decide if we’re ready for a less complicated life. Certainly, trying to live simply requires awareness of the ideas and behaviors that contribute to our living problems. In this respect, striving for simplicity certainly does not imply that there’s no work involved in avoiding the pitfalls that get us in too deep.

As we continue to be conscious of how we ourselves are basically responsible for our attitudes and ways of living, we may experience a sense of being humbled. This can be uncomfortable…after all, it’s far easier to blame other people, places, and things for the craziness of our lives! But if our goal is simplicity and serenity, it’s worth journeying inward to the place where peace can truly dwell and thrive, regardless of anything or anyone outside our skin.

September 14th, 2013

Finding Peace, Not Popularity

To one degree or another, trying to be “popular” has been an issue my whole life. I’m sure many can relate to this struggle, which usually begins around the time the honeymoon of childhood morphs into the agonizing self-consciousness of adolescence. I’ll never forget how it felt to panic about who I’d sit with at lunch or on the bus, or if anyone would be my science lab partner. Then there was the humiliation of being a “leftover” after everyone else had paired off. Somehow I had missed the lessons on how to look, how to dress, and most important of all, how to be “cool.” Anyway, how could I be cool when I was too paralyzed with shyness to even speak most of the time? My mind talked plenty, though, constantly reminding me I was a loser and that everyone around me knew it.

I felt alone and trapped in a cruel and miserable pecking order system favoring those unselfconscious enough to talk and laugh with their peers, yet insensitive enough to put down those who couldn’t. Today, the situation has a name: bullying. As far as I’m concerned, even identifying the behavior and the harm it can cause are huge steps forward in social progress.

Does being a sensitive person make one more likely to be teased, or is it the teasing that causes one to become sensitive? However it works, this negative cycle results in those most vulnerable being attacked, which to them is a nightmare of low self-esteem coming true. The obsession to fit in, and the resulting humiliation of perceived failure, is enough to create a permanent shift in a person’s brain, enough to push many over the precipice into some very dark places: suicide, addiction, unhealthy choices in relationships, and a host of other self-defeating coping mechanisms.

And if one survives being unpopular past high school, it’s not as though the damage magically disappears, either. For some victims, the core belief that they are somehow inadequate or not as lovable as others remains deeply buried, but at the same time manifests in just about everything they say and do, including the circumstances and people they attract to their lives.

Beyond the teenage years, the battle to feel worthy wages on, just in different arenas. It can be seen in cutthroat office politics, where not only status, but the ability to support oneself, are at stake. It can be felt within communities, where being “better than” is measured in wealth, education, politics, and ethnicity. The assumption is that if you have more money, power, material possessions, etc., you are somehow superior to, smarter, and more “together” than those with less.

Here in the digital age, the quest for approval is obvious on Facebook and other social networking sites, where the winners are those with the greatest number of “friends,” “followers,” or level of response to their posts. In a computerized society, it’s easier to represent yourself as someone you’re not, and thus increase your perceived status. It’s also easier, however, to hurt another’s feelings when you don’t have to personally witness the pain you cause another human across cyberspace.

In my own case, the abusive and dysfunctional environment of grades four through twelve, coupled with denial and further criticism at home, almost caused me to end my life at a young age. But taking on an overeating addiction basically rescued me, saving me from having to feel those emotions I basically had no ability to face at that time. Addictions do serve a purpose as a survival mechanism…unfortunately, they themselves can kill the very life they seek to protect.

There is hope, however. Even people like me who’ve suffered permanent disability to their self-esteem – be it from bullying or anything else – have a real opportunity to come out of this experience not only intact, but even better, perhaps, than they might have been without the trauma. The journey starts with basic endurance – bearing the discomfort of our own thoughts and feelings just for this day – but with honesty and the willingness to get help and work on our issues, leads to a softer place of healing. In this peaceful place, we love ourselves, our emotions, and our lives exactly as they are, no matter what anyone else thinks about us.

Having lived through the stigma of unpopularity (and barely, I admit), I like to think that my ordeal might help others having similar troubles. Low self-esteem is not exactly rare among humankind, so in my view, anyone with understanding, experience, and hope can be of great use. Focusing on replacing negative attitudes with positive ones has become my life-long challenge…and honestly, it can sometimes be a minute-to-minute battle.

Recent circumstances in my family have forced me to take another up-close look at how approval or disapproval from others affects peoples’ feelings about themselves. Much as I had hoped that the ghosts of middle school were long gone, they have returned now that the same damn thing is acutely affecting people I love. Fortunately, the solid growth I’ve had as a result of confronting myself and my attitudes has made the issue far less intimidating to deal with as it comes up in family members, reminding me to be grateful for the progress I’ve made in replacing those old, sick beliefs.

Here are my new beliefs: we are all worthy, no matter our flaws, deficiencies, or defects, and we will see our intrinsic value if we are willing to look for answers inside, instead of outside us, and grow along a path guided by the forces of goodness and love. Give those forces whatever name you want.

It’s really just as simple as that.

I wish I could say the journey on this path was simple, but I’d be lying. Sometimes it’s agonizing, confusing, and in my own case, fraught with my mistakes and shortcomings. But persistence is powerful…picture a leaf floating on the surface of a stream that is tossed about by eddies, rocks, and powerful currents, but still winds up moving downriver. Never forget that those healing forces guiding us are much stronger than we are, and they will push us along and give us rest when we need it.

August 25th, 2013

Review of a Must-Read: “From Iran to America – Mahnaz and Shirin, A Love Story”

From Iran Cover Paperback FrontReaders hooked on romance, memoirs, and foreign culture and history will love From Iran to America – Mahnaz and Shirin, A Love Story, a novel which cleverly combines all three. Recounting stories from his childhood in Iran and subsequent emigration to the United States, author Reza Mashayekhi paints a picture of day-to-day life growing up within a close, supportive family and community in his homeland under the Shah. Written through the eyes of a boy and later a young man, Reza’s experiences – at times funny, at times poignant – give the reader insight into an educated individual’s life in the Middle East. Adding to this are his harrowing lessons in love at the hands of the two Iranian women who give this book its title.

Mahnaz and Shirin, A Love Story is a touching reminder that no matter how various ethnicities are labeled or criticized, all people have the same needs and feelings as human beings. As such, it has invaluable potential for changing superficial and often media-influenced beliefs about Middle Easterners.

Romantics will appreciate how Mahnaz and Shirin, A Love Story describes in ecstatic and excruciating detail, the narrator’s  journey of falling in love with two beautiful, but very different women – one wicked and deceitful, the other honest and sweet. Is love ever simple? And why do the most scathing and ill-fated affairs captivate their victims against all will and reason? These are questions that transcend time, place, and nationality!

Those who start this book will have to finish it to see how the love triangle is finally resolved for its protagonist, whom the reader has readily befriended by the end of chapter one.

From Iran to America – Mahnaz and Shirin, A Love Story is available in print or e-book format through Amazon.com, BarnesAndNoble.com, or through the author’s website, RezaMashayekhi.com.

August 14th, 2013

It’s Here! YA Science Fantasy… “Water Tower”

 

Water Tower (Three Kingdoms, #2)

Water Tower

Book Two of the Trilogy “Three Kingdoms”

The Water Nation is in chaos.

Citizens of the Water Nation are not quite themselves these days. Madness is everywhere and the residents are split into violent factions. Brother turns on brother and the Hubs they call their homes are being destroyed. What is going on?

Fifteen-year-old Sam Cutter has every intention of finding out. It doesn’t matter that it hasn’t been more than a day since Sam fought against the New Power in their assault against the Sky Nation. When one of the world’s five eternal royals asks you for a favor, you don’t turn them down.

Besides, when has Sam ever avoided a fight? His friends know all too well that when he’s around, crazy things just seem to happen. But in a world of forces struggling for control and domination, a trouble-magnet like Sam might be exactly what’s needed.

Join Sam again as he heads to the Water Nation on the bottom of the ocean. Sometimes all it takes is one brave, determined, and somewhat awkward kid to stand up to powers far beyond the ordinary, whether they be good or evil.

Good and evil is just a matter of opinion anyway.

Download your copy today!

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18281337-water-tower