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Writing about what really matters

Tag: justice

Always buy yourself a birthday present

Billie full size

This is, to my mind, a small but important secret to a happy life. You should get yourself a Christmas present too–or one for any and every holiday you believe should be accompanied by a gift you really like.

This way, no matter how many boring gift certificates you get, or flowers that are already wilting, or chocolate that’s bloomed, or clothing in a size from 10 years ago or a size you have never yet worn, you can smile pleasantly and think of the really satisfactory present you’ve already gotten. From you.

This was mine this year–posted per Hannah’s request to see the frame. (You can also see that the world did not lose a great photographer when I decided to write.) I was in San Jose on business around my birthday, and after dinner I wandered into the Bruni Gallery. This print of a Billie Holliday portrait–after a famous photograph–spoke to me. For awhile anyway, despite a difficult and painful life, she raised her voice and used it to call attention to injustice (which seems a weak word for lynching), singing the haunting “Strange Fruit” to cap every Café Society performance.

I see her doing just that every time I walk in my front door–a reminder to raise my voice in service of justice, and everything else that’s truly important.

Billie frame closeup

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Forty-eight things I’ve learned along the way

Leo cropped

Nora Ephron famously felt bad about her neck (though hopefully she no longer does). I do not, despite having the sort of neck not found on any swan, the sort of neck not flattered by a flaw-concealing turtleneck.

In those moments when I could be feeling bad about my neck, I instead choose to feel good about the head sitting on top of it–specifically the many contents that were missing in the days when the neck beneath was flawless.

In honor of my birthday, a list of 48 random things I’ve learned thus far. (Links are mostly to previous blog posts.)

  1. How to choose my battles. It’s amazing when I think about it now, how many (unimportant) things I was once willing to pitch battle for.
  2. Being able to recognize my ego’s involvement has really made all the difference. At least 99% of the time, that’s what the battle was really about.
  3. Compassion is a great thing to have on hand when your own or someone else’s ego flares up.
  4. Kindness is also pretty important. Even when you need to draw a boundary firmly, it’s generally possible to do it with kindness.
  5. How to forgive continually.
  6. And how to release bitterness–also key.
  7. I used to think being smart was a lot more important than it really is. It’s nice, sure, but far from the most important thing.
  8. Love–that would be the most important thing.
  9. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear …” (I John 4:18, KJV). When fear comes up in one of its many guises, love is the antidote.
  10. Learning to meditatelife-changing for sure.
  11. I learned I was an artist–and I bet you are too. I’d love to see everyone find a really good way to access their right brains.
  12. I grew up laboring in a huge organic vegetable garden, but only as an adult did I discover the joy of working hand-in-hand with Mother Nature to unleash plants’ amazing desire to grow and thrive.
  13. I still remember reading the magazine article that taught me to recognize a narcissist. Based on my early experience, I was choosing narcissists as friends. (Word to the wise: they don’t make very good ones.) I’ve finally learned to stop doing that. Woohoo!
  14. I’ve also learned to allow others to be exactly who they are. If people in my life are behaving badly, I generally do say a few words about it–and leave it at that. People have to change, if that’s what they’re going to do, at their own pace. I hope that if they’re not ready to hear now, they will be later.
  15. But just because I must allow people to be exactly who they are doesn’t mean I have to allow everyone into my inner circle, regardless of their behavior.
  16. Much if not most of what I was taught as a child simply isn’t true.
  17. It’s OK to be uncertain. Embracing a model that offers a complete set of answers about how the world works is certainly tempting, but it’s also a pretty good way to be wrong.
  18. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter a great deal what people believe, if anything. What really matters is how we treat others. Living a good life isn’t dependent on a particular worldview.
  19. Therefore, beliefs are generally not worth fighting for–but a value might be. Justice is worth fighting for.
  20. Karma is real–a universal law to which there are no exceptions.
  21. At the same time, if you’re a graduate student in the school of life, expectations are higher for you than for someone at the elementary-school level–and that’s fair.
  22. I no longer believe you only live once. I find this comforting, because it means there’s no need to try to accomplish everything, see everything, do everything, in this one lifetime. Accordingly, I don’t have a bucket list–or if I do, it’s a short one.
  23. It’s OK to relax. In fact, it’s a really good idea.
  24. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being an introvert. Oh, I am an introvert. (I was quite sure for awhile that I was right and Myers-Briggs was all wrong.)
  25. Models are really helpful, but there’s still a lot they don’t reveal.
  26. Life is not a competition.
  27. Cooperation is really enjoyable.
  28. Sarcasm is best in small doses, and is probably not one of the world’s great art forms.
  29. Participation in social media is not a measure of the validity of my life. And Facebook friends are not the same as real friends.
  30. Complaining isn’t a tool for making anything better, though feedback might be.
  31. Having companion animals is totally worth the trouble and mess. And just think of all the money I’ve saved by eliminating carpet and rugs from my life!
  32. An old house is worth the trouble too. But it’s best to have an excellent plumber, electrician, carpenter, and painter on speed dial.
  33. I am the very best person, bar none, to define what my life should look like.
  34. A good, hot bath can cure what ails you.
  35. A good cup of hot tea (my favorite: acai green tea) is also a pretty good idea. I leave my desk for at least one cup of tea every day I work.
  36. Whether or not you should listen to your mother depends entirely on what your mother has to say.
  37. The leaders of my country may or may not be wise. If they are not, I should notice and take an active role in electing those who are.
  38. Self-help is ultimately the only help there is.
  39. But we could all use a hand up.
  40. No one asked me to judge.
  41. The less I judge, the happier I am.
  42. This is what a feminist looks like.
  43. I should decide what is and isn’t BS on the basis of how well it works, not what other people say about it or what it looks like on the surface.
  44. But when in doubt, follow your gut.
  45. It’s a good idea not to abdicate control, but it’s a mistake to think that every aspect of my life can and should be within my complete control. Forces of nature came by their name honestly.
  46. I am responsible for making the world a better place–and so are you.
  47. I’m not perfect, and neither is anyone I know. Discovering anyone’s imperfection should not be surprising. We’re all human.
  48. The best is yet to come.

What have you learned along the way?

This post is illustrated with my SoulCollage® card Personal power + Leo.

SoulCollage cards are for personal use, and are not for sale, barter, or trade.

Unshakable beliefs

Lover

Recently I came across a “Something to think about” question in an old issue of O magazine that made me want to sit down and answer it … “Which of your beliefs are unshakable? In the space below, write the fundamental principles you live by.”

Such an interesting question. I was raised in a fundamentalist environment chock-full of “unshakable beliefs,” virtually none of which I subscribe to at this point in my life. I’ve changed my mind so many times that there isn’t a lot that I like to say I’m absolutely sure of. But I suppose there are a few things …

  • Love is stronger than hate.
  • Karma is for real, and there are no exceptions.
  • Doing the right thing as best I know how is the key to a peaceful mind.
  • Justice does prevail, though it may not be anything like immediate.
  • I live in a benevolent Universe.
  • I chose to be here.
  • I am here to learn.
  • Life is difficult, and also beautiful.
  • I prefer the truth to anything else.
  • Change is constant–you might as well welcome it.
  • Positivity beats negativity.
  • Ego is incompatible with enlightenment.
  • Meditation–preferably twice a day–is essential to my living my best life.
  • Healing is worth the effort.
  • Kindness matters.

How would you answer this question … what are your unshakable beliefs?

This post is illustrated with my SoulCollage card The Lover, the last of the cards I made at the archetypes retreat I attended last month.

SoulCollage® cards are for personal use, and are not for sale, barter, or trade.

How to release bitterness

Mandiba

Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies. –Nelson Mandela

As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison. –Nelson Mandela

I well remember the moment I realized I was, in fact, bitter. My father had frequently accused me of it–akin to sucker-punching someone and then later accusing them of being bruised–but I didn’t take him seriously.

The moment came in my Jewish-American Lit class. I was an undergrad, probably about 20 at the time. We were reading Philip Roth’s Goodbye, Columbus, and one of my classmates commented on the protagonist’s being bitter. I responded that no, he was perfectly normal, with just a little resentment about x, y, and z.

When all my classmates seemed to agree that Neil Klugman was bitter, and only I thought he was perfectly normal, I had an aha moment. Normal for me was bitter. I’d been marinating in bitter for pretty much my entire life thus far–it was my milieu.

I also remember very well the moment I decided that something had to change. It was years later, I was still explosively angry, and of course that anger had a way of showing up out of all proportion to the current situation.

I was at the big post office at the airport buying stamps (God love you if you’re old enough to remember when we used to have to buy stamps all the time, so we could pay our bills and write letters to people). When I left, my stamps set off the alarm. I took them back to the cashier to have the sensor deactivated. I then left again–and set off the alarm again. At which point I lost it–in a way that seemed quite normal to me, and was very consistent with what I’d witnessed growing up. But the wide eyes up and down the long line of those waiting for their own stamps clearly indicated my reaction wasn’t proportional to what had occurred.

At that moment I decided I was quite tired of carrying that much anger around, and something had to change. Perhaps you’ve decided that too.

The answer, of course, is forgiveness–but it’s not what you think.

For years I resisted forgiveness, because it wasn’t what I thought either. It seemed weak. Not at all–forgiveness requires strength.

Forgiveness is not letting anyone off the hook. I think the first, most important thing to realize it that’s it’s not you or I who has anyone on the hook to start with. Yes, you have been wronged. But (and hopefully you are relieved to hear this!) you are not the ultimate arbiter of justice.

My belief is that a universal and inescapable law of karma exists, bigger than you and me, bigger than all the wrongdoers and evildoers, bigger than this little planet where it all went down.

And that law says that if you hurt someone, there will be consequences for you. What you do will come back to you, no exceptions. When you throw someone’s life off course, there will be major consequences for you. Those consequences could last multiple lifetimes. If what you put out there is unpleasant, what comes back to you will be equally unpleasant–most likely even more so. And if you put love out there, it will come back to you multiplied. You either pay your karmic debts, or game over. Those are the choices.

The universe says, I got it.

So your concern is you, not the other guy. And it really all comes down to this–are you going to let what happened ruin your life and your health, or are you not? It is just that simple.

Forgiveness is taking your power back. If there is bitterness in your heart, that is like giving a piece of your power away to someone else. Someone who very likely should have less power, not more. Forgiving fully enables you to inhabit the fullness of your own personal power. And letting go of bitterness is a decision–one only you can make.

For me, the process looks like this …

  1. Understand that you are bitter. That’s not mother’s milk you’re soaking in!
  2. Understand that bitterness doesn’t serve you. It is not now, and never will be, your friend.
  3. Decide to release it. I’m not going to tell you it’s easy, but I am going to tell you it is so, so worth it!
  4. If you’re not sure how, ask for information about the right tool for you to flow to you. Information is abundant, one of the easiest things to manifest. Breathwork (sometimes referred to as rebirthing) is a tool that has worked for me in letting things go. I’ve done the therapy thing twice–once in my 20s and once in my 40s, once for each parent it seems–but for me it was a tool for understanding and making sense of things, not necessarily for releasing bitterness. Meditation is also a wonderful tool for letting go of unhelpful things like perfectionism and judgment, and brings you into the present and out of the past. I started meditating after I went through this process.
  5. As you release bitterness, watch the importance of your ‘enemy’ shrink. What a small person he turned out to be!
  6. Now that you have it back, get on with your beautiful life.

This post is illustrated with my SoulCollage card Forgiveness + Nelson Mandela. Nelson Mandela is a true hero to me, not least because he forgave so well. I was inspired by mindlovemisery’s Prompt 46–Bitter Loathing.

Reflections on a wild week

rollercoaster

This past Sunday as I made breakfast, I observed myself muttering about my situation at work, and noted that it would be one of my tasks for the day to get myself centered in preparation for the week ahead.

As I mentioned in my last post, when I wondered what I could or should do to create change, my inner guidance was, “Wait and see.” I accepted this guidance, and decided to anchor it by making a SoulCollage card to represent the concept. I spent meditative, creative time doing so that afternoon. When I finished the card, I felt satisfied … I think the card is one of my most artistic, and it’s also been one of the most immediately helpful. I felt completed grounded in and committed to waiting and seeing what would happen next, and really felt at peace with this approach. A 180 since breakfast.

On Monday morning, the wild ride began almost immediately, as meetings were called to discuss changes in executive management. Later in the day, I couldn’t help but hear a loud altercation taking place behind a closed door. Despite all the drama, I felt calm all day.

I didn’t learn about everything that had happened until Tuesday, but what happened that day as it affects me directly is that, in two separate actions, the two people who’ve done the most to make my work life “challenging” (euphemism alert) over the past several years are no longer with the company. Someone passed me a note on a company-logoed Post-it that summed it all up rather well–“Justice … finally!”

Wow. I guess that counts as a twist and a turn. Not to mention a surprise.

As my life now includes one less narcissist, I may be in a bit of danger of losing my expert status on that topic. I can totally live with that.

My sense is that the changes and surprises aren’t finished yet … that there’s more to come. I’m buckled up for the wild ride. I’m completely on board with this wait and see approach.

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