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PEOPLE ARE BORN WITH BASIC GOODNESS

“Human greatness does not lie in wealth or power, but in character and goodness. People are just people, and all people have faults and shortcomings, but all of us are born with a basic goodness.” – Anne Frank

The story below demonstrates that “people are just people.” It’s also an example of basic human goodness and dignity. The gifts of reverence, compassion, and hope too. As Alan Cohen said, “Scared and sacred are spelled with the same letters… Every negative experience holds the seed of transformation.” 

My friend, Kathy, and I had just began an early morning beach walk before class at the University of Santa Monica. She and I were graduate students there. We hadn’t walked far when Kathy stopped and held her stomach. “I think I’m going to be sick,” she said. She looked like she might faint too. I knew she had just started taking a bunch of vitamins and had taken them on an empty stomach that morning. With her leaning on me, we slowly made our way toward the shade under the Santa Monica Pier.

There was a man under the pier. I had noticed him as we approached. He looked like he had spent the night there, actually many nights. I avoided making eye contact.  

Once there, sure enough, Kathy was sick. Neither of us had water or a tissue.

Tenuously, the homeless man approached us. “I don’t have any water but you’re welcome to what I have,” he said, holding up a bag wrapped around a bottle of amber liquid.
He was sincere and kind, gentlemanly and generous.

In an instant, that man, and the whole situation of Kathy sick under the pier, went from ugly to beautiful and from scared to sacred. There was nothing “other” about him. Nothing offensive. Nothing frightening. There was nothing to judge. He was one of us, three people with basic goodness who happened to be under the pier at the same time.

With love, gratitude, and joy,
Charlene     

 

FINDER’S KEEPERS OR LOST AND FOUND

 

 

“Abundance is a process of letting go; that which is empty can receive.” ~  Bryant H. McGill

Several of my recent Touchstones have been about letting go of excess stuff – material things and emotional upsets. As often happens, I soon got to experience the topic I was writing about. I was put to the test. Well, as Terry Brooks and others say, “We are constantly being put to the test.” So what happened? And how did I do? you might ask.

After finding a few nice deals in a discount store, I carried my bag of purchases into the neighboring department store, which was extremely busy. In the crowd confusion, I somehow lost my bag from the previous store. Retracing my steps, searching the store, and checking with the staff were all unsuccessful. And at the end of the day nothing had been turned into lost and found.

Because the items were things I wanted to give to my grandchildren, I felt upset with the loss, upset with myself, and upset with whomever found that bag and kept it. For hours I could not shake my feelings of disappointment, frustration, and judgment. I certainly was not “traveling light” as yesterday’s touchstone prescribed. Finally, I remembered that I could think about it differently and bring myself closer to a state of inner peace. I decided to imagine the delight of a parent and child finding an abandoned bag, opening it, and seeing that it contained some things needed by the child for school. To them it might have seemed like something left by a heavenly or earthly angel. They might have felt extreme gratitude and joy. 

Did this happen? I don’t know. But I decided to reframe the incident and think of myself as being divinely used. I trusted that whomever found “my stuff” needed it more than I did. Shortly thereafter the emotional upset with myself was lifted.
I hope a little girl is happily wearing the oh-so-soft shirt I selected for Alexis.                             
Please know that letting go is not always easy for me.

I’ll be continuing to work on it.
Join me? Let’s see what happens,
especially when we’re tested. 

With love,
Charlene

P.S. – We can rise above circumstances,
be light, delight in life, see the good, and choose peace.

A HELPFUL TAX TIP TO — USE EVERY DAY

 

 

 

“We must care for each other more, and tax each other less.”  – Bill Archer

 

 

Although it’s posted on April 15, this reflection is not about paying income tax.  Consider that the word “taxing” also means exacting, onerous, rigorous, challenging, demanding, and tough. 

To what extent are you exacting about how things must be done? Do you often demand more and more of yourself and others? Are you a perfectionist? Do you have trouble saying “No” to any requests for your help. Do you celebrate projects completed and rest a bit before the next one? Or do you jump right in without a break?

Might you be “over-taxing” yourself and others with regard to accomplishments, affection, attention, anything?

If the answer is “Yes,” please refrain from judging yourself harshly. Avoid taxing yourself further with guilty thoughts and feelings and negative energy to carry.

We’re all learning how to maintain balance among all our needs, responsibilities, desires, and dreams. 

This “tip” begins with mindfulness and calls for daily doses love and compassion. For our own well-being and for greater peace among us, let’s care more and tax less. Let’s be kind.

​​​​​​​With love and compassion,
Charlene

DOES GRATITUDE ALWAYS LEAD TO JOY?

 

 

 

 

 

“The sixth gift is Joy. May it keep your heart open and filled with light.” – from The Twelve Gifts of Birth

 

 

I find that sincere gratitude always opens my heart to the joy that is naturally there. The blossom of joy that follows gratitude may or may not bloom into happiness. Happiness, of course, follows more readily when our hearts are not covered with a protective layer due to deep hurt, sadness, fear, grief or worry. In such times, we may feel as if we will never feel happy again.

But even at the dark and heavy times in my life, when I allowed authentic gratefulness for something–anything–to bubble up from my heart, some joy seeped through with it and gave me a small yet pleasant uplift.

Sometimes joy is like the Rose Bowl Parade of floral floats and marching bands. Other times joy is like a gentle, fragrant breeze on a summer night, barely there, so subtle one might not even notice it. Ahh. But when we do, that little petal of joy is soothing and sweet.

I am recalling times when I was seriously ill or heartbroken. I found that if I sat still, slowed and deepened my breath, and stayed in the present moment, some appreciation always emerged. It might have been for the color of my bedroom walls, or that my digestive system had worked easily, or that my back felt comfortably supported by the pillows behind me. Or, I noticed beauty in something in the room or in nature, outside the window. Or… the possibilities are endless.

I am offering this because I know that among us, always, there are people we know or friends we haven’t yet met who are experiencing one of those dark and heavy times. In particular, a comment to a post on one of my Facebook pages prompted this writing at this time. I think we’ve all known  times when inspirational messages and encouraging suggestions might seem like well-meaning but empty platitudes.

I suspect we’ve also experienced at least one time when the energy of someone’s robust joy felt painful upon our fragile state of being. Bright light joy upon a hurting heart can be like driving into the late afternoon sun in Arizona. It’s so blinding that you have to shut your eyes, look away, or turn to another direction. Have you ever felt like that?

At fragile times, I believe that loving acceptance, along with compassionate kindness and reverent listening to understand, is the most wise and caring thing we can offer to one another. Although, I admit that sometimes I have offered advice instead of giving the gift of simply being there. But we live and we learn, yes?

What’s your experience? Both on the giving and the receiving side? And with joy itself?

With love,
Charlene

FOOD FOR THE SOUL – TODAY’S TWELVE GIFTS TOUCHSTONES

 

 

“I hope you never lose your sense of wonder…”

~ Lee Ann Womack

 

 

 

Me too, Lee Ann.  I wish that wonder would be protected and nourished in every child and adult.

I believe we can’t actually lose the wonderment we were born with, just as we can’t lose our innate gifts of hope, joy, courage, compassion, love or any of the qualities that are a part of our essence. But we can lose our sense of them.  It seems to me that we all sometimes lose our sensing of the beauty that’s built into our being.  If we ignore them, we can get out of touch with all of our inner gifts.

That’s why I write “touchstones” and share them freely each day. They feed my gifts. They feed my soul. And sharing them doesn’t diminish them one bit. In fact, the more they’re shared, the more their nutritional power grows like yeasted dough.

I’m resolving to deepen my awareness of and appreciation for the gifts of life in the New Year. Care to join me in this intention for 2018? That’s all we need to begin: the intention. We’ll be guided further.

Already I’m feeling a surge of increased enthusiasm for messages that uplift and encourage us. And not only for the touchstones I compose. I’ll be watching for inspiration in books, films, music, news and all forms of expression and communication. If you don’t already receive Today’s Touchstone via email, perhaps you’ll subscribe now, using the form on this website.

Before closing, I’d like to add a few more lines from the well-known song recorded by Lee Ann Womack:

“I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens
Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance
I hope you dance
I hope you dance”

With joy,
Charlene

GET ON WITH LIVING AND LOVING

As Leo Buscaglia said, “Get on with living and loving. You don’t have forever.”

We don’t. So let’s aim to release all the things that block living and loving, such as regrets, resentments, guilt, shame, blame, hate, fear, and fault finding. Let’s let them go and make room for love, compassion, hope, joy, courage, wisdom, faith, strength and more.

Consider this intention-anchoring activity: Several times throughout the day, take deep breaths. As you do, imagine drawing all the energy of those love-blocking things into that breath. Imagine expelling them in the exhale. Now breathe in all that’s love related. If this helpful, repeat as often as you wish. I like to do this outdoors and add bubble-blowing to the activity. I imagine the released stuff carried off and away in the bubbles.

Of course, there are many more ways to approach freeing ourselves from guilts and grudges, including professional therapy to work through deep-seated issues. My suggested activities are meant to strengthen intentions and to use imagination to build well-being. As Adele Brookman said, “Use your imagination not to scare yourself to death but to inspire yourself to life.”

HOW DO WE FIND AND GROW OUR INNER WEALTH?

 

 

“I’d gone though my life believing in the strength and competence of others; never my own. Now, dazzled, I discovered that my capacities were real. It was like finding a fortune in the lining of an old coat.”                 ~ Joan Mills

We’ve probably all known the delight of finding money when it was needed. I can recall college days and newlywed times of finding a few dollar bills in a purse or a handful of change between sofa pillows. I wouldn’t say I was dazzled, but I was elated. I might have even jumped for joy.

Did you know that about $2 billion in lottery prizes go unclaimed every year? And there’s an estimated $850 million lying unclaimed in lost and forgotten bank accounts.

What is the undiscovered and untapped wealth within us worth? Far more than any amount of money.

If we only knew how to readily claim and develop our inner resources of love, talent, courage, hope, imagination, compassion, faith – all our gifts – we could achieve a rare way of living life, being fully ourselves.

With faith and enthusiasm, let’s look within ourselves every day for discoveries of our gifts. Let’s also do something, however small, to cultivate and grow them everyday. One way to grow our gifts is to use them everyday.

“How do I do that?” you might ask. There are many ways. I will offer two here.

At least once each day stretch beyond blah feelings, angry feelings, hurtful feelings and choose to act kindly, caringly. In other words, decide to use the gift of love even if you don’t feel like it. 

To symbolize and strengthen your intention to grow your inner wealth, start with a clear jar similar to the one in the photo. Every time you notice a demonstration of any one of the gifts – either within yourself or another person – add a coin to the jar, even if it’s just a penny. Every seemingly little penny will contribute to the growth of actual money in the jar just as every seemingly little act of courage or statement of hope will be growing your conscious awareness and appreciation of your inner wealth.

Watch for examples of all the forms of strength in your personal life, in the world, in books, films, everywhere. Look for the word “strength” on billboards, on TV ads, everywhere. Become more aware of strength, especially in yourself.  Do this with each of The Twelve Gifts: strength, beauty, courage, compassion, hope, joy, talent, imagination, reverence, wisdom, love and faith.  If you do this, whether or not you use the money jar, you will be growing your gifts. But the visible symbol and action of adding coins to the jar will help anchor your intention and commitment. It will also be fun.

You are likely to collect some interesting stories about each gift too. If you feel inclined to add any here, please do! We will all benefit. Send your story the contact box or enter it in the comment area. If you wish to know of some true story examples of others growing their gifts, you can find a collection of them in TOUCHSTONES: STORIES FOR LIVING THE TWELVE GIFTS. This book is available both as a paperback and as an e-book. You can also access stories about each of the gifts right here, on this home page, to the right of this blog. 

Happy hunting!

With love,
Charlene

 

 

 

 

 

 

With joy,
Charlene

THE TWELVE GIFTS PATH TO WELLNESS

 

 

 

 

 

“My own path towards wellness has been a long and dynamic one. It’s taught me that healing from the inside out takes time and there can be great value in various sources of guidance.”      – Carre Otis

What is your path like? What does it include?

Mine follows a trail through hope and faith while tapping into strength and courage; applying lots of kindness and self-compassion; daily doses of joy; appreciating beauty in many forms; time in nature…and more…including prayer; meditation; inspirational reading; savoring scents, sights, sounds and tastes…touch too…as in dry body brushing, gentle massage, warm salted and essential-oil-scented baths and Reiki treatments; visualization…that’s a major one! Do you visualize the outcomes you desire? What promotes well-being for you? What helps you heal? I’d love to hear from you! 

(This photo was taken by me while walking on a path near our home when my husband and I lived in Sedona, Arizona. I was healing from lymphoma at the time. Along with standard medical chemotherapy, I did “apply” daily doses of The Twelve Gifts. Love, joy, beauty, hope, faith, compassion..they all promote healing and well-being.)

A “FAITH IN HUMANITY” STORY OF COMPASSION, HOPE, AND JOY

 

On September 10th, an unusual ad appeared in a Houston newspaper. The ad is actually a letter from the people of New Orleans to the people of Houston. The message, a moving and powerful one, demonstrates the best in humanity, including its beauty. Our beauty.

 

Please read the letter below. What thoughts, feelings, and ideas does it stir in you? Post your comments on the contact page here on my website or write to me at CharleneCostanzo@gmail.com.

 

“To our friends in Texas,

Twelve years ago, you took in hundreds of thousands of us. You opened your homes, closets, and kitchens. You found schools for our kids and jobs to tide us over. Some of us are still there. And when the rest of the world told us not to rebuild, you told us not to listen. Keep our city and traditions alive.

Now, no two storms are the same. Comparing rising waters is a waste of energy when you need it most. But know this — in our darkest hour, we found peace and a scorching, bright light of hope with our friends in Texas. And we hope you’ll find the same in us.

Our doors are open. Our clothes come in every size. There’s hot food on the stove, and our cabinets are well-stocked. We promise to always share what we have.

Soon, home will feel like home again, even if it seems like a lifetime away. We’ll be battling for football recruits under the Friday night lights. You’ll tell us to stop trying to barbeque. We’ll tell you to lay off your crawfish boil and come have the real thing. But for as long as you need, we’re here to help.

The way of life you love the most will carry on. You taught us that. Your courage and care continues to inspire our whole city. We couldn’t be more proud to call you our neighbors, our friends, and our family. Texas forever.

We’re with you,
New Orleans”

(from the Houston Chronicle)

As I read it again, I tear, again. But they are happy tears. My faith in humanity is strengthened. You and I can act with this level of compassion and reverence for others, day in and day out, in times of calamity and times of calm, always. We have the capacity for this. And the courage. We can respond with loving care and respect no matter how others behave. Does this seem wise or foolish to you? Realistic, idealistic, or unrealistic? I’d love to hear from you!

Charlene

SEEING PROBLEMS AS OPPORTUNITIES

    
 
“A problem is a chance for you to do your best.” 
              ~ Duke Ellington
 

 

 

Hmm. I think we all believe, to some extent at least, that we can look at “problems” differently. We can find blessings in every challenge. 

If/when we do ever truly see them as valuable opportunities, the outcomes will be different. We will be different. Stronger. Healthier. Freer. Better in so many ways.

But because we are so accustomed to seeing problems as…well…PROBLEMS, we do not yet embrace them as opportunities. We often fear them, deny them, resist them, complain about them, blame others for them, or beat ourselves up over them. We may try to avoid facing them.

Today, let’s take another shot at grasping the powerful truth that our problems are chances for us to get it better, to overcome limitations, to clear away stumbling blocks, to remove blind spots and to remove hurts and hates from our hearts.

There are many possible tools and practices that can help us “see differently.”

Consider this:

Select one of your worries, one of the things you have labeled as a “problem.” Write a brief description of it, fold the paper, and place it in a spot you designate as sacred, or special to you in some way. Intend, as best you can, to release the worry.  Even if it feels “impossible,” do it anyway. Do it with faith, even if that faith is smaller than a mustard seed. Ask for help, guidance and grace to recognize opportunities and solutions that lead to something greater. Then use your gift of imagination. “See” the person, the issue, the financial challenge, the threat of loss, the illness – whomever and whatever – in a different light. Remember a time or vision one in which all is well. Open your heart further to love and compassion by bringing to mind someone or something you love dearly, something that makes you smile. Baby animals do this for many people. Go about your day, gently.

 


Also, let this drawing be a reminder that truly can see things differently. Are you familiar with it? You should be able to see both a young woman and a very old one. While neither is the “correct” or “better” way of seeing, seeing problems as opportunities is the better way for our health, happiness, and success overall.

May every problem in our personal lives, in our country and in our world lead us toward greater love, hope, beauty, and joy. Toward greater courage and compassion too. And peace.

With faith always,

Charlene