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THE SOUL OF AMERICA

 

 

“In this world, which is getting more and more closely interconnected, we have to learn to tolerate each other, we have to learn to put up with the fact that some people say things that we don’t like. We can only live together in that way. But if we are to live together, and not die together, we must learn a kind of charity and a kind of tolerance, which is absolutely vital to the continuation of human life on this planet… Love is wise; hatred is foolish.”
                                                      ~  Bertrand Russell

 

Like millions of other people in America and around the world, I am deeply concerned not only about the direction, the health, and the safety of our country, I am concerned about its soul. Our soul.

How did meanness and bullying become acceptable? How did bravado come to be admired? How and why did fear, hate and disrespect erupt and spread like a disease among us?

I’ve heard the theories – perhaps you have too – that hidden dis-ease rising to the surface is a good thing.

Actually, it CAN be a good thing, but it IS NOT automatically a good thing.

We now know what has been lurking in our core. We see the fear and hate that needs to be addressed if we want to remain a strong democracy. That’s the good part. We can choose to face our national ills with the resolve to become a nation healthier than ever before. I hope and pray that we will respond this way because, like the human body, as a country we can heal or we can succumb to illness.

When I was diagnosed with stage 4 non-curable lymphoma, it seemed like very bad news. But my daughters helped me to see that having a hidden cancer come to the surface in the form of a lump was a good thing. Aware of the cell-growth dysfunction and the danger in my body, I could confront the growing disease. And I did. Understanding that life itself and my body were on my side, I gave healing my all. Along with treating the cancer with standard medical therapies, I treated my whole body with love for life, deep hope, courage and compassion, joy and laughter, prayer and meditation, beauty in many forms, and with an absolute-faith-filled-resolute conviction that I would heal. One might say that along with chemotherapy, I successfully treated my dis-ease with soul qualities. That’s how I see it.

Like a cancer that so many of us have had diagnosed, it is urgent that we address America’s dis-ease now before it metastasizes, eats away at our vitality, and destroys our democracy.

I disagree with those who say we should simply trust and let the present course run its course. I believe we must not take the “watch and wait” approach for the dis-ease that is raging within and among us.

Am I being overly dramatic? Reactionary? Some might say so. I’m certain some will.

But what if we are like the frog in a pot of warm water simmering to higher and higher temperatures? If we don’t act soon, soon it may be too late. In case you are unfamiliar with this metaphor, imagine placing a living frog in a pot of boiling water. With good sense, the frog will jump out immediately. However, if a frog is placed in a pot of cold water that is slowly heating, the frog will adjust the rising temperature and succumb to the boiling water, losing its life.

Along with the experience of facing cancer and the metaphorical lesson of the frog in hot water, an experience I had as a college freshman is informing and inspiring me now.

I entered college in the fall of 1967. That year the student government had instituted a mild hazing program as part of freshman orientation. For one week we first year students were required to wear a beanie and a sign that identified our name, home city and state, and major field of study. There were other silly rules. Freshmen were expected to address all upper classmen as ma’am or sir. Certain sidewalks were off limits. We were also expected to recognize the student senators and be able to sing the school’s song accurately upon any and every request. All of this was intended to build camaraderie and get us involved in campus life. Although the intention was honorable and the activities did build spirit, that initiation was demeaning. Then it went too far.

Near the end of the week, two senior senators asked us to attend a special meeting. Like obedient sheep, we filed in. Our class of students filled the 500 seats set up for us on the large gym floor. One of our fellow-classmates sat on the raised stage. One of the senators held scissors. The other spoke into the microphone, explaining their action. Our classmate was going to be used as an example. He had broken too many orientation rules. And, he had “unacceptable” long hair that must be eliminated.

“If anyone doesn’t like this, you can leave this auditorium right now. But if you do, you will be leaving this university,” that senator ranted. “I assure you we have the right to do this.” He went on to explain that they were acting “in loco parentis,” which is to say they had authority to act like our parents and we were to submit to their disciplinary actions as we would to our parents. I didn’t understand the legality or the truth of that, I just knew that I felt shocked, confused, and frightened.

I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing. I wanted to stand and yell No! I felt sure that, if I did, others would join me. Perhaps the entire freshman class would stand against the action. The word NO swelled inside me. But I sat still and held it in.

From the time I started kindergarten, I had heard that I was destined for college. My parents had worked and saved so that I could attend. Neither of them had even finished high school.

Although he loved learning and received good grades, my father quit high during his senior year of high school because he wanted to serve the ideals of the United States and protect her, without delay. He enlisted voluntarily and became a U.S. Army foot soldier.

My dad was among the many who were shot during WW II. While marching through the Herkimer Forest, a bullet lodged in his chest, right next to his idealistic heart. Fortunately for me and many others, he survived that bullet. Young Stephen Albert went on receive the Purple Heart award and to meet the women he would love as much as country, the women who would become my mom after she quit school to join the workforce and support the American effort in her own way.

Every night during my primary grades my dad would check my written homework, drill me in spelling, and listen to my multiplication tables. Both my parents encouraged me in every way they could through all the grades. They were so excited when I received letters of acceptance from several colleges. Just a few days before this incident, the three of us made a nine-hour journey to my first-choice school. I remembered the pride I saw on their faces when we said good-bye.

Certainly the student senators didn’t have the authority to cut another student’s hair. It was wrong! Yet…it was just a haircut, I rationalized, as I squirmed in my chair.

So, I sat, stifling the “No” that strained to scream. I continued to hope that someone – surely someone – would stop the misuse of power.

But no one did. And so I watched as that young man’s long brown locks were chopped and dropped to the floor. Through the rest of meeting I sat in disbelief and self-censure, thinking, “I’m a coward.”

I chose not to speak because I was afraid for my own security. An embarrassing example might be made of me. Or worse. I thought I might indeed be asked to leave the university due to the “in loco parentis” authority they cited.

Over the years, sadness and shame re-surfaced whenever I recalled that event until I recognized the compassion, the wisdom, and the call to courage that the lesson offered.

My own self-protective fear helped me to understand – in part, at least – why some people allowed the Holocaust to happen. They too were afraid. They rationalized. They bought the story that others were to blame. Others must be punished. Others must be eliminated.

But mostly, that haircut taught me that we must watch with great care and love for our Constitution. We must question authority and object when it misuses power. We must not wait and assume that someone else will protect the rights of all. We must stand. We must speak. This I believe. At least I know this is true for me.

And, at this time, as I see the potential of enormous abuses of power, I know that I must pay attention. I must question. I must stand and speak.

What do you believe? Please consider your life lessons. Might there there be at least one touchstone experience that urges you to resist the fear propaganda and to focus instead on all that is good and promising? To choose love instead of fear and hate?

We seem to have lost sight of what is truly great in America the Beautiful. We need a vision that is much higher and bigger than making money. We need to build wealth of soul, our own souls and the soul of America…

Millions of Americans are seeing red flags and hearing warning bells now…

I’ve heard some say “Don’t worry. Our system of checks and balances will work.” So far, I’m not seeing that. Are you? It seems to me we are seeing a deliberate and dangerous demeaning of our judicial system and of the media. We are seeing what appears to be the intention to dismantle many departments and many aspects of what has been our imperfect but strong government.

I’ve also heard that as a young nation, we are like adolescents, believing we are invincible. No serious harm will come to us, we say like the cocky teen who dares to walk on the rails as the approaching train whistles and the steel vibrates under his feet. Like every teen who thinks “I won’t get caught, I won’t get hurt.” The truth is: we are vulnerable, just as Germany was.

Like a threat of cancer in the body, we must recognize threats to our Constitution. We must address it in the wisest way and do all we can to restore the strength and vitality of America – her land, her laws, her ideals, her people. We do this best by being the values we admire, being the change we want to see. Instead of looking exclusively to others to address the critical challenges, we must each empower ourselves and contribute toward restoring and advancing the health of our country with love, with great care, with wisdom, with hope. We must also listen to one another with respect and with the intention to understand instead of preparing to argue.

Consider how we are like cells in the human body. We may think we are small, one of many, with little influence or power to make a difference. But the truth is that each cell matters. We matter, you and I. Each of us matters, especially in our differences and diversity.

Recognizing this, embracing this value, this power, within ourselves and others is a first step toward healing the whole of who we are as Americans and toward restoring our soul.

As British philosopher and Nobel Laureate Bertrand Russell said, “In this world, which is getting more and more closely interconnected, we have to learn to tolerate each other, we have to learn to put up with the fact that some people say things that we don’t like. We can only live together in that way. But if we are to live together, and not die together, we must learn a kind of charity and a kind of tolerance, which is absolutely vital to the continuation of human life on this planet… Love is wise; hatred is foolish.”

He also said, “Neither a man nor a crowd nor a nation can be trusted to act humanely or to think sanely under the influence of a great fear.”

Love IS wise; Fear IS foolish. We must choose love. Compassion too. With wisdom and hope.

ABOUT BEAUTY, FROM A RECOVERING PERFECTIONIST

Tree in a meadow

“If you look closely at a tree you’ll notice its knots and dead branches, just like our bodies. What we learn is that beauty and imperfection go together wonderfully.”
~ Matthew Fox

 


I have often used polished stones as a way to demonstrate this message about beauty and imperfection.

When I give polished stones away at school presentations and workshops, I invite everyone to look closely and notice all the little nicks and scratches on the stones. Yes, they are strong and beautiful – the agates, the ambers, the amethysts, the apache tears, and the aquamarines, to name just a few. And, they are not perfect. Like us.

Another take-away from the stones is this: Colorful polished stones in circle
the stones come in all different colors,
shapes, and sizes. Like us.
And they are all beautiful. Like us.

Today and every day, let’s focus on the good and the beautiful in ourselves, others, and the world.

From a recovering perfectionist…

With love and compassion,
Charlene

SEE WITH AWE

SEE WITH WONDERWhat a beautiful idea. Imagine if we could see at least one thing this way every day. What joy that would bring. Peace too.

How do we do this?  We don’t see as we did when we were children. With wonderment. Over time our senses have dulled. We’ve seen so much. Perhaps too much. There may be things we wish we have never seen. Continue reading

BE IMPECCABLE WITH YOUR WORD

“Do you solemnly swear that you will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?”

                                                                                          ~ Courtroom Oath Question      

A few days ago I wrote a touchstone that invited us all to be courageous and hopeful about beginning something for the first time or “yet again.”    

When I wrote that touchstone, I thought of many possible “somethings” I might approach with this fresh start intention, such as eating more greens and organizing my office, to name two simple ones.

But when I read that touchstone in my own email in-box, something deeper came up from the guiding voice within. Be impeccable with your word, I heard, which, as you may know, is the first of the four principles written about in the bestselling book The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz.   Continue reading

HOPE FOR ALL AGES AND STAGES OF LIFE

 A week ago, Suffield High School Principal Donna Hayward in Suffield, Connecticut delivered a commencement address that was inspired by The Twelve Gifts of Birth.  I’m sharing it here because I believe Ms. Hayward’s message of hope and courage is for all of us. Thank you, Donna, for permission to post your speech along with your photo. I hope to meet you someday, new friend!  And thank you, dear reader. As always, I would love to hear your comments.  

Donna HaywardClass of 2014, you are just minutes from receiving your high school diploma. Your parents are wondering how you got here so fast, as it seems such a short time ago that you were born. Just a few years ago, you took your first steps, spoke your first words, got on the school bus kindergarten bound, learned to ride a bike. This is a natural time for your parents to reflect on the last 18 or so years and for us, your teachers, to reflect on whatever role we have played in your upbringing. As it turns out, teaching and parenting are closely related.

When my daughter was born, we received the usual tidal wave of gifts – blankets, cute little outfits, and baby gear of all kinds. One gift, in particular, though stood out as it arrived without a note or tag from the sender to indicate who had given it. One day, it simply arrived in my mailbox – its message clear – but to this day I don’t know who sent it. It was a book entitled, The Twelve Gifts of Birth, by Charlene Costanzo and it details the gifts or qualities bestowed upon each of you upon your birth as a human. “Royal dignity was yours from the day you were born,” the book begins – and on that day and on a day such as this all parents and teachers hope their children know these gifts. My role today is to remind you that you do all have them and to implore you to use them consciously and with purpose from this day forward.

The first gift is Hope and each of you were born with it. Continue reading

CATS: AND THE LESSONS THEY TEACH US

We have two cats. Both adopted us in 2001.

 

My husband and I were traveling in a motor home from Arizona to Florida.

 

MinkaAt a KOA in Texas, as we pulled onto our site, a homeless Tortie kitten raced across the campground, sat, and meowed outside our door. We let her in and named her Minka.

 

Three days later, a handsome grey shorthair did the same thing at a campground in Orlando. We named him Bailey.

 

Over the years, Minka and Bailey have given us many gifts and life lessons. They’ve shown us how to play, be silly, stretch, be flexible and graceful, cuddle, snuggle, nap, be present, savor scents and all our senses, stay nicely groomed, and more.

 

Last week, Bailey was diagnosed with widespread carcinomatosis. Our vet saidBailey that our sweet boy cat has perhaps two months to live. Probably less. Among the hard things: we are going to have to decide when to say when.

 

We’ve never had to put a pet down. We aim to preserve life. In fact, in our home we’ve had a catch-and-release program (for spiders, mice, and other unwelcomed house guests) in place since the 1980s.

 

But we must consider Bailey’s comfort and quality of life.

 

Among the good things: facing death hurts, and yet it can lead us toward greater love and compassion.  Continue reading

SPRING CLEAN

 

Clean heart“Create in me a clean heart, O God…”  

                                     ~ Psalm 51:10

I love this psalm.
Long ago I had a vinyl record of a song inspired by this passage. I can still play it in my mind. 

 

As winter ends and spring draws near, let’s make way for heart cleanings and clearings.

 

 

Intend to release judgments, regrets, and resentments. Consider using, today and every day, a song, a prayer, a ritual, an affirmation, some activity that helps you open to the grace of letting go, with love and compassion. 

                                                      

WHO SAYS THE WORLD IS GETTING BETTER?

Who says the world is getting better?Hope for the World

 

Well, the Dalai Lama for one.

 

Every day we are bombarded with news of gloom and doom. If we focus on that, we’re likely to conclude that the state of the world is worsening.

 

Please don’t despair.

 

According to His Holiness, humankind is maturing. We are also becoming more compassionate. Of course we still have a ways to go, but we are moving toward greater awareness of our connectedness and into a higher state of consciousness and love.

 

In several presentations, the Dalai Lama recalls discussing with the late Queen Mother this question about the world improving or worsening.

 

“The world is definitely getting better,” said Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. As an example, she pointed out that, when she was a child, there was no awareness in England around the issue of human rights. But in the course of the last century, human rights as a concept has become part of our world-wide universal consciousness.  While equal rights for all has certainly not yet been fully manifested, it is being realized a bit more day-by-day.

 

Please don’t give up. Become a conscious part of “the becoming better.” Focus on good news. Share it. Join the growing numbers of people practicing at least one random act of kindness every day. Be kind to you.

 

You matter. Your love. Your hope. Your caring. Your dreams. Your talent. You becoming more and more authentically you, with courage and compassion, is one of the ways the world is getting better.

ADOPT THE PACE OF NATURE

bird at pond
“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience, said Ralph Waldo Emerson.


“Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day,” wrote A.A. Milne.

 

As I rush toward leaving home to go on a personal retreat, I’m holding these quotes in mind. Wise advice, both of them. Lately my pace has been more like a hurricane wind than a tree growing or a river flowing or the swimming turtle I saw in the pond near my home this morning.

 

How has your pace been this summer? Whatever your pace, I invite you to practice “unconditional friendliness” toward yourself and what is in your life right now.

 

Unconditional friendliness. Like the quotes above, I’m holding this expression like a touchstone as I aim to be compassionate and not judge myself for once again letting things get out of balance and swing wildly like a conch shell hanging from a string on tree during high winds.
weather conch

I hope you enjoy the playful lightness of this “Official Weather Conch” photo, taken on a vacation a few years ago, and feel the love with which this post is written.