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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.

APPLYING THE HEALING POWER OF LOVE TO BREAST CANCER

Love And Tenderness Of Cats

 

“Love one another and help others to rise to the higher levels, simply by pouring out love. Love is infectious and the greatest healing energy.”
~
Sai Baba

 

 

Love and healing are primary themes in my life now. They have been for many months, actually years. Whenever I see messages of fear and hate in the news – when I see reports of violence – what comes to the forefront for me are thoughts and quotes like “Love heals” from The Buddha.  

I’m focused on the healing power of love in a very personal way now too. And I wish to share the reason.

A few weeks ago I was diagnosed with cancer in both breasts. Fortunately the tumors are small and treatable.

Along with embracing traditional medicine, I am using many complementary approaches to balance, heal, renew, and strengthen my whole body. In part, that means loving and caring for every little cell, every organ, and every body system as well as looking deeper for what else is calling for healing in me now.

Along with good nutrition (the photo here is of me about to drink a double shot of wheat grass), positive visualization, prayer, meditation, etc., wheatgrass shot
I am bringing the powers of courage, faith, hope, joy
– all of life’s gifts, God’s gifts – to this new adventure.

For it is that too. An adventure. A challenge, yes. But also an adventure. An opportunity to explore and to heal deeply on all levels – physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. To learn and grow too.

While I won’t be focusing on this personal healing adventure in many blogs, I will share a bit from time to time here and in Today’s Touchstone reflections.  I’ll offer insights and discoveries that I think you may wish to consider…things that may apply to anyone and everyone’s life journey.

I hope you will enjoy such sharings and benefit from them in some way. I would appreciate hearing if you do or do not. I always welcome your feedback.

In the meantime, I appreciate your caring and pouring out love to yourselves, to me, to one another, to all your beloveds  and to your-not-so-beloveds too.  May we all aim to heal all our wounds.

Thank you.

Kindly,
Charlene

SOUL TO SOUL

                     “Blessed is the influence of one true, loving human soul on another.” ~ George Eliot

​Using our gifts, let’s be that: true, loving human souls, blessed influences in the lives of others.

How? First, we aim to be authentic, courageously ourselves, centered in our loving essence. That itself will be a blessing to many.

SOUL TO SOULNext, have a “soul to soul” with at least one person today and every day. What’s a “soul to soul”? It’s like a “heart to heart.” Except, instead of having an actual heartfelt conversation with someone, you communicate “soul to soul.”

Visualize, with a caring feeling, that you are connecting and communicating with a particular person. Set ego aside and allow a wise and loving exchange to happen, “soul to soul.” Even if you don’t “hear” anything back from the other soul, which is often the case, just send a message of respect, acceptance, and encouragement. Or, you can simply say, with reverence,  Namaste or The Light in me honors the Light in you.

You can choose someone you easily talk with or someone who avoids close sharing and intimacy. You can even do this with an estranged family member or friend. Healing miracles can come from this practice.

May wisdom guide the way for each of us to become true loving souls and blessed influences in the world.

Toward peace,
Charlene

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

AN EXAMPLE OF STRENGTH AND COURAGE

In my previous post I presented the entire speech made by Principal Donna Hayward to the 2014 graduating class of Suffield High School in Suffield, CT.  While the whole commencement address is powerful, I want to highlight this extraordinary example of strength and courage. May the actions of Iqbal Masih and a group of Canadian 12-year-old children move us to use the gifts of strength and courage however we can, in ways large and small, day by day. Thank you again, Donna, for permission to share your words. 

“…This year, I also learned the story of a young boy named Iqbal Masih and his story illustrates how each of us can fight injustice in our own way in our own world.  Iqbal was a young Pakistani boy, who was sold into bondage by his parents at the age of four in order to pay off a debt of what amounted to about $16.  He worked for years, chained to a weaving loom, fashioning the tiny knots in Pakistani rugs with his small fingers.  Although he worked alongside dozens of other children with the same fate, somehow Iqbal felt inside himself a flame of injustice and rebelled against it at the age of ten by running away from his master.  When he did, he happened upon an activist in the village square, making a speech about how child slavery had been outlawed – a surprise to Iqbal – and the young boy told a police officer standing nearby that he, in fact, was a child slave.  He led the officer back to his master, anticipating justice.  Instead, the officer was bribed by the slave owner and left Iqbal behind – the boy facing a cruel punishment instead of the justice he sought.  But Iqbal had courage and strength and soon ran away again, this time finding the man who had given the speech in the village square.  He brought the activist back to his master, and this man couldn’t be bought or silenced so all the children in Iqbal’s factory were freed.  Iqbal joined the Bonded Labour Liberation Front and became famous because he continued his crusade, actually sneaking into other child-slave-shops, gaining the trust of the children and then triggering a raid on the outfit by the liberation group, freeing over 3,000 children in all.  Eventually, he visited other countries, including the U.S., to tell his story and advocate for justice in ending childhood slavery.  Ultimately, however, Iqbal was murdered when he returned to Pakistan to visit his family.  He was only 12 years old. 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

COURAGE IS ONE STEP FORWARD

“Courage is one step ahead of fear.” ~ Coleman Young
Bridge through Jumble Jungle  

When I first came upon this quote, I questioned it. It seemed to me that fear often comes before courage. Is this the case for you too? But then I saw the quote differently and had a shift in understanding. Yes, I may encounter fear first, but courage is ahead, leading the way.

So, fear not what’s ahead, around the corner, where you cannot yet see. Take a step, then another, into courage, with courage. It’s not only out there, one step ahead, but you have it in you, along with many other gifts, including one the world needs you to give. 

Let courage lead the way for you to be fully you and to realize your highest and dearest dreams. 

 

THE STRENGTH THAT IS IN US, THE GIFT THAT IS LIFE

Thank you, Stephanie, for sharing this photo of a tree growing in the gutter.

 

Tree Growing in GutterIt is a visual touchstone for

the strength that is in us,

the strength that is life,

the beauty that is in us,

the beauty that is life,

the courage that is in us,

the courage that is life,

the hope that is in us,

the hope that is life,

the gifts that are in us,

the gift that is life.

 

A COURAGE TOUCHSTONE FOR ENCOURAGING YOUR DREAMS



Courage Art by Krista“You’re nuts.”
Has anyone ever told you that?

 

That’s what a bookbinder said when I described my vision for producing The Twelve Gifts of Birth book. After listening to how I wanted to bring my manuscript into the world with full-color illustrations, high-quality paper, a hard cover, and a die-cut that would offer a “peak-through” from one page to the next, he first said nothing. He just fanned through the pages of my primitive, hand-made “mock-up” and shook his head.

 

“You’re nuts, lady,” he then said. “There is no way you can do this. Your book will have to retail for at least, oh $40. Maybe $45. And no one is going to pay that much for this little gift book!”

 

The business owner went on to advise me to cut back on the features I wanted and to scale back my vision, way back.

 

“You might want to… not produce this book at all,” he said. “It’s pretty simple, not much text here. I hate to discourage you, but I think this project might be a waste of money.”  

 

I could hardly leave the premises fast enough. And yet I could barely walk, due to the way my knees were shaking.  My hands were shaking too. My whole body was trembling, in fact, with shock, hurt, fear, disappointment, confusion.

 

Just as I got into my car and pulled the door shut, the light sprinkling of rain I had driven through on the way to that meeting burst into a heavy downpour. While rivulets of water streamed down the front window and around my car, tears flowed down my cheeks. Not trusting myself to drive with poor visibility due to the conditions both outside and inside my car, I sat in the parking lot and waited for the storm to pass.

 

Am I nuts? I thought. I questioned the feasibility of my dream and my visions for it. And, as I did, the “weather” within me matched the weather outside, dark and dreary.

 

And then, out of the blue, an image of a humble, yellow building appeared in my mind. I recognized it as one of the laboratories where Thomas Edison had conducted experiments. The historic structure was not far from my childhood home in New Jersey.  During my teen years, I had driven by it many times. It always seemed to call for my attention. Often, when I passed it, I wondered about the actual day-to-day work that had been done there. What discoveries had been made? What failed attempts had happened there? What disappointments and frustrations had been experienced?

 

And, with the image of that little lab in mind, I wondered how many people had said “Your nuts!” to Thomas Edison in some shape or form.

 

I reminded myself that my meeting with the bookbinder was simply an exploratory step on my publishing journey. I did not yet know the exact steps I needed to take to make my dream a reality. However, I felt certain that small steps would eventually bring me to my goal, even if some of those steps seemed to be missteps. Clearly, having my books bound at that business was not going to be part of my publishing plan. That was actually a good thing to know. That was a gain I had made that day.

 

The best gain, however, was being filled again with courage, even more courage than I had previously felt. I resolved that day, even if I heard again and again that I was “nuts” or “unrealistic,” I would continue to take steps toward my dream. With renewed and deepened courage, I felt certain I would reach my goal, just as Thomas Edison eventually found the right filament to create the electric light bulb.

 

Fifteen years after my exploratory visit with that bookbinder, The Twelve Gifts of Birth and subsequent series is approaching one million books beautifully made, reasonably priced, and sold successfully. It turns out: there was a way. The idea was do-able.

 

How are you feeling about your dream? Have you ever gotten to the point where it looks impossible?

 

Consider what Thomas Edison said: “Nearly every person who develops an idea works at it up to the point where it seems impossible, and then gets discouraged. That’s not the place to become discouraged.”

 

He also said, “If we all did the things we are capable of, we would astound ourselves.” And, “When you have exhausted all possibilities, remember this – you haven’t.”

 

Might Thomas Edison–his example and his words–be a courage touchstone for you too?

 

Blessings for all your dreams. May you be deeply en-couraged!

PRACTICING SELF COMPASSION: AN APPROACH TO CONSIDER

CompassionDo past regrets and feelings of embarrassment sometimes pop up in your thoughts and emotions? Do you ever look back and “kick yourself” for something you did that you judge as “stupid”?

 

Instead of being stuck in hurt and more judging, such moments can be seen as opportunities for healing.

 

Being human, we’ve probably all got some yet-to-be-resolved issues “stuck,” in our consciousness and in our bodies. When they bubble up from their storage places, it can be a good thing because, when they do, we can free ourselves of some negative energy. We can also grow in compassion and wisdom.

 

How? Here’s one approach that I’ve found to be helpful.

 

When any old judgments come up, Continue reading