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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     

 

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

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

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

ONE RAISIN AND ONE MINUTE: ONE WAY TO MORE MINDFULNESS

 

“There’s a sunrise and a sunset every single day, and they’re absolutely free. Don’t miss so many of them.”   

~ Jo Walton
 
This post is not just about appreciating sunrises and sunsets. The question is: how present are we each day? How mindful? How aware are we of beauty, our senses, and all that we sense?
 
Consider this simple activity as one way to be more mindful.
 
You can do this in one minute. All you need is one raisin. Before eating the raisin, hold it in your hand. Roll it between your fingers. Examine it as if it is the first raisin you have ever seen. Then close your eyes and place it in your mouth. Keep them closed for the entire time you are tasting the raisin. Chew the raisin very slowly. Notice the taste, the changing texture, how your mouth fills with saliva, and more. Pay attention to all the little things you are experiencing. Give the raisin your full attention for a full minute, or for as long as you can, before swallowing all of it.
 


Let this mindful minute lead you to pay closer attention to some other things you see, hear, feel, smell, and taste today. Be like a child, full of curiosity and wonder.

Seize and savor this day. Every day.

 
With joy,
Charlene
 

PS – Try this another time, using an almond or other nut. Try an olive. What else might you use? Do this as a family and share your experiences. Talk about sunrises and sunsets too. Which do you prefer and why?

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A GRATITUDE KEY FOR OPENING JOY

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.” 
                           ~ Melody Beattie
 
Gratitude is like a key. Actually, gratitude is a key.
 
While we can’t put gratitude on a key chain or hang it on a wall rack, gratitude opens joy just as our house key opens our front door.
 
Or can we? Hmm. I’m going to try this. Perhaps you will too.
 
Make a colorful, sturdy cardboard key with the word “gratitude” on it. Hang it on your key chain.
 
If you have a wall key holder in your house, make some sort of artistic key to place there. Use your imagination. Make it uniquely you. If you don’t already have a wall rack, hang your gratitude key on a attractive hook in some prominent place.
 

This could be a simple and light-hearted way to cultivate a greater gratitude practice for ourselves. It could be fun too, especially if we involve children.

Whether or not you make a physical gratitude key, create one in your mind. Carry that image with you as you go about this day.

For the joy of it,
Charlene

HELP CHILDREN FEEL VALUABLE: THREE LESSONS IN STONES

“Thank you for helping me feel like a shiny stone instead of a plain old worthless rock,” said a third-grade boy in Tucson, Arizona.

An effect and reaction like that is what I hope for when I offer a polished stone to children in classrooms – adults in audiences too – after we discuss the message of The Twelve Gifts of Birth. If you’re familiar with the book, you know that the story, illustrations, and photographs help children of all ages recognize their inner gifts and feel valuable.

To anchor the message and help make the intangible gifts of inner strength, beauty, courage, compassion, hope, joy, talent, imagination, reverence, wisdom, love and faith feel more touchable and real, I use a bowl of stones in a show and tell way. You can do this too in a one-on-one way or with any size group.

When speaking with groups, a clear fish bowl is an ideal container. Fill it at least halfway with medium-sized polished stones of all varieties. On top of all the shiny and colorful stones, place a regular, rough rock, the kind you might pick up from a street, sidewalk, or hiking trail. For a one-on-one talk, a handful of polished stones and one rough rock is sufficient.

The bowl of stones does a good job of grabbing attention and stirring curiosity in groups.  I present the bowl after the reading, discussion, and the question, “Who feels valuable in this moment?” All (or nearly all) hands shoot up.

That opens the door for THE THREE LESSONS IN POLISHED STONES.

The plain rough rock is used to acknowledge that we all sometimes feel like that: plain, ordinary, maybe even worthless. The truth is that we are all like the polished stones. Like them we’ve been tumbled. For them it was in a machine. For us it is in life.  The keepsake polished stone is meant to remind us that no matter what we look like on the surface or what we feel like, we have strength, beauty, and other valuable qualities within us always.

The second lesson the stones offer is the beauty of all their various colors, shapes, and sizes. We too come in various colors, shapes, and sizes. No matter. Like the stones, in that way too, we are all valuable.

The third lesson comes from taking a very close look at one or any number of the stones. Upon close examination, we see little cracks, nicks, scratches. While they are indeed beautiful, strong, and valuable, they are not perfect. Neither are we.

And those are three lessons for all of us to remember for ourselves and to share with the children in our lives.

Parents, teachers, counselors, all readers who may use this activity in any way, I’d love to hear from you.

I’m guessing that a collection of colorful stones can carry other meaningful messages. What do you think of the three I described? What other life lessons do you see?

Toward dignity for all,
Charlene

 

 

 

 

GRATEFUL TO BE

facing the sea

 

 

 

“I’m grateful to be in this world.”
~ Alexis Giordano

 

Who is Alexis Giordano? My 5-year-old granddaughter. She said this at the dinner table during a recent family reunion.

 

After praying, “God is great. God is good. Let us thank him for our food,” we each took a turn asking for a blessing or expressing a gratitude.

 

Alexis’ addition surprised us all and left us silent for a moment. This morning, as I recall what she said and how she said it, I am again a bit stunned and stirred.

How often am I grateful simply to be in this world? Simply to be?

How often are you?
How are you feeling about being in this world today?

Along with the words of a 5-year-old child, let’s be stirred by a portion of the often-quoted poem, Desiderata:

“…whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be careful. Strive to be happy.”

With peace in our souls, may we be grateful to be in this world.

(God bless all the animals in the world too…as twin brother Anthony added.)

 

GLIMPSING HEAVEN

Sun on the Sea

 

“Tears are often the telescope by which men see far into heaven.”
                                                   ~ Henry Ward Beecher

 

Through tears, I’ve glimpsed into heavenly places the past few weeks.

A kindergarten classmate of my grandchildren died the day after Christmas after showing slight signs of illness on Christmas Eve.  A serious, mysterious decline happened so fast.

Since then I’ve been experiencing how shock and grief can lead to seeing what is hidden behind the clouds of everyday consciousness….that human life is awesome, wondrous, and precious, which seems to me is a glimpse of heaven. I’ve also experienced how shuddering with sorrowful tears can shake and break a heart in a way that opens it to a flood of heavenly love and compassion.

May we not be afraid of tears. They can lead us to healings and learnings as well as to awakenings and glimpses of heaven. I’ve also heard that tears are a sign of Spirit moving through us.

Whatever life brings for us each day, may we cherish it and live it well, with wonderment, reverence, gratitude, and joy.                                                                                                    Gratitude, Joy, and Zest for Life


“It’s only when we truly know and understand

that we have a limited time on earth – and that we have
no way of knowing when our time is up – that we will begin to live each day to the fullest, as if it was the only one we had.”                              
~ Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

APPRECIATING ALL THE FLAVORS OF LIFE

Slice of lemon pie

 

 

“If life were predictable, it would…be without flavor.”                               
                                          ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

 

Yesterday I was looking for a quote about flavor because I wanted to share something about it today.

For many years, during my morning “start the day ritual,” I have read a certain affirmation which begins “With wonder and joy I am dancing with Spirit and tasting the sweetness of life…”
Yesterday I got the message in my mind and heart that life has many more flavors that sweetness and it would help if I would accept, respect, and appreciate them all.

What do I mean by this?
During a healing stay at the Chopra Center in 2000 when I faced cancer, I learned about the Ayurvedic approach to eating and healing.

According to Ayurvedic teaching, it is healthy and wise – and tasty too – to include in every meal the flavors of sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, and astringent.

There is certainly something good about this mix of flavors in cooking and eating, yes?

So perhaps we can shift from judging certain “flavors” of life as unpleasant or even bad and welcome – and even savor – them all in our daily experience.

Hmm. To what gift does this reflection most relate? Imagination? Let’s imagine life as a wondrous feast today and appreciate that we have been invited.

Love and blessings for your day!