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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

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

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

“WE STRENGTH”

We StrengthI met Peggy on the grounds of The Franciscan Renewal Center in Scottsdale, Arizona. Also known as “The Casa,” the Center is considered by many people to be a sacred place that offers strength from the site itself as well as through its programs and retreats.

After strolling along the meditation trails and the path of the labyrinth, Peggy and I sat in the shade of a ramada. There, we got to talking about forms of strength, such as stamina, fortitude, determination, and willpower.

Then we opened up and shared stories about times we needed to call upon strength.

“This is the form of strength I most appreciate,” said Peggy. “We Strength.

We Strength…what’s that?” I asked.

“Every time I allow myself to be vulnerable and completely honest with someone I trust, I am enormously strengthened,” said Peggy. “And it seems that the other person is filled with strength also. It’s a ‘we’ kind of strength. We Strength.

Feeling empowered and expansive myself as well as connected with Peggy in shared strength, I understood Peggy’s perspective. 

We Strength. Seemingly so unlike robustness, toughness, hardiness, resoluteness, firmness, spunk, grit, persistence, endurance, force, ruggedness, and many other words that name an aspect of strength. But a form of true strength indeed.

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.

 

MINING WISELY FOR WEALTH, WELL-BEING, AND INNER STRENGTH

 

Sun for mining strength blogHave you ever wished that corporations and countries would somehow help bring about greater health, wealth, well-being, and harmony on this planet by using the earth’s resources more wisely? Do you ever wonder: When we will begin mining the power of waves, the wind, and the sun?

 

 

While we wait for that, we can each be mining the resources and the wealth within us. What wealth? The strength, beauty, courage, compassion, hope, joy, talent, imagination, reverence, wisdom, love, and faith that is in our core. When we draw these resources into our daily lives, we are enriched while we enrich the world around us. And to do this there is no cost of investment, no special equipment needed, no licensing required. 

 

We can all mine our inner resources using intention, willingness, and commitment. It’s time to realize the power of these resources…“realize” as in recognize and see them and “realize” as in make them real and manifested. 

 

Start with strength. Consider using the quotes and questions (from the book Touchstones: Stories for Living The Twelve Gifts) below as a way to tap in, increase the flow of your inner strength, and bring that strength into all that you do.

 

 “When you look back over your life and see how much you’ve had to face… it’s interesting to try and pinpoint the first time… you had to reach inside yourself and pull out strength you didn’t know you had.”   –Loretta Lynn 

 

               If I’m afraid, it doesn’t mean that I’m not brave.

               And if I doubt, it doesn’t mean that I’ve lost faith.

               And if I fall, if doesn’t mean I can’t go on.

               And if I cry, it doesn’t mean that I’m not strong. 

                –Jana Stanfield & Karen Taylor-Good, Doesn’t Mean That I’m Not Strong, from Brave Faith

 

For Reflection, Journaling, and Discussion

Do you consider yourself to be a “strong” person? Why?

How have you used strength? Start by recalling a particular time when you called upon strength. Was it to face a challenge? To complete a project? To follow a dream? To be present in a situation? Remember that strength takes many forms, such as will, resolve, determination, and perseverance; and it can be brought into all aspects of our lives.

What stirs a feeling of empowerment in you?

From what activities do you draw strength? Walking? Meditating? Dancing? Swimming? Talking with a friend? Playing rousing music? Prayer? What forms? There are many ways to pray.

Into what situations and areas of your life would you like more strength to flow?

 

 

THINKING OF YOU: CARING AS A FORM OF PRAYER

 

birthday flowers

“If, instead of a gem or even a flower,
we should cast a gift of a loving thought into the heart of a friend,
that would be giving as the angels give.” – George Macdonald

 

 

Coming across this quote today stirred in me a memory of a study on prayer that I heard about many years ago.

 

 

In 1969 in Salem, Oregon, an organization known as Spindrift conducted a series of experiments involving seeds and prayer. First, two groups of rye seeds were planted in identical conditions. One group was prayed for and one was not. The prayed-for group grew better, with taller seedlings and more shoots. In further experiments, the researchers applied prayer to “seeds in crisis.” Salt was added to the watering can to stress the seeds as they tried to grow. The seeds that were watered with salt water and were prayed for grew higher then the healthy seeds that were not prayed for. They also grew taller than the prayed for seeds that received fresh water. The experiments were repeated with various types of seeds, and the results were consistent: Seedlings facing adversity and receiving prayer thrived.

 

Since I first heard about The Spindrift Study, I’ve often thought about how we are like those little seedlings with salt water poured upon them. In some form, we all have adversity rained upon us. We can grow greater Continue reading

CONSCIOUS PARENTING (AND GRANDPARENTING): WAYS TO NURTURE THE GIFTS IN ALL CHILDREN

Reading to NewbornAll children are born “gifted and talented.” While every child may not excel in athletic skill, artistic expression, or academic performance, every child does possess the resources of inner strength, beauty, courage, compassion, hope, joy, talent, imagination, reverence, wisdom, love, and faith.

 

 

 

Poets, prophets, and philosophers have, for centuries, been pointing the way to true prosperity and successful living by using our inner gifts. We hear this wisdom in all of the world’s religions. We can even find guidance in fables and folk tales.

 

 

 

Consider the classic Sleeping Beauty story, for example. The princess, named Beauty, pricks her finger on a poisoned Continue reading