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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.

A LESSON FROM FIVE BLINDFOLDED MEN AND AN ELEPHANT

Baby Elephant Running

 

 

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view.” ~ Harper Lee

 

 

 

Remember the story about the blindfolded men and an elephant? If not, here’s the gist of it:

Five men examine an elephant by touch. They are trying to determine what it is. But each man is blindfolded.  And each feels only one part: a leg, a side, a tusk, the trunk, and the tail. When each declares what is before him, they begin to argue vehemently, each believing he is “right.”

In a sense, they are all “right” because each is describing his own experience and what he is able to perceive from his limited encounter with the elephant. From another perspective, however, none are right because they are far from understanding the whole, or what an elephant truly is.

Like all good parable stories, this one offers wisdom.

May we remember that, even with our eyes wide open, Elephant Family
none of us has full understanding about elephants
or about anything.
With that wisdom, let’s share our views
and listen to one another with curiosity and respect.
Love and compassion too.

Toward peace,
Charlene

PS – One way to better understand one another when we disagree is to say: “Please tell me your story. I want to understand how you see things and how you have come to hold that opinion.” Or, something to that effect in your own words.

 

THE POWER OF HMMM

Eye to Eye - Heart to Heart

 

 

“It’s not so much knowing when to speak, but when to pause.”

~ Jack Benny

 

Hmmm. There’s wisdom and power in that.

Comedian Benny’s comment was probably about pausing to obtain the best laughter. But pausing before speaking is wise in all types of communication. Consider pausing and saying Hmmm in the midst of conversations you have today. 

Why?

Marriage counselor and author Kathlyn Hendricks recommends pausing and saying Hmmm not only because it can help us make time to respond with care rather than react, but also because saying Hmmm truly helps us to wonder, to consider, and to make room for possibilities.

Saying Hmmm conveys respect to the other person too. It’s as if you are saying, “Let me think about that.”

When we pause and say Hmmm, we are sending a “Let me think about that” message to our own minds as well. Saying Hmmm can help us meet one another heart to heart instead of going head to head.

So whether a discussion is becoming heated, or not, whether it is with a family member, friend, co-worker, neighbor, or stranger, try pausing and saying Hmmm. 

You might be amazed at what happens.

Blessings to all our conversations and relationships.

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

ROCK MY SOUL

“So high I can’t get over itCarried by Love
So low I can’t get under it

So wide I can’t get round it
Oh, rock my soul.”

Do you know this Peter, Paul, and Mary song?

When I sang it back in the ’60s with fellow St. Bonaventure students at a popular Olean, NY coffeehouse/bar, I didn’t understand its meaning. What was the it that was too high, too wide, and too deep to get around? Actually, I didn’t give it that much thought. I just liked the tune and the way we sang it in rounds, led by a student folk group, The Wooden Nickel. 

I don’t yet know for sure, but it seems to me now that the it can be any challenge or painful experience that we don’t want to go through. We’d rather get around it. But we can’t. The only way is to go through it and experience the it. 

This song has come into my consciousness several times in recent years when I’ve faced something big. I think it was wisdom’s way of showing me that I needed comfort and that I could be carried through, rocked and cradled in the arms of Love. We all can. 

May we welcome the lifting of Love whenever we face…whatever we face.  

Wishing you love and all that you need.

Always,
Charlene 
                   

ONE MINUTE FOR PEACE

One Minute for PeaceSeptember. The start of a new season and school year. A whole new year for some cultures and creeds. With a World Day of Prayer and a World Day of Peace. A day with memories of horror too. Instead of dwelling on past pains and present fears, we can each be a source of hope and healing.

Please join in “One Minute For Peace.”
Set an alarm for 1:11 pm each day.
When it rings, pause, center yourself, and focus on peace for one minute. Envision peace. Pray for peace in your own way.
Meditate or send waves of love throughout the world.
Forgive someone for something.
Be guided by the love, compassion, and wisdom in your heart.

 

Let’s engage the children too.four year old boy meditating
I have my 4-year-old twin grandchildren join me whenever we are together at 1:11.
We started about two weeks ago.
Usually we sit in silence for about 30 seconds and then ask for blessings for all the children of the world, the grown ups too, then all the animals, the plants, the lands, and the seas, with an amen at 1:12.
It’s simple. Easy to do. And potentially powerful too.

Help build a culture of peace.

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

TOWARD A COMPLAINT FREE WORLD

Like my friend Kathy, I’ve given up complaining for Lent. We’re both finding it harder than the fasting from chocolate we did as children. Not that we now want to complain more than we wanted chocolate as kids, it’s just that complaints have a way of slipping out. That’s one of the reasons we’re aiming to abstain. It helps us become aware of how often we whine, and becoming aware is the first step toward change.

 

A Complaint Free World BraceletHave you ever heard of the Complaint Free World project? In 2006, a man named Will Bowen challenged fellow church members to give up complaining for 21 days straight. His idea caught on and spread throughout the world. Since the project started, more than 10 million people have received the purple bracelet that is used as a tool in the project.

 

Here’s a related idea: What if, besides working toward a complaint-free world, we create a compliment-rich world?  Continue reading