The Child-Catching Monster

A tall, thin man with dark, stringy hair, hollow cheeks, and a long nose haunts my childhood nightmares. He gleefully goes about his job catching children. Once captured the children go into a cage and are spirited off to parts unknown. As a kid, I was terrified of this monster and comforted in the knowledge that such an evil creature only existed in the movies. I am not alone in my assessment of the evildoer. Entertainment Weekly placed the depiction of the child-catcher in the 1968 film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, on their “50 Most Vile Villains” list.

So how did this monstrous fiend rise to the surface of my current nightmares? I turned on the news. My country, the United States of America, has an entire team of child-catchers who take children away from their parents, put them in cages then sends them to hidden locations.

These children are living the terror that I could only experience at the movies. And the response from the lawmakers in power has been a deafening silence. Even worse, from my fellow Americans who look away or shrug and say it’s the law. Some (Jeff Sessions and Sarah Huckabee Sanders) even try to justify their actions using the Bible.

I’ve always wondered how regular people in Nazi Germany stood by while atrocities took place all around them. But the more relevant question is what am I doing? How am I any different than those who stood by eighty years ago. They too probably felt helpless to do much. Maybe some felt indifference and some even felt a sense of national pride.

I’m not trying to compare the Holocaust to events taking place at the U.S. border. I am only looking to this time in history as a means of trying to understand human nature. Anyone who has studied this period has asked themselves what they would do in similar circumstances. Well now’s your chance.

Here are some concrete things, short of building a flying car that you can do right now.

First, make your voice heard. Call or write your representative. You can call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard directly at 202-224-3121 or follow the link to get their name and address.

You can also donate to organizations that are actively working to help. Here are just a few:

American Immigration Representative Project fights for due process and justice for detained immigrants as well as trains and coordinates lawyers willing to donate their time:

Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights champions the rights and best interests of unaccompanied immigrant children.

Kino Border Initiative provides humanitarian relief on both sides of the border

The National Immigrant Justice Center provides comprehensive legal services to low-income immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers

Removing children from their parents and siblings is not a Republican or Democrat issue. It’s a human issue. We can point fingers and debate who’s to blame for laws and policy, but the monstrous treatment of innocent children at our borders is being done on behalf of all Americans. If you don’t like the message, it sends, speak out, donate or protest. Children should be afraid of monsters, flying monkeys, giant lizards, or clowns, not Americans.

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The Meaning of Grace

I’ve been thinking about the meaning of Grace. I like to capitalize the word when using it regarding an experience coming from God. It’s my way of honoring it, as recognizing it as something sacred.

The dictionary doesn’t quite do it justice – “unmerited divine assistance, a state of sanctification enjoyed through divine assistance, mercy, pardon, privilege.”

To me, Grace is the sense of calmness or peace that comes to me during moments of crisis. Once I was on a ship, sleeping soundly in the middle of the Caribbean. In the early hours of the morning, I woke to a succession of horn blasts. Jumping out of bed in a panic, I had a vague understanding of what the sound met since three days earlier; I had been forced to participate in a lifeboat drill. At the time, it had been a frivolous rite of passage for all sea travelers best done with an umbrella drink in hand.

Now as I calculated how many blasts I had heard and what it meant, the captain’s voice calmly answered. All passengers and crew were to report to their assigned muster stations immediately. There was a significant fire burning on board, and we were to follow emergency procedures. My husband opened the veranda door and pointed to live embers like tiny fireflies, landing on our plastic patio furniture.

I thought to myself, fire at sea. Holy crap this is bad! But when I opened the hallway door and saw my three kids pop their heads out of their interior room, I felt a wave a calm settle on my shoulders. Despite the distinct smell of smoke in the air and the sounds of panicked passengers shouting for loved ones, I felt no fear. I calmly told the kids to get their life jackets. I did the same, but only after slipping some clothes on along with my contacts. If I was going in a lifeboat, I wanted to be able to see what I was doing, and I wanted to be warm. It was like moving in slow motion, I knew all would be well, and I just had to follow directions.

We ascended the stairs with hundreds of fellow travelers and found our muster station. Lifeboats were prepared to lower. Crew members ran in and out, some blackened with soot. We participated in countless roll calls and wondered about the names repeated many times over with no response. Were these people lost, or worse, injured? Were they incapable of following directions? Who knew? What I did know, was there was absolutely no reason to panic.

Eight hours later, the fire which had destroyed several floors in the center of the ship was as last contained. The coast guard escorted us to safety, and we were sent home early from our seven-day vacation. One person did lose his life, and several were injured. I tell this story, not to freak anybody out about travel at sea, but because it’s the first time I could palpably feel that sense of calm coming, not from within, but from an unseen force beyond myself.

When I recounted the story to a friend, she told me what I had experienced was Grace.

Not being particularly religious, I didn’t have a name for it, but Grace felt right.

Since then I’ve had several instances when crisis surrounds me, and something overrides my natural instinct to run screaming from my circumstances and instead fills me with strength like a steel rod in my spine. Not every time has a happy ending, but strength and peace come.

Most people can think of a time when they felt this peace, this strength, this sense of calm. The challenge is to recognize Grace when no fires are burning. Grace is available to us, not just in moments of crisis, but all of the time, provided we are not too thick-headed to recognize it.

I asked another friend about the meaning of Grace, curious to hear his Muslim perspective.

He said, “We call it peace. Peace comes after realizing there is a superior plan and everything is under control. We don’t know the plan, which can make us feel uneasy, but wisdom comes in knowing the power of God and feeling harmony in that. We are but tiny humans with no power to control the whole system. So let yourself flow with the river of life. Don’t struggle to swim in the wrong direction.”

I couldn’t help but smile at the sound of Ellen DeGeneres’s voice as Dory saying, “Just keep swimming just keep swimming.” But I understood the Grace of his words. I often struggle with feelings of uncertainty. During a crisis, there’s nothing to do but just accept what is at the time – no time to overthink. That’s when Grace is most recognizable.

But, when I relax and allow the power of the current to carry me along, trusting that there is a divine plan at work, I know that is Grace as well. I like this. I feel my muscles relax ever so slightly and I become a little less thick-headed and a little more Graceful.

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Winter Solstice – Finding Balance

One of my favorite days of the year is here. It’s not Christmas day;  that arbitrary date to acknowledge the miracle of Jesus’ birth has long since been hijacked by the overwhelming pressures of consumerism for me to truly enjoy. The day I really appreciate is the Winter Solstice, which comes and goes almost without notice during the days before Christmas. I can feel my sense of balance returning on this quiet day before the big holiday.

On the solstice, we reach the tipping point between dark and light when day and night are equally in balance. Technically, December 21st is the longest night of the year. It’s also the first day of Winter, which could be depressing, but I find comfort in knowing that from my spot on the planet (in the Northern hemisphere) the days will get incrementally longer. I find great promise in that.

Maybe I feel the stirrings of my Pagan DNA rebelling against the way in which we now celebrate Yuletide.  The feasting and the gift giving and the general merry-making traditions were absorbed into Christian traditions, but their origins came from generations before Christ’s birth. They were a means of holding fast during the dark nights and welcoming the sun.

A Time To Be Awestruck

For me, it’s a quiet time to recognize my many blessings and to be awestruck at the magnificence of the heavens. Reflecting on the balance and symmetry in nature, I wonder why humans struggle so much with the concept. We labor against the push and pull of polar opposites, gravitating to one extreme or the other as if balance is not something that comes naturally.

Ask a child to select what they like at an all you can eat buffet and they’ll likely skip the healthy stuff and return with a plate full of goodies. Ask a young person to allot time for study or play and most will choose more fun than work.

I wonder though if parents didn’t interfere with kids, would they choose sweets some days? Then on others choose healthier alternatives as they learn to listen to their natural cravings? And if kids could learn exclusively through their play, as is often the case, would they have to choose between the two? I’m not prescribing a plan of letting our children do what they please without parental guidance. But I’m guessing, had we learned as kids to make choices about balance on our own, the skill would more naturally be instilled in us as adults.

How often do we choose work over fun out of some sense duty or obligation? We eliminate “bad” foods from our diet until we get a cheat day or find ourselves with overwhelming cravings. Is that balance? Discipline rules our heart now like our parents did in enforcing naptime. Would the world swing wildly out of balance if we allowed the heart to make more of our choices? Maybe a better question is, can we find a balance between our wants and our needs?

So Much More Than One Side Or Another

Balance is not easy in this world of dichotomy. We swing wildly from one extreme to the other. We point fingers at the other side without learning the value of balance and compromise.

On a deeper level, kids seem to know the importance of balance in the form of justice and fairness. Several early childhood studies conducted with unfair distributions of candy show kids will choose no candy for anyone over an unequal distribution. So maybe we do have an innate sense of balance.

I believe that most of us, given some time to find our center, would find a balanced approach to living. Ideally, we want to find that sweet spot between the two complementary forces of effort and ease; not so much ease that we become bored and not so much effort that life is a continual battle. We want the perfect state of grace where everything just flows.

I like Rumi’s take on it,

“Your hand opens and closes, opens and closes. If it were always a fist or always stretched open, you would be paralyzed. Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding, the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated as birds’ wings.”

So as Christmas approaches and the nights get longer, I will welcome the tipping point that is the Solstice and reflect on Rumi’s wisdom as I seek my own coordination and allow my wings to unfurl.

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Praying For Nazis – How Loving the Lowest Can Lift Your Spirits

Candle in the hands

In this world of divisiveness and false equivalencies, it’s easy to get pulled along with the tide of hatred. There are days when I want to scream at the television. I want to shake the people who seem blind to the injustice taking place. I can feel my blood pressure rise. I am drowning in hopelessness and cynicism when I hear a calm voice inside my head offering these words of advice, Pray for them.

“But I don’t want to pray for Nazis!” I scream to nobody in particular.

Days later, more horrible events unfold, which leaves me wondering how people can commit such atrocities. Again I hear the call to pray for them.

I argue, “Absolutely not! I won’t pray for members of ISIS or Al Qaeda.” Neo-Nazis, the KKK, ISIS, Al Qaeda I’m certain there are important differences distinguishing one hate group from the other. But, does it really matter? It seems to me, if you can look another human being in the eye and purposely take their life, you’ve lost all humanity and are beyond redemption.

Yet there is the voice, “Pray for them.”

Angrily, I concede. My jaw tightens as I muse. My inexperienced, half-assed prayers are about what a Nazi deserves. I mean, it’s not like my prayers are anything special. I don’t have a lot of experience with prayer. I mostly pray when I am in trouble; when I can barely croak out a feeble cry for help. Or when I see others in even worse situations, I pray for them. But my favorite time to pray and often the most effective is when I can’t think of anything else to do. I give up my struggle and plead to God or the Universe or whoever will listen, to please take away my burden because I simply can’t carry it anymore.

That’s how I feel now, as I read the news about the hatred in the world. I am powerless to do anything and it makes me miserable to know it’s going on. So I release my anger and frustration and sense of helplessness.

The only way I can imagine God fixing things is if He or She could somehow enter the hearts of these wretched creatures and ease their pain long enough for them to consider the possibility of another way. Maybe if I can see these unfortunate, disillusioned, young men as my brothers, they too can see their perceived enemies as fellow human beings who deserve the same happiness we are all seeking.

I picture their angry faces and try to envision a softening. I like to imagine them as children before their heart and their face became hardened by life’s circumstances. Part of me believes this is an exercise in futility. It’s probably naive of me to think praying for Nazi’s does a lick of good. But I notice my jaw isn’t set quite as tightly. My pulse seems to have slowed. I feel a sense of peace returning to my body.

Wouldn’t it be something if somewhere right now, an angry, misguided individual was feeling the same thing? Imagine if we all did this. It couldn’t hurt, even if we did it out of selfish reasons— to feel our own heart ease a bit, to feel the softening that comes from surrendering.

Why not pray for a Nazi or two? Why not pray for a terrorist or Kim Jong-un or Donald J. Trump? Why not pray for the people who are so miserable they’ve become hell-bent on destroying everyone around them? If anyone needs our prayers. It is them. And the process of doing so will help us far more than cursing them.

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A Time For Nothing: How Doing Nothing May Be the Best Form of Resistance

A Time For Nothing: How Doing Nothing May Be the Best Form of Resistance

There is a thief who robs me of my happiness every time I see him. Yet every morning, I open my door via television or social media and let him in. Which one of us is the bigger fool? This individual is one of the most powerful people in the world. Why should I give him any of my power?

I can march, I can donate, I can call, I can write. But at some point, all the resistance in the world doesn’t change the fact that the party I align myself with has very little power right now. This leaves me feeling powerless in the face of what I see as a series of injustices. I won’t list them all. The exercise will only compound my worries, but I won’t forget about them either.

Do I give in to despair, ignore the news, or stay permanently agitated? None of these are viable options. That’s why I choose to do what may be the hardest thing of all: nothing.

This is difficult because it goes against every fiber of my being. I believe doing something is always better than doing nothing. But, doing nothing is what is required.

Doing nothing doesn’t mean giving up. Quite the contrary, I must do whatever I can to stay informed and make my voice heard. But yelling at the TV, pulling my hair out and waking every morning in a state of fear, does nothing to further my cause. That’s why doing nothing may be the most important thing I can do.

When I was a kid my parents warned me about what to do if I ever became lost. They said the first thing you should do is stand still. If you want to be found, stop running around in circles.

I take a deep breath. Stillness feels incredible after weeks of frenetic activity. I inhale knowing that I alone have the power to determine how I feel right now. I exhale my worry about the future. I inhale the love I have for myself and my fellow human beings. I exhale the frustration I have with the people who don’t see the world as I do.

Imagine if everyone could take some time out to do nothing. We could renew our sense of well being. We could check in with our source in search of guidance. We could see more clearly the best options for tomorrow even if those options include more of doing nothing.

If you think doing nothing will make you feel powerless, think again. Have you ever been thinking of a friend or loved one, when they inexplicably call? Have you ever walked into a room where people have been exchanging angry words and without hearing or seeing what happened, you pick up on the bad vibes? Have you ever spent time with someone who is so perpetually happy and fun to be around they boost your spirits, or felt depleted around someone who is angry or depressed?

We are Energetic Beings

We emit energy; some at high frequency (loving and altruistic thoughts), some at low frequency (base, primal, and fear based). If we hang out with a bunch of angry agitated people, we in turn begin to feel the same. If we spend time with people who are genuinely optimistic and light-hearted, it can’t help but affect you.

This is the hard part. Some of your favorite people, yourself included, may be pissed off, angry and agitated right now. It doesn’t matter if the anger is justified. If it’s not directed to specific action in a focused manner, it will burn itself out leaving everyone in its wake feeling depleted. It becomes a vicious cycle where we spread negativity to the people we’d most like to help.

I’m not proposing we all hold hands and sing Kumbaya together. But if enough people concentrated on the work of doing nothing. I believe we could harness a power capable of creating the change we so desperately seek.

I say doing nothing is work, because it is. Tuning into the super powers within requires discipline. When I’m tired, and disheartened, it’s even harder. My base instinct is to scavenge for more and more information confirming my fear that the world is going to hell in a hand basket. The availability of news makes this task seem effortless. But stepping away from that exercise and seeking peace internally is in fact the easiest and most effective method of working toward the common goal for us all to know peace.

This sounds a little “woo-woo” even to my ears. But I swear, if everyone could take a collective time out, we could at least begin to crawl out of the muck we’ve been drowning in. Peace is contagious. But it has to begin individually.

Here’s a Five-Minute Exercise to Get Started:

– Take several deep breaths, enough to center yourself.

– Imagine someone you love deeply: a spouse, a child, a parent a friend, even a pet. Allow the love you feel for that person to fill your heart with warmth. Send them the following loving phrases: May you be happy. May you feel safe. May you experience good health. May good things come to you. May your life be free of pain. May you feel love.

– Take those warm feelings and thoughts and direct them toward yourself. May I be happy, may I feel safe. May I experience good health. May good things come to me. May my life be free of pain. May I feel love.

– Picture a neutral person: a neighbor you don’t know well, someone you saw on the news, someone you see at the grocery store. Cultivate the warm feelings you wished for yourself and direct them towards this person. Just as I want to be happy, may they also be happy. Just as I want to feel safe, may they also feel safe. Just as I want good health, may they enjoy good health as well. May good things come to them. May their life be free of pain. May they feel love.

– Think of someone who causes you distress. Offer that person the same loving thoughts you sent to the person you love, yourself and a stranger. May they be happy. May they feel safe. May they experience good health. May good things come to them. May their life be free of pain. May they feel love.

– You can even direct these warm thoughts to your community, your nation and the wider world. May all beings be happy. May all beings feel safe. May they experience good health. May good things come to them. May their life be free of pain. May they feel love.

Meditation Doesn’t Have to be Difficult

This is a metta meditation that will absolutely make you feel better immediately after doing the exercise. You can spend as long as you like practicing this in a formal meditation. But it can be just as effective, certainly more so than not doing it at all, by slipping it into your life where you can. You can do it upon waking, while you lie in bed, or even, while you’re brushing your teeth. You can do it when you’re stuck in traffic. Or you can do it, just as you drift off to sleep.

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The Day After – How to Deal After the Election

The Day After – How to Deal After the Election

The rhetoric and negative energy that fills our airwaves during election season is toxic and we’ve been swimming in a sea of it. If someone intentionally set out to make a person sick at heart, the plan would include a daily dose of the type of language we hear from campaign ads and stump speeches.

Still, I believe it’s important to participate in the political process. I eagerly absorb all the information I can. But I know that, like a steady diet of nothing but carbs, it’s not healthy. I’m going to feel depleted when it’s all over. I feel passionate about the historic nature of this election, but nervous about the unusually high levels of hatred and vitriol. We’re going to need a big, community hug after it’s all over.

Now that my vote has been cast, all I can do is pray that it all works out for the best. I try not to pray for a specific candidate; God hears enough of that. Instead, I pray for the wisdom to accept the outcome whatever that may be, even though I desperately want my candidate to win and the other candidate to drop off the face of the planet.

Can we go back to our normal lives and live peacefully among neighbors regardless of what names were prominently displayed on yard signs and bumper stickers? I believe we can. Don’t get me wrong, I hope I get to spend Tuesday evening of doing an end zone dance and rejoicing that my candidate won. If that’s not the case, Wednesday is going to suck. But, painful as it might be, life will go on.

Thinking about how I will react to either scenario, I made a list to help me deal with whatever the election brings. It’s a note to myself for after the election.

If the worst happens and your candidate loses:

1.) Deep breaths my dear; inhale trust and exhale fear. All is well; everything will be okay.

2.) Now, turn the TV off. Step away from all media displaying victory celebrations as well as images of your fellow supporters filled with sadness, anger, and disbelief. Your media diet should consist solely of babies, kittens and puppies, nothing more.

3.) Think of it this way, the job you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy has just been given to your worst enemy. This poor soul will age dramatically over the next four years.

4.) Look out the window. The sun has risen, birds continue to sing, and people are going about their daily lives. The world has not come to an end after all. Now stop your whining and know this. You have the choice of whether or not to be miserable. Do you really want to choose misery?

5.) We live in a democracy that has survived worse i.e. the civil war, not to mention a few bad Presidents. Plus, if the majority of Americans, ignorant as they may seem to you, voted for this person, it’s possible you might have been wrong.

6.) Reach out to someone who supported the winning candidate. This is a tough one, I know, but you do know people, who aren’t horrible, yet voted for the winner. Put away thoughts that these folks are uninformed and consider the notion that they may know something you don’t. See if they can point out one positive outcome from their victory. Now hug it out.

7.) Send loving thoughts to the new President. If you really believe this person is an idiot, he or she, not to mention our country is going to need all the positivity you can muster.

8.) Take comfort in knowing that events are unfolding in precisely the right way and at the right time even if you may not be able to understand how or why.

If you spent the night celebrating:

1.) First of all, drink some water, and make sure no one has video of your dance moves. No one needs to see your “dab” or “stanky leg,” no matter what the champagne might have been telling you.

2.) Once you’ve had your fill of reveling, you might consider going on a media diet. Step away from news sources that confirm your own beliefs. Ask yourself how wise it is to gorge solely on thoughts and ideas that match your own. Diversity improves intelligence.

3.) Don’t forget that a good chunk of the country disagrees with this new President’s vision. Remember progress in Washington is often achieved through compromise and nothing happens overnight.

4.) Reach out to someone who supported the other candidate. Ask them what, aside from immediate impeachment, they would like to see come out of a new administration. I know this is hard and probably only achievable with someone you respect. But, certainly the two of you can come up with one common desire for our future. Now hug it out.

5.) Send loving thoughts to the new President as well as the loser and his or her supporters.

6.) Think about the time and energy you’ve spent worrying about the election. Now see if you can fill that newly freed space with a more positive outlet.

7.) Schedule a massage.

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