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I have been faced with addiction of late, a serious, almost debilitating addiction.  It could ruin my health, my family’s health, and even shorten my life significantly.  The thing is, you might have the same problem, and not even know it.  My poison of choice: carbohydrates.

I know.  What’s the big deal, right? We need carbohydrates for energy.  What could be wrong with carbs?  And honestly, it’s not carbs that are the problem.  It’s our society’s addiction that is the problem, and the way we keep creating new and delicious ways to make them more addictive.  I wrote in my last post about the need for consciousness.  I have striven to cultivate more of it in many ways.  I pay much closer attention to sensation.  I take time to see details, to breathe in the smells that surround me, to listen and to seek silence, and to really feel what I am feeling.  Another important aspect of consciousness is tasting the food I’m eating.  I’ve changed my diet a lot, in seeking to wean myself from this nasty habit of high-glycemic foods.  (Food that are high on the glycemic index are the ones that increase the glucose in your blood more quickly than those that are low. To read more about how I’m doing that visit Dr. Wayne Andersen’s website on developing habits of health.)  I’ve gained a lot of energy and lost 12 pounds since I made this switch a month ago.  But my goal isn’t weight loss, it’s optimal health.  And ridding myself of addiction is a pretty important part of that.

Fear Addiction

In that last post, I talked about my ability to see since I’ve returned to America. And what I see is so sad.  People are addicted to fear.  And they are addicted to things that numb them from the fear.  The media pumps fear into our bodies with both real and imagined drama and trauma.

While living in China, I restricted my news media intake to scanning headlines to see if there was anything new or important happening.  In six years of living there, I think I opened less than a dozen news stories a year to learn more.   That doesn’t mean I was uninformed of what was happening, it means that I was more deeply informed of only those things that I felt really had an important impact in the world.  But America has multiple cable channels devoted to news, plus newscasts at every hour, for both local and national news.  Sadly, international news is generally covered very poorly with a very ethnocentric bias.  Compare any national news cast with coverage from BBC or Univision, and you’ll begin to see what I mean.  But what that means is that the “non-fiction” that we feed on daily is intended to feed an addiction to fear.  Broadcasters and publishers know that if they want to sell it, then “if it bleeds it leads.”  That’s what people want.  Is it their fault?  Who knows where the cycle begins…in the consumer that just wants to know “what’s going on” and “how to protect themselves” or in the media that gives the public what it wants. Add to that reality TV (which fosters a fear of humiliation) and most television drama, serving up a steady stream of violence and trauma, and you have a constant source to feed our addiction.

Regardless of where it begins, there is a common biological response to stress: we eat.  And we don’t choose lean chicken, fish or spinach, we choose chips and donuts and cookies.  We choose the highest glycemic index foods around.  And that makes a lot of sense, instinctively.  When you’re afraid, you need a good rush of sugar to make sure you can get to safety.  Much of our eating patterns are very biologically based.  It makes a lot of sense biologically to eat as much as you can and seek to rest as much as you can.  It makes sense if you have to chase down your food and gather roots and nuts and berries all day.

We are Cavemen

Well, my friends, I know it’s hard to believe with all the technology and industry surrounding us, but we are still cavemen.  Our bodies have changed very little over the last ten thousand years.  And they are just asking that we continue to treat them they way they are accustomed to being treated.  The problem is, our activity levels have changed…well, a bit…since we were required to spend energy in equal amounts to our consumption.  Man, if you could eat a thousand calories a day while lying around doing nothin’ back then, you were the king or queen of the cave.  Today, we don’t bat an eyelash to eating 1000 calories in one sitting, and then we keep on sitting and sitting and sitting.  So it’s not wonder there is an epidemic of obesity.  We feed our need for adrenaline by watching scary stuff, instead of living it.

But it is scary out there…

Everywhere we look we see the evidences of addiction:  addiction to sex, to alcohol, to any kind of drug you can ingest, to video games and social networking sites and entertainment.  We see families falling apart, or just struggling to stay afloat.  We see crimes that horrify and wars that make no sense.  We see an economy oriented towards protecting against our fears instead of educating to prevent our fears from becoming reality.  We see political, social and economic polarization so intense that it is without a doubt shattering our unity.

Ahhh…Unity

What I’ve noticed while I’ve been striving to stay conscious is that unity is really the only cure for our addictions.  When we see that we are one, not one family, not one people, but really one with everything (I know, takes you to that old Buddhist joke about the monk that goes to the hot dog stand and asks for one with everything, right?)…anyway, when we start paying attention, we see our connectedness, not just within our families and neighbors, but within the world.  What we eat affects the air we breathe, the water, the land.  And what happens to those things affects what we eat.  Where there is war, there is famine.  Where there is peace, there is excess.  And because there is such an imbalance in the world, we don’t even notice when a child starves to death.

So, once again, I’m advocating consciousness.  Try it for 30 days, or your money back.  Pay attention to what your body is telling you it needs to be healthy.  Pay attention to your community because it will also tell you the same thing.  And in doing so, maybe we can cure ourselves of our fear addiction and come closer to what we all want…a sense of nearness…to God, to our Source (or whatever you call that which centers you), to each other and to lasting security and peace.

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Does prayer work for parking?

Well, maybe He's not too busy...

So I’ve got this weird issue.  I love prayer.  I know it works.  I experienced plenty of confirmations that Someone out there cares about what happens to me.  But somehow, I’ve slipped into this attitude of, “I’m not talking to You right now!”  I can’t really pin point any reason to be angry at God.  With very few exceptions, my life is pretty great.  So what’s it all about?  Frankly, it feels petulant.  That’s embarrassing.  I mean, really.  This is God we’re talking about, that Unknowable Creator Who knows me better than I know my own self, the One Who made the whole universe just so we could learn how to be closer to Him.

Well, I’ve got some major life-decisions to make, so it’s about time I got over it.  To help me, I dug up a useful process for using prayer in decision making, attributed to Shoghi Effendi.  I thought I’d share it here:

“Step 1: Pray and meditate about it. Use the prayers of the Manifestations of God as they have the greatest power. Then remain in the silence of contemplation for a few minutes.

Step 2: Arrive at a decision and hold this. This decision is usually born during the contemplation. It may seem almost impossible of accomplishment but if it seems to be as answer to a prayer or a way of solving the problem, then immediately take the next step.

Step 3: Have determination to carry the decision through. Many fail here. The decision, budding into determination, is blighted and instead becomes a wish or a vague longing. When determination is born, immediately take the next step.

Step 4: Have faith and confidence that the power will flow through you, the right way will appear, the door will open, the right thought, the right message, the right principle or the right book will be given you. Have confidence, and the right thing will come to your need. Then, as you rise from prayer, take at once the fifth step.

Step 5: Then, he said, lastly, ACT; act as though it had all been answered. Then act with tireless, ceaseless energy. And as you act, you, yourself, will become a magnet, which will attract more power to your being, until you become an unobstructed channel for the Divine power to flow through you. Many pray but do not remain for the last half of the first step. Some who meditate arrive at a decision, but fail to hold it. Few have the determination to carry the decision through, still fewer have the confidence that the right thing will come to their need. But how many remember to act as though it had all been answered?

How true are those words – ‘Greater than the prayer is the spirit in which it is uttered’ and greater than the way it is uttered is the spirit in which it is carried out.”

When I first came across this passage, I was in a pretty bad state, post-divorce.  I thought, what the heck.  I’ll try out this prayer thing, see how it works.  I decided to practice with small but non-trivial stuff.  I lived in a sketchy neighborhood at the time, and would sometimes come home past mid-night.  My prayer experiment was simple.  Every time I came home after midnight, I said a short prayer that I would find a parking place on my block.  It wasn’t trivial.  I needed to be safe.  Once I said the prayer, I acted as though it had been answered.  Every time I found a spot near my apartment on my block.  This happened many times over the course of two years. On the north side of Chicago, that’s practically a miracle. And that “act as though” part was critical.  It wasn’t hope.  I projected confidence.  It was a fairly small thing, so I felt like I could manage that kind of confidence.  But I tell you, every other time I have used this process, for much larger things than parking, it also worked.  I’m not saying I got what I wanted when I asked for a car.  I’m saying that when I wanted clarity, I got it.  When I made a decision, and acted as though it had already been accomplished, doors did open, the right person or book or thought did appear.  So I’m going to give it a try again.  What have I got to loose?

I think one key to it all is that I try not be selfish in my prayer.  For example, before I write, I ask God to make me ready to serve Him.  “If it be Thy pleasure, make me to grow as a tender herb in the meadows of Thy grace, that the gentle winds of Thy will may stir me up and bend me into conformity with Thy pleasure, in such wise that my movement and my stillness may be wholly directed by Thee.”  If I’m asking God to inspire me so that both the movement and stillness of my pen are directed by Him, then at least I’m starting out with good intentions.  Writing can be such an act of ego.  Writing selflessly is like walking on the edge of a sword.  I have to keep my service to the reader and the story at the forefront of my mind, or I’ll be shredded to bits.

How do you use prayer in your decision-making or in your creative process?

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Boat in waves

Giving children a bow in their lives, a vast horizon that guarantees nothing

I just watched a Ted Talk by Tan Le, a technologist who spoke about her immigration from Vietnam as a young child.  She speaks of being on a boat disguised as a fishing vessel, of the adults keeping poison available for all of them to escape from the rape and torture of pirates if they were captured.  She tells the harrowing tale of their escape, and the courage of her mother and grandmother, and by extension shows her own bravery, as they establish a new life in Australia.  She speaks at the end about her desire for children.  She says, “I wonder about the boat.  Who could ever wish it on their own?  Yet I am afraid of privilege, of ease, of entitlement.  Can I give them a bow in their lives, dipping bravely into each wave?  The unperturbed and steady beat of the engine?  The vast horizon that guarantees nothing?”  The confident assurance of her mother and grandmother that failure was not an option carried Tan through her childhood, through law school and international recognition, through greater achievements after that.

Now I turn my thoughts to my own children.  We live in a strange paradox, our family.  To the western observer, we have given up a life of privilege, cut our income to a tenth of what it once was, immersed ourselves in a foreign language and culture, different not only in appearances but also in its deep philosophical roots.  We live in an apartment a fraction of the size of the house we left behind.  We depend on public transportation after being a two-car family.  We have to go to great lengths to make macaroni and cheese. But to our Chinese friends, we are the privileged class.  We take taxis often.  We have coffee at Starbucks occasionally.  Our income is more than three times the local average. We make this expensive food called macaroni and cheese.

Our children are treated like rock stars when we go out, with their blond hair and big blue eyes.  Everyone wants a picture with them.  If we charged a small fee we would be millionaires. They are given candy without even batting a eye in our direction to ask for permission.  My children have to be sternly reminded that they are not to ask for things from strangers because, no matter what it is, the stranger is likely to hand it over…an iPhone with a cool game, ice cream, the lot.

In this limbo land, I have decided to remove my son from public school.  Though I’m fairly certain his sister will do well in the school, he has special needs that the school can’t address.  The decision was difficult, because I have often felt I don’t have the patience or the organizational skills to home-school effectively.  My husband and I struggled with how to address our son’s growing sense of isolation and frustration by hoping the problem would go away.  It didn’t.  By the end of last term, he had stopped doing any kind of work in class, and he was, without a doubt the loneliest child I knew.  His self-talk was (and still is) very negative and even frightening, with occasional suicidal statements. This is terrifying to hear from an eight-year-old.   Sometimes, he had upswings that would give us hope.  But those had recently all but gone the way of the dodo.  Finally, I purchased an ebook that discussed how to home-school a child with his needs.  The first section of the book records anecdotes from other parents who also decided to home-school their child.  There was such a resonance.  I realized that my fears and inadequacies are not enough to keep torturing this poor kid, and torture is what his school had become – a mixture of bullying, and being alternately ignored and belittled by a teacher who doesn’t understand him.

So he is now at home with me every morning.  And we are trying to figure out this homeschooling business.  We’ve hired a tutor to continue his Chinese studies in language and math, plus provide child care during the afternoons while I work.  So far so good.  This is day two.

I keep coming back to that image of Tan Le on the boat.  She went the other way, from the East to the West, from a difficult life to a life of increasing ease.  And she fears privilege, ease and entitlement.   Are our children benefiting from our challenges?  Who knows?  They speak fluent Chinese, and will be fully literate in the language much sooner than I will be.  Does that increase their ease? They will grow up as third culture kids, and that brings its own challenges and blessings.

This world is changing so quickly.  One thing I am certain of is that China has an important place in the future of our planet.  Our children’s bilingual/multiculturalism  will probably benefit them.  But it is a vast horizon, and there are no guarantees.  I have friends whose children, though they grew up in China, have rejected their language and experience here as useless.  How can I help my children avoid that rejection?

That boat.  I keep wondering about that boat, too.  “Can I give them a bow in their lives, dipping bravely into each wave?  The unperturbed and steady beat of the engine?  The vast horizon that guarantees nothing?” This is such powerful image.  It implies something under the surface, invisible and guiding, moving into an unknown future, driven by a profound purpose.  Maybe the best I can do is provide a consistent message to my children about the purpose of life, and then provide them with skills to follow their own path of service.  That’s really what this blog is about.  As an exploration of purpose, it is a constant reminder that I am here to be of service to the world.  My immediate concern is the part of the world that is closest at hand: my family.  Let’s hope I don’t sink that boat.

How do you help ensure that your children don’t become accustomed to privilege and ease?  How do you cultivate gratitude in your children?  Or perseverance in the face of difficulty?   What’s your perspective on these issues?

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My husband recently reminded me of an experience he had while doing some consulting work in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  He had some free time, and decided to explore the town.  He came across a neighborhood that was razed to the ground. Dozens and dozens of foundations laid exposed, with grass growing around and in between the cracks of the cement.  He realized that it must be the site of the 1921 race riot, and shortly afterwards found a marker that said something about it.  He said it was so eerie, standing in the middle of the desolate and abandoned area decades after the atrocities of that riot, and only blocks away from the bustling, dynamic center of this small city.  I asked him what started that riot, and he said he couldn’t remember, but that it had something to do with a black boy and a white girl.

The novel I’m working on features a young interracial couple in a small fictional town that is facing racial tensions in the present. I knew almost nothing about this event in Tulsa, so I decided to do some research about it.   First, I went to the website of the Tulsa public library, and scanned the Oklahoma history timeline that local history page features, the history from 1541-1940.  I had to scan it several times before I realized that this riot wasn’t on the timeline at all.  I couldn’t believe that an entire neighborhood being burned out didn’t show up on the State’s historical timeline.  I dug a little deeper and then found some pages on the riot in the African-American Resource Center’s section. What I learned stunned me.

In the early part of the 20th century, Tulsa had developed a vigorous economy, especially among the black and native American residents of the city, in an district called Greenwood.  It was known as “Black Wall Street”.  Perhaps because of this, though I am only speculating, there was also a significant presence of the Ku Klux Klan in Tulsa.  Race relations were not what one would call harmonious.  Here is a fairly in-depth look at that history.

It all started the morning of May 31, 1921, in an elevator of the Drexel Building.  Something happened between a black 19-year-old boy and a 17-year-old girl.  Some say she was assaulted, others say it was a lovers’ quarrel.  It could have been just an accidental foot-stepping.  In any case, the boy was arrested, and plans were made to lynch him. At one point, there were up to 10,000 people gathered at the court-house where he was being held, trying to get to the boy to lynch him, with a small number of Sheriff’s deputies and some black men trying to protect him.   You can read a quite thorough and compelling timeline of the riot, with maps, here.  The facts that I find so astonishing are that over the course of the night and the following day, over 1200 black-owed homes and businesses were destroyed, and over 300 people died.  It was the first time airplanes were used in combat, EVER, and they were used by white people to shoot at and bomb black people.  State and national authorities were brought in to control the violence, but they actually just helped in the massacre and destruction, which were systematic and thorough.  There are many sources of photographs and video available on the web, as well as the visual history I have posted above.  Please take the time to view at least some of it.

What overwhelms and disgusts me most is that I think I may have heard about this before, but I’m not sure.  How can that be?  How can the largest race riot in the history of America be so buried?  Tulsa’s own public library has a timeline of state history that doesn’t even list the tragedy.  I can think of three events that even the most ignorant of American’s should know about Oklahoma’s history, and they are: the facts surrounding the Trail of Tears, the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, and this riot, the most costly one in the history of the United States.  Why is it buried?  I learned about the Trail of Tears.  It is a mark of horrendous racism, just as this riot is.  Is it too embarrassing?  Is it still too close to home?  Is it because racism is still the most challenging issue facing the country, even though we have been able to change our language to be more politically correct, and to elect a president based on the content of his character rather than on the color of his skin?

What I mean to say is that I don’t see the coverage of this event by mainstream…anybody – media, academia, civil society.  Websites that document the event are mostly amateurish in production, though they contain well-written and researched content.  Even Tulsa’s Public Library’s website buries the more polished site created by the AARC .  Why aren’t we remembering this atrocity as a nation?

I think it is important, but not because we need to place blame.  This thing is festering, as all the other hidden “embarrassments” of our country’s past are.  I watch from afar, from across the ocean, and I see our country no longer just fragmenting, but rather shattering into a million pieces, and part of me weeps to see it.  Our diversity as a nation is its greatest strength.  But we seem to have not gotten that fact yet.  We let these notions of difference cause conflict and strife, and then act as if they don’t exist. There is another way.  We could begin to recognize that we can only reach real understanding and progress when we appreciate, but also value, our differences.

I hope to contribute to that dawning awareness, one that signals our maturity as a nation.  What do you think we can do to help bring about healing, rather than blaming, as these negative aspects of our history come more to light?

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The seed sacrifices itself for the tree

Such a lofty title – and all I’m doing is trying to find some sticking power to keep my own resolutions.  Like making writing my first professional priority.  It’s already January 8 and I spent most of last week grading papers and exams instead of writing.  I did, however, “procrastinate” on the grading by writing a 19-page short story that just sucked me right in and wouldn’t let me go until I finished it.  Two days later, I had a first draft.

But the title of this post wrote itself too.  I have been thinking about sacrifice a lot lately.  The word has a bad rap in our culture.  It implies deprivation.  It sounds like “I gotta give up something, and it’s gotta hurt.”  We hear it used in expressions like, “I’ve got to sacrifice my lunch hour to finish this report,” or “He had to sacrifice some golf time to volunteer at the school.”  To many, the word is distasteful.  For me it was too, especially when I discovered that sacrifice should hurt.

But I read something recently and it kind of blew my mind and shook my world.  It was essentially that sacrifice means letting go of that which is lower for that which is higher.  For example, the seed sacrifices itself for the tree.  OK, so I’m attributing will to an inanimate object, but just stay with me here…The seed lets go of its form — even cracks itself open — to allow the tree to grow.  Another example I read helped me get this.

“The relation between food and the eater is usually considered from the standpoint of the eater alone.  But surely if the food could be consulted, its attitude would be quite other.  It has two possibilities for a standard of judgment.  It could be either that of resentment at the loss of its station of animal or vegetable, or it could be one of exultation over its change from the station of animal and vegetable matter to the station of the human organism, and the possibility offered it of becoming a working part of the muscle, nerve and brain of man.  We look upon the world of Nature and see it as the battleground between the weak and the strong.  But it is just as possible to view it as the field of sacrifice wherein lower or weaker forms of life become transformed into higher and stronger ones through self-sacrifice.  In fact, it is quite possible that one of the causes behind the slow evolution of species is this very principle of sacrifice.”

Now, Howard Colby Ives was writing this back in 1912.  But it applies in so many ways to my life today.  It puts things into perspective.  I’m not depriving myself of that cream puff, I’m giving myself better health.  I’m not depriving myself of the ability to speak my thoughts freely, I am gaining the virtue of tact.  I’m not giving up my “paid” work, I’m developing my calling, which in the long run, will make me more prosperous.

This was most profoundly applied to my perception of motherhood recently.  I was thinking about my children from my first marriage who haven’t spoken to me in over five years, though I have made every effort I know to reach them to let them know I love them no matter what.  I thought, “Do I need to sacrifice my relationship with my children for something higher?”

Ugh.  That thought kicked me in the stomach.

I walked into my husband’s office and sat in the chair next to his desk, and asked him the same question.

He looked at me for a while.  Then he asked me, “If you had to choose between your children becoming closer to you or closer to God, which would you choose?”

Well, that’s not a fair question, I thought.  My children should be close to both.

Then he made a triangle with his index fingers and thumbs, and said, “If your children are getting closer to God, and so are you, aren’t you getting closer to each other?”

God is at the apex of the triangle.  In any relationship we have, if we are constantly demanding, “Hey, I’m over here!  Pay attention to me!” so that the other person will face us, then we are asking her to turn her attention away from God.  I am certain that I have been emotionally jumping up and down, shouting, “Hey, I’m your mom!  I’m over here!  I demand acknowledgment! I miss you!”  But if I let go of that, and simply desire with all my heart that they become closer to God, and I continue to write to them and pray for them, as they progress in their spiritual development they will naturally grow closer to me.  But I let go not because I want that outcome, but because I want to be closer to God. I want to be more patient and forgiving and kind and truthful and…and…and.

So what does this have to do with New Year’s resolutions?  Resolutions are typically things that we choose to become better people, more prosperous, happier, healthier, etc.  I don’t know about you, but I find it easier to stick to something if I feel the gain immediately.  And I feel it immediately if I connect my response to what I am gaining rather that to what I am loosing.  For example, I have already lost my children in terms of communication and physical relationship.  When I try to get those things, it only causes me, and probably them, pain.  But if I let go of those and seek with all my heart a stronger relationship with God for all of us, I have attached my heart to a purpose that can only bring all of us joy.

Try it out.  Instead of “Loose 10 pounds,” how about “Become physically fit by running three times a week.” Do your resolutions feel more sustainable if you think and feel in terms of what you are gaining?  What are your resolutions, and how would you state them in terms of the nature of sacrifice – giving up “that which is lower for that which is higher”?

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Chinese Phoenix (Feng)

What beauty can rise from the ashes?

I am working on the re-write of my second novel.  Yes.  The first novel sits on the floor of my closet, waiting for its re-write.  But for now, let’s focus on the second one.  The main character, Suzanne, is an attorney.  She has worked in publishing for about three years, since she finished her law degree from NYU.  She took a job in Chicago so she could get away from the reminders that lingered in New York.   She was there during 9/11,  and lost her fiance, Evan, who was a consultant working for a small subsidiary of Marsh & McLennan, on the 95th floor of the North Tower.  She was in lower Manhattan when it collapsed.  A portion of the novel deals with the issues Suzanne has surrounding that experience, including post-traumatic stress disorder.

At least 10,000 people have met the criteria for treatment for 9/11-related PTSD.  Estimates for the number of people who may actually suffer from the disorder are as high as the hundreds of thousands.  Whether or not it the phenomenon is that wide-spread, it is, without a doubt, one of the most traumatic experiences our nation has had as a whole.  But it is only so because each of us has some kind of relationship to the events of that Tuesday morning ten years ago, whether it is watching the television in horror, being an eye-witness or first responder, or having a personal relationship with those who lost their lives.

I have a friend.  I’ll call her Sally.  When I met her, this tough woman truck-driver with bright hazel eyes and curly hair was suffering from a number physical ailments, but the thing she struggled with most was anger and guilt.  She came to my house with her fiance and a friend of hers.  They wanted to investigate having a Baha’i wedding, which consists of a simple vow, with no clergy required.  She and her fiance wanted to avoid the inevitable conflicts that came from the various religious options available from their families’ backgrounds, which included Lutheran, Catholic and Mormon.  But they wanted a spiritual, rather than secular, service.  I told them about the basics of the ceremony, but I wanted them to have  brief overview of the Faith,  so they could understand the wedding’s basic context.  I started with some of the basic teachings, and then moved into a brief history of the life of Baha’u’llah, the Faith’s Founder.  During the explanation of the teachings, she was very interested, and eagerly asked questions.  But when I started talking about the history, she became reticent and agitated. Finally, she said, “Wait a minute.  Are you telling me all these beautiful teachings of peace and justice are from over there?”  I asked what she meant, and she indicated, with some difficulty and emotion, the Middle East.  I told her that, yes, the Baha’i Faith originated in Iran. She then told me this story:

Several years before, she got involved in an online community with a friend.  In this community, a group of 20 to 30 people became very close to each other.  They even planned several gatherings in real space, and had a great time, both in small groups, and all together.  Then one of them had a great idea, to see both coasts of this great country of ours.  The plan was simple.  They would all meet in LA to see the sights, then fly to New York the next day for a night on the town.  Sally was psyched.  She coordinated the plan.  She helped people make their travel arrangements.

The day she was to leave on the trip, all hell broke loose with a soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend.  He had become extremely possessive and jealous, and told her that she couldn’t go on the trip.  She, being the tigress she is, told him where he could go.  He then proceeded to take her keys, drivers license and credit cards, and vanished.  Though she did go to the authorities to report the problem, there was no way she could meet the group in time.  She had planned to drive up the coast and meet a group of them traveling from Boston to LA to start the party.  She missed that flight.  Her friends did not.  They got on the plane, American Airlines Flight 11, that Tuesday morning.   A friend they were going to meet in LA called Sally that morning, panicked because she had just seen the news, and woke Sally from a sound sleep.  The friend couldn’t believe she had reached her.  Sally didn’t understand. She hadn’t seen the news.  When she found out what happened, something broke deep inside her.

“I used to not care who you were, black, white, purple, green.  You were a human being.  But after 9/11, everything from over there,” she said, choked up, “everything, became evil to me.  I can’t believe that something as beautiful as what you’re telling me is from there.”

She sat on my couch and cried, this gentle soul, so completely and personally hurt by what some mad men did to make their mark on the world.

But Sally couldn’t let go of those beautiful teachings.  Over the next few months, she asked question after question. There were times when she would rage, not understanding why people do such horrible things to each other.  Then she would watch her child show compassion to my three-year-old son, reading a book to him, or showing him how to be gentle with a kitty, and she would say, “We learn it, don’t we?”

I watched this angry and hurt woman transform into a beacon of tolerance.  Two months after I met her, we went to an inter-faith prayer gathering for peace organized by the local university.  Several priests and ministers from various congregations prayed.  A Baha’i prayer for peace was read. The mullah from the local mosque said a moving prayer for peace and inter-faith cooperation and healing.  Afterwards, Sally approached the man.  With tears in her eyes, she said, “Two months ago, I wouldn’t have been able to face you without a gun in my hand.  Today, you showed me how powerful love is.  Thank you for your prayer.”  Those were not just words to this woman.  It was absolute truth.  I don’t know if that mullah realized the miracle he had participated in, but I know what I witnessed.

There is a so much hatred in the world.  It is darkness, and it causes terrible injuries to our hearts and souls.  But there is also healing, and greater love, and light.  If you have story that shows the kind of transformation I saw in Sally, share it.  I’d love to hear it.  I also want to help my character, Suzanne, learn from your wisdom, so don’t hold back.  Show us how the phoenix rises from the ashes that still smolder in the hearts of so many broken hearts.

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I discovered something today.  I want to die.

In fact, I think most of us do at some point in our lives.  There is a part of us all that knows that what comes after this must be better than the suffering we have to endure in this physical plane of existence.  Whether you believe we are worm food or that there is an afterlife, getting off this spinning cesspool of agony doesn’t sound like such a bad idea sometimes.

To me heaven and hell are states of being along a continuum of nearness to or distance from God.  Our intended destination is His presence.  That’s where He wants us, not for His sake, but for ours.  He doesn’t need us there.  He created the universe, and everything in and beyond it.  So it isn’t an ego trip that He created us to know Him and to love Him.  He did it because He loves us and wants us to know the joy of that love.  So even if I haven’t gone as far as He intends me to in this life, it just seems like it would be such a relief to put my movement on that continuum completely in His hand, rid myself of this free will business once and for all.

I was sitting on the steps outside our apartment this afternoon, still upset from an argument I had with my husband about nothing that important.  I was smoking a cigarette and thinking, “Why is it that I do this?  I know it’s not good for me?  Why don’t I start running, and taking care of my body?  Why don’t I care about my health that much?”  And the answer came with such clarity and truth that I was struck by its simplicity.  I want to die, the sooner the better.

So why don’t I hasten the process even more?  Why don’t I find a nice bottle of sleeping pills, or some other such painless form of calling it quits?  These were real questions in my mind.  I wanted an answer.  Why aren’t I suicidal?  What stops me from really going there?  My initial thoughts about my children weren’t really satisfying enough.  I wasn’t really thinking about them, but rather the idea of my children being without a mother.  The older two have chosen that for themselves, and seem to be…well, they are at least alive, though I don’t know if they are well.  So, life goes on without mother.  I am fairly certain that my husband would get over it.  My parents and sister wouldn’t understand.  It would be a tremendous shock to them.  They would be deeply saddened.  But they, too, would get over it.  Those answers weren’t deep enough.

Then I thought about my ex-husband and his family.  I got angry.  I began to scratch the surface of the truth.  “See,” they would say to my children, “she wasn’t any good for you.  She was a suicidal mess.  You needed better than that.”  I will NOT give them the satisfaction, the excuse.  While I was angry, I realized that a big reason I am not suicidal is that I find suicide to be the height of selfishness.  You take yourself out of the physical plane, removing all potential for good, for service, for simply being there when you are needed, because you are tired of the grind.

Oh, my God, I am tired of the grind.  I want my heart to stop being crushed under the foot of my grief.  I want someone, anyone, to take up my cause, and stop hiding behind the veil of non-interference.  My children are surrounded by people who claim to be my friends (at least on Facebook).  They are people who espouse the principles of unity and the importance of letting our hearts “burn with loving kindness for all who may cross your path.”  But they do not call my children to account, lovingly, kindly, but frankly, damn it.  They are old enough to face the fact that I am their mother.  Why can no one remind them that I love them, that I have not for a moment stopped wanting them in my life?  My letters do not get through.  I am blocked at every turn, with every slight move I make to let them know myself.  What would happen if every single person who knows me and knows them passed the message along? Yes, they may shun you as they have shunned others.  But then another valiant soul would be right behind you, repeating the same message of love.  Do we not believe it is powerful enough to build unity, and wear down the walls of estrangement that have been allowed to grow and calcify through inaction?

Ok. That rant is over.  The point is, suicide is selfish.  I would be taking myself out of that grind because it is hard.  It is excruciating.  But then there are my monklets.  My eight-year-old son would not only not understand, he would completely and thoroughly blame himself.  My three-year-old daughter would feel utterly abandoned by the one she adores most in the world, the one who plays Barbies with her, and lets her twist her fingers through my hair while she falls asleep. These reasons are not about motherhood so much as they are about kindness.

If you watch or read enough about near-death experiences, you know that the frequent message that comes from them is that the only thing that really matters about what we do in the world is kindness.  Our accomplishments and accolades account for squat, zippo, nada.  To quote Jewel, “In the end, only kindness matters.”  And kindness isn’t just the smile we give to our neighbors.  It’s selflessly giving our all to our studies so we can learn how we can best be of service.  It’s putting our all into our work so that it can truly be a service.  It’s letting the children given to our care know how precious they are as human beings.  It’s helping them prepare for a life of kindness.  Suicide is a completely unkind act because it is entirely selfish.

So I am alive.  Then why, dear friends, do I act like I am just waiting to die?  Why do I sit on this fence, eating whatever the hell I want, smoking when I want, not exercising?  Why do I break commitments to myself?  Why do I choose to forget the discipline of prayer and meditation as the source, the well-spring of kindness?  It is time to choose.  What do I want for my life, possibly forty more years of existence on this physical plane?  Do I want to continue as I have been, living in mediocrity so that I can possibly make it 35 more, instead of 40?  Or even less, if I’m lucky?  Tears stream down my face as I ponder this very real question.  I get the kindness thing.  It’s why I exist, why any of us do.  It’s the way we really learn about God’s love.  Kindness requires compassion and truthfulness.   True justice is an expression of kindness.  Excellence and generosity are the beginning and end of kindness.  So what’s it gonna be for me?  I’ll be kind to everyone but myself, so I can get rid of this shell as soon as possible?  How is that not suicide, slow and painful?  It’s a question I will not answer here.  You will just have to watch me, watch my life, to find out.  Words, at this point are useless.  Let deeds, not words, be my adorning, in this one thing.

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