Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Artistic Endeavors

          We are all artists, even if you claim to not have an artistic bone in your body.  You do – it’s there.  Perhaps you’re underestimating your own creativity. 

            I can’t paint.  I draw only stick figures.  When I try to dance it’s not pretty.  However, from a very early age I loved music and would frequently burst out in song.  Then, in my teen years, I discovered the fulfillment of writing.  Arranging words together in a way that both inspires and describes makes me feel productive and important.   A few years ago, I tried making jewelry – a venture that now garners me compliments and holiday gift requests.

            While I embrace all of the artistic ventures listed above, there are many people I know whom frequently say, “I wish I was creative like that.”  I do my utmost to convince them that they are artistic and there must be something creative they do.  Please don’t ever believe that you are not talented.  For you are, indeed!  The first step is believing that to be true.  Give your creative interests credence.  Do you enjoy cooking?  Take a culinary class.  Have you always been fascinated by sculpted art? Volunteer at a museum.  Maybe you love supernatural-themed books and movies?  Ever tried writing one yourself?  You’re probably well versed in that genre to understand the terminology and style.

            Plenty of people enjoy music but can’t hold a note.  That shouldn’t stop them from immersing themselves in that world.  Start an open-mic night at your restaurant or get a part-time job helping out at a concert venue.  If you grew up fascinated by the lure of the theatre but are too introverted to ever perform on stage, volunteer to be an usher at your local county theatre.  Or, start a blog that details your favorite shows and other interesting facts about the industry.

            The point being, be creative!  We all have interests that make us smile just thinking about them.  Even if you can’t financially afford to pursue an artistic career, find a creative outlet that lets your spirit soar!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Writing with Respect and Care

To assume that it is acceptable behavior to call people names, threaten or even berate another person simply because you didn’t like what they did or said…who does that help?  No, really – I want to know!  Because it certainly doesn’t help the person you’re writing to nor does it benefit you.  It keeps you wrapped tight in displeasure, negativity and bitterness.  You may think that by sending a complaint letter filled with your rambling unhappiness you are cleansing your spirit of the issue.  I suggest a different perspective.  Until you use your words to offer insight, thoughtful discussion and concern for more than yourself then you remain stagnant in your personal and spiritual development.

 Understand that we are all on a journey; we’re just moving at a different pace than our family, friends and neighbors.  Some of us remain stuck in prejudice, hate and violence while others have learned that compassion, respect and unconditional love make the world better for us all.  The successes of one group of individuals doesn’t constitute misery for another.  Instead, it should offer hope and inspiration that we can achieve the same level of success.   My income is nowhere near that of professional athletes or entertainers, but I don’t begrudge them the money and/or success they’ve obtained.  I see possibility.  Instead of asking why they make more than me I wonder “How I can improve my own situation?”

 Does it make me furious to read letters filled with vitriol?  Absolutely, but I pause and consider that the individual is dealing with issues of their own and perhaps they can’t see passed their own struggles.  It’s understandable, but not excusable. 

 Be aware that the words you choose matter.  How you phrase them matters.  Your intention in writing them…matters!  Choose to move us forward, not back and you just may find that the situation gets a little better by just looking at it with a more compassionate set of eyes.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Choices We Make

To those that choose hate, I wish you love.
To those who choose anger, I wish you calm.
To those that choose retribution, I wish you find the healing power of forgiveness.
To those that choose violence, I wish you awareness of the damage it'll cause.

You have a choice.  We all do - each moment of every day.  Choose love for yourself and others.  Choose to find understanding in the midst of confusion.  Choose friendship in lieu of a solitary existence.  Choose progress instead of a stagnant life.  Choose hope instead of despair. Choose a non-violent response instead of harm to yourself or your fellow spirits.  Live a life full of unconditional love and understand that we all have a choice.

I seek answers to even the most difficult of questions.  Even though I'm disgusted and heart-broken when others cause unspeakable violence I choose to ask the why's and the how's. Why would anyone make such a deplorable and soul-damaging choice?  How can we move forward so that we overpower the hatred with unconditional love?

Call it religion.  Call it spirituality.  Call it na├»ve or weak.  Call my viewpoint what you will, but I will continue on making these choices. Because maybe, just maybe, someone finds comfort, inspiration or hope in what I write.

Friday, April 5, 2013

The "Magic" of Catholicism

I never thought religion to be a dirty word, but it has become such.  By the very people who claim to hold fast to its value.  They use it as a shield, as an excuse and even as a reason for their choices.  Good or bad, mind you. 

 I’ve spent many years on both sides of that coin.  Making what the general public would deem to be good choices due to what was expected/taught from the religious sect that I belonged to.  And also, struggling to do what I believe is right and just even though it veers from the teachings engrained in my being.

So, I distanced myself from the Catholic Church.  Not necessarily from Catholicism, but from the organization that enforces its rules.  Overall, there are so many aspects of this religion that I find inspiring, motivating and spirituality progressive.  However, it’s the key issues where we disagree and as such, I could no longer continue on that path.  In good conscience, that is.

My view of Catholicism may seem rather counterintuitive to their structure but it is nonetheless.  I loved the mysticism, the beauty, the magic of it all.  The idea that there were spiritual beings that could appear before you, unseen to anyone else.  That Jesus could perform miracles, angels could offer support and comfort, and saints could put in a good word for you.  I absorbed the idea of hope, of treating others with unconditional love and respect.  Of believing in the goodness of my neighbors and trusting that by believing strongly enough all would turn out right. 

I must stop here for a moment and state that I have NOT read the Bible in full.  I can’t quote chapters to support my statements or counter the church’s teachings with readings that they appear to twist to their own advantage.  This writing exercise is intended to express how Catholicism impacted (and continues to impact) my life today.  What I seek to impart is my own point of view because perhaps others may share it or find a new perspective on a long-held belief.

I went to Mass every week, said my prayers diligently, took all the applicable sacraments and embraced the title of “Catholic”.  I linked my faith with the choices I made, with the personality traits that I celebrated in myself.  Goodness, kindness, forgiveness and hope.  But there was always a disconnect between my faith and religion when it came to the strongest of my positive attributes – open-mindedness. 

Catholicism re-enforced the idea of unconditional love for all.  That love was more powerful than hate.  To not pass judgment on others.  To live life to the best of my ability and that those qualities that Jesus promoted would shine through me as an example.  But as I got into my young adult years I started to pay closer attention to what was being asked of me.  I admired, praised and worshipped the woman known as the “Blessed Mother”.  A woman depicted as kind, nurturing, supportive and full of forgiveness.  Her presence in the Catholic Church is everywhere.  She’s valued.  Given a prominent place of importance.  Yet I wondered why women were treated on such an inferior level as men.  To my recollection, and the teachings I can recall, Jesus respected and valued women.  He lifted them up instead of knocking them down.  So why not recognize the many gifts that the female sex has to offer in the development of your faith?

I’m not going to rant about the fact that women are not permitted to be priests or that reading options for Catholic wedding ceremonies are about cattle and belonging to a man.  Instead, I pose the following question…are your interpretations of the Bible stifling spiritual progression?  I am proud to be a woman of kindness, compassion, grace and hope.  I welcome those aspects of myself.  But at the same time I also have in-depth questions that need answered. 

I am a woman stuck between two worlds.  Between the idea of a pure, virginal, compassionate young lady and the one who experienced significant physical connections.  I struggled with what I considered to be angelic and pure with the physical needs that seemed natural.  I became incredibly embarrassed when members of the opposite sex showed any kind of interest in me.  I doubted my beauty.  I saw a young lady who was pretty but not gorgeous, angelic not sexy.  It plagued me to know the church only promoted one aspect of womanhood.  That we were to suppress those natural urges.  That being proud of your body, acknowledging the physical needs and expressing them were not only wrong but against Jesus’ teaching.

Those beliefs affected so much of my life and how I viewed myself.  I embraced the part of myself that’s entrenched in beauty, grace and compassion.  I didn’t doubt for a moment that those qualities are beneficial to the greater good, but when I started acknowledging the woman within my spirituality flourished in a way it never had before.  I felt connected to my body, my mind, my spirit.  Most importantly, I was connected to God on a deeper and more profound level.

I don’t intend to imply that young girls should start sleeping with everyone they come into contact with or act on all of their sexual urges.  Where we run into trouble is not acknowledging our feelings.  Right or wrong, admit they exist.  Then make choices that move you forward, not back.  This is where I believe the church could use some assistance.  You teach women to abstain.  To save themselves until marriage.  To stifle those feminine urges and wait until God has chosen your marriage partner.  Only then is it acceptable to embrace your sexuality.  That is…as long as your partner is of a different gender.  More on that in a later post.  Then, if a woman does “sin” it’s up to man to absolve her.  In the way that Jesus welcomed Mary Magdalene with open arms.  A woman viewed by others as a prostitute and a sinner.  It’s God-like for the Church to welcome sinners back into the fold.  But I question whether that was necessary to begin with.  Besides, my view of Mary Magdalene differs significantly from the teachings of the Catholic Church.

Male or female, adult or child, young or old…we are all on a spiritual journey.  We all struggle to intertwine both the good and bad within.  I am still searching for a religious organization that benefits me on a spiritual level.  I hope to find one but that won’t stop me from continuing to balance the emotional strength of Mother Mary with the woman called Mary Magdalena.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

An Act of Kindness: 25 years later

Late in my 5th grade school year I developed chicken pox and had to remain home during the last week of school.  My dear friends surprised me with the amazing creation you see posted above.  A hand-made "Get Well Soon" card signed by my friends, classmates and teachers.  Twenty-five years later I still smile broadly when I think of how thoughtful of a gift that was.

I was fortunate to grow up in a suburban neighborhood where there were a good number of kids my own age.  We formed our friendships early on and grew to include new members, when applicable.  We were a diverse group, of various family structure backgrounds and personality types.  Our differences made our friendships unique; both individually and as a group. 

We spent our time after school and before bedtime riding our bikes at the school or in the woods at the "dead end".  Imagination was our best friend, in a time when we were more excited to play Barbies, create scenarios and pretend.  Who needed video games?  We made our own fun!

The friendships formed during those years made my childhood full of laughter, unconditional support and understanding.  My life was full.  As we grew we ventured down different paths and thanks to the social media age we've been able to reconnect.  I am incredibly honored to have had such wonderful friends during my childhood and hope that their children are just as fortunate!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Choose to heal

"So that a tragedy like this never happens again."

How many times have we heard this declaration?  And yet tragedies continue.  They will until we address the problem on a deeper level.

As much as I abhor guns and violence of any kind I can not pull all the blame on those issues.  And trust me, I want to. Because that would make it easier.  Would mean we'd have someone or something else to blame.  We'd have an outlet to voice our concerns, frustrations, anger and deep sadness.  But we'd be neglecting an even more important and critical part of the problems - our actions.

Choice.  Every single moment of every single day we get to to choose.  Whether the choice is what to wear that day or deciding to enact your rage with violence we still get to choose.  And because we have that ability we also have the responsibility, to not only our community but ourselves, to make the choice that's rooted in unwavering love and respect.

You're in pain.  You're angry.  You're fed up with being mistreated.  You're tired of being ignored.  Fine, I get that.  I can understand your pain.  I hurt for you.  But you still have a choice to make.  AS someone who battled a form of mental illness I felt pain.  I felt alone.  I felt unheard.  But I CHOOSE to channel those feelings through art.  I took pencil to notebook and wrote feverishly of all that I couldn't vocalize.  I listened to inspiring and motivating songs and sang along in my bedroom and with the windows down in my car.  I found outlets that helped me express my issues in a constructive and creative manner.

We're all dealing with pain on some level.  Sometimes it's so debilitating that you just want others to understand.  Truly understand.  But choosing to bring harm to another living being does irreparable damage to so many others, yourself included.  You have a choice each and every moment.  Choose respect for all living beings.  Choose respect for yourself.  Move us all forward instead of taking the choice away from us.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

How depressing!

I attempted suicide when I was 15 years old.  Do I have your attention now?

Depression is a debilitating disease that sucks you in so deep that at times you can't even recognize yourself.  I spent most of my adolescent and young adult life struggling with my inner workings.  Wrapped in a cocoon of sadness and apathy.  I can completely understand how someone who hasn't witnessed or experienced depression first-hand can say, "Why didn't you just get over it?" or "Stop being overdramatic!"  But when you're in that moment of despair, when everything around you seems meaningless you are not concerned with other people.  Your thoughts are single-minded...MAKE IT STOP!  Please make all the pain go away.  Why can't I just be happy?  Why does everything need to be so hard? You become absorbed in your own perceived failings and overwhelmed at all the work that must be done to achieve any semblance of success.

But I write this post today for two reasons; first, to tell those who may be battling depression that there IS a light at the end of that tunnel even if it doesn't seem possible right now.  You hold on!  And second, to offer family and friends a little insight into the workings of depression and why this disease is so much more than about not being able to deal with life.  It's the overwhelming realization that you ARE living.

Perhaps that may be an odd statement to make...that the mere fact of being alive contributes to someone becoming depressed.  I am not an expert.  I have not studied psychology, sociology or any other kind of -ology pertaining to the mind.  But, my experiences and insights have provided me with a window into a deeper understanding of my spirituality.  And it is from that perspective in which I write this post.

For as long as I can recall there's been this resounding idea that there's so much more to living than day to day experiences.  That we focus on all that must be done in order to pay bills, take care of our family and provide shelter over our heads.  But when the time came for me to start focusing more on those aspects of life I found living more difficult.  It was inconsequential to me whether I cleaned my room or helped my parents with chores around the house.  How could that possibly be more important than nourishing that which fulfilled me on a spiritual level?  Like music, television shows, films, musicals or spending time with friends. At least, that's what I thought at the time.

All of the earthly responsibilities overwhelmed my yearning for something deeper, something more meaningful and something that actually had purpose.  I no longer consider myself a religious individual.  I don't practice any particular faith, but I do have a deep belief in those who seek to make the world better through civility, kindness, and open-minded perspectives.  For such a long time the world around me couldn't live up to the knowledge of a spiritual world.  Why would I want to live here when "eternal life" or a similar existence was possible and attainable?

I could not grasp hold of the idea that my goal was to make Heaven right here on Earth.  That through my actions, words and choices I was not only growing in my own spirituality but perhaps helping someone else as they struggled with theirs.  If I had succumbed to all the misery, sadness and unhappiness then there would've been so many missed experiences.  Like the marriages of my sisters and friends plus the birth of my niece and nephews.

When I finally realized that I need to find a balance between earthly activities that keep us progressing and a spirituality that needs to be consistently pampered then my life turned around.  But none of that would've been possible if I hadn't made a conscious choice to continue living.

If you or someone you know is battling depression and contemplating suicide, please do not hesitate in seeking help.  Visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness (http://www.nami.org/) for more information!

All the best,