Listening to Candlelight

The match head bounces roughly along the edge of the matchbook.  On first strike it ignites in a flash of orange sparks and threatens to go out with each step I take. I carefully deliver life to a candle sitting close to my bed.

Technology provides life-saving medicines and jet-propelled shuttles.  Electricity, the pulse of our nation’s daily life, continues to flicker on and off with regularity.

Glowing warmly, the candle illuminates a small corner of my room.  At first it crackles and sputters as the wax of a new wick struggles to catch fire.  Soon it burns steadily, with only an occasional flicker when a draft from a half-closed window sweeps through the room.

Surveying my surroundings, I am unaffected by the dust on the dresser or the pair of worn jeans tossed haphazardly across a far corner chair.  I take a book from the nightstand and settle down.   Reading by candlelight sounds romantic, but it is difficult.  Nevertheless, watching television, listening to the radio, or dusting will have to wait.

I close my eyes and am cradled in darkness.  My mind circles and wanders through thoughts of the day.  Resisting the urge to put pen to paper and begin a list of things to do, I allow myself to drift.  The peaceful sound of rain carries me away.

… I grab the shiny chrome handlebars of my new blue Schwinn and snap my eyes shut.  With the confidence I have been given superhero ability to ride a bike with my eyes closed, I pedal fast.  Two seconds pass, possibly five, of blissful riding, then crash, into a neighbor’s sedan.  As I am falling to the pebblestrewn pavement, my mind anticipates my father’s looks and my reproach. I’m not badly hurt, but my superhuman powers are not strong enough to stop a tear from falling as a drop of blood appears from a small cut on my knee.  Softly Mom kisses my wound and tenderly places a band-aid on it. A gentle reminder to be careful and watch for parked cars…

… Easter.  A small yellow mass sits in my cupped hands.  My sister, two years younger, rubs her chubby finger over the baby chick’s head.  I watch carefully, observing each stroke, cautious.  My sister’s eyes are wide with wonder as she lifts the downy soft feathers to investigate the tiny chick.  Being older and more experienced, I am hesitant to let her touch it for too long.  I use my sweetest voice to convince her baby chicks must have rest between petting.   The chick cheeps loudly as it is released. My sister and I watch as it determinedly pecks at invisible things hiding in the grass…

… After asking three times, I hesitate at a fourth for fear of being scolded for breaking mother’s concentration, again.  The highway is narrow. In the back seat, where I am sitting with my window wide open, I feel a whoosh as each car passes too closely, I feel, to ours.  At five, I am a backseat driver. As we travel the single-lane highways of South Texas, I search the horizon for over-the-line autos, stray cows, and soda shops close to a turn-off.  Three hours seem an eternity when traveling to Granny’s house. After only minutes, the games were played, songs sung, snacks eaten, and not one cow in sight.  I curl up on the floorboard and listen to the tires on the road.

Lulled into a sleepy state, I feel the rhythm as we cross a wooden bridge — click-clack, click-clack, click-clack — a rapid cadence.  I scurry up to the window just as we complete the crossing and reach the pavement again.  Back on the floorboard, I am soon stirred by a honk.  I untangle my arms and legs in time to return the bald man’s wave as we pass his car.  Without asking, mother volunteers: only twenty minutes more. Soon I leap from the confinement of my back-seat responsibilities and into the arms of my Granny…

… A temporary captive of lace and bows, I rush to my room and quickly shed my Sunday best.  Almost tripping over the dress as it clings to my ankles, I jump high, finally achieving the altitude necessary to free myself from the bright green material.  Hurriedly I don jeans and a T-shirt.

Piling into the car as we do most Sunday afternoons, we are off — my best friend, his brother, my sister, and our moms.  The winding road to the park reminds me of a snake, weaving in and out of tall grass.  We pass duck ponds, a golf course, and the horse arena, arriving at last to a playground full of adventure — but without swings, slides, or merry-go-rounds.

Unspoiled, this part of the Guadalupe River is teaming with opportunity.  Thick vines cascade from sturdy live oaks lining the river’s edge.  Run-off channels rise from the river up to the street.

“I’m a pioneer,” my best friend exclaims, scampering up the gully on a mission to discover uncharted territory.  Following quickly behind, I search for buffalo.

The afternoon sun beats down. Squinting against the bright reflection from the river below, I watch as my sister struggles to climb up, my friend’s little brother close behind.  We toss a few clods of dirt over the side, a bombardment intended only to discourage younger siblings from following. Mother and her friend pass the time at a picnic table close to the river.

It seems we are there too briefly when a honk signals the roundup has begun. In the car, I take a final glance back as we reach the top of the hill, realizing it will be at least six days before we return to the wonder of this place…

It is still dark outside as I slowly open my eyes.  The vibrant memories of childhood summers pass rapidly.  Softball games with hot dogs, summer camp and mosquitoes, band concerts and school fairs, and endless memories of growing up in a small, weather-beaten Texas town.

The candle burns brightly as I revisit a steady stream of friends and events long forgotten.  As I close my eyes again, I make note not to wait for a storm to plunge routines into darkness before I return to the sights and sounds discovered while listening to candlelight.

Always There

Puppia front shot           Today is bright and shining like a polished emerald.  At first the trees, grass, and bushes seem to blend into a sea of green, but closer inspection reveals each plant’s uniqueness in color and individual contribution to the whole.  

Skipping a stone across a small lake in Central Alabama, I am reminded of doing the same as a child.  Although I am more accurate today, the thrill of seeing the smooth flat stone skip twice, and often three or four times, is as I remember.  The playmates of my youth have been replaced with a three-legged dog named Lucky and a small furry one named R.J.

R.J., who has traveled hundreds of miles in her sixteen years, struggles to catch up when Lucky and I stop at the lake.  Mostly behind us, rarely ahead, R.J. is always there as we walk through the woods, stopping frequently to search for morsels of food left by previous visitors.  Her life is a constant hunt for the bit of sandwich that has fallen.

Lucky continuously wags her pleasure at life, a necessary movement to remain balanced, but I choose to see it as an expression of joy at being alive. Like a deer, she hop-lopes toward an approaching group.  A mother, father, and children out enjoying the day call to the sweet dog that leaps high into the air as she prances toward them.  Anticipating that they may not notice Lucky’s missing leg, I go to greet them with her story ready.

“Wow!  That dog only has three legs,” one of the children exclaims before I can say a word.  Briefly my faith is restored as the youngest child sees what most do not.  The questions fly fast…who, what, when, where, why?

I pause slightly before answering.  Looking into innocent young eyes, I am tempted to soften my answer, but in the end I do not. She was rescued from a dumpster, I tell them, and fixed up like new, with three legs serving her as well as four could have.  Wiggling with delight at the momentary attention, Lucky wags a final farewell as the group rounds the bend and vanishes; young voices wafting back deliver the only proof of our meeting.

R.J. continues her predictable habit of arriving well after anything she may have found the least bit interesting.  Never an enthusiastic dog, R.J. manages a brief motion of her tail in recognition of Lucky and me.  This greeting is familiar to all who know her.  Most of us feel complimented she acknowledges us at all.

Almost half of my life has been spent caring for and tolerating R.J.  Another rescue, she has spent her life totally committed to the pursuit of food.  When not eating, sleeping, or dreaming of her next meal, R.J. will at times require a smidgen of attention, allowing me a brief moment to stroke her behind her ears.

Frisky and fluffy, she entered the world to look forever like a furry bat on four legs.  Although many have complimented her cuteness, she is a cranky, seemingly always hungry, scruffy little half-pint ball of fur and teeth.  R.J. knows the world revolves around her, and is jealous to the core. She allows Lucky only the smallest considerations and often nips at her only remaining back leg.  R.J. is serious about driving away any competition for my affection.  Sitting on my lap, she grins at Lucky with curled lips, gloating in her victory over the younger, stronger, and much bigger dog.

Seasons change and new smells fill the air.  People come and go and yet our story line remains mostly unchanged.  Like a long-running play, our days together are familiar.  We appreciate this pattern and the special time we share.  There is an understanding without words.  Sitting between my furry friends, I feel at home. The friendship of these dogs is pure and their love unconditional.  While I am away, I know they are curled up napping or rising occasionally to stretch or turn to a better position.

I often believe they lead boring lives, yet they seem happy enough.  Outings to a park or lake are squeezed in when the schedule allows.  Watching them roam and encounter new adventures is my reward.  They wait patiently for signs of change in our daily routine.  They allow me to cry, to be angry, and to love without expectation.  They are there when I am sick, lonely, or confused, knowing that I am somehow different.

A time will come too soon, I am sure, when R.J. will leave us.  I have allowed myself to daydream of how best to send off my friend.  Each plan seems lacking, and my indecision affords me the hope that she will remain with me forever.

I am certain Lucky will not miss being taunted, but I wonder if she will miss the familiar smell of her little companion.  Hesitant in the past to ride in the car without R.J., Lucky may again be suspicious.  Our routine will change.

My friend’s passing will leave a void that will not easily be filled.  Someday new routines will be established, broken now and then with outings.  Lucky will lope toward a new adventure, and for some time I will turn frequently to glance back over my shoulder, hoping to catch a glimpse of my R.J. coming steadily after us—mostly behind, rarely ahead, but always there.

We Are Spiritual Beings on Great Human Adventures

Who are we?

Since the beginning of recorded time, humans have documented the search for the answer to who we are. How did the ancients comprehend themselves among the points of light in the night sky? Did they feel small surrounded by the majesty of the natural world?

The Greek sage Aristotle wanted to understand our reality and believed all people, by nature, desire to know. Over the centuries, countless scientists and philosophers continued the quest to discover our place in the universe and the meaning of life. Since the mid-twentieth century, physicists have worked on a Theory of Everything, a single formula to answer all of our big questions.

You and I are no different from the great pursuers of significant answers in our desire to truly be aware of ourselves. Each of us is hard-wired to examine and navigate the ever-growing realm of inner and outer discovery.  With each new achievement, we seem more certain of who we are.

We are physical beings capable of fantastic feats of strength and endurance. We are intellectual beings who create scientific, medical, and technological marvels. We are emotional beings with an extraordinary capacity for sensitivity.  We experience ourselves and our surroundings through the senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste.

In addition to the physical, emotional, and intellectual capacities and the senses by which we perceive stimuli originating from outside or inside our body, a higher wisdom exists within us. I have known it from my first memory.

I was eighteen months old.  I was watching my newborn sister being carried by two nuns down a long sidewalk.  The tips of their hats flopped up and down in rhythm to their synchronized footsteps.  I was aware of each step, each sway of their robes as they moved closer and closer.  My senses were heightened. The sky was a magnificent deep blue.  Seagulls squawked overhead.  The air smelled like the sea. A cool breeze raised goose-bumps on my arm.

I watched expectantly from the back seat of our car as the nuns gently placed a bundle in my mother’s lap.  I peeked over the seat and saw a tiny pink face, eyes squeezed tight against the bright sunlight.

Unable to have children of their own, our parents adopted my sister and me.  Many important events in life have left crystalclear memories within my heart, but none compares to that special day when my sister joined our family.  Awakened to the power of living in the present moment, I received a sister, and with an open heart I became conscious of all that we are.

It took years for me to describe what actually happened on that day.  As a child, being present and openhearted is natural. And, as children, we lack the ability to understand how special it is to remain open and present in the now moment as we grow up.

I now realize that day was significant because I was aware of observing myself observing the world, its inhabitants, and my surroundings with a wide-eyed wonder.  Now, many years later, I am able to express the experience as simultaneously seeing myself clearly and feeling myself fully as both participant in and witness to life.  I became aware that day of a peaceful, present, and patient existence within my being. Connected to this part of my Self, I remembered that we are spiritual beings.

As a result, I am aware how powerful each of us is in the moment at hand. In the present NOW we are capable of awakening to ourselves and acting as the conscious beings we are.

Knowing ourselves as soul requires a deep faith in what we cannot see.  We may never prove our soul’s existence with scientific, intellectual, or theological theories.  Attempting to prove soul’s existence with one’s intellect is like trying to see black holes in space.

“Is seeing black holes important?” asks Neil DeGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist with the American Museum of Natural History.  “No.  What’s important is that we can see a black hole’s paw print.  We see them by observing the impressions they leave.”

Our spirit’s “paw print” is also clearly visible through the impressions we leave. When we give as we want to receive, listen as we want to be heard, and speak as we want to be spoken to, the wisest, most powerful part within us—spirit—permeates each cell, each breath, and each beat of our heart. Soul’s awareness surrounds us and fills us with love, which fuels our desire to live an ordinary life in the most extraordinary way:  remembering we are Divine beings on great human adventures.

All We Need is a Bit of Inspiration

As members of the human race, we all have one thing in common, and that is the desire to better our situation and improve our lives. For many, it’s far too easy to get sucked into the belief that we are limited, that our dreams are impossible and that the ‘good l ife’ wasn’t really meant for us in the first place.

Sometimes in the hustle and bustle of everyday life, we get caught up in the drama around us and forget who we are on a deeper level. We forget that we are Divine beings having a human experience.

But all it takes is one little spark of inspiration, and we can leave those fearful thoughts behind. Inspiration reminds us that we are not our problems, nor are we bound by our limiting beliefs.

When we are inspired, our spark inside turns into a flame and our lives and those around us are changed. We have the courage to step into the unknown and follow our dreams. We set aside our fears and move forward confidently to play bigger in the world and live the life of our dreams.

But how do we find such inspiration? It can be found almost anywhere, if we’re open to finding it. Perhaps it’s a walk in the woods, watching a child at play, enjoying the scent of a flower or gazing into the eyes of your beloved. Perhaps it’s as easy as reading something that reminds you what a powerful being you are and helps you step away from the story you’ve been telling yourself for so long.

Sometimes inspiration can hit us like a bolt of lightning, electrifying our ideas into action, and other times it’s the voice on a gentle breeze, nudging us to take the next baby step.

Regardless of how we find it, inspiration has the power to change the world. For with inspiration, whatever we can imagine becomes possible. Inspiration has the power to change a boring life into one of What if…?. It opens the floodgates to possibility, brings a smile to our face and adds a bounce to our step.

Want to improve your world? Make inspiration a daily part of your life and things will change. For this reason, I’d like to invite you to introduce you to a website that makes finding inspiration so easy for all of us. Each day, features one Inspirational Luminary who answers the question, If today were your last day and you had only 500 words to leave to humanity, what have you learned that matters?

Imagine how different your world would be if you started each day with the wisdom learned from household names like Sir Richard Branson (Virgin) and Guy Laliberte (Cirque du Soleil) to thought leaders like Jack Canfield (Chicken Soup for the Soul) and Marci Shimoff (The Secret). So far more than 1000 Luminaries have been featured, including me. That’s a lot of inspiration and I’m proud to be a part of it!

This daily wisdom takes but a minute to read, yet acts as a conscious reminder to that spark within each of us, rekindling our fire within. I invite you to read my inspiration on and browse through the wisdom of more than 1000 other Inspirational Lu minaries, and watch the difference it makes in your life.

Remember, when we get caught up in our own stories and start to forget our own design as infinite beings, it is inspiration that turns the ordinary into extraordinary, fear into hope and the darkness into light. Inspiration reminds us that we are greater than we seem, and more resilient and powerful than we think. 

Bullying Stops When We Stop Bullying

I spent much time alone as a child and young adult. But being alone was safer and felt better than being bullied.

One of countless instances I remember was when I was in fourth grade. A girl I did not even know slammed me up against the wall in the girl’s bathroom. I was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Later I learned she was being physically abused by her father.  She did not know how to release her pain and powerlessness other than do to others what was being done to her.

While it is said the greatest legacy we leave is children I believe there is a big difference in having a child and being a parent. The most important job we’ll ever have is taking the time and having the patience and love necessary to be the strict gatekeeper of what goes into children. No, we cannot control everything to which children are exposed. But we can do our best to remember that it is our behavior that our children watch.

To do our very best to most positively influence children we must stop passing the buck and own complete responsibility for the truth that it is our actions that teach. Whether that is discrimination, kindness, bullying, support, gossip, discretion, abuse, caring, dishonesty, loyalty, cruelty, or compassion they learn from us and from what we allow them to be exposed to. We must show children appropriate ways of dealing with anger, how to peacefully stand up for themselves and others, and how to be accepting of difference. To be able to show children we must first deal with our stuff so we do not pass it on to them.  That is what love does.

Acts of Kindness Make our Heart Sing

My mother-in-law turned 90 years old January 1, 2014. One of her great loves has always been gardening. She got tremendous satisfaction from digging in the dirt, trimming the hedges, planting flowers and pruning her trees. Over the past several years she’s begun to realize her days in the garden were numbered. Recently she said, “Gina, I’m depressed that I can’t get out and make my garden beautiful. I want to see pretty flowers, and just look at the trees and hedges, they need a good haircut.”

For almost ten years she and I have shared a love of gardening. So I relate to her distress at coming to the realization she is no longer physically able to do what she once did. At 57 I can relate in a way. I can’t do what I once did either. But I can still plant, and trim and prune.

Yesterday I spent 4 hours working hard to make her garden beautiful.  The weeds under her deck and in the flower beds are gone. The roses and shrubs are trimmed. Colorful flowers now fill the pots and beds. Her small deck and patio furniture have been scrubbed clean. And two hanging baskets of bright Million Bells now dominate her line of sight as she sits in her office chair.

“Oh Gina! How can I ever thank you,” she asked. “You just did,” I said giving her a big hug.  Often the best gifts of love we give are those that just take a little bit of time and a piece of our heart.

Forgive Yourself

Over the course of my 57 years of life I did many things I am not proud of. For a long time I was miserable, focused on how I could somehow magically go back and undo the hurt and pain I caused myself and others. One day I realized it was not possible because what was done was done. With that aha my heart woke up and I decided that if I could not heal those people and situations I hurt then I would concentrate on doing my very best not to hurt anyone or anything again, including me.  Each day I am getting a little better.

While we cannot change our negative behavior of the past we certainly have the power to remain strong in the promise we make to ourselves to be our best in the present moment. Being in charge of our thoughts, words, and actions to create our best life stops the mind voices of regret that often consume us. Soon we are no longer haunted by “I should have behaved differently” and are filled with new memories of how we are behaving as our best now. This is the power we have to put as much distance between the unthinking old us and the thoughtful and caring person we are creating today.

Change Begins by Accepting What is

Traffic jams and other delays are a frequent part of life. We do not receive the job we badly want and need. We realize we are in relationship with an abuser. We become conscious we are the one with a problem. The people and pets we love are sometimes taken away from us through illnesses or tragic accidents.

Relationships end. Our affection for another is not reciprocated. We slip and break an ankle. Our car is damaged by a hit-and-run driver. We lose our wallet or keys or our purse is stolen. Our luggage becomes lost or our flight is delayed or cancelled. We are diagnosed with cancer. Our parents become ill or their behavior radically changes. Someone is rude to us.

No amount of anger, yelling, worry, or desire for revenge changes what is real in the moment at hand. Only by accepting the present circumstance for what it is, rather than what we think it should, would, or could be, do we help ease the stress and upset that comes from the misconception we can control or change people and the uncontrollable and unchangeable situations of life.

When something happens in life that upsets your plans, take a deep breath. Slow down. Count to five. Relax into the truth that only by accepting what is real in the present can you take the necessary action to leave an abusive relationship. Or rebound from losing a job. Or seek help for an addiction. Or deal with an illness. Or appropriately honor the memory of a loved one.

Change begins when you accept what is, so you can begin to create what you want to be.

Only Super-Men Cry

            I respect men who cry. For many years I never saw my father cry. He grew up in a society where real men didn’t cry – ever. I resented him for it. No, let’s be honest, I hated him for it.

Unable or unwilling to accept the vulnerability of expressing healthy emotion through tears made him an angry tyrant. He raged, snorted, and slammed around like a bull in a delicate china shop of two little girls and a scared wife.

“You’re too emotional,” he coldly said as tears streamed down my face at the cruel and horrific scenes of baby harp seals being beaten to death and the close up, slow motion images of prairie dogs being blown to smithereens in the documentaries my father watched on television in the 1960s.

Our big golden lab, Caesar, was terrified during a storm. He threw himself against the garage door or cowered in his doghouse and made pitiful sounds. It broke my heart to see him afraid. I understand how it felt to be frightened, with nowhere to hide and no one to comfort him. But my father threatened the belt if I let the pitiful dog into the garage or even went outside to be with him.

Once my father dragged me out of the shower because my mother had breakfast on the table and he thought I was taking too long. Later that day picking me up from school where I spent the entire day crying, “You’re too emotional” again felt like daggers into my heart.

My father stormed through life not giving a damn about the emotions of other living things. His temper tantrums, sarcastic remarks, and drunken hecklings at my youth softball games further confirmed he was a cold, cruel, uncontrolled, and unfeeling man.

Then one beautiful crisp autumn day all that changed – for good.  My father was hunting and knew he had fatally wounded a deer but could not find it.  Regardless of what an asshole he was to me, my sister, our mother, harp seals, prairie dogs, and our dog, he was a responsible hunter always using what he took from the natural world. It went against his values to just leave the deer so he searched for hours and hours without success. My father was so exhausted and upset he sat down on a log, buried his head in his hands and sobbed. I believe for the first time ever, or at least in many, many years.

We never know what life-event holds the potential to shake us to the core of our being.  The frustration and helplessness of killing that poor deer and not being able to find it cracked my father’s heart wide open. Years of stuffed emotion came pouring out and through the deer’s death my father was reborn.

From that day forward my dad has been a new man – one who does not hold back tears of sadness, joy or pain. He has a new-found respect and kindness for the natural world and all that call it home. My father is no longer concerned with what “real men” are supposed to do. He knows it takes Super-Men to accept that being gentle enough to express healthy emotion through tears is one of the strongest things they do.

Our Actions Teach

While growing up, a friend of mine was used as a punching bag by his father. He was the daily target of his father’s misplaced rage, disappointment, lack of self-love and respect. His father felt victimized and inadequate. Instead of dealing with the reasons behind his pain he took that out on my friend.

Today my friend is a loving, peaceful, and thoughtful father. Long ago he made the deliberate choice not to be like his father. He chose to break the cycle of abuse. He did so by overcoming issues of abandonment, low self-esteem and not knowing what love is.  He did the personal work necessary to make certain he would not pass on pain to his children, other people, or living things. He wanted to be the father he never had and to teach his children by example what love really means.

Many of us grow up with abuse and misguided ideas of what love is. We are not taught how to express anger appropriately.  We are not shown by example how to solve our differences. We don’t learn that we cannot change anyone but ourselves. Too often we think love is control or ridicule. But, love is not controlling or any other negative behavior.

Love is expressed and received through positive behavior.  To really love our children we must first love ourselves. We must deal with our wounds so we do not pass our unresolved issues onto them. In order to show children how best to live, we must know appropriate ways of dealing with anger. We must know how to peacefully stand up for ourselves and others and how to be accepting of difference. We must know how to choose the people we have in our lives by the common values of appropriate behavior we share such as honestly, loyalty, compassion, trust, forgiveness, etc. We must have self-respect before we can teach others to respect themselves. We must refuse to gossip and ridicule ourselves so we do not talk negatively about others. We must have healthy self-esteem, patience with ourselves and others, and know positive ways to bounce back from disappointment and challenge. We must be able to say no and set boundaries against unacceptable behavior.

Yes, what we say is important. Words can hurt or heal. And, our actions teach others. So, we must care that children learn from everyone and everything they interact with, what they watch, what internet sites they visit, and what other influences they are exposed to.

Abuse, neglect, mistreatment, denigrating women, mixed messages, and judgmental/bigoted beliefs are NEVER love.  To be the change we want to see in the world, we must show children the best way to live. That means we must care deeply about what our behavior is teaching.