May We Never Lose Hope

cloudsHope. What a wonderful human emotion. When life is troubling, when we cannot figure out which end is up or in which direction to go, hope is a beacon that cuts through the fog and gives us a reason not to quit, a reason to not despair, a reason to get up, dust ourselves off and keep going.

Several years ago I met a young lady, Lizette, who asked for guidance to deal with her situation. She was a high school student who had graduated with 3.8 GPA and was seeing her dreams of a Bachelor’s degree disintegrate before her eyes. She was undocumented. She had excelled academically and had a strong record in athletics and dedicated several hours per semester volunteering in the community. Lizette was offered scholarships at a couple of private institutions but even with the scholarships, her family could not afford the remaining cost to attend. After exhausting every possibility to receive additional scholarships, she made the choice to work at a restaurant, save as much as she could, and hope that one day she would have enough to attend college. I worried that she wouldn’t make it.

But, that’s what’s great about hope. I don’t know how many jobs Lizette worked, how many times she got discouraged by the passage of time when she felt she was not any closer to her goal. However many setbacks she faced, however many times she felt like giving up, it was hope that kept her going and striving for her dream. I was thrilled when she wrote me a couple of years later to tell me that she was enrolling in college that fall. Lizette and I kept in touch and as a college student, she faced other challenges, including a serious illness and the death of a parent, that would have discouraged even the strongest among us. Hope kept her going through illness, loss, classes and work. I cannot begin to imagine the enormous feeling of accomplishment and reward she was feeling on the day she graduated with her Bachelor’s degree in May 2013.

When hope pays off, like in the case of Lizette, it feels so good. But, not all of our hopes lead to the ending that we wish for. A year ago I came across a blog about hope. It was written by a woman, I’ll call her Elizabeth, who was battling cancer. Her writing combined humor and hard-core reality to depict her battle with cancer in a blow by blow account, akin to witnessing a boxing match. As Elizabeth’s postings became shorter and farther apart, I hoped that it was a temporary setback. The next and final post was written by her husband. Elizabeth had lost her battle to cancer. He wrote to thank all of her blog followers who had become another source of hope and encouragement for her. He said that she remained positive until the very end.

Some situations don’t end the way we wish. At some point we realize that our hope for a certain outcome needs to redirected. Certain outcomes are outside of our control and in those cases I still think it’s important to hope, to keep a positive outlook, and to be persistent. It’s just as important to know when to accept that some things are or happen for a reason and we must accept a different outcome. Accepting and letting go of the outcome frees us to redirect our hope and spend energy on other people or things in our lives that we may have overlooked.

I think of this beautiful soul who documented her fight with cancer. At some point she must have accepted that she would not live to celebrate her next birthday. As the treatments and disease weakened her body, it is likely that she redirected her hopes from beating cancer to hopes for her family and made the most of her time to tell them what she hoped for them.

May we never lose hope and know when we need to redirect it.

Much Love,

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The Silver Lining

Everything was going perfectly. I made the train just as it was pulling out of Vienna station towards Washington, DC. Right on time. My mood was upbeat and happy. I was on my way to meet up with friends and celebrate a birthday. I get great satisfaction from a good plan and sure enough, I got to McPherson Square at 11:59 a.m., which gave me 21 minutes to arrive at a meeting point where three of us could sign the birthday card and walk to the restaurant. As I came up the metro escalator I noticed a flower stand. The sign said, “Flowers, $5.” This was not part of the plan, but I had a minute to spare, the flowers looked gorgeous and for $5, how could I resist? 

With my purchase in hand I practically skipped across the street and turned onto 14th Street towards my destination. I took a deep inhale of the pale pink roses‘ bouquet and smiled at the thought of my friend’s surprised face. Since I had never been to the restaurant, I consulted the GPS on my phone to make sure I was headed in the right direction. While I walked, I would glance at my phone to look at the Maps App and to check on time.

 

I was looking down at my phone when my peripheral vision caught some movement to my left. It was an arm going up and quickly accelerating forward towards me. And then, CRUNCH!!! The roses were blown to pieces by the blow of this disembodied hand. The petals were strewn all over the side walk. One bud remained intact, but it was completed severed from the stalk and it lay helplessly on the cement. It’s weird what goes through one’s mind in these unexpected moments. Oddly, my thought was that I knew the person to whom the arm belonged and that this was a very cruel prank. Then, immediately I ruled out that possibility as none of my friends would do anything like that. Then, came the total disbelief that any other human being would come this close to me to purposely destroy my property. It was then that I looked to the figure that calmly kept walking down the sidewalk. I only saw her back and her pink coat. I yelled out, “Why did you do that!?” She kept walking. I thought about running after her to demand a reason, to seek her apology. But, it dawned on me that this person was in a very dark scary place and my inquiries would only give her the excuse to unleash more of her anger, pain and despair. I felt deep sadness for her as she moved farther away.

 

I was surrounded by passerbys who kindly wanted to know if I was okay. One of the witnesses told me that just one block back, the same person had pushed another woman.  The victim had fallen down hard on her hands and knees, he told me. I looked down at the petals on the ground, while still holding on to the headless stems.

 

I kept walking towards my destination. But, my mood had been altered. I was troubled by the entire incident. Should I have called the police and followed the woman? Should I have taken her picture? I also wondered what I could have done to prevent the assault. Had the roses’ beauty and way of inspiring joy provoked the anger and sadness that possessed this woman? Was she under the influence of drugs ? Had her distorted reality made what the flowers represented a menacing threat, or an insult to a deep injury?

 

Finally, and with great surprise, I realized my good fortune. The flowers had saved me. Somehow that impulse buy took on a different purpose. Unbeknownst to me, the roses were to be my shield from a physical attack –  one that could have been as bad or worse than the one sustained by the woman who was pushed to the ground. Those roses were not meant for my friend. They were for me, from my guardian angels. That humbling thought picked up my mood again. Everything was indeed perfect, I just had to look at the silver lining. I bought another bouquet of flowers for my friend and we enjoyed a wonderful lunch.

 

This incident reminded me that we are constantly surrounded by light and darkness, good and evil, happiness and sadness, joy and despair. The lesson was to be aware of this duality, wherever I go, but to also choose to see the silver lining in everything.

 

Much Love,

Find Joy in Everything

The message for this week was: find joy in everything. Hmmm, how exactly would I do that?

If you’re wondering how I received that message, let me assure you that I’m not hearing voices in my head. It wasn’t a dream. But, if you read my blog about reading the signs, then you’ll understand about messages that just pop out at you, or repeat themselves on different occasions. For several weeks I have been “hearing” about joy, and this week the message came right out of my iPod. One of my newest motivators for running is digital books. Tangent: I don’t think I’ll ever buy a book in print again! The joy of listening to the author’s voice or the total immersion of clicking through links in the digital book has made a convert out of me; though I will miss the way a book smells. But, back to the story.

While listening to Shirley MacLaine’s book about her pilgrimage, The Camino, The Journey of the Spirit (read about El Camino in my 8/12/2012 post), there the message was again. “Why do I keep getting this message?” I thought. I would soon find out.

Monday came with an avalanche of new things to do. A contract came through, a project was revised, and suddenly a 30-day month didn’t seem long enough. If you sense frustration, you’re right. On Monday, when things were the calmest, I felt like I was on top of it and shared with a colleague my message for the week. I was a bit cocky about it and had the attitude of, “I got this.” As the days passed however, the intensity of the issues increased. An onslaught of interruptions and obstacles would make a 5-day week seem not long enough. By Thursday, my serenity had left and I was rattled by an unexpected situation. I was so deep into the who’s and the why’s and the how’s that I forgot to find the joy.

The good news is that joy does not expire and is always available to us. So, after I got over myself, I took my brain to that plane where I can see the bigger picture. I knew exactly what I needed to do to move forward and handle the new situation that came with a new set of variables.  I realized nothing had gone wrong –  it had gone exactly the way it was supposed to. The plans that had gone awry were mine. And, since I am not the only person in the universe, I have to accept that the universal plans may differ from mine. I calmed down and felt an odd thing happening on my face. A smile.

Joy is never in the little things, the petty things. The joy is in seeing every moment as a gift. Every moment is rich with teaching, human connection, self connection and love. The best part of each gift is that it’s another opportunity to be ourselves, to exercise our own true talents, and to help others find joy. Now I understand why I needed to hear the message over and over again. Our society teaches us to sweat the small stuff, to compete, to do it faster, and to disregard others because all that matters is winning. These negative messages are constantly repeated to us through mass media. If you believe television, even baking cupcakes has become a cut-throat competition.  My brain has become trained to pursue the small and the petty; and my ego has gotten used to recognition and wants to always be right. “Find the joy in everything” is a message we have to hear constantly until we can reverse the negative programming. Our soul, or our spirit, knows joy, and connecting to it through meditation and reflection is helping me claim the joy that is mine. Go on and claim your joy this week.

Much Love…and Joy,

Wishing you un Buen Camino

 

Pelegrinos on the camino

Pelegrinos on the camino de Santiago de Compostela

Saturday nights are movie nights at our house and this weekend’s movie choice planted in me the nascent idea of a pilgrimage. The movie was The Way (Martin Sheen, Emilio Estevez) and it is about a man who completes his dead son’s pilgrimage to the Cathedral de Santiago de Compostela. The movie took us through the camino as the main character meets other pilgrims along the way.

 

Camino is Spanish for road or journey. The camino de Santiago de Compostela is a set of trails that lead to the Cathedral de Santiago, where Apostle St. James is said to be laid to rest. The cathedral is in Galicia in north-western Spain and the pilgrimage routes vary and have existed for over 1,000 years. Though the pilgrimage is for many Christians an important walk in their faith, not everyone who makes the journey does it for religious or spiritual reasons; some do it for sport, health, to experience the culture of the region, or to connect to the Milky Way which runs over the trails.

 

Though I am a spiritual person and believe in God, angels and spirit guides, I have not considered a pilgrimage. I would not complete the journey because I believe that St. James in buried in the cathedral, though I would still be moved by the idea and attend mass. I would do it for the time to reflect and because I believe that we are closest to God and our energy source when we are in nature. When I go for a walk, my mind operates in a different frequency and though my body feels tired at the end, my mind is refreshed. The idea of doing this for over a month while walking about 20 miles per day is exhilarating to me. Other plusses are: the chance to meet people from different parts of the world; to share an experience with the millions of souls that have walked the way for centuries; to see a beautiful part of Spain; to get in better shape; to discover a different side of me.

 

If I sound convinced about walking el camino let me say that I am not. There are a few things that I am not prepared to do: doing my private business in the wilderness is one; dealing with feeling vulnerable to robbery or attacks is another. And, being able to be away for over a month without any income is a significant obstacle. But, all that tells me is that it is not the right time.

 

My life is a pilgrimage inwards. As I have gotten older I have been able to peel back layers of blinders and distractions. I am getting closer to my spiritual core and discovering new facets of my life’s purpose. The idea of walking el camino de Santiago de Compostela is not a random coincidence. It is a stepping stone that lies ahead for me in my journey. What do you see ahead in your journey? When a situation becomes too difficult, with obstacle after obstacle, do you see it as a sign to seek a new avenue or a new perspective? Are you feeling pulled to do something else? Do you sense that what you need to do in order to change what is happening on the outside is to look at what’s happening on the inside? If so, I send you encouragement and love, and wish you, from a pilgrim to another, un buen camino.

 

Much Love,

 Links I found useful about El Camino de Santiago de Compostela

http://www.caminodesantiago.me.uk/st-james/history-of-the-camino/

http://www.americanpilgrims.com/camino/camino.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Way_(film)

 

 

 

Need Your Prayers

Today is a tough day. I found out that my friend’s sister had an aneurysm and has been hospitalized since early Friday morning. Between praying and fearing the worst, I have been under a cloud for the majority of the day. I have talked to my friend a couple of times and she is doing okay, but obviously very worried. Fortunately she is surrounded by family who flew in from Ecuador.

About three weeks ago I had a very strong premonition of this kind of news. I felt that it would be about someone who I would not expect to become ill. I don’t know why I got that feeling, but news like this really makes me aware that we don’t know at which precise moment our lives will change. Young or old, healthy or not, we don’t know if we will have another day to say I love you, to hold the ones we love, and to make our mark in this world. I am praying that my friend’s sister will pull through. She is such a bright spirit and wonderful person.

I don’t feel focused enough to write my Sunday night blog. I wanted to share with you my reasons for not writing. If you are a person of faith, I ask that you have my friend’s sister, Carmita, in your prayers.

Much Love,

My Gratitude Prayer

Hello Readers,

Photo of the road

Photo from my trip back home. Minus the rain, and the snow, it's a pretty drive.

Do you know where Hot Springs,Virginia is? It’s far from where I live, and from where you live too. Not only is it far, it’s also a winding drive through two-lane roads, in the mountains where there are no street lights, no emergency shoulders, and no U-turns. Those of you who know me well, know that my other title is the U-turn queen – due to my poor sense of direction.  I had never driven this far south inVirginia so I left early in order to arrive before dark. The day of my departure was very rainy and the forecast called for flash flooding and some possible snow. I left prepared with printed directions and two GPS systems, just to be safe. So, when I missed my exit, I wasn’t too worried. The GPS rerouted me. But, to my disappointment, rather than take me back to the Interstate, it took me through the back roads. This and the heavy rain added more time to my drive. As I started climbing the mountain, it was already dusk and the visibility was diminishing quickly. I was hoping the rain would stop, just until I got to my destination. But, the rain kept coming, pelting my car with heavy drops of water. The water drops go thicker and pretty quickly transformed into a mixture of snow and rain. Snow began to accumulate rapidly, on the road, the trees, the mountain, and my wiper blades. The lines separating the road lanes were covered with the white stuff and it was pitch black. No cars were in front of me so I had to guess where the road was. I was terrified. The road would curve tightly left and then right, and my bright lights only highlighted the speed of the falling snow. There was a long line of cars behind me and though I yearned to park somewhere and wait for the snow to stop, there was nowhere I could pull off. I was so tense that my neck and shoulders ached. All I could do was pray and keep going on the faith that everything was going to be okay. And, thank God, it was. I arrived at my destination one hour later, but I felt I had aged five years. I don’t pray everyday, but I do believe in the power of prayer. My prayers are never as intense and focused as they are when I am afraid or worried. This week’s experience was so intense that I wanted to take the time to write this gratitude prayer. I pray that you are feeling grateful tonight.

My Gratitude Prayer

Thank you God for this day; and all the days before it.

Thank you for your gifts of a healthy mind, body and spirit.

Thank you for your gifts of a wide circle of family and friends who lift me up with encouragement and support;

Thank you for my teachers, here and in heaven, who have guided me well;

Thank you for your gifts of a place to call home, a vehicle to drive, and a job that pays the bills.

Thank you for your blessings on all the people I love and hold dear;

Thank you for keeping me away from peril, and getting me home safely every night;

Thank you for the angels in my life who love me, support me, challenge me and make me better.

Thank you for my pets, here and in heaven, who have brought me so much joy and taught me the value of play and napping;

Thank you for the experiences, good and bad, that shaped me into the person I am today.

God, I thank you for the days when I have been wrong or wronged, for they have taught me about humility, grace, and forgiveness;

Thank for the times when I have been healthy and when I have been ill, for they have taught me about healing and strength;

Thank you for the times when my heart was broken, for they taught me about self-worth, and respect;

God I thank you for the times I doubted you, for they taught me about patience and faith;

Thank you for the times I asked you, Why? Why me God?, and you answered;

Thank you God for teaching me to listen for your voice in the quiet of my heart;

Thank you God for teaching me to see you in the kindness of others and in the breathtaking beauty of nature;

Thank you God for teaching me to feel your love in the embrace of another human being;

Thank you God for challenging me to be better and for giving me the courage to meet your expectations;

Thank you for this day and all the days before it.

God, thank you for my life.

Amen.

 Much Love

Getting To Know You, Ego

Several weeks ago I tuned in to one of Oprah’s Life Classes. She was talking about ego and how it gets in our way to do the real work of our life. Oprah pointed to clip of herself wheeling 60 pounds of fat onto her stage, showing the world how much weight she had lost. Though she presented that episode as an example of her ego taking over her authenticity, I didn’t see anything wrong with what she had done. After all, she had accomplished something great and was in a position to inspire many others to follow in her steps. I know plenty of people who are egocentric, putting their interests ahead of others, and giving no benefits to those around them. But, as the show continued, I began to understand Oprah’s lesson. It was tough to admit that I too have been egocentric and made decisions in my life driven by ego. When I did things to fill a need – to feel worthy, smart, or accepted – that was my ego at work. 

I forgot all about the show until this past Monday. In meditation I asked to be fully open to this week’s lessons.  I “heard” that the lesson would be about ego. I really didn’t know what to expect but decided to pay attention. Pretty soon I saw just how much ego is part of my day. It dictates what I wear and gets me to apply makeup every morning to cover up blemishes. My ego drives me to look a certain way and present an image to the world that helps me mask my insecurities about how I look or what I know. I faced my ego head-on on Wednesday when I decided to get up early and run with another person who was attending the conference with me. Before going out, I actually considered applying makeup for my run.

I started to feel bad, thinking, “Man, I’m a real ego-maniac!” How many women feel this insecure about their blemishes that they would consider wearing makeup to exercise? Then I remembered all those commercials about skin products that tighten, smooth away wrinkles and gradually remove dark spots. And then, there are the magazine ads that tell us that our skin needs help, or that our bodies are not right. Entire industries thrive on deepening our insecurities and creating a need to be perceived as flawless! Sure, I found an excuse for my inflated ego, but in the end, I am the person responsible for it.

Perhaps the biggest test happened on Friday. As soon as I walked into the office I knew something was happening. There were cameras, mics, lights everywhere and lots of people scurrying back and forth, busily applying makeup or rearranging furniture and wall-hangings. A show was being taped about the Hispanic College Fund. Immediately, I felt inadequate. I was casually dressed, and had not spent as much time on my hair and makeup, as is usual. But, that wasn’t really what was nagging at me. You see, two years ago, I would have been in front of the camera telling the story of the Hispanic College Fund. Now as a consultant, I was bothered that I could not contribute. But then I remembered the lesson I was to learn this week. It was my ego that was uncomfortable. My ego was itching to be in the spotlight, and to be perceived as a leader in the organization. All of my discomfort was from ego and when I recognized it, I was able to manage it. On Friday, I contributed by focusing on my work and being there to support in other ways. When the workday ended I felt grateful for the awareness and the lesson.

This week I learned that our ego, if left unchecked, can deceive us, hurt us, and could hurt others when we make selfish decisions. When we care too much about what people think of us, about how we look, or what we have, then we run the danger of not carrying out our life’s purpose and we might miss the beauty of our truly flawless spirit.  

I pray that you and I will continue to gain awareness of our egos and are able to manage and keep them in check.

Much Love

Here is a link to Oprah’s Life Class on Ego

http://www.oprah.com/oprahs-lifeclass/The-Complete-Webcast-of-Oprahs-Lifeclass-with-Eckhart-Tolle-Video