Am I Living Small?

Recently I was invited to serve on a certain board of directors in Fairfield. I almost fell off my chair. Not in my wildest dreams would it have occurred to me that I might be considered for this board. I have done some public speaking over the last year for this group; I do feel quite passionate about the direction this organization is taking. But a board member?

 My first thoughts were: Are they mad? Why would they want someone who is eighty-one to serve on what is a vibrant, important board, consisting mostly of members younger than my children? This can’t be happening!

 “You don’t have to decide now,” I was told gently. “Just tell me that you are even willing to consider it.”

 Stunned, I nodded my head. “Of course, I will consider it. I am so honored to be asked.”

 But, at the same time, in my head I could hear the following sentences: You are too old. Your board-serving days are long over. (There was a time when I served on a number of boards.) As a single senior you are supposed to be learning to play bridge and thinking about retirement communities. This is not for you. You will fall asleep at the evening meetings.

 I came home dazed but determined to think about it. This was an amazing opportunity, I knew. What would this mean for my life?

 I plunked myself down at my computer where I am accustomed to thinking, and there, lying beside my Mac, were pieces of yellow, lined paper containing quotes from a recent sermon delivered by the empowering pastor, Joel Osteen.

On top was a single piece of paper, which read: “I wouldn’t be alive unless there was something greater in my future.”

 The other bits were my notes from Osteen’s recent talk about “living small.”

 Was that it? Was I “living small?”  Was I afraid to live a wide-open, spacious life? “Limited thinking leads to living in a small way,” Osteen tells us. “Don’t get stuck and stay there.”  Whatever our age, whatever our situation in life we are to dream new dreams and seek new horizons, he admonishes us. We are to “live large!”

 According to Osteen, “God”—the Universe--whatever works for you—“wants to enlarge us, wants us to gain new ground, and we have to make room for that new ground in our thinking.”

 The idea here is not to compulsively bite off more than we can chew, but simply to remain open to expansion, to new possibilities in our lives.

 Was I stuck? No longer able to think of living a larger life? Was I caught in some age-determined stereotype that had snuck up on me like a creepy, red rash whose itch held me fast?

 Living in a “small environment,” Osteen tells us, gets inside of us and begins to control how we think about ourselves. We need to combat this diminishment and instead, encourage ourselves, be willing to seize the next opportunity and be unafraid to spread our wings no matter how frazzled those feathers appear to us. We are called to live an “overcoming and expanded life.”

 There are no accidents. The notes beside my computer, hastily scrawled one Sunday a couple of weeks ago while Osteen was speaking, made my decision for me.

 I opened my email, typed in the address, and sent: “YES!”

Written for Unleash Potential by Cecily Stranahan, our companion on this journey of reflection and self-discovery. Visit Cecily's Blog at LifeOpeningUp.blogspot.com

Bus Driver or Tour Guide?

When you find yourself on a new path, perhaps a detour from your normal routine, and you’ve come upon a place in your life you could have never imagined, nor, perhaps, one that you’d never have chosen for yourself, to what do you attribute this unexpected situation?

This is something I often ponder as I travel through my days, as I discovering new trails to investigate; new people to meet; new territory to explore.  What I almost always come away with is a renewed outlook on life, which, if it feels right, I incorporate into my life’s path.  And with these lessons I continue to grow emotionally and spiritually.

Thus is the case when I met Tracy LaCroix in Cape Charles, VA last year. Hearing of his near-death experience eleven months prior to our meeting stirred within me a renewed interest in all things spiritual.  And out of that has grown not only a new book, but a new part of CJ; one that is more aware of the Universe and all that it has to offer – in this realm and any other that might exist.

Discussing this with the interim Rabbi at my synagogue recently, I mentioned to him the Hebrew phrase, “hashgacha pratit” which translates to “divine intervention”; all that happens is “as it is, as it shall be, as it should be”.  And I added to the topic the fact that when I had met Tracy LaCroix, I firmly believed it was not an accident nor mere coincidence.  Therefore, I assumed, this must be a case of divine intervention.

Well, Rabbi’s take on that was quite an eye-opener for me.  He stated that if we are to believe in hashgacha pratit as God’s way of watching over us, we then must state that He is responsible for every action, every move, every incident that happens to us throughout our lives.  And, Rabbi continued, that would make Him our bus driver leading us down our paths.

That gave me pause for thought, for part of Tracy LaCroix’s message – and one that I  firmly believe – is that God is a God of choice.  He might take us to certain points in our lives, but it is up to us to do whatever we wish with those circumstances.

With that assessment Rabbi totally agreed.  And he did so by stating that we might then think of God as our tour guide rather than the bus driver.  He took me to Tracy LaCroix, but He also showed me the ice cream shop next door to the hotel where I met Tracy.  It was my decision, and mine alone, to choose to listen to Tracy tell me of his extraordinary journey rather go get a rum raisin ice cream cone.

I like that.

I like the idea that God – or whatever higher spirit one believes in – is our tour guide.  It gives me the power over my own choices; the power to choose good over evil; the power to choose to help rather than harm; the power to believe as I believe for my own well being; and the power to choose joy over anger.

How about your God or higher power?  Is He your bus driver? Or is He your tour guide?


Guest blogger, author and motivational speaker CJ Golden has brought us the extraordinary journey of near-death experiencer Tracy LaCroix in her latest book, “Reflections from Beyond.”

Please visit CJ at www.cjgolden.com to spread his message of hope, peace, and kindness through the book, inspirational jewelry, speaking engagements and the exciting new program, “Tracys Mission.” Event dates can be found at http://cjgolden.com/upcoming-events/



The Rosetta Mission? OK. So I Am A Crank

I want to be excited about the Rosetta Mission and the Lander Philae connecting with a comet moving at 40,000 miles per hour, but I’m not.

 I torment myself: I am not a good citizen, not adventurous enough; I have no worldview. I don’t care about the RIGHT THINGS. Conceivably I am just an old crank. All of the above may be true.

I understand why the international scientists of the ESA—European Space Agency--who have been working on this project since November of 1993, were jubilant over yesterday’s landing, some of them in tears. It has been a lot of work.

The Rosetta Mission was created to help us to understand the origin and evolution of the solar system. The ESA, according to online sources, is “convinced that comets played a key role in the evolution of the planets,” bringing much of the water into today’s oceans, for example. The ESA has been and continues to be a collaborative effort involving eight countries, including the United Kingdom and the United States.

I’m all for international collaboration; it really gets things done. So does a budget of some 1.4 billion euros. The American cost that I could find—and it wasn’t so easy—was approximately 275 million dollars. (It’s possible that that figure was just for the Lander Philae itself.)

So why am I complaining? As interesting as it is—and I cop to that--I have a negative attitude about space exploration. Remember how we were going to the moon—hooray!-- and going to cure cancer? What did we do? We went to the moon. Cancer still eats us alive or should I say, dead?

 My priorities are different. What I want is an ESA- quality budget and at least an eight-country collaborative focus on how to feed the millions of starving people all over the world.

 I want a highly trained scientific group devoted to the development of clean water systems for those who have none. The solar system can wait. It has waited this long hasn’t it?

Does it have to be either/ or? It would seem so. The Rosetta Mission has glamour. Yesterday’s successful landing offered us an opportunity to say, “Look how clever we are!”

While feeding the poor? What is that? So ordinary, so mundane that we just don’t do it?

OK. I’m a crank.

Meanwhile, according to today’s Telegraph, “Scientists say full contact has been reestablished with the Rosetta probe, but it is stuck in a crater where it cannot get enough sunlight for its solar panels.” 

Not nearly enough sunlight. 

And so? We will see.

                                                 ***

I usually post on Mondays but this could not wait. 

 

Written by Cecily Stranahan, our companion on this journey of reflection and self-discovery. Visit Cecily's Blog at LifeOpeningUp.blogspot.com

Helping Really Helps

Helping Really Helps

 

 

Written for Unleash Potential

By Cecily Stoddard Stranahan

http://lifeopeningup.blogspot.com

 

 

A few years ago, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving found me frustrated and edgy. It wasn’t because I had 16 people coming and hadn’t made my perfect pies yet. Nothing like that. It was, simply, that I hadn’t done anything for anyone else: for anyone who’s Thanksgiving might not happen at all. Ordinarily I respond to one of the many requests that show up in the mail, but this year I wanted to buy real food, buy it myself. I had tossed out all the paper pleas thinking that surely a way to accomplish what I hoped would reveal itself, but it hadn’t. Now it was almost The Day and I had helped no one.

 

As I pulled into Stop and Shop, Westport, near the entrance of the store I spied my Yoga teacher from Yoga4Everybody standing with a small group, all of them wearing bright blue aprons that said in white letters, FOOD BANK.

 

Perfect. She gave me a list of what to buy and I bought a Thanksgiving meal for a family I would never see. Handing the food over to some cheerful young people, also clad in blue aprons, I left the store feeling relaxed and happy.

 

Everybody knows that helping is a two way street. We feel better when we help someone else: anyone . . . with anything. It doesn’t have to be a big deal; holding a door for a stranger laden with packages can lift our spirits. Psychology Today calls this the “helper’s high.” (New York Times, Dec. 1, 2009) What is amazing is that actual data exists to support what we are aware of experientially.

 

“It’s about stepping out of your own story long enough to make a connection with someone else,” says Cami Walker, a victim of multiple sclerosis, who, according to the New York Times, (Dec 1 2009) decided to give a gift to someone each day for 29 days. The results of her plan? Walker became “more mobile and less dependent on pain medication. The flare ups that routinely sent her to the emergency room have stopped and scans show that the disease has stopped progressing.”

 

Stephen G Post, director of The Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics at Stony Brook University, says about Walker’s experience, “‘There’s no question that it gives life greater meaning when we make this shift in the direction of others . . . But it also seems to be the case that there is an underlying biology involved.’”

 

 The Times reports further that “the Buck Institute for Age Research in Novato, CA,” found that “elderly people who volunteered for more than four hours a week were 44 percent less likely to die during the study period.”

 

Seniors! No curling up with Dr. Phil and Oprah. We have to get out there and help. Did you ever dream that prepping mountains of food in your church or synagogue kitchen might add to your life span?

 

The Times article goes on to say that “altruism may be an antidote to stress. A Miami study of patients with HIV found that those with strong altruistic characteristics had lower levels of stress hormones.”

 

“By contrast,” we are informed in the same article, “in one study of 150 heart patients, those who talked about themselves at length or used more first person pronouns had more severe heart disease and did worse on treadmill tests.”

 

 That’s it: young or old, no more lengthy monologues about ourselves. A sincere interest in others pays off even on the treadmill!

 

Analyzing two separate surveys of a total of 3,200 women who regularly volunteered,  a 1988 Psychology Today article described a physical response from volunteering, similar to the results of vigorous exercise or meditation.

 

Every religious tradition urges generosity. It’s not about striving for sainthood; it’s far simpler than that. Caring for each other enhances all of our lives. As Dr. Post of Stony Brook put it, “’To rid yourself of negative emotional states you need to push them aside with positive emotional states. And the simplest way to do that is to just go out and lend a helping hand to somebody.’”

 

Pretty convincing stuff, wouldn’t you say?

 

Written for Unleash Potential by Cecily Stranahan, our companion on this journey of reflection and self-discovery. Visit Cecily's Blog at LifeOpeningUp.blogspot.com

 

 

 

 

Starved for Connection

With our iPhones and our iPads we never have to feel alone. At least that is the myth. It’s fun, playful, a bit phony, but it works. Feeling alone is uncomfortable, often miserable, for many of us.  With our tech toys we are always potentially connected-- to our families, our friends, people we don’t even know and last, but certainly not least, we can, in an instant, find distraction in the form of entertainment.

 

The inescapable fact of the human condition is that we are, all of us, alone. Even if we re married, we are essentially stuck with ourselves and we just can’t stand it. Turn off the iPhone? For an hour, maybe? That’s unnerving. But everything turned off, say, for a whole day? I don’t think so.

 

We say we yearn for peace. We say, as the phone vibrates repeatedly “If only people would just leave me alone.” We are kidding ourselves. That’s the last thing we want. We don’t want to feel alone; we love the umbilical connection we can maintain through our tech toys. Parents can “hover” over college-age children via texts. Teenagers can make certain they never miss a beat.

 

 We are starved for connection. Content doesn’t matter: “I am on the subway now. “I’m at the doctor’s office. He’s running late.” It’s connecting that matters. We want someone to care that we are sitting in an uncomfortable chair reading a three-week-old People magazine.

 

Mark Zuckerberg, himself a loner, figured out how to create connection possibilities beyond anything the world has ever imagined. Facebook contains an unspoken promise: You only have to “friend” someone, anyone, and you will never feel alone again.

 

Connection, in whatever form it takes, is worth a fortune to us.

 

A natural introvert, I have spent some periods intensely alone: camping and fasting for three days by myself in the Sierra Nevada mountains, meditating for twelve hours a day for three days at an ashram, a weekend every now and then in silence at a Buddhist monastery.

 

What was I doing? Testing my ability to be alone, to be at rest inside myself. Strengthening my “alone muscle.” (FYI: My cocktail party muscle is totally flabby.)

 

I’m not suggesting we all head for the mountains, nor am I suggesting that we trash our tech devices. They are useful: planes are late? We make new reservations. Businesses could not be managed without them. And in our daily lives, we enjoy connecting wherever and whenever we want. We have come to rely on that possibility.

 

 This is our world now and much of it is good.

 

Still, just as tech tools empower us, they also enslave us. Finding an appropriate balance is hard to come by. That takes effort; it always takes effort to swim against the cultural current.

 

We need to be mindful that much of this communicating is only a game we are playing and that Facebook and our iPhones and our iPads are poor substitutes for the real thing.

 

Real connection, the kind that nourishes our souls, happens only with real people with whom we spend real time, time that allows for honest and self-disclosing conversation. Time, even in silence, in which minds and hearts find each other, when we can feel a friend’ presence: time that offers an actual warm hand to hold. That is the best connection of all. That is the connection we truly long for. 

 

Written for Unleash Potential by Cecily Stranahan, our companion on this journey of reflection and self-discovery. Visit Cecily's Blog at LifeOpeningUp.blogspot.com