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/

Just Zip It!

Every so often our Spiritual Study group agrees to put itself through something we call No Suggestion Practice. This consists of spending a week without making any suggestions to anyone about anything—unless a suggestion is specifically sought.


 We stick Post Its around the house to remind us to shut up. In addition, we make notes of each time we slip and advise someone how they might do something differently, how they might solve their problem, how they might move to a superior level of activity, the best way to get to Whole Foods, etc. You know what I mean. It’s endless! It doesn’t matter how life enhancing we perceive our suggestion to be, for a whole week our suggestion mouths are zipped.


One year when we did this, two of the women in the group had young children and after much discussion we made an exception for the question: Have you brushed your teeth? Otherwise the rule held fast.


After a week of the suggestion gag rule we gather together to share our failure lists. We laugh and laugh. Most of us can’t make it through a single day. It is easier to do this if you live alone—even better if you lock yourself in a closet for a day or a week, but no one has gone that far to achieve perfection.


 One year the husband of one of our group members inquired about the Post Its on the kitchen wall, the bathroom mirror and stuck over the bureau in the bedroom.


“What are these?” He asked. His wife told him that we were all doing No Suggestion Practice and explained what it was. He smiled and commented,  “I thought things were different around here. I like this!”


Let me tell you: No Suggestion Practice is challenging; it heightens our self- awareness in a not altogether pleasant fashion. But I urge  you to try it for just one day and give yourself the opportunity to become alert as to how much of the time you spend—we all spend— in giving other people unsolicited advice. You’ll be amazed! 

To the Ukrainian people: Our thoughts and prayers are with you.

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




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