Smoke

I was sitting in my chair during my devotions and watching the smoke from the stick of incense I was burning next to a lit candle.  Yes, Virginia, I’m a smells and bells kind of guy.  A shaft of light was cutting across the coffee table from a south window and I became mesmerized by the way the smoke danced across it.  It was a single strand, then a series of curls, followed by a small cloud which dissipated into the boundary of shadow to the left of the shaft.  New shapes and densities evolved as I continued to watch.

I once learned that smoke was considered by the ancients to be a symbol for the creative life force inherent in the universe.  Indeed, that day it was for me.  Change, dissipation, new order, a constant flow of nothingness seen in the magnification of light.

I felt connected, almost informed, by the ballet of that which I could not contain or make “mine.”  I could only enjoy it, experience it, savor it, smell it.  It was delightful.  It was enlightening.  I was witness to an eternal event which has been repeated since the universe first was.

I sat in the presence of what I believe represents the almighty creative force of life.  Perhaps because of my predisposition to religion, I also experienced being surrounded by love and peace and a simple joy of knowing I am connected to all that is.  Or was it just so much smoke?  I choose the former.

MORT

I have been blessed in my life by having two “Rebbies.”  That’s a term of endearment used by congregants for their Rabbi.  Interestingly enough, they were both cultural Jews and not clergy, but they were very important to me and my spiritual journey.

Mort Satten, PhD, CP was a Clinical Practitioner of Psychodrama (If you don’t know what that means, it’s not important to the story).  He was a Licensed PhD, TEP touched thousands of lives during their forty plus years of providing workshops and therapy, internationally.  I frequently have said they saved my psychological life, because they did.

Flashback:  I had only been with Mort once before, when I drove to Frankfort International Airport, Frankfort am Main, to meet him and Dorothy.  As an Army Chaplain, I had contracted with them to come to Kaiserslautern West Germany where I was stationed to do ten days of workshops.  Our first time together was at a “five day” in Mannheim, WG a year before.  He had seen me do some of my therapy work and we had become friends in that time.  We also hung out in the Gasthaus bar in the evenings playing low stakes poker.  That made him my kind of guy.

International arrivals passengers go from the part of the terminal where they deplane to the passport control/customs area which is separated from those awaiting them by bulletproof, Plexiglas walls.  I watched as he and Dorothy cleared immigration and then found their suitcases to go through customs.  Then they would be free to leave and we could be on the Autobahn to my home.

Mort saw me after he got his bags and walked over to the “glass” wall where I waited on the other side.  Without saying anything, he placed his right hand against the wall and I placed my left “against” his.  Our souls touched.  His gentle smile and warm caring eyes enfolded me into his love.  I can still feel it as I write this to you.

That began a unique journey of relationship and intimacy that has lasted for decades.  Late in his life, he informed me and another Army Chaplain/Psychodrama groupie, Glenn Sammis, he wanted us to do his funeral, and we did.

I remember much of what he taught me.  The memories of watching him direct dramas, chow down on Texas barbeque, sharing his life story and so many other events continue to warm me.  I’m a better man because he allowed me to be his friend.  I learned from him how to relate to women in asexual ways and not cross therapeutic boundaries.  I reveled in watching him model how to love a woman with his beloved Dorothy.  My relationship with my universe has been greatly enriched by my Rebbie, Mort.  Life would have been so much less without him.  Someday, I hope someone can truthfully say the same about me.

SNOW

SNOW

What does a red headed wood pecker, a black and white wood pecker, sparrows, a female gold finch, a purple finch, two male blue jays, snow birds, a pair of cardinals and a squirrel have in common?  They all feed at “my” feeder on “my” deck.  Have you ever just sat and watched birds and/or squirrels eat?

There was, as meteorologists call it, a light dusting of snow this morning when I awoke—about three-eighths of an inch.  “The Girls,” my two apricot toy poodles, and I went through our morning routine of scratching, tummy rubs, treats, out the doggie door for physical relief (just they use the door), and making coffee, well I had to do the latter because they refuse to learn, we settled into our easy chair for reading and morning meditations (Ever wonder on what dogs meditate?).  I began to watch the menagerie enjoying their breakfast.

Experiencing the wonder of creation and its reflection on the new snow, I had a sense of peace.  I sipped my coffee, almost reverently, as I took in the similarities of animals and humans.  Sam, the squirrel, ate, scratched, looked around to be sure he was safe and then ate some more.  When he left, the birds came to fight over more seed than they could possibly eat.  Their size made a difference in who ate first.  The smaller birds ate on the floor of the deck that which the cardinal pushed out of the feeder while he roosted in it.

Eat, fly away, sit in the trees, return to the feeder, repeat.  Their ballet was mesmerizing against the gray sky of winter.  As Bijou and Zoe’ snuggled against my legs, I unconsciously began to pet them. I gave thanks to the Great Creator as I felt the Sustainer surround me in the warmth of the “thinness” of earth touching heaven and I touching that which is eternal love.

It was a good morning to grow my soul.

WORDS CAN HURT US

“Not too bad,” is a phrase I learned when I moved to Nebraska seven years ago.  I had never heard it before.  I was immediately struck by its negativity.  This is not a critique of Nebraskans, by the way.

As one who has taught stress management for the last thirty years, I pay attention to what people say because I know it affects how they feel, emotionally and spiritually.  If the best one can do is “Not too bad,” they’re in for a rough day.  I know, it’s not to be taken literally, but I do believe it is a negative statement which creates negative consequences.

I ask you to do the same experiment I asked my former students to do.  For the next two weeks, when someone asks how you are, even if it is just a polite greeting, answer two levels above what you are actually feeling.  Never answer with less than, “Fair to middlin’.”  That’s actually a grade of cotton which is just about in the middle.  Not wonderful but better than not too bad.  If you respond with things like, “Great,” “Wonderful,” or “Couldn’t be better,” you will notice that you begin to believe it.  If life really is good, you can always use the old standby, “Yo encantado de la vida!” which translates, “I am enchanted with life!”  Try that on for a while and see what happens.  Your friends will also be impressed with your command of Spanish.

When we don’t expect the day to get better, it usually doesn’t.  When we think the best relationship we can have with our universe is “Just fair” it often is.  If we expect “Yo encantado de la vida!” well, it just may be.  What do we have to lose—unless, of course, we’re addicted to feeling down?  An attitude like that can also impact our body in a number of negative ways.

Norman Vincent Peale isn’t the first person to grasp the power of positive thinking.  Most civilizations, present and past, have proverbs about the importance of being positive rather than negative.  Almost all holy writ, regardless of the religion, encourages positiveness.  Don’t we all feel amped by saying things like Happy Holidays, Happy Hanukah or Merry Christmas?  Other faiths have equivalent statements.  You can’t beat an “Allah Akbar!” “Praise God!” “A tamshi la tambiko!” or “Wow! what a sunset!”  You just feel better for having said it.

Did you know, positive thoughts release healing chemicals into our body and negative thoughts release toxic chemicals?  If you don’t believe me, consult your local chemist.  It almost sounds too easy.  It can be viewed as overly simplistic.  And yet, it improves our life, physically and spiritually.

What do you have to lose, besides some bad chemicals and negative attitudes?  Go ahead; try it for a couple of weeks.  I double dog dare ya’.

Tis the Season

Lights, Sound, Action!  I wonder why only a few say, “Silence and Solitude.”  The Great Winter Carnival in the U.S. of A. officially began with Halloween and will continue through the greatest of all sports’ orgies, the Super Bowl 1 Feb 15.  Thanksgiving, a national holiday in America with religious overtones and underpinnings was celebrated 27 Nov., this year.  Also in that period, Muslims observe Day of Ashura, 3 Nov 14, Milad un Nabi (Shia), 3 Jan 15 and Milad un Nabi (Shia), 8 Jan 15.  Jews celebrate Hanukkah 16-24 Dec 14. Christians celebrate Advent 30 Nov—24 Dec 14, Christmas 25 Dec 14, Christmas Tide 26 Dec 14—5 Jan 15 and Epiphany 6 Jan—17 Feb 15.  Hindus have thirteen religious festivals during that time, beginning with Kala Bhairavashtami, 15 Nov 14 and ending with Vasant Panchami, 24 Jan 15.  Buddhists observe ten major festivals throughout the year and on it goes with other religions.  But I digress.

Obviously, most people in the world have occasion to celebrate and/or pay attention to the growing of their souls.  Those who do not practice a particular religion tend to get in on the act with patriotic and/or culture festivals.  But you knew all that—at least if you follow Wikipedia.

Festivals frequently begin as religious events and then culture, through the years, changes them as does the religion(s) itself.  In some cases, a religion will borrow another religion or culture’s holiday as was the case of early Christians using the Roman holiday of the winter solstice (see Wikipedia, et. al.) to celebrate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.  What’s that about?

IMHO, “It’s” about getting out of the mundane, ho hum of life and, initially, trying to pay attention to one’s relationship with the universe.  It is about recognizing each of us is much more than and a part of, that which we cannot grasp in toto.  It is a yearning to overcome the existential loneliness of life.  The problem is, as culture and/or religion embellishes on the original practice the reasons for doing it in the first place are drastically changed if not abolished.

What are we to do???  I am so glad you asked, because I happen to have a few quick thoughts on the matter.  First, it might help to do a little light research (pun intended) on the holiday one is to celebrate.  What was its original purpose?  In the case of one like Christmas, it may be helpful to consult your favorite online source of information to discover what the winter solstice was about and why Christians felt there was some commonality—if in fact there was.  Second, consult your own wisdom and that of persons you admire because of their awareness of their spirituality. Third, identify what you like best about the holiday, especially the things that help you grow your soul.  Practice those things more and ignore the detractors.  BTW, no one ever died or got cancer because they didn’t get the “perfect” gift.  Fourth, spend as little time as possible with toxic people, even if they are relatives. And some of yours are!  So are mine.  Fifth, spend time with those who enable you to be attentive to your spirituality.  Sixth, and very importantly, if what you are doing is stressful, quit doing it.  Your soul and your family will thank you.

May you have a wonderful time of reflection and shalom in this festive time.

MENTAL HEALTH AND SPIRITUALITY

MENTAL HEALTH AND SPIRITUALITY

Recently, someone sent me the “viral” You Tube segment by Ruby Wax.  If you haven’t seen it, I recommend it.  One of her statements rang a familiar note for me.  She said, “Our brains are not made for the twenty-first century.”  Well, duh.  At least that’s what I remember her saying.

I made a similar statement over thirty years ago except I said body and twentieth century.  I use to teach stress management and that was one of “my” lines I learned from someone else.  Doesn’t really matter who said it first, it’s probably in holy writ somewhere, what’s important is we need to recognize it as true.

Chemical imbalance in the brain deters how we experience the world around us and the people in it.  It “contaminates” relationships because we who have said imbalance experience life through a very different lens than those who don’t.  The sensory input we receive is blurred.

Today, I read there is new research that shows a positive correlation between depression and dementia.  Well hell, if I wasn’t depressed before, I certainly am now!  Show me one person who says, “When I get old, I want to have dementia along with aches, pains, loss of appetite, loss of sex drive and regular visits to the doctor for problems that can’t be fixed because, “You’re just getting older.”  Check that, maybe dementia is better.  Certainly not for family or care takers.

So, what do we do about it?  1)  If you have a mental illness, treat it.  Your family and friends will thank you.  2)  Take your meds if they have been prescribed by an appropriate healthcare professional and don’t self medicate.  If you are doing better it’s BECAUSE of the meds and/or therapy, not in spite of them.  3)  If three people tell you you’re drunk, lay down.  I learned that from my friend and mentor, Dorothy Baldwin Satten, Ph.D.  That could be rephrased here to say that if three people tell you have a problem, get help.  4)  Learn how to “shop” for a competent therapist.  That’s the subject of another ChapChat.  5)  As my dear friend and surrogate mother, Edith Eva Eger, Ph.D. says, “Be a good momma to yourself.

It can be a beautiful world, if only you have the grace to give yourself a clear sense of it.

FRIENDS

Friends

I celebrated my forty-fifth anniversary of graduation from Texas A&M University with classmates on campus last weekend.  The reunion events were delightful and time with friends of long duration was priceless.  Sure, we all look older, because we are, some have had significant health events, we all take more medication than we use to, the parties involved less alcohol and broke up much earlier than when we were in our yippee years.  Yet, the love, concern and camaraderie were even stronger.  Just hanging together was a delight.

The petty conflicts and hurt feelings of long ago have been forgotten.  We didn’t need to retell the old war stories, much.  It seems to me we pretty much just basked in the presence of the others.  At least I did.  We remembered those who are no longer with us and we talked about those who were not able to join us due to other commitments.  We talked about giving money for special projects on campus in the name of The Class of ’69 and when we will get together again.

I reflected on the memories that flooded my mind as I walked across campus and drove the familiar route I had driven so many times between my home town, Ft. Worth and College Station.  I thought about how fortunate I am to have made lifelong friends with the total strangers who showed up for their freshman year.  In the crucible of being “fish” in the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band and being in the Corp of Cadets we developed an intimacy that has lasted these forty-nine years and will continue.

I grew my soul this last weekend.  I was reminded what a rare treasure friendship is and how it helps me stay connected to my universe.  I felt better for having been there and spending time with those whose relationship is so important to me.  Most importantly, I remembered who has my back and who will be there when I need them.  I experienced a true gift of life.

Hmmmm

I was talking to a Texas expatriate and good friend over dinner tonight in Omaha and we were discussing my blog site.  He had read “Howdy” and was opining that sometimes religion limits our spirituality.  At first, I disagreed, as uncommon as it is for me to do.  As we dialogued further it occurred to me that he was on to something.  Then I blurted, “Exclusiveness limits our spirituality.”  We were both quiet for a time and then he agreed.

Earlier, he had asked what I meant by my definition of religion as “The codification of our spirituality.”  With Howard, like most Texans, and I are one, it’s best to use small words and simple sentences.  I offered my well used example that when a group of people express and “do” their spirituality similarly, for whatever reason, they tend to organize and/or create an institution, e.g., Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Christian, Athieists, free thinkers, etc which may become highly regulated and is often exclusive.

It seems to me that anytime a group of people become exclusive, and we almost always do, it limits our spirituality because it limits our experiences and It limits how we relate to others.  If we are hating people because of who or what they are, or just saying we’re better that group X, Y or Z, we automatically limit OUR relationship with the universe because we are limiting our relationships with other humans.  As much fun as it is to chant “We’re number one” at a sporting event, it automatically limits how we experience the number twos.  No, we can’t relate to the entire world on any deep level.  We have trouble enough relating to spouses, children, bosses, colleagues, “them,” and “those.”

I once was a member of a downtown United Methodist church for several years that had a wonderful ministry to the homeless of San Antonio. Week after week, as I became more familiar and comfortable with those who were quite different than me in so many ways (yes I know we are all just fellow space travelers) I became more open to others.  I began to change.

One Sunday afternoon, I was in a movie theater lobby and as I walked toward the seating area, there in the hallway, I saw a short, Hispanic, young man in full biker regalia (I’m an old, short, fat, balding white guy with a beard).  Quite different from my usual experience and at first I unconsciously chose to be  intimidated and frightened.  When I made eye contact, I saw he was checking me out, too.  I spoke a word of greeting and he responded in kind.  I smiled and he smiled.  I relaxed, a lot and I felt I had made an important step in embracing my universe in a different way, if just for a moment.  Weird how that can happen.  Or is it?

Spirituality Killers

I was talking to a very good friend today and he was sharing some existential angst about what one of our Aggie class mates had posted on our Google group.

A bit of background, fair readers.  As graduates of the Bastion of Academia and Conservatism in Texas, we have progressed through life in a myriad of ways.  Most of us were staunch conservatives in 1969.  Vietnam, Richard Nixon, and LBJ all had their impact.  Many classmates are still conservatives.  A few of us are card carrying liberals.  Hence the problem.

As we were speaking he was at the penitent stage of having been snarky in his e-reply and I heard myself say, “We all have the propensity to be visceral.”  Sometimes I scare myself with my profundity.  At least until I realize that the source of the comment was not my own.  The Universe (apply your own descriptor) said it through me.  I just love it when that happens.

I simultaneously grasped the reality that when we are visceral, i.e., in a fight/flight reaction we block our relationship with the universe and are rarely at our best—unless we are a SEAL Team fighting against overwhelming odds.  It seems to me, that to grow our soul, we must avoid that state and be in our frontal cortex to be aware of the beauty, peace, joy and wholeness around us—if in fact it is occurring at that moment.

What works for you?  How do you grow your soul?  I’d be happy to hear your comments.  Peace, mtc

Howdy!

Welcome, Bienvenidos, Willkommen, Accueil, Benvenuto, An yo hoshimika.   I am so pleased you have chosen to join me on my new website and my first blog.  I look forward to hearing from you and your feedback.  “Don’t bother to do another one,” is an acceptable response!

A couple of disclaimers:

  • As many know, I’m a native Texan and frequently resort to Texas humor, syntax and/or dialect.  Living in many parts of the world, like Korea, Germany, New Jersey, Kansas and Nebraska I have learned that not everyone appreciates, or even understands my comments.  If it doesn’t make sense, it’s probably me being Texan.
  • As a clergy person, I actively work to not be religious. I won’t be using Christocentric language, for which I have taken a number of criticisms from well intentioned Christians when I was blogging, before it was called blogging during my tenure at Methodist Healthcare System, 1995-2004.

My goal is to publish something at least every other week.  My year of way too much travel, marketing my book, is almost over and I look forward to being home with “The Girls,” my two toy poodles, Bijou and Zoe’. Stand by for pics.

Spirituality is how one relates to their universe.  Religion is the codification of spirituality.  Those definitions have worked many years for me. I hope they will for you as I share my thoughts, experiences and hopes.

 

Peace, mtc