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Inscribed in the Book of Life

Today is the holiday of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. Rosh Hashanah, in Hebrew, means the “head of the year,” and unlike the big party time of December 31st, this new year celebration is actually a time for personal introspection and prayer. It is the start of a period called the “Ten Days of Repentance,” which ends with the holiest day of the year for Jews—Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

Rosh Hashana is more than just the celebration of the new year and a time to make a new start, it is also the anniversary of the birth of mankind—the creation of Adam and Eve—and thus celebrates the special relationship between humanity and G-d. Kabbalists, the “mystic” Jews, teach that the very existence of the universe depends upon our accepting G-d’s intimate relationship with each of us individually as well as collectively.

One of the main parts of the holiday is the sounding of the shofar, a ram’s horn, which represents both the coronation of G-d the King as well as a call to repentance. In biblical times, the blowing of the ram’s horn was also used to announce the new moon, war, and holidays. And like all holidays, this one has special food associated with it—in particular, a piece of apple dipped in honey symbolizes the desire for a sweet year. Challah, braided bread, is made with extra sugar at this time, and tzimmes, a sweet mix of carrots, cinnamon, yams, prunes, and honey is eaten.

The second day of Rosh Hashana frequently includes a service that takes place outdoors, preferably near a lake, river, or the sea, where certain prayers are said and sins are symbolically cast into the water.

Part of the process of spiritual growth is taking time to reflect on who you are and what you’ve done over the past year (or many years if you don’t do some sort of yearly practice like this). It is a way to clear your emotional body of regrets, guilt, shame, anger, bitterness, or any other dark feelings that have accumulated in you, the same emotions that if stored for too long in your body can wind up making you sick or creating some other kind of chaos in your life.

If there is no prescribed period for deep introspection in your religious and/or spiritual tradition, consider creating your own time to wipe your inner slate clean and start anew, to forgive others and seek repentence for whatever you have done to or thought about others. Think about including some sort of sound healing (like the blowing of the shofar) and use of one of the four elements—earth, air, water, and fire—to symbolically release your “sins” and find at-one-ment.

Leshana tova tekatev v’techatem.

May you be inscribed in the Book of Life for a good year!

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Capital Punishment Punishes Everyone

Troy Davis was murdered by the state of Georgia on Wednesday, September 21st, yet there remains much doubt about his guilt. Justice seems to have taken a lethal injection in the Davis case – in my opinion, capital punishment is itself a crime. When we deliberately execute someone, we diminish our own humanity.

The only good to come out of the Davis execution is that it has ramped up the forces of those of us who want to see capital punishment abolished. If only it wasn’t such a handy platform for politicians who want to be seen as “tough on crime.” Just look at Rick Perry in Texas, whose constituents cheer his stand on the death penalty.

There are other ways to keep murderers from harming anyone else. I know there are evil people out there. I know there are those who deliberately set out to harm others. But capital punishment is a crime against humanity.

Click here to read my blog on the Huffington Post and post your comment there – make your position on capital punishment known; make your voice count.

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Jesus and the Essenes

A shepherd boy was throwing rocks in a cave—what else was there to do while tending his flocks in the mid-1940s?—and heard something crack. Going into the cave, he found a ceramic pot with pages inside that much later became known as the first of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Many subsequent discoveries in eleven different caves yielded thousands of fragments of manuscripts and a large number of whole scrolls stored in jars. Some are copies of the Hebrew Scriptures, some are commentaries on biblical texts, and some are the rules of the community that wrote them—the Essenes.

The Essenes were a sect of Jews who had left the worldly ways of the big city of Jerusalem, several hundred years before the time of Jesus, for the quiet and seclusion of the desert in order to prepare the way of the Lord. They were a monastic community in almost total isolation, with no private property, strict discipline, and no women (and therefore few children). They saw themselves as holding the sacred and the true, while feeling that the Temple and its priests had fallen into wrong or even wicked ways. They were not involved in the politics of the Sadducess and Pharisees, and practiced a lifestyle that was later imitated in some ways by the first Christians.

There has long been speculation that Jesus and/or John the Baptist were Essenes or had studied with them in the desert. They certainly held some of the Essene beliefs on the kingdom of God, baptism, sacred meals, the position of a central teacher, and how the communities were organized. The ascetic John the Baptist seemed to fit the picture of an Essene, while Jesus was more in line with the teachings of the Pharisees. His disciples didn’t follow the strict observance of the Sabbath or the Essene views on other practices, especially with regard to women.

Jesus must have traveled far and wide and studied with various holy men during the years before he began his mission. No one, of course, really knows. Listen in to my Hay House Radio show on Wednesday, September 21, 2011 at 2:00 pm pacific to hear all about Jesus and his healing ministry; I’ll tell you what my study of his life has revealed.

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Higher Ground

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Raised in what appears to be a nondescript mainstream Protestant church, Corinne had quite a curiosity about spiritual matters, even as a child – she’s the Midwest’s version of a seeker. Things heat up when she gets pregnant, marries young, and she and her rocker husband have a crisis (don’t want to ruin the movie for you so I’m intentionally vague). The strain of it all turns them towards what seems like a small fundamentalist sect, of which they become card-carrying members. The movie weaves between faith and reason, trust and disillusionment.

What I really like about this film is its nuanced approach to religion. It doesn’t portray the sect as horribly confining. Instead, it plays the shadows, showing both the beauty of the close friendships that the couple at the center of the film develop with their fellow church members as well as the impulse to stifle their own free thought so they can fit in.

It really reminded me of the week I spent several years ago in Texas, attending the hearings of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints who had had their children taken away by the state on allegations of sexual abuse. There was quite an appearance of fun and camaraderie there, too, between the members of the church; you would have never known how horribly oppressed both the women and the men were.

After you have your mind opened by this film, while totally enjoying the great revival hymns (I can’t wait to get the soundtrack!), ask yourself if it made you think about where you stand on religion. Do you have some limiting beliefs that are holding you back? And I don’t mean in just one direction. For example, a few days ago I helped a woman question why she felt she had to deprive herself of the ritual of the church of her childhood because she disagreed with some of it’s dogma. I assured her that it was perfectly okay to enjoy the ritual, which her soul craved, and ignore the dogma. My advice in that kind of situation is always take what you want and leave the rest behind. Stay in the driver’s seat of your life and don’t allow the rules and limitations of others limit you.

This film may very well also make you ask yourself if you’re swallowing important thoughts and life choices of your own in order to please a partner or a boss or a parent. Are you afraid to “rock the boat” in your tribe, afraid you’ll be thrown out of the clan? At heart, that’s what this film is really all about.

I’d love to see your thoughts on my Facebook page about what you think happened when the screen goes dark at the end of Higher Ground, as Corinne stands at the church door.

It’s Fall again, and movie time, so hope to see you at the theatre!

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Diabetes: Where is the sweetness in your life?

If you are over the age of 45 and overweight, you should take a moment and consider the risks of diabetes. A recent news article stated that more than a third of a billion people around the world have diabetes, a number that’s growing as more people adopt a Western lifestyle. There are almost 18 million Americans with diabetes, and about 5 million more who haven’t yet been diagnosed (in some cases of type 2 diabetes, there are NO symptoms). And that’s not counting the 57 million who are pre-diabetic.

Genetic predisposition, obesity, and lack of exercise are certainly factors in diabetes and need to be considered, but in energy medicine we can often trace the non-physical origins of the disease back to control issues, especially overbearing parental control and a propensity for bottling up emotions. When difficult emotions are not expressed, they are stashed in the body and held down so as not to have to deal with them. This emotional “lid” puts pressure on systems, organs, and glands, especially the circulatory system and the pancreas. It makes sense that the leading cause of death for diabetics is cardiovascular disease, ending in heart attack or stroke.

What I frequently hear at the cellular level of someone with diabetes is where is the sweetness in life? Sugar has been substituted for love, and the body’s mechanisms that regulate sugar are out of whack. In my experience, both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes can be dramatically improved through a change in one’s core beliefs and the release of stored emotions, along with changes in diet and exercise.

Have you let someone hijack your personal will? Have you turned to soda, cake, and candy rather than facing your relationship with a controlling parent? Have you given up trying to do something about your weight? Have you convinced yourself that you have no time or ability to exercise? Are you resigned to having the same disease that crippled a member of your family?

Of course, if you are diabetic, you’ve got a lot of company, including Halle Berry, Nick Jonas (of the Jonas Brothers), Patti LaBelle, Larry King, Randy Jackson (hey “Dawg”), Sharon Stone, Elizabeth Taylor, Billie Jean King, Delta Burke, Dick Clark, Meat Loaf, Della Reese, Morgan Freeman, Aretha Franklin, and B.B. King. Diabetes can strike anyone of any age, race, or gender.

I urge you to get tested if you think you might be at risk. The American Diabetes Association has a short simple test at https://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/prevention/diabetes-risk-test/ to help you become aware of your risk factors for this prevalent disorder. Diabetes is fully treatable, so the more you know about your risk, the better. Remember, knowledge is power!

If you do get diagnosed as having diabetes, watching what you eat and exercising are absolutely essential, but you also need to treat the mind and spirit. It can be difficult to overcome emotional eating habits that you have learned in childhood, but you can vastly improve your health by working through the emotions that have led you to this point, and by finding ways to reduce your internal stress.

It’s time to wake up, check your risk of diabetes, and see what you can do to prevent it. If you do have diabetes, you can regain control of your life and regain a sense of self-worth. You do have it in your power to relieve or eliminate your symptoms, reduce and eliminate your risk of serious complications, and live a happy, healthy, and full life.

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Isis and Osiris: The Love Story of Ancient Egypt

Isis was the most powerful goddess of ancient Egypt, even greater than the gods; her worship spread through the Mediterranean world and became one of the main religions of the Roman Empire. Like so many goddesses, she had a long history. We’re not even sure that Isis is her original name, as Egyptian hieroglyphs didn’t include vowels. What we do know is that she came to embody so many of the qualities we seek that she is called “The One Who Is All” and the “Lady of Ten Thousand Names.”

Born of the Geb, the god of the Earth, and Nut, the goddess of the Overarching Sky, Isis held both heaven and earth in balance. She is a moon goddess who gave birth to Horus, the god of the sun; together, mother and child created all life and sustained it. She taught women to grind corn, bake bread, spin flax, weave cloth, and, perhaps most importantly, she taught them to tame the men so the women could live with them! Among her many attributes, she was also the goddess of medicine, healing, fertility, and wisdom.

So why was this Mother of Life also known as the Crone of Death? That title comes from what happened with her brother/husband Osiris.

 

 

Incest between brother and sister was allowable for the gods to keep the bloodlines pure. When Osiris became her husband, he became the first King of Earth. Set, their brother, was jealous and killed Osiris, sealed up his coffin and threw it in the river Nile. Isis grieved mightily, shredded her robes and chopped off her hair. Then she set out to find the body of her husband so she could bury him with proper honor and respect.

As she searched for her love, she met Queen Astarte in Phoenicia. Making a long story short, Astarte realized that Osiris’s body was hidden in her palace. Isis carried him back to Egypt and hid it in the swamps of the Nile delta while she prepared for his funeral. Her wicked brother, Set, found the coffin, furiously hacked Osiris’s body into 14 pieces, and scattered them in different directions. Searching and searching, Isis recovered thirteen of the pieces. Only his penis was missing, so she made one from gold and wax (some myths say mud or clay). Promptly inventing the rites of embalming, and with her magical powers in full force, Isis brought Osiris back to life and conceived their child Horus. Now that she was no longer grieving, Osiris was free to descend and became the King of the Underworld, ruling over the dead.

Isis is often shown wearing the symbol of an empty throne on her head, suggesting her husband’s absence and that she, herself, was the seat of the Pharaoh’s power. She carries the ankh, the Egyptian hieroglyph of eternal life. When in her funerary role, and as the protector of the dead, she is shown with wings. The ancient Egyptians believed that the Nile River flooded each year because of the tears Isis wept for her dead husband, and every year there was a ceremonial death-and-rebirth ritual.

When Christianity was trying to gain a foothold over paganism, the mother-and-child images of Isis and her son Horus in the many temples of Isis across the land were converted into images of Mary with her infant son Jesus, while images of Isis holding the body of her dead husband across her lap became Mary with the crucified Jesus.

For us today, Isis stands for qualities we all aspire to: feminine strength, deep caring about relationships, acceptance of our emotional depths, the act of creating life, and the wisdom surrounding renewal and reconnection.

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The Help

As many of you may know, I’m a movie buff. I love sitting in a darkened theater and being swept away by a good story. Now that it’s fall, it’s movie time again and I’ll be posting reviews of the ones that may open your heart, challenge your beliefs or expand your horizons. Sometimes a movie comes along that triggers a deep emotional response and brings up memories. That happened to me recently when I saw The Help.

I grew up in northern California, far from the segregated South, but my mother gave me a taste of the old South right in my own home. One of the fixtures of my childhood was Mamie, our “help,” who worked for my mother half a day every day and all day on holidays. She came to work for our family when my mother was a young pregnant bride of 19, married to my 41-year-old father, her former boss and a prominent politician. Mamie, who was my father’s age, was always there for me from the time I was born—a loving presence in stark contrast to my mother’s coldness and indifference to me. I adored her.

Just like in the film, my mother insisted on being called Mrs. King (although Mamie called her other employers by their first name) and I was always Miss King. She served our meals and then ate her own in the kitchen. When I was old enough to question my mother about that, she said the help always ate in the kitchen, no matter what color they were.

It was a confusing situation. I certainly didn’t think of my family as racist. My father was a bleeding heart liberal who spent every holiday driving around town giving away clothes and money to the needy. My mother came from a working class background; her own Portuguese mother had taken in sewing and cleaned houses. Why didn’t she treat Mamie more like an equal?

Although I knew that all the “colored” folk lived on the South Side, the poorest part of town, it never occurred to me to question why. As children, we accept what is without question. I knew about the South Side because Mamie lived there, in what was basically a shack. When I was old enough to drive, one of my chores was to drop off the family laundry and ironing at Mamie’s in the morning and pick it up again in the evening.

I left the movie and spent the rest of the evening thinking about Mamie and my family. My mother was considered a kind employer (one of Mamie’s sons still calls my mother once a year to see how she’s doing). Mother insisted I come home from college to be at Mamie’s bedside as she was dying in the hospital. Mother was the only white woman who attended the black funeral when Mamie died at 56 from heart failure (not surprising after eight children and a life of hard and often demeaning work).

As my emotional reaction to the movie gradually faded, I began to question the beliefs I had grown up with about discrimination, about prejudice. As children, we so readily accept situations as normal, as being “just the way things are.” This is why it’s so important to examine our beliefs, so we can shake ourselves out of complacency and come to a more conscious understanding, so we don’t pass along to future generations the same sorrows and injustices.

If you haven’t seen The Help, I recommend it. One of my clients who grew up in Mississippi with a black nanny wept copiously throughout the film. But even if this particular situation is not one that you experienced personally, have you experienced discrimination based on your class or race or religion? Conversely, what have you felt and believed about those who are of different class or race or religion from you?

In the spiritual universe, we are all One. There is no doubt about that. By examining the hidden traces of prejudice and discrimination that you may hold, you can free yourself from whatever hinders you from experiencing that unity.

Isn’t it amazing what a good movie can do?

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Mr. Manx, Cat Extraordinaire

More than 10 years ago, we moved to yet another horse ranch, a sprawling 20-acre spread backing up to a nature preserve, a magnificent property covered with high grass and ancient oak trees just a few miles from the shores of the Pacific. We no sooner arrived, with our horses and dogs, than the displaced seller called, ashamedly telling us he had been forced off his property some months earlier by a restraining order sought by his ex-wife, an order that denied him access to his  children and property. He seemed resigned about all that but quite upset about a manx cat he loved that might still be somewhere on the property, starving to death.

We promptly began a hunt for the little tabby cat with no tail he described, and spotted him at dawn the next morning, running into a drainage ditch in which he had been living down by the barn. He was emaciated. The vet guessed he might be some 5 or 6 years old and recommended frequent feedings to bring him back to health.

We named him “Mr. Manx” and placed food out for him twice a day. He rapidly gained weight and, feeling more like himself, began hunting again, proudly presenting us every morning with a gopher or two twice his size – dragging them into the house through the dog door and dumping them at the base of the stairs, where I would stumble over them in the dark as I came down in the morning.

As summer moved into fall and the weather cooled, Mr. Manx let it be known that he could easily give up his raucous outdoor lifestyle and move indoors, explaining that his favorite activity wasn’t really hunting, but napping: that cat could nap anywhere at the drop of a hat. He ingratiated himself with the house cats and set a sleeping example no other acquaintance of mine has ever matched – he could sleep so well, he could almost sleep standing up. No matter where you turned that first winter, he’d be asleep nearby: always finding a patch of sun, at the base of the glass door or on a windowsill, or protected from the wind, sunbathing on the upper deck. I was going through a difficult menopause those first years Mr. Manx joined our family, unable to sleep much at all myself, and I used to imagine that the cat was sleeping for me.

One day I realized that Mr. Manx was no longer thin and starving; in fact, he was overweight. Seriously overweight. We realized that he had developed an eating disorder from his days of near starvation; that darn cat just couldn’t stop eating, fearing that food might one day again become scarce. He continued to gain weight until his belly touched the ground and I could no longer lift him.

About the same time, I admitted to myself that my dream horse ranch had a fatal flaw. During the exciting days of escrow and purchase, I had met with several horse trainers who all praised the beauty of the land but, once we were on it, we found that it was really too steep for horses and humans alike. As one fencer put it, “Lady, you’ve got yourself a pyramid here, not a horse ranch.” The house was at the top of a mountain and the horses and barn at the bottom of a draw, and in-between was a no man’s land of rolling oak forests, hiding wild turkeys and coyotes and bobcats and the occasional mountain lion that would stand and stare as I fed and mucked the horses alone at night, giving the twilight an eerie quality.

Never one to let the grass grow under my feet, I again took up the arduous search for yet another perfect ranch property and, many months later, stumbled on one just a few miles away. By that time, Mr. Manx had become a key member of our family and I obsessed about the difficulty of moving him, knowing that cats don’t move easily. But Mr. Manx had other ideas, and jumped in my car the day of the move, telling me that crating him wouldn’t be necessary, he was ready to go. At the new ranch, he took over the kitchen and it was impossible to sit for a meal without having that 30-pound cat at your back, sharing your chair with you. He was especially fond of reading with you late at night and loved Seinfeld reruns; they were his personal favorite.

That ranch was the last of our properties that Mr. Manx hunted: when we moved from there, he announced he had retired from hunting and sought a promotion to full-time housecat, one that he surely deserved.  When we moved on, first to Santa Barbara, where we briefly flirted with being citified, which worked not at all, he slept on the deck, totally disregarding the multi-million dollar view of the city, the mountains, and the ocean just below.

He much preferred our next place in the Santa Monica mountains of Malibu, another grand ranch at the end of a long single lane along a cliff, with incredible valley and ocean views and bevies of butterflies hovering nearby. This time, the bobcats and mountain lions brazenly came right up to the house, taking your breath away, and Mr. Manx elected to live totally inside, only venturing out into the special cat cage we constructed for him that had its own oak tree for his napping pleasure. It was at this house, an amazing two-story French country home set in a meadow with its own lake full of frogs that serenaded you at night, where the horses roamed free, that Mr. Manx began the practice of traipsing around, especially late at night, singing a plaintive song, sounding not happy but not unhappy either, just using his voice and keeping it tuned up. He wasn’t fond of that ranch because I insisted on sleeping the better part of the year in a tent, way out on the edge of the cliff with the horses, quite some distance from the house, and he wanted me close by. Once I moved back in for the winter, he was happy again, and slept at my feet as I wrote my first book. He always said writing was easy, like falling off a log, but I never found it so.

The years went by and I began to think Mr. Manx immortal, never aging, always ready to help me write a paragraph or two, eat lunch, or take a nap. But he died suddenly this evening, with no warning whatsoever. He was having trouble breathing as he was raced to the vet, who declared Mr. Manx quite old, geriatric really, and already in the throes of moving on. He seemed unperturbed by all the fuss and quietly expired, with as little fanfare as he had lived. The moment he left his body, I could feel his enormous spirit everywhere, filling me and then the space around me, no limits to him now as he expanded.

What is it about cats that makes them think they are ageless, that allows them to spring effortlessly from floor to kitchen counter if there’s tuna anywhere to be found? Don’t they know they’re elderly and should be on a walker or at least be carrying a cane? What is it about cats that allows them to enjoy every moment of every day, totally present, never worrying for one second that they’re getting old or fat, as Mr. Manx was for sure, or wrinkled or infirm?  Always enjoying every second of every day, the breeze, the sights and the sounds, and only wanting your company, to be with you watching the setting sun.

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Life is but a dream . . .

Life is but a dream
Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake. ~Henry David Thoreau

As you row row row your boat down the stream of your life, how awake are you? I’m not just talking about how many hours of the day you spend with eyes open as opposed to getting some shut eye. How awake to life are you?

Are you aware of the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and sensations you experience? Are you conscious of your emotional reactions to whatever you’re experiencing? Do you appreciate the beauty of the flower pushing up through the sidewalk? Do you delight in the smile of a child, and not shy away from the tears of a friend?

We call this ability to be awake to life “presence.” You are present, here and now, for whatever life places on your doorstep, whether that is love and laughter or betrayals and heartbreak. When you are present, you can ride the roller coast journey of life, with its peaks and valleys, with an overall feeling that it’s all okay. Obstacles are called challenges. The grass is not greener in someone else’s yard.

There are some people who are even able to be present in their dreams, and can use this ability to further enrich their lives.

Take Ray Kurzweil, a futurist and inventor, who has been called the “rightful heir to Thomas Edison.” He uses a technique called lucid dreaming to spark his ideas. Before he falls asleep, Kurzweil goes over in his mind a problem he’s trying to solve. Then, at some point, he becomes conscious that he is dreaming. He says, “I am still in the dream, but I have conscious thinking as well so I can direct the dream. I have access to all these new creative links that I made while I was dreaming about the problem, but I also have my rational faculties. Within 15 or 20 minutes, I will typically have a new key insight.” And this from the man that Forbes referred to as “the ultimate thinking machine.”

There are four major states of consciousness—waking, sleeping, dreaming, and the meditative state. Just as you can become more conscious, more present, in your day-to-day awareness, so can you become more conscious in the dream state. Dreaming is a powerful way to gain access to your subconscious thoughts and feelings—a good source of information that’s a great help in your own healing process.

Lucid dreaming, in which you become aware that you’re dreaming and can participate in and often direct what you’re experiencing, gives you opportunities that aren’t available during waking consciousness. You can go to different planes of consciousness, communicate with the dead or with spiritual guides, even fly and shape-shift. You can plug into past lives, change the outcome of dream events, or get information that is of benefit in this life.

A good way to start becoming more conscious about and in your dreams is by keeping a dream journal. Keep it near your bed and write in it as soon as you wake up. Most people have the longest REM sleep of their five sleep cycles per night right before waking, so it’s most likely those are the dreams you’ll remember.

All the ancients knew the value of dreams, and many traditions consider that it is our waking life that is the real dream. As you turn your attention to the meditative and the dream states and try to bring more awareness to those states, your consciousness will expand and you will be more fully “present” to your own life.

Dream on.