The Bear

I remember some months ago I was reading a blog post about The Cove and was utterly irritated by a comment the author received on that post.  I can’t remember the whole comment but the part that jumped out at me was “well animals were put here for our entertainment.”

I have not always had the attitude I currently have about animals.  The idea of being a vegetarian was once an absolutely absurd thought to me.  But…I don’t think I ever thought that animals were put on this earth to entertain us humans.  But with that comment I learned that some people do think that.

Zoos, Sea Parks, and Circus type animal shows are good business.  People are amused by looking at animals in captivity and watching them do tricks.  Even my family has a membership and donates regularly to The Tallahassee Museum, which is, in essence, our local Zoo.    The Animal Kingdom at Disney World is one of our favorite places to visit.  Watching The Cove made me doubt my love and support of those two places.  What I can say for both of them though is that at least the animals in their care have room to roam.  Although they have the space for many more exhibits, The Tallahassee museum instead offers large areas holding native animals so they are at least somewhat “at home.”  They nurture sick animals back to health and offer educational resources to the public.

While in Maryland we visited the Salisbury Zoo.  This Zoo was about the same size as ours here in town, but housed some very exotic animals.  One of these animals was the Spectacled Bear.  This bear is native to South America.  Salisbury Maryland is not it’s natural habitat (although I did learn this particular bear was born in captivity).  When we stood before this exhibit, my heart broke.  I couldn’t believe the sight.  I think the bear had a small fenced in “yard” over to the side, but the area it was in as we watched it was a walled in area with a small “pool” and lots of concrete.  As we watched for 5 to 10 minutes the bear simply paced back and forth.  Even more disturbing was the pattern at which she moved her head.  At each end she swooped her head down and then back up.  I couldn’t figure out exactly why but there was a shadowy outline behind her on the wall and she literally traced it with her nose.  It was so apparent that she was suffering.  As we stood there, people walked through.  “Look at the bear.”  Then they continued on their way.  This animal was obviously in such great pain.  There was even a sign next to her exhibit that said something like “Please do not be disturbed by this bear’s behavior, we are doing all we can to help her.”  Yes, folks, please don’t bother to feel empathy for this animal…she was merely put on this earth for your entertainment.

I came home gung-ho to save this bear.  I contacted a friend who used to work for ASPCA.  I asked her if there was a way to find an animal sanctuary and initiate a rescue of some sort.  Sadly, she said that conditions are like this in nearly every zoo animals display this kind of OCD behavior in nearly every zoo and there is really little anyone can do to help the animals.  The best we can do is have some compassion for these creatures and take time to see them as more than our source for food and entertainment.  And maybe, perhaps, speak up when we witness their suffering.

**Renee’s comments are the best!  She always makes me think about whether what I wrote is truly accurate or skewed by my bad memory.  I went back to the message exchange with my friend and made the change above.  Basically animals in most places despite how good or bad the conditions are just react to not being where they are meant to be.  This bear’s conditions, in my opinion, were bad.

OpinionatedGift’s Click

I met OpinionatedGift through this blog and Twitter.  He left a nice comment, I clicked on his blog, read and instantly knew he was good people.  I have so enjoyed reading his thoughts and opinions over the last year.  He is a really good friend and someone I have a lot of respect for.  He was among the first group of people I asked to write a click story for me.  I’ve tried not to pressure him too much, but remind him every now and then that I’m still waiting for his click.  He always tells me he’s still thinking about it.  Last week I read the following post on his personal blog and I thought…that’s it.  I emailed and asked if I could share it here.  He kindly agreed.  You can follow him on Twitter here and read his blog here.

Twelve years ago this week I was spending my days going through my father’s apartment with my brother. Dad had shot himself on the 9th and his body was found by his oldest friend in New York on the 12th. Twelve years ago Wednesday.

Twelve years ago I was sifting through grief, memory and questions questions questions. Not the ones you might think. The fact is, when I got the call from my brother that the police had called him from Dad’s apartment, I knew what had happened. I’d hoped I was wrong. But I knew.

Mom said it best that night when we called to let her know. “He was always so sad”. It was true. He was also scared. Whatever the combination, he had a dim world view.

I loved my dad. He was basically a good man who never really dealt with his anger issues, his alcoholism or his strengths. A talented actor, he’d packed us up from Tucson Arizona, sold the Ford Falcon and got us on a train to New York City and went straight into substitute teaching and social work. His career as an actor was essentially small productions in holes in the wall (before the moniker “Off Off Broadway” was coined.) and extra work in movies.

As a kid I would listen while he would lament the vagaries of the business and how hard it was…and it instilled in me the belief that the business was indeed brutal. It didn’t stop me from wanting to be an actor. It didn’t stop me from thinking I could do better. But these things are insidious and the sins of the father are often visited upon the son. His beliefs did become mine and even when I achieved some pretty good if minor successes, my joy would be tainted by fear of the success not lasting.

Now to be sure, being an actor isn’t easy. It can be brutal, but I can see very clearly as I look back how my own thoughts and feelings that were inherited affected the way I approached my career and subsequently the way my career developed…or didn’t as it turns out.

Twelve years ago fears and doubts overtook my father to the point that he no longer was able to reason. This man who raced down the street with me…encouraged me to take the training wheels off my back when he knew I could. The man who when he saw I was floundering in my efforts to audition for the High School of Performing Arts bought a gazillion plays for me to look through and helped me find the right pieces and even coached me. A man who as a social worker had saved or improved as best he could, so many lives, wasn’t even able to remember a simple meditation technique because anxiety had overcome him.

He’d been given Buspar and started to take it, then stopped. 12 years ago it got so bad that he sat at the edge of his bed and ate the barrel of a .357 magnum. He left a note that was really more of an excuse than anything else. Fears of a cancer that didn’t exist.

Two weeks later, the girl he wanted to marry, a dancer from Japan was finally allowed back into the country. He’d become convinced it wouldn’t happen after months of legal back and forth. Fear of being alone and abandoned convinced him that his life wouldn’t work out as he desired. So it seems he decided to just stop trying.

12 years later I still wrestle with loving him and hating him. Remembering his capacity for compassion for everyone while he seemed to only have pity for himself. I am sometimes on the edge of forgiving him. And then I remember having to tell my daughter what happened. I remember how as she is now almost 20 years old, she can’t play chess because that’s what she used to do with Grandpa. I can’t quite do it.

For the past 12 years, for about 3 weeks before and after the anniversaries, he shows up in my dreams. Sometimes as if he’s never been gone, sometimes as if he’s only been on some trip in South America or something and we all just THOUGHT he was dead.I forget about it…forget it’s that time of year…sometimes even the days of his actual death or the day he was found go by entirely unnoticed. Sometimes not.

Twelve years later I can watch Dirty Harry make one line comments about his Magnum and still get a kick out of it. But when Heroes first aired and there was an episode with half a skull being cut off and brains removed, I get completely worked up.

I wrestle with fear too. And it’s not hard to see how it keeps me from acting. Clouds my thinking. I’ve made a decades long struggle of shifting from “can’t” to “can”. It hasn’t been easy.

Twelve years ago I cremated my father. Twelve years later I’m still cremating parts of his legacy so I can rise from the ashes.

Thrown For a Loop

I came across this article on one of the blogs I read regularly.  I took the time to read it and quite frankly, I wish I hadn’t.  It has filled me with questions, or maybe just one BIG question, and a week later, I can’t stop thinking about it.  At this point, you’ve probably yet to click on the link so I’ll fill you in on it’s subject matter.  The article addresses the idea that perhaps a real person named Jesus, who did all those things we are told he did, did not actually exist.  The information that supports this theory is that there is nothing recorded by anyone who lived at the same time that Jesus lived that testifies to any of what we’ve learned.  Everything that we know of Jesus was recorded by people who lived 50 years or more after he died.  So everything we have taken as fact and in some cases based our life upon is at best hear-say (stories passed down through generations) and at worst lies.

For me, I am a skeptic and these days apply common sense first when posed with questions.  I’ve already admitted at least one thing I don’t believe about Jesus’ life and I could probably name a few more.  I don’t accept the Bible as the be all and end all.  I look at it as a piece of literature.  There are many great truths within literature, meaningful messages and even historically accurate settings, but that doesn’t mean we should call the literature a textbook (unless of course we are studying literature).  I had always thought or believed in a historical Jesus, even if I wasn’t sure about all of the stories of his life.  I assumed the facts were there to prove his existence.    This article has thrown me for a loop.

Recently I wrote my first post about Jesus and I mentioned at the end how I feel like I can commune with Jesus.  If I am meditating (or even not meditating) I can ask Jesus for guidance and if I’m listening and aware can get an answer.  So what does this mean exactly, if the article is correct?  With whom am I communing?  Then I had this thought: What if Jesus is a state of mind?

In Hinduism people pray to and call on the power of the various Gods and Goddesses.  There is Ganesha, the son of Shiva and Parvati, the God with an elephant head, who is known as the remover of obstacles.  Kali is the Goddesses of death and transformation.  She has many arms and carries decapitated heads in at least one of them.  There are many others, but those two are my personal favorites.  Their stories are myths and metaphors.  That is understood because hybrid elephant and octopus people do not live amongst us.  But still they are prayed to.  When people think of these Gods and Goddesses, they call forth the aspects and characteristics that are represented.  They believe in the energy and they experience it.  So what if Jesus is like the Gods and Goddesses of Hinduism?  What if he is merely a symbol of all that man can be and do?  What if he is whatever we want him to be?  To me, he is unconditional love, compassion, forgiveness, and acceptance.  For someone else, he is salvation and God in human form.

I guess I will continue to wonder about Jesus.  I want very much to be convinced he was a real person who taught all the lessons I have learned.  I want the author of that article to have missed or overlooked something (or maybe someone to send me a link to snopes that says the whole thing is a lie).  There is another thought that goes through my mind though.  Imagine for a minute that our world is destroyed and a new breed of humans arrive to recolonize.  Along with many aspects of our history, they happen to find a copy of Forrest Gump.  After watching that movie and all of it’s historical accuracy, would they realize that Forrest was just a fictional character or would they write him into the history books?

Jesus To Me

In honor of Good Friday and Easter weekend I’ve decided to finally write my thoughts on Jesus.  I didn’t go to church when I was very little and by the time we started going, I think Sunday school lessons were beyond the basic bible stories.  I’d also guess that I spent more time mentally rehearsing what I was going to say to Jay (the boy I had a massive crush on) after the service then I did listening to the lesson.  So up until I started going to Unity Eastside, what I knew of Jesus was the story of his birth, his death, and that you were supposed to ask him into your life in order to be “saved” or “born again.”  So in essence Jesus’ birth was a miracle and his tragic, inhumane death was for me and all the rest of us sinners to keep us out of hell.

When I started going to Unity Eastside, I was presented with a whole new idea of Jesus.  One of the first things I learned is that Jesus is a master teacher and way-shower.  He did not come to Earth in order to become THE WAY to God, but in order to show and teach us how to find God.  We were not meant to worship him, but to follow him.  The second idea I was presented with was the Christ Consciousness.  In Unity we are encouraged to embrace the idea that we are all children of God and contain within us the same divinity that was in Jesus.  Jesus reached God Realization to a degree that is arguably “higher” than anyone else (though I’m sure every religious person would say the same of their prophet), but we are all equally capable of that kind of enlightenment.  We all have the “Christ Spirit” within us and it is up to us to decide if we can put the little us’ aside and live from that place which Jesus lived.

Growing up I suppose Jesus was presented to me as God.  We prayed to him and in his name, but he was also the son of God.  It’s all so very confusing and of course very easily explained by the Christmas story.  Because it really makes all the sense in the world that two people who were very much in love and engaged got pregnant without ever having sex and were told by an angel that the baby was actually the son of God.  You see the angel part I believe completely.  I believe that I am God’s child (however you describe God, which to me is the energy and consciousness of the Universe) and so are my children and everybody else on this earth.  If I had gotten unexpectedly pregnant it would be awesome and not at all surprising if an angel interceded to make sure I understood the value of this life within me.  What I have an awfully hard time swallowing is the whole immaculate conception pregnancy without sex thing.  It sounds to me like revisionist history at it’s finest.  Just another way to make sex dirty, because of course the mother of Jesus had to be a clean and pure virgin.  So what I’m getting at (as blasphemous as it may sound to some) is that to me it only makes sense that Jesus was conceived and born just like the rest of us.  It doesn’t make him any less God’s son or any less of a mystic and master.  I think that any truth teaching you come across despite the religion it is based on will acknowledge the powerful life and message of Jesus.

Which brings me to my last point.  Why do we spend so much energy focused on his birth and especially his death, when the real value Jesus brought to humankind was the teachings he presented in life?  I’d say that Jesus has saved me, but he did not do that by dying on the cross.  I do not find comfort in his suffering and painful death.  He has saved me because I have discovered some of his most valuable lessons.  I have learned that the kingdom of God is within me.  I have learned that I do not need to go to a church to find God, but I can sit in silence and connect with Spirit there.  I have learned that I can have a real relationship with Jesus, because we are all spirits and souls and none of us ever die.  I can call on Jesus for guidance and if I am quiet and still I can feel or hear his answer.  I do not need Jesus’ forgiveness to keep me out of Hell, I need to forgive myself and my fellow man so that I am not living in the midst of it.  Finally and above all, I need to strive to live and move from a place of compassion and love for everyone.

*Before I ended meditation tonight I asked Jesus to help me write this.  I asked to be lead to the right scripture to go with this post (remember, I’m not a biblical scholar).  I was led to the following two passages.  The first I believe was a message just for me to address the fear I had in writing this.  The second was for the purpose of the post.

From Acts Ch. 18 9-10 “Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace:  For I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee:  For I have much people in this city.”

From Luke Ch. 17 20-21 “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation:  Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”

Love and light to you this Easter weekend….

Child (a poem)

Child (3-26-10)

The child sees the world

through loving eyes

perspective playmates surround them

if left to their own devices

compassion they extend

no dollar signs

or status symbols

in the laughter of

a child

if allowed

they play

and love the same

rich

or poor

without a push

they may not look

for the gizmo

or gatchet

that makes them rise up

if surrounded by love

all they learn is love

if surrounded by acceptance

they know only to accept

if given enough

they will not long for more

Ask Yourself This (1)

Tomorrow I start a 6-week book study with 3 amazing ladies at church. I can’t say enough about these women and what models they are for me in my spiritual life. It is purely coincidental that I find myself in a book group with them (although I’d venture to say it is not coincidental at all). I am looking so forward to the group that the thought of it brings on as much excitement as does the thought of the mini-vacation we are embarking on this weekend. I’m serious these ladies are as awesome as Disneyworld!!

The book we are reading is Ask Yourself This: Questions to Open the Heart, Expand the Mind, and Awaken the Soul by Wendy Craig-Purcell.  Each chapter of the book contains questions for you to reflect on and by searching for the answers within your own being you will presumably open up and discover what lies within you.  In honor of this book study I thought I’d post a question from the book each week as well as my answer.  Then, of course, I will invite you to answer the question for yourself (and if it suits you, share it in a comment).

The first two questions the book asks is “How do I define spirituality?  How do I define religion?”

When I first got on Facebook, I included “Spirituality”  in my list of  “interests.”  I’d caught up with a friend from High School who proceeded to pop up in my chat window one night and ask me what church I went to.  After a bit of awkward back and forth she finally said, “well, your information page says you’re interested in Religion.”  I don’t know how I weaseled out of the conversation but I did, and all I could think was Religion?  I didn’t say Religion.  In my opinion Religion and Spirituality are two very different things.  I do believe that it is possible for a person to be both.  I have several friends who I’d describe as Catholic, but I also know that they would agree with me on many of my “spiritual” beliefs.  I also have an atheist friend that I’d venture to call “spiritual,” although I’m not sure he’d agree.  Me though, I’m 100% spiritual (or at least I try to be).

So here is how I define spirituality.  Spirituality is about asking questions and going within for the answers.  It is an awareness of the divine force that is always present and connects all of us to each other.  It demonstrates love, compassion, empathy, and togetherness.  A spiritual person seeks to align themselves with the divine energy for the highest good.

And here are my thoughts on Religion.  Religion is a set of beliefs and rules that are established by human beings on behalf of God.  It requires it’s members to accept the beliefs and rules.  More often than not the God of religion is a humanized figure that judges and rewards.  A religious person may pray by asking or begging this Santa Clause type figure to do something or change something on their behalf.  And the big key with Religion is that they believe that their way is RIGHT and everyone else’s is WRONG so the emphasis seems to be put on seeing the differences.

So now it’s your turn.  How do you define Spirituality and Religion?

Be Like A Child

I stopped going to church when I went to college.  I was finally own my own (sort of) and could make the decision without any consequences.  Except for a brief period where I visited and joined the church I would eventually get married at, I chugged a long without the assistance of ministers or Sunday school teachers.  I was happy with that decision, relieved even.  The battle I’d fought (inwardly if not outwardly) every Sunday was now non-existent.

For the most part the people in my life left me alone on matters of religion until I had a baby.  When Bella was born I started to hear “You need to find a church.  It is important for children to be raised in church.”  I didn’t know if they were right or wrong, I just knew I didn’t want to set foot in a church.  When I finally discovered and began attending Unity Eastside, some people were happy for my girls.  Others were not because Unity was not the right kind of church.

This week I started reading “The History of God” by Karen Armstrong.  While reading, this idea (from Jesus) came to mind:   “Unless you become like little children, you cannot know the meaning of Life, for your minds must be cleared of the falsehoods of this realm if you are to be taught Eternal Truth.” Another thought that came to mind was something my friend @darkwulfe stated in a comment a couple of weeks ago.  He said this:  “So just out of curiosity…would this support my theory that God did not create man in HIS image, but rather MAN creates god in HIS image? Would it not indicate that the concept of God is influenced by the ebb and flow of society? Just a thought :-)

I think that young children are about as close to God as you can get.  They are empty vessels, open channels.  They acknowledge the mystery and wonder in things.  They live and love like the only moment is now.  As time goes by they start to learn the ways of the world.  They begin to emulate the people that surround them.  We decide then that we must show them what is right.  We start to teach them about God, assuming they require our knowledge, without even considering they only recently emerged from God.   The problem that comes with this is that everyone has their own personal definition of God.  We create God in our image and then introduce him to our children.

These days, I take my daughters to church because they love church.  The people there are family to them.  The focus in our Unity church is a God of love.  That is what I want my girls to learn, whether they name it God or not.  I want to teach them love, compassion, and forgiveness.  I want my every action to represent those qualities.  I don’t want them living by the rules of an organization, but by the golden rule.  There are certain things I have to remind myself of.  I know that my girls are always watching me, even when I think they are not.  I don’t always get it right, which is of course why I can write about it here…because it is my lesson too.