Sunday, April 20, 2014


Affirmation: I choose to see myself as beautiful.

What is your reaction when you look in the mirror?  Do you look?  I know some people who avoid mirrors at all costs and I know others who can't seem to turn away when they see their image.  What if I told you that you can make a conscious decision about how you perceive your image? 

As I write this it's Spring.  North Carolina looks like the Garden of Eden or a fairyland right now.  Everything is in bloom.  The Dogwoods are breathtaking.  The flowering pear, cherry and apple trees are awesome.  The Azaleas, pink, white and rose colored have just gone into full bloom and all the bulbs, daffodils, crocuses and tulips to name a few are up and showing off.  Along with all this beauty comes the natural instinct of the birds and the bees.  We have a flock of Robins living in our wooded area and one of them has gone insane.  She, we believe, is protecting her nest.  She's doing this by slamming her beak and her body into any of our windows that she perceives harbor an enemy.  It's been going on for weeks.  All day long, thwack, thwack, thwack. There isn't a solution other than to wait it out.  I know, I've researched it and tried half a dozen suggestions.  None of them work.  Her bird brain defense towards her reflection makes me wonder how often my perception is so skewed that I too see what isn't the truth.

Did you hear about the Dove beauty patch?  It's an ad on You Tube.  Normally I skip the ads but this one caught my attention right away.  I was intrigued.  It showed a psychiatrist interviewing several young women and applying the Dove beauty patch to their upper arms and explaining to them how to use it over the next week or so.  The ladies videoed their reactions and the first few days they reported no significant changes but by the end of the trial period, they all reported an increased sense of well-being.  They felt more beautiful.  The psychiatrist then showed them the secret ingredient in the patch.  Can you guess what it was?  Nothing.  It was empty.  They felt better because they believed they were going to feel better.  Several of them began to cry.  They were actually pleased that their thoughts and not some random drug had been the key ingredient in their new sense of beauty. 

One of my dear friends told me that as she aged she was startled to see her mother every morning looking back at her from her bathroom mirror.  Then one morning she woke up to find her grandmother looking back at her.  She decided right then and there to put an end to that reflection.  She did not go get a face lift, Botox or any fillers.  She did something a lot cheaper and probably much more empowering.  She decided to greet her daily image with the phrase "Hello beautiful."  She said at first it was hard to say but after a while she realized it was causing her to smile and she found it easier and easier, until she actually began to believe it.  When she writes me a note she always begins it with, "Hello beautiful."  It makes me smile too.

"Beauty is only skin deep" "Don't judge a book by its cover" and, " Beauty is in the eye of the beholder" are some of the adages about our outside appearance.  But, the truth is most of us live in a society that has a standard for attractiveness and few of us are able to completely disregard how we are viewed.  The Twilight Zone with Rod Sterling had a show that revolved around a society that forced every young woman to choose a physical model from a menu of womanly styles when they reached the end of their teenage years.  One young woman refused.  She didn't want to look like everyone else.  She liked herself the way she was but this was not an option.  She was forced to undergo the procedure.  Her parents chose from the menu for her and the powers that be took her away for the process.  When the last scene is shown we see this Barbie like woman looking in the mirror and being very pleased with what she sees.  Yes, it was extremely disturbing but like so much science fiction, it is becoming a present day reality. I'm not against getting some "help" if that's what someone needs to do to feel better.  As a cancer survivor I know the importance of looking good in order to feel good.  My friend Greta Schiffman has presented the Look Better, Feel Better program to hundreds of women cancer survivors.  The Duke Cancer Patient Support Program provides wigs, turbans and prosthetics for cancer patients.  There are times in our lives when we need to take a few extra steps to enhance our sense of well-being and that's just fine.  

The lesson learned from the Dove beauty patch is fairly obvious; we can feel better about ourselves if we think differently. If we think we are beautiful we will feel more beautiful.  I'm not talking about a narcissistic obsession with ourselves.  I'm talking about a healthy view and appreciation for who we are and how we look, regardless of another's opinion.  We can decide to feel better by changing the way we think, by changing what we think.  We aren't limited to our outer appearance either.  How we choose and shape our thoughts affects every aspect of our lives.  It affects our relationships, our work, our health and our spirit.  We get to choose what we want to focus on and what we want to believe about ourselves and the world and with those choices, we determine the quality and maybe even the quantity of our lives.  What's your choice?   Do you want to look in the mirror and see ugly and sad or like my dear friend, do you want to see happy and beautiful or perhaps, handsome? Give it a try, "Hello Beautiful!" or "Hi Handsome!"  Maybe you can avoid ever becoming a crazy Robin and banging your head into something that won't ever make you feel better and only makes you feel worse.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

A Place for Mystery

Affirmation: I let Mystery have a place in me.

Terry Gross of NPR's Fresh Air was interviewing Bart Ehrman, a professor of religious studies at UNC, Chapel Hill.  He had just written another book.  This one is called How Jesus Became God.  I had a feeling I knew where this interview was going but I love to learn about anything to do with religion, any religion and I love talk radio, so I stayed tuned in.

NPR had this introduction on their web site, "When Bart Ehrman was a young Evangelical Christian, he wanted to know how God became a man, but now, as an agnostic and historian of early Christianity, he wants to know how a man became God.

When and why did Jesus' followers start saying "Jesus as God" and what did they mean by that? His new book is called How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee.

'In this book I actually do not take a stand on either the question of whether Jesus was God, or whether he was actually raised from the dead," Ehrman tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "I leave open both questions because those are theological questions based on religious beliefs and I'm writing the book as a historian.'"

I gave up doubt for this year's Lent this Easter Season.  For me, it's easy to doubt.  It seems to me that our egos are so involved in our identity that most of us believe we need to be able to understand everything.  If we can't understand it, it must not be true.  But, over the years I've discovered I actually understand very little.  There is so much that is simply unknown.  I could list all the questions I have about life and the Universe but I'm sure that you have many of your own.  The simple question about what happens to us after we die is one very prominent unknown.  One of life's greatest mysteries.  I was surprised by my reaction to Professor Ehrman's interview.  I know I have only that segment on which to base my response to his theories but his words left me feeling very sad. 

I did listen carefully.  Certainly his research was very factual.  There didn't seem to be much one could dispute.  He had gathered his facts very carefully.  His research confirmed his beliefs.  Like the web site stated, he had gone from being an Evangelical Christian to an atheist. It appears the New Testament gospel stories about what immediately took place after Jesus died is fictitious.  Oh yes, Jesus was tortured, humiliated and crucified but there was no way he was then taken down from the cross after his death, placed in a tomb and rose three days later.  According to Roman tradition, that's just not how things were done back then.  Back then?  As far as I know that's not how things are done now.  Rising from the dead sure isn't the norm even in today's world. 

Father Alapati of St. Michael's Catholic Church here in Cary recently told a joke as part of his homily.  It appears a gentleman rose one morning to find his obituary in the paper.  He was shocked and immediately called his friend and said, "Did you see my obituary in today's paper?" His friend responded, "Yes, but where are you calling from heaven or hell?" 

Facts supporting the Resurrection would be lovely.  The Apostle Thomas seemed to feel the same way.  "But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe." (John 20: 25) I've always been fascinated by the Apostles.  So afraid, so timid, so uneducated hiding away in a room somewhere, waiting for those angry crowds to come and pull them off to the same torture and death their leader just endured.  I can feel the fear.  I can almost taste it.  We've seen what angry crowds do.  We're watching it now in all parts of the world.  I would be terrified.  What happened to change them so?  What facts can be gathered to explain why they would leave that room and go out into the crowds and begin to preach the Good News?  These men (and let's hope a woman or two) left their safe space and changed the world forever.  How does one explain that?  It's a mystery.

My fellow yoga teacher, friend and mentor, Nancy Hannah, shared with me a saying with which her mother, Bunny Stone, would guide her.  "Let mystery have its place In you."  According to Nancy, her mom was a remarkable woman who made amazing in-roads and created life changing programs here in North Carolina.  In Rachel Remen's The Will to Live and Other Mysteries she writes about the fact that our western culture is more a culture of mastery than mystery but life is more about mystery than mastery. Most of us, however, refuse to recognize the mystery that permeates our lives.  We need to understand all things because by understanding we believe we are in control.  It's a fallacy.  After controlling our thought process, there is very little else of which we are in control. 

How our egos interfere in the really important values of our lives: peace, hope, love, gratitude, compassion and yes, faith.  What facts are available to prove these qualities exist?  Can we ask to place our hands into them, our fingers?  Here is where faith must triumph over facts.  Faith, trust on steroids, is believing in something so completely irrational because one has let go of their ego.  The test here is to decide to believe and to let God work within and through us.  This is when we are called upon to let mystery have its place in us.  I find comfort in my faith.  I find peace.  I like resting in the mystery and not trying to figure it all out.  We might not be able to hold the proof in our hands but if we choose, we can hold it in our hearts.