Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Anything is Possible

The best thing you can give yourselves...
is the gift of possibility.
And the best thing you can give each other
is the pledge to go on protecting that gift in each other
as long as you live.
~Paul Newman

The Garden of Possibility by MJ; © 2008
I had a professor in law school who would show up, on occasion, to teach class dressed in a polyester Elvis costume—complete with a cape, pompadour wig and jet-black sideburns. He would swivel his hips and strut across the room, lower his chin and say in his best Elvis voice, “Anything is possible.” The class roared with laughter.
But it wasn’t all fun and games. The Elvis Anything-Is-Possible-Gig was his clever way of teaching an important principle of tort law: When bringing or defending a personal injury case, you must open your mind to every possibility in the chain of causation. He would throw out questions like, “What if, just before hitting the plaintiff in the crosswalk, a dog ran in front of the defendant’s car and he swerved to miss the dog, losing control of the car? Who’s responsible… the dog?” We all yelled out our answers.
“What if we can show that just before the incident the defendant had his tires rotated, and the mechanic didn’t tighten the bolts properly and the wheels were loose, which caused him to lose control of his car? Who’s responsible now?” The crowd went wild.
“Take it one step further. What if we could show that the local distributor, The Bolt King, delivered a box of defective bolts to the mechanic? Now who’s the defendant? Can we still sue the dog?” On and on it went, our excitement rising with each new possibility. And just when he was about to lose control of the class, he would swivel his hips once again and say, “Now what if Elvis showed up to teach this class? Could that happen?” We cried out in unison, “Anything is possible!
Elvis taught us an important lesson about opening our minds to the unlimited possibilities that surround us. As lawyers, our clients and careers depend on it. Justice demands it. In fact, I think our failure to keep an open mind is, perhaps, the greatest obstacle to reaching a fair and just conclusion in any given situation.
But we’re human and, sometimes, in spite of our best efforts, our life experience and conditioning will lead us to draw sketchy, narrow-minded conclusions that are riddled with judgments and expectations about how things should be. And then when our expectations of how things should be clash with our reality, we become the source of our own suffering—frustrated, stressed out and disappointed with what we see.
Just so, we must find a healthy balance between the ambivalence of having no expectations at all and being so consumed with how we believe things should be that we spin out in dodgy assumptions. We must do our part to move things forward while leaving room for the magic and miracles of Life. And we must bring our awareness to the inescapable truth that our deepest held beliefs—for good or ill—will form the cornerstones of our expectations, which, in many ways, will influence not only what we see, but also the choices we make, which, in turn, will create our experiences.
"If it happens, it is possible."
~An unnamed law of the universe
Consider, for instance, our views of life and death and the extraordinary findings of survivors of near death experiences (NDEs), recounted by Depak Chopra in his book “Life After Death.”
“There are many specifics that change from person to person. Not all NDEs ‘go into the light.’ Some patients report traveling to various planets in space or to other worlds according to their religious beliefs. Some experience a judgment scene that can be quite harsh, or even hellish; it can also be full of satisfaction, however. . . The nature of the person plays a large part. A child can come back from heaven and report that it was full of baby animals at play, a cardiac patient can report sitting on God’s lap and being told by the Almighty that he must return to Earth, and [others] can see every detail of Tibetan theology. These images clearly depend on the culture they reflect. . . If different cultures see such different things after death, we must face the possibility that we create our own afterlife.”
Okay, S-T-O-P right here. What was your immediate reaction to what you just read? Did you think, “Oh that’s a bunch of crap!” Or did you relax into a thought you hadn’t considered before?  No matter your reaction, assuming the reports of the NDE survivors are true, think about the implications of this important research: What we experience in the afterlife—who and what awaits us, and where—will be a direct reflection of our beliefs, expectations and current level of awareness.
With these findings, we are given a brilliant opportunity to actively shape our experience of the afterlife by working with our thoughts and expectations right here and now. And, too, might this enable us to cut each other some slack for our different religious or theosophical perspectives? It’s certainly something to consider . . .
Consider, too, our general beliefs about the meaning of time. Our entire lives are structured around a one-way notion of time—it marches forward, never back. And everything in our physical world confirms this understanding.
From the moment of our birth, we age according to a system of days, weeks, months and years, marked on the physical body by wrinkles, tired old bones and mysterious ailments that come with the advancement of time. Insurance companies hope that time is on their side as they collect premiums from the young and healthy that will surely be paid out in healthcare for the sick and elderly. Our banking institutions and investment systems all borrow from time, hedging our bets and interest payments against a notion of time that only works with forward movement.
The criminal justice system, too, is completely based on a linear version of time, with the severity of the crime measured by time served, and the most heinous of offenders—in a properly functioning legal system—receiving the longest sentences.
We wake and sleep, we plan vacations into the future, we celebrate the arrival of each New Year and the passage of each birthday, anniversary and special occasion, and we commemorate it all by scratching off days on the calendar and capturing select moments on film. Its evidence—the ultimate proof—that our notion of time is right. Or is it?
But then what about premonitions? What about the scores of people who reported seeing the events of September 11th in dreams or visions, or those who simply had an uneasy feeling that something bad was going to happen that day so they changed their previously scheduled flights, BEFORE the planes flew into the Twin Towers? What of the numerous premonitory experiences reported every year to research centers around the world set up for the purpose of receiving and analyzing the visions of those who “see?” If we cling tightly to our treasured belief of time then, when faced with the notion of premonitions— the ability of one to see, intuit or sense the happening of an event before it actually happens —our beliefs are shattered into a million little pieces. Poof!

In his pioneering work, The Power of Premonitions, Larry Dossey, M.D. explains:
“If premonitions are valid, our commonsense beliefs about time—that it flows inexorably in one direction and that we’re locked into knowing only the past and the present—can’t be correct, because this view prohibits premonitions... Perhaps we might revision time by changing our perceptions. Time flowing one way, most physicists say, is a psychological illusion. Can we give up the illusion? Can we ‘change time’ by changing the way we think? The answer appears to be yes."
Can you change your thoughts about time?  Do you become one of the skeptics who scramble to debunk, discredit or explain away those who have “seen” ahead of linear time? Or is there room in your belief system for a bit of possibility and course correction?  After all, things are not always as they seem.
Expand this principle to every aspect of your belief system. Explore what lies beneath. Dig deep. Make sure that what you’re carrying is truly yours, and not some unexamined relic of the past or a fragment of popular opinion that you dare not question. With courage and truth, be willing to leave behind those thoughts, beliefs and expectations that no longer serve you. And then open the door for the wonders of life because...
Anything is possible!

By Melissa Johnson

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Season of Enchantment

Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack, a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.  That's how the light gets in.
~Leonard Cohen

The orderly wheeled the boy into the playroom on the 7th floor, just as he always did after dinner but before the nurse came to give him his medicine; this was his favorite time of the day.
“Well, hello there handsome. Come on in. I’ve been waiting for you . . .” She smiled, standing by the art table with her hands on her hips. “What’s new with you?”
He blushed, bright red. At 16, he was showing signs of his manhood—small patches of hair growing on either side of his chin—and his voice seemed to get a little deeper each time she saw him.
“Hello Miss V… Doc says I get to go home tomorrow, just in time for Christmas—“
“Oh Jack, that’s wonderful!” She clapped her hands in delight, and then suddenly frowned. “I’m sure gonna’ miss you when you’re gone . . .”
“Don’t be sad Miss V, you know I can’t stay away for long. . .” he said with a seriousness that broke her heart. Forty-two days, that’s how long he had been there this time—his sixth hospitalization this year—at first for a spinal fusion, and then for pneumonia like so many times before. But it was the cerebral palsy that kept him confined to his chair, unable to use his arms and legs.
She pulled a tissue from her pocket and dabbed at the drool forming in the corners of his mouth. “Hey, we’ve got some great new art projects tonight,” she said. “We can make a snowman . . . or a reindeer . . . oh, look . . . we could paint one of these ceramic angels or a Santa to hang on your tree . . . What do you feel like doing?”
“Ummm . . .” he contemplated his choices while scanning the room with his eyes. “Can we paint an angel for my mom? ‘Cause she’s an angel to me . . .”
“Of course we can, Jack . . . and then we can wrap it up and tie a ribbon around it, like this—” she said, holding up a cellophane bag with snowflakes on it, and a dark red ribbon for decoration.
“Yeah, let’s do that!” He smiled, eager to get started. Together they collected all of the supplies from the art cabinet that they would need to create his angelic vision—paint, brushes, a cup of water to rinse things off, a hand-towel and a bunch of newspapers to cover the table with. And as she prepared their workspace, she listened to him talking with the other children.
“Hi Lauren, how are you feeling today?” He asked, listening intently to her reply. And then to Kevin, “Did you beat your dad at foosball last night? I knew you would!” He laughed. And as Jenny’s mom prepared to wheel her back to her room for bed, Jack called after her, “That sure was a brave thing you did yesterday—donating your bone marrow like that. You’re a hero! Get some sleep tonight.”
Miss V felt a lump forming in the back of her throat as she fought back tears. She did that a lot lately, swell up with emotion and cry. It had been a tough year for her in so many ways, and she knew that her problems paled in comparison to the limitations of Jack’s life. Still, something about his tenderness and concern for the others hit her hard. She felt a little guilty for bemoaning her fate, and she swore to herself that she wouldn’t cry in front of the children. She just couldn’t. She was supposed to be there to help them—that’s what volunteers do—not melt into a puddle of tears in the middle of the playroom.
“Miss V—are you ready?” Jack interrupted her thoughts, now that he was settled in at the table.
“You betcha!” She smiled, blinking back her tears. “What color shall we paint with first?”
“Purple for the angel’s robe . . . and then maybe some blue,” he said, exercising his artistic freedom.
For the next half-hour they sat together, talking and laughing quietly, as she painted the ceramic angel and he directed her hand. Occasionally she would lift the angel into the air for his inspection, since he couldn’t move his head, and he didn’t hesitate to tell her when she had painted out of the lines or missed a spot.
“Sorry, sorry . . . I do that sometimes . . .” she said, laughing at his sudden bossiness.
“You have a beautiful smile, Miss V. You should smile all the time—“
Now it was her turn to blush. She had always been so good at looking after others, complimenting them, making them feel special, but his simple acknowledgement caught her off guard.
“Thank you, Jack. Nobody ever said a nicer thing—“
“Well I like you, Miss V. You talk to me like normal—when we’re sitting here like this—and I almost forget about my . . . condition. I swear it's the greatest gift ever!”
“You’re a good guy, Jack—wise beyond your years— and I like talking with you, too. . .” she said, clearing her throat as she blinked back more tears. “Speaking of gifts—what’s Santa going to bring you for Christmas this year?”
“Miss V,” he said, lowering his voice to a whisper so the littlest ones wouldn't hear. “Don’t you think I’m too old for Santa?”
“Well of course not, Jack!” She teased. “Santa’s all about granting wishes . . . Surely there’s something you want special this year?”
Jack got real quiet like he does when he’s thinking hard about something. Then after a time he said, “No, I don’t think so.”
“Nothing?” She asked, shaking her head in disbelief because she had never heard of a kid who didn’t want something for Christmas.
He sat quietly before he spoke. “Well, sure, there are things I want but I know I’ll never get them, so I just try not to think about it—what I don’t have.”
“What kind of things, Jack?”
“Like walking.  I would love to get up out of this chair and walk—run—as far and fast as I can. I would love to paint that angel myself. Every time I see my dog I want to throw the ball to him and rub his head—he really likes it when my brother does that. And I want to hug my mom because she always does such nice things for me. I want to shake my dad’s hand like a man . . . and play video games with my little brother.  I want to hold a book and turn the pages, one by one, as I read them. I want to go to the bathroom by myself without that guy having to help me—“ he whispered, rolling his eyes toward the orderly sitting in the corner chair. “And . . .”
“And what Jack?”
“I can’t tell you.” He whispered, a mischievous grin forming on his lips.
“Sure you can—“
“Promise you won’t laugh?”
“I promise,” she said, making a cross in the air above her heart.
“I want to kiss a girl—“ he whispered.
“That’s not funny at all, Jack. In fact, it’s one of the most natural desires in the world—“
“And I want to fall in love with her . . . and I want her to love me back.”
Overwhelmed with irony, she didn’t even try to hold back her tears for she understood his greatest loss—she felt it—the loss of freedom and choice. As for love, well, she wanted the same thing and she told him so. Sure, she had had some great boyfriends and some success in her life, but the one thing she wanted most of all—the one thing that money could not buy—was true love. She thought her heart might explode into a thousand little pieces with the longing he expressed. She knew it well. And she put down her paint brush and hugged him tight in his chair.
“We’re not so different, Jack—you and me—the heart wants what it wants.  But love is alive and well in both of us and we must never give up.”
“What do you mean, Miss V?”
“Well, you know how you talk with the other children and ask them how they’re doing—how they’re feeling?”
“. . . and the way that you smile and laugh even though there are things about your life that you might want to be different?”
“. . . and the way that you feel about your mom and dad and your little brother?”
“Well, that is love in its purest form. It’s a bright light, Jack, and it shines in you—”
“And it shines in you too, Miss V—like the way you help the children here at the hospital. . .”
“Exactly,” she said, and they smiled at each other. “We must never let our lights go out. We must never stop loving, even if others don't love us back.”
By then, the ceramic angel was finished—nearly dry—and she pulled some ribbon through the hole at the top so that he could hang it on the tree. She held it in the air for one final inspection. They agreed—it was good.
The orderly stood and moved toward the table. “We should probably get going Jack. It’s time for your meds.”
“Wait . . .” Miss V said, pointing to the bright light coming from the window across the room. “Before you go, let’s make a wish on the Christmas star . . . what do you say, Jack?”
His eyes danced with possibility.  “Do you think wishes really can come true, Miss V?”
“Yes, Jack, I do. Maybe not exactly as we wish them, or in the timeframe that we would like for them to come true . . . and I think sometimes we may get something that we didn’t wish for but that ends up being better for us in the long run . . . but, yes—I do believe that wishes can come true . . . especially when they come from your heart . . . especially at Christmastime. After all, it's the season of magic and miracles,” she winked, and she kissed him on the cheek before bending down to unlock the brakes on his wheelchair.
Then together they moved toward the light.

By Melissa Johnson
*This story was inspired by my little friends at Children's Hospital in Denver, Colorado.  To find out how you can make cash or in-kind donations of toys or art supplies, please visit their web site at http://www.thechildrenshospital.org/.   Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Camel in the Desert

'Tis is the season of enchantment.
Of magic . . . of miracles . . . of mystery.
Inhale deeply.
I remembered something—something I knew but temporarily forgot—and it came to me in a flash of “Aha!”
There I was, driving East on Highway 36, following a train of worrisome thoughts that bordered on obsessive, when a truck sped past me with a large camel tethered to its flat-bed. Of course the camel was stuffed, and dressed for what I imagined would be a fabulous holiday pageant, but there it was sort of looking at me from the corner of his eye as if to say, “I see you.”

Instantly, the mind-chatter stopped, crushed in a wave of knowing that it was all going to be okay. And then I laughed out loud—at myself, at the human condition, at the futility of worrying about things over which we have no control.

Consider the camel. This guy lives in the hot, sandy desert—the harshest of all climates. He can walk for miles and miles in the most extreme conditions; never complaining, but always serving others.
Every aspect of his anatomy has been designed to accommodate his unique purpose. In fact, nothing but the camel can move through the desert with such grace and ease—not horses or donkeys or zebras, not cars or bicycles—nothing, for they all get stuck in the sand. But the camel was built for the desert, with legs that glide and toes that spread outward to prevent him from sinking in the blazing hot terrain.
The composition of his eyes are such that when sandstorms arise, he can close his thick, translucent eyelids and still see his way through the blinding terrain. And his nostrils are these highly muscular slits that close at will to reduce irritation as he moves through the desert.
Speaking of movement—with legs strong enough to support 1,000 pounds of cargo, a fat-storing hump and a body built for water conservation, allowing him to go for days on-end without food or water, not to mention his uncanny ability to find the next water source in the middle of . . . nowhere—this animal has carried the wealth of nations on his back, helping to build trade routes and cities, creating abundance for his human companions in the dry, barren desert.
He is at all times what he is meant to be—a generous and beautiful gift from our Creator. And he doesn’t worry or strive or compete for resources because every detail of his life was considered and designed into being.
And so it is with humans. We, too, carry with us all that we need for our journey through life. But unlike the camel, we get trapped in our minds thinking we’re separate, trying to control it all and make it happen NOW; at times, feeling victimized by our circumstances.
That’s where understanding our true nature helps, for it reminds us that every living thing contains within it a bit of the Source from which it came. Call that Source what you like—God, Allah, Great Spirit, Creative Energy, the Big “C”—it matters not, because there is only One Source from which all of life flows, and it’s nothing if not creative.
Take a look around—we are in a constant state of creation and movement. Every day, our bodies kill off old cells and make new ones. We breathe. Our hearts beat. We make babies, creating new life from our own. We sleep and wake. We eat and drink and our bodies process it all—distributing nutrients where needed and eliminating the rest as waste—all through an intricate system of organs, tissues and cells that we have absolutely nothing to do with; not consciously, anyway. Yet it is evidence of the creative blue print from which we came.
We were made to create, to invent things, to solve problems, to structure meaningful lives and make choices about how we want to experience our environment.  And while we may not be born with every material advantage. . .or a perfect body. . .or an automatic solution to every problem—and for anyone who has ever pursued a goal or dream or wanted something really, really badly, we know that it isn’t as simple as wishing it so—we come equipped to function in the world and handle whatever comes our way. 
We awaken our greatest potential by remembering our creative nature, reconnecting with the all-creative-I-thought-of-everything-loving-life force—or Source—from which we came. We are made in this image, they say.
Life is a gift, not a right.  But what we choose to make of it and how we use it—even in the face of tragedy, adversity and disappointment—well, that is our right and I believe the ultimate act of creation here on Earth.
And so this was my holiday epiphany—a gift from a stuffed camel on the back of a truck—sent to remind me of this simple truth just when I needed it most. Now it is my gift to you. As we move through the holiday season and begin a brand new year, may you discover the wonders of creation within you and your amazing power of choice.
By Melissa Johnson

Thursday, November 26, 2009

With a Winged Heart

To melt and be like a running brook
that sings its melody to the night . . .
to know the pain of too much tenderness.
To be wounded by your own understanding of love;
and to breathe willingly and joyfully.
To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks
for another day of loving;
to rest at the noon hour and meditate love’s ecstasy;
to return home at even tide with gratitude;
and then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your heart
and a song of praise on your lips.
~Kahlil Gibran,
From The Profit

Prayer & Gratitude ~ Bali, Indonesia
I followed my law school sweetheart to Florida after graduation. By that time we had been dating for almost three years—studying together, competing for scholarships and grades, playing and having lots of fun. But the competition didn’t end when we received our diplomas; in fact, it escalated. What started as healthy competition, energizing our minds and supercharging our work, became a source of tension, conflict and hurt feelings when translated into jobs and compensation. And the gap between us just kept getting wider.
Within six months of moving to Florida, our relationship ended. Unfortunate, really, because he was the only friend I had in the area, new colleagues notwithstanding.
In the days, weeks and months that passed I grew more and more anxious about my decision to call it quits. Granted, I was working like a dog and flourishing in my career. At night I fell into bed, exhausted but generally satisfied with the direction of my life.
But weekends were another story. No meetings to attend. No busy phones ringing off the hook. No place that I had to be and not many friends to play with outside of work. That’s when I missed him most. That’s when I questioned my decision. And that’s when I would get lost in thoughts about why it had all happened this way. Why was I in this small coastal town, a thousand miles away from my family? Why had I been so inclined to follow him to Florida and, yet, here we were not even speaking? Was there something more for me here?
Years passed and, still, I got up every morning with a spring in my step excited for what the day would bring. When I could, I took the scenic route to work, driving along the Gulf Coast of Mexico, enlivened by its emerald green waters and sugar-white sand beaches. I threw myself into my work, loving every new project and idea, absorbing it all like a sponge. I opened myself to experience whatever came my way.
In my fifth year as a lawyer, I began to see a greater purpose for my being in Florida. Simultaneously, I was told of an upcoming offer of partnership with my law firm—“We’re all waiting for you,” the partners said—and I was offered a full time position as general counsel with one of my clients. On the one hand, I had the opportunity to be the first female partner in a firm of men. On the other, as general counsel for this young entrepreneur, I would be able to set my own hours, work from home, and enjoy a good measure of travel and freedom that I wouldn’t have in a law firm setting. As tough a decision as it was, I followed my heart and accepted the position as general counsel—a risk that came with opportunity that would later prove to be a bridge between two worlds.

Ceremony for Healing & Protection ~ Bali Indonesia

“Bless the bridge,” they say, and indeed I do.
When I reflect on the path that led me to where I am today, it’s easy to see the threads connecting one thing to another. I can look back with gratitude at the relationship I lost yet see everything I gained in the process.
I got to work with an amazing group of lawyers who really mentored me, teaching me how to be a good lawyer and business woman.
I lived on the magical Gulf Coast of Mexico--I always said that I wanted to live at the beach.
I met new friends, some of whom I count among my best friends today, and together we had lots of crazy-fun adventures.

I began my true spiritual studies after experiencing the darkest night of my lonely soul, which changed my perspective and set the course for everything I’m now doing in my life.
I explored geographically, connecting with my passion for travel and different cultures, which led me to San Francisco where I met some wonderful people who challenged me with new perspectives, inspiring me to get-out-of-the-box.
And I gained the wisdom and courage needed to make the greatest career leap of all—into my new life as a writer, photographer and entrepreneur. This is the essence of gratitude, giving thanks for all that is even when Life doesn't happen as you envisioned it. Trust me, I know it’s easier said than done.
The Gratitude Paradox:
“Giving thanks for all that is, as it is” is both truth and crap.
Because if you can’t see your way to anything positive
about your situation—
when you’re in the throes of tragedy and loss—
this statement is as good as an instruction to a deaf person
that she should listen to the music.
I'm not suggesting that we demonstrate appreciation for the painful or tragic things that hurt us--for having been the victim of a violent crime; for having lost our loved ones; for having been locked up for a crime we didn’t commit; or for having lost our entire life savings in a devastating financial disaster. When we’re in the middle of such things, I dare say gratitude comes easy. But one day, when we’re out of the fog and life moves on, I encourage the kind of gratitude that allows us to bless our journey and the strength and wisdom that we’ve gained from having endured such hardships. After all, we are who we are today because of what we made of yesterday.
In time, perhaps, we learn that we need not wait until the puzzle is finished to acknowledge its purposefulness and give thanks. For at its best, gratitude is a continual state of grace. It is to acknowledge with the whole heart the interconnectedness of all things—even while we’re going through it, even when we don't fully understand why—without crumbling in our feelings of separateness, aloneness or thoughts of having somehow been forgotten by the world. Gratitude is a thought form, a way of being; a choice.
Remember, every lover, friend, and experience is a precious gift, and every lesson learned brings wisdom to the heart of the recipient. Through it, we derive a greater sense of Self that we carry with us for the rest of our lives. Honor this wisdom as a blessing and give thanks so that it may serve you well.
Happy Thanksgiving friends!

By Melissa Johnson

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Awakening to Peace

Until the philosophy that holds one race superior
and another inferior,
is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned,
Everywhere is war…
Until the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance
than the color of his eyes—
Me say war…
That until that day the dream of lasting peace,
World citizenship…rule of international morality
Will remain but a fleeting illusion to be pursued,
but never attained—
Now everywhere is war…
~Bob Marley, War

United by One. (c) 2009.

When the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to President Obama, I was stunned by the uproar that ensued. People came out of the woodwork—Right and Left—criticizing the committee’s decision to give the award to a man “who has done nothing to deserve” the prestigious honor of Nobel laureate. Into the media fire went outrageous justifications and commentary. Some argued the Prize was already “damaged goods” because of its prior award to the likes of Yasser Arafat and Mikhail Gorbachev. Others rallied behind the many unsung heroes passed over for the Prize and suggested that President Obama decline the award. While others pulled the race card, alleging affirmative action as the basis for his recognition.
I think some people just like to complain. To these critics I say, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE FOR WORLD PEACE?

From its inception, the Nobel Prize was intended to honor those who have “done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.” True, there are many organizations and people out there fighting the good fight, striving for peace and social justice around the world--all deserving of recognition. But in this five-person committee’s unanimous opinion, President Obama’s diplomacy and willingness to engage crucial conversations between warring nations is a promise of peace and progress for us all.
For the first time in a long time people around the world are inspired by what America’s new leadership represents. In this, we’ve pinned our hopes, fears and expectations on one man. What an enormous burden to carry—one that demands attention every day. Yet rather than sitting on the sidelines, waiting for someone else to bring peace to our world, I suggest we do our part by looking within, for that is where true peace begins.
Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu once said, “If there is to be peace in the world, there must be peace in the nations… in the cities…between neighbors...in the home...and in the heart.” Even 25 centuries ago he recognized a level of personal responsibility that we all share in bringing about a peaceful world—one that requires individuals to tend the gardens of their hearts and minds. I believe Lao-tzu is right, for how can we expect to bring about universal peace and understanding in a world filled with so many different people, places, religions, philosophies and ideas about what’s right and wrong, when we can’t even get beyond our own personal biases and judgments towards each other, not to mention the harsh judgments we unleash at ourselves.
I’ve often wondered why it’s so hard to soften our hearts towards those different from us, or with whom we’ve experienced conflict. Universally, I think it boils down to the vulnerability it demands and the ego’s fearful need to be right. Yet as I watch the events of the world unfold – war, economic failings, environmental disasters, and horrific crimes against humanity that should have long been abolished – I can’t help but feel that we’ve got it all wrong.
I read this story once about a lady who called herself “Peace Pilgrim.” In 1952 she became the first woman to walk the entire length of the Appalachian Trail in one season. Shortly after that she began her walk for peace – vowing to “remain a wanderer until mankind has learned the way of peace…” For almost three decades she walked back and forth across the United States, with no money and only the clothes on her back, walking more than 25,000 miles before her death. She was fascinated that her needs were always met. “Aren’t people good…,” she would say.
She spoke to anyone who would listen about the big peace picture: Peace among nations, peace among groups, and the all important inner peace because she, like Lao-tzu, believed that was where world peace began. In the course of her pilgrimage she touched the lives of thousands of people with her message, and many of them inspired her as well.
I love the story she tells of a small, remote village she visited where she found a group of people with a unique way of dealing with conflict. When a person in the village violated the natural laws or had intense conflict with another, the villagers would gather in the town center, forming a circle around the offender, and one by one they would recount every good deed, kindness and contribution to the community made by that person. There was no punishment, finger pointing or harsh judgment, only kindness. And as a result, their community thrived without the need for jails or local police. Generally, they had very little conflict among them.
Doesn’t that sound nice—a peaceful world that works for everyone? We’ve got a long way to go, for sure; but what a beautiful state to aspire to. And it starts with you and me. Sure, there are those that can’t see the big picture, stuck in their evil, power, greed and oppression. We must not let their bad behavior serve as justification for our own. We must not look away because change feels difficult or hopeless. Those who can see the world with broader vision must. 
We owe it to ourselves to look up and out into the world and ask the important questions: How may I serve? Am I keeping my side of the street clean? What can I do to help rather than hinder progress and peace? For I believe that when we pull ourselves out of the quicksand of mindless living, petty judgment and self-righteousness—instead, focusing on what is good and just and doing all we can to promote compassion and peace—we, too, will inspire a better and brighter future not just for ourselves and our families but for all of humanity . . . the only “race” that matters.
And you, Mr. President--I urge you to honor your commitment to world peace and human understanding even in the bloodiest of regions; even in the face of adversity and criticism. For the road to peace will not be found through war.
By Melissa Johnson

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Live and Love With The Heart of A Lion

Defining myself,
as opposed to being defined by others,
is one of the most difficult challenges I face.
~Carol Moseley-Braun

I Am King © 2009 MJohnson.
I once bought some cheese at the market – a real stinky camembert that smelled dramatically similar to my running shoes – wrapped in white parchment paper with Coeur de Lion scrawled on its face in a delicate French hand. The smellier the cheese the better the quality, gourmets would say, but I was enticed by the label; drawn to the essence of the heart of the lion.
After leaving the market, I carried that label in my purse for a while as a gentle reminder of my own strength, contemplating from time-to-time what it means to live with the heart of a lion. Sure, the lion gives us images of power, courage, loyalty and strength; the energy of the Sun (think of the astrological sign of Leo, ruled by the Sun). Yet to watch these animals in action has given me greater insight into the truth of their leonine energy; great lessons in what it means to live with integrity.
Consider the mountain lion, for instance. Not long after moving to Colorado, I saw one of these magnificent creatures from my living room window, crouched low with his front paws on a rock, watching a rabbit from a distance; waiting patiently for the right opportunity to strike. The rabbit was making a feast of the wildflowers, minding her own business; but I saw the defining moment, when she knew that she was being watched. She stopped in place, still as a rock, and for a minute I lost her in the tall grass.

Hidden © 2009 MJohnson.
Then suddenly, as if on queue, the rabbit took off—hopping and running as fast as any rabbit I’ve ever seen—with the mountain lion not far behind. The rabbit sort of zig-zagged through the yard, heading toward the creek, as the mountain lion leapt over rock outcroppings, doing his best to keep the rabbit in focus. But when she dropped out of sight, hidden by the forest vegetation, the mountain lion pulled back, standing quiet and still by the embankment, looking and listening for signs of his dinner. Within moments the mountain lion turned, defeated, retreating to his rocky ledge somewhere out there. I kind of felt sorry for the guy, but he was big and strong, and I knew that he would find other food. As for the rabbit, well, I was glad she would live another day.
Though it happened in a flash, the scene stuck with me. I thought about the quiet strength of the mountain lion—the way he carries no doubt, no anxiety, no fear or remorse. There is simply what the mountain lion wants and desires and the focused strength to carry it out. He doesn’t linger in doubt and disharmony; he doesn’t stick around and wait for more of whatever isn’t working for him. Either he overpowers the rabbit or he leaves. It’s that simple. And in the flash of an eye he’s gone.

African Female Lion © 2009 MJohnson.
The African lion lives with a similar approach. I’ve been fascinated by these cats for years and, recently, I had the opportunity to observe some of them at the Wild Animal Sanctuary, just outside of Denver. Their size alone gives them the appearance of royalty, intimidating in their 10 to 13 foot length (tail included), the males posing with their thick, impressive manes; some of them weighing more than 500 pounds. And as I watched them I understood that they never fail to do what is in their nature to do.

Lavish Lounging © 2009 MJohnson.
When hunting in the wild, for instance, they bend to the inherent skills of the pride. Recognizing that females are the best hunters, they honor this feminine energy. In fact, females do most of the work, leading the hunt by lying in wait for their unsuspecting prey, led to them by the male’s powerful roar. As a community, they ban together to overtake their prey. They do not negotiate with terrorists.

© 2009 MJohnson.
As the second largest member of the cat family, these carnivores can go long distances, sometimes walking 20km a day, rising up to meet their challenges as predator cats; always in harmony with the truth of being a lion. They don’t question themselves or blame each other. They don’t go back to their den and beat each other up for not catching the zebra, gazelle or other tasty treat; doubting their prowess. And they don’t sit around feeling sorry for themselves because they’re hungry, expecting someone outside of their pride to deliver their food (unless in captivity, of course). They simply move on to the next potentially lucrative food source.

Frolicking © 2009 MJohnson.
Yet their natural state is love and, unless cornered, they tend to move away from conflict and danger. Playfully, they lounge around in the sun, R-O-A-R-I-N-G their greetings to each other, exuding intense passion, loyalty and, yes, sexuality through their very distinct male and female energies. To me, these lions are symbolic of humanity and great civilizations throughout time—the kings and queens and those who followed them.
Think about it: There’s not another being on this planet that could cause the lion to question himself. When he comes up against an obstacle, instinctively and without question, he knows what has to be done and he does it. She doesn’t sit on the fence of life, debating her next move ad nauseam; doubting her instinct or her right to “be.” He doesn’t allow himself to be threatened or victimized either. They are what they are meant to be, without question and with complete validity as lions. We could learn a few things from our cat friends.
As for me, I want to live and love with the heart of a lion—passionate; confident; loyal; protective of those I love and of those who can’t defend themselves; always giving to my community; independent, yet part of the pride; validating myself rather than waiting for others to give me permission to be who I am; exuberant like the Sun.
And you—how are you defined?
Photographs of African lions shot on location at the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keensburg, Colorado, a 501(c)(3) non-profit exotic animal rescue and conservation center. To learn more, visit their website at http://www.wildanimalsanctuary.org/.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Face of Love

No one will put me in a cage, if so,
 I never will sing again...
Love without Freedom, isn’t love...
~Jose Araujo, Brazilian Writer
He grew quiet when I told him I was leaving the city. “Peaks and valleys inspire me,” I explained, contemplating life at 9,000 feet.
“I need to B-R-E-A-T-H-E . . .”
It would be a big change, for sure—mountain living—solitary; snowy; cold; with hardships I had yet to consider. I would leave behind a city that engaged me; people I loved. But in my soul lay waiting the masterpiece of my life, wanting expression. It was time for me to fly.
He helped me pack my things and move cross-country. And though he wanted me to stay, he never questioned my decision to leave; he didn’t push his own agenda. Instead, he looked for ways to help, filling the time with laughter and light while celebrating my choice; delighting in my new adventure all the way to the top.
And, here, on this mountain, with nature as my muse, I found my breathing space . . . where dreams fuel my creativity . . . and ideas manifest in a stream of consciousness . . . stretching my creative muscles beyond the imaginable. For it has been said that “it is only alone, truly alone that one bursts apart, springs forth.”
Here, I’ve learned grace under pressure as I tend the garden of my mind. I’ve learned that passion—great passion—gives us the strength to endure as we move forward on our path. And that just one moment can change everything—for good or ill. So I nourish myself with great people, places, things and ideas; I safeguard the energy of my life. And when my heart whispers its greatest desires, I’ve learned to listen . . . and watch . . . as the universe conspires to guide me. Even when I can’t see the road ahead, I dig deep to find the courage to face the truth; knowing that when I believe in myself, anything is possible.
He calls me every now and then, laughing through the phone. If I don’t answer, he worries that I’ve been eaten by a bear. “Sweetie-darling,” he teases in his charming, genteel way, “You are a woman and a half, living on that mountain with the lions and the bears.” Those moments of connection inspire me, when our spirits come together and move apart, in and out, again and again in continuous movement, like breath itself.
And though our lives are very different now—he, me, we—I’ve learned that when held loosely, love never dies; it simply changes form. “Every beginning, after all, is nothing but a sequel, and the book of events is always open in the middle” (~W. Szymborska)
I’ve only just begun to understand what I’m made of, but this much I know is true: Freedom is the face of love.
By Melissa Johnson

Friday, August 7, 2009

Seeds of Doubt

“Men are not prisoners of fate,
but only prisoners of their own mind.”
~Franklin D. Roosevelt
Proud Hummer © 2008 M. Johnson
Rumor has it I have the best sugar water in the Canyon. A little birdie told me so. That must be why Bad, Bad Red-Rufous Brown hoards that sweet stuff by chasing off—or dive bombing—other hummers as they refuel at the feeders. He’s a real bully.
I’ve already talked to him twice about his boorish behavior. The first time, I stood on the front porch, next to his favorite tree, and said, “Listen here, friend: I provide you with that delicious sugar water, and there’s plenty to go around. You don’t have to fight so hard for what you want. Have a little faith, dude. But if you keep this up, I promise you’re going to end up all alone without a friend in the world . . . What then?”
Lady Hummer © 2009 M. Johnson
Still, he continued to alienate himself—meaner than a junkyard dog—as he greedily guarded the feeders. Meanwhile, the other hummers organized themselves into factions and came back fighting, retaliating with games of intrigue and clever diversionary tactics, like chasing Mr. Rufous this way and that, steering him away from the feeders in small groups, while the other hummers drank in hurried shifts; trading off, two-by-two, until everyone had their fill.
Mr. Red-Rufous Brown © 2009 M. Johnson
But the next day he was back, more determined than ever, and he single-handedly chased the others away. That’s when I saw him, sitting all alone on the branch of an Aspen tree, rain pouring down on his little bird head; not a friend in sight. He looked so sad and pathetic; I couldn’t help but feel compassion for his greedy plight. I didn’t have to say a word. I just looked at him with a weary I-told-you-so sort of look that he seemed to understand.
I know, I know. Anthropomorphism is a funny thing—the way we project our human motivations onto our animal and winged friends. But I can’t help myself when I watch them in action. I’m fascinated by the patterns displayed in all of life.
After all, we aren’t so different from Mr. Rufous, are we? Consider the way that we, at times, grasp and hoard and jealously guard what’s “ours;” clinging to our treasures; afraid to share for fear that if we give it away (whatever “it” is—money, possessions, ideas) we might find ourselves without.
I’ve done it from time-to-time—operating from this fearful place—worried that I won’t get my fair share; doubting my ability to connect with my heart’s desires. At times, I’ve found myself holding back or, worse yet, questioning my voice: What could I possibly have to say that others want to hear? It doesn’t happen often but, when it does, I’m amazed at how quickly fear grows in a vulnerable heart.
Take my path as a writer, for instance. Having achieved a measure of success as a lawyer, I find myself floundering in foreign territory when it comes to writing and publishing and all that it entails. I log onto my Twitter account to discover a whole world of people sharing similar messages—many aspiring or published writers—all wanting to be heard and recognized for their uniqueness; some with elaborate websites and platforms and thousands of dedicated followers. I feel sick as I compare myself to them all, wondering if there’s room for me. Or I walk into a bookstore and find myself anxious among the hundreds of thousands of books stacked on tables and spilling from over-stuffed bookshelves, all vying for the readers’ attention, and I am overwhelmed by the realization that I couldn’t possibly read them all, much less compete with them. Or could I?  I’m exhausted just thinking about it.
On such occasions, if I’m not careful, I can get myself so twisted up in doubt that I disconnect from that creative spark that led me to write in the first place. That’s when the fear kicks in and, suddenly, I feel the need to mark my territory; to defend my metaphorical sugar water, like Mr. Rufous Brown.
And it was on such an occasion that my friend told me the story of the Seed Planter, an old Moroccan tale passed down from his grandmother many years ago and translated here in my own words.
“Beware of the Seed Planter,” she said. “He will come to you when you’re worried or scared and whisper terrible things in your ear. He’ll tell you that you are not enough; that you’re not good enough; that you’ll never have—or be—enough. Do not listen to him! He will make you doubt everything you know in your heart to be true. Then you will need more, want more; you will never be happy with who you are and the gifts of your Creator. Like seeds planted deep in your soul, this kind of fear grows wild, poisoning your thoughts and stealing your happiness.”
No doubt, the Seed Planter had been whispering in my ear, and I knew he would come again. It’s the way of the human—we get stuck in our heads, dwelling in thoughts of lack and limitation. I don’t like how that feels. I want to thrive!
When I reflect on my life, I see that faith, hope and courage have long been arrows in my quiver, protecting me from doubt even when I couldn’t see the road ahead. Learning to be gentle with myself—an ongoing discipline—has helped me to look upon humanity with compassion, where I connect with the common thread—that all of us, in our deepest parts, just want to be loved and understood. This understanding allows our self-respect and faith in the process of life to deepen and grow; secret weapons in our battle with doubt.  Remember, our greatest, most heart-felt desires are there by design, and, like stars in the night sky, are there to guide us. We must never give up.
Take a look around. All of nature is abundant—the earth, flowers, trees, animals, the sun, moon and stars— always creating, ever-expanding, and life-enhancing. We are not forgotten.
What kind of seeds are you planting?
By Melissa Johnson

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Out of the Chrysalis

Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over,
it became a butterfly.
Photo: Out of the Chrysalis; © 2008 by MJohnson.
I moved to Colorado hot on a trail of golden synchronicities. It defied all logic, really—this new path—and it didn’t sit well with my left-brained world. Still, I couldn’t ignore the signs. They were everywhere.
Having felt the first seismic tremors shaking the foundations of my life, I was looking for answers: What did it all mean? Where was I going? Would I be okay? Everything felt upside down. I felt the need for big change; but what? A lifelong passion for writing and helping others burned hot in my soul, but how could I parlay my law degree into a life of creativity outside-of-the-box? I was hearing a call of purpose, faint, at first, then louder; but I was afraid to listen because any change would create a domino effect in my life—geographically, financially, and emotionally. What if I got it all wrong?
Curiously, I found myself searching the Internet for mountain homes. Peaks and valleys have always inspired me. That’s when I saw it—an ad on Craig’s List for a beautiful mountain home in Golden, Colorado. It simply said: YOU WILL FALL IN LOVE . . . and I could see from the photos that I would. I could just see myself writing my first book in one of those sunny rooms. It was in my price range, too. But where the heck is Golden, Colorado? I wondered. Overwhelmed, I put it aside.
The next day, during a random conversation with a practical stranger, this man said to me, “Your opportunity for 2006 is GOLDEN.” What? Then later that afternoon I went online to order my first set of artists’ paints, and when I clicked on the link for “acrylics,” a huge tube of paint filled the screen, bearing the brand name GOLDEN. My whole body straightened with awareness. The next day, as I sat patiently in my window seat, waiting for our plane’s departure to NYC, I saw a very large truck parked exactly beside of my window with the words “GOLDEN TRANSPORTATION” painted on its side. Later, when I checked my e-mail, I found that I was now, mysteriously, a subscriber to an e-newsletter for writers and artists called the “GOLDEN THREAD.” And by week’s end, I arrived home to find a package from my grandmother in the post, containing a piece of her antique china with the words “GOLDEN HEIRLOOM” painted on the bottom. On and on it went for more than a month—golden synchronicities at every turn—meaningful only to me; until, finally, I got it. “Okay, okay—I hear you,” I said. The next day, I called the realtor. And a month later, I flew to Colorado to look at property.
I didn’t buy the house in Golden. It was a lovely home; really, it just felt all wrong for me. But I did find the most amazing place just beyond the town limits of Nederland. I stepped into the mud room and, immediately, I knew why I had been drawn to the area—this land as my creative muse. And I was right. Within a few months I moved to Colorado and began the process of reorganizing my life—starting all over again—in spite of my fear of the unknown; in spite of the inconvenience of change.
The past three years have been challenging, no doubt—fears naturally arise during intense periods of growth and change—but I have been excited and inspired in ways that I never knew possible, expanding my world again and again: writing, photographing wildlife, painting, volunteering, creating, connecting with myself, nature and the spirit world. Inspiration is a wonderful instrument of change. Through it, the mind expands in every direction, breaking all self-imposed boundaries and limitations, and brings with it the sweet taste of freedom.
My friend Karen calls my house a chrysalis. I can’t think of a better metaphor.
Consider the life of a butterfly. From an egg that’s the size of the head of a pin hatches this furry little caterpillar. When the time is right, without any promises of safety or guarantees of survival, she follows the call of her DNA and moves into the darkness of her self-made chrysalis. Then her real drama begins, as her tissues completely break down and reorganize multiple times, moving between different consistencies of goo, before finally restructuring into a beautiful butterfly. Assuming she survives this phase, which can take as long as several months, she will break through her chrysalis to freedom. Still, she must find a place to dry her wings in the sun because they’re paper thin and wet from being wrapped so tight in the cocoon. But there’s good news: Studies show that the more a butterfly struggles when emerging from the chrysalis, the longer its life span. And when you consider that the average life of an adult butterfly is two weeks, every second counts.
Transformation is serious business! It has been said that the vast majority of what we are is impossible to see or touch, and that our willingness to transform—to move beyond our form into something greater—is the key to living our best life. When things aren’t working and we’ve outgrown our skin, or a greater purpose reveals itself, we hear the mysterious call to step into the unknown—to trade all that we are for what we might become. That can be painful and scary but incredibly rewarding.
Like the caterpillar, I have followed the calling of my heart into worlds unknown. And, more often than not, I have found a trail of sparkling synchronicities pointing me this way and that, supporting my thoughts and actions, like road signs on a long journey.
Today, as I look out from my mountain perch, I see that each choice, each move, each soulful longing and new pursuit brought me one step closer to the freedom that I cherish. Now, having grown into new levels of myself, once again, I hear the call . . .
As I emerge from the chrysalis.
By Melissa Johnson

Saturday, May 30, 2009


Animals are great teachers, it is true; especially for those willing to open their hearts and minds to the greater lessons on how to live and thrive in our two-legged world.
Look deeper than an animal’s biology and connect with its essence—those very qualities, habits and patterns from which we may draw strength and wisdom. The Native American people call this “animal medicine,” as they have long understood the healing power of the animal kingdom.
Photo: Summer Bear by Melissa Johnson; © 2008.
Take the bear, for instance. Consider its most well known habit—going deep within the cave to hibernate for the winter until it emerges anew come spring. True, each animal has many lessons to share, but it’s easy to see how our Native Ancestors view the power of introspection to be the bear’s great metaphorical teaching. By introspection they mean one’s willingness and ability to go within and engage the process of self-examination and reflection.
Call me crazy, but I’m driven to explore and understand the deeper, often unconscious, motivations behind my own actions; a real nightmare for those who would rather not deal with the messiness of why they do what they do. But try as I might to shut it all out, part of me naturally connects with the energy of the bear as I ponder: What’s triggering this emotional response? Why did I behave that way when . . .? Is there a connection between the thoughts I entertain and the day-to-day experience of my life? What am I holding on to that’s blocking my ability to move forward?
For me, the power of introspection has brought about healing on many levels—mind, body and spirit—so much so, in fact, that being a “bear in the cave” has become my personal metaphor for solitary reflection . . . when I have an important decision to make, when I need to work through a troubling issue or want solitude from the stressed-out world around me. “In the cave” I am free to connect with my creative side and establish clear boundaries when I feel pressured by the expectations and demands of others. Sometimes this involves focused meditation; other times, it is my way of spending time alone, which allows me to turn down the volume and connect with my intuitive self—that still, small voice within that knows what’s best for my life.
Experience has taught me well: When we don’t acknowledge our “stuff” it will always find a way to express itself, like water escaping through the cracks in a wall intended to hold it back; it could get ugly. And somehow, by ignoring what needs attention, eventually we find ourselves living out the same situations and dramas, over and over again—with a different cast of characters and slightly different story lines, perhaps—which aggravate our feelings of separateness rather than help us connect to the whole.
It’s sad but true—until we become aware of our patterns and learn what’s motivating our choices, we don’t stand a chance of understanding our Self or others and this can bring about great suffering. Sometimes we can’t do this on our own and we need the help of licensed professionals to work through traumas and issues of the past. But for others, going within to access our highest wisdom is a great place to start, and a wonderful habit to adopt from our bear friends.
So maybe we go in the cave once a week, or six times a year, rather than spending the entire winter in solitude; whatever works. But there, in the light of understanding, we can release the energy of hurt feelings, resentments, anger or whatever may be holding us back, and clear the space for new life to enter.
To be like the bear requires patience and trust. We must feel safe to enter the cave and know that we will emerge in the proverbial spring. And while there, we must learn to connect with our intuitive mind and the energy of our Creator, for this is where answers live and the solutions to our most pressing dilemmas can be found.
Bear medicine, indeed. . .
Legal Disclaimer: Remember, true intuitive messages are loving directives that offer insight and guidance for our highest good. Terrifying, debilitating thoughts or those that encourage you to do things that you know are inappropriate either come from manufactured fear or psychosis. If the latter please run, not walk, to your nearest psychotherapist’s office and do not enter the cave alone again.
By Melissa Johnson
This article first appeared in Colorado's Highlander Magazine (May 2009). Reprinted with full author copyrights and editorial permission.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Two Sides of the Same Story

Even the Rose,
and full of blooms
requires just enough manure
to flourish.

Grounded, by TR Hughes [1]

My friend Tammie wrote this poem, and its dirty truth made me laugh—reminding me, once again, of the duality that exists in all of life.
For instance, consider this botanical curiosity: Water Hemlock (sp., Cicuta) is considered to be the most deadly plant in North America. Yet its physical appearance shows delicate beauty.
Toxic Beauty (Water Hemlock) (c) 2008 by Melissa Johnson.
But woe is she who mistakes the clusters of white tuberous roots for that of parsnips or dill, both edible plants; a fatal error indeed. For when swallowed, water hemlock’s poison is so strong that it results in almost instant, violent and painful convulsions. Even handling the plant can leave high levels of toxins on the skin that—when inadvertently ingested by hand to mouth contact—will cause explosive vomiting, or worse. In fact, so toxic is this plant that, throughout history, it has been used as an intentional poison: Think Socrates’ execution in Greece by the deadly poison hemlock.[2]
And ponder this zoological wonder: Humans do not hold the title on laughter and joy. Chimpanzees, gorillas and orang-utans, our closest furry relatives, make laughing sounds when tickled, and they regularly play with each other, a discovery first reported by Charles Darwin in 1872. So while we humans are keen to distinguish ourselves from our animal friends, research shows that the determining factor for these seemingly cognitive functions is the size of certain regions of the brain—in particular, the amygdala—not the simple classification of animal or human.[3] After all, aren’t we and our monkey friends polar opposites on the same continuum of life?
Duality [doo-al-i-tee] The quality of being twofold; dichotomy.[4]
It’s not just the world of flora and fauna that breeds duality. We, as humans, are riddled with it. From the moment of our birth, the nature of our human experience is twofold—we are at once invisible spirit and a physical body. And while it has been said that we’re all created equal, our lives and experiences are so incredibly different, even in our similarities.
We experience our thoughts, emotions and actions in extremes: Love and hate, strength and weakness, hope and despair, ambition and laziness, happiness and sadness, kindness and cruelty; one moment we’re riding high on a wave of joy and inspiration and the next, feeling low of energy and lacking the will to get-up-and-go. The same is true of our experience of others.
There is a tendency, I think, to view people and situations as being this way or that; black or white; either / or, but not both. Yet the world is filled with dichotomies. How often have we met someone and, having seen certain positive qualities within them, we automatically ascribe to their character other positive qualities and exclude other more negative traits, only later to be disappointed when those negative traits emerge? Likewise, how often have we surprised ourselves with extremes of thought, behavior or desires, all coming from within?
The spiritual principle of non-duality suggests that these extremes are simply different expressions of the same energy. Picture it this way: A long string is stretched tight before you. On one end is your spiritual essence; on the other, your physical body. Though separated by string, they are opposing expressions of the same continuous thread of life, connected and inseparable as a whole. Ultimately, we wouldn't have an inner world without the opposing dynamic of an outer world. We can't have a front without a back; or a left without a right (unless, of course, we're dealing in one dimensional realities, like a cartoonist).
I think the challenge is in learning how to soften our hard lines--balance our extremes--and bring together opposing thoughts, emotions, and actions into perfect synergy to create a beautiful new life energy, rich in depth and meaning.
In this way, for instance, we view the water hemlock as a toxic beauty, equally fascinating in its ability to enliven our senses and destroy our life; we relax our minds enough to see that it's not a case of either / or; it is both.
And, like the rose, we learn to view the manure in our life as a smelly, messy, yet beneficial catalyst for our growth.
By Melissa Johnson
Notes and Resources:
[1] Riddles, Rhymes & Stop Signs, by TR Hughes. To purchase a copy of Tammie’s debut collection of poetry, please click here: Riddles, Rhymes, and Stop Signs by TR Hughes
[3] Fish That Fake Orgasms and Other Zoological Curiosities, by Matt Walker.
[4] American Heritage Dictionary.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Who's that Lady?

Every now and then beautiful angels appear cleverly disguised as ordinary human beings.
~ Adele Basheer

They say that guardian angels walk among us--always with us--guiding our thoughts, actions, what we see and hear; showing up at just the right time with just the message we need to hear.
One of mine appeared to me as a Gina Rowlands look-alike.
I was driving cross-country, headed west, when, somewhere outside of Memphis, traveling North on I-65, I found myself in a massive traffic situation. I strained to find the I-40 freeway exchange that would take me towards Colorado. There was so much traffic, and not one sign pointed to I-40. In fact, I saw nothing even remotely similar to the directions I carried.
Now I've driven in some crazy places. Generally speaking, traffic doesn't scare me. But this was different. Cars were flying past me, left and right, cutting sharply from lane to lane as they all tried to be in the right place at the right time to make their freeway exit. It felt like this road led everywhere and nowhere all at once. The thought of missing my west-bound exchange and trying to navigate my way from the other direction unnerved me. So I made a split-second decision and took the next exit. I had no idea where I was, but I knew that stopping sooner than later would allow me to look at my road atlas, get my bearings and perhaps avoid a traffic disaster.
As I neared the end of the exit ramp I saw nothing--I'm talking ghost town as far as the eye could see--except for an old, abandoned gas station, its windows covered with boards and unruly weeds and grass growing between the cracks in the asphalt. It was sketchy, for sure, but broad daylight, and I thought it would be okay to stop there for a few minutes and get myself sorted out.
Sitting in my little sports car--motor running, windows up, doors locked--I spread my atlas across the passenger seat, looking between my written directions and the small detail of the map. Just then, a car pulled up--a dark blue tank of a Cadillac--driven by a woman with white-blonde hair, pulled back in a large bow. I noticed that she had a handicap decal hanging from her rear-view mirror as she circled my car, finally stopping on the passenger side with a gesture suggesting I roll down my window.
"Honey, you need to get outta here right now," she said in her thick southern drawl.
Her excitement caught me off guard.
"Where are you headed?" She asked.
"I'm looking for the I-40 exchange, headed west," I yelled through the open window.
"Well, honey, you need to follow me; I'll take you right to it. But you need to go now. You need to leave right now," she repeated calmly through her smile. "I'll drive you to your exit and then I'll pull over and point where you need to go, it'll be an awkward left turn but I'll let you know when we're getting close."
"Okay," I said, feeling slightly nervous but grateful for her help. Who is this woman and what is she doing in the middle of nowhere? I wondered. "Wait, what's your name? I want to thank you for helping me."
"Just call me your guardian angel,” she said with a wink and a smile, tipping her head. “No thanks necessary. Come on now, let's get moving . . ."
She pulled out of the parking lot, driving slowly at first, and we meandered some 3 miles down these winding, nowhere roads--a few turns here and there—then, true to her word, as we neared the exit, she pulled off on the right-hand shoulder of the road and stuck her arm out of the window, waving wildly and pointing left, motioning for me to exit. And off I went.
For the next two hours I drove in complete silence--no music, no cell phone chit-chat, no distractions--just me and my awe-filled thoughts of wonder about this guardian angel. And though I had no way of knowing what could have happened—what would have happened—had she not appeared, had I lingered in that parking lot one minute longer or entered the freeway one second later, in my heart, I knew that she had saved me from misfortune.
As we move through life, I think it’s important that we keep our eyes, ears and hearts open—all of our senses, really—to the messages around us, even those that come in unlikely forms. You never know when someone you encounter may be an earth-angel, there to help you, protect you, teach you or bring you into higher levels of yourself.
No matter the form, experience has taught me well. Angels, indeed, walk among us . . . or drive, as the case may be.
By Melissa Johnson
This article is dedicated to my beloved Grandfather, Karl Mason. April 9, 1919 -- July 17, 2008. In your new spirit form may you be a guiding light for others, just as you were here on earth. Happy Birthday.