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