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Showing posts with label spiritual courage. Show all posts
Showing posts with label spiritual courage. Show all posts

Sunday, October 21, 2012

My Year of Living Fearlessly!

When we know who we are, we can overcome our fears and insecurities. We surpass our smaller selves who suffer the slings and arrows of our conditioned reality, and we move to the unconditional truth of our larger selves. The answers to the questions of what to do, what to say, whom to let in, and whom to keep out become a clear and simple matter of listening to our hearts. That inner voice helps us align with our purpose, because each of us has a purpose, even if we judge it to be insignificant the voice is there. We just need to listen to it. When we do that, we live in fearlessness.” – Arianna Huffington, excerpted from On Becoming Fearless in Love, Work, and Life

Since my last blog post, I’ve been busy crossing things of my list of “Fears to Conquer and Dreams to Live,” as part of my intention to live fearlessly in 2012!

At the beginning of this year, I wrote about my decision not to make a list of New Year’s resolutions in my post What Would You Do if You Weren't Afraid? Instead, I decided to embrace the idea that by striving to live fearlessly, an even more authentic and courageous self may emerge. The thing about fear is that it limits full self-expression while keeping us fearfully, anxiously captive. Perfectionism, the underlying culprit behind many New Year’s resolutions, is fear’s evil twin (I’ve written about it in Making Failure Okay). Therefore, I also made a commitment to embrace the belief  “I’m already enough.”

We seek to help our kids to conquer their fears every day, and the best place to start is with ourselves!

The first thing I did after writing my New Year’s post was to make a list of my fears. I was pleasantly surprised to find that none of the classic phobias were on the list. I’m not afraid of spiders, snakes, heights, public speaking, or flying. Of course, when I see a snake on the side of the road on one of my long distance runs, I still jump. That type of fear is biologically-based, instinctual, and the kind of self-protective response we need for survival. Pure fear, instead of anxious “fright,” can be a powerful protector and teacher. In 2012, however, I wanted to coax the monsters from out under my bed, rid old skeletons in my closet. Simply riding more roller coasters wasn’t going to do the trick.

So, here’s where things got interesting. Once I was willing to commit to living fearlessly, I found that every single fear I may have avoided, stuffed, or otherwise denied, when given permission to be expressed, written down on paper, or otherwise invited to show its ugly face, did just that! Around about January 15th, it looked like Halloween in my own head!  Therefore, as I became willing to face my fears, it became very important to identify specific goals and steps to take to conquer those fears. The fastest anxiety-busting technique I know is to take ACTION! As the old adage reminds us: “The only way out is through.” No matter how small the steps you take through fear, it just matters that you keep taking those steps. For every fear on my list, I came up with a fear-busting goal.

Here's a sample of some of the fears from my January 1st, 2012 list:

"I'm afraid of becoming blind." So, I promptly booked an appointment with an optometrist who reassured me I had neither a fatal brain tumor nor impending blindness. Instead, she prescribed a cheap pair of readers and told me “You have excellent vision, but you're in your forties.  The good news is that your forties aren't fatal! Your eye strain isn’t a tumor, you just need readers.” Phew!  One fear down, nine to go!

"I'm afraid of not having friends and family for support during tough times." So, I started reaching out to old and new friends and hosting more social gatherings, whether my house is clean or not, and repaired my heart and upped my happiness a little more in the process.  I booked flights for myself and my family home to Canada for a much-needed family and friends fill-up after a two year absence. I’ve reconnected with old friends and estranged family members. I’ve learned to sit in the discomfort of misunderstandings and past hurts without needing to be right, but instead seeking to forgive and cultivate peace.

A few of the fears on my list involved overcoming previous experiences that had evoked survival responses of fear, like my fear of snorkeling after getting caught off a coral reef a few years ago in the Caribbean (read about that by clicking here). But most of my fears were more existential in nature. Fears that, upon reflection, I realized were holding me back in my relationships and career. Those fears were the ones rooted deep in childhood experiences that required some careful uprooting. Previous hurts in relationships still haunted me in the form of a fear of making mistakes, being unlovable, or being judged. The imposter syndrome was on the list. And like many others, the bag lady fear also made my list—minus the house full of cats.

Looking at my list of fears, it struck me that I had inherited most of my fears from my parents and that, almost by osmosis, I had absorbed many from our culture primarily through fear-based media messaging. Fears like: losing everything and becoming homeless, being a bad parent, and getting sick and old.

Many of my underlying fears I know I share with others. As a therapist I have the unique opportunity and privilege to listen as children, adolescents, and adults in my office peel back the layers to reveal the underlying fears that keep them unhappy and afraid in life. Our materialist society capitalizes on these very fears to sell stuff. “If you buy this cream, you’ll look young and stay lovable.” “If you buy this insurance, you won’t get sick, grow old, and die alone.” But life is unpredictable. Until we learn to live more fully in the present and take action, instead of worrying needlessly about future “what if’s,” we leave ourselves vulnerable to fear’s tight grip. It’s not as if anti-aging face creams, insurance policies, and saving for a rainy day are bad ideas. But I’ve found that when fear motivates my decisions, my goals are less aligned with being authentic and courageous and more about avoiding some kind of possible pain.

After writing down my fears, my next step was to use the surest, quickest way I’ve found to release oneself from fear: author Byron Katie’s Four Questions method. Her method helps folks to reveal how irrational most fears are and to discover what it might be like to live life without fearful thought.

Here are her Four Questions:
1. Is it true?
2. Can you absolutely know that it's true?
3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
4. Who would you be without the thought?
Source: www.thework.com

The four questions have helped me to discover that most all fears are irrational. I also found that once I identified key fears to conquer, more than enough opportunities presented themselves to help me overcome them! Don't say I didn't warn you! My responses to question 4 also helped me generate my list of dreams to live this year.

For example, if I wasn’t afraid of being lost in New York City (which resulted in a mild panic attack a few years ago on Ellis Island), then I would sign up for the 2012 ING NYC marathon and run through all the city’s boroughs. So, I promptly signed myself up.  On November 4th I will be completing my first marathon in fifteen years. It turns out that at age 45 I do have to stretch more, and my first few long runs were painful.  But otherwise the optometrist is right, our forties aren't fatal!

"I’m afraid of asking others for help" was also on my list of fears to conquer.  Plenty of opportunities there when I put my ego aside and open myself up to others' help and what they have to teach me!  I'm now fundraising and asking friends and family for money for the Alzheimer’s Association on behalf of my mother and uncle who have been recently been diagnosed with this devastating disease. Instead of running from my genetic heritage, I’m running towards a cure before anyone else in my family is afflicted! Here’s my fundraising page, in case any of you are interested and/or would like more information on behalf of your own family.

Thus far in 2012, I’ve flown in an open helicopter with my daughter (who was afraid of flying, as some of you may remember from reading Fear of Flying: Change Your Thinking, Change Your Feeling). I got back into the ocean and snorkeled in Cuba. I’ve completed five months of marathon training and two half-marathons in preparation for November 4th. I’ve made sure to focus more on all the good in others, instead of looking for something to judge—thus, effectively curtailing my own fear of others judging me!

I catch myself when I’m worrying and remind myself what I’ve taught my own children since they were little: “A change in your thoughts, leads directly to a change in your feelings.” So, I pick a different thought. A kinder thought that evokes faith and peace, instead of worry.

I completed Kathy Freston’s Quantum Wellness 21-day cleanse as a way to kick start healthier habits, get in better shape for the marathon, and genuinely feel more at ease in the present moment.

I listen more—especially to my kids who’ve felt free to give me feedback on what it is like to have a therapist for a mom who looks too often for problems to solve and advice to give! Once they hit adolescence, I started asking if they wanted to hear my thoughts. Surprisingly, more often than not, they do still want to hear what I have to say especially now that they have a choice.

I’ve made sure to do at least one thing that makes me happy every day. Subsequently, I've cultivated a much more grateful heart.

And after completing all my mental health therapist licensure requirements after moving five years ago from Canada to the U.S., I'm finally listening to that wise inner voice Arianna Huffington's quote refers to and gave notice at my job a few weeks ago.  I will be devoting much more time in 2013 to pursuing a higher purpose and integrity in my professional life, which includes making Lion’s Whiskers into a book.

As I conquer the last few fears on my list, I notice that I’m trusting myself, others, and the Universe a lot more. I’m back to laughing a lot more, stressing less, and generally being a much more relaxed parent.  Fear is no longer a foe, but more a scaredy-cat I'm making friends with—cause let's face it, everyone could use a little more friendship in their lives!

My daughter crossing the finish line with me at my recent half-marathon!

The truth of the matter is that these past ten months I've been most inspired by my own children and those I work with therapeutically to learn what it is to live life fearlessly. I wholeheartedly believe kids have a lot to teach us about courage. It's in everything they do!

I also know that as parents we could be much more aware of how we project our fears onto our children. By trusting our children—instead of letting worry get in our own way and theirs—we intentionally uproot fear's tenacious roots before they grow too deep, thus encouraging our children to develop trust in themselves. But more on that topic in upcoming posts!

Feel free to enjoy the follow-up chapter to this particular story by clicking here: Running Plan B

Care to share a fear of yours and what action you might take to conquer it!?

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Death of Edith Cavell

A number of years ago I encountered the story of Edith Cavell for the first time and was strongly tempted to write a book about her.  The book plan got sidelined, but the story has stayed with me.  Edith Cavell was an English nurse at the turn of the 20th century.  Professional nursing was still relatively new, and trained nurses and nursing schools were few and far between.  Because Cavell had spent time in Belgium in her younger days, she was invited to go there to help start that country's first professional nursing school.

It was while she was engaged in this project that World War I began, and it wasn't long before her nursing school was recruited as a full-fledged hospital for Allied soldiers.  Belgium, sitting between Germany and France, was the scene of heavy fighting as the German army advanced.  Cavell's hospital was soon filled with wounded English soldiers, and when they recovered sufficiently, Cavell smuggled them to neutral Netherlands so they could return safely to their units, or to England.  Over 200 soldiers evaded capture by the German army through her efforts.

For this "crime," Cavell was eventually arrested by the Germans and tried for treason - and executed by firing squad, despite frantic, international, diplomatic efforts to prevent her sentence from being carried out.

Before facing the firing squad, Cavell famously said, "Patriotism is not enough.  I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone." 

Looking back through 100 years, we can speculate about the types of courage that may have motivated Nurse Cavell in her choices.  Becoming a nurse at all in that day was a risky move - it wasn't something "nice girls" did.  But she did.   Then simultaneously running a hospital and a smuggling operation would have required a degree of fortitude and executive management that somewhat boggles the mind.  Intellectual courage would have enabled focus and adaptability.  We know that she was a devout member of the Anglican church, and it seems fair to say that spiritual courage - that which fortifies us with a sense of purpose and meaning and makes forgiveness possible - was a significant part of her makeup.  (She was the daughter of a vicar, and raised with an ethic of sharing). Moral courage was clearly there, as well as the physical courage that nursing requires, especially wartime nursing.  She must also have had a very strong internal locus of control to believe that she was capable of effecting change amid the chaos of war, and to act so purposefully in on that conviction.

Much beyond that is difficult to surmise.  She was known as a private woman, reserved and formal toward her students and patients.  During her court-martial she made no attempt to disavow her activities, and she reportedly went to the firing squad with composure.  She was clearly a woman of great courage.

It is important to us on Lion's Whiskers, however, to make it clear that courageous action is not limited to life-and-death risks such as the ones Edith Cavell took.  We have every reason to admire her courage, but we can't let it convince us that because we haven't done anything like this and faced a firing squad, we have not shown courage.  We are all capable of courage, because the risks we face are proportionate to our capacities and our circumstances.   If a teen speaks out against a popular bully and risks ostracism, it is no less courageous because there's no firing squad in the offing.  A social "firing squad" can be devastating, and the number of teens who commit suicide because of it are tragic evidence.  

So let Edith Cavell inspire, but not intimidate. 

You can read more about Edith Cavell here on the website dedicated to her memory.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Letting Go: The Death of Ra

In the beginning all was darkness, but then came Ra, and he called all things into being. He was the first god-pharaoh, and he ruled in Egypt for thousands of years in human form. Over time, his human frame grew frail and weak. His head shook as he walked and he drooled like a baby. People whispered and laughed behind his back. His children, the deities Isis and Osiris, were impatient to take his place on the throne, but he would not relinquish it.

Isis was the greatest worker of magic in the world, but even she could wield no power over Ra without knowing his most secret name. He had many names for the many forms he had taken, but one was most secret and powerful of all, and he would not whisper it even to the last grain of sand at the root of a sand dune. Without that name, Isis could do nothing.

She waited. One day, as he stumbled down the path, drooling and trembling with age, she crept behind him and gathered some of the earth his spit had dribble on. Kneading the wet earth into a long snake, Isis set the lifeless thing upon the path. Only Ra could give life, so the earthen snake lay there until Ra stumbled past again. The moment the glance of his eyes fell upon it the cobra was filled with life, and it reared up and bit him in the heel. Ra fell, writhing in agony. As the poison worked its way through his body, the pain became even more intense.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The fear at the bottom of the hole

It has been argued that there is, fundamentally, only one fear: the fear of death. This hypothesis says that if you trace any fear to its deepest, darkest root, it turns out it's the fear of nothingness, of non-being, our mortality. But I recently came across a very inspiring passage from How To Write a Sentence and How to Read One, by Stanley Fish (and yes, I read books like this!) that offered me a new insight into this fear.

"Mortality is the condition of being able to die, regarded by many as a curse, but more properly appreciated as a gift, the gift of design and choice, of gain and loss, of hope and desperation, of failure and redemption, all modes of being that are available only to creatures who, like sentences (and novels), have a beginning, a middle, and an end. It is the inevitability and shadow of death that provides life with a narrative arc, and provides moments in that narrative with a meaning; for the meaning of a moment - the distinctiveness - is a function of the place prepared for it by a past and the place waiting for it in a future...Without the specter and period of death, there would be no urgency of accomplishment, no expectations to be realized or disappointed, no anxieties to be allayed. Each moment would bear an equal weight or equal weightlessness." (p 154)

Part of what we seek to do on Lion's Whiskers is offer you suggestions for reframing fear and courage. What if, rather than bemoaning and cursing your fears, you looked at them as a gift? What if every fear is an opportunity to create meaning out of your experience?

Ask yourself: without fear, can you have courage?


Sunday, January 1, 2012

What Would You Do if You Weren’t Afraid?

"Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.  To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable."
~Helen Keller

It’s New Year’s Day and I’m taking a different approach to planning my 2012 New Year’s Resolutions.  I’ve tried and failed many times in some of my previous vain attempts at perfectionism disguised as self-improvement.  In fact, when reading Gretchen Rubin’s bestseller, The Happiness Project, the only commandment for happiness (submitted by one of her readers) that resonated with me long after finishing the book was: “I am already enough.”  These days I prefer books that open my mind to possibility, rather than filling it with worry about all the ways I am not YET enough.  I'm trying to adopt a more relaxed, hands-in-the-air-less-white-knuckle-approach to riding this roller coaster called life.  I like books that are more bucket list than to-do list.  Though goal-setting is important and empowering, mining our dreams often requires getting fear out of the way first.  Diane Conway’s book What Would You Do if You Had No Fear?:  Living Your Dreams While Quakin’ in Your Boots, for example, is filled with stories of folks who mustered the courage to conquer their fears and follow their dreams. 

Friday, December 30, 2011

Courage Quote of the Day

At any moment, you have a choice, that either leads you closer to your spirit or further away from it.

~ Thich Nhat Hanh


Saturday, December 24, 2011

Stories with Eleanor, Part 2

Last week I had coffee with my friend, Eleanor Stanton, the associate pastor at the Presbyterian-New England Congregational Church in Saratoga Springs.   We talked about her work with teens in the high school youth group, her pastoral counseling, her experience of cancer, and most of all, her use of stories.  You can find the first part of our conversation here.

Jennifer: I’ve noticed that when you preach, you like to walk around and hold your printed page at your side. Did you have storytelling experience before you became a minister?  What are the mechanics of how you do what you do when you are preaching?  How did you come to that? How did you make that choice?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Talking Stories with Eleanor, Part 1

Last week I had coffee with my friend, Eleanor Stanton, the associate pastor at the Presbyterian- New England Congregational Church in Saratoga Springs.  She talked about stories, working with teens, about being a minister, about having cancer, and about being a minister with cancer.  Throughout our conversation were implicit and explicit observations about courage.   This is the first of two installments of that interview.

Jennifer: So, I have some questions for you about courage and about story. Let’s start with this. If somebody came to church on Sunday, somebody new in town, and there you are, you’re wearing your collar, your robe, and you have no hair. So they may quickly make certain assumptions about both your story, and your courage –

Eleanor:  I thought you were going to say, my orientation!

Jennifer:   Ha! No!  So whether their assumptions are correct or not, odds are that they are going to be making them. What’s your response to just the fact that that happens? That whereas somebody else may not present a whole lot of clues, for example –

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Four Dragons

In the West, we frequently use dragons as a metaphor for evils, wrongs, or unnamed fears that must be conquered. In China, however, dragons are benevolent. Powerful, yes, but benevolent. One beautiful legend from ancient China speaks of the Four Dragons: Black Dragon, Yellow Dragon, Long Dragon and Pearl Dragon. Here it is, as I retold it to my daughter:

A very long time ago, there were no rivers in China. No lakes, no ponds, no streams or springs or waterfalls, either. There was only the great ocean in the east. Fortunately, the land was watered by rain, sent by the Jade Emperor, who ruled in Heaven. A time came, however, when the Jade Emperor stopped paying attention to the earth, and forgot to send the rains for a very long time. The earth began to dry out, and crops withered.

One day, as the Black Dragon, the Yellow Dragon, the Long Dragon and the Pearl Dragon were gliding through the air, they noticed an old woman kneeling in the dust below, her face streaked with tears as she prayed. Then they noticed that the earth was cracked and brown. "Why has the Jade Emperor sent no rain?" the Pearl Dragon wondered. "Let us go to him in Heaven and ask."

When they arrived at the throne of the Jade Emperor, he was annoyed that they had come to him, pointing out his failure. "I'll send the rain, now go away," he snapped.

The dragons left, relieved that all would be well again on earth. Yet when ten days passed with no rain falling, they knew the Jade Emperor had forgotten about the people on earth again. "Let us help them," said the dragons to one another. "We can fill our bellies with water from the great ocean and spray it onto the earth, can't we?" And so this is what they did. The moment the water touched the dry soil the wilting rice and wheat stood tall again, and the people rushed to catch the water in bowls.

Up in Heaven, the Jade Emperor caught sight of what the dragons were doing, and shouted with anger that they had taken it upon themselves to help the earth. "Bring mountains!" he roared to the Mountain God. "Crush those dragons!"

Faster than wind over rice paddies, four mountains came and bore down upon the dragons, pinning them to the earth. Yet the dragons were still full of water, and continued to pour it out, even as they were crushed. And so the four great rivers of China were formed, the Yellow River, the Long River, the Black River and the Pearl River, bringing water to the people forever.

I asked my daughter how many kind of courage she thought were involved in this story. "It took courage to show the emperor he had forgotten his job," she said. "And it took courage to go ahead and do the job themselves." "Do you think it also takes courage sometimes to pray for help?" I asked. She shrugged. "Maybe."

Compare this story of self-sacrifice to the story of Fenrir the Wolf, from Viking mythology, and The Legend of the Banyan Deer, from the Buddhist tradition. In all of these stories, the powerful put themselves at risk to help the weak. Endurance, love, charity, compassion, stewardship, responsibility and leadership are values that parents can model in their own behavior toward their children as examples of all six types of courage. Of course, it's often much easier said than done!

I know that, for myself, explaining to my daughter why I'm making a sacrifice is key. The sacrifice might be giving my money, or my mental time, or my physical effort to something other than my myself and my own immediate needs. Because fear is correlated to lack of control, we can infer that the opposite is true: courage is correlated to taking control. When I see something in the world that grieves me (poverty, injustice, hunger, etc.) I could allow feelings of helplessness overwhelm me. I could begin to fear that the world is a hopeless place. On the other hand, if I take even a small step, make a small sacrifice of money or time or effort to help alleviate that problem, I gain a measure of control. As a result, my feelings of futility diminish, and my fear subsides. Dr. Lisa has explained this eloquently in her posts about an internal v. external locus of control.

When we help others, we truly help ourselves. The greater our sacrifice, the less fear we will experience. Two quotations say this better, and more succinctly, than I have:

Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage." ~ Dale Carnegie.

It is literally true that you can succeed best and quickest by helping others to succeed. ~ Napoleon Hill

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Courage is Not the Absence of Fear

Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear. ~ Ambrose Redmoon

As parents, we are often faced with the decision to put the welfare of our children above that of our own.  Being a courageous parent can range from rescuing your child from near death or other peril, to fighting for your child’s right to feel safe at school and not bullied, to telling the truth about your decision to separate, to holding your child’s hand at their hospital bedside, to canceling that belated wedding anniversary vacation (the first one in 10 years) due to your child’s unexpected flu bug, to waking each morning early to ensure that you keep your job and your child has shelter, food, and the many other necessities modern life now seems to require.  Any number of opportunities present themselves everyday to us as parents to muster and model the six types of courage.  Sometimes we even fail to recognize what courage it takes to be a parent.  It takes courage to walk through the fears about our own eclipsed needs after deciding to have a child.  To accept the risks associated with loving another human being so fully and completely that they one day walk out our front door with the keys to their own castle in hand (God willing). Courage is telling the truth about who we are, apologizing when we mess up, and loving ourselves and our child in the process. 

As a child and family therapist, I frequently witness the courage and compassion parents have in advocating for their mentally ill child, their child who struggles in school because of a learning disorder, their obese child facing long-term health issues if they don’t lose some weight, or their child banished to the outskirts of social acceptance due to the arbitrary judgment of an individual or group with more social cache.  I see the heartbreak on these parents’ faces when their child is called fat, gay, stupid, or weird.  Then, I witness the tears brushed away and the smile return to greet their child’s gaze with unconditional love.  The child, in turn, is looking for that acceptance as fuel for their own courage to face the battles they must.  Sometimes as parents we feel powerless about what to do to help our child through a tough time.  But it is the decision to keep moving forward, digging together for solutions in the dark, that inspires our children to have faith in the kindness of others, hope for their future, and to develop the necessary courage associated with resilience. 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Are You the Ant or the Grasshopper? And Which Are You Raising?

A fable from Aesop that has seen a lot of play over the centuries is the Ant and the Grasshopper. The story extols the industrious ant who spends the summer working and storing food, and also points out the improvidence of the grasshopper who fiddles and sings all summer long, ends up starving through the winter and knocking on the ant's door for a hand-out.

Chances are, (if you are American) you're a grasshopper. The U.S. personal savings rate is the lowest among developed nations. Why is that? And what's it got to do with Lion's Whiskers?

Friday, August 12, 2011

5-Minute Courage Workout: Stop Dominating Me!

Compiled and written by Lisa and Jennifer:

It is commonly understood that habits are formed or broken in as little as thirty days.  Much of the time we are unaware of the habits that define us, instead opting to run on auto-pilot.  Today, we are suggesting that you turn off the auto-pilot.  The first step to making any kind of change is becoming conscious of how our routines, thinking and reacting to life can dominate us.  Routines can provide a great deal of comfort, but they can also box us in, particularly when they are not healthy habits.  Before your children's habits and routines become ingrained, you can set a powerful example of flexibility in thinking, feeling and behaving.

Here's a list of 5-Minute Courage Workouts by age range to turn off the auto pilot.

 Grab Some Lion's Whiskers Today!
  • Toddler:   On your walk today (or drive) to a daily destination, take a different route than usual.  Announce that you'll be taking a new path and see what he or she notices.  Notice, yourself, if it seems to bring up any discomfort for your child, or if instead there's excitement for exploring new territory.
  • PreschoolerDoes your child have a security object?  Try proposing that a different teddy bear or blankie go through the day with your child. (Book recommendation: Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale by Mo Willems).  If that one is too alarming, try mixing up the bedtime routine.  Have your child "read" the bedtime story to you, or have someone else do the tucking in - or have your child tuck you in, if you're an early-to-bed sleeper.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Courage Challenge of the Day

This week was the start of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting.  Consider fasting for the day, or giving up one meal.  What is important enough to you to make a sacrifice?  What sorts of feelings does it bring up to deny yourself something you enjoy?  What does the concept of "purification" mean to you?  Would you need courage?

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Circle of Life

I quietly feared the moment when my son would ask why my dad wasn’t in his life.  Like many parents, who wish to avoid discussing the proverbial "elephant" in the living room (those family secrets, unspoken expectations, and difficult topics), I wasn’t really prepared for how early or how I would answer some of my son’s questions.  So, I was shocked when, as I tucked his 2 year-old body into bed one night, he whispered in the dark, “Mommy, where is your daddy?”
The truth is my dad died when I was young.  My dad will only be a part of my son’s life through some shared memories and DNA.  It is also true that he died from alcoholism and that my son was too young to know about that particular fact.  Though I’d already begun our conversation about the circle of life, and about how important it is to take good care of our bodies.  I wasn’t prepared for my son’s tender-hearted, painful realization that since my dad died when I was young, that I, too, could die while he’s still young; and that he, too, would someday die.  Like the connecting links on a chain, my son’s toddler logic strung the reality of life and death together in seamless motion.    I suddenly remembered what a good friend and also a mom of two young children, faced with a terminal breast cancer diagnosis, once said to me, “Tell the truth, even though it may hurt.  Just don’t make false promises.”  So, I stayed away from promises about living to 100.  Losing a parent early in life will teach you that kind of realism.  However, when we take away some belief from our kids, such as our immortality, we need to replace such illusions with hope-infused beliefs. 


Monday, July 18, 2011

Courage Book Review - Saints and Animals

Last week I shared the legend of St. Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio.  Today, Lion's Whiskers offers two books on the same theme.  On Lion's Whiskers, we define spiritual courage as that which fortifies us as we ask questions about purpose and meaning. Today we review books about people who answered those questions for themselves, and had the courage to act accordingly.

Saints Among the AnimalsSaints Among the Animals, written by Cynthia Zarin and illustrated by Leonid Gore, is a beautifully simple book for independent readers, giving very short stories of some of the saints whose legends involve animals.  St. Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio is here, of course, but so are much lesser known saints.  There is Saint Werbuge, who patiently reasoned with a flock of geese that were destroying farm crops; we have Saint Canice, who used the antlers of a living stag as a book stand, Saint Colman, for whom a fly acted as a reliable living bookmark.  Ten saints make up the collection, offering a glimpse of a simpler time when people were still sorting out what it might mean to be Christian (perhaps a quest still ongoing?) and what embracing all living things might look like.  These are mostly gentle courage stories, about people with the courage to live as their consciences commanded, without heed for raised eyebrows among their fellow human beings.  That makes these stories of moral courage and social courage, as well as spiritual courage.  Read these stories on your own to retell to younger children on a nature walk, perhaps, or leave for your older reader to nibble on.  The writing is excellent, not didactic, and not in any way evangelizing.  It's very fine.

Saint Francis Sings to Brother Sun: A Celebration of His Kinship with Nature"Sing praises to Sister Moon and the stars... sing praises to Brother Wind and to the air and the clouds...Sing praises to Sister Water..."  Part of a Mohawk blessing song in a Joseph Bruchac book maybe?   No, this is from the Canticle of Brother Sun, written by Saint Francis.   Saint Francis Sings to Brother Sun: A Celebration of His Kinship with Nature, by Karen Pandell with illustrations by Bijou Le Tord, is a truly exquisite book for young and old.  In large format with deceptively rustic pictures (they seem childishly simple, until you look closely) the book outlines the life of Francis of Assisi in brief vignettes, interspersed with verses of the canticle (which would make an awesome dinner blessing for a special occasion.)  What would that really be like, to give away everything as Saint Francis did?  To save no food for tomorrow but to give it to the birds and rely on providence for tomorrow?  In today's possession-heavy world, it's a challenge to imagine the wealthy and privileged young Francis taking a vow of poverty, and walking so carefully that he not harm a worm, or an ant, or even tread carelessly on spilled water.  In this we see echoes of the Buddha's journey and practice.  Such complete reverence for all of life actually takes extraordinary courage.  You might be inspired to create a courage challenge for yourself and your family: spend a day doing no harm to any living thing.  What does it take? What will it cost you?  Do you need the courage of a saint?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Never Quit: Susan's Story

"No Matter What, Have Courage" Elli Gloeckner

My husband introduced Susan and I four years ago when we had just moved to Upstate New York.  He randomly picked the hair salon she worked at on his drive home from work one day.  When he came home after Susan cut his hair, he said to me “I think I’ve found someone you’re going to become friends with here.”  We instantly connected, as per my husband’s prediction.  Little did I know at the time how inspirational Susan would become in my life as a beacon of hope, resiliency, strength and sheer willfulness to live life to the fullest no matter what the circumstances. My friend Susan, a mother of four, has a terminal illness and is the most determined person I know.  I’d like to share with you some of our interview about what she believes courage is and how she learned to become such a courageous person.

Image above: Susan, Summer 2011

Friday, July 15, 2011

5-Minute Courage Workout: Say a Little Prayer for Me

Compiled and written by Lisa and Jennifer:

Here's a list of 5-Minute Courage Workouts by age range to improve spiritual fortitude.

 Grab Some Lion's Whiskers Today!
  • Toddler: Wish upon a star tonight. Find a star with your child and make a wish, and then offer the observation that many other children around the world can see the same star.  Ask your child to imagine what that other child's wish might be.  As your day is ending, another day is beginning halfway around the globe, but toddlers are toddlers everywhere.  The roots of empathy lie in our ability to imagine someone else's experience. 
  • Preschooler: find a book such as Wish: Wishing Traditions Around the World or    Children Just Like Me: A Unique Celebration of Children Around the World  or Wake Up, World!: A Day in the Life of Children Around the World that shows children from all walks of life and every corner of the world engaged in daily and weekly routines that will be familiar to your child.  See how many points of similarity you and your child can find between your family and the families in the book.  Depending on how much information is available about the children in the book, this can open the conversation with your  child to wonder what might be important to that other child, what home life might be like, what holidays they celebrate, what a school day is like, what breakfast might be.
  • Early Elementary:  Do you remember "Roses and Thorns" from our workout on public speaking?  Consider the spiritual dimension of this dinner ritual.  Each person at the table can take turns saying what they were grateful for today, and what was challenging for them.  Introduce the possibility that everything can be part of our personal and spiritual development, and discuss what learning may be inherent in each rose and each thorn.
  • Upper Elementary or Tween: Chances are, by this age your child knows someone who has died.  Take a moment to reflect upon this loss - even if it's only a pet.  This can open the discussion about what may happen to them or you in the event of unexpected death.  Share with your kids what will happen to them if you should die while they're still young.  Consider telling them what your final wishes are, and why.  Your beliefs about death can inform your decisions about these practical matters.   Invite your kids to explore these ideas at their own pace.  Faith, hope and love can be protective mechanisms to help us deal with our core existential fear of our own mortality.
  • Teens: Has your teen experienced faith practices from around the world?  We here at Lion's Whiskers have traveled and lived in many countries, and been exposed to a variety of religious rituals.  Here is a beautiful rendition of the Muslim call to prayer, here is a Buddhist monk chanting, here is a Jewish prayer,  here is a Gospel choir.  Share these with your teens and see where the conversation takes you.  Have they absorbed any negative subliminal or direct messages over the years through movies or on-line gaming that require some examination?  Spiritual courage doesn't just require tolerance, it requires engaging with other religions in meaningful and thoughtful ways.  You may be surprised by how much exposure your teen has had already through school or extracurricular activities, and what you may be able to learn from them.

Working on these skills may call upon different types of courage, not just spiritual.  Review the Six Types of Courage to figure out which types your child might need to complete this workout.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

St. Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio

If you spend a day at the museum with lots of old paintings, one of the easiest saints for children to recognize in sculpture and painting is St. Francis. A gentle monk surrounded by forest creatures is a benevolent and appealing image, and I suspect it mirrors the secret longing of so many children – talking with animals. This story of Francis, like many traditional tales, features danger in the form of a ferocious wolf. 

Francis was staying for a time at the devout hill town of Gubbio, in Peruggia, whose high stone walls had protected it from its enemies for many generations. Yet now the people faced a different sort of enemy, a wolf dwelling among the high hills that had seized and devoured many sheep and cattle and even people. Townsfolk dared not venture outside the walls without arming themselves as if for battle. Every man, woman and child was filled with mortal terror of the wolf.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

This is What's True: Anya's Story

In the summer of 2009, my friend Anya's* husband suddenly announced he was moving out.  After ten years of marriage and two children together, he quit after a few short months of couples counseling and moved into his own house.  When Anya’s husband departed, it was left to her to sit her two children down, ages 7 and 10, and tell them that daddy would no longer be living with them.  She chose to tell the truth, as she knew it, to buffer her children against future family changes and ensure that they would continue to approach her with any difficult questions and not harbor their grief. Anya mustered the kind of emotional and spiritual courage required to protect her children from the impending fallout.  She kept the information she shared with her children to the facts, reassuring their spoken fears, with this simple statement:  “This is what’s true: daddy has moved out and we are still a family.” 

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Day at the Museum

As I have mentioned a few times before, I spent a bit over a year of my childhood in Switzerland, a small country conveniently located within driving distance of most of Europe. This put countless museums, castles, and cathedrals within my family's reach, and we logged a lot of miles in the red VW bug and collected a lot of stamps in our passports.

One of the things that made the strongest impression on me in all our sight-seeing trips was the religious iconography – the pictures on chapel walls and in stained glass windows, the devotional paintings in the museums, the statues gazing down from the pediments and roofs. There are some wild stories in those images! In the days before widespread literacy, this was a very popular story-telling technique: make a picture to tell your tale.