Ben Breedlove – A Portrait in Courage Part II

December 29, 2011 by  
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Ben Breedlove – A portrait in Courage Part I

December 29, 2011 by  
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Learning To Stop Blaming Ourselves

July 19, 2011 by  
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Something quite exciting has taken place in my psyche.  I have finally stopped blaming myself for everything.  Now, I’ve been working on my inner-voice – which was always so ready and willing to assign blame to me; its own host – for a long time.  But only now I can say I have succeeded not in stopping the voice, but in stopping the acceptance of the blame.  Let me be clear; I still hear the voice that wants to convince me that all bad things happen because of something I did or didn’t do.  But here is the change; it doesn’t affect me anymore.  And it doesn’t because I answer back by saying: “I’m not going to dwell in blame assigning because it serves no purpose.  Whatever happened has already happened.

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The Never Ending Search For Balance

May 7, 2011 by  
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There are moments in life where we feel we are standing in the eye of the storm where different psychological issues are tugging at us to get our attention.  In my case now are; my aging parents, my sister who lives far away, and my own fears of what my future will be like.  Without getting into the nature and the merit of my issues – they are not the point of this particular discussion – the consequence is that I feel pulled into many directions which generate anxiety, guilt and depression.

Now, I know better.  I know anxiety, guilt and depression are paralyzing emotions which have no real benefit to anyone engaged with them on a one-on-one.

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Learning To Lose Control

February 18, 2011 by  
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I have always had issues with control.  I have a deep seeded belief that 1 – I’m the only one that can really take care of everything and 2 – When things happen without my “permission” it makes me feel disoriented.  As neither one of these beliefs are true and/or sustainable, I’ve had to work on myself.

I’m the only one that can take care of everything is a God like complex which doesn’t give much trust to others and overwhelms the self.  The way I have found to deal with this is to let go.  I do what I can and the rest I let go.  And if things don’t turn out quite the way I expected, I deal with that once it comes to pass.  I literally say to myself: “Let go”.  And then I ask: “What’s the worst thing that could happen?”  And then I finally end with: “Taking care of everything all the time is an impossible and exhausting way to live.  Truly you don’t want to live like that.”  After these three questions and statements, I’m ready to let go followed by a long deep breath.

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Changes

November 8, 2009 by  
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In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil people always refer to each other as sir and ma’am and somehow it doesn’t feel stuffy but it feels respectful.  People often also say: “Stay with God” – literal translation – and as I’ve shared before my views on the existence of God veer more to human and scientific, but I still like to hear “stay with God”, because it means that person is wishing me well in the most profound way that he or she can.

Some other nice things in Rio: clapping when the sun sets on the beach, and when the moon comes up. Massage on the beach, fresh coconuts, and lots of friendly faces.

One of the bad things that I’m reminded when I’m here is the entitlement of the wealthy.  Words like thank you are seldom used when the rich deals with the poor.  The “you work for me or I’m paying you” thinking precludes people from thanking others.   The centuries of a non-existing middle class also contributes to that type of behavior.  But things are changing in the socio-economic make up of Brazil.

I spend a lot of time observing my behavior and of others.  Maybe because I write so much, but observing teaches me a lot about humanity and if I’m diligent with taking steps I can affect changes in my own behavior and life.

Lately, I have really been thinking how often we misconstrue what other people mean and think.  I’ve learned that what is important is our own intention and goal.  What do I want to accomplish?  And then follow through with that without wondering why others are doing and thinking certain things and getting stuck in that.  It isn’t because we shouldn’t be concerned about others but because it is too hard to know the intentions of every person we have to interact with on a daily basis.  We also can’t please everyone, so if our intentions are good and we are clear we should aim for our goal.

I’ve also realized how fighting to feed and support my ego can really get in my way.  So much energy can be wasted by trying to prove that I know more, that I’m better than or any other thing like that.  What a waste.  Instead of being side tracked by proving something to someone, if I use that same energy to succeed and accomplish the result, that will be proof enough and without any stress.

This stay here in Rio, while I work on the production of a feature film, will be an interesting time for me to observe how much I actually have or not changed.  Anytime we go back to the place we were born and grew up in, it becomes clearer how much or little we have actually changed.  And I’ll be certainly sharing it all here.  Looking forward.

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My Last Cancer Treatment

August 23, 2009 by  
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By Rabbi David Wolpe

In 2003 I suffered a grand mal seizure followed by the diagnosis of a brain tumor. After a 10 hour MRI assisted brain surgery and a year on anti-seizure medication, life calmed down. In 2006 I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and had months of chemotherapy. Now after two years I am completing Rituxan, a follow up on the earlier treatment that is intended to extend remission.

Recently I had the final infusion. But I was not at all sure that pulling away the safety net was a cause for celebration. My doctor poked his head into the curtained chamber to assure me that he expected a long remission. Kind of him, but what could he say?

Remission is cancer’s suspended animation. The renegade cells are poised to return but no one knows when. It could be a month or a decade; for my type of lymphoma (one of the more than thirty varieties of Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma) there is no cure. So I am stuck in what Dr. Seuss — in a book I used to read to my daughter — calls “a most useless place. The Waiting place….”

I have been here before; my wife was diagnosed with cancer when she was 31. Our daughter was ten months old, and we waited. Following my brain tumor and surgery, we waited. We thought then we were done. No more bullets in the chamber. We felt safe, but tentative.

A swollen lymph node was the first warning of this new cancer. A biopsy confirmed our unspoken fear. It seemed incredible, overwhelming to think it was happening again, happening anew. The doctor called me at work. I came home to tell my wife and she was in the shower. I walked in fully dressed and we held each other; our tears combined with the cascade of water.

I had the strange, surreal experience of hearing my congregants’ shock that this could happen to the family of the Rabbi — as though professional piety was a shield against disease. As though God played favorites.

Right before my brain surgery I appeared in front of the congregation and asked them for their patience and their prayers. Three year later I was standing before them, bald. I witnessed the realization in their eyes that there are no guarantees, no protected people. No one is safe.

At moments, my wife and I will look at each other and understand the unspoken. We have both been scared, on and off, more and less, for a long time. And now with the end of treatment we are scared anew and waiting once more. Well, what now?

Do you live as if remission will go on forever? Or do you allow the thought of death to be before your eyes always, so as not to waste a precious moment of life?

Every patient is surrounded by people assuring him “you will be fine.” A woman in my congregation told me, with a sage look, “You are going to be ok. I know these things.” I told her I would feel more comfortable if she had foreseen the cancer in the first place. Statistics are meaningless. Neither my wife nor I had risk factors. No one knows. We’ve rolled snake-eyes too many times to count on breaking the bank.

What have I left undone? That marching song of purpose is quickly undermined by the whisper of nihilism: so what if you’ve left something undone? Will the world really be poorer for that article, that book unwritten? Then I hear my own voice counseling others, love more, care more, risk more, be more thoughtful.

One afternoon in the middle of chemo, when my hair was gone and most of my energy with it, my wife was bringing our then 9 year old daughter home from school. I heard my daughter say as the door opened, “Is Daddy on the couch again?” Nothing has ever made me sadder than those words.

There may be stem cell transplant in my future. There may be a new regimen of drugs. They are always ‘in the pipeline’ I am told.

For now I am just waiting. I am trying to find my own way through this because, inevitably, I will be asked how I did it. Rabbis are supposed to be figures of authority and calm. It was hard enough to reassure my congregation that a fickle universe does not mean that God is absent. That belief does not indemnify me against adversity. That my faith through all this is unshaken. How does one live, Rabbi, is the question my congregants ask, of not so directly. Tell me, Rabbi — it is your job to know.

My answer, I now realize, is: Live as if you are fine, knowing that you are not. Death is the overriding truth of life but it need not be its constant companion. My safety net is gone. I feel, as all people in remission do, that each time I fly my hand may slip from the trapeze. But to live earthbound is to give the cancer more than it deserves.

I was never taught that God promises us forever. Each day is graced with beauty, with the certainty that this world is not all. I am not owed more years. I do, however, desperately wish for them.

I am grateful for the time I have been given. I am scared it is running out. And I pray with a new intensity — not that I will be promised a cure, but that I won’t waste my waiting in fear. I owe it to my family, my community and to God not to be done before I really am done.

Named the #1 Rabbi in America by Newsweek magazine, David Wolpe is the Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, California. Previously he taught at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York, The American Jewish University in Los Angeles, Hunter College, and he currently teaches at UCLA. Rabbi Wolpe writes for many publications, including regular columns for the New York Jewish Week, beliefnet.com, as well as periodic contributions to the Jerusalem Post, The Los Angeles Times, and many others. He is an ethics columnist for Campaigns and Elections Magazine and a monthly book columnist for L.A. Jewish Journal. He has been on television numerous times, featured in series on PBS, A&E, as well as serving as a commentator on CNN and CBS This Morning. Rabbi Wolpe is the author of seven books, including the national bestseller Making Loss Matter: Creating Meaning in Difficult Times. Rabbi Wolpe has a new book coming out on September 16 entitled Why Faith Matters, A Personal Faith Journey And Response To The New Atheists.

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Prayer

August 12, 2009 by  
Filed under Blog

I was reading an article from Oprah.com on CNN.com  when I got an email from my sister in-law suggesting I read the article. 

The title of the article is “Cancer, my parents and my doubts about God.” The writer, Kelly Corrigan, talks about her parents unwavering Catholic faith and her very wavering religious beliefs. 

Both she and her father were diagnosed with cancer within the same year and while her parents prayed and eventually attributed both Kelly’s and her father’ recovery to prayer and God, Kelly and her husband hit the internet and did due diligence.

My husband and I never turned to God for his recovery from cancer. We turned to healthy eating, laughter, love, and best medical care available, but others prayed for us.

My husband was an atheist. I’m also an atheist but I do leave room for the mysteries of life and I am a stout believer in the power of love. And as Kelly says in her Oprah.com piece, I wish one day I will come to believe that I will be together with all the people I love even though right now, it almost seems impossible that would happen.

My sister in law, on the other hand turned to her beliefs.  She went to Agape and prayed.  She lit more digital candles than anybody at a prayer site.  And she made collages with all of our pictures, and the doctors’ pictures, and healthy images and wrote everywhere “I see perfect health and full recovery.” 

I have always appreciated other people praying for me in any language to whomever they believed was listening to them. My friends’ love and energy while asking for my well being was what I was thankful for and what I believed in.

In going through my husband’s emails while writing a book, I came across these three emails below that spoke about prayer:

From: chris rubin

Date: May 2, 2006 10:36:34 AM PDT

To: Alexa

Subject: Re: positive thoughts

I’m not big on prayers, less so on those coming from strangers. but i would be happy to be in your thoughts.


From: chris rubin

Date: July 4, 2006 2:32:40 AM PDT

To: Brooke

Subject: Re: best possible news

can’t wait to see you, karyn and other much-loved friends who thought about me, prayed for me, etc. 

love,

chris

— 

From: Chris
Sent: Wednesday, January 24, 2007 1:59 PM
To: Liver Support Group
Subject: Re: Support Group Articles/Topic

People prayed for me, and I suppose I took some level of comfort from that, but only in the sense that I was comforted by their love and concern.

Chris

We were able to keep Chris going for two and a half years, from April 06 through August 08, but he eventually died on the fifteenth of August. He died still being an atheist but I believe that if he could have written another email about prayer it would have been something like this:

From: Chris

Sent: August 15th 2008

To: All my friends and family

Subject: My Love for you

Dear Friends and Family:

I did not want to leave you but I know my time is here. You have made my illness bearable and my life full. Thank you for all your prayers, they’ve helped me much. Through them I now know how much you love and care about me. 

Please continue to love and laugh and please take special care of the small one.

Love,

Chris.

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Paralyzed Guitarrist Plays On

July 23, 2009 by  
Filed under Inspiring People

jason-becker1

Jason Becker is a former rock star who has continued a brilliant music career against all odds. Doctors were ready to give up on him, but he’s still going strong.

Jason can no longer speak or move his body, but he remains a brilliant composer with a legion of fans and a latest CD which came out in 2008

Jason’s musical odyssey began when he was just five and got his first guitar. By the time he was 13, he could play note for note with Eric Clapton recordings. By 17, he had a record deal of his own.

By the late 1980′s, Jason was one of the most critically acclaimed rock guitarists in the world.

In 1990, Jason was lead guitarist and helped write David Lee Roth’s gold record “A Little Ain’t Enough.”

That same year, when Jason was just 19, he was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. It’s a neuromuscular condition that slowly took away Jason’s ability to control his body.

When Jason could no longer play guitar, he began composing on a keyboard. When he could no longer move his hands, he used a computer. He had a special visor with a sensor on top that moved the cursor on the screen. When Jason opened his mouth, his chin clicked the mouse. But as Jason’s health got worse, he lost the ability to speak and even to move his head.

His father, Gary Becker, then devised a communication system using an alphabet board and simple eye movements so Jason could spell out his thoughts with his eyes. His family and friends learned to interpret.

Jason is a very inspiring man, even with all his difficulties he still loves life and finds ways to have a fulfilling life. 

Below is an excerpt of his story in his own words.

1997

“One particular event in the hospital changed my life. I hadn’t slept for well over 36 hours. Every hour or two a nurse came in to stick a tube down my throat to suction out mucous from my lungs. This made me violently cough which made my groin unbearably painful. I felt that one more suction would literally kill me. I prayed to God very sincerely to not let me die without knowing the point of it all and learning more about Him.

This night at 4:00 AM, my girlfriend was too exhausted to wake up. The nurse who then came in knew I was frantically trying to say no to suction, but she said, “I am just doing my job.” She wouldn’t wake my girlfriend up. When she finally left I lay in the dark feeling raped. I felt the life start to leave my body. My eyes were open but I couldn’t even tense one muscle. I started to black out. All at once I heard distant voices of people I love. After all this hellish fear and confusion, the good stuff began.

While I was still dying, I heard the OM. I felt I was being cradled by something familiar. In one silly vibration – such power, love, infinite wisdom, everything to be known and felt if only I could comprehend one tiny piece of its all-encompassing perfection. During these most blissful moments of my life, something in my heart said, “Lord, I am not ready to go”. Instantly I felt life coming back to my body. My eyes were uncontrollably lifted to gaze in my forehead. Without a body, clearer than “life”, I went through a door with an eye on it. I believe God was showing me “heaven”. It was my idea of a perfect place.

Whatever I thought was effortlessly manifest. In my mind I created a guitar and hands to play it. From my mind effortlessly flowed the most beautiful music I have ever heard. Before I even thought of the next perfect phrase it would flow into the ears. I think God was showing me the human potential. We work so hard but if we surrender to God there is no limit to our capabilities. After God was finished trying to teach something to this egotistic knucklehead, my eyes fell back down to my girlfriend sleeping on a cot in the hospital. As I slowly gathered myself and realized the incredible blessing I had received, I felt only love. I tried to remember anger and pain but they were all gone. When the nurse came back and my girlfriend woke up, a glow filled the room. We all could only smile. We all became good friends and talked a lot. From then on I made many nurse and doctor friends.”

For more information on Jason go to his website http://12.189.211.71/

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Mystic Poet

June 12, 2009 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

When I come across a line in Rumi’s poetry that points directly to belief in the existence of a deity – e.g. “death is a bridge that leads the lover to the Beloved”, I find myself wondering whether it is even possible to approach and appreciate the work of this mystic poet from a non-theistic perspective. After all Rumi’s work is a catalogue of his encounters with a god that he recognizes everywhere in his surroundings. The essence of this work is a description of joy in the presence of divine love, of the mystical rapport and union with a divinity that is omnipresent and accessible in the natural world.

Rumi is not espousing a theological position (though we may ascribe one to his utterances) so much as reporting on his experience of mystical love. He is primarily a mystic and a visionary poet, not a philosopher or an academic theologian. As such he has shed conventions of religious tradition; he sees and speaks from a vantage that lies outside their domain. As Annemarie Schimmel has written, “Prayer was the center of his life – not the prayer that is performed with lips and limbs only, but a prayer that means true union with the Divine Beloved.”

I have prayed so much that I myself turned into prayer -

Everyone who sees me begs a prayer from me. (D903)

“This couplet” continues Ms. Schimmel, “may represent the truest self-portrait of the great mystic.”

As an elder in the Sufi order (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sufi) and a teacher in his community, Rumi’s writings undoubtedly served an educative purpose. “The parables and metaphors in Rumi’s work, which often seem to be intertwined, lead the seeker to the living reality” (Schimmel). Through his art Rumi reveals the living heart of his own experience; it is an offering and an opening to a view of a world that is suffused with divine love.

In Leaves of Grass Walt Whitman has written -

Argue not concerning God, … re-examine all you have been told at church or school or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your soul…

Theological questions regarding Rumi’s work may be raised and debated. But at the heart of his poetic vision lies the endeavor to illuminate and convey an experience of the love that he witnessed coursing through the world.

Coleman Barks has described Rumi’s work as “…The impulse to praise and recognize every being and every moment as sacred…” speading not from the exclusive perspective of a particular spiritual tradition – but rather “from the clear bead at the center”.

For Barks, mystical poetry “is a way to open the heart, as a Sufi master, or any enlightened being, is a door to the radiant depth of the self.”

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