Monday, December 24, 2012

Rebirth

Well, the Mayans were wrong and we're all still here, which brings me to the idea of rebirth. If the end of the world did not come last Friday, then I can only hope that the end of the world as we knew it, did.

I would like to think that we've marked an end to our separation from one another and are entering a time of unity. I would like to think that we are leaving stagnation and inertia behind and are embracing an age of transformation and manifestation of the lives we are were born to live. I would like to think that we have learned firsthand that war never keeps the peace, that ignorance and hatred cannot be effectively cloaked in a disguise of religious piety, and that there is no destruction that some biblical angry God can heap upon us that is worse than the destruction which we perpetrate against ourselves and each other every day. I would like to think these things, especially today. So I will.

Today I envision the rebirth of our connection to Source, that internal knowing that says I am a part of God and God is a part of me. I envision myself as well equipped to be the voice and the embodiment of those qualities I cherish most - peace and love. Today I reclaim the parts of me that know that I know, the heart-led, the joy-filled, the voice for those unable or too scared to utter these things out loud.

It is easy to be tempted to cave in when we are shouted down by the relentless cynicism of darkness and of fear and of dread. But these things are gasping for their last breath, because they cannot survive where the light of truth shines, and those of us who know that have to step up.

It isn't easy to be the embodiment of love, or of forgiveness, or of peace. If you think it is, try it out for a day. Let me know how you fare in rush hour traffic, or with relatives you don't particularly like, or during the next school shooting or terrorist attack. Not so easy. So it's not some hippy-dippy or child-like notion to try and be the embodiment of the qualities the world so desperately needs. It takes courage to be peace in the midst of antagonism, to be love in the face of hate, and to speak truth when people would rather cater to fear. It's not so easy to forgive when we feel justified.

So if the end of days is upon us and we have a chance at rebirth, then let's reclaim that best part of ourselves that knows why we came here. Let's reclaim the idea that one person makes all the difference, that our hearts are better navigators than our minds, that what's possible is what we say is possible, and that we were all sent to save the world.

Peace and Blessings to you. Thanks for stopping by. And Merry Christmas!
Ilene

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Guilty Pleasures & Mixtapes: The Christmas Edition

Okay, so I’m a little behind on my Christmas movie watching. (Translation: I’ve watched no Christmas movies yet.) But I’ve got high hopes for this weekend somewhere in between baking, writing, and delivering Christmas cheer to our next door neighbors. The thing about our neighbors is they usually return the favor by insisting we visit a while and sample some of their homemade Strufellas and Limoncello.

Let me just say this about that, because if you’re not Italian or from New York, you will likely have no idea what either one of those things are. Strufella (or to be correct by saying the plural Struffoli in Italian) are fried pieces of dough, shaped like balls and dipped in honey with sprinkles drizzled on them. They are traditionally served at Christmastime. Limoncello is a lemon flavored liqueur that involves 100 proof vodka – or at least my neighbor’s does. Need I say more?

So assuming I’m not plastered before noon, I’ll be starting my (albeit very limited) Christmas movie watching bonanza, which brings me to – guilty pleasures.

While most people go with the traditional It’s a Wonderful Life, or A Christmas Story, or even Christmas Vacation, oh no, not I. I have to go with at least a couple of choices to make you snicker and/or roll your eyes. But hey, I’m a secure kind of gal (ha!), so here’s what I’ll be watching:

Mixed Nuts - a veritable who’s who of every comedic star on the planet tossed together in a plot that involves a suicide prevention hotline and a serial killer on the loose at Christmas. And if you don’t blink, you’ll even see Jon Stewart on roller-skates. Seriously, you’ve gotta watch this one if you haven’t seen it.

The next one is a real eye-roller – Ebbie. Susan Lucci stars in this female twist on Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. It is truly awful – and I enjoy every minute of it. Have never figured out why.

And my #1 guilty pleasure is: Love Actually. Well written, beautifully acted, stellar cast, great music. I laugh, I cry. I love it.

Now for the mixtape part.

For starters, do I even need to explain what a “mixtape” is for anyone too young to know?

Picture this, boys and girls: Back in the day when dinosaurs ruled the earth, before global warming, when we trudged 3 miles uphill in a foot and a half of snow to go to school, we had these things called cassette tapes and record albums. Oddly enough, you couldn’t buy just one song you liked on an album. You had to buy the whole darn thing! And so, in that totally uncivilized, pre-iTunes world, we recorded the songs we liked either off our records, complete with crackles and tape hiss, or from the radio, frequently with our favorite DJ’s intro, just for good measure. But the beauty of it was that we customized these little puppies for all occasions, even gave them as gifts, especially and particularly when we were in love.

So in the spirit of those bygone days, I thought it might be fun to list some of my favorite tracks from different CD’s just to create my own little Christmas “mixtape,” if you will. Sure, I could call it an iTunes Playlist, but mixtape gives me the warm fuzzies, and it is Christmas, after all. So here are a handful of my favorites…

“Merry Christmas Darling” – The Carpenters Christmas Portrait
“Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” – Amy Grant A Christmas Album
“O Come, O Come Emmanuel” – Makky Kaylor Glad Tidings
“Mary, Did You Know?” – Kathy Mattea Good News
“Take a Walk through Bethlehem” – Trisha Yearwood Sweetest Gift
“O Holy Night” – Blue Sky Riders (single)
“My Grown Up Christmas List” – BethAnne Clayton Remember
“River” – James Taylor At Christmas
“Same Old Lang Syne” – Dan Fogelberg Greatest Hits
“What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve” – Harry Connick, Jr. When My Heart Finds Christmas

And if you still want to buy a whole album, I highly recommend Unforgotten Christmas, a stunning instrumental (piano) album by Christopher Finkelmeyer that is both soul-soothing and truly moving at the same time.

So there you have it. What are your favorite Christmas movies and recordings?

Enjoy these and thanks for stopping by!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Before this Moment Passes

While the families in Newtown are grieving and burying their loved ones, the rest of us have an opportunity to channel our emotions into action for the sake of our collective future, the good of our people, and the memory of those lost to the horrors of gun violence.

So before this moment passes, please contact all of your representatives and demand their action in the form of significant gun legislation and restriction. In my opinion, the logical place to start is by banning assault weapons. I have made this as easy as possible by providing all the necessary links below.

To find your Representative in the House, click here:
http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/

To find your Senators, click here:
http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm

To contact your state Governor, click here:
http://www.usa.gov/Contact/Governors.shtml

To contact the President:
http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact

If you would like to give the NRA a piece of your mind:
https://www.nraila.org/secure/contact-us.aspx
Or write them:
National Rifle Association of America.
Institute for Legislative Action
11250 Waples Mill Rd.

Fairfax, VA 22030

Thank you, please share this information, and I wish you heartfelt peace and blessings,
Ilene

Friday, December 14, 2012

In the Silence between our Tears

(This was just published in The Huffington Post as well.)

I don’t much care how it happened. It happened. I don’t care that gun legislation of any significance is tantamount to the third rail of either party’s politics. That doesn’t matter now.

It is not na├»ve or Pollyanna to say that we are better off not possessing guns. We are. And before some idiot gives his “guns don’t kill people” speech again, I would point out that, absent those terrible tools of death, 20 children would still be alive tonight.

No, I am not interested in arguments about individual liberties, 2nd Amendment rights, or the pros and cons of the NRA. Children are dead. They went to school this morning and went to the morgue in a body bag before day’s end. That is the reality of who we are as a nation today.

We always talk about how Americans come together in times of crisis, how we are unified when it counts. But it counted today, only we thought it was okay to put off the conversation for one more day. Then our luck ran out - again. This is what I know.

A few months ago, after the shooting in New York City, I suggested that we should at least demand as much regulation as we have for driving a car. I pointed out that parallel parking could not possibly be a more necessary skill than knowing how to safely operate a killing machine you’ve purchased.

Yes, we cannot make sense of a madman’s actions. But the crawl on my TV screen has informed me that this gun was purchased legally, so the argument that criminals (or madmen) will obtain guns illegally no matter what the circumstance doesn’t really hold water.

Many have said this is a complex issue. It’s not. No guns, no gunshot victims. Simple. Cause and affect. And maybe it’s time that when we come together at our vigils, lighting our candles, saying our prayers, maybe we could contemplate the bigger picture. Maybe we can make a choice for our collective good instead of our individual need for the false feeling of security that gun ownership provides.

The 2nd Amendment was crafted for the sake of national security, so that our citizens could defend themselves against invading foreign armies. It reads as follows:

"A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

There was neither the weaponry invented, nor any conceivable notion that our “national security” would one day translate to meaning the need to defend school children from a lone gunman. But these are the times we are living in and all of these recent shootings pose the very gravest threat to our national security, clothed in unexpected garb, maybe, but a threat nonetheless that needs to be addressed.

We saw the President cry today. And as he wiped tear after tear from his eyes, many of us cried with him. And we cry for those children and adults who were lost and for the families and friends for whom the grief will never go away.

So no, today I don’t care if Bubba has the right to go hunt Bambi; I care that little Johnny and Suzie didn’t live to come home from kindergarten. We can say that this is horrific, but we cannot say that it is unimaginable anymore. It is becoming all too common an occurrence.

So don’t just sit around feeling hopeless, and helpless, and frustrated. Tell your representatives, all of them, that we need significant gun legislation and regulation, that it is a matter of vital national security.

And if you own a gun, ask yourself how you’d feel if someone like this young man today got a hold of it and went on a killing spree. What are you willing to sacrifice for the sake of your fellow countrymen? Are you brave enough not to own a gun?

Our soldiers and first responders may have signed up to put themselves in harm’s way, but our children did not. And we are the only ones who can protect them. So it is my fervent hope that, in the silence between our tears, we can find our way to redemption by standing for the fallen and being stewards for those who did not have a voice today.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Spirit of the Season

The cookie dough is made, most of the presents have been purchased, the tree is – wait, I’m Jewish, there is no tree. And that brings me to the logical discussion of…the spirit of the season.

For the Jewish tradition, this season is about celebrating the miracle of something that was only supposed to last for one day, lasting for eight days instead. In this particular instance – oil. So what do we do to commemorate that? Fry potato pancakes in oil. White potatoes fried in oil – if you ask me, the real miracle is that heart disease didn’t annihilate us faster than any oppressors. So I’m forgoing that particular tradition and just going with the lighting of the menorah, because I can get behind candle lighting of any kind, really.

But back to the season. To be honest with you, most of my friends and family have Christmas trees. I mean, who doesn’t love tinsel and lights and trinkets dangling precariously from branches, real or artificial? I personally have never owned a tree, but I have been known to string colorful lights over anything and everything in my path. Sure, I may not have known that there were fabulous accessories like those clear hooks to assist in this endeavor until about year three into it, but better late than never, that’s what I say.

This year, driving through my neighborhood, I am struck by the lack of homes festively decorated – a stark reminder that hurricane Sandy has taken its toll not only on the physical landscape, but on our spirits as well.

So what about Christmas spirit? It’s no secret to anyone who has known me for more than five minutes that I love all things Christmas – from the idea that our hope for the future rests in the innocence of new life, to the idea of believing in peace on earth and good will toward man. Plus, I really love the music – all of it. But more on music in a later blog.

Lately I’ve been contemplating the bigger picture of Christmas, the broader idea of what Jesus’ life was about, and how one person could be the example of what we are capable of at both our best and our worst.

If the life of Jesus was about anything, it was about the human embodiment of unconditional love. His life was the example of our capacity to heal the sick, care for the poor, welcome the outcast, and forgive no matter how grave or unwarranted the circumstances in which we find ourselves. In short, Jesus was human potential fully realized.

But if that was what his life embodied, then his death was the equal example of our capacity to hate, to betray, and to stand silently by when we most should not. And those are not pleasant things to look at, let alone acknowledge about ourselves. But changing those things would solve most, if not all of what currently ails our world. So isn’t it time we stop crucifying ourselves and each other and get on with the matter of loving each other? I think yes.

So this season, while I am enjoying the festivities and counting my blessings, I am also taking time to remember that there are those for whom this season is fraught with pain, those fighting life-threatening illness, whose loved ones are feeling anything but lighthearted. There are those whose homes have been obliterated, or who have no way to clothe or feed, let alone purchase a toy for their children.

The spirit of the season is about giving more than just the spare change in our pockets; it’s about giving that best piece of ourselves in service to others, regardless of what it looks like.

So maybe I cling to the hope of man’s inherent goodness because there is so much need for it. Or maybe it’s because I know that we are capable of so much more than we’ve historically exhibited. Whatever the reason, I believe that within every act of human kindness lies the proof of God’s existence, whatever your particular religious or spiritual leanings.

So this is the time of year I get to make my case for love being the only choice that makes any sense for our world. It’s the time people are more receptive to the notion that miracles are not some ancient biblical thing never to be seen in our lifetimes, but rather a common, everyday occurrence if we would just look for them, but more importantly, if we would look to be that miracle for someone else.

So deck the halls, fa la la, have yourself a merry little Christmas, but mostly – let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me…and you.

Peace and blessings this holiday season,
Ilene



Monday, December 3, 2012

Hey, whose voice is that, anyway?!!

I should know by now that whenever I ask God for a sign, short of flashing neon, I get one. Most of the time, several. And frankly, I don’t rule out the possibility of flashing neon, either. (And I should probably note here that I use “God” and “the universe” interchangeably most of the time.)

For months I asked to be shown what was standing in the way of me living the life I know I was born to, and I didn’t just ask for some little inkling, which may or may not be left open to interpretation. No, I asked to be shown in no uncertain terms.

And the universe, being nothing if not an obliging one, let me know in rapid, profound, and unmistakable succession, so clearly in fact, that I felt pummeled by it – in a good way, of course, but pummeled nonetheless.

Funny thing. Turns out that what’s been standing in my way has been, um, me. Little piece of advice for you all: don’t ask a question you do not want to know the answer to. And yes, I believe I just broke every rule of correct English grammar in that sentence…which reminds me of a joke that my friend, a school teacher, told me: Past, Present, and Future walk into a bar. It was tense. (Okay, so maybe that one just tickles me.)

Where was I? Oh yeah, standing in my own way, blah, blah, blah. So anyway, while it’s great (and completely unpleasant) to know that tidbit of information, the more pertinent question is: Now what am I supposed to do?

So again, I, being just a tad too inquisitive, asked a more than obliging universe once again to “reveal what I need to know.”

Maybe it’s because the more you make a practice of something, the quicker and easier and more obvious it becomes, but whatever the reason, a multitude of different people, all saying exactly the same thing, showed up in rapid succession. And so I guess I was supposed to hear this – in as many different ways as necessary until I get it. Below is a quote that I saw in my Facebook feed. It’s by Michael Bernard Beckwith.

“There is an impulse within us all - a creative urge, a quest - that is compelled to manifest. We can absolutely trust it and yield to it, and as we do so, we will receive feedback from the universe in the form of guidance & inspiration about the purpose for which we were born.”

So there you have it: trusting that “creative urge,” that “quest.”

Trust. TRUST. Trust, trust, trust, trust, trust, trust, trust. TRUST!!!

The all or nothing thing that we do or we don’t. No halfway with it, no sort of kind of. Nope. You’re in or you’re out. You do or you don’t.

And that brings me to the million dollar question: How do you know if the voice you’re hearing is the voice to trust? How do you decipher if it’s the voice of your ego or your heart? The voice of your inner critic or the voice of God? How do you know if it’s the voice of who you once were at your core before the world got a hold of you, or the voice of what you’ve already manifested that will lead you to what you don’t want anymore?

The word “trust,” by definition, includes that element of not knowing. It’s the willingness not to know and to move forward into the not-knowing anyway. I’ll be honest with you. Historically, that has scared the ever-loving crap out of me. I can tell you that the times I’ve done it without hesitation, I’ve been richly rewarded in fabulous and surprising ways. That begs the question – then why not do it all the time? Yeah, that’s a good question, isn’t it? And maybe the answer is, because for some of us, trusting has to become a conscious decision we make.

I think we’re all born trusting intrinsically. But for those of us whose messages might have gotten tangled, or who veered away from our natural state of alignment with God, something has to get us back on-course. And that something is usually when the pain of being off-kilter becomes too great to stay that way any longer. (And let’s be honest, looking at people who are living in the flow just pisses us off after awhile and we start thinking, I gotta get me some of that joy stuff. Yes, I believe "joy stuff" is the technical term.)

So here we are. Or here I am, I should say. Been getting message after message of “follow your heart,” “trust that inner urging,” “get the hell out of God’s way.” Okay, I might be paraphrasing on that last one, but still, you get the point.

A more spiritually enlightened friend of mine called me a couple of weeks ago, and I asked her, “How do you know if what you want to do is the thing you should do?”

She asked me, “Does it make you feel excited and eager with anticipation?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Does it seem rational, does it make sense?”

“Nope,” I replied, “makes no sense whatsoever.”

And here comes my favorite question of all: “Does it make you feel completely uncomfortable?”

“Oh God, yes,” I answered.

“Great!" she said, "Then that’s what you should do!”

That was it. Simple litmus test. But here’s the thing. Anyone can hold a door open for you, create an opening through which you are welcome to step forward. You can take a peek, look and see what might be on the other side. But no one can walk through that door for you. They can hold it open and say, “See what great things are waiting for you?” But no one can do it for you. On this side, what you’ve already experienced. On that side, what’s possible if you dare to trust your heart.

And there seems to be a million reasons not to. In fact, the more I go in the direction of trusting, the louder the dissenting voices become. The critics. My own inner one shouting loudest of all, screaming to be heeded just one more time, maybe because it knows that once I walk through that door, it will become known for what it truly is and has been all along – a false belief that I took on as the truth, my own personal truth, about how life works or about myself, or both.

And whether you want to word it biblically as in “He who puts his trust in Me will not be forsaken,” or in the new thought version of “The universe is conspiring for my good,” the message is the same. This is a loving universe and we are given everything we need to fulfill the desires of our heart.

The heart is not only the central, essential organ of the physical body, it is that place that bridges the gap between the human and the divine, the place we experience love, the testament to what is worthy of our efforts, ephemeral and yet eternal.

And so, my friends, it is time for me to walk through that door. And I put it in writing if only to hold myself accountable for keeping my word, because that matters to me.

So thanks for stopping by. And wherever you are on your own journey, I hope it is filled with open doors, your heart's desires, and oodles, yes, oodles of joy.