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Friday
Feb162007

Redefine a sense of freedom

Imagine yourself 5-10 yrs from now. How do you see yourself? Where are you living? What is your lifestyle? Are you able to focus on what means the most to you? Do you have the kind of relationships and security that you desire? Benjamin Franklin, former U.S. president, suggests that if we give up freedom for our perception of security, we may not obtain or deserve either one. Perhaps the secret of happiness is found by redefining our own freedom, and the secret of freedom is the ability we develop to access and apply our own courage? Once you realize you control your choices, you have supply of courage, and you define your own freedom, you will arguably come into your own.

You may have heard the phrase “where you come from is not as important as where you’re going.” What do Oprah Winfrey, Burt Munro, J.K. Rowling and Stephen Spielberg all have in common? They all endured hardships on the road to making their dreams come true. They are the sort of people who remind me that my attitude toward circumstances can enable me to grow.

Oprah Winfrey sensed from a young age that she wished to grow up and be paid for talking. Imagine that from the age of three, she volunteered to recite in her local church. Her enthusiasm for speaking grew. She was scorned for being born out of wedlock. She was raised by different people in different homes, disciplined and physically abused by four male relatives. Early on, she did get into some trouble in school, but she grew determined to make something of herself. She took a risk to leave high school to take a job as a reporter in Chicago. Though she was eventually fired from that job for being too emotional, her ability to take risks is the reason she is where she is today, a financially successful entertainer, businesswoman and philanthropist.

Burt Munro was a NZ motorcycle legend. At age 16, he bought his first moto (with sidecar) and never looked back. People thought he was a dare devil but he developed a kind of fearlessness. He became resourceful by building motorcycles out of objects and parts other people had thrown away. At age 68, although he had heart trouble and doctors advised him to give up his moto biking, he got the under-1000 cc world land speed record in 1967 at Bonneville Salt Flats on an Indian motorcycle he modified himself. His record stands! He died after 3 more years of races.

J.K. Rowling is a woman who pursues her passions. They got her into trouble. Her choices led her to be an unemployed single mom, yet she still had a vision. She was determined to create opportunities. She studied to become a teacher. She wrote a story on napkins which many of us know as the Harry Potter series. The popularity led to financial success which changed her life.

Stephen Spielberg was clever, and inspired me with his persistence. His high school report card gave the illusion that he wasn’t intelligent. At one point, he visited Universal studios as a tourist and slipped off the trolley to explore ‘behind the scenes’ for a day. He spoke with the security guard and then went back daily for a month pretending to be an intern. He was always dressed up, carried a briefcase and looked as though he knew what he was doing. He spoke with writers, producers, directors and even adopted a vacant office as his own. When he showed a high school project to one of the directors, he was taken on board. Box office sales of his movies

Ultimately, the freedom to choose enables us to shape our own attitude. You may not get to choose how or when you die, but you do have the power to decide how you will live in the present. If you are too influenced by the desires or opinions of others, you will be unable to focus on or realize your own desires. Power of identifying your goals: I grew up surrounded by people who chose jobs with predictable paths of study, income and lifestyle. Yet, something within me always wished to choose the unpredictable and often more difficult path. I’ve been described as an enigma, yet I realize my choices determine how I perceive and define my sense of freedom.

Friday
Feb162007

Flickering candles

Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.  -- St. Augustine

In the not so distant past, I went to visit one of my favorite cemeteries in Pirita.  I'd only been there once before, but that was accompanied by a friend who simply pointed out a few plots before we left.  This time, I went alone of my own initiative.  I had returned because during my visit years before, I experienced a mysterious energy and calmness that drew me back.

The Pirita district lies within Tallinn’s boundaries, only a 10 - 15 minutes by bus from this Estonian capital. When you discover Pirita, you nearly forget the bustle of Tallinn.  You're suddenly embraced by a dense, pine forest, refreshing sea air and, a renewing peace and tranquility. It's a place that has the power to enable you to stand back and perceive your life in different ways.

So, I was drawn to explore Tallinn's famous cemetery, Metsakalmistu, officially opened in 1939. Among its most famous permanent residents are Estonia’s first president, Konstantin Päts, writers Lydia Koidula and Anton-Hansen Tammsaare, chess player Paul Keres, composer Raimond Valgre and singer Georg Ots. At the time of my second visit, I wasn't especially interested in visiting celebrity graves, but I had heard these people had been buried in the idyllic place.

I rode an empty bus from another era. I was the only passenger to exit across from the cemetery. Apart from that, a peasant woman in simple clothes and kerchief caught my attention. She stood motionless beside a folding white table covered in candles. I assumed she was the caretaker's wife. A small, wooden home stood closeby. I smiled at her plump, solemn face and crossed the unpaved street to enter the cemetery grounds. I carried no map. I had no planned itinerary. I simply intended to stroll and explore. The different levels of plots fascinated me with their small sets of steps. The setting reminded me of an Escher painting or a kind of dream. As birds sang and fluttered above, I felt surrounded by an enchanted garden full of life.

Looking back, what was rather extraordinary was how I felt drawn in a certain direction. My legs were receptive. I became open to new kinds of awareness and no other people were in sight.   I gazed up at the pine roof and heard the wind whispering things I couldn't quite make out. Still moving forward, I admired epitaphs and unique, stone masonry. I also passed a brick structure and approached an area of plots sheltered behind it.  A sign indicated these people were recognized by government for their contributions to society.  

A stronger pull drew me to walk through the rows to bring me face to face with the tombstone of a man I realized was my great grandfather.  I hadn't known he was buried there.  I remembered having been told that he was an Olympic soccer coach and much respected. Just then, I noticed a candle flickering out by my feet. I wondered who had placed it there since my great grandfather had died nearly 30 years before.

My instinct was to retrace my steps to the lady with the folding table.  She stood precisely where I had seen her before.  I chose one of her largest, white candles, paid her and returned to my great grandfather's grave.  I stared at it for a while and listened to silence before I took a photo.

Perhaps this experience deepened my relationship with a spiritual side that strengthens my inner guidance.  I pay closer attention to my dreams and often gain new insight into myself. Over time, I've learned the more I recognize the power of my dreams in waking life, the more willing I am to stop looking at circumstances logically. We can decide what is possible by way of thoughts and feelings.Some people claim to only believe what they see. My own life teaches me that believing enables me to see the positive results of what I attract.

Friday
Feb162007

Mysterious, helpful strangers

Who are those people who seem to appear just when we need assistance and then disappear back into the woodwork? You hear about roadside rescues on abandoned highways, people who offer you that extra amount of money you need for the parking meter or grocery bill when a line of impatient peole give you the evil eye.  You may perceive these as good fortune or godsends.  Yet, could these incidents be more than that, gestures which renew your faith in people and your sense of hope about your future?

I recall a time when I lived in France.  I was returning home late at night by the Champs Elysees metro and walking down the road alongside Le Grand Palais museum.  I came across a homeless man on a bench whom I hadn't seen before. I was familiar with another homeless man whom I saw regularly near my place and offered him fresh fruit or whatever food I had. This wasn't him. 

The man on the bench wore simple clothes and said things to me which captured my attention.

"You know what you need to do.  Your place isn't here because..." and he proceeded to tell me intimate details about my life which still baffles me to this day.  His eyes were a deep blue and reflected genuine compassion.  He went on that what I was doing wasn't what I was meant to do.

"You'll be leaving soon, " he said, though his sense of time might've been different than mine.  "Your life is unfolding somewhere else."

From the moment he started speaking to me, it appeared that time stood still. I sat beside this friendly stranger and listened to him tell me that my sense of success at the time was somehow misdirected. He told me a fable and then asked me if I wished him to read my palm.  I nodded.

"All I need is a bit of salt," he replied.  I explained that I lived nearby and would go fetch some.  I scurried off, passing the familiar homeless man asleep around a corner behind the refuse bin. When I returned to the bench with the salt, the man from under the streetlamp was gone.

I never have gotten that experience out of my mind.  His kind words still echo in my head.  That mysterious, helpful stranger was very accurate in his assessment of my life at that time.  When I've mentioned this experience to a handful of people, they suggest I must've been dreaming.  Perhaps I was visited by another angel who was offering me the chance to redefine my sense of success.  I read between the lines of our brief conversation and listened to my heart. He was like a sounding board in passing which resonated feelings in my conscience. It wasn't long before I did leave France. Low and behold, my life took very different and exhilarating turns. My view of success today is very different. I moderate extreme passions and listen to my inner soul.

Thursday
Feb152007

You are in charge of giving your life meaning

The way you perceive yourself and your circumstances reveals whether or not you accept the truth.  Is this what you know or choose to accept? Do you focus on parts of situations or do you actively seek to understand as much as you can of the bigger picture that involves other people?

John F. DeMartini explains that our perceptions "often exaggerate or minimize the truth."  We see what we wish to see, hear what we desire to hear, and selectively draw from our senses based on our own hopes, fears and expectations.  We train ourselves to block out what we'd rather forget.  This kind of behavior doesn't enable us to strengthen our self or get to the crux of who we are. How you feel about things and people are based on your perceptions as well. 

How often do you selectively overlook some of your personal qualities? You may say, that's okay, or it doesn't bother you when underneath it all, that little something has a big impact on the choices you make or how you hold yourself back from things you sincerely hope to achieve. You may fear or condemn based on your own ignorance or on what you'd rather not exert effort to understand. This is your choice, but do you even realize you may be doing this?

The more you open your senses to see and experience some level of good in everything, the more you will realize that you are in charge of giving your life meaning.  The choices you make are ways you seek to convince yourself of your abilities, your potential and your visions of future. How you decide you will view everything that happens will determine what you see.

Consider the film "It's a Beautiful Life." The context of the Nazi concentration camp was not itself uplifting, so how could a director achieve a successful comedy? The protagonist chose how he wished to portray what was happening to his son. The father was so effective, the audience chuckles out of sheer disbelief.

You too can decide how you will perceive the world and your place in it. Whether you choose to better yourself and your circumstances is a first step. If you make this choice, you'll figure out how.

“The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.” -Mitch Albom

Thursday
Feb152007

Limitations are illusions

Friends may confide in you that they have dreams of plans they currently postpone. Surprisingly, many of the reasons they offer for not taking risks are based on their underlying fears they often refuse to admit.  You may not realize fear fuels every imagined limitation and they are human inventions.  We attract and create our own sense of limitations based on what people tell us.

I recently spoke with a talented sidewalk artist.  He was designing chalk images comparable to the paintings of the Sistene Chapel in Florence, Italy.  This man admitted he struggled financially to survive.  Nonetheless, whenever he had a spare moment, he ventured out into the city.  He desired to advertise his talents to the public and take initiatives to seek new commissions.  He takes risks to show and promote what he thinks he can do and he also accepts and grows from critics.  He believes that he has the abilities to rise above his own perceived limitations, and he backs up his beliefs with actions to prove what is truly possible.

How many people will tell you they plan to do something or have thought of doing something yet, have yet to do that thing? Robert Bateman is a Canadian nature artist who chose to become a highschool teacher after university. He didn't believe that his artistic talents would enable him to support himself. So, he decided not to take the risk and chose instead an easier, predictable road.  Years later, he gave up teaching and decided to focus on his passion for nature sketching and painting.  Funny, he sketched and drew during his spare time thoughout his teaching career.  He grew to love and appreciate his talents in new ways and rose to a higher level of awareness about taking risks.

For years, I recall speaking to people about writing books. Many people will say how much they would like to do such a thing, but they often hold themselves back. They explain why they don't have the time, don't have the patience or commitment.  I've been asked about the process of writing a book and seeking an agent and publisher after I've experienced those things myself. I've shared my own story and explained the difference between thinking and doing is only the action steps.  For anyone who has postponed a dream, realize that it is well within reach.  All you need to do is embrace the learning process and do some research about details you have yet to learn. People who realize dreams are open-minded and willing to make mistakes as they move ahead.