Saturday, February 9, 2013

Review of Your Ultimate Life Plan by Dr. Jennifer Howard

Although I haven't finished reading Your Ultimate Life Plan: How to Deeply Transform Your Everyday Experience and Create Changes That Last, I wrote the following review for

Is it synchronicity that led E. M. Forster to name his novel Howards End, known for its key phrase “Only connect!”? He saw the malaise of our civilization as disconnection—from ourselves, our fellow humans and our planet itself.

Yet we live as if we can exist apart from them, and this illusion has created a splintering of experience. This chasm between our interior and exterior worlds can be healed—become whole—when we restore these connections. Dr. Jennifer Howard shows us how in Your Ultimate Life Plan: How to Deeply Transform Your Everyday Experience and Create Changes That Last.

When I first began therapy years ago, I thought of my unconscious as a “Pandora’s Box.” I know I am not the only one who believed this. I kept it tightly shut to prevent all hell from breaking loose, although occasionally a little squall escaped anyway.

No one told me about the peace, joy and safety beyond the storms, where the rainbow lies. I muscled through my tempests of fears and illusions because not doing so became more scary that digging deeper. In Your Ultimate Life… Dr. Howard continually cheers you on through your process, reassuring you rainbows do exist. I can second that encouragement.

Every exercise in Your Ultimate Life… enriches you. There is such a variety of what I call “flavors” in the meditations that you are sure to find some that speak to you deeply. You may find yourself doing them regularly long after you finish your reading. Like You Can Heal Your Life, by Louise L. Hay, Your Ultimate Life… is a resource you can return to over and over, each time taking it to a deeper level, throughout the course of your life.

I have come to realize the final frontier is not outer space, but inner space. If life is a daring adventure, according to Helen Keller, then its greatest payoff is in self-exploration. Your Ultimate Life… is your guide on this journey.

On page 55, Dr. Howard writes: “As we learn to connect with our essence, we begin trusting ourselves.” For me, this is the greatest gift of all.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Silence: An Ode to Dogs

The Silence: An Ode to Dogs

It was eerily quiet when we came home from Egypt. We knew it would be, and yet…

When a dog has lived in a home for any length of time, she brings a special vibration of loving harmony to its space. Even if that dog is temporarily absent, the vibration remains. But when the dog passes over, those vibes gently disperse.

Daisy Gurl first came into Ira’s life twelve or so years ago. One cold, damp March day, a wet, matted, half-grown black dog appeared in Ira’s backyard in Plainview. She looked miserable. It took some coaxing, but finally Ira got her into the house and she drank the water he offered.

She had no tags. He advertised that he’d found a part-Black Labrador part-Border Collie puppy, but no one called to claim her. It was almost as if she had appeared out of thin air. Except she was traumatized. All her life, she never wandered away from wherever she was living. She wouldn’t even walk on a leash further than a city block.

The time finally came to choose whether to take her to an animal shelter or keep her. It was an easy choice by then.

Ira was in a difficult marriage. During the first year he realized there was something radically wrong in his relationship and contemplated divorce. Yet there were his stepdaughters, seven and thirteen, to whom he had grown attached. He and his wife received counseling and things improved for a while. So he stayed.

Within a few years, Daisy Gurl arrived and she provided a loving focal point for the whole family. And from her point of view, the sun rose and set on Ira. She had found her protector, her ward, her god. He fed her, tended her needs and cared for her when she was unwell. And she gave him faith, love and trust.

The marriage eventually foundered and ended. That’s when I met Daisy Gurl and Ira. The first time I came to his house, Ira was on the phone, walking randomly about the house, with Daisy Gurl following. With nothing else to do, I joined the procession. It was fun, it was silly and it was how I became a member of Daisy Gurl’s pack.

In time, both Ira and Daisy Gurl came to live with me. By that time, it had been twelve years since my beloved Jamie had crossed over. I had never had the heart to find another dog, for how can you replace the irreplaceable? Although he had transitioned while I lived in my apartment in Northport, and I had lived in two other places since, sensitive friends—who never knew Jamie in life—could feel his presence in my house in Huntington Station. I think Daisy Gurl could feel him also, but in spirit—so unlike in life—he graciously shared my house with her.

Dogs know wealth is in loving connection. If true wealth can be measured in the number of loving encounters and loving relationships a person experiences, I am so rich. All my life, glorious creatures in the form of canines have wrapped me in their loving, indulgent and accepting care.

At the age of eight, I picked Sandy—my dog in name only—from a neighbor’s litter, and my whole family benefitted from his sweet, quiet love. He was a medium-sized light tan dog. His mother was a Cocker spaniel-beagle mix and his father was unknown. We thought there might be a little pointer in him. He was more a hound than a spaniel. He had the most velvety soft dark tan ears and big compassionate eyes.

He was intelligent. I wrote a short story about him when I was ten or eleven years old. In the story he spoke French, a language I was learning in school. He had an entire secret life none of us knew anything about.

After college I moved away to Atlanta, but Sandy was there with me in my heart. When he went to sleep and never woke up at sixteen, he left a loving legacy of memories that I can savor forever.

Within two years of Sandy’s passing, I moved to an apartment where I could have a dog. I went to pet stores, but I could never choose between a Welsh Corgi or a Shetland sheepdog. And, somehow, buying a dog seemed unnatural to me.

As it turned out, a close friend’s family farm had a pregnant dog and I had my pick of the litter. They said the mother was a mix of Collie and Sheltie, but when I picked up one tiny, tubby, three-week old puppy and saw his stubby legs, I knew he was the best mix of breeds I could imagine: Sheltie and Welsh Corgi. I held him lovingly, carried him around and crooned to him. I didn’t have to choose between a Corgi and a Sheltie. I had both breeds in a wonderful mix. How cool was that!

When I set him back down on the grass, he knew he had been chosen. Jamie moved with a new dignity.

At six weeks he came home with me. At that time, he had a wide black stripe along his spine that made him look more like a strange, woodland creature, rather than a dog, but in time his nondescript brownish puppy hair evolved so that he turned heads with his beauty.

He was ginger colored, with long blond collie hair that feathered his legs, belly and tail, which curled into a full circle, creating a plume, his pride and glory. His legs were short, but not as stubby as a Corgi. His bone structure was not as delicate as a Sheltie. His faced was masked in white; his eyes were hazel, while his eyebrows were dark. But his deep, full-bodied bark could only be Border Collie. People used to say “He made that bark?!”

Jamie became my roommate and companion, guardian and ward, teacher and student, for twelve wonderful, loving years. He loved to sit on a back deck, especially one overlooking woods. His nose quivered, detecting aromas no human could smell. He ears swiveled left and right, a connoisseur of nature’s orchestra. His eyes followed the movement of bird and squirrel, bee and butterfly. He just observed. But more than anything else, he loved to run with a burst of speed, pretending to be wild and free. I have photos of him dashing through “hosts of daffodils.”

He was a smart, eager, energetic creature. Shortly after I brought him home, I trained him from being terrified of a squeaky toy to being enamored by it. It took less than half an hour. That night he was squeaking it so much that I had to take it away because I couldn’t hear the TV.

He could understand words. One day I was talking on the phone to my mother and said I was going to the beach. When I got off the phone I was surprised when he jumped and danced around happily. He was expecting to go with me! It was summer, and I had to explain to him that the beach I was going to didn’t allow dogs during the season. He accepted his disappointment with grace.

I never trained him to a leash, since he followed voice commands—excuse me, requests—cheerfully and obediently. He loved nature and walks in parks and along the beach. He was the advance scout, forging ahead to make sure the way ahead was safe, then turning back to monitor my progress.

Once, my close friend and I took a brief, off-season trip to Daytona Beach in Florida. We went into the ocean while he watched us from shore. Little by little the Atlantic tide was pulling us parallel to the shore, away from him. When we emerged a good while later, we were way down the beach. As we walked back, we could see him looking very concerned, sniffing people’s heels as they emerged, then pulling away in disappointment. When he heard our call, he dashed over in relief and delight.

Another time, in Crocheron Park, in Bayside, I hid behind a big tree when he was walking up the path out of sight. When he came back to check on me I was nowhere to be seen. The look of shock—pain, failure to protect, fear—when he didn’t see me was so intense it broke my heart and I vowed never to do it again.

Another time, we were walking along the shore of Little Neck Bay. I will always remember the look on his face when he took a lick of water from a drainage pipe. If he had said “Yuck” verbally it could not have been clearer than the surprised disgust on his face.

Unlike Sandy, Jamie loved to drive in my car. When we lived down south, we drove up together to New York City two Christmases. He would patrol the car about once an hour, walking from the back seat through the opening between the bucket seats to the passenger seat and onto my lap. Then he would turn around and sit (not lay down) on the front passenger seat for a while and then go back to the rear. At toll booths he would surprise the collectors when they saw him sitting on my lap, with a lolling tongue greeting, as I lowered the window to pay.

There must be a “family scent” because Jamie knew my family in New York was part of his tribe and he accepted them without the usual “fanfare for a stranger.” I have photographs of him sitting on the rug, completely focused on the person opening his or her Christmas gifts. He was equally focused on me, as I opened his gifts.

When I moved back to New York, Jamie came with me. The last home we shared was in Northport. I used to take him to Makamah Beach for walks in all seasons. This is how he developed the expectation of being included in trips to the beach.

God broke the mold when he created Jamie. He had a huge heart, and I have the x-rays to prove it. In 1993, on Martin Luther King’s birthday celebration, Jamie’s enlarged heart stopped. He made sure I was there with him those final hours. Although I was able to revive him, his heart stopped again and forever. But in spirit, he never left.

But now we are in mourning for Daisy Gurl. For there is no ever-present, ever-receptive creature with which to share my love. Now I share my love with a memory.

We no longer perform certain everyday tasks. Gone is the early morning sound of kibbled dog food being poured into her metal food bowl. And the crunching sounds as she eagerly consumed the food we gave her.

Gone are the sounds of her paw steps on the wood floor and stairs. Her doggy snoring, licking stretching and scratching. I no longer have to mind where I put my feet when I get up in the night. Gone is the nudge from her nose, expertly lifting my hand from the computer mouse and onto her head.

She used to sit by the back door when she wanted to go out. And when someone knocked on our door, there was a prolonged fanfare of barking. She was difficult to quiet. Especially with the comings and goings of workmen during our home renovation, I grew tired and frustrated with her headstrong welcome. Now I miss it.

She trusted us implicitly and completely. She knew she could rely on us to fill all her needs. In return, she provided a natural exchange of love and faith. She knew us with all our strengths and failings and loved us unremittingly. She held no grudges. She placed no fault. She believed in us.

In the last months of her life, unbeknownst to us, Daisy Gurl developed a tumor in her bladder. She would bark at us and then show us she could not urinate. We took her to the vet and he prescribed for her and did tests. Nothing helped. More tests and more tests.

Then, the day before we were to fly to Egypt on a spiritual quest, the latest tests revealed the tumor. Surgery was scheduled, instructions given and our stepdaughters took over her care. Surgery went well, but there were more problems and the girls had no choice but to put her to sleep.

The morning after we received the news of Daisy Gurl’s passing, we visited the Temple of Horus. Horus is the son of the major gods of ancient Egypt, Osiris and Isis; Horus represents the Higher Self in Egyptian mythology. In this trinity of mother, father and son gods, he corresponds to the Christ.

We approached the temple as the sun was beginning to rise. Silhouetted against the rosy light of dawn, we saw stray dogs atop the ruins, paying silent tribute to our loss, symbolically looking after us for her. We knew she had sent them, reminding us that wherever there is a dog, she is there in spirit.

Many in our tour group remarked on the presence of the dogs, for it was the first time we had seen any. Those in the know about our loss understood why they were present. Then, as the sun began to rise, they faded away. They did not come down to seek food or alms. Unlike the merchants that seemed omnipresent at every site we visited, they wanted nothing from us.

In time, I think Ira and I will be befriended by another furry companion, once we are out of mourning for our beloved, precious, sweet Daisy Gurl.

What loving creatures are dogs! What miracles incarnate! Life is truly wonderful that has such creatures in it.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Crystal Bowl that Healed

I used to own I AM Books, The Center for Holistic Learning, in Huntington, NY. Among the various items we sold were beautiful crystal singing bowls.

Crystal bowls are just that—they ring resonantly like a bell when a mallet in rubbed around the edge. It’s called “singing.” The sound is similar to the sound a crystal glass makes when rubbed around the rim with a wet finger. Tibetan singing bowls work on the same principle, but they are made of brass, not quartz crystal. The singing is a very soothing sound and can be used for meditation and healing.

There was one 8" frosted white bowl in the key of D that from its delivery did not sing. It was not a matter of know-how--all the other 20 or so bowls we sold sang for me and everyone else. Over the course of two years, all the other frosted bowls were sold, but the 8" D stayed on the shelf. I always meant to return it to the manufacturer for another one.

Time passed and I addressed other priorities. The manufacturer came to NYC twice a year for the New Life Expo. Each time I planned to bring my bowl and exchange it for one that sang. Each time something came up.

In 2008 I closed the business. What could I do with a crystal bowl that would not sing? I refused to sell it, even though I was liquidating stock, because it was defective.

Finally, this past Sunday, the crystal bowl, its manufacturer and I met at the fall New Life Expo. I carefully unwrapped the bowl and Sky (the maker's rep) started to play it. At first it sounded like it usually did, kind of scratchy and unresonant. But soon it was singing like a champ. I was dumbfounded. I insisted to Sky that it didn’t sing—at least never before. Then I played it, to show him the sound it usually made. It sang for me.

Sky suggested the problem was the mallet. No, we used all the mallets and they worked for every bowl but that one. I went over it in my mind. There was no doubt. Every one of my employees could make all but this one bowl sing. Even my customers knew about this infamous unresonant bowl.

We couldn’t find a reason why it was singing now. Something had changed.

I wrapped up the bowl to take it home. Before I left the show I encountered one of my favorite customers, Frank. He remembered how the bowl did not sing. I took him by to confirm my story. We were all amazed. The crystal bowl now sang beautifully.

There is a little addendum to this story of a crystal bowl that was healed.

I rode home on the railroad with the publishers of a local body-mind-spirit magazine. I still owed them money from advertising for my store. I told them the story of the bowl and we all laughed. Andrea said wistfully how she always wished she had a singing bowl. And then the light went on. We agreed to trade a crystal bowl for debt.

A few days later, Andrea took home a beautiful alchemy crystal bowl, the Laughing Buddha. And I repaid most of my debt to them.

So there were two miracles last Sunday. A now very salable crystal bowl was healed, and a Laughing Buddha bowl found its new owner.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

My First Post

I am writing this post on the fly. I am planning on attending the New Life Expo in New York City today, so this will be short.
I am creating a series of talks and classes under the umbrella of "Soulful Living," so this seemed to be a good place to start talking about it.
The underlying belief in every class is the interconnectedness of all things. This is the concept of "holism." I will be writing more about this in future blogs.