The Bliss Blog

The Bliss Blog

Before I Die

                                                                 

 

 

This is a subject that some find challenging to speak of and still others avoid totally, and yet taking our last breath is as natural as taking our first; the cycle of life in completion. I have never witnessed a birth in person, but have been what I consider a mid-wife at the passing of  patients, friends and loved ones, including my husband and father. My mother chose to make her exit only in the presence of a hospice caregiver, so I wasn’t there as I had hoped to be. Each time, there was a blending of sadness and serenity; a sense of surrender to what is. Each time too, I knew that these deaths would come to be. Had I experienced sudden deaths, it would have had a different feel to it, I’m sure. And yet, the truth is, none of us knows which day we will be called to make that transition.

Enter the “Before I Die Project”.   I discovered it in Friday’s email from DailyGood:  News That Inspires. It offers an alternative to the ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ mentality that permeates some forms of journalism, with an ‘if it feeds (the heart and soul:), it leads’ sensibility.

Candy Chang; the designer of the project is, according to her website:  “a public installation artist, designer, urban planner, TED Fellow, and co-founder of Civic Center in New Orleans.”  She has taken an abandoned building in Katrina-ravished New Orleans and made it into a magnificent canvas for the hopes, dreams, wishes, desires and visions of passersby who, with rainbow colored chalk in hand, leave a city sanctioned graffiti legend.

People of all ages have written entries such as:

Before I die, I want to:

Raise my children.

Evaporate into the light.

Tell my mother I love her.

Travel the world.

Find my mythical creature.

Live in another country.

Be someone’s cavalry.

If you had that wall before you, what would you write on it?

 

There is a marvelous piece by one of my favorite singer songwriters named David Roth that speaks to this idea.

BEFORE I DIE  © 1991 David Roth

 

Before I die I want to be

The richest man in history

I want to have a wealth of friends

Abundant love that never ends


Before I die I want to find

A lover who is soft and kind

And one last piece of cherry pie

That’s what I want before I die


Before I die I want to choose

Some different roads and avenues

I want to walk each one in peace

And all my obstacles release


Before I die I want to know

I’ve told you that I love you so

I love you so, I love you so

That’s what I want you to know


Before I die I want to be

The  richest man in history

And one last piece of cherry pie

That’s what I want before I die

 

www.candychang.com

 

www.dailygood.org/morephp?n=4695

www.davidrothmusic.com

 

Friendship Day

 

                                                  

 

The way I see it, everyday is Friendship Day, but in 1935, the U.S. Congress saw fit to declare it a national holiday on the first Sunday in August. In 1997, the United Nations named Winnie – the Pooh as the world’s Ambassador of Friendship. It was offered as a way of connecting people hand to hand and heart to heart. Pretty good idea, don’tcha’ think? It has since spread as a worldwide concept…. contagious friendship. What would the planet be like if we recognized a kindred spirit in everyone we met, rather than a stranger to be feared? How many lonely hearts would be healed? My observation as a social worker who has served people with mental health challenges for many years, is that the folks who have even a small circle of supports, are more likely to remain in recovery. Sadly, those who feel the most isolated (whether by choice or chance) are more likely to remain entrenched in the dis-ease process. When clients have despaired that they are alone, I ask them if they think that the people they know now are the only ones they will ever know, some actually say yes!  I remind them that everyone they now know and love was once a stranger and that there are opportunities to connect with potential new friends every day, through current friends, at work, via volunteering, meetups, hobbies, even in supermarket checkout lines.

More than 10 years ago, I was standing in line in conversation with the woman who was ringing up my groceries. She happened to know the woman in front of me as well and introduced us since both of us are writers. In short order, I found myself delighted with getting to know someone who also became a writing mentor and someone I came to call  “another Jewish mother”, since I was born to one:)  Donna Dvorak DelGovernatore is a talented wordsmith whose genres range from poetry to historical fiction, interviews to magazine and newspaper articles. She reminded me that “writers write” and that I should write what I know. I had the blessing of being interviewed for her book Sensational Singles and enjoyed proofreading her novel Chelten Manor. Although we haven’t seen each other in a few years, clearly it’s time to get back in touch. That’s the beauty of friendship; regardless of time passed between visits,  if the bond is there, it often feels like a moment has gone by.

When I count the friends who grace my life, I am in awe. I come by the gift of attracting amazing people biologically I think, since my father Moish knew people everywhere we went. Maybe a product of growing up in South Philly, maybe just being a people person, I was blown away at how many people he knew.  His funeral a few years ago was a tribute to that  talent as people from all different aspects of his life spoke about what a ‘mensch’ he was.

I ‘collect people’ too since I find them endlessly fascinating. To quote one of my favorite cinematic characters Maude (title character in the movie Harold and Maude) when Harold comments, “Maude, you’re so good with people.” (when he is not) she responds “They’re my species.” Each morning I set intention to ‘”have extraordinary experiences and connect with amazing people.” and every day I do.  Some I have known since childhood. Some met as recently as yesterday. Some of them are live and in person, some via social networking and we may never meet face to face.  Many come from other friends who see similarities between us. Some have entered my heart after we met at workshops, drumming circles, yoga classes, parties, on the job. I met my friend Jody Kessler after I found her CD called Leap of Faith in a store and contacted her to thank her for creating it. Even though she is in Ithaca, NY and I am in the Philly area, and see each other every year or so, we remain in periodic contact. A few weeks ago, when I was thinking of her, her phone ‘called me’ inadvertantly. We laughed about that. Don’t you love when that happens?

Opportunities await around every corner. Be open to recognizing a friend in the face of a stranger. I consider my friends to be ‘family of choice’. I am a rich woman whose friends are among her treasures. <3

Fun ways to celebrate Friendship Day:

Call someone you haven’t contacted in awhile and catch up.

Tell your friends what they mean to you.

Make a list of friends throughout the years and marvel at the impact they have had on your life.

Make a friendship book. Many years ago, a friend created one and on each page, he drew a picture of each friend with a word/quality that represented who they were to him. I was his sense of wonderment and he drew me sitting against a tree, gazing up at the sky. I hold that image dear and remind myself to continue to embody it.

Create friendship cards with inspiring sayings on them, ideally something you come up with about what friendship is to you.

Ask yourself: What are the qualities that make for a good friend? And then ask if you embody them.

Some of my favorite friendship movies:

Fried Green Tomatoes

ET

Now and Then

When Harry Met Sally

Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood

Beaches

Harold and Maude

The Wizard of Oz

 

Friendship quotes:

But friendship is precious, not only in the shade, but in the sunshine of life, and thanks to a benevolent arrangement the greater part of life is sunshine.
Thomas Jefferson

But friendship is the breathing rose, with sweets in every fold.
Oliver Wendell Holmes

Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.
Albert Camus

If instead of a gem, or even a flower, we should cast the gift of a loving thought into the heart of a friend, that would be giving as the angels give.
George MacDonald

Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.
Oprah Winfrey

Friendship songs:

 

Bette Midler   Friends  www.youtube.com/watch?v=j8Iwmcs1hps

Elton John   Friends http://youtu.be/Zuzi-yH9VLo 

 

 

Wiggle Your Toes Day

                                               

 

Did you know that August 6th is considered Wiggle Your Toes Day?  I just discovered this important holiday and will celebrate it in grand style:)  Lest we take these 10 little appendages for granted, imagine what it would be like it we didn’t have them.  Our feet are our foundation that keep us grounded, that help us to move through our lives, on which we get to wear fun and funky shoes. Often we neglect them and when we do, they let us know.

My relationship with my tootsies began in childhood with the profound poem “This Little Piggie”  (how DID they ever come to share the name with the pink porcine critter?) that my parents would recite.  As my dietary habits changed over the years, when my son was little, we morphed the words to “This little piggie had tofu…” which he translated as ‘toe food’.   When I was a child, I visited a podiatrist, because I was pigeon toed and flat footed and had to don clunky, awkward orthopedic shoes and needed to forgo the penny loafers and sneakers that many of my friends got to wear. A trade off was that I got to do fun foot exercises. I have fond memories of walking on tiptoe to strengthen my arches, picking things up with my toes (I’m still quite adept) and each morning, my mom and I would lie in bed and draw alphabet letters with our feet. Within a few years, I was able to make a respectable arch imprint on the concrete after emerging from the pool and could wear whatever type of shoes I wanted. One of the perks of toeing in, was that as a competitve swimmer, I was excellent at butterfly which requires an inward rotation of the feet.

Some marvelous metatarsal meanderings for your piggies’ pleasure:

Walk barefoot in the grass, feeling the cool blades caressing your skin.

Dig your toes into warm sand, noticing the grains sliding between them.

Experience a pedicure and paint your toenails wondrously wild colors.

Puddle splash.

Plant your feet on a yoga mat, rooting yourself to the ground, feeling the energy of Gaia rising up from beneath them.

Receive a foot massahhhhhge and hear your toes sighing.

Draw fun faces on the underside of your toes and have them talk to each other.

Do a foot puppet show.

Wear shoes or slippers that comfort your feet.

Toe wrestle with a friend.

Don colorful socks (I sometimes wear two different socks whose buddies hang out at home in the meantime:)

Dance to music that only you can hear.

Tickle your toes.

Have a conversation with your feet, asking them what they need and telling them how much you appreciate them.

Draw alphabet letters with your feet and pick things up with your toes…I promise, it really isn’t as weird as it sounds.

Read the Dr. Seuss classic The Foot Book

Enjoy these foot-quotes…

Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.
Henry David Thoreau

Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.
Khalil Gibran

Keep your eyes on the stars, and your feet on the ground.
Theodore Roosevelt

You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own, and you know what you know. And you are the guy who’ll decide where to go.
Dr. Seuss

http://youtu.be/bD_1ATjDxAU  Norah Jones “Toes”

Rabbi Rami Shapiro

                                                        

                                                

I met Rabbi Rami Shapiro in the early 1990’s when he had the pulpit at Temple Beth Or in Miami, Florida. I could say that our paths crossed by Divine Design, since I walked into a book store and his book on 12 step recovery for those of the Jewish faith; with a title something like This Too Is The Path, if memory serves; fell off the shelf and into my waiting hands. My husband Michael and I had just moved to South Florida and were open to finding a spiritual home.  As I turned the book over and looked at the back, I saw that the synagogue was close by and knew we needed to attend services there. That we did for the few years that we lived in the area and I found a renewed and re-energized sense of my Jewish heritage. Part of the reason for that was that Rami wove rituals and shared his writings with the congregation that made it meaningful for this ‘spiritual gypsy’ who was exploring her own path. I am grateful that after all these years, we are still in touch.

 

How do you live your bliss?

Joseph Campbell came up with this phrase, “follow your bliss” and I guess he meant something like “follow your passions,” which if we were really to do that, most of us would end up in jail. Living my legal bliss means devoting myself to the art and craft of writing. I make time to write almost every day, with the exception of Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath.

You are a rabbi and writer, speaker and pundit. How would define yourself?

You did a nice job with this. I would say I’m a talking head with keyboard capable fingers who is narcissistic enough to imagine that other people should know what I have to say regarding matters about which I may no more than they do. I hope that isn’t what is carved on my headstone. If it is, I will have myself cremated and my ashes scattered in a used bookstore so there is no place to write that epitaph.

How would you describe your personal spiritual views and the ways in which it has evolved over the years?

When I was 16 I had what I imagine Zen Buddhists would call a kensho experience, a glimpse of reality without the filter of the egoic mind. From that I became convinced that there is only one reality, I call it God, and all life is an expression of it. This essentially panentheist position (all life is in God and is God) has stayed with me and defined by work as a rabbi every since. So, when it comes to spiritual views, no evolution here at all. Regarding how I live that experience, there has been much change. While Judaism remains my “mother-tongue” I have made a concerted effort to learn to speak a variety of religious languages and incorporate practices from Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sufism into my daily life.

What do you think it would take to allow for a greater sense of connection and unity within the context of religion, rather than the divisiveness that often comes part and parcel?

Religions are like competing sports teams playing the same game. The only difference is that competing religions, unlike NBA or NFL teams, think their game is somehow a true glimpse into the existential reality of human existence, and that playing for their particular team determines your fate in the next life or next world. As long as religions take the game and their team so seriously, they will be willing to kill and die for their particular team.

What needs to happen to end this is for people to realize that no one can own Truth, that all religions are, to use a Zen Buddhism metaphor, fingers pointing to the moon and not the moon itself, and that giving one another the finger is just not a satisfying spiritual practice.

In other words people are going to have to vote with their feet and walk away from any religion that fails to revamp itself to better reflect the best of human thinking regarding science, sociology, anthropology, human rights, and ecological balance. We can’t expect religious leaders to change the game, they are profiting from it as it is. Change will only come when people are brave enough to admit that it is a game, and stop playing until it becomes more fulfilling.

Please speak about the Holy Rascals project.

People who dare to name the game and change it are what I call Holy Rascals. Many of them are “spiritual but not religious,” and many are religious in daring to ways redefining the ideas of their team to better reflect the truths of our time.?The Holy Rascals project seeks to introduce these people to the world through short videos, taped interviews, salon-like discussion groups that you can host in your home or at a library or community center, and, eventually, the Holy Rascals Rolling Wisdom Review, which travels the highways taking our videos, introductory pamphlets and seminars to libraries across North America. The more people learn about these incredible teachers the more their appreciation for religion and spirituality will increase, and their tolerance for religiously fueled violence will decrease.

How can people get involved?

What we need are five things: money, eyeballs, more videos, host salons, and more money. While distribution of materials on the Internet is cheap, quality production is not. We have hours of tape on wonderful teachers and lack the funds to turn them into useable video. We have a team of people writing the brief introductions to individual Holy Rascals and lack the funds to pay the writers and produce the materials. Right now everyone is working for love, and while love is great, it doesn’t pay the mortgage.

So funds are number one. And number four. Number two is eyeballs—we want people to watch the videos we do have on-line (www.holyrascals.com), and to send the link to their friends, real and virtual. The more people who watch Holy Rascals videos the more people there are who might change the game.

And we need people to share their Holy Rascals with us. Many people reading this interview know Holy Rascals, religious and spiritual teachers who are redefining faith for the 21st century. We want you get this folks on tape and send the material to use that we help others learn about them as well.

Lastly, we want people to host Holy Rascals parties. Invite a few friends to your home to watch our videos and discuss their reactions to what they saw. We spend lots of time talking about the irrelevant. Holy Rascals wants to deepen our conversations with one another so that we talk about the most relevant: what is life and how best to live it?

You inspire so many people, myself included. Who inspires you?

That is flattering and disturbing at the same time. I don’t think of myself as being an inspiration, and if I did I’d have to stop acting like the jerk I really am, and that I am not prepared to do. So stop letting me inspire you. As to who inspires me—Holy Rascals. People like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emily Dickinson, Krishnamurti, Toni Packer, and Alan Watts who were bold enough to question their respective worlds and free themselves from the condition those worlds demanded.

Your mind seems to be endlessly creative. How many books have you written to date? Any others in the works?

All minds are endlessly creative. That is why it is so hard to meditate. We are always creating something in our minds. Soap operas mostly, but there is an art to that deserving of respect. I have written and have been lucky enough to publish over two dozen books. This year my new translation and commentary to the Book of Proverbs is coming out from Skylight Paths, and the first two of a series of books called Rabbi Rami Guides are being published by Spirituality & Health: Rabbi Rami’s Guide to God, and Rabbi Rami’s Guide to Forgiveness. As for the near future I am working a book with my son, Aaron, on writing as a spiritual practice, a book on grace in Judaism, a translation from the French of Love of Eternal Wisdom, a Catholic text written in the 18th century, and more volumes of the Rabbi Rami Guides. And I continue to blog (www.rabbirami.blogspot.com) and to write my column in Spirituality and Health magazine, Roadside Assistance for the Spiritual Traveller.

That’s the near term. Long term I plan to die. Hopefully in peace.

How can we make spirituality relevant while maintaining seeds of tradition?

Let me reframe this. The goal isn’t to make spirituality relevant, but to make our lives relevant. Spirituality is a tool. A hammer is relevant if we need to pound a nail. Otherwise it just hangs on the shop wall. Spirituality will be relevant when we live in ways that make it useful. For example, if I want to peer beyond the veil of my egoic bullshit and see what is so in and of itself, meditation becomes relevant. If I want to slip from the ordinary to the ecstatic and discover that the ordinary is anything but ordinary, chanting, especially kirtan or call and response chanting in any of its forms—Hindu, Jewish, and Sufi, to name but three—is relevant. Similarly if we want to live justly and compassionately religion (when seen as means, a tool, and not an end in itself as most religious leaders would have us believe) has much to offer.

 

The point is to change ourselves rather than our traditions. If you are a mess, changing clothes will do nothing to change that. A new coat of paint over a rotting wood house will not improve the quality of the house. Changing religious forms while maintaining the narrow egoic bias will make the changes both superficial and ultimately meaningless.

 

Decide what kind of person you want to be, then explore religious and spiritual means for helping you achieve that goal. But don’t imagine that this is the end of the matter. Both Osama bin Laden and Mahatma Gandhi were religious people. A hammer can nail a spike into a home or palm. Religion and spirituality are only as good as the people who wield them. Become good, work at being better, insist that religion serve that end, and we may all come through the madness of modernity with our heads, hearts, and hands open to the wonder, grace, and love that is life lived at its best and most free.

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