IT CAN BE A GLORIOUS TIME… IT CAN BE A DIFFICULT TIME

Halloween has just past and the seasons are beginning to change. Here in the city I live it they have not only begun to change, it would seem we went right from summer into winter. What this points to is the holiday season fast approaching. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah or any other holiday this season is a time to gather with friends and family to celebrate. It does not matter if you are Christian, Jewish, Muslim or any other faith. It doesn’t even matter if you do not follow any particular faith at all. Usually you will be attending some gathering.

These times can recharge our spirit and sense of belonging. It can, however, do the opposite for many. If you find yourself living away from family and friends you can experience a feeling of longing and being left out. Those who have lost love ones can often be reminded of the pain of that lost most around the holidays. While partaking in long-held traditions the feeling of emptiness can be magnified. Maybe you have recently went through the heartache of ending a relationship. Not having that certain someone to celebrate with can cause your heart to break again. Watching one of those fabulous Hallmark movies, or groups of other enjoying their holiday season can leave you feeling down, even though we think it should have us feeling joyous.

There are two points I would like to make with this point. The first is to not only understand, but be compassionate these feelings are what some of those closest to you may be feeling. They may be doing their best to ‘put on a happy face’ and make it through the holiday festivities. They may be worried about bringing everyone else down because of their sadness. There may even be feelings of guilt because they do not feel as happy as they should. We must treat each other with a special kind of compassion and respect during this holiday season. Just because someone is wearing a holiday smile or a silly holiday sweater doesn’t mean there is not some pain and sadness behind that. We must also remember that many times there is nothing we can do to help them, but just be there to listen and even offer a hug.

The second point, what we can do if we find ourselves to be the ones with sadness this holiday season? We can also practice compassion…with ourselves. We must give ourselves permission to experience our feelings. We must be brave enough to reach out to others for help. That could be a friend, a family member or even a grief counseling group. It is a gift we can give ourselves this holiday season. The grief and sadness you feel may never go away, but it is important to know that you are not alone in feeling this way. There are those who can listen. There are those who can help you cope and be with you throughout the process. I encourage everyone to keep these things in mind during this season.

As I write this, it is the final day of Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. This is a holiday celebrated in Mexico. It is the celebration of our loved ones who have passed on. It is not a solomn holiday but one filled with joy and a feeling their relatives are still with them in spirit. This is little consolation to some, but may be a helpful way of looking at it for others. Memories, although they can be bittersweet, are gifts from those who have passed on. There are many ways to connect to others. If your sadness stems from having to be away from your family this holiday, try reaching out with a phone call, skype, text, email or even an old-fashioned letter. As you write you are with those you miss. (as a side note this can also work if someone has passed on) Just healing over the end of a relationship? Honor those feelings and discover new and wonderful traditions you can begin. It is a fresh start and the birth of a whole new way to celebrate.

In closing, this holiday season remember to be kind and compassionate to everyone…including yourself. 

CLICK HERE TO GET NEIL’S BOOK FILLED WITH IDEAS TO MAKE YOUR LIFE AMAZING!

THE OPPORTUNITY OF TRAGEDY


On March 15th at 1:40 pm a shooting began at the Al Noor Mosque and continued at the Linwood Islamic Centre at 1:55 pm. In this shooting in New Zealand 50 people died and 50 more were injured. Most of them were Muslim people doing nothing but practicing their faith. The suspect considered himself a Christian from the far right political movements. In the wake of these shootings many well-meaning Muslims lived in fear and with a feeling of persecution.
On April 21st in Sri Lanka 3 Christian churches were bombed along with luxury hotels. In this terrible attack 253 people were killed and another 500 injured. Most of them were Christians celebrating one of their holiest days. After the bombings curfews were in effect and even Muslims that wanted to help were told to stay home for fear of retaliation. The perpetrators were members of Islamic State of Iraq, a terrorist group.
On April 25th there was a shooting at a California synagogue that left one person dead and several more injured. The shooting happened on the last day of Passover, an important Jewish celebration. The shooter was a 19 year old student who was a member of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. His own pastor said of the events, “It’s a deplorable act of wickedness.”
Reading these events in your local newspaper, online or whatever source you get your news from could leave you thinking how sad, angry and frightening this world has become. To some extent that would be a correct statement. What these events also show is that no belief is safe, and further, no belief is completely innocent. Victims and attackers cross lines of faith, color, race and creed. In a world where tragedy seems to highlight the agendas that seem to tear apart at the very fabric of our humanity, there also lies the seed of opportunity.
What you may miss in the news coverage, and if you do you are not to blame as it is usually buried, if mentioned at all, is the help that also crosses those same lines. One of the greatest challenges is to accept help from the very same group that staged the attacks. With such strong feelings of grief, sadness, loss, pain and even hate these events often have the effect that those responsible desire. They increase the divide among different groups of people.
In looking at the three events listed above, which sadly are only a few examples of hate crimes that are becoming all to common, you can see that the group that was attacked on one occasion can be the very group doing the attacking the next. This does present us a chance to stand up not only as a strong and noble representation of our faith, but of humanity as a whole. This takes courage.
What takes just as much, if not more courage, is accepting help from members of the same group that just attacked you. In the example of Sri Lanka, Muslims were told not to go to their houses of worship for fear of retaliation from angered Christians. One could understand that thinking. When you see so many loved one’s lives innocently taken from them you want to lash out. As one observer noted, “When you are bitten by a bug, you want to kill all of the bugs like that.”
As we can see in the above examples, every faith has its devils. Every faith also has it’s angels. In each one of these cases prayers, tears and help came forth from true members of every faith. It is these moments of hate and tragedy that have the potential to either tear us a part, or bring us together. It takes courage on both sides to do so. It also requires a realization that every group contains both the guilty as well as the innocent victims. It is only as individuals we can reach out to our neighbors of different faiths to increase communication and understanding.
Just as every faith contains both the innocent and the guilty, every faith also contains brothers and sisters, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters. Pain, fear, anger, sadness and frustration are also something that is shared by everyone. So is hope, peace, joy and love. Let us do our part to help heal and understand the former while sharing the latter with everyone regardless of faith.

WORSHIP WITH YOUR FRIENDS

Last week we looked at different places that serve as great locations to meet new friends. That was scheduled to be a one week theme, but due to all of the wonderful feedback and suggestions I received we are going to highlight a few more this week as well. I am grateful for each of you who shared with me your favorite places to meet new friends. Keep them coming for the benefit of all our readers.

Today’s post is about houses of worship. As I write this, Hanukkah is beginning. When I shared this idea with people around me, they seemed to fall on two extreme sides of the equation. Some would say that is the only place to meet true genuine friends. Others would say the place is full of people who are judgmental and condescending to different beliefs. I believe the truth is somewhere in the middle. I think houses of worship are a great place to meet friends. Why? What about the two extreme arguments? Let us take a look at each one.

First, the fact that houses of worship are the only place to meet true friends. I find this argument to be ridiculous for several reasons. Even in the same faith there are many different houses of worship and you can run into fellow believers at many different locations. Personally, I have met some of the most spiritual people in some of the most unique places. Whether they were there to enlighten others or just enjoying their lives, it was only after getting to know them that I learned their spirituality. Great people of faith can be found anywhere.

How about the cynics view that everyone there is judgmental and condescending? Sadly, this is where a few bad apples tend to spoil the whole bunch. I find there are people like that in every faith and in every house of worship. In fact, there are people like that almost everywhere. Yet, houses of worship are a great place to meet people devoted to not only their faith, but their love for their fellow humans. Just like anywhere else, it is a matter of finding those that walk the walk and not just talk the talk.

Houses of worship can be a great place to find those who share the same values as we do and care about others. Whether your faith is Christianity, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, or any other religion, you can find caring devoted people who love and accept others, even if their faith is different. If you can’t find such a person, be one and make as many friends as you can to be a shinning example.

I highly suggest using your place of worship as a place to make new friends. Attend a social function outside of the regular service. Volunteer for projects that not only promote your faith but help the community. You will not only make great friends within your faith, but within your community.

 

WORRY ABOUT THE ROOT AND NOT THE FRUIT

On a site dedicated to living a positive rewarding life, it is sad we must address issues like the shooting that happened at a Pittsburgh synagogue. Living a rewarding life does not mean blinding ourselves to the harsh realities of the world around us. It means finding constructive ways to address and positively affect that world. It is easy to grow weary with each new report of these crimes of hate. It is easy to believe that things will keep getting worse.

To me, it creates a sense of urgency. Time to take actions to bring the people of the world together is more important than it ever has been. With people in places of power that propagate hate and division, it is up to all of us to not only make sure we put people in power who have an agenda of peace and understanding, but live by such a creed ourselves. It may seem like an individual person has very little power in changing the world, but that could not be further from the truth. It is only through individual change that we will bring about global change.

There is a lot of debate when it comes to gun control, placing armed guards in our schools and places of worship. There are also studies on the effect video games and the media that may desensitize us to violence. What are the answers from a legal and political standpoint I do not confess to know. What I do know is that is treating the fruit. What we as spiritual warriors need to do is treat the root. What causes this behavior in the first place. That can range from the disintegration of families, the forums we give those who preach hate, continuing hateful beliefs that have been passed down from generation to generation, and the way we carry ourselves. No matter who you are, no matter what gender, what belief, what nationality or any other category you belong to, there is someone who harbors feelings of hate towards you. They only way to prove those individuals wrong, and to bring a better sense of understanding is to be a positive example of the groups we belong to. It is very hard to maintain of feeling of hate for any group, when every person belonging to that group is a positive example.

Another great thing that we as individuals can do to create global change is to change focus. Begin to talk about and promote positives, especially in those that are different from us. In the wake of the Tree of Life shooting, I have seen pictures of many interfaith vigils. This is great and should be spoken of with equal measure to that of the violence. It does bring to mind why there are not more interfaith activities before tragedy strikes. It is up to those as religious leaders to make that happen, but also to us as individuals. What is to stop a group of people from different faiths from coming together to pray, meditate or just to socialize and better understand each other? There is nothing. It can be extremely difficult for some to cultivate a sense of understanding for those who believe different from us. That in the end is what will change the world.

I encourage all of us to reach out to others and begin to speak peace and togetherness starting today. Focus on all the joy and greatness we share on this planet. If you disagree with someone, do so with tact and compassion. We are the peacemakers and the agents of change. It is time to put into practice the power we have.

A LESSON I HAVE LEARNED

There are a handful of lessons I have learned in my life that really stuck with me and defined who I am to this very day. One of them I was told was that “If you hate someone or something you just do not know enough about it. If you learn about it and still hate it, that does not mean it is bad, it means you still have more to learn.” This is something I keep with me to this very day.

If we are being honest, we would have to admit there are lots of messages telling us who we should dislike, who the bad guys are and why. From politics, sports and even religion have messages telling us that there are people who are less than us. When we read about some violent episode conducted by a group of people it can be easy to say “Look this group of people are evil.” If we were to apply that same guilt by association to every terrible act that has been done I fear we would all belong to some group of evil.

How can we ever not harbor some sort of negative emotions towards people who by their very acts cause the death of hundred, or even thousands of people? It is a very difficult question to answer. Quite often we must look back in history for answers as to why things happen today. Was there an event in history where this group of people were made to suffer under the group they attacked?

Even personal history can shed some light on why people can do acts most of us would find unspeakable. Did this person suffer years of physical and emotional abuse? Did their family constantly remind them of judgmental or even hateful beliefs that hand been handed down for generations? Were they raised in a neighborhood that also promoted these beliefs? Maybe while attending school for 8 hours a day surrounded by peers their age they learned to adopt their beliefs? They might have even did so just to fit in at first, but after years of trying to fit in those beliefs became part of their spirit.

This can be even worse when an entire society is fed information that is hateful. We can use both Nazi Germany during World War two, as well as early America as examples. In the 1930’s Germany began a campaign against the Jewish people. This was not only political, but in schools, the media and in the home. An entire generation grew up being taught a terrible doctrine of hate and evil. This resulted in the death of over 6 million men, women and children of Jewish decent. In the founding years of America the same thing happened. Americans were told the native people were uncivilized and less than they were. They were told they were violent and threatened their safety. It was also said that the Native Americans stood in the way of the prosperity and freedom of the white settlers. Again, this message was delivered in the media, the government, the home and even the church pulpit. This resulted in the death of over 100 million men, women and children. What is worse is that often entire nations and cultures were lost. Medicine and knowledge we could use today are gone forever.

Does this mean we should hate the German people who did not stand up to their government? Should we hate those who acted on the beliefs they were raised on? Should we still hate the American soldiers who killed pregnant Native American women because when they were being forced to walk from North Carolina to Oklahoma they were going to slow? Sure those acts, among many others in history are hard to understand and even harder to forgive for some people.

We must not only view the history, but be careful not to view it through our own eyes. It may be easy to say “If I was in Germany back then I would have told Hitler to go to hell !” We can say that as somebody who was raised free and without judgment. If we had been told, and often given ‘proof’ as to how bad this group of people were from the time we were born, we might act differently. While there is plenty of proof of people who have overcome very challenging situations to be loving non-violent people, it is impossible to know how we would act in the same situation. In fact, we will never know as we will never have their exact life and genetic makeup.

In a world that urges us to blame and condemn, there is very little accent on compassion and understanding. Those two elements are essential if we ever hope to change the world we live in for the better. Let me be perfectly clear on one very important point. Understanding someone’s violent action does not mean Condoning it. We can certainly condemn acts that harm others, and we should, but without following that with an equal effort to understand why they happened in the first place history would be doomed to repeat itself.

WHY I DO NOT HATE 

I warn you this post will touch on subjects that are not that pleasant to discuss. It is not the point of this website to delve into the realm of politics or any controversial topics, but sometimes they provide us with the opportunity to shine the light on ways we can improve both ourselves and the world. This is one of those opportunities. I caution that at first this post may sound negative and depressing, but I challenge the reader to stick with me until the end to find the message of hope.

The other night my lady and I saw the movie The Promise. A very fine movie with a very important message. The movie is a love story told with the backdrop of the Armenian genocide. During the first World War Turkey, who sided with Germany, took the lives of almost 2 million Armenians. Perhaps you may have not heard of this until now. There are very good reasons why. First, Turkey has never admitted to this atrocity and claims all of those lives were lost during a “Voluntary relocation”. I am not sure about you, but I have never heard of 2 million volunteering to move at the same time. Another reason you may not have heard of the lose of all of these innocent men, women and children is because another country that has refused to officially recognize this event in history is the United States of America. Why? Quite simply, they need the use of air bases in Turkey for their interests in the middle east. Hearing these facts and knowing I am Armenian one may assume I hate, or have a prejudice against Turkish people. I do not. I have a friend named George. He owns an ice cream stand with the best ice cream I have tasted. We often laugh and I enjoy supporting his endeavors. He is Turkish.

In the Second World War we are all too familiar with the tragic loss of the lives of 6 million of our Jewish brothers and sisters. Innocent victims who gave their lives for nothing more than their spiritual beliefs. I am not Jewish, but I feel the anguish of what their people went through, and in many ways, are still going through.

That was still not the largest genocide in history. In the course of the founding of the country I live in 100 million, yes you read that number correct, Native Americans were killed in the name of civilization and expansion. Most of the ‘killers’ in this case were Christians who thought they were claiming lands from a less deserving people. They included not just the military who fired shots, but politicians who starved out innocent families after forcibly relocating them. If this all sounds a bit contrived I invite you to read the book Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee or study the trail of tears.

Why is this not part of the history we are taught in schools? One, patriotism. It would be hard for some to love a country knowing some of the terrible things that occurred in it’s founding. Also, the ones who win the wars write the books to teach the people. Often decedents of the very people who committed these acts are the ones teaching our children. Being that I am also Native American one could assume I harbor ill will against my own country or people who belong to the faith that murdered many of my ancestors. I do not. My friend Cari is a devout Christian who I feel honored to call my friend. Cari and I not only have healthy discussions on the differences in our beliefs, but how we can use both to help make the world a better place.

So, the question you may be asking yourself is why, or more to the point, how can I not harbor any ill will against any of these groups? There are several reasons I would like to share with you and tell you what you can do if you find yourself the victim of hate or racial discrimination. Believe or not, on occasion I still am.

The first reason I have nothing but love for these people is forgiveness. People often view forgiveness as a weakness. It is quite the opposite. To suffer at the hands of others or to be openly and unfairly judged based on your faith, race, religion or any such trait and to be able to forgive takes far more courage and strength than to continue the cycle of hate. More importantly, forgiveness is the gift you give yourself. This holds true for may reasons as well. When you hold hate and anger in your heart it not only steals your joy and slowly kills your spirit, but actually has many negative physical effects as well.

When you close your heart to people because they are different from you, or because they hurt you it can cost you the ability to get to know a great many wonderful people. When this is done on a large scale as mentioned in the examples above we lose even more. In the movie I mentioned one of the main characters is a promising medical student. He is very talented and has a natural passion for healing. That ability goes unused for many years simply because of the nationality he happens to be. His imprisonment was not only his loss, but a loss to all of those he could have been helping. Can you imagine if we had lost Albert Einstein to the Jewish holocaust? What would the world have all missed out on?

Another reason not to continue the cycle of hate is understanding. In the case of the three examples mentioned above there had been generations of teaching to masses of people to learn to hate, or at the very least think less of certain people. In most cases it stems from governments against other governments. Can you think of even some beliefs in your own family that you may not agree with? One of the greatest weapons now is knowledge. My grandfather taught me a great number of important things. I am going to quote him here the best I can remember. He told me “Never hate somebody you don’t fully understand. If you still dislike them, you still don’t fully understand them.” Getting to know all the different cultures on this beautiful planet can bring us a great deal of compassion. You do not have to agree with them, but understanding traditions and faith make it very difficult to keep any hate in your heart.

What if you find yourself victim of such ill will? Here is my sound advice I not only tell everyone in this situation, but follow myself – be the best version of yourself. You do this for several reasons. First, it shows the person’s ignorance for what it truly is. Second, you make the best representation of the very group they are persecuting. Frank Sinatra said it best when he said, “The best revenge is massive success.” Consider some of the famous Armenians (Cher and the Kardashians) or Native Americans (Johnny Depp and Chuck Norris). Now whether or not you enjoy these people’s talents they all have achieved a great deal of success.

Striving to learn why people learn to hate others with the passion they sometimes do has given me reasons to continue to be the best version of myself and to have compassion and seek understanding of those different than me. I ask you to pause and think of what we may have lost in the over 100 million lives that were unfairly taken in the examples above. Great doctors and people of healing? Great composers and musicians? The world will never know. What we do know is if we do not stop the cycle of hate we stand to lose a lot more. Do your part by fostering understanding and cooperation between all groups. Even if you disagree with someone, do your best not to talk ill of them personally and certainly whatever group they may belong to. It may seem like innocent gossip, but it is planting the seed of hatred that may grow into the examples above.

This may all seem very dark and negative, but the point is each one of us has the power to stop the cycle of hate and to turn the world around. The responsibility lies with all of us. In short, Love one another.