40 DAYS TO ACCEPTING WHO YOU ARE

For our Christian friends, Wednesday marked the beginning of Lent. This is a month of introspection, fasting or acts of service to help deepen their faith. I applaud this idea. Anything that not only helps improve yourself, but also deepens your spiritual beliefs is a win/win in my book. The irony, in my humble opinion, is that next month our Muslim friends celebrate Ramadan. What is that you may ask? It is a month of prayer, fasting and introspection to help deepen their faith. It surprises me how much we all have in common, yet still can find reasons to wage war in the name of God.

What I would like to discuss, is the very act both of these periods of time accomplish and how we view them. In the example of Lent, which is upon us, one is to give up meat on Fridays. A little sacrifice to allow yourself to be more mindful, that is good stuff. If you accidentally eat a salad that has real bacon bits on it, what happens? Do you consider yourself a failure? Have you committed a terrible sin that has offended your creator greatly? No, my guess would be that you may chastise yourself and be a little more focused on what you eat in the future. The purpose here is to become more mindful. If you forgot you gave up eating sweets, as an example, and you accidentally eat a homemade doughnut your girlfriend made in baking class, do you quit and forget the rest of Lent? Of course not. The whole point in doing these activities is to strengthen your faith and your character.

One of the great lessons we can take from these wonderful moments of spiritual introspection is that success and improvement is seldom, if ever, a linear equation. We may stumble. We may make mistakes and not be as mindful or thoughtful as we should be. This does not make us failures and often leads to some of the greatest character building. We have to remember that these challenges make us who we are. We also can use these experiences to practice compassion for ourselves. Whether you are undergoing Lent this month, or Ramadan next month, may you see a great sense of spiritual growth and may you learn to be patient with yourself as well as others.

Even if you do not find yourself following either of these spiritual paths, there is something to be learned about periods of self-improvement and reflection. What we can learn is that we will go backwards and stumble as we make our way forward. A side-effect of improving ourselves or deepening our faith is that we must learn to practice compassion. For ourselves, for others and for the world around us. If we do not, we will not succeed with improving much in our lives, spiritual or otherwise.

FIND THE GOOD

This site does not often touch on different spiritual beliefs. I believe that living an amazing life includes a spiritual aspect, but that aspect is a personal decision. As long as your path does not involve bringing harm to anyone else and includes becoming the best version of yourself it should not matter to me or to anyone else what that path is. Here is a great secret – the same holds true for the beliefs of others. There are some of us who feel that anyone who does not adhere to the exact same spiritual beliefs that we do is someone who is wrong or in the worst cases, an enemy. This creates not only undo stress, both in the party receiving the angst, but in the life of the people who carry these beliefs. Imagine going through life thinking everyone is wrong or your enemy? Very stressful. It also limits the opportunities for growth and collaboration. When you think someone is wrong on any level, it can be hard to include them as much, even in another level.

Today’s post is to remind you that people can be different without being wrong. Judgement drains a lot of energy and focus from our lives. On the contrary, acceptance and understanding can free up energy and create new and exciting opportunities for growth and collaboration. Accepting someone does not mean we agree with them or that we are even going to join them in their endeavors. If we focus on how we are alike instead of how we are different, we can do great things. It may be hard to both understand and accept someone who is different, but if we focus on the things we have in common it can do a lot to both bring us closer and to learn from each other. When I go out with my friends who are different faiths, they may dress different, eat different things and have different views, but they have many things in common.

The other day, I had lunch with two friends. One is Christian and one is Muslim. At one point, the topic turned to faith. I was interested to see how this might play out. They discussed their different ways of offering prayers and why they do what they do. They also came to the conclusion that they both do it for the same reason, to become more spiritually enlightened and to become closer to the God they follow. One said to the other, “Funny how a conversation can bring us so much understanding when according to the outside world we are supposed to hate each other.” They chuckled, as they had been friends for years. I thought of the sad truth of that statement. The media, politicians and even some religious leaders, keep our differences as talking points and what is most important. I think we can learn a great deal from each other if we only open our hearts and our minds.

One of the things that all spiritual paths have in common, that we can focus on today and share with each other, is the power of gratitude. All spiritual paths focus a great deal on being grateful. There are prayers of thanksgiving in any faith. I think beginning a practice of including one of those before we retire for the evening can work miracles in our lives. If we can also add being grateful for those who may be different than us, it can go a long way to opening our hearts and minds when we are awake. What is right for us, does not necessarily have to be right for everyone else. Last night, my mom, Margie and I were discussing our dream cars. Guess what? they were all different. None of us argued that the others should switch their car to ours. They liked their car for their reasons as we did for ours, and that was ok. We could listen unattached to why someone might like the car they did and even appreciate why without feeling as though they should change their minds and agree with us. Why can’t this be done with more personal things such as politics and religion? I do understand that there has been, and in some cases remains, persecution of individuals based on these categories. This is completely unacceptable. The truth is, this can only be changed by learning to accept, understand and love each other with open hearts and open minds.

Learning to accept and enjoy those who are different than us will not only create a more amazing life on the outside for all of us, it will create a more amazing life inside of our hearts. We will live life with a far greater peace of heart and mind than if we viewed everyone who is different as wrong or as our enemy. Let us all work on opening our hearts and minds and let us all end our day with a grateful heart. Not only for all that we have in our life, but for those who are different than us who can teach us so much and bring color and contrast to our world.

YOUR 3RD STEP TO HAPPINESS

Welcome to day 3 of our happiness journey! As a quick reminder we are starting from the bottom of staircase and climbing our way to a happier and more amazing life. A quick review of day 2. Watch less, do more was our guide. As we discussed, watching can have a great deal of benefits but nothing compares to being out in the arena taking action!

Now let us get to today, day 3! This day may be one of the hardest days for a lot of people. Judge less, accept more. It can be hard for many of us to accept those who live their lives in a different manner than we feel is right. The one fact we must keep in the front of our mind is that it is their life to live. We may disagree with how they are spending their days, but it is their time they are spending. Often, some of our most passionate beliefs such as spiritual, sexual and political can be the hardest to accept someone that is different than us. One of my main goals as a writer is to help the world be more unified and accepting.

One fact that people often confuse is they feel one way can only exist in humanity. I have friends who have different sexual preferences than I do. Never, have I felt that either one of us would have to change how we are in order to be friends. Never have I thought less of them because they do. I have friends of many different spiritual beliefs. I feel their differences often show me ways to enhance and deepen my own beliefs. Politics…I seldom see the benefit to judging or trying to change anyone in this arena. As long as there exists love, I feel any other difference can be overcome. Which leads me to conclude that to limit our judgement, we do not need to work on increasing our acceptance, but on increasing our love.

One area in which I struggle with is watching others live a life that is far less than I know they are capable of. I see people act and speak in ways that often bring chaos and unhappiness into their lives. All I see is the beautiful person inside that has so much to offer the world. It can be tempting to relieve some of this frustration by offering to help them by sharing things I have learned that allowed me to turn my own life around. I must remember that this path is not for everyone and that some people are more content to live their lives in the manner in which they do. As an odd twist of fate, I found that loving and accepting those people can help them even more than the words and ideas I can share. Like I said, it is something I am working on.

If you feel comfortable sharing some of your struggles in turning judgement into acceptance in your own life, I think we all would love to hear them. Sometimes that might give others the strength and inspiration to do the same.

30 DAYS OF GRATITUDE (DAY #11)

Welcome back to our celebration of 30 days of gratitude. Each day we will focus on one area of our life to be grateful for. If this is your first day doing this I invite you to go back and do the days before this. You can do them in your head, write them down and home, but it is my hope you decide to share what you are grateful for with our community here on Secret2anamazinglife.com. There are no rules. Do one day or do all 30. Let us now look at today’s area of gratitude.

It is ironic I suppose that this post comes out on Friday the 13th. Not exactly a holiday, but a day people either fear or celebrate. What holidays are your favorite? My quick answer would be Thanksgiving. There is no other holiday that involves no gift exchanges, no rituals or dogma set in stone. Just a simple gathering for a meal and to celebrate all that we are thankful for. This year Margie and I had a small and wonderful Thanksgiving with family and friends.

Here is another interesting fact, I love to learn about and celebrate holidays outside of the beliefs I grew up with. An example would be the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Rosh Hashanah celebrates the creation of the world and includes 10 days of introspection and repentance. Who among us couldn’t use some of that? Yom Kippur, also know as the Day of Atonement, where individuals are encouraged to make amends and ask for forgiveness. Once again, who couldn’t use a day like that in our lives? The Muslim holiday known as the Festival of Breaking the Fast, is a celebration of the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting. It is celebrated with not only enjoying a good meal, but also giving zakat al-fitr or charity in the form of food. What a great tradition this is! There are certainly more to both of these holidays and I do not mean to not give them their full explanation here. Rather, my purpose is to introduce you to some amazing holidays you may not be familiar with.

What is your favorite holiday to celebrate? Why do you enjoy celebrating it? Are there some fun traditions or rituals that make it special for you? Let us all learn and maybe incorporate some of your ideas into our holiday celebrations. 

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

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!

Middle east in the west?


My latest restaurant review explores a location with exotic cuisine that really satisfies! Click the link below to read my latest post to the fabulous website Chow Down in Milwaukee. In this post you will not only learn about a great restaurant I recently dined at, but learn a little about Middle Eastern culture and even more about Middle Eastern cuisine!
Are you ready to discover a clean, modern and inspiring location that can leave your taste buds reeling and your mind and stomach hungry for more? Than click the link below to read where you can enjoy all of this!

CLICK HERE TO TRAVEL TO THE MIDDLE EAST!

LET US NOT CONFUSE THE TWO

Much like last post, I must begin by saying in no way am I saying any religion, or religion in general is not good. Religion gives many people structure and guidelines that often help them to grow. As Haile Selassie pointed out in the statement above, it helps them grow spiritually. It is the goal of religion to help people grow and mature in a spiritual fashion.

Many of the practices include some of the same elements although they may be used in different ways. These include, but are not limited to, prayer, fasting, meditation and study. Whether you fast for Ramadan or for Lent you fast to mature and confirm your spiritual beliefs. It is your religious beliefs that are helping you to grow spiritually. Once again, this is a similarity to remember we all have in common. The same with prayer and meditation. The exact methods may differ but the reason and result is the same – to help us grow spiritually.

If you happen to observe someone engaged in a religious practice different than your own, please keep in mind they are doing what helps them grow spiritually. Just as people may use different exercise to improve their physical bodies or different types of learning to mature intellectually, we also use different practices to grow spiritually. Let us work toward and look forward to a day when everyone can become spiritually mature no matter what their belief. It will be then that we can accept each other in a spirit of love and understanding.

WHAT WAS THEIR RELIGION?


This is one of those quotes I really love. When you think about religion it is often, if not always created after the death of its most important figures. That being the case, as it is in the three examples above, it would be impossible for the individuals to be a member of a religion they inspired. That does not make these religions any less valid or take anything away from their beliefs or practices.
What it does is allow us to step back and take a good hard look at what is the common thread that was woven through all of these great leaders, and by consequence, through all great spiritual beliefs – Love. These individuals did not preach a certain religion, but rather a set of moral principles predicated on love. Love is the common thread that flows through most spiritual beliefs. It is a force that drives many of the other principles and tenets of whatever faith you may practice. It is the driving force behind a spiritual practice. Love, combined with faith and hope make up the basis for most of the world’s religions.
Which brings me to my point, if the founder of the faith you follow based their teachings on love, how can you not do the same? Interacting with those of different faiths should we not all come with a spirit of compassion, acceptance and understanding? Those are all aspects of love. The individuals mentioned above were strong in their beliefs and certainly strong in their love. When you are filled with faith, hope and love you do not judge another. You do not say evil words towards another because they are following a different path of love than you.
Let us all belong to the religion of love no matter what organized faith we may follow.

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.

LESSONS FROM THE CIVIL WAR WE HAVE FORGOTTEN

The American Civil War (never really did understand that term) was about far more than just slavery. It represented rural verses city life. It pitted national governing against local governing. In broad terms, the southern way of living against the northern way of living. Of all of these issues the basis was the same, different people with strong ideological beliefs on both sides.

It can still be argued as to whether rural or city planning is better and healthier. I am sure there are benefits to both national and local governing. What I felt was really a no-brainer was dismissing the human rights of someone based on either the color of their skin or their ethnic upbringing. In today’s world of division, this can, and often does, include political and religious differences as well. While it is certainly ok and quite natural to disagree with each other on these issues, what is not acceptable is to vilify or dehumanize others who are or believe different than we.

As I tend to surround myself with people who are as accepting and open-minded as myself, these issues are not always front and center in my mind. In my own way I think of things like prejudice and racism as not only arcane, but ludicrous. Would you really deny yourself a blood transfusion because Dr. Charles Richard Drew, who invented a way to process and preserve blood plasma was African-American? Would you do without such inventions as paper, printing and umbrellas because they come from Chinese inventors? Would you do without all of Albert Einstein’s contribution to science because you are anti-Semitic? The fountain pen, windmill and one of the most important inventions to my writing – coffee are all of a Muslim origin.

To do without any of these inventions because you believe this or that group of people are less than you would not only be foolish, it would be ignorant and stupid. Every culture has its heroes and its villains. To condemn an entire race or group of people based on the actions of one, or some of its people is not only irresponsible, but asinine. Do I hate all of my German friends because back in the 30’s and 40’s there was a neurotic freak named Hitler who killed millions of people? Of course not. Do I hold a grudge against all of my Christian friends because many of them lead to the death of over 100 million Native Americans? That would be senseless.

If we are to hate someone based solely on the racial/religious or political differences we have with them, then we should be prepared to do without all of the amazing contributions brought on by that group. As I look around my group of friends and notice the vast difference in color, culture and creed, I look forward to learning from and working with all of them to make our world a better place. As the Dalai Lama said, we are all brothers and sisters.