---------------------------------------------------- posted on: 10/25/2012
Capable of Becoming Good
I found the inspiration for this blog several years ago when I was researching my newest book. It’s an idea from Christian mystic Pierre Teilhard De Chardin, “Not everything is immediately good..., but everything is capable of becoming good.”
His words have stayed with me and I have been looking for the good ever since. Because we tend to find what we look for, I have much to report to you about my personal treasure hunt. Friends have told me that my experiences with this concept have been helpful, so I figured I would take it out into the wider world through this blog.
I’m not talking about a “Pollyanna” view of life that ignores the pain and suffering that exist, but a willingness to look loss in the eye and find what good may come from it. Yesterday there was a story on NPR of a Palestinian man who lost his three daughters in an Israeli bombing, and an Israeli who lost his son to a Palestinian attack. Both men decided that enough children had been lost, and it was time to put hate aside and work toward peace. From the crucible of unimaginable pain, forgiveness arose. When these men speak of building peace, the power of their words is fueled by depth of their losses.
I began looking for the good because of a question my then four-year-old son asked me, “When will my shots be over?” Brennan had been diagnosed with juvenile diabetes and we’d been told that he would have to balance his food intake with insulin injections for the rest of his life. I couldn’t bring myself to tell him never, so I said, “I don’t know, but we’re working on it.”
I felt devastated by his diagnosis. I was angry. How could it be? Was this some cruel joke? I’d been extremely conscientious about Brennan’s health. I nursed him for more than a year and made all his baby food from scratch, because commercial baby foods back then had added sugar and salt, and myson would only get foods that were truly nutritious. Even when I learned that his diabetes emerged from a genetic predisposition, my feelings of guilt and grief remained.
With Brennan’s diagnosis, his father, Alan Thicke, and I joined the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation (later renamed the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation or JDRF). We were impressed by their vision of finding a cure for diabetes. Alan jumped right in and created a fundraising project with hockey player friends from the Los Angeles Kings. Impressed by his activism, I decided I would wait and see if an idea presented itself to me.
Then I was cast as “Liz Chandler” on “Days Of Our Lives,” my first acting job. My favorite place at “Days” was the makeup room. While faces and hair were raised to individual heights of perfection, there was lots of cross-talk and several times, I overheard recipes being traded. An idea formed of a way to make my words to Brennan - we’re working on it - a reality. I would create a “Days” cookbook to raise money for diabetes research.
The Days of Our Lives Celebrity Cookbook was born. It took fifteen months, the appearance of a business card titled “Expect a Miracle,” and a philanthropic Texan to make my idea a reality. (The full story is the first chapter of my new not-yet-published book Coincidence Is God’s Way of Remaining Anonymous.) Between 1981 and 1985, the Days Of Our Lives Celebrity Cookbook, Volume I and Volume II, raised more than $1 million for diabetes research.
So I know that good can arise from difficulty. My son’s diabetes has been one of my life’s great griefs and one of its great gifts. A friend of mine coined the phrase “Love something else more.” In other words, when troubles come, find a bigger vision, a higher purpose. The founders of JDRF and their quest to cure diabetes gave me a higher purpose and helped me put aside my doubts and fears. (Experts in the cookbook arena told me I would not succeed in the self-publishing market.)
Without that desire to help my son, I most likely would not have written books, formed businesses, and become an advocate for biomedical research. Of course, the best news is that even though we were told that Brennan had only a 50% chance of living an additional 25 years, he is still well after 32 years with diabetes. He’s married to the fabulous Dolly, and they have given me Tyler, my first grandson, or, as I call him, Nana’s Rascal Boy.
I invite you to begin looking for the good and to send me your stories. Perhaps you’ll give me the chance to interview you and share it here. You can contact me directly at email@example.com.
I am excited about this forum and have so much to tell you in the months and years ahead. In anticipation of the good to come...
---------------------------------------------------- posted on: 06/15/2011
Hope is Brewing
I have been actively looking for the good for years. I pay attention to the company I keep. I don’t watch violent movies or listen to music with violent lyrics. I monitor my thoughts so that I don’t dwell on negativity and judgement. I subscribe to Ode, http://www.odemagazine.com/doc/,the magazine “For Intelligent Optimists,” and YES! http://www.yesmagazine.org/ which describes itself as “Powerful Ideas, Practical Actions.” I want to know what can be done and is being done to solve our problems. I want to live each day filled with hope. Sometimes, that’s not easy.
As exciting as immediate access to everything that’s happening everywhere has been and continues to be, the tragedies that bombard us through the media can feel overwhelming. They affect perception. I heard of a study documenting that people who watch the news frequently have a more pessimistic view of the present and the future. I can believe that. So I make an effort to seek good news, and the Internet is filled with good news, if you look for it.
I came across some good news recently in the Huffington Post. There is an organization that is working to improve the future of Haiti. It’s named Nouvelle Vie Haiti (New Life Haiti), http://nouvelleviehaiti.org/, a project of the International Association for Human Values. It has all the elements I love: it’s low-tech, uplifts and empowers people, and is making something great out of distressing circumstances. This leadership training program features a volunteer Youth Corps similar to the Peace Corps. It is geared to Haiti’s under-30 population that makes up 70% of its people.
In one of its programs, trainees are learning about sustainable agriculture by growing earthworms and turning rotting organic waste collected from the marketplace and restaurants into nutrient rich compost that will help bring life back into Haiti’s severely depleted soil.
To quote their Program Director Uma Viswanathan, “They are helping Haiti battle the resignation - reinforced time and time again by failed leadership and broken trust - that in Haiti, things never change. We don’t need to wait for the $11 billion in aid to come in. There are solutions. There are things we can do right now.” In the video on the web site, one of the young men says, “After they’ve finished with the course, people change, they transform.”
I have wondered how Haiti can ever recover from its bankruptcy of leadership and resources, and the horrific hurricane and earthquake that darkened its land. I am so happy to know that hope is brewing.
---------------------------------------------------- posted on: 07/08/2011
I moved the armchair and ottoman into the front hall to be closer to him. He sat quietly in his red brocade dog bed, occasionally looking out the beveled glass front door. It was in those moments that I thought he was still himself, that he would get up and talk (woo-woo-woo-woo-woo-woo) to me about needing a cookie, but the internal bleeding was draining him of the spirit and playfulness I had known as Bearli (Swiss for Little Bear) for the past eleven years.
He came to me at 10 weeks of age in November '99, a bundle of big eyes and white Havanese hair (not fur) that fit the palms of two hands. He was so beautiful I cried the first time I held him. At five months, he was a cast member of our national tour of "Anything Goes." While I played Reno Sweeney, Bearli took the place of that ridiculous stuffed dog one of the actors carried around and asked the audience to believe was real. Of course, all eyes were on him whenever he was onstage; he was a star and he knew it.
Just recently, he had some trouble walking and I said, "He's getting old, poor boy." He was talking (woo-woo-woo-woo-woo-woo) to my niece, Josanne, who was sitting on the steps of my office. She's always had a intuitive gift with animals. With a surprised smile, she said, "He doesn't like it when you call him old. He wants to be called a puppy."
So for what I didn't realized were his last four weeks, I told him frequently what a beautiful puppy he was. He responded with enthusiasm, scampering and prancing as best he could. It was ten days ago that he slowed down and seemed to be running out of steam. I thought he had wrenched his back leg again and happily carried him home for the last part of his morning walk several days in a row. Then last Monday he would not eat, nor Tuesday, and the vet said his blood panel showed he had almost no platelets, the clotting factor in his blood. We tried a transfusion and medication, but by the next morning he was right back to listless.
I wasn't sure I could not have the heart to "put him down." Forty-five minutes before the appointment with the vet, I thought maybe I was making a mistake, but then he walked into the kitchen and lost control of his bladder. He sat there in a puddle of bloody urine, confused. He was barely Bearli any longer. It was the sign I needed.
The doctor so gently stroked his head and said, "Sorry." I draped him in the shawl my spiritual teacher had given me twenty-one years ago and held his face. "Thank you, thank you, thank you" I told those soulful eyes. Then the doctor pushed the syringe. In thirty seconds his heart had stopped. So fast. Eleven years ended so fast. Just last month I had told him I was so happy we'd have another four or five years together. But we have the time we have and we never know.
He was my first-ever puppy and will remain so for all my days. I will miss, I already do, his jaunty walk, his morning kisses and the clear way he looked at me. It's good that I have it all stored in my heart where it can never be lost.
---------------------------------------------------- posted on: 07/21/2011
A Whole 'Nother Way To Be A Woman
There are women we meet or see who stand as an example of what is possible. One such woman is Lena Horne. I saw her on Broadway in her one-woman show, "Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music." It was like seeing the perfect dress and knowing, "I want that!" I wanted what Lena brought to the stage: fearlessness.
Although I was born in Hell's Kitchen in New York City, I was raised with a Minnesota sensibility, delivered straight from my grandmother. The path was narrow and the rules were strict: Mascara was for hussies and if you pierced your ears, you were a pirate. It was essential that you were a "nice girl," because otherwise, "What will the neighbors think?" At one point my grandma asked me why I had to sing in saloons when I could just as easily sing in the church choir. I murmured "It's not the same," and got out of the room as quickly as possible.
So I began my singing career in floor-length, high-necked gowns, trying to figure out what everyone and anyone needed or wanted me to be. Then I saw Lena. She sang with passion and fire, and, oh Lord, the way she moved her body. She sang from her thighs on up. When her performance ended, I whispered to myself, "That's a whole 'nother way to be a woman."
The freedom with which she moved and sang was a revelation. My onstage permission slip was short: stand or walk. The idea of "gettin' down" into the sound had never occurred to me. I sang from my lungs, period. Lena bent her knees like she was lifting a heavy load, and unwrapped her pain for all of us to see, the pain embedded in her being from losing her son, her husband and her father in the space of two years. You could see her descend into it just before she sang "Stormy Weather." The sound of her voice ran through us, brought us to our feet in gratitude that anyone could tell the truth like that.
That night, she taught me with something much more powerful than words: She taught me with her presence. She gave herself complete permission to be who she was, to bring her full heart, her full knowing to that stage, to her audience. A door opened in me that will never again be closed.
That's why I love to see this time's fearless women performers like Katy Perry and Lady Gaga who are willing to offer what is real and true for them, even if it wouldn't be on my grandmother's approved list.
As for me, I'm still working on fearlessness. Last fall I was hired to sing the "Streisand Songbook" with the Palm Beach Pops symphony orchestra. I had three months to prepare, and spent many afternoons learning Barbra's songs and placing my voice around them. One afternoon, in the midst of rehearsing "I'm the Greatest Star," my inner critic asked, "What if you're not good enough?" I felt tears begin, but I quickly put that aside by saying, "Stop that. Put your whole heart and voice into it, and you'll succeed."
I did. For those six concerts, I sang from my thighs on up and invested each song with my own experience. "The Way We Were" became an affectionate postcard to the former boyfriend I had recently seen for the first time in many years. "Don't Rain on My Parade" was a feisty response to my fear of failure. And "Happy Days Are Here Again" became an anthem reminding myself and the audience that, no matter how dark life may seem, love and joy have a way of showing up.
Thank you, Lena, for showing me a whole 'nother way to be a woman.
(Written for Huffington Post Women)
---------------------------------------------------- posted on: 08/12/2011
A Bobber on a Fishing Line
A friend of mine was facing circumstances that seemed insurmountable. She cried out, “I have no freedom anymore.” Trying to reassure her, I replied, “You still have freedom of spirit.” She asked me how that could be. I explained that in spite of what was happening, she had the freedom to think a better thought and create a more positive energy, but she didn’t understand. Her spirit, that essential nature of beauty and bliss within her, was too covered with pain and trauma from her childhood. Because she couldn’t bear to look at her inner pain, she couldn’t get past the pain to that deeper being, her spirit.
Yet I have learned that pain is my friend. It leads me to where the hurt is so that I may heal it. Poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, “Why should you want to exclude any anxiety, any grief, any melancholy from your life, since you do not know what it is that these conditions are accomplishing in you?”
When we run from pain, the source of it doesn’t go away, but hides in the deep places, waiting. As my friend Shirlee says, “Whatever in you needs to be healed, God will keep bringing it to the surface, like a bobber on a fishing line.” My willingness to look into my painful issues rose in response to my teacher’s directive, “If it comes to your attention, it needs your attention.” When outer circumstances bring inner pain to our attention, we have the opportunity to set ourselves free from what is troubling us.
How do we do set ourselves free from old wounds? We can use emotional pain to (1) identify what idea (or personal myth) is causing the pain and (2) examine our part in creating the circumstance that brought the pain to the surface and thereby begin the healing process.
My 50th birthday was filled with emotional pain that provided opportunities for healing. I was cast for a second appearance on a TV series on my birthday. The AD (assistant director) phoned with an 8AM call time in San Diego, two hours from my home. I only had two short scenes and thought, Great! With such an early start, I’ll be back in the evening to celebrate my birthday. I mentioned to him that I would do my own makeup. I had decided to do that because in the first episode, the lighting had been unflattering, and I knew a few makeup tricks that would help me look my best if it happened again. Shortly after I arrived in San Diego, there was a knock on my trailer door. There stood the head of the makeup department who had done my makeup for the first episode. “I understand you want to do your own makeup. Why is that?” she demanded. Oops. Confrontation. Not my forte.
I started a verbal tap dance. “It’s not anything you did wrong, believe me, it’s just that I saw the last show and I wasn’t happy with the way I looked. There was nothing wrong with the makeup. It’s that the camera angles and the lighting were very harsh, and there were shots where I looked grotesque.” I topped it off with an apologetic little laugh, like “ha-ha, I looked grotesque, isn’t that humorous?” She and I commiserated about how little time they have for lighting, and I told her I would check with her when I was finished applying my makeup. We parted pleasantly.
A few minutes later the AD informed me there was rain forecast for the afternoon and they would shoot the outdoor scenes first. It wasn’t until three in the afternoon that they filmed my first scene. As I walked past the makeup lady, I heard her comment “if some people around here weren’t such a b****.” Her words spread cold chills around my heart. I knew she was talking about me, but why?
Later in the makeup trailer, she was rude to me in response to a question I asked. By the time I got to my dressing room, I was sobbing, anguish pouring from me in the soft, high voice of a child, “I’m not stupid. I’m not a bad person. I’m not stupid. I’m not a bad person. I’m a good person. I try to be a good person. I’m not stupid.” What a surprise! After the years I’d spent mending my wounded sense of self, it was still there: little Gloria’s secret - that she’s stupid and bad, that she will never be good enough.
I dried my eyes, gathered my courage, and went back to the makeup trailer. I wanted to understand what was going on. She turned to me with fire in her eyes, ready for battle. Holding back tears, I talked to her until I got to the source of the venom. She spit out the words, “You said my makeup job made you look grotesque.”
I reminded her of our morning conversation, of how we discussed the harshness of the lighting. She finally conceded, “Yes, that was what was said.” I assured her again that I never said anything derogatory about how she made me look. (A friend told me she couldn’t believe someone would be rude to a celebrity/actress on a set. Obviously my friend has never worked on a set! An actress at “Days Of Our Lives” threw a trashcan in my general direction for an imagined slight. Luckily, she missed.)
Identifying the Painful Idea
Discovering my painful idea wasn’t too difficult. I kept repeating my defense of it like a mantra, “I’m not stupid. I’m not a bad person.” I was countering a painful childhood belief that I’m stupid and bad. Being attacked for something I didn’t do brought it to the surface. This is often the case. A verbal attack, a loss, a circumstance, even a slight will bring up one of these personal myths: I’m all alone, I’m not safe, no one can love me, I’m not good enough and so on. The myth often gets repeated with tears and/or anger. We’re fighting a battle, pleading a case that happened long ago. Once we recognize it as an unfortunate myth, we can attend to its undoing and get closer to the freedom of spirit that is our birthright.
There’s the story of the young boy shoveling into a big pile of horse manure. His father asks him what he’s doing. “Dad,” he says, “with this much poop, there has to be a pony in here somewhere.” I knew there was pony somewhere in the pile of poop that had become my birthday, and I actually figured out how to be grateful for what had happened. I don’t want you to think this gratitude came all at once. For days, I tried to blame her, How could she? Who does she think she is? I didn’t do anything to deserve.... my “woe-is-me, I’m the victim, he/she is the bad guy” byline, but blaming her would not restore my peace of mind.
Examining The Part I Played
Marcel Proust said, “Grief, when it turns into ideas, loses some of its power to injure our hearts.” The key to restoring peace of mind is knowing where to look. The true cause of my upset was not what she said, but what she reminded me of - the personal myth I held about myself: I’m not good enough. This idea was within me, and that was where I had to look to restore my peace of mind. Otherwise I’d be like Nasruddin, a popular character in the Middle East, who lost his ring in the basement of his house. He was under the streetlight looking for it. His neighbor inquired, "What are you looking for, Nasruddin? Have you lost something?"
"Yes,” Nasruddin replied, “I lost my ring down in the basement."
"Why don't you look for it in the basement where you have lost it?" asked the neighbor.
"Because the light’s better out here!" Nasruddin replied.
It’s always easier to shine the spotlight of blame on someone else. Less frequently do we want to peer into our own darkness to see how we contributed to the mess, hence the old saying, “Clean your face instead of blaming the mirror.” If I was going to avoid being broadsided by another such incident, I knew I had to take responsibility for my part in creating the ugliness with the makeup lady.
As I examined the exchanges between us, I saw that she and I had similar personal myths: I’m not good enough. We each looked for, expected, and found reminders of our unworthiness. Like two interlocking pieces of a puzzle, we each had an opposing strategy: hers was offensive, mine was defensive. She got to be angry, I got to be hurt... once again.
She heard my conciliatory tap dance as an attack on her work, because I gave her ammunition by using the word “grotesque!” I didn’t know back then that you never give an insecure person verbal ammunition she might take personally.
And I hadn’t listened to and decoded my uneasiness around her. When I first worked with her, she had been pleasant, but I must have intuitively recognized the anger that prowled below her surface, because as I drove to San Diego, I rehearsed all the excuses I’d offer to placate her. Because I was afraid of her, I overdid it. I said too much. I treated her as if she were a trusted confidant (big mistake), using a “just between you and me” posture to place the blame elsewhere, even using the word “grotesque” to heighten that effect. If I had simply said, “It’s my birthday and I feel like doing my own makeup this morning,” her verbal attacks would not have happened. Yet there was no reason to beat myself up. I uncovered the vestiges of painful internal messages, so that I could divest them of their lingering power, and that was a good thing!
I didn’t get home until 10PM that night and missed celebrating my birthday in the way I had planned, but it was still one of the best birthdays I can remember. During my twelve hours on the set, I read Neale Donald Walsh’s Conversations with God from cover to cover. As I completed it, tears washed my face, tears of joy as I felt the enormous love and compassion that exists for us, within us. And, when I got home, a birthday card was waiting for me - from my former husband. In it he expressed appreciation for what had been, for who I had been to him, and regret for any hurt he had caused. When we had divorced ten years earlier, there had been some hard moments. His words erased all that. Big sissy that I am, I cried big tears, (again!) and said, “Thank you for this day.”
In one swooping day, I experienced the truth of Pierre Teilhard De Chardin’s words, “Not everything is good, but everything is capable of becoming good.” That day taught me to look for and expect that there may be good from anything that comes my way. That is spiritual freedom.
(This material is drawn from my newly completed book, Coincidence Is God’s Way of Remaining Anonymous, a spiritual autobiography about a series of extraordinary coincidences that transformed my life. It was published online in Kinetics Magazine, http://www.kineticsmag.com/.)
---------------------------------------------------- posted on: 07/15/2011