Tuesday, September 28, 2010

My Hero

From Jo Floyd Lucas

He’s not a military veteran of Iraq, Iran, or Afghanistan. He wanted to join the Marine Corps right out of high school, as his grandfather had done, but was denied at the end of an intense recruitment process because of a ‘physical limitation.’ Nevertheless, he’s displayed the valor of a warrior on many occasions. He has the scars to prove it.

He’s not a policeman, or a firefighter. These men and women are brave, to be sure, and may be called upon to face their mortality at some point in time, but my hero stared down Death with a calm and steady gaze several times before the age of thirty.

He’s not a doctor who has discovered the cure for cancer. That would be heroic, indeed, worthy of great laurels, but heroic feats are also sometimes accomplished by the people lying on the operating tables, rather than working over them.

He’s not a wealthy philanthropist with the ability to donate large sums of money to help countless throngs of needy people. Still, he gives generously of his time and talent and ability, renewing hope, rebuilding lives, and reaching one person at a time with his message of perseverance, persistence, and empowerment.

He’s my son, Tony.

Tony was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease (an Inflammatory Bowel Disease affecting 1.4 million Americans) at the age of ten. I first saw that determined look of bravery when he underwent an intestinal biopsy to determine the cause of his weight loss, fatigue, and unrelenting fevers. We were in the state-of-the-art Pediatric Gastroenterology Department at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. They presented Tony with a stainless steel ball (about the size of a large ‘shooter’ marble), attached to a long thin tube. The stainless steel ball contained tiny ‘jaws’ that would pinch off samples of the lining of the small intestine.

Tony was sitting on a table in the middle of a treatment room. The doctor showed Tony the steel ball, and asked, “Do you think you can swallow this for me?” I stood in stunned silence as I watched a cadre of nurses and techs approach him from behind, armed with straps and towels meant to assist in wrestling this little fellow to the table in the event that he needed ‘help’ in swallowing the ball. Tony’s eyes met mine, and I smiled, shrugged my shoulders, and said, “Just like that pizza you eat every Friday night, Honey.”

He knew exactly what I meant. He looked from me to the steel ball, picked it up out of the doctor’s hand, and popped it into his mouth, and gulped. Done. Just like that.

Now it was the doctor’s turn to be stunned. He stared in disbelief for a few moments, certain that the steel ball would pop back out of Tony’s mouth at any moment. Nope. It was down and the biopsy was finished in record time. The entire room let out an audible sigh of relief, and I knew that Tony had taken his first courageous step toward conquering his nemesis that day.

In the twenty-three years that have followed, my son has shown the bravery of the lionhearted through countless procedures, treatments (some experimental), surgeries, and complications. His abdomen bears witness by the scars of the battles he has fought. He has had the help of a loving family and great friends, and in recent years, a gorgeous wife and two beautiful children to fight alongside him. He has had many great doctors who have done much to help him fight this formidable foe, and the infinite power of a loving God at his side. But it has been up to Tony alone to face the danger and adversity with the courage and composure of a hero. He has withstood it all with the patience of a saint and the endurance of a marathoner.

Oh, but he has done so much more than simply withstand this trial! As heroes do, he has taken this fearsome opponent and turned it into an opportunity to accomplish something for the greater good. When he could have resigned himself to a lifetime of illness, he has embraced fitness. When he could have taken the advice of several medical professionals to apply for Social Security disability benefits, he chose instead to continue to work and support his family. When he might have become dependent, despondent, or depressed, he took a lifetime of lessons on the inner workings of the human body and nutrition, and used it to educate and inspire others by his heroic example.

And though Crohn’s Disease caused Tony to lose his entire colon a few years ago, he never gave up on his dreams. Today he is the proud owner of a CrossFit affiliate gym called CrossFit Ares, named for the Greek god of War. How appropriate! He trains elite athletes, first responders, doctors, and recruits heading for military service. As a certified fitness trainer, his clients have included old and young, the fit and the obese, the healthy and the chronically ill. I daresay that not one of them has ever had the slightest idea that their trainer—the one pushing them so hard to be the very best version of themselves that they could be—has fought battles every bit as fierce as the ones they face. They only see the friendly, approachable, can-do guy who, for some mysterious reason, is able to convince each one of them that they can overcome any obstacle. Oh, yeah. That's heroism.

You may wonder if my other three children or even my husband might be jealous of hearing me call Tony my hero, but I’m pretty sure that if you asked each of them who their hero is, they would give you the same name, too.

Happy Birthday, Tony! You are my hero.

Click below to find out more about the work being done to end Crohn's Disease and Ulcerative Colitis.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Right in the center of your spiritual self

by Dub Riley

Terms of endearment. Isn't the phrase itself a thing of beauty?! How simple it is to repose in reverence for something or someone higher than yourself! Ah, take my hand and we will dance for joy! We breathe fresh wonderful air, and celebrate our existence.

Would you care to hear a few meandering reflections? Some of you know because we've discussed it directly, and some of you have gleaned it by reading, literally between the lines of this blog or on Facebook. Smiling Heart is a repository. But it has a soul. I hope you feel the purplish flower and the Taoist illustration of five elements represents the soul of our lovely little experiment.

The image is just a quick photoshop project.  When I searched for something available to "snag," there wasn't anything which seemed to encapsulate that orchestral sound which was in my head. So the maestro guided me to merge the five pointed flower with the Taoist illustration and the fragrance and comfort of the purple hue in the photograph simply knocked me off my feet.

Miss Joellen Lucas Floyd has always been a spirit of uncommon beauty. But when I asked her why she wasn't publishing anything, she stammered with reasons and justification for the deprivation she inflicted on such a willing audience.

"I've always written for various non-profit businesses I've been associated with." Or, to help other people with their business plans or their projects, she would make time for eloquence on their behalf.

"But Jo," I urged. "You have such a gift. People will gather and will fall in to a kind of reverence for the things of beauty you can describe. You may even find that you enjoy it!" I continued.

Now you may not know that once, many moons ago, cautious observers--that while on the phone, I shared with Jo the ancient technique which has been modernized and adapted and which Mantak Chia renamed, Inner Smile. I learned it in lineage from Mantak's protege and current teacher of eminence, Michael Winn. I traveled to the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains to a retreat in Asheville, North Carolina after two years of communicating on-line and reading his materials. I had already been a zen and Taoist student for over thirty years when I found Michael. Anyway, Inner Smile is much more than I could have possibly understood when I first received the initiation.

Jo was so moved by the experience of the phone meditation that she asked me to record it. I protested and said that a Google search will take you to untold documents and lessons about it, by teachers and witnesses whose expertise makes my own meager ability look like child's play. "No," she offered in her usual gracious way, "I would appreciate it if you would record it, just like you gave it to me, so I can practice it on my own."

So that resulted in the original voice meditation which then became a video, which is now gone from the blog. We don't really understand what military presence came and snatched it away, but alas it has been replaced with another one, somewhere here.

I think that this preoccupation of mine, to return to the subject of the meditation often, is not the best use of my energy or yours. And honestly, the point of this essay isn't to position Inner Smile in a positive light (Oh, that it shines so wonderfully!). The point is to reflect on our heart center, and the wonderful healing that can come from such simple inner reflection.

Before ruminating about the region in the upper portion of our chests, the story of how Jo and I came to launch this resting spot...

We hope every visitor and every guest author will take comfort here. We can't claim it as our gift to you, because we've been rewarded many times over by comments and by writing of others. We humbly offer our appreciation to you for having your eyes and hearts here in this space. Thank you!

It was just a natural unfolding. We had expressed our enthusiasm to each other as pen pals. First I wrote something. Then she added a second. And about then I posted the original video of Inner Smile. Now, quite a few more have been added and our friends have joined with essays and a small group of followers contribute comments. How fun!

The Tao te Ching talks about the start of the universe and the resulting time we're in:

The one begat two,
the two begat three,
and the three begat the ten thousand things.

So it is, that by five, I included all of the ten thousand things of all creation, and as many authors and readers, to be embraced in the concept of five.

Now back to the reflections about our heart centers and what can be done by putting our attention there. One of the miracles of the inner smile practice is the chance to release harmful emotions. It is thought by the practice of Traditional Chinese Medicine that we store harmful emotions in certain parts of our body. These harmful emotions result in all kinds of blockages which result in all kinds of illness.

It is also taught that in our heart center, what we hold on to is negativity and judgement. I don't need to elaborate on the harm these vile emotions can cause to the person who chooses to possess them. Believe me when I say, that the amount of work still remaining for me to release these distrubances to my peace is massive! So I'm not here to shine as a spirit free of flaws. Nor am I here to hold myself out as a teacher, because I am a student myself.

But simply smiling in to our heart center and making the choice to release negativity and judgement (which includes judgement of yourself my lovely gentle friends), you will witness a rumbling and a rising joy instantly. I promise. It is so simple!

Wow. Aren't we a pretty bunch!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Living at the Speed of Light, Searching for a Zen Moment

al fresco dining during Andrea's last visit home...

From Jo Floyd Lucas

The clock says 12:34 AM. I should be exhausted after the day I put in, but I’m wide awake. I tried going to bed, but the night beckoned me, with the quiet rain from Hermine falling gently on the roof, the familiar sound of the ever-clogged gutter outside the bedroom window starting to spill over, and the persistent chirping of the crickets, who missed the memo that rain was arriving and they should seek shelter. No, this is not the time to sleep. These are the times I cherish.

I rose from the bed and went into the kitchen to put the kettle on to boil. As I often do during these special times, I took one of my fine bone china mugs out of the cabinet for my tea. Honestly, I tried to do it silently, so as not to wake anyone, but the china mugs gave their characteristic ‘clink’ as I took one off the top of another, and it made me smile. I love that sound. I made a steaming mug of vanilla chamomile tea, pulled the jar of honey from the pantry, and added a spoonful of it to the brew. Hmmm. What sweet goodness. So, here I sit in my overstuffed living room chair, a dim light from the lamp next to me, my tea balanced precariously on the arm of the chair, and my laptop in front of me. What a precious moment this is to savor, along with the tea.

I’ve always appreciated these special moments of quietude, as far back as I can recall. I’m sure it comes from being raised in a house full of activity, music, and discourse, with eight raucous people sharing one little Ruskin house. From the time my father would enter our bedrooms in the morning and proclaim, “Hit the deck! Rise and Shine!” until the final bath was taken at night and all six kids were in bed, noise was everywhere. I loved the rare quiet times. I even recall regularly calling out to my dad (who was the disciplinarian, of course) after going to bed, saying, “Daddy, I’m trying to say my prayers and Joyce keeps talking to me!” God forgive me, I wasn’t often really saying my prayers…I just wanted to have some quiet time!

As I grew up, I learned to be an early riser. I would sneak out of bed, much like I did tonight, and go outside early in the morning, before anyone else was up. Not even my mother would be awake. I would climb up the tree in the back yard as high as I could (which probably seemed much higher than it actually was), and look at a picture book before I could even read. As I got older, I’d sweep the driveway, rake leaves, or sit and draw. I loved to draw trees. Dead trees, leafy trees, beautiful trees, spooky trees, pine trees, willow trees, every tree imaginable. But whether it was the woosh of the broom, the rasp of the leaf rake, or the stroke of a pencil lead, there was something very soothing about the subtle, repetitive sounds that I could hear within the silence.

As I sit here tonight embraced by the nightsong, I am feeling the speed at which we live our lives today. I’m feeling the shift from summer to autumn, and I’m hoping the frenetic pace of life slows down just a bit for me now. This summer was difficult for many of us, and I spent most of it feeling discombobulated. It wasn’t that the summer was all bad. On the contrary, some extraordinarily wonderful things happened to me this summer. But I was…quite unsettled. Yep. Discombobulated. “Having one’s self-possession upset,” as my online dictionary so aptly puts it. I was thrown for a loop more times than I could count, and my usual self-possessed self was missing in action much of the time. Gosh, I hope to possess myself again soon.

I resolve to at least make an attempt to create more of these personal, special moments to cherish amid the speed-of-light pace which threatens to highjack my equilibrium. I’ll fix a few more cups of steaming vanilla chamomile tea. I’ll sit on a bench by the pond to meditate. I’ll sweep the driveway early in the morning once in a while. I’ll rake a few leaves. I’ll make more simple dinners to eat al fresco so I can observe the changing colors of my precious trees surrounding the deck this fall. Hmmm...maybe I’ll even draw a few of those trees.

Like the ripples in a pond when a stone has been thrown in, I felt the disturbance internally this summer. I hope that the autumn season brings with it the gift of a smoother, glassy surface upon which to reflect quietly on occasion.

Namaste. Shalom. Peace.

Meditation bench by the pond

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Way of Heaven

by Dub Riley
Peak Oil, Corporations, Sustainability
Things evolve, including Smiling Heart. This little collection of essays was started a month in to the Spring of this year. We're now on the verge of leaving summer. The colors of emerging growth were on my mind as I designed the template which would house our thoughts. What colors my imagination at this moment? The bright red color of fire in the belly. The color of blood. The symbol of life and vitality.
You've heard me, especially lately, discuss the trepidation of our times. There was another announcement today of yet another oil well explosion in the Gulf. The news is short at the moment and the initial indications are that this mishap won't nearly compare to the disaster earlier in the summer that still has 30,000 people involved in the clean up effort and the extent to the damage, environmentally, may not be understood for years. Still, we should see, if we simply open our eyes and use the faintest parcel of our logic, that the days of cheap oil have long since past. 
The theory of peak oil is that we have reached or are nearing the time that we've peaked at the rate of extraction and what will follow is terminal decline. What this means is that we're running out of oil. This shouldn't surprise us. We know that oil is not renewable. If you were to look at the graph which would show the "age of oil" you'd see that in the time line from the beginning of the universe until whenever the time of man expires (never we hope?) basically would be a tall skinny hill. It would go up and back down over a speck of an instant in the big scope of mankind.
The age of oil actually defines the time this merry group of pranksters has grown up in and will die in. We were born in the boom of growth fueled by cheap energy and we'll die in the decline of the availability of the bubbling crude.
Corporations exist because of a strange loophole in the law. Legally, corporations are considered an individual. They mimic the appearance of an individual in many ways. They are born, they thrive, they reproduce and they poop all over everything. The problem is you can't put a corporation in jail. You can fine them but usually the fine is just a little slap on the wrist for all the destruction that corporations leave behind them in their pathological pursuit of profit.
The great thing about the time which will come after ours, the time our children and grandchildren will define, is that the people of the world will learn how to make sense of things.  Life will settle back more in the harmony and rhythm of the planet. This will happen naturally because cheap energy will no longer be available and they'll have to figure out how to do things without rapidly depleting the environment. Our craziness and "growth" have really just been an outcome of our dependence on oil. As the next generations figure out how to survive without the goop, they'll also have an entrenched understanding of what it means to step lightly on our mother, Earth Goddess, the sacred planet which supports us.


Nancy wrote about hope. Really we've written much about hope here on Smiling Heart. Hope is a belief in a positive outcome related to events and circumstances in one's life.

Do I have hope? Oh brothers and sisters, YES. Without it I'd be dead. Because I'm practically useless at warning people about the trouble we're in. I seem to be some crazed and bewildered cheerleader, shouting to everyone, with the throng of the crowd fully caught up in the rush of the moment, with not a second to consider my suggestion, that we abandon this syncopated insanity. Hope takes me to bed at night and hope puts my shoes on in the morning. Hope humbles me by stories such as from our dear sister Jo, who planned to be a secretary so that her sister Joyce could go to college and was surprised by the call from the dean who agreed to Joyce's plan that the twins both attend. Hope fuels my dreams of a time that people will take care of people and corporations will be buried in the rejuvenated soil of true prosperity.


Nancy also mentioned faith. Sometimes, some of us, who have a less traditional outlook with regard to religion, cringe at the outset of a conversation about faith. Mostly because faith is often associated with religion, period, and not taken in the general context of its broader meaning.

Faith is the confident belief or trust in the truth or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing (according to the handy Wikipedia search). I have faith in mankind. I have faith in the great Grandfather SPIRIT. I have faith that hope will prevail.

I want to close with Tom Cleary's translation of the end of the 76th verse of the Tao te Ching. Someone may see the connection to Jesus sermon on the mount and also the moral of Sodom and Gomorrah, which is a story with many parallels of our time.

The Way of heaven is like drawing a bow:
the high is lowered, the low is raised;
excess is reduced, need is fulfilled.
The Way of heaven reduces excess and fills need,
but the way of humans is not so:
they strip the needy to serve those who have too much.

Here's to a time that mankind will learn to emulate the Way of heaven.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Hope to Heal.....

by Nancy Kotsifakis
I was inspired by Linda's Promise post to share a bit of my journey and also the stereo whispers are getting louder from Dubby and Jo. This is such an encouraging group of writers that we meet in a message thread (or two...) and some of our exchanges actually make it out to the open air of this blog.


Healing is always around when you know someone cares....even distant 'someones'. I remember my mom waiting with all of my family for my dad (on his 3rd heart bypass operation). He had gone in weak, and we were so afraid for him...we held hands in a circle in the waiting room and just said silent prayers to ourselves - nothing vocal. We were so 'internalized' - then, a lady walked alone into the room. I was the only one that noticed her as she looked straight at the back wall and headed for an isolated spot - EXTREMELY upset, sobbing and crying as quietly as a heaving kind of sob can be. I was stunned between feeling lucky that I had my family with me, yet feeling so much for this lady all by herself - she was probably in her 50's. I elbowed my mom, and I swear the instant my mom saw her she simultaneously stood straight up and hurriedly walked to catch up with her. I was still - as if on Phaser Stun mode, and a thought crept in - 'what is my mom going to SAY to this lady?'. I saw them speak for a bit, then my mom returned with a gentle smile. She had merely given this lady hope....that is all. Hope...after hearing that the ladies husband was in a serious operation my mom had merely said, 'well, he hasn't died yet has he?' the relief in that ladies whole essence started to unfold...she could cope with the help of hope. It was a simple, quick conversation that healed....someone cared...someone gave hope....we each have in us that gift we can give each other.

Faith forever...

I did NOTHING to earn it, did not even seek it and spent most of my childhood running away from anything that couldn't be proven in front of my eyes today - visible at this moment. I grew up in a family that went to church every Sunday - and I noticed that I could skip much of this by joining the choir. I started out memorizing all of the things I needed to progress in church, such as the books of the bible, and would pray for things I felt other people wanted - a better car, a better job, etc. However, I never felt the connection between the rituals and the meaning. For instance I knew that the wafer of bread and wine were representations of the bible events - but ritual was just that - a thing to do every year. I can't say that I even tried to place a meaning on them - and I will spare you all the arguments I used that I thought were logical.
Fast forward to about 6 or 7 years ago - I found a coworker, Teresa to car pool with on the 55 minute drive to work. The very first thing she said when she got in the car was, 'I HAVE to listen to my favorite reverend!'. I gulped thinking...I am NOT going to like this (imagining Garner Ted and rantings), but I can do this... her program is in the morning, and I said 'I HAVE to listen to Dr. Laura in the afternoon!' and we struck a deal. Now, the ride to work was very early - we had to be at work by 6am. She turned the radio on Walk In the Word, and I started to shrink in my seat as I heard the compassion of James MacDonald's booming voice....I was almost embarrassed for him at first....but then I listened. He started making sense...he brought in background period information, he never talked DOWN to people and he constantly gave reference verses...faster than I could keep up while driving - believe me I would check them out. I found myself understanding....UNDERSTANDING. Teresa told me to start in the New Testament - that basically the Old Testament was history (later she told me that reading the Old Testament really gave her a feel for God's heart). The New Testament is the one that gives us Jesus, and I knew that but hadn't grasped the meaning of the difference. I had previously gotten lost in the begat, begat, begat part of the Old Testament without really understanding that it was leading up to the lineage of Jesus.
Between the 'Rev in the Morning' and Dr. Laura we struck up a wonderful friendship and I went out to buy my first bible. I was overwhelmed by the rows and rows of options, but remembered that the NIV was one of a handful that James MacDonald mentioned. I chose a study bible version of the NIV because half of each page is chock-full of archeological findings, history notes, and when the verse is not well understood the study bible version gives you the top 3 or so interpretations adding the background to each. I would like to say that I have read everything in the bible - but no - I listened to people I trusted, and then looked up the passages and interpretations in my study bible. Why is it when God writes a book (as MacDonald uses for a title), and I can't seem to find the time in my little life to READ it??! It's only been around - how many thousands of years, and pretty much unchanged (7 words mostly in spelling have changed in that entire time from the book of Isiah - they checked today's version with the Dead Sea scroll version).

It didn't come instantly, but I sure felt the difference between one day questioning (as we are encouraged to do) and eventually - I had to be honest with myself - knowing that I had the gift of faith in Jesus and the bible. Conviction is probably a better word than 'had'...it is as if I always knew this, like knowing what the color green looks like. I would like to say that I have since learned not to sin - only now I am aware of how easy it is to sin - such as the hurt careless words can cause, and I am also aware that God knows we are incapable of being sinless....'no not one'. That is why we need Jesus to truck us over to the other side....we are all in one boat headed for the other shore, dancing and enjoying life - making good and bad choices, hurting and healing each other - but this boat is going to dock on the other side and our bodies will die no matter what we do.

Listen - he will probably embarrass you too at first, but if you make it to the end tell me if it touched you in a positive way.
Here is a Walk In the Word Podcast.