Category Archives: Personal

“Only connect. Wherever you are, right now, pay attention. Forever.” [Sylvia Boorstein]

My “meaningful life” is based on the virtues of the tale of two wolves, as expressed in several key values of mine: joy, gratitude, service to others, depth of relationships, good health and financial independence.  (Good health and financial independence are things I consider cornerstones, because until those things have been accomplished it can be difficult to pay attention to cultivating the rest of these values.  Don’t miss the beauty the world has to offer just because you’re too busy just scraping by.)

I am not the only one to recognize that joy and gratitude are closely linked.  When you keep your eye on what you have in life to be thankful for (in my case, a mother who supports every crazy decision I ever make, friends who have stuck by me through the truly unimaginable, an unshakable sense of self, and a tuxedo cat who snuggles up with me in the evening and makes my blood pressure noticeably drop) will multiply your joy ten-fold.  When you take your eyes off those things, it can be easy to get mired in all the possible woes (like the frustration of watching my dog run loose, pretending he cannot hear me calling him) and hard to remember what this world truly can be (like the warmth and laughter of good friends over a potluck dinner).*

When you are truly thankful for what you have, it is also difficult to avoid service to others — embracing kindness, benevolence, compassion and generosity is really a no-brainer when you have the joy and peace in your life that comes from true gratitude; the hope you feel for yourself, you will want to spread as far and wide as you can.  Kindness and empathy become a sort of second nature.  And if you don’t believe me, ask Muhammad Ali.  He wants you to know that, “service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth.”

I am hardly going to pretend that I’ve achieved much on the list of goals I have set out for my life.  I am still working towards perfecting my health and becoming truly financially independent (hint: spend less, appreciate more).  I am still struggling with my quickness to judge and a definite lack of humility in most instances.  But I do take the advice of Will Durant, who urges us to “forget mistakes.  Forget failures.  Forget everything except what you’re going to do now and do it.  Today is your lucky day.”

Camus wanted us to “live to the point of tears,” and I try to.  I work to always deepen my relationships and bonds with the people close to me, no matter how far away I may travel.  I try not to let an opportunity pass me by to be generous, to be kind, or to let someone know how much they truly mean to me.  And I have seen the light.  I have seen that “love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within,” (James Baldwin) and that “in giving you are throwing a bridge across the chasm of your solitude” (Antoine de Saint-Exupery).  I take Einstein’s advice not to aim to become someone of success, but of value.  And I know “there is no way, there is no essence, there is no secret.  The truth you seek is not hidden from you.  You are hiding from it.” (Rabbi Rami M. Shapiro)

So join me.  Embrace these virtues, live by these values, consistently seek to leave everything better than when you found it. 

Tonight, I am taking a break to attend the Christmas party of dear old friends — this may mean I won’t be back tomorrow, since I might sleep all day!  (Hopefully not, one of the joys of visiting home is getting my egg bagel from the bagel shop down the road; I wouldn’t want to miss it.)

But I will return!  The next few posts will illustrate how far I’ve come so far and how much further I intend to go — and hopefully, they will inspire you to look within and figure out how to turn everything around.  Right now.  Because this is the only moment that is ours to do it — do not be “so imprudent [to]…wander in times that are not ours, and give no thought to the only time that does belong to us.” (Blaise Pascal)

In good time we shall see
God and his light, you say.
Fool, you shall never see
What you do not see today!
Angelus Silesius


*If you find yourself focusing too much on “what’s wrong,” remembering this piece of Cherokee wisdom may help you like it helps me: Everything in life comes to you as a teacher.  Pay attention.  Learn quickly.


“Boredom is the feeling that everything is a waste of time; serenity, that nothing is.” [Thomas Szasz]

We’re all probably pretty familiar with the “Serenity now!” clips from Seinfeld.  But serenity (calmness, tranquility) is no less a virtue to be actively pursued just because it was a hysterical running gag on a super popular TV show.  Chronic stress can lead to a whole host of troubles: anxiety, heart disease, stroke, weight gain, and memory loss amongst them.  Part of achieving holistic health is working to eliminate stress.

So how do we find serenity?  Rabbi Zeliq Pliskin warns against falling prey to the “two myths that work against mastery of serenity” —  believing that serenity is a gift that either you possess or do not possess and believing that only when someone is in a perfectly peaceful environment can one maintain serenity.  Carolyn Rubenstein agrees, giving us eleven great tips to work towards serenity.

My favorites here?  Rock out, laugh, and reconnect.  What are yours?


God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.
Reinhold Niebuhr

“Feed your faith and your fears will starve to death.” [Unknown]

Emmanuel says “as your faith is strengthened you will find that there is no longer the need to have a sense of control, that things will flow as they will, and that you will flow with them, to your great delight and benefit.”  I’m sure we all know that one truly faithful person, whose light shines from the peace within.  And I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels like they’ll never quite get to that place.

Faith is often a spiritual concept.  However, it can also be a confident belief or trust in a person, idea or thing.  Gandhi emphasized that we “must not lose faith in humanity.  Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.”  Has humanity lost its luster in your eyes?  Visit this site for stories about some truly remarkable people, like a Mississipi civil rights worker who scared off the Klansmen buring a cross in her yard and then brought her children out to toast marshmallows over the flame, or the driver who turned on his brights to highlight the way for over an hour when a fellow driver’s car lost its headlights. 

There are still people out there worthy of our faith.  We should strive to be among them.


Be like the bird that, passing on her flight awhile on boughs too slight, feels them give way beneath her, and yet sings, knowing she hath wings.
Victor Hugo

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” [Dalai Lama]

Compassion is the ultimate and most meaningful embodiment of emotional maturity, and it is seriously lacking in society.  Why?  It’s a lack of love for ourselves that inhibits our compassion toward others.  If we make friends with ourselves, there’s no obstacle to opening our hearts and minds to others.  There are no prerequisites for being compassionate, and you should probably look into it ASAP.  The Dalai Lama wants you to know that “compassion is not religous business, it is human business; it is not a luxury, it is essential for our own peace and mental stability; it is essential for human survival.”  This sentiment is echoed in Thomas Merton’s thoughts that “the whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another.”


The Chater for Compassion would like us all to take more interest in demonstrating this virtue both for others and for ourselves.  After all, “compassion will cure more sins than condemnation,” according to Henry Ward Beecher.

However, Pema Chodron acknowledges that “compassionate action involves working with ourselves as much as working with others.”  It is not always easy to feel compassionate.  Cultivating compassion is a sometimes difficult process, although it is rewarding.  You can begin by learning how to listen.  Also remember that “if we would see others as they see themselves, our shyness would soon become compassion.” (Robert Brault)  It’s not easy, but it’s vastly rewarding.  It can help to redeem society, and it can help to redeem us.


Compassion alone stands apart from the continuous traffic between good and evil proceeding within us.
Eric Hoffer

“If you cannot find the truth right where you are, where else do you expect to find it?” [Dogen]

Truth: the actual state of a matter.  There has been a lot of talk about truth, how to find it and where it is.  Shoseki states that it “only reveals itself when one gives up all preconceived notions,” which makes sense.  Mark Twain famously agreed: It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.   That is why “it will never be possible by pure reason to arrive at some absolute truth,” like Werner Heisenberg says.

Moreover, even truth obtained can be a slippery slope for some.  After all, the truth leaves us feeling exposed and raw.  Alexander Solzhenitsyn reminds us, “We do not err because truth is difficult to see.  It is visible at a glance.  We err because this is more comfortable.”

To combat this discomfort, we must always be working towards authenticity — that is, truthfulness of origins, attributions, commitments, sincerity, devotion and intention.  Because “truth is such a rare thing, it is delightful to tell it,” says Emily Dickinson.  By being an authentic person, you “let the world know you as you are, not as you think you should be, because sooner or later, if you are posing, you will forget the pose, and then where are you?” (Fanny Brice)

Seth Godin makes the excellent point that authenticity is probably closer to doing what you promsie than being who you are (he says: You could spend your time wondering if what you say you are is really you. Or you could just act like that all the time).  That makes so much sense that everybody seems to say it, from Fanny Brice to Mark Twain, who is the original version of the pearl of wisdom “If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything” — oft-borrowed by Judge Judy.

Telling the truth is a step towards honesty, which is a facet of moral character — being upright, fair, sincere, frank, and free from deceit and fraud.  This is so important, because, as a Russian proverb seeks to remind us, “with lies you may get ahead in the world — but you can never go back.”

Seek to live in an authentic, honest place.  Choose truth (unless you get asked if your girlfriend looks fat, guys).


Be what you are.  This is the first step toward becoming better than you are.
Julius Charles Hare

“What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.” [Albert Pike]

Generosity is the habit of giving freely without expecting anything in return.  Mitch Albom notes that “the way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.”  We have to remember that no matter how much we may feel like one, no man is an island, and we are all connected (after all, we are here to awaken from the illusion of our separateness, as Thich Nhat Hanh said).

Learning to Give maintains that “generosity is an impulse that invokes deep and vital healing in the human family.  Sharing our gifts with each other—whether they be gifts of love, time, attention, skills, or money—releases a powerful force for positive change in both the giver and the receiver.”  This is reminiscent of the Buddha’s advice: Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle and the life of the candle will not be shortened.  Happiness never decreases by being shared.

If you are not fortunate enough to have people in your life with whom you wish to be generous, please consider patronizing an organization bearing the name of this virtue: Generosity Water is working to provide the world’s most important natural resource to the estimated one billion people in the world who don’t have access to clean, safe drinking water.   They hope this will put an end to a child dying every fifteen seconds from a water related disease, and empty over half the world’s hospital beds, which are filled with patients affected by water related illnesses.

Feel like tackling clean water for the world is too much?  How many homes can you really build for the working poor?  How many blankets can you provide to people sleeping on the streets in the winter?  The answer here is twofold: one, you would not believe me if I told you how great your power is with concentrated effort.  And two?  Mother Teresa reminds us, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then just feed one.”

Just do what you can.  You will be amazed by how much that truly is.


Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.
John Wesley

“The true source of cheerfulness is benevolence.” [Unknown]

Benevolence is the “act of, or general inclination towards, charity.”

At this time of year, there are no shortage of charitable opportunities.  Red kettles “adopted” by Salvation Army volunteers are posted outside every grocery store, at the mall, and even online.  Churches have the names and ages of needy children on their Christmas trees so you can purchase presents for children who might otherwise have no gifts.  Toys for Tots has boxes out with the same aim.  Soup kitchens have an influx of people wanting to volunteer on Christmas.

The thing that’s important to remember is that benevolence is not a one-time-of-year thing.  St. Jude, United Way, Charity Water, UNICEF, Oxfam, Habitat for Humanity — these are a handful of the many opportunities for you to get involved in something greater than yourself year ’round.  Another interesting charity?  Child’s Play, which is “a game industry charity dedicated to improving the lives of children with toys and games in our network of over 60 hospitals worldwide.”  There are a million ways to get involved.

Another important thing to keep in mind is that you don’t need to be involved in a specific charity to demonstrate benevolence.  Look for opportunities in your every day life to show others how much you care.


I expect to pass through this world but once.  Any good thing, therefore, that I can do or any kindness I can show to any fellow human being let me do it now.  Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.
Stephen Grellet

“Empathy is the most radical of human emotions.” [Gloria Steinem]

Explaining empathy and what it means in my life will be new to me; if you don’t already have some familiarity wtih the concept, I almost envy you. 

Empathy is defined as the capacity to share the sadness or happiness of another through consciousness rather than physically.

Being an empath, on the other hand, gives me “the ability to read and understand people and be in-tune with or resonate with others.”  There is a deep sense of knowing for an empath, and the experience of deep emotions as well.  The world of an empath or highly sensitive person can be challenging.  It’s easy to lose yourself in the emotions or thoughts of other people.  This is because “empaths have a tendency to openly feel what is outside of them more so than what is inside of them.”

While being an empath has been extremely challenging for me at times, it has been vastly rewarding as well.  It enables me to forge deep bonds with people, to truly understand where someone is coming from, and to really see both sides of any disagreement that crosses my path.  While it’s largely agreed you are either born an empath or you aren’t, there are definitely tricks to increase your empathy — and that will help increase your understanding of the people around you, your world, and yourself.  My favorite tip on that page?  Put yourself in someone else’s shoes.

Another excellent tool for increasing understanding is empathetic listening.  Tips for developing this skill can be found here and here.

[Note:  We are discussing the virtue of empathy in this post.  But if you’re like me, a highly empathetic person who experiences both the blessing and the curse of involuntarily being tuned in, check here for tips to help protect yourself.  My favorite on this list is don’t take on responsibilities that aren’t yours; that is also a sticking point for me in life.]


Learning is a result of listening, which in turn leads to even better listening and attentiveness to the other person. In other words, to learn from the child, we must have empathy, and empathy grows as we learn.
Alice Miller

“Don’t talk about yourself; it will be done when you leave.” [Wilson Mizner]

Humility is “a quality of being courteously respectful of others. It is the opposite of aggressiveness, arrogance, boastfulness, and vanity” and is “the quality that lets us go more than halfway to meet the needs and demands of others.”

Humility is a major theme of Christianity, but it doesn’t remain there.  Embracing humility is embracing modesty, discarding pretense, not believing that you’re better than anyone else.  After all, “it is well to remember that the entire population of the universe, with one trifling exception, is composed of others.” (Andrew J Holmes)

Bruna Martinuzzi wants us to know that even though “we often confuse humility with timidity,” the two are not the same.  “Humility is not clothing ourselves in an attitude of self-abasement or self-denigration. Humility is all about maintaining our pride about who we are, about our achievements, about our worth – but without arrogance – it is the antithesis of hubris.”  Instead, humility reflects a quiet confidence.  What you do should speak so loudly that people cannot hear what you say, anyway.  Others should discover the layers of your talents without your help.  In other words, humility doesn’t require that you think less of yourself; only that you think of yourself less.

Nietzsche says “talking about oneself can also be a means to conceal onself.”  Who you are should speak loudly enough that you would not need to help it along.  Remember Martinuzzi’s point that humility “improves relationships across all levels, it reduces anxiety, it encourages more openness and paradoxically, it enhances one’s self-confidence. It opens a window to a higher self.”


You shouldn’t gloat about anything you’ve done; you ought to keep going and find something better to do.
David Packard

“A person that is nice to you, but rude to the waiter, is not a nice person.” [Dave Barry]

Kindness is “the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see,” according to Mark Twain.  Random Acts of Kindness is a place to find ideas on how to be nice, just in case you can’t come up with any on your own.  A highlight of the site is ideas on how to practice kindness — after all, “you can’t live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you.” (John Wooden)

The Human Kindness Foundation thinks kindness is critical for the modern world: they acknowledge that “in the midst of global crises such as pollution, wars and famine, kindness may be too easily dismissed as a ‘soft’ issue, or a luxury to be addressed after the urgent problems are solved.”  But kindness is the greatest need overall. They stress that “until we reflect basic kindness in everything we do, our political gestures will be fleeting and fragile.”  After all, Emerson reminds us that “you cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon will be too late.”

It’s important to remember the essence of kindness.  “Kindness is in our power, even when fondness is not,” says Samuel Johnson.  That is because we are called to be nice to people because of who we are, not who they are.  And who we should work to become is a kinder, gentler version of ourselves, engaged in helping each other and the world.


The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit.
Nelson Henderson