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Brene Brown: The power of vulnerability | Video on TED.com

Brene Brown: The power of vulnerability | Video on TED.com

Over the last several years, I have been given a wonderful opportunity: I’ve been repeatedly attacked by someone in my life, through litigation, character assassination, poison emails, contemptuous letters, and screaming episodes that occur both in public and on the phone.
It has been unpleasant. Often sad. Certain therapists, who are infected with the false notion that “It takes two to tango,” eg, two parties necessarily participate equally in high conflict situations, refuse to see that it is happening. This is one of the problems with current psychotherapy. Fortunately, a few therapists are starting to see beyond those kinds of cheap, untrue platitudes.
So I know for a fact that, in a conflict, if one person wants to fight, the other person’s best efforts at conciliation may fail. Because despite years of my returning kindness for blame and excoriation, the persons involved in this situation are not amenable to any kind of peace. Some people are committed to their own malice, hate, and vengefulness.
The opportunity here, despite the profound discomfort, is to reaffirm my self-worth internally. It’s for me to see myself as worthy of love and connection in the face of someone desperately wanting me to feel unworthy. To do this, I have had to come to some awakenings. One is that other people’s feelings and actions have absolutely nothing to do with me. They do what they do because that’s who they are. Someone who acts with constant nastiness and negativity has that internally with which to act. It’s no reflection of me.
Another awakening is something beautifully articulated in the video above: “Blame is a way to discharge pain and discomfort.” I never articulated it to myself this way, but I had a sense of it. I came to this understanding, which correlates with the first one, by way of realizing that if even five percent of what these people say about me were true, I would be Adolph Hitler or Genghis Khan. I simply am not.
But they really, really want me to feel bad.
And that is about them, not about me.
So it has been a gift. And it is a gift that has led me deeper into my heart. Because it makes me feel vulnerable, to be so constantly attacked. And in that vulnerability, I have come to recommit to my own courage, to offer myself compassion, and to tell my story with my whole heart. I affirm my imperfections. I love with all that I am despite the lack of guarantees–though, to be sure, this is for me a daily practice, not a fixed endpoint. Another practice I cultivate is one of gratitude.
So I recommend the TED.com video posted above: it’s a shortcut to the learning that I came to via unpleasantness. And it’s great fun! May all who read this blog know their own self-worth, and find in their hearts both their frailty and their lovableness.
The Power by Rhonda Byrne
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The Power by Rhonda Byrne

The Power by Rhonda Byrne

Rhonda Byrne, author of The Secret and now The Power, is close to people who are close to my husband, so I had the good fortune to meet her. She was lovely, with the contained grace that I associate with people who live from a strong sense of purpose.

Byrne advised me to read The Kybalion by the Three Initiates and The Secret Teachings of All Ages by Manly Hall. With my insatiable reading lust, I acquired the books immediately. I devoured them promptly. I’m glad I did; the old Hermetic teachings have a lot to offer. The sense of paired, complementary qualities reminded me of the Kabbalistic Sephiroth winding along the Tree of Life. I love these ancient, eternal paradigms of thought!

So, being favorably impressed with Byrne, and wanting to support her because she’s friendly with some of my husband’s favorite people, I ran out and purchased two copies of The Power. One for me, and one for my husband, who refuses to share both food and books. The first bit of territorial prerogative always surprises me. I had my oldest daughter twenty years ago and I haven’t eaten an entire plate of food by myself since 1990. Someone is always sticking a fork in and grabbing a bite. Lunch is my happy time, when I’m alone in the apartment. I can eat standing up and walking around, which I prefer, and enjoy my tuna and peanut butter sandwich in peace, with no grimy fingers trying to steal some.
But I understand why Sabin won’t share a book with me. I use them up. I ravish them. Books are comestibles and I scribble in the margins, apply post-its, and turn down corners. Once I’m done with a book, it wants to take a shower and a nap.
The Power is no exception. It’s juicy and interesting, ripe for plundering. There’s a lot here, most of it good stuff. Opening the mind and heart to love can only benefit people. Thinking in positive ways about what you want is wholesome. When you ride a horse, you have to look where you want to go, and that is subtly communicated to the animal, who then goes there. It’s the same way with your mind and your life. Your mind has to focus on what you want and love, and then the great beast of your life can trot in that direction.
In general, I like this “New Age” the Secret and positive vibrational stuff. It’s got flaws, like everything else in this marvelous, imperfect, blissful, agonizing world. Gossip claims that one of the guys from the original movie of The Secret is in jail. And there’s sometimes a lack of groundedness in these teachings; elements of fantasy creep in. “Blame the victim” arises.
My most serious qualm with this school of thought has to do with karma. As I currently understand it, Karma is a complex law with a long, long arc. I’m not so certain that it works so simply as “Do good and think nice, and because you’re sending good and nice vibrations out into the universe, good and nice will come back to you.” I think that sometimes what you did twenty-five years ago, or twenty-five centuries ago as a temple dancer in Egypt, can come back to bite you in the tushie. Sometimes we reap the fruit of a seed we planted eons ago.
Then there’s the relational dynamic. We have karma not just as individuals, but as members of our family, our generation, our country, our religion. We also have dyad karma. I am stretching the meaning of karma here to apply to the invisible field of thought and feeling, emotion and expectation and communication within which two members of a couple live. Eg, if you’re married to someone who thinks badly of you, or who is convinced that you embody a certain negative trait (which is probably their shadow anyway), it’s hard to overcome the stickiness of that. It’s easy to get trapped like a butterfly in a spider web. It can be just as toxic within a family or any other community, like a school. Structures of thought and connection arise, and they can be cages.
Still, The Power is full of truth and light. It is passionate in its desire to give to the reader and to improve the reader’s lot. I’m writing my personal reservations in the margins, but it’s worth reading. It’s always helpful to return to the fundamental touchstone of life: am I acting out of love or out of fear? That’s the choice. Love or fear. I like to read these kinds of books at night, so I’m uplifted in the hypnogogic state. I like to think that the positive impact on me will be more profound, if words about love and joy and peaceful abundance are sailing through my dreams.
I also recommend Mary T. Browne’s The Five Rules of Thought and Geshe Michael Roach’s The Diamond Cutter. Like Byrne’s book, they give to the reader. What all three books share, though The Diamond Cutter approaches it differently, is the need to discipline the thoughts. We spend decades learning how to read, write, and cipher, but we have to seek out the knowledge of how to use our own minds constructively. The Power can help with that.
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Bittersweet: About Karma

Earl: “Look! Shampoo that’s not tested on animals. I feel bad for those lab animals running around with dirty hair, but if it’s better for the environment, that’s the sacrifice they have to make.” Jason Lee as Earl Hickey, MY NAME IS EARL Karma is a funny thing

There are some humorless men in my life. A few months ago I sent an email to two of them. It was pretty funny: UFO’s, aliens, subliminal programming with muzak, ex-CIA agents who can be hired to forcibly waterboard someone, without their consent, and beating my rascally middle daughter with a stick in Riverside Park were all mentioned. Admittedly, my sense of humor is offbeat and irreverent. Still, this email was juicy. But did they respond to it AT ALL? Oh, nooooooooooo. They just pretended it didn’t exist.
This current husband of mine read the missive before I sent it. “Don’t send that,” he said, with a flat expression. Hmph. My third husband will have a rich sense of humor. He will be able to laugh with me. At me, okay, that’s gonna happen, alas. Even I spend plenty of time laughing at me. (Definition of ‘rueful,’ anyone?) But, definitely, also, with me.
Over the last few years I’ve been working with Buddhist concepts and with the Bhagavad Gita. In the spirit of “what goes around comes around,” I have to wonder, when did I not laugh at people that has reached fruition with this overabundance of humorless men in my life?
Should I rack what’s left of the gray matter rattling around my cranium to recall anyone whose joke I did not get, then make a list, seek them out, and make restitution by letting them tell me their favorite jokes, which culminates in my laughing uproariously? Will that plant new seeds for me, seeds that will sprout into men with some sparkle to their personality?
Maybe it’s a past life thing. I was an uptight guy in the 17th century who inflicted lethal self-seriousness on the long-suffering women in my life. Now I’m reaping my just rewards, and there’s no going back to pull the poker out of my former derriere. Karma’s a complicated thing, and hard to navigate exactly. Those of us like me who aren’t enlightened can’t parse it.
It’s easier to see the working of karma in other people’s lives. I tread carefully here, being mindful of Rabbi Jesus’ words, “Why worry about the mote in your brother’s eye when there’s a beam in your own?”
But I am a careful observer of people, both because people are a novelist’s raw material, and because I’m fascinated with human beings, those conscious and inconsistent creatures. While not positing myself as a perfect person, I can discern. I can learn from others.
There’s a man I know who’s recently had many business reversals. He’s brilliant, educated, competent, personable. Indeed, he exudes a charm that many people can’t see through. I’ve watched with breathless awe as he’s snowed them totally. It’s a virtuoso act.
Unfortunately, the charm obscures a negative side. He’s acted from that negative side over the last several years, threatening me and others with litigation, co-opting tactics of bullying and intimidation, twisting reality to suit the ends of malice, never using a kind word when hostility will make the point for him. And there seems to be no one in his life who will call him on his stuff. His family has always lent him blind entitlement, and his close friends only affirm his better points, of which there are many.
I suppose this is when I am grateful that my close friends hold me to a high level of personal accountability. “So Traci,” my friend Gerda will say, in her patient voice, “are you acting out of negative intent? Are you acting out of fear or out of love?”
Or even my friend Marcia will ask, “Yes, but is that about your self-esteem? Can you phrase that in a way that’s less ambiguous?” Rachel usually foists a zinger, with less concern for my vulnerability and more concern for the bull’s eye of painful truth.
But I don’t think the benighted man in question, may all the gods bless him, has anyone speaking this way to him. Nor does there seem to be anyone reminding him about the Law of Return, that whatever you give out inevitably comes back to you. So it is no surprise to me that, despite his many talents, he is suffering business losses that cause him personal anguish.
Not that he would or could ever see the relationship between his abusive actions and the unfoldment of his life. It’s hard for all of us. There is the real cause of things and the apparent cause. What is apparent is the economy, the paternalistic government, the state of the world, etc. But in this view that seeks to go deeper than appearances–and even the Talmud talks about “measure for measure” and “As one does, so they do to him”–we are all guided toward spiritual forces of cause and effect.
Which leads me back to the lab animals with dirty hair, making sacrifices for the environment. I can only hope they transmigrate species, and reincarnate as higher beings. Perhaps humorless men.
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Churchill, British Petroleum, and Primary Life Experience

In one of the multitude of homes which my family inhabited as a peripatetic Navy family, we lived next door to a man who’d been in the army during WW2 and liberated one of the camps. I was 9 going on 10 and always sidling up to him to ask him what it was like. Sometimes he would talk. Mostly he would cry.

My mother would look at me with that jaundiced look which I have since co-opted for my own children: “Why are you bothering the neighbors?” I understand her now, having asked that very question of my mischievous brood, when they’ve followed their individual daimons into high naughtiness. At that time–and even now–I had to appease my hunger to hear people’s stories. History has always fascinated me, but not from an intellectual standpoint. There has to be a personal hook. I want to hear how an individual loved and suffered and laughed and threw tantrums during important passages of the human race’s travels through time. I want to feel what they felt as if I were feeling it.
So the other day at the Provincetown library, when I ruffled through a young adult biography of Winston Churchill, the hook which grabbed me was the link to my own experience: my travails with my 15 year old daughter, who is equal parts troublemaker, creative artist, incisive psychologist, entertainer, and sensitive soul. I love her deeply and worry about her all the time. Churchill’s misspent youth full of backchat, overspending, and bad grades, followed by an adulthood as one of the greatest statesmen of all time, gives me hope. Having dealt with any number of teachers and administrators with their supercilious moral rectitude and low opinion of my daughter, which she certainly earned, and their anger with me because I can’t ‘fix her’ to their immediate liking, I am gratified to see that troubled adolescents can turn out to be outstanding adults.
I know this anyway, from my own husband. He’s told me some hair-raising stories about feeling alienated, getting drunk, and climbing the columns on the front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He was about the same age as my irascible middle child. He’s become the most devoted and finest figurative sculptor living today, and one of the cleanest living people I know. But his parents must have wrung their hands.
It’s even more solace to read about Churchill and to think about what he accomplished across the great span of time, from the Boer wars to WW1 to WW2. There’s a lot to be said for an independent-minded person, and those kind often struggle with authority. Churchill, and my wild child, are two such.
Being intrigued with Churchill, I’ve become intrigued with that tapestry of time. I’m just beginning research into the period and I have a lot of questions. Why was North Africa such an important area during WW2? After the despair and tragedies of WW1–France lost 1.25 million men, and they were a country of only about 40 million people–how did Europe fall into WW2 a mere 20 years later?
Was it because the reparations demanded of Germany after the first world war were too great? One friend of mine claims that we would have avoided WW2 if Germany had won WW1 and centralized Europe under its aegis. Or was Germany at that time just warlike enough, and prejudiced enough, that Hitler would have gained a foothold even under conditions of an alternate universe?
And what about Churchill sinking French ships to avoid the French Navy being turned over to the Germans? Didn’t the French self-scuttle a bunch of their own ships a year later, for the same purpose? Did Churchill need to infuriate De Gaulle and the French? Was he a brilliant man but also an a**hole, as another friend claims?
From this vantage, the beginning of my research, I see that Churchill had some serious flaws. He could not avoid the British Imperialism that has led to severe injustices across the world. It’s a kind of arrogance, an unquestioning assumption of superiority, and it is mirrored in the US imposition of Pax Americana.
Note to Obama: we should not be in Afghanistan. Why are you listening to your generals tell you we can win, when the crackerjack Russian army couldn’t? What will history say of you for that error in judgement? And why the hell has the response to British Petroleum’s dreadful spill, which will damage the world for centuries, been so slow and backward? What kind of arrogance is at work here?
I am voting 3rd party with next election. I can’t bring myself to vote Republican. I can’t stand the bigotry that’s become entrenched in the Far Right. Also, despite what the simple-minded think, people can be both pro-life and pro-choice at the same time. I am one of those people.
But Obama is a big disappointment. He talks good but he’s not accomplishing what we’d hoped.
History is happening now, repeating itself, waiting to be learned from. And my daughter is still evolving.
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5 Ways to Engage Your Kids in Art and History

5 Ways to Engage Your Kids in Art and History

By Traci L. Slatton

girl sitting in an art museumWe (parents) want them (kids who know everything about instant messaging and the latest celebrity rehab, but who run screaming from museums and art books) to grow up knowing about more than Wii and the Xbox. We aspire for them to become literate, cultured people who can say something meaningful about Michelangelo’s Pieta and Degas’ dancers.

My husband is a classical figurative sculptor, and I have a passion for Renaissance art that led me to write a historical novel set in Renaissance Florence. So we have been determined to instill some love of art in our four children, despite their resistance. Here are some of our strategies.

  1. Make a game out of a museum trip. Go to the gift shop first, and let each child select four or five postcards. Then hunt through the museum to find all the paintings or sculptures shown on the cards. The first to find all of his objets d’art wins. But they all get treats at the end.
  2. Turn holiday meals into mini art salons. This works better in the winter, when we’re indoors. At summer cookouts, there’s too much else that’s intriguing. Not even the appearance of Leonardo da Vinci himself, resurrected and in the flesh, would engage a kid when cheeseburgers sizzle on the grill and sprinklers splutter on the lawn. But at Thanksgiving, for example, each person has to bring a poem, or a picture or printout of a painting or sculpture to the table. Before I serve the first course, we each read our poem or show the picture and talk about why we chose it. My kids like the attention, and they like being the teacher for the moment.
  3. Have a family culture night each week, and let each child in turn lead the weekly discussion. Assign a topic, such as Impressionist Painters or Robert Frost’s poetry. Older children can choose their topic, perhaps arising from a homework assignment. This also capitalizes on kids’ innate love of attention and being the leader. Thursday night is usually our family dinner night, and while the older three of the four girls in our blended family spend a lot of time discussing mascara and hot guys, they also try to find something interesting to say about Charles Dickens or Gustave Courbet.
  4. Give them a get-out-of-jail-free card. If the girls spontaneously engage in a cultural activity, like perusing an art book that’s not assigned at school, or watching a television documentary about World War II or the life of Chagall, they may get a free “pass.” My kids do the boneheaded things all kids do, and they love this, especially when they haven’t cleaned their room in two months and are growing non-CDC-approved life forms in old pizza boxes (not the kind of culture we advocate). Note: this is best used for minor mischief. When my daughter got drunk at age 16, not even a four-hour discourse on Cimabue and Giotto could have gotten her off the hook. Responsible behavior means responsible behavior.
  5. Find an artist nearby and take your kids on a studio visit. Many artists enjoy having visitors to witness their process, and seeing a live person passionately engaged in artistic endeavor is the sneakiest way to spark a young mind. A painter in love with his art, or a musician in love with his instrument, is a thrilling inspiration. It’s best if the artist is at least semi-successful so the kids see the business acumen that goes along with a thriving career in the arts. After all, they will have to earn a living one day.

It’s not a perfect system, built as it is mostly on attention-based bribery and cajolery. And truly, the best way to teach kids to seek high culture, as with any other value, is for parents to embrace it themselves. That’s a tall order when we’re beset with carpooling to soccer games, overseeing homework, cooking, housecleaning, jobs, and the need to sleep a few hours each night. But with love, tolerance, and a sense of humor, we can encourage our kids to appreciate beautiful art.

FROM: new jersey family, february 2010.

Social Questions
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Social Questions

Last night at a pre-Sundance party in NYC I had the great good fortune of meeting the talented and impressive Anthony Whyte, whose work is being made into a movie.

He was there with his business partner Jason Claiborne, who runs Augustus publishing, “Where Hip Hop literature begins,” and fellow author Erick S. Gray.

They were an intriguing trio. Whyte has a background in the armed forces, as did my dad, so we had that to discuss, as well as books and movies.

This morning I did some googling around and learned that Whyte had trouble getting his first novel published. He then self-published, and people were so hungry for his message and his platform that he sold several thousand books quickly. Of course then a publisher jumped on the bandwagon, bought the rights, and republished… to sell over a hundred thousand copies. Pretty good! Whyte mentioned none of this to me; he was classy and unassuming, and left it to me to discover his story.

We talked about Zora Neale Hurston, author of the classic THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD. I remembered reading how Hurston had ended her life working in a library, and as a maid. It’s distressing that she died in obscurity, enduring financial struggles, when she’d written one of the masterworks of American literature. It left me thinking again about some questions that my oldest daughter had posed to me, over a year ago, when we discussed an African American Literature class she had taken: How did we in the U.S. create an underclass that left an entire group of people disenfranchised, struggling to find and authenticate their voice?

Is it enough that we have elected Obama as president? Is it enough that brilliant minds like Whyte, Claiborne and Gray are not accepting the status quo regarding their work, but are going out and creating new opportunities?

What does it take to create a truly equal society based on the hard work and merit of the individual, without regard to race, gender, sexual preference, and religion?

I hope none of these questions are offensive. I don’t know if they are politically correct or incorrect. They are the musings of a basically white woman of mixed genetic heritage who can not document her Native American ancestry because records were lost during the Trail of Tears. I’m just a mom with smart, irreverent kids, who ask good questions and expect me to engage them honestly.

And what else about the party? It was too much fun for the responsible parent I am, and included me introducing myself to a famous TV/movie actor who now believes I am sketchy. Because I did make a sketchy introduction, and he was far more gracious to me than I deserved. But I had to sally up to him with my big, tipsy grin–if only to be able to text my kids that I’d met him.