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Spirituality

What the World Needs Now Is More Self Love


If you are anything like me, you were probably nodding along there with the title of this blog post until your mind read the word "self."

Huh?

Isn't it amazing how one little word change can throw us so off track?

Personally, I was raised in what I would term a "lightly Christian" environment. By this I mean, once we reached middle school, my parents (bless them) gave us the option to a) continue going to church, or b) sleep in on Sunday mornings.

Guess which option I chose?

This is relevant because I never felt like religion was forced on me. I got interested in high school because I was socializing with other teens who were already interested.

I got interested again in college because the eating disorder was slowly killing me off and I thought perhaps it was time to call for (divine) backup.

Ultimately, after several years exploring faith and different religions from all accessible angles, including an extended trip to India to live in an ashram, much reading and study in the Hindu and Buddhist traditions, an intensive Judaism conversion course led by an Orthodox rabbi, formal employment at a very large, famous and traditional Episcopalian church, and an intensive year-long process to release a Christian-themed music CD and form a music ministry band behind it, I finally realized what was missing in my faith quest.

Me.

Before I say this, I feel like I need to qualify that today I do not self-identify as any particular religion.


Death & Grief

What It Feels Like to Grow Old


Life is extremely odd.

I mean, can you think of anything weirder? Than life itself?

One minute we are...somewhere else. The next minute, without having any idea how or why, we are here.

In this body. In this mind. In this life.

We are very small, too. And very young. And very very dependent.

We can't even raise our head on our own. Or feed ourselves. Or walk. And we stay like that for what feels like a very long time.

Then at last we start to get bigger. And older. We learn from even bigger, older people around us that this process is called "growing up."

It keeps happening. Every day, we wake up and - presto! - we are another day older.

At some point, we stop getting bigger (at least upwards, although we may still keep getting bigger outwards).

But we still keep getting older. It happens like clockwork every single day.

Then one day we realize we can't stop it from happening (which is the same day we realize we might want to stop it from happening, because the alternative is....?).

Meanwhile, we keep waiting for the age we feel on the inside and the age we actually are on the outside to match up. We wait and we wait and we wait for this to happen, assuming when it does happen we will feel so....GOOD.

In the meantime, our inside-age/outside-age gap continues to grow.

It gets wider and wider.


Movie Mentors

Small Moves Can Lead to Big Changes


The new enclosed outdoor tortoise play area is wider and longer than the one we left behind.

And the turtles' new permanent outdoor enclosures are safer because our wonderful new landlords custom-made study level wooden platforms for each turtle habitat - one for Malti and one for Bruce.

My precious 21-year-old soul bird, Pearl, loves the whole setup of our (his) new space - he particularly enjoys the new shower and has already taken twice the showers in our new space that he ever deigned to take in our old space.

And me? I am slowly shaking off the two and a half year crust of grief and stress I didn't even know had formed around me while living in the old place. This is a home my former longtime partner has never seen and does not even know exists. We did not break up here. There are no memories of him here.

I needed this. Desperately.

This new home gives us all a fresh start. It brings new fresh meaning to the cliche "so close and yet so far."

Our first night in the new space, one of our new near neighbors went out back, picked a bunch of fresh ripe grapefruits off their tree and gifted them to us. It was literally the perfect welcome gift!

Now, is the whole setup perfect? Nope. Sure isn't. There are still things I could/would/would like to change.

But perfect was never my goal, anyway.

I was aiming for progress.

Particularly, with moving so suddenly and literally just down the street, I got the chance to put into practice everything I've been studying and learning about over the past several months about letting my intuition lead.

In past years (decades), my head has always insisted on being in charge when it comes to such things. I had gotten really used to listening to it and it could get quite loud and grumpy when anyone challenged its leadership, so it often felt easier just to acquiesce.

But not this time.

This time, freshly steeped in several months of intuition studies with Sonia Choquette and supported by nearly three years of daily practices with Adriene Mischler's Find What Feels Good online yoga classes, I finally had the inner strength and inside-out support system - a firm, fresh foundation if you will - to promote my intuition to the head honcho role.

The difference was ... palpable.


Celebrity Mentors

Heal the World By Helping Those Who Are Helping


I feel very lucky that my closest friends are interested in the same types of topics I am - intuition, empathy, creativity, meditation, service as a spiritual practice, spirit-based living, animals and nature as mentors.

These are the kinds of conversation starters I craved during my younger years but rarely heard....at least coming from anyone other than me.

Aging has been kind in this way, helping me understand that my peeps are out there and finding shared passions is a great way to i.d. them.

One of my dearest friends recently sent me a link to a free 10-day podcast series called "radical compassion." Since I generally view all compassion as radical this title intrigued me.

Are some acts of compassion more radical than others? What is the difference between regular garden-variety compassion and the radical kind?

A quick browse online yielded this insight:

"Regular compassion" is an innate sensing of the state of others that we all have (at least in theory). As a social species, every homo sapiens apparently does have the basic wiring to sense when another is suffering and empathize and even the following desire to alleviate the other's suffering.

This wiring is not just inside homo sapiens brains, by the way.

I recently blogged about new research demonstrating empathy and compassion in parrots, which was not a surprise to me but definitely seemed to surprise the researchers.

"Radical compassion," in contrast, is going above and beyond regular compassion by undertaking acts of compassion under more challenging circumstances.

My favorite of all the podcast interviews I've listened to was - no surprise here - by author Elizabeth Gilbert. I just love her. (I mean, I've always loved her since I read Eat Pray Love, but in the wake of my own previous grief-filled year as I've navigated parting ways from my long-time love, her wisdom stemming from her own recent loss of her best friend and partner, Rayya, has helped me make some sense of the "keep on keeping on" nature of losing someone you love.)

My point being, at one moment in their hour-long podcast, host Tara Brach asks Liz about (and I paraphrase) how she deals with the onslaught of horrific local or world news that can make even the most empathic, compassionate and help-minded beings feel helpless and hopeless and sometimes flat-out numb to all the suffering.

Liz answered - again, no surprise here - brilliantly.


Mind, Senses & Silence

Navigating the 3 Types of To-Do Lists


My mind loves to think....or I could even say my mind lives to think.

If it doesn't have something productive to think about, it will find something unproductive to think about.

Over the last few years, I have been working hard to help my mind begin to equate silence, stillness, with thinking. As in, silence is another type of thought. In particular, it is a productive type of thought from which many other productive thoughts may arise.

One productive thought that can arise from a period of thinking-stillness is a certain type of to-do list.

This is a new discovery for me, by the way. It is really, really fresh and new.

Intuitive To Do List (Want To Do List).

I call this type of to-do list my "intuitive to-do list." It frequently contains new and even surprising information about actions I probably would never have thought to undertake otherwise.

This type of to-do list can be kind of exciting. The best way I can describe it might be if you took all the random "aha moments" you've had over the last week or so and wrote them down on a to-do list.

See? Exciting.

Once the period of thinking-stillness is over and our intuitive to-do list has a new item or few added to it, my mind can get back to its regular type of thinking, perhaps planning out how or when to tackle each item.

For obvious reasons, this is the most fun type of to-do list of those I am going to talk about here. These to-do list items feel inspired and full of possibility and potential.

For that reason, I also sometimes call the intuitive to do list my "want to do list."

But not everything I need to do is something I want to do. Those kind of items end up on a different kind of to-do list.

Practical To-Do List (Need To Do List).

This is the list most of us are the most familiar with. It is certainly the to-do list I am the most familiar with.

Grocery shopping. Check. Brush teeth. Check. Clean bird cage. Check. Write articles to earn rent money. Check. Pay rent money. Check.

You get the idea.

I may not even write these to-do list items down. Many of them are just that automatic.

At the most fundamental level, my need-to-do list even includes activities like respiring (breathe in, breathe out), which I normally remember to do on my own but occasionally forget when I am very stressed or very surprised by something.

Also, in a sense I do want to do these things, because not doing them can attract very unwelcome things like hunger pangs, cavities, eviction notices, those sorts of things.

The weirdest thing about practical or need to do list items is that they often generate actual written lists.

For example, I can't remember the last time I wrote down "do grocery shopping" on a list. But every week I keep a running list of the items I need or want to get when I do my grocery shopping.

I sometimes think about my practical to do list like my "small stuff list." As long as I keep up with these tasks, our little flock's regular daily life keeps humming along...mostly, anyway.

But just watch what happens when I put a few too many of my small stuff to-do list items off. Stress. Small stuff all piles up into big stuff. It is not pretty.

Speaking of stress....


Animal & Nature Mentors

Random Acts of Kindness From Parrots


My 21-year-old cockatiel, Pearl, knows what "belly kisses" means.

(Just in case you don't, it means I want to kiss his soft belly feathers).

Sometimes I want to kiss his belly feathers - it is addictive, trust me - even when he is not in the mood for me to do this.

Often, even after he shows me in no uncertain terms that he is not in the mood, if I then say "belly kisses" again, he will agree to let me kiss his belly feathers anyway.

This makes me very happy. And I think that is why he lets me do it.

Is this remarkable? Is the bond that Pearl and I share unusual in some way or just uniquely close?

I would like to think so.

But science has now confirmed I would probably be wrong.

The journal Current Biology recently published an intriguing study about altruism in parrots.

In the study, two African grey parrots were situated such that one parrot had a bunch of tokens that could be exchanged for food (tasty walnuts) and the other parrot had no tokens. In short order and without prompting, the bird with the tokens began sharing with the bird who had no tokens.

This behavior was so unexpected that some reporters are now calling the parrots "feathered apes."

Based on how readily my own ape-like species tends to forget basic sharing principles, I'm not convinced this comparison is flattering to the parrots.


Animal & Nature Mentors

How Smart Are Parrots? A Question Any Primate Can Answer


While he has never been so overt about displaying his jealousy towards Malti and Bruce, my rescued 3-toed box turtle, as he was that day, I was already well aware of the issue from watching (and listening) to him act out in other ways when the three of us were together at home.

Current research suggests the average parrot is about as smart as the average two-year-old child. Newer research indicates parrots may be even smarter than this, readily exhibiting intelligence levels of


Animal & Nature Mentors

Learning Your Animal’s Love Language


I have shared my life with companion animals for more than four decades.

Thank goodness.

While I realize that my own species, homo sapiens, has evolved to naturally crave and seek out the company of our own kind, my flocking preferences extend a bit further still.

What I mean is, if the only species I'm spending quality time with is my own, I feel like I am missing out.

Keenly.

Oddly, I personally have never had any particular drive to reproduce (my brother, to my parents' endless relief, felt differently and has produced, to date, four stunning miniatures who give me tremendous hope for the next generation).

But my drive to cohabitate has always taken me towards interspecies company, and particularly the good company of parrots and turtles.

Perhaps this is because I find animals easier to learn from and, frankly, to be with.

Humans, with our enormous capacity for nuance and tone, have often confounded me.  Whether it is figuring out if someone likes me, hates me, or something else entirely, it can (and often does) take me anywhere from a few minutes to a few years to figure this out.

It is not at all uncommon for me to look back on a memory from years ago, only to experience a sudden random "aha" moment and realize - oh. that's what they meant. This is exactly the sort of information that would have been useful to have when the interaction was actually taking place but just feels frustrating when received months or decades later.

But animals don't mess around. If they want it, they want it. If they don't want it, they don't want it. If they like you, you know it. If they don't like you, you know it.

Not only do I not mind this - I find it refreshing. I also find it remarkably instructive.

Changing my own behavior, my thoughts, my assumptions, becomes much easier when I get what I perceive to be clear, consistent, trustworthy feedback.

(NOTE: I realize animals can be nuanced as well, and this is not to simplify the extraordinary range of animal expressiveness. It is just to say that for whatever reason I find animal communications easier to read for me personally.)

One very intriguing thing I am starting to learn about animals in general and my own animals in particular is that each one has what I would call a "love language."


Animal & Nature Mentors

Tortoises Can Be Trained (and So Can Their People)


In breaking news, researchers have at long last confirmed that tortoises are intelligent, trainable and have memories like elephants.

This really is exciting....at least for the rest of the world.

As for me, I have to admit I already knew all this.

Reason being - I live with a tortoise.

Of course, Malti is not a giant Galapagos or Aldabra tortoise like the ones from the research study. She doesn't live in a zoo. Her life expectancy is a mere 50 years rather than 100+.

But I suspect none of these variables actually matters much (if at all) and I further suspect it is only a matter of time before the researchers realize this too.

The tortoise research participants were trained to bite a ball of a certain color in exchange for a food reward. Each tortoise was then tested to make sure they remembered "their" color. Finally, after a period of nine years had elapsed, all tortoises were retested on both tasks.

Every single tortoise performed splendidly on all tasks on both occasions.

Malti is a South American redfooted tortoise. She, like all tortoises, comes out of the egg and is completely on her own from day one. It is on her to survive, find shelter, find food, find mates - the whole nine yards.

Malti came to me when she was five weeks old. For the first year she basically hid under her bedding like all hatchling tortoises tend to do.

But after year one, her smarts really started to show. She quickly figured out that all her victuals come from the big white box (the household refrigerator) and took it upon herself to start walking right up to it and biting on the door when she wanted to eat.

Watch for yourself and see!


Animal & Nature Mentors

Why Anthropomorphism Can Be a Good Thing


Anthropomorphism is a mouthful.

Basically, it means "assigning people qualities to non-human beings or things."

So let's say I am sitting beside my iPhone and no one is texting me. I might think to myself, "Poor iPhone is sad....no one wants to talk to it."

Anthropomorphism.

(For those of you who are wondering if it would still be anthropomorphism if my iPhone got any smarter and turned into an A.I., I have no idea. But probably it still would be.)

Or let's say I am in one room in my casa and my parrot, Pearl, is in the other room. He can't see me so he starts to scream. I think fondly to myself (as I am hurrying back to his side), "He misses me so much!"

Anthropomorphism.

When I wrote my second book, "Love & Feathers: what a palm-sized parrot has taught me about life, love, and healthy self-esteem," I took special care to devote a page in the front to the topic of anthropomorphism.

On this page, I explained why my openly anthropomorphic writing style was on some level necessary due to the nature of the content and yet how I understood that it represented shaky ground at best in humankind's eternal quest for improved interspecies understanding.

But now I am finding myself backtracking on that sentiment a little....or a lot.