Seeing the best in life's challenges

Shining Like the Sun! by Tom Shadyac

The following is straight from  It is a blog post written by Tom Shadyac.

His film, I Am, is now On Demand….if you haven’t seen it, it’s AMAZING!



Everyday, we are assaulted with messages, images, slogans, and sound bites, that tell us of our inadequacies, the sad state of affairs that is you and me:  “With this product, you can lose weight, with this one, you can gain muscle; if your breasts sag, our bra lifts them up; if you have wrinkles, this cream irons them out; if you’re sad, we have a pill that will make you happy; if you’re too happy, we have a pill that will bring you down; if you’re not as much of a man as you used to be, this pill will straighten you out (literally!).  And everyone who’s anyone has itunes, the iphone, and the ipad, am iclear?

And we participate in this maddening chatter unaware, telling our kids that in order to succeed they have to get the best grades, get into the right school, and get the right job.  We tell them that one day they must stop all this horsing around and get serious with their lives; we ask them who they are going to be when they grow up, warning them that life is all down hill after 22, declaring college the best four years of their lives; and finally, if they are lucky, they just might make something of themselves in this dog eat dog world.  It’s enough to stress you out completely – but of course there’s a pill that can fix that, too.

Is this how life really is?  Is our identity simply conditional and fragile?  Is who we are really defined by the things we own, our job status, and the social circles we run in?

The mystics, those saints and sages who saw through to the inner workings of reality, proclaimed something very different.   A little background here:  The word “mystic” comes from the Latin word, “mysterium”, from which we also get the word, mystery.  Thus, a mystic is one who sees into the mystery.  So what exactly did the mystics see?  And what does their vision of reality reveal about who and what we are?

Here’s what Thomas Merton said, after decades of meditation and contemplation:  “As if the sorrows and stupidities of the world could overwhelm me now that I realize what we all are.  I wish everyone could realize this, but there is no way of telling people they are all walking around shining like the sun.”

Shining like the sun.  That’s you.  He didn’t say, shining like the sun after you can afford the new electric Chevy Volt.  He didn’t say, shining like the sun after your bust gets lifted.  What he said was, right now, in this moment, with all of your imperfections, with all of your challenges in the temporal, with all of your worldly failures and successes, you are walking around shining like the sun!

Merton goes one step further with this concluding insight: “I am finally coming to the realization that my greatest ambition is to be what I already am.” Wait a minute.  What about worldly status and success and power?  Merton saw through all of that, and invites us to do the same.  Can you imagine?  What a lesson to embrace, to embody and even, to teach; to declare to our kids they don’t have to be someone, they already are someone.   Now the cynic will undoubtedly rise up and warn that this will poison our youth; they will be so inflated with their own identity, they will surely sit back and do nothing.  Quite the opposite is true.  This knowledge compels those it touches, Jesus, Gandhi, St. Francis, Mother Theresa, Rumi, and Hafiz, to walk with power, to use their talents for the good of all, without the drag of invented pressure to measure up to some arbitrary social standard.

You see, (and it is a matter of sight!), what we are telling ourselves, the command to succeed and be someone, is just a story; it’s a story based on expectations.   It’s temporal and finite.  It is not who you really are.  The Sufi mystic, Meera, wisely said:“You cannot play your role in time, until you know who you are in eternity.” And who you are is a drop in the ocean of divinity.  Inside you is starlight.  Inside you is the same infinite energy that created the universe.  As the modern mystic, Irwin Kula, knew, “Everything is god in drag.”

So the next time you’re told you need to be somebody, rest in the knowledge that you already are.  Hafiz implores us to wake up to this truth when he says: “I wish I could show you, when you are lonely or in darkness, the astonishing light of your own being.” Now what iphone or ipad, what present day pill or product can deliver that?

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Perfect Teeth

Today is the beginning of Part 2 of Orthodontics.

Part 1 started a few years ago when I took my oldest to the practice my dentist recommended.  The introductory visit started with a 10 or 15-minute video, which shared the stories of many of the people whose lives had been changed by getting their teeth perfect.  We listened to the woeful stories of those whose smiles were previously inadequate, whose lives were less than what they could be….and how these people were saved by braces.  Now they could live life to the fullest and feel good about themselves.  Ok, I understand the whole marketing thing, but it still made me uncomfortable.

Next, an exceedingly sweet woman interviewed my oldest.  He was anxious to correct his overbite, as he had not enjoyed being called “Bugs Bunny” by the eighth grade son of his middle school principal.  (Yeah, that’s another story, and was a great learning experience as well as a tough period of time.)

Since my daughter was there, too, they decided to have a look at her next.  The woman sweetly asked something like, “how do you feel about your smile?”  to which my daughter replied something like, “fine.”  THEN, the woman said something that started off, “No, really….”


Which is why we are going elsewhere for her braces.  And, believe me, I realize we may have a similar experience.

Look, they did a beautiful job on my son’s teeth.  It’s not that.  And I realize I am swimming upstream here.

But I don’t buy into the idea that we have to appear perfect to feel good about ourselves or to be a success in life.  Because the truth is, we will never appear perfect.  Human beings just aren’t made that way.  And I certainly don’t want to teach my kids that they aren’t perfect just the way they are.

I have no problem with wanting to have straight teeth.  It’s nice enough, but it doesn’t define a person.  I have some really wonderful, great friends that have crooked teeth.  Does that make them less valuable as friends?  Does it make them less competent at what they do?

To me, this is an example of an assumption, buying into a cultural norm, that is really motivated by making money, by marketing.  Orthodontists provide a valuable service, but when do we go too far?

I think we go too far when we start encouraging people to fear that they are inadequate, in order to promote a business.

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The War on Childhood

Here’s the link to the article by Lenore Skenazy:

Lenore Skenazy is one of my heroes.  She wrote the book Free Range Kids, and I have a link to her blog to the right.

This article, in the Wall Street Journal, should be totally shocking, for the simple reason that we are so used to this mindset, we don’t think a thing of it.

Anyone who knows me, knows my 10-yr old has been taking the public bus to school for the past 4 years.  Yeah, the computer teacher was always there too, up until last year.  Now, she takes it by herself, although there are usually some high schoolers on there, too.  She knows most of the adults on the bus, since they are regulars who are headed off to work.  We see them occasionally, and she’ll say, “oh, that guy rides my bus.”

She has had “practice” in how to react when things go wrong (the bus broke down once, and they had to wait for the next one);  how to avoid someone acting weird (ok, it happens, and she knows just to stay away or sit close to the bus driver); and what to do if the bus doesn’t show (“I’d just take the 7:25” said in a very matter-of-fact manner.)

We just had her parent-teacher conference this morning.  Everyone raves about her.  She is so self-sufficient, confident, takes charge.  Very self-aware.  She’s amazing.


Look, I understand the kid was born with a take-charge personality, and not every kid is ready for these things at the same time.  But the idea of someone telling me she would not be capable of doing certain things just because of her age….oooh, that gets me worked up.

In case you can’t get to Lenore’s article, here it is:


Ten is the new two. We live in a society that insists on infantilizing our children, treating them as helpless babies who can’t do a thing safely or successfully without an adult hovering nearby.

Consider the schools around the country that no longer allow kids to be dropped off at the bus stop unless there’s a guardian waiting to walk them home—even if home is two doors down.

Or how about all the libraries I’m hearing about that forbid children under age eight or 10 or 12 to be there without an adult—including in the children’s room? God forbid a kid wants to spend the afternoon reading books by herself.

Over in Europe (where I guess they’ve got nothing else to worry about), the European Union just ruled that children under age eight should always be supervised when . . . wait for it . . . blowing up a balloon. It’s just too darn dangerous. A child could choke! And those little whistle things that uncurl when you blow into them? Those have been classified “unsuitable” for children under age 14. (And somehow they’re suitable for kids above 14?)

The point is: Children are not being allowed to grow up and do the normal things we did as kids, out of the fear that, just maybe, something bad could happen. As if all the good things that happen—from exercise to independence to the joy of blowing up a balloon—don’t matter at all. All that matters is the possibility of risk.

When that’s your focus, nothing seems safe enough, which is why park districts are removing merry-go-rounds (kids could fall off!). A New Jersey day-care owner I spoke with was ordered to saw off all tree branches on her property that were lower than eight feet off the ground. Why? Because kids could run into them. They might even (I shudder to write this) climb them.

Which brings us to the latest casualty in this war on childhood: Train travel. As of Nov. 1, Amtrak raised its unaccompanied minor age from eight to 13. Whereas last month your third grader could get on the train, give the conductor a ticket, and proudly ride to the station where grandma (or, more likely, your ex) was waiting, now you and your kid have to wait another five years. Thirteen is the new eight.

This might make some sense if Amtrak had been experiencing a rash of child kidnappings, or pre-teens gone wild, but that is not the case at all. The government-subsidized train service announced it was making the change “not in response to any incidents,” but rather out of “an abundance of concern . . .”

So Amtrak did this for no good reason? That’s an impressive management style: Change your whole policy because, uh . . . well . . . everyone else is treating kids like babies, so why not follow the crowd?

As for Amtrak’s “abundance of concern,” it doesn’t seem quite abundant enough to cover all the parents who can’t afford an extra ticket, or time off work, but who trust their tweens to get from point A to point B, as generations of kids have done—and still do.

In Japan there is a special fare for unaccompanied minors under age six. The Japanese believe their kids can function independently. But over here, even when Amtrak does allow minors to travel on their own, look at the rules it imposes: 13 to 15 year olds must wear a special wrist band identifying them as youngsters. They cannot travel after 9:05 p.m. They cannot get off at an unmanned station. An adult must be at both ends to sign them in and drop them off.

Why not just put them in a crate with a chew toy and be done with it?

There is one more requirement for teens traveling on Amtrak alone. They also must be “interviewed by station personnel to determine if the child is capable of traveling alone.” So here’s an idea: Do away with the age restrictions and go with a basic interview for all the minors who want to travel solo. If they can tell you where they’re going, how they’ll know when to get off, and what they plan to do for supper, let them ride the rails.

There’s a difference between minors and babies. But if we never let the babies grow up and have some adventures on their own, they could end up as befuddled as Amtrak officials.

Ms. Skenazy is a public speaker and founder of

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An Attitude of Gratitude

by Anne Brenoff on November 15, 2011

I have a friend who I use instead of Prozac. Whenever life feels overwhelming, I call her and ask her to lunch. Apparently, she’s the drug of choice for many people because her calendar is always heavily booked; I love that she squeezes me in when I use the secret emergency code words “It’s been so long since we’ve talked!”

I can talk to Jae Wu about anything and she hears me. Notice, I didn’t say she listens. Lots of people listen — my dog listens if I hold a cookie in my hand — but no, Jae actually hears. She nods sometimes when I’m speaking, but mostly what she does is hear me. Jae never feels compelled to rush in and fill the pause of a conversation the way I do. She also hears the silence.

Jae’s life is not without complications of its own. She owns a successful real estate firm on the Westside of Los Angeles — and holds the distinction of probably being the only top-producing real estate agent in LA who has never tried to get me to write about one of her listings. Jae is also mom to two boys, one with special challenges. When she learned of her son’s diagnosis, she did what Jae does: She kept breathing.

I met Jae quite by fate, since as Jae taught me, there are no such things as coincidences. Awhile back, I founded a women’s networking group for entrepreneurs. One month, our keynote speaker canceled at the last minute and someone suggested Jae as a fill-in. She came, she spoke, and nobody in the room budged from their seats for the next few hours. Jae not only hears; when she speaks, she speaks from the heart.

Once you meet Jae, you become part of her circle, one of her peeps. She “match-makes” among her minions, sending new and interesting friends your way. You need something? She knows someone who knows someone who knows someone. And she means it.

From the day I met her, I’ve wanted to unravel the mystery of Jae. How is it that she carries such a full load and doesn’t let it weigh her down? I’m a spiritual person, and by and large a happy person — but Jae has this calmness about her that sets her apart. When Jae enters a room, she becomes its center. How is that?

Jae says she wakes up each morning and before moving from the bed, she mentally runs down everything she is grateful for. She makes lists in her head of all that is right with the world, all that she loves, all that she is looking forward to that day, tomorrow and the next. She thinks about how she can make all the people she knows happy. She does this every day. She starts her day with an attitude of gratitude.

Jae Wu’s life isn’t any less stressed or complicated than mine or yours — far from it. It’s that she knows something we know but don’t always remember. She knows that like beauty, happiness — dare I say inner peace? — is in the eye of the beholder. She knows it feels better to give than to get, to share than to hoard. She knows the difference between needs and wants. She knows that kind people trump mean ones, that your burdens are lighter when shared and that every day is a gift awaiting your unwrapping. She knows that even in the face of illness, there is life to be lived between the cracks.

I keep hoping that her attitude of gratitude will rub off on me. But for now, I am just grateful to be having lunch with her Thursday.

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