Thought for the Day: My Guiding Mantra

Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu = May ALL beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.

This is probably my favorite of all ancient Sanskrit chants.  It is not part of the original Vedic texts, but seemed to evolved from the desire to explain further the fundamental principles of ahimsa –  which means non-violence in all thoughts, words and actions.  The ancients declared the value of the Universal Spirit found within all living beings.

One of my original teachers sums it up quite eloquently:

If any prayer were to embody the spirit of the yogi, it would be this simple chant, whose 4 simple words translate as:

lokah: location (everywhere)

samastah: sameness or equality

sukhino: sweetness or happiness

bhavantu: unto all 

Notice that the transliteration says unto ALL living beings, not some living beings, and not the beings we love, or who are behaving in accordance with our expectations.  Nor does the prayer define ‘beings’ as human.  The mantra is clear – ALL beings deserve to be happy and free.  It’s simple, yet hard to practice, but has been my guiding principle for interacting with the world for nearly a decade (after I first heard it chanted in a yoga class years ago).

Some people ask, “what would Jesus do?”  As an atheist, I’m challenged to identify with Jesus.  I do think he was one of the original Yogis, when it comes to loving others and doing no harm, but I think I’m more challenged with the stance the Bible takes…namely the Old Testament which seems to focus more on defining ways we are deserving of love and ways when we are ‘bad’ or to experience the ‘wrath of God’.   Too many people like to pretend they are God, or God-like, when it comes to passing judgement upon others – they seem to forget we live in the era of the New Testament and what it was the Jesus actually taught.  Rather than dealing with confusing, or contradictory, text, I come back to this simple, astute chant when/if the thread of judgement begins to weave its way through my thoughts.

ALL beings deserve happiness, joy, and freedom – not just some beings, not just the beings you think are good or deserving – ALL beings: all black beings, all brown beings, all cis* beings, all gay beings, all beings who don’t identify within the confines of the gender binary, all animals, all plants, and the Earth itself deserve this.  It’s sometimes hard to reconcile this with the human mind, the one that calls for justice when we are wronged, or the one that lives in fear that there won’t be enough happiness and freedom for everyone (so we better restrict it to only a few).

We all deserve these things, but it should never be up to another to limit whether we heed joy’s true calling.  No living being should inflict suffering, harm, or pain on another.  That is a choice that we must make for ourselves.

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HRO: Good for Business

As published in the Mar/Apr 2015 issue of Arbus Magazine:

As of August 2014, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the largest civil rights organization in the United States working to achieve equality for LGBT Americans, acknowledges 200+ cities and counties across the US who prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity/ expression in both the public and private sector. The city of Jacksonville and Duval County are currently not on that list.

An HRO, or Human Rights Ordinance, is a policy passed on the local level (city or county) to prohibit discrimination based on certain characteristics. These policies often ban discrimination in housing, public accommodations, and employment. Jacksonville’s current policy bans discrimination based on race, religion, sex, disability, ethnicity, national origin and marital status. In 2012, our City Council failed to pass two separate measures to extend employment protections to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. Afterwards, Jacksonville made national headlines as being one of the few cities, at that time, to defeat such a measure.

Jacksonville experienced immediate backlash when the software developer Pantheon decided not to relocate their headquarters here, and many Wells Fargo executives refused to move to the city after the corporation purchased Wachovia Bank at about the same time. Now, almost three years later, the city of Jacksonville and Duval County made national headlines again that are shameful and disappointing: Just as Florida became the 36th state to legalize same-sex marriage, the Duval, Clay and Baker County Clerks stopped performing all marriage ceremonies at their courthouses, simply in an effort to avoid marrying same-sex couples.

In response to the clerks’ decision, many Duval County couples opted to wed in a mass ceremony and celebration in Hemming Park on January 10, 2015. In what some might consider an ironic twist, however, these same couples can still be legally fired for displaying wedding photos at their place of employment, denied housing, or asked leave a restaurant because of their sexual orientation.
According to a recent Gallup poll, one of the challenges with passing local protections is that a majority of Americans mistakenly believe it is already illegal to fire or refuse to hire someone, deny housing, and/or deny public accommodations to LGBT people.

Hoping to better educate their members as to why an expanded ordinance will help boost economic growth for the city, the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce West Council invited local activist Chevara Orrin, from We Are Straight Allies (WASA), to speak at their monthly luncheon in January in order to educate their members on the progress being made across the country to successfully add protections for the LGBT community at a local and national level. The founder of the WASA organization, Orrin has spent the past two years working to educate and raise awareness about the very real challenges and discrimination faced by the LGBT community.

“Jacksonville is the only large city in the state of Florida without an HRO and it is vital for our local economy that we pass a Human Rights Ordinance,” she maintains. In fact, the HRC gave Jacksonville a 20-rating (out of 100) on their 2014 Municipal Equality Index (MEI). The MEI compares the laws, policies, and services of municipalities and rates them on the basis of their inclusivity of LGBT people who live and work there. When compared to other cities in Florida, Jacksonville is second to last, only slightly better than Port St. Lucie, as being a just place for the LGBT community to live and work.

Pat Geraghty

There are plenty of community leaders like Pat Geraghty, chairman and CEO of Florida Blue, who understand why an expanded HRO is good for business. Geraghty says, “I believe that engaged employees are a key ingredient for a business to be successful. Internal diversity within the workforce helps businesses better understand who they serve, and allows the focus to be on the work and not on definitions that limit inclusion.”

Geraghty joined the WASA campaign in 2013 and has co-sponsored legislation that would protect LGBT citizens statewide. Florida Blue, Florida’s largest health insurance provider, is considered one of the best places to work for an LGBT employee. They have consistently received 100 on the HRC’s Corporate Equality Index (CEI) several years in a row. The CEI is the national benchmarking tool on fair corporate policies and practices pertinent to LGBT employees. In 2015, 89% of all Fortune 500 Companies offer protection from discrimination based on someone’s sexual orientation, while 66% of those also offer protections based on a person’s gender identity/expression.

One of the West Council members voiced their “concern about cross-dressers in the workplace.” These types of comments demonstrate the overall lack of sensitivity the transgender community faces daily at best, coupled with experiencing the highest rates of targeted violence, or suicide, at worst and speaks to why the transgender community is often overlooked. Data from the National Center for Transgender Equality found that 78% of transgender Americans say they’ve experienced workplace discrimination at some point in their career.  Because so few people personally know a transgender person, it can be hard to understand what it means to be transgender.

However, few Americans, including the LGBT community, are aware that transgender employees are protected against being fired because of his or her status as a transgender person in all fifty states, as set forth in the landmark decision in the 2012 Macy v. Holder case, brought by the Transgender Law Center. “Transgender people are a part of our workplaces and neighborhoods – and they need to be able to use the restroom safely and be left alone, just like everyone else,” says Orrin.

HRO Steve Halverson_Final f

Steve Halverson, CEO of Haskell Company and fellow WASA campaign participant, explains that having an expanded HRO is important for Jacksonville to become more competitive in the marketplace. “To succeed, businesses have to compete for talent – all talent – and provide a safe and welcoming work environment,” he says. “We are disadvantaged when we create an impression that our community is hostile to the LGBT community. People want to live and work in communities that are perceived as fair and tolerant. Jacksonville needs to be that place.”

While nothing about nondiscrimination laws changes state and local criminal statutes that would outlaw predatory activity or crimes targeted towards the LGBT community, they demonstrate to companies considering a move Jacksonville that our city is taking steps necessary to become a more inclusive place for all of its citizens.

Photos: Dan Bagan, EQ3 Media

I’ve missed you, Jack

It’s been five years since you passed away, Jack.  Those years went by in the blink of an eye and there is so much that I wish I could share with you.  Yet, I feel like you have always been here, to guide me through some of the hardest years of my life.  Mostly, I take today, the anniversary of the day we lost you from this world, as a time to reflect, to share with you and to celebrate, that I made it through.  When we lost you, Jack, I lost most of myself.  And, it was because of you, sweet baby, that I found my way back.

For some, losing a child makes them harden to the world, and I did for awhile.  The day you died, I fell out of love with life. I disengaged from normal daily activities, from caring about other people’s problems, and from wanting anything better for myself.    Those first few months after you had passed, I was in denial.  I denied you were gone. I denied you had existed. I denied that I worked for a dysfunctional, unethical company with leaders who were discriminatory, passive aggressive bullies, who were sucking the life out of me. I denied that I dating a man who was a lying, cheating narcissist with borderline personality disorder who treats people as objects.  I denied myself the gift of friendship from those who truly cared about me when I didn’t care about myself. I denied myself any opportunity to heal.

In the first 18 months after you were gone, I was so heartbroken that I dug myself so deep into a hole of sadness and there was no way for me to see any way out.  When I took an inventory of my losses that year – losing you, my job, a shitty relationship, my home, and friends – I lost my will to live. It took a tribe of beautiful souls to bring me back into the light – my mom, my best friend, my brother, my mentor, and the friends who didn’t turn away from the pain that I was in. They gave me the strength to work through the heartache of compounded loss, to see how some of those losses were truly gifts.

For most of 2011, I traveled because I needed to see the beauty that was left in the world.  I traveled alone because I needed to remember how I had once been intuitive and independent. I traveled great lengths because I needed the space to let go of my anger and find respite from all of the hurt.  I carried you in my heart the entire journey, listened to the whispers from your soul about forgiveness and finally came home a greater sense of compassion for myself and others.  The hard shell I had built was gone.

I met a wonderful man at the end of that year and I added new members to my tribe of beautiful souls.  Together, he and I have formed a partnership of deep respect, love and kindness towards one another.  Life these past three years has been full of joy, had some pain, but without fear. My fearlessness evolved from surviving so many massive losses and gave me the opportunity to truly understand and appreciate the impermanence of life.  It has made me grateful for what I have, but know that I can’t cling to wanting people and moments to be a certain way. You have given me the courage to live a life of no regrets.

During the times I am most challenged to be brave, to be kind, or to be humble, I reflect upon that fateful day we met at Children’s Hospital, when you were struggling to stay alive.  I come back to the instant I walked through the door to your hospital room and fell in love with you.  I carry that moment in my heart everyday, I reflect upon it every time I need to be empathetic towards myself and others.  You were so helpless and had been beaten so badly – all you needed was unconditional love.  Egos, agendas, and personal issues were set aside.  In those precious moments we had together, there was no time to be insecure and selfish, or make sure that our personal needs were met. All we could do was have the courage to love beyond our small selves.

Each moment that I come back to the reminder of how frail you were, and how we had no control over the outcome of your short life, is a moment that I soften to the world around me and I am grateful.  Five years ago, you taught me how to love for the sake of loving, simply because we all need to deserve to feel loved before we die, simply because withholding love from another being only does irrefutable harm to our own souls. You taught me that holding onto anger proves to be a futile mission and, in the end, only causes the one who is angry the greatest amount of suffering. You taught me to be kind and recognize when someone is hiding their pain.  You taught me to admit my faults, celebrate my strengths, and never be afraid of either.  You taught me to be unapologetic for who I am, but to apologize quickly when I am wrong. You taught me which battles are worth fighting, which ones I should walk away from and how truly liberating forgiveness can be. You taught me that failure is not the end of my story.

Your time on this Earth was short, but the lessons we learned from you have been long.  Five years ago when you departed this world, you taught us all how to live.  I will never be okay with how our story began, but I will always be grateful for ways you have enriched my life with your small, but mighty soul.

I love you, Jack.

 

30 Days, 30 Ways to Be Your Best

Here are 30 ways you can practice implementing the Fourth Agreement: Always Do Your Best into your daily life:

Day 1: Begin by reading some thoughts on how to implement the Fourth Agreement.

Day 2: Start by talking to yourself better.

Talk to yourself

Day 3: Practice the art of having enough.

Day 4: Always doing your best takes practice, so practice a little every day.

Aristotle Quote

Day 5: Sometimes the hardest part of the journey is believing you’re worthy of the trip.  ― Glenn Beck, The Christmas Sweater

Flawless

Day 6: You’re at your best when you are not comparing yourself to others.

Day 7: It doesn’t take anything complex to be happy, but it does take a commitment to be loving.

Day 8: Stop competing with someone else’s standards for living.

Authentic Self

Day 9: “Waking up to who you are requires letting go of who you imagine yourself to be.” ~Alan Watts

Day 10: We are at our best when we are in the service of others.  Up to 10,000 are said to have died in Tacloban city, due to Super Typhoon Haiyan, and hundreds elsewhere. Hundreds of thousands are displaced. The storm is now heading for Vietnam.

Be of service. Please make a donation to the Philippines Red Cross to help provide clean water, food, shelter and aid to the region.  If your curious about the conversion – $1USD=~43 Philippine Pesos. 

Better Person

Day 11: This is the only way you can be all you can be……

Day 12: Employ frequent and often use of the Best. Mantra. Ever!  Svaha!  Originally used in Vedic ritual to make oblations to the sacred fire, svaha is loosely translated as “an offering”, “to offer it up to the Universe”, or “so be it”.

You do what you can as an offering to the Universe, and then let things happen as they may.  We do our best when we try, not when/if we get the outcome we expect, demand, or hope to get….sometimes that isn’t the outcome the Universe had in mind for you anyway.

Day 13: Let it go and MOVE ON.

Plot Twist

Day 14: Dare we all make this prayer to live every moment of every day – good or bad?  “Dear God,” she prayed, “let me be something every minute of every hour of my life. Let me be gay; let me be sad. Let me be cold; let me be warm. Let me be hungry…have too much to eat. Let me be ragged or well dressed. Let me be sincere – be deceitful. Let me be truthful; let me be a liar. Let me be honorable and let me sin. Only let me be something every blessed minute. And when I sleep, let me dream all the time so that not one little piece of living is ever lost.” ― Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Dangerous (4th Agreement)Day 15: You only have NOW to give to this moment, this person, and to you.  We often use the phrase, “Someday, I’ll….”, or “When I’m retired, I’ll…..”, or even “I don’t have the money or the time to do…..”.  All the while you are missing NOW – get out there and DO what you came here to do!

Day 16: We often overcommit to others to gain their acceptance, yet under deliver because we aren’t honest about the amount of time or energy we truly have to give to a person, a project, a cause.  Practice the Power of NO more often.  Quantity may go down, but quality will increase ten-fold, and you will feel much more effective in  your relationships.

Day 17: These are great reminders for how to practice being your best.

Reiki Principles (4th Agreement)

Day 18: Part of being your best means you learn from all of the ways that you were not your best.  You make the effort to understand what the ramifications were to yourself and others when negative events occurred.  People mistake the idea of not living in the past as somehow to mean that you forget the past altogether.  We don’t forget the past, but do learn from it and we forgive ourselves and others for it.  If you want remember why it is important to be a better person, go see 12 Years of a Slave….it will make you want to be better, to others and to yourself – it is a reminder of a history that we never want to repeat, but need to forgive one another and heal from.

Life story

Day 19: What story about your past, or the things done in the past, fits you best – one of anger, or one of redemption?

Day 20: Learn that “failure” is all a matter of perception.  http://becomeomblog.com/2011/12/13/fail-forward-faster/

Day 21: Let go of the incessant need to be perfect.

perfectionism quote

Day 22: Remember ”Three things in human life are important.   The first is to be kind.   The second is to be kind.   And the third is to be kind.” —Henry James

Day 23: Just Stop.

sometimes stop

Day 24: We spend too much time dwelling on mistakes.  Rather than beating yourself up, over and over and over, learn the lesson, forgive yourself, and MOVE ON already.

love yourself

Day 25: It’s time to challenge your self-defeating beliefs.  When the negative thoughts arise, ask yourself, “Is this true?  Is this necessary?  What would my best friend say?” Then, you can begin to reframe your thinking to become more compassionate, more kind, and more productive.

who holds you back

Day 26: You will be tested time and time again until you get the message the Universe intends to send you.  Be open to receiving it.

Paulo Coelho Quote

Day 27: “…Use it every way you can.”

your body

Day 28:  Today and everyday, practice gratitude.  A good way to go about it is to write down 5 things you are thankful for at the end of each day.

Day 29: Sometimes we focus so much on what we want to do when we grow up that we forget who want to BE and how we want to feel.  Focus your energy how you want to feel about yourself in the days ahead and what kind of friend you want to be both to yourself and others….what you want to do will blossom from there.

Socrates Quote

Day 30: Be good to yourself http://wp.me/p4494P-8i

Agreement 4 always-do-your-best_1x