Empathy Lessons?

Heart Connection (by Alisa Looney)

“A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.” ~ Brené Brown

There have been so many cringe worthy events in the news this week. My discomfort level was so high that I woke up in the middle of the night one night with the idea that all of us in this country could use some empathy lessons.

Joe Biden tried to make a point about how he was able to work with segregationist law makers who thought very differently than he did. His comments were taken as an insult by Cory Booker and Kamala Harris. When asked if Biden was going to apologize, he said, “No. I’m not a racist. Cory Booker should apologize to me.” When he said that I thought, “It never hurts to apologize when someone misunderstands your intention.” We already have enough politicians, and people in power who don’t apologize for their policies or their actions.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve apologized to people who misunderstood what I said or did. I apologized even when I didn’t think I was in the wrong. Being open to the fact that maybe I was wrong was a fantastic way to open a dialogue so the other person and I could come to a new understanding.

I have to say that communication by words is extremely difficult. In a way, we each have our own vocabularies, with a particular word meaning one thing to me and something completely different for you. That’s why we often misunderstand each other. I think I’m saying one thing, while the people listening to the message each have their own interpretation of the words I’m using. Misunderstandings under those conditions are inevitable.

But that’s not the whole story. Body language and facial expressions are the largest communicators. Turn off the sound on any visual entertainment and see if you can understand what’s going on just by body language and facial expressions alone. My guess is you’d be able to understand the emotions of the interaction, if not what the people are saying to each other. To me, Joe Biden’s body language indicated belligerence, not cooperation.

That was the first event that got me thinking. Then there was the shooting in South Bend, Indiana. A white police officer shot a black man. Mayor Pete tried to have an open town hall meeting to see if they could come up with solutions for the problem. But that blew up into anger, pointing fingers and blaming the people in authority.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I think there are far too many law enforcement related shootings happening in this country. And it is usually people of color who are the victims. That’s a horrendous situation that we need to fix. But as Mayor Pete admitted in the debate on Thursday evening, “…I couldn’t get it done,” meaning integrating his police department. He went on to say, “There’s a wall of mistrust, put up one racist act at a time.” That doesn’t mean he’s going to stop trying, it just means as it stands now, there is still an imbalance of black to white police officers in South Bend and it’s going to take lots of work to remedy that situation.

It was after the shooting in South Bend that the idea of empathy lessons came to me. Mayor Pete is right. We have so many walls of mistrust. The poor don’t trust the rich, people of color don’t trust whites, women don’t trust men, conservatives don’t trust progressives and visa versa; it just goes on and on. People in each of these groups have plenty of reason for their mistrust. And yet, there has to be a solution to keep this horrible situation from spiraling further out of control.

Maybe the solution is empathy lessons for all of us. We could make it a requirement in schools and colleges, as part of job training in all industries, and basic training for all government officials.

But who would lead the trainings? As I was thinking about that, the story broke that there were thousands of children being held in over crowded detention centers all over the southern border. These children don’t have access to hygiene products, proper bedding, and who knows maybe even food. The investigators discovered that the children were stuffed in facilities meant for fewer people. And they were pretty much left to fend for themselves. I have to ask, how does a baby, or a toddler fend for themselves?

We definitely need empathy lessons!

The cool thing is, empathy is something almost all of us come equipped with. And with practice we can develop it to a high skill. Things might seem really dark right now, but I say, lets get empathy experts on the job. They can be pulled from lots of different disciplines, counselors, ministers, human rights advocates, actors and directors, and people like Brené Brown who study shame, vulnerability and human behavior. I’d love to teach classes like that.

Just off the top of my head, here’s how I’d do it:

Make the participants watch selected movies and discuss the character’s motivations, and emotional states of mind. Which ones do the participants relate to? Not relate to? It’s a class I already teach at my local community college.

Bring in individuals to tell their stories. I once had training in sales. The motto was, “Stories sell.” That’s actually part of our DNA. When we observe acts of kindness, or hatred, it’s as if they are being done to us. Hearing someone’s honest retelling of their story does the same thing. We feel what they experienced and gain a new perspective.

Do some role playing casting people against type. Doing that takes them out of their comfort zones. I teach acting class too.

Read books and stories about people and places that are vastly different from our own and discuss them. I’m not as good at this one as I would like to be, but I have read books about people from different cultures that changed my perspective in profound ways. James Baldwin said, “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.” And I agree with him.

These empathy lessons have to be on going events. It will take years for our culture to change from fear based to empathy based.

However, there is hope. A theory called The Hundredth Monkey Effect states that a group of animals, or people, can evolve if a certain percentage of the group learn a new skill, or way of being. It’s based on scientific research in Koshima, Japan beginning in 1950. It’s a fascinating story about how a young Macaca fuscata, monkey learned to wash sweet potatoes left in the dirt for the family group by the scientists. The scientists observed this monkey washing the dirt off her sweet potatoes in water. They then observed her teaching her mother to do the same thing. Over several years the practice was adopted by other monkeys until one day critical mass was reached. All the monkeys in that family group began washing their sweet potatoes. But it didn’t end there, monkeys on other islands began washing their sweet potatoes as well with no contact whatsoever with the family group being studied.

If monkeys can learn to wash sweet potatoes, then humans can learn empathy and love for each other. But if we are to survive as a species, we’d better get busy learning and teaching others how to develop our empathy skills.

What do you think?

Welcome to my new followers. Thank you all for reading, liking and commenting on my posts. I appreciate it.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2019

Lucinda is the author of The Space Between Time, an award finalist in the “Fiction: Fantasy” category of the 2017 Best Book Awards. It’s a little bit like Outlander in that it’s a historical, time-travel, magical realism, novel. Except that Jenna’s life is shattered. When she finds old journals, she joins consciousness with her three-times great-grandmother, Morgan, rather than traveling physically. She is able to come back at intervals and apply what she’s learned to her own life situations.

The Space Between Time is available in all ebook formats at Smashwords and for Kindle at Amazon, or you can find the ebook at iBooks or Barnes and Noble. If you prefer a physical copy, you can find a print-on-demand version at Amazon. Stay tuned for news when the audiobook version is published. To join her email list, click here. She will never sell the names on her list.

Empath’s Confession

Heart Connection (by Alisa Looney)

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.” ~ James Baldwin

“I think we all have empathy. We may not have enough courage to display it.” ~ Maya Angelou

“The great gift of human beings is that we have the power of empathy.” ~ Meryl Streep

“The opposite of anger is not calmness, it’s empathy.” ~ Mehmet Oz

I’m an empath. I admit it. I’ve written posts here before about how difficult it can be to be a magnet for other people’s feelings and not know what to do with them. It’s exhausting. But recently I gained a different perspective. Being empathetic can also be extremely empowering.

Last fall I got an idea that my sister, Celeste and I should write a memoir about our father and the influence he had on our lives. It’s not a typical memoir enumerating the pain and suffering we endured, but rather how our father taught us to use compassion and empathy to help ourselves and others.

My initial thought was that it was going to be about how he used movies to teach us important lessons because stories are an important way to connect emotionally with another person’s point of view. Our book may still include some of that. However, I see now that the book has to include our memories of how Dad influenced people by using his empathy to spread love and compassion to help them heal. It was as if he was plugged into some deep well of emotion and information that helped him understand exactly how the people around him were being affected by the experiences they were having. But how to write that so our readers can understand?

After discussions with Celeste about what to include in the book, I came to this startling deeper understanding of my father. Not only was he an empath, but he was an extreme introvert. He kept his deepest feelings hidden most of the time, even from us. That’s where I learned it! For most of my life, I’ve kept my head down done my work and not shared my deepest thoughts and feelings. However when I broke my own rule, I was exposed, extremely vulnerable, and my ideas generated controversy. That happened to Dad too because he had ideas that went against common convention. When he shared his point of view, it often stirred up fierce debate.

These are extraordinary times. We can use new ideas and fierce debate about how to make the world a better place. And yet, I remember all those controversies, both mine and Dad’s and I ask myself, do I really want to draw so much attention to myself again? The reality is, in times like these, everyone needs to be sharing their creative ideas and their stories. That’s one of the best ways we learn and grow. We have to share our stories and listen as others tell theirs in return.

Over the years as I’ve written these blog posts, I’ve become more comfortable with being open and vulnerable. But it’s uncomfortable to share my mistakes. I’d love to be perfect. I’d also love to keep these posts intellectual. In fact, I was going to write an intellectual essay and post it today. But after years of work in theatre, teaching, and directing plays, I know the best way to help someone see another point of view is to touch their emotions. Then they are open to new ideas. We need the marriage of ideas and emotions to effect real change. So, I need to share my stories, and listen to those of other people. That’s where we discover that we’re not so different after all.

Admittedly, Celeste and I have so many deep emotions about our father, that we’re having a difficult time focusing on what to write about him. He was an extraordinary man, living an ordinary life. Yet the ripples of his influence keep reverberating. Things my father taught me come to mind often and help me through the situations I face. I’m grateful that he gave me such a fantastic head start in life.

There will be more things to share about this project later. But for today, that’s enough.

Welcome to all my new followers. Thanks for reading, liking and commenting. Have a lovely weekend.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2019

Lucinda is the author of The Space Between Time, an award finalist in the “Fiction: Fantasy” category of the 2017 Best Book Awards. It’s a little bit like Outlander in that it’s a historical, time-travel, magical realism, novel. Only Jenna joins consciousness with her three-times great-grandmother, Morgan, instead of traveling physically. She is able to come back at intervals and apply what she’s learned to her own life situations.

The Space Between Time is available in all ebook formats at Smashwords, or you can find the ebook at iBooks or Barnes and Noble. If you prefer a physical copy, you can find a print-on-demand version at Amazon. Stay tuned for news on the audiobook version Lucinda is working on. To join her email list, click here. She will never sell the names on her list.

Things That Make You Go Hmmm!

Pumpkin Possibilities

“Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.” ~ Albert Einstein

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” ~ Albert Einstein

“The only real security is not in owning or possessing, not in demanding or expecting, not in hoping, even. Security in a relationship lies neither in looking back to what it was, nor forward to what it might be, but living in the present and accepting it as it is now.” ~ Anne Morrow Lindbergh

I stole my title from comedian, Gallagher. Barry and I used to watch him in the ‘90s on one of the cable networks. His routine was wild and wacky. For example, at the end of each show he’d take a sledge hammer to big cantaloupes and watermelons. The audience would scream with laughter behind their sheets of plastic. In his routine, he included a segment titled “Things that make you go hummm.” And it always made the audience think. One I remember was, “Why is it called a ‘hot water heater?’ If the water’s already hot, why do we need to heat it?” Stuff like that. Well, I’ve been confronted with some things that have made me go hummm in the last few days.

I have a couple of acting students doing a scene from the movie, The Wolf of Wall Street, and naturally, we got to talking about what might have motivated Jordan Belfort to defraud so many investors just to fund his wild and crazy lifestyle? The movie is based on actual events and people, which makes it all the more chilling.

I have not seen the movie. I may at some point. However, this is not the first movie about business people who have no empathy or compassion and who are only interested in how much money they can make for themselves and sometimes for their stockholders. I can name any number of classic movies that show the slide capitalism made into the realm of callous greed.

That was Tuesday night. On Wednesday morning I was looking at my news app, and there was an article titled, “‘When You Get That Wealthy, You Start to Buy Your Own Bullshit:’ The Miseducation of Sheryl Sandberg.” It was not published by The Wall Street Journal, but surprisingly, by Vanity Fair. It was an unflattering article about the Harvard Business School’s “leadership” industry, and how it has effectively eliminated a functioning moral compass as part of it’s curriculum since 1977. And how the ideas they teach have been detrimental to business practices in this country general ever since.

Now, I do not profess to understand how business works. Not even a little bit. That’s why I’m taking the No Pants Project course to help me sell more books, and market other of my talents. The thing that made me want to take this course, over others I’ve investigated, is that Michael Shreeve, founder of the NPP, emphasizes developing empathy in doing business with people. He says doing business should be all about establishing long and meaningful relationships based on integrity and empathy. In every lesson Michael reiterates that we need to find a balance between helping others, and taking care of our own needs. Fortunately, I don’t think this is a new trend, but like all change in thinking and practice, it will take a while for the effects of doing business this way to spread.

As I discussed the acting scene and read the above article, I was tempted to sit in judgement of the people who live by the “greed is good,” or “it’s nothing personal, it’s just business,” codes of conduct. But the truth is, I struggle with some of these same moral dilemmas. I don’t have billions, millions, or even thousands in the bank, but there are times when I want to hoard what I have just in case something unexpected happens. It’s kind of a weird mindset. We are trained to think that little pieces of paper, or for those of us who don’t use paper money anymore, groups of digital numbers beside our names in a bank account can protect us. We think that if we have money we’ll be safe from future disaster. Of course, that’s not true. Fires rage, flood waters come, loved ones die, economies fail and we can’t stop the disasters.

So the thing that is making me go hmmm at the moment is the idea that security comes from outside myself. I don’t think that’s true. I think it comes from trusting that all is well no matter what happens. That’s not to say we don’t suffer. We do, but there are lessons to be learned from living through tough times and coming out the other side.

I’m finding it hard to discard the lessons I learned that money, or owning a house, or having a steady job is security. I want to feel that ultimately I’m secure no matter what happens. I’m secure because I’ve got loving family and friends. And I’ve even got great support in other dimensions. I want to feel that, but unlearning those old lessons is difficult.

One of the ways I plan to change my fear of not having enough, into feeling generous, is to give small amounts of money every month or so to worthy causes. I want to be like the motel owner who, after one of the hurricanes this year, opened his doors to people who had lost everything. He gave them rooms for free, fed them, and helped them get back on their feet. His generosity spilled over to other business owners in the community. Hair dressers came and gave free hair cuts, people gave food, donated clothes, personal care items, and donated money to the cause of getting those people back on their feet. What I plan to do is minor by comparison, but if I commit to doing this, hopefully my money fears will change into a feeling of satisfaction that I have helped others and ultimately help me relax and enjoy life as a grand adventure.

Thanks for reading, liking and commenting. I appreciate it. I hope the end of the year celebrations are fun and meaningful for you rather than stressful.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2018

Lucinda is the author of The Space Between Time, an award finalist in the “Fiction: Fantasy” category of the 2017 Best Book Awards. It’s a historical, time-travel, magical realism, novel, and is available in all ebook formats at Smashwords, or you can find the ebook at iBooks or Barnes and Noble. If you prefer a physical copy, you can find a print-on-demand version at Amazon. Stay tuned for news on the audiobook version Lucinda is working on. To join her email list, click here. She will never sell the names on her list.

We Need Empathy Now

Empathy is emotional intelligence

“When you show deep empathy toward others, their defensive energy goes down, and positive energy replaces it. That’s when you can get more creative in solving problems.” ~ Stephen Covey

“Humans aren’t as good as we should be in our capacity to empathize with feelings and thoughts of others, be they human or other animals on Earth. So maybe part of our formal education should be training in empathy. Imagine how different the world would be if, in fact, that were ‘reading, writing, arithmetic, empathy.’” ~ Neil deGrasse Tyson

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.” ~ James Baldwin

I was having a difficult time getting a handle on how to write this post. I knew I wanted to write about empathy, but what can I say that I haven’t already said, or that is new? Even so, I sat down and wrote a rough draft, before doing my morning meditation. This is not my usual routine but I had lots of ideas running in my head and I needed to get them out to clear my mind.

After my meditation I came into the kitchen and saw the white tailed deer family. They had come to drink out of our birdbath as they often do. I felt bad, though, because earlier this morning I saw that the water level was low but it has turned unseasonably cool here in Arizona and I decided to wait until it was warmer to go outside. The mother had been able to drink, but the young ones couldn’t because the water level was so low. I went out immediately to fill the bowl. I was a little surprised that the mother didn’t run away immediately as I went to get the hose. Maybe she sensed that I wanted to help. I don’t know. I hope they come back.

I felt like I had failed the deer by thinking of my own comfort before theirs. And after yesterday’s announcement from scientists that we have ten years to reverse the damage to the environment that we’ve caused, I feel like we have had a complete lack of empathy toward Mother Earth and the other beings who share this planet with us. We’ve been callously focused on what we want at the expense of all else. The reckoning has come and we are suffering now for our selfishness. It will only get worse if we don’t do something immediately.

Our lack of empathy has played out in so many other ways over the millennia. The individual lives, civilizations and ancient knowledge that has been lost because of greed, or fear, or the need to control. It’s staggering. Sometimes I despair that we will ever learn to feel the pain of our neighbors, friends, and family and we’ll just keep focusing on our own desires. It might be better for the planet if humans ceased to exist. And yet, there must be a reason for us being here? I’m constantly in the search for the meaning of past and current events and why humans even exist.

Last week my husband was watching a video of Bill Maher interviewing historian, Doris Kearns Goodwin on his show. She’s written several books about presidents. The most famous ones are about Abraham Lincoln and Lyndon B. Johnson. The two were talking about the Kavanaugh hearings, and Donald Trump’s presidency, and Goodwin said something that I believe to be true. “Empathy is the number one quality a president should have and this president doesn’t have it.” I’ve thought about that a great deal since I saw that interview.

I think Goodwin is right. But I think empathy is the number one quality all of us should have. It seems we’ve lost a good deal of it over the last few years, or maybe only a few of us ever had it to a large degree to begin with. It’s just that, for some reason, we’re more aware that we need it now.

We are all born with a certain amount of empathy. It’s part of our emotional intelligence tool box. I’ve heard experts say that empathy is like a muscle. We can develop it to a high degree if we choose to do the exercise necessary to help it grow. At various times, I’ve thought that I’d like to develop a course in empathy. Maybe I’ll get help in doing that from the coaches at The No Pants Project. One reason Michael Shreeve developed the program was because he believes helping others succeed is extremely important. His clients can’t do that without having empathy. It’s one of his major business tenets.

I don’t know if I’ll be able to develop a set of teaching tools, or a program that will help people grow their empathy muscles. I just know it feels like that might be one of the things I’m supposed to do.

Thanks for reading, liking and commenting. I appreciate it.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2018

Lucinda is the author of The Space Between Time, an award finalist in the “Fiction: Fantasy” category of the 2017 Best Book Awards. It’s a historical, time-travel, magical realism, novel, and is available in all ebook formats at Smashwords, or you can find the ebook at iBooks or Barnes and Noble. If you prefer a physical copy, you can find a print-on-demand version at Amazon. Stay tuned for news on the audiobook version Lucinda is working on. To join her email list, click here. She will never sell the names on her list.

Inner Life of a Late Bloomer Baby Boomer

Free picture (Abdeckung. Herbst Blumen.)fall-flowers-very-vivid-colours-fragment-58174

Sometimes, pardon the expression, it sucks to be an empath and an introvert. For years I’ve been a magnet for other people’s emotions which has caused me lots of confusion and emotional turmoil. And yet, now that I’ve learned to separate my emotional states from current events and the people I’m interacting with, I’m grateful that I have the ability to understand how someone else is feeling. I think we could use more empathy in the world right now.

While I was growing up, I felt like an outsider. For one thing we moved a lot, so I was always the new kid. And then I seemed to feel things more deeply than the other kids about events in the world, about the characters in the stories we read, or history we were studying. I had lots of thoughts and emotions going on in my head and heart, but I learned to keep them to myself to keep from being ridiculed. I wasn’t comfortable with this decision. I longed to be the person who said and did outrageous things and didn’t care what other people thought. But that always came with consequences of being bombarded with their emotions. I wasn’t brave enough to be that vulnerable.

One great thing about getting older, I know that I’m not in charge of how other people react, or respond to the things I say and do. So, I’m using this as a kind of test essay for a book I’ve been thinking about writing for eleven years. I’m finally ready to be outrageous and share some of the things I’ve been thinking about religion, politics, human relationships, and life in general. I’ve kept them locked in my head and heart for so many years, they are bursting to get out. So here goes.

Sunday August 12, Barry and I were watching CBS Sunday Morning, as is our Sunday ritual. This episode had a piece about the German artist, Georg Baselitz, one of the world’s most famous and highly sought after living artists. He grew up during and after WW II, the son of a wounded Nazi soldier, in the rubble of a destroyed landscape. When he became an artist trying to make sense of his topsy turvy world, he eventually turned his paintings upside down as well.

Something Stephan Akin, (not sure that’s spelled correctly), who is curator of the Hershorne Museum, said about Baselitz, “(It) is a sign of his great intellectual honesty, he has struggled, but accepted the fact that he was German. He could never be anything but German …”

That was one of those Wow! moments for me. I’ve lived through so many terrible and great things as an American. As a kid I was proud to be an American, a member of the greatest country on earth. But after years of demonstrations, brutality, scandals and revelations about our government, my pride eroded. As my husband said once, “I’m grateful to be an American, but I’m not always proud.” I’ve struggled to make sense of our real history with so many mistakes, atrocities, triumphs and tragedies. I’ve felt the burden of the genocide and oppression we’ve perpetrated, so much so that at times I wished I could be from some other country. And yet … I’m an American and will never be anything other than an American. Which means I’ve got a responsibility to be part of the self-examination we need to be doing right now.

It’s difficult to face reality. I loved that illusion from childhood that I lived in this open hearted melting pot where we learned from each other and everyone was treated equally. But shattering illusions isn’t always a bad thing.

In my personal life, I had to learn to accept the entirety of who I was, even though I wasn’t perfect and have made many mistakes. As I’ve been able to do that, my life has become more joyful. I interact differently with people than I did when I was younger. I’m now more loving and accepting. One of the spiritual teachers I follow said that the way to heal the world is to heal yourself first. I’m still working on myself, but I’ve made progress, which gives me hope that not only can individuals heal their wounds, but our country and the world can too.

I want to say one more thing that I might normally keep to myself. I’m glad we’ve been knocked off our pedestal as the world leader. Being on a pedestal is an extremely lonely place to be. To quote Bing Crosby’s character in White Christmas after Betty tells him he’s her knight in shining armor, “Well, it’s mighty lonely up there on that charger. A fella’s libel to fall off.”

But falling off can be rewarding. Once we’ve fallen off our pedestal, we find there are lots of people and nations who’ve had similar experiences and not only survived but thrived. We find allies, support groups, and eventually friends we can play and work with.

I long for the day when we act as a global community appreciating each culture and working together to ensure the health and safety of each individual and the planet as a whole.

Thanks for reading, liking and commenting. I appreciate it very much.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2018

Lucinda is the author of The Space Between Time, an award finalist in the “Fiction: Fantasy” category of the 2017 Best Book Awards. It’s a historical, time-travel, magical realism, women’s novel, and is available in all ebook formats at Smashwords, or you can find the ebook at iBooks or Barnes and Noble. If you prefer a physical copy, you can find a print-on-demand version at Amazon. Stay tuned for news about the audiobook version Lucinda is working on. To join her email list, click here. She will never sell the names on her list.

Words, Words, Words

Classic Books
Classic Books

“I never feel lonely if I’ve got a book – they’re like old friends. Even if you’re not reading them over and over again, you know they are there. And they’re part of your history. They sort of tell a story about your journey through life.” ~ Emilia Fox

“There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.” ~ Will Rogers

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” ~ Dr. Seuss, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!

It’s ironic that someone like me, who loves solitude should also love words both spoken and read. Or maybe it’s that I love stories. Stories in all forms, visual, aural, and on the page touch my soul. I just finished reading a fascinating book series by Marissa Meyer using the fairy tales of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Snow White and weaving them together in a Sci-Fi/fantasy world where the evil queen is ruler of Luna but wants to conquer Earth. After finishing the first book, Cinder. I was hooked and now that I’ve finished the last book, Winter, I can’t stop thinking about the characters and events of the books. I highly recommend them for all you Sci-Fi/fantasy lovers out there.

The fact that I’m having a hard time letting go of the story of these four strong women characters got me thinking about other novels, or short stories that have had a deep impact on me. So for today’s post, I thought I’d share an abbreviated list of my all-time favorite books.

The first book of quality that grasped me was A Tale of Two Cities. The character of Sydney Carton is my favorite from the book. He’s a flawed character who redeems himself by taking Charles Darnay’s place to face the guillotine during the French Revolution. The speech he gives as he faces his death is one of the classics for all time. I love the theme that people can change, and in the direst of circumstances make a difference, no matter how small. This book ignited my love of British literature, both classic and modern.

Later, my perspective of the world changed when I read first Roots and shortly after Shogun. Both books put me into the heads of characters who lived in very different cultures and circumstances than I did and I still feel their influence to this day. Who could have read, or seen Roots and still think slavery was a tenable practice? When I read it with one of my English classes, my students were just as appalled at what the slaves experienced as I was. It’s a book that helps the reader develop empathy, and that makes it a classic in my mind. Any book that can give the reader new insights speaks a universal language for the ages.

In recent years I have been deeply affected by each of the books in the Harry Potter, Hunger Games and Outlander series, and I loved The Book Thief, Memoirs of a Geisha, and Go Set A Watchman. Each of those books showed the strength and resilience of the women main characters, a trend I love.

In general I don’t read short stories often because I like to take my time and savor the story, but one collection that changed my perception of spirituality was The Way of the Wolf: The Gospel in New Images by Martin Bell. It was first published in 1968. I discovered it in the early 80s when I was still very involved in church. One story in particular continues to influence my thinking. It’s “What the Wind Said to Thajir”. In the very short story, Thajir, a young boy, goes out to play. He loves the wind. On the fall day in the story, the wind speaks to Thajir and shares three great life secrets with him, everything that is is good, at the center of things life belongs to life, and that the meaning and purpose of life is in dying on behalf of the world. Recent events have brought back to mind the importance of these three great secrets. For that reason, I read the story again to refresh my memory of the important message shared in the story.

What I look for when I read a book, is to get inside someone else’s world and experience it with them. A book that allows me to get inside a character’s head to feel their confusion, fear, despair, awakening and finally growth is to me the epitome of a great story. There are so many superb books that I’ve read that I continue to think about long after I’ve read them. Too many to mention here. If I’m still thinking about a book years after I’ve read it, that’s the sign of a great author.

I understand that we all come into this world with different agendas and points of view, so these books I’ve mentioned might not speak to you the way they do me. That’s okay as long as we each remain open to new ideas however they come to us, that’s the point. The people I’m concerned for are those with closed minds who think they already have all the knowledge they need. Hopefully they are few and far between.

I hope you will share some of your favorite books in the comments below. I’m always looking for the next life changing book.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to share with a friend.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2016

Life Lessons

At rehearsal for The Tavern
At rehearsal for The Tavern

“It is a universal principle that you get more of what you think about, talk about, and feel strongly about.” ~ Jack Canfield

“I am an ordinary man who worked hard to develop the talent I was given. I believed in myself, and I believe in the goodness of others.” ~ Muhammad Ali

The other day I had an encounter that woke me up to the fact that I’m a helper, and not always in a good way.

Being a helper is a good skill to have if you’re a teacher but not so good if you’re in a group of business owners and creatives. One of my strengths is helping people make connections. Connections between disparate bits of information, or connections between people and resources. But the other day, I overstepped my bounds and made someone angry, understandably so. This person rankled when I made suggestions about connections she could make for her business. She then turned the tables on me telling me about a course she had taken that I might need. When I responded that I didn’t really need the class, she asked me if I was teachable. Baffled by her question, I said yes. The encounter stayed with me and I went home to examine what I had done that made our interaction go south. After several days of thinking and meditating, it came to me that I had tried to be a helper, when what she needed was a listener.

This encounter came at a time when I’m actively working on discovering my true self. That means shedding old behaviors and allowing myself to become more open to others. For that reason, I’m grateful that this incident happened because I needed to face a part of myself that I must release. I love the way the universe works, because this morning as I was getting ready to finish this article, I read a post that applies to the above incident.

I follow Elizabeth Gilbert on Facebook. Today her post was titled THE ALPHA MARE. She wrote it in response to an online conversation she was having with a woman who wants to lead with an open heart but who has been hurt because of that. To help the woman, Elizabeth cited this information she got from Martha Beck about the psychology of horse herds. Herds of horses are lead by an alpha mare who keeps the herd together. (Apparently the stallions come and go.) The skill the alpha mare exhibits best is boundaries. “She knows exactly who she is, and nobody messes with it. … The alpha mare never lets herself be influenced by another horse’s fears or anxieties or aggression.” When I read that I understood that, as an empathetic person, I often take on other people’s emotions. I haven’t completely mastered setting up good boundaries. So, sometimes I absorb the emotions of others instead of blocking them. Today it hit me that’s part of what I’ve been working on is cleaning up and sweeping out all the cobwebs of other people’s stuff that I’ve been holding onto for years. I’m learning who I really am. I’m learning to set my boundaries so I can be calm in any situation.

And thanks to the above encounter, I realized that I no longer need to be a helper. I can follow my father’s advice and let people figure stuff out for themselves. That’s really the only way we can learn anything valuable anyway. We may meet people along the way who point us in the right direction, but what works for me may not necessarily work for you. That’s as it should be. We’re all trying to figure out what it means to be a human being in our own unique way. I hope I can maintain my empathy, while not taking on the fears and anxieties of others and at the same time be supportive and a good listener. I no longer want to be so arrogant as to think I have the answers for someone else.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment or share this post with a friend.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2016

Empathy and Mean Memes

Hands of different races
Hands of different races

“When you show deep empathy toward others, their defensive energy goes down, and positive energy replaces it. That’s when you can get more creative in solving problems.” ~ Stephen Covey

“The struggle of my life created empathy – I could relate to pain, being abandoned, having people not love me.” ~ Oprah Winfrey

“I always think that if you look at anyone in detail, you will have empathy for them because you recognize them as a human being, no matter what they’ve done.” ~ Andrea Arnold

About a week ago I saw this meme on Facebook. “Unpopular opinion: We are not all equal. I worked my ass off to get where I am, I deserve what I have, I shouldn’t have to give up what I’ve worked for to make things equal.” ~ Whisper. When I read this meme, I found it disturbing on several different levels. First of all, it shows a lack of empathy, which I believe to be extremely important in human relations. Second of all, the writer assumes there is not enough abundance to go around which I believe to be completely untrue. We just need to spread the abundance around so everyone has enough.

The other day I was at Target before going to teach my evening class at the college. I couldn’t help but overhear a conversation between the man in front of me and the cashier. The customer said that he hoped the cashier’s shift was nearly over, to which the cashier replied, “Nope. I don’t get off until 9:00 tonight … four more hours. And I’m tired. I just came from my other job.” Of course the customer commiserated with the cashier which affected me deeply. I nearly cried. What must that young man’s life be like? Does he have any down time at all? Or is his life going from one job to the next just so he can survive. How horrible. It’s like he’s condemned to a living hell.

We often make the assumption that people who are poor are lazy. I don’t believe that’s true as evidenced by the cashier at Target. It takes a great deal of effort for the less fortunate to make ends meet, which leaves little time for additional education, or looking for a better job, or having fun with family and friends.

When I overheard the conversation in Target, I thought again of the above meme. The writer assumes that some people are more deserving than others. I don’t believe that to be true. We all come from the same place and our country is founded on that very idea. In the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” I think what Thomas Jefferson meant was that every single person born on this planet is seen by the Creator as having the same value to every other person, and that VALUE has nothing to do with what we own, the job we have, how hard we work, or anything else which is visible. Our value is something intangible, known to God and only minimally to ourselves.

Most of us are incapable of seeing another person’s or even our own true self. We have no idea who they or we are beyond the tangible things we associate with personhood. That’s the tragedy humans have been trying to overcome since we became the human race. The have nots feel their worth instinctively, while the haves sometimes arrogantly assume they have more worth than anyone else. We hold so tightly onto what we have because we’re afraid of losing it. But our country was founded on the idea that if we share what we have with each other, we all become richer. It has been one attempt to give everyone a chance to be free to navigate their own path and to fulfill their personal destiny. It hasn’t been a perfect experiment as we all know. However, I think, perhaps, we are in a new era of attempting to reset the balance so that everyone can thrive and find their perfect life. It seems to be happening in various ways all over the planet, people standing up for their rights and doing things that change our perspective of what it means to be a person of worth.

In my opinion the solution to our current financial, political, and religious imbalance is to share what abundance we have with each other, to be open and try to understand one another. Compassion and empathy are things each of us can learn. Now when the world is in such turmoil it seems a particularly good time to dedicate ourselves to cultivating both empathy and compassion. It doesn’t take much, just do what Harper Lee wrote in To Kill A Mockingbird. “You never understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment or share with a friend.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2016

On Strength and Weakness

It's a Wonderful Life Village
It’s a Wonderful Life Village

“Opinion is really the lowest form of human knowledge. It requires no accountability, no understanding. The highest form of knowledge is empathy, for it requires us to suspend our egos and live in another’s world. It requires profound purpose larger than the self kind of understanding.” ~ Bill Bullard

“We think that forgiveness is weakness, but it’s absolutely not; it takes a very strong person to forgive.” ~ T. D. Jakes

“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.” ~ Yoda

“The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.” ~ Ernest Hemingway

I’ve been thinking a great deal about strength and weakness as we approach this most sacred time of the year. We often think that a show of force is strength, as in military retaliation, or getting revenge on our enemies. To me that’s the weakest kind of human interaction. I think strength is having the courage to accept and feel all our emotions. To cry and not be ashamed, to love with abandon, to be kind and compassionate, to feel another’s pain. When we can do that we can effect real change.

While revising my novel, I came to a section where Jenna, one of the main characters, is fired from a position that she thinks is her dream job. That and other life shattering events force her to face herself and who she is meant to become. If her life hadn’t been shaken up in such a cruel way, she would have continued to follow the path she was on and not reached her full potential.

Though the circumstances are different, the situation I wrote for Jenna came from an experience in my own life. I was fired from a much beloved teaching position. It was a political thing. Shortly after I lost that job, I was having breakfast with a friend of mine from the school and I was stunned when she said, “I hate to say this but you were weak and they took advantage of that.” I’ve thought a great deal about that statement over the years because I think my friend is dead wrong.

One of the major lessons I learned from that experience is that we each live in our own little worlds with a set of goals we want to accomplish. We see anybody who stands in the way of achieving those goals as our enemy. In fact one day as I was driving by the turn off to the school I remembered something an actor, I don’t remember who, said when asked why he played so many villains. He squinched up his eyebrows and said, “Well, you know, the villain is the hero of his own story”. I had a huge aha in that moment. I was the villain to my school enemies and they were the villain to me. We had opposing goals and stood in each other’s way to accomplishing them. All of a sudden I thought of those two people differently. They weren’t evil, they were just righting a situation they thought was wrong. I wasn’t supposed to be hired for the job, you see, the daughter was. Someone was going to lose the fight and it was me.

Now I can’t say I forgave them that very day. Oh, no. I wanted to hang on to my anger a while longer. I wanted the situation made right, which meant I wanted them to apologize for wounding me so deeply. I wanted them to see that I was really the better teacher for that position. I wanted my job back. It wasn’t until I gave up wanting a different outcome that I was able to look for what I could learn from the situation. Once I did that I began to make the steps toward forgiveness and toward finding my true purpose in life. In fact it was only a few weeks ago as I was meditating that I saw myself hugging them and telling them they had done me a huge favor and I thanked them for helping me find the most happy and fulfilling life that I now enjoy.

Over those several years when I was struggling to make sense of why my perfect life was shattered, I’ve learned that real power is wielded by the compassionate, the loving, and the empathetic because they are the ones who see the true souls of others. They are the ones who know that who we really are is not the things we own, our bank account, our jobs, our belief systems, or our behaviors. Most of us are completely unaware that we are beautiful light beings connected to each other and to the Divine.

One of the reasons I love this time of year is because almost all of us celebrate the sacred. Instinctively we know that light is more powerful than darkness for it is easy to dispel darkness by lighting one candle. Spiritual light shining from within is much the same. It can lead us to peace and happiness if we commit to loving those who are drenched in the darkest of places.

I know it’s a little early for making resolutions, but this is mine for the new year. To be one light that helps dispel darkness by embodying love, empathy and peace as much as I possibly can. If we band together in our intention to be the peace we wish to see, it can’t help but happen one day soon.

I hope you have a blessed holiday season.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment or share with a friend.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2015

We Can Change the World

Earth from the Moon
Earth from the Moon

“Conflict must be resolved. It cannot be evaded, set aside, denied, disguised, seen somewhere else, called by another name, or hidden by deceit of any kind, if it would be escaped. It must be seen exactly as it is, where it is thought to be, in the reality which has been given it, and with the purpose that the mind accorded it. For only then are its defenses lifted, and the truth can shine upon it as it disappears.” ~ A Course In Miracles Lesson 333, “Forgiveness Ends The Dream Of Conflict Here.”

I’m a big fan of reading fiction and watching plays and movies. I say that because there have been so many books, plays and movies that have changed the way I see the world. I believe I’m a better person because I love to be transported by the stories.

This past weekend my husband and I went to see The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2. I had read the books and seen the first three movies. In general I’m not a fan of dystopian books and movies, because most of the time they don’t end on a note of hope. I believe in hope. This series has a large dose of hope at the end. If you haven’t read them, I suggest you do because the main characters must deal with the horrendous mental and emotional wounds they suffered throughout the arch of the story. They must find hope and healing. And they do, as much as they are able.

At the end of the movie, Katniss Everdeen is on an outing with her family. It’s many years after the events that transformed her society. She’s holding her baby, while Peeta, her husband and fellow sufferer, is playing with their young toddler. The baby jerks awake, as if from a nightmare. Katniss then tells the baby how she deals with her nightmares. She makes lists of all the acts of kindnesses she’s seen people do. It helps her remember that there are good and kind people out there and that eases her memories of the horrors she’s experienced.

I can’t say I’ve witnessed horrors first hand, though I have seen real horrors on TV. I’ve never lived in a war torn country, or had to flee my home, but none of us get through this life without scars. According to studies done on the effects of witnessing horrendous events, it doesn’t matter whether we experience them in person or see them on TV or in movies. They don’t even have to be real for us to feel them as if they happened to us. We are affected no matter what the delivery system. The same goes for acts of kindness. If we witness an act of kindness, it’s as if the kindness was done to and for us.

So, we live in a violent world. It’s always been violent. That’s nothing new. However, we’re at a turning point. We have an opportunity to change the world from a violent environment to one of peace. But to do that we have to focus on the problems we face, acknowledge that we’ve allowed them to go on unchallenged and find a way to solve them.

Some of the people I know focus only on the negative. Maybe we’re wired to notice negativity first, but the thing is that people who study the brain, like Dr. Joe Dispenza, and Bruce H. Lipton, have discovered that we can rewire our brains so that we notice the positive first instead of the negative. That’s what I advocate and try to do. That’s why some friends I know want to be around me, because when the conversation turns to all the problems we face in this world, I point out good things that are happening and they feel better.

The thing is, each person must decide to focus on the positive themselves. We each must choose to see beneath the surface behaviors of the people in our lives and in the media as well. That’s not always easy. It’s comfortable assuming we know all there is to know about people we see in the media, or even people we live or work with. But we can’t ever know the deepest hopes and dreams of another person unless they reveal themselves to us. That requires trust.

The media can be our enemy when trying to discover the true nature of people in the spotlight, or it can help us see another side of a person. Not too long ago my husband and I were watching CBS Sunday Morning. It’s a Sunday morning ritual with us. This morning they interviewed Charles Koch. I’ve not been a fan of the Koch brothers because they donate outrageous amounts of money to political causes that I abhor, however, we watched the interview to see if our assumptions about this man were correct. We found that they weren’t. Yes, he supports a large number of causes that I think are destructive. On the other hand, the Koch brothers, Charles and David support causes that I too support. That interview was an eye opener. It made me take a good look at the assumptions I make about people. Each one of us is a bundle of contradictions. What I learned was that I can’t condemn the Koch brothers just because they have billions of dollars and I don’t. Having billions of dollars doesn’t automatically make them evil, as some people would have us believe. And just because they have billions of dollars doesn’t mean I can point my finger at them and lay all the world’s problems at their feet. Oh no, I too have to take responsibility for the mess we find ourselves in.

I often say, and people look at me as if I have two heads, that our thoughts create our reality. Quantum physicists figured that out many years ago, but that idea is just now taking root. Not long ago someone shared this article on Facebook about that very thing, that what we think, creates the events and even the physical things we use in our world. Generation after generation of humans have created the conflicts that have plagued us for millennia and now we have a clue why. Once it got started, nobody thought it could stop. Oh, a few highly enlightened people tried to show us the way, but we thought they were anomalies and we didn’t follow their lead. We clung stubbornly to our old thought patterns because changing was too difficult.

So here we are. We’ve got scientific proof that what we think creates the events out in the world, and that we can change our thought patterns. The question is, will we do it? Will we get up off the couch, figuratively speaking, and actually do something concrete to change the world? Will we notice all the kind things people do for each other? Will be find opportunities to be kind and compassionate? Will we change the focus of our thoughts? Those seem like ephemeral things to do, but they have a huge impact. I’ve been watching it happen. You have to look outside the media in this country to find evidence of change. You have to dig for the stories of goodness happening. You have to lay your assumptions aside and be willing to see the world with new eyes. And then you have to be willing to change yourself to bring about peace. Take it from a Baby Boomer, it’s not easy, but it’s worth it.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment or share this post with a friend.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2015