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SOURCE NOTES - A Commentary on Life by JUDE SMITH

Westchester Medical Center

3:00 AM


I slept with a stranger last night.  I know nothing about him, other than he was middle-aged, appeared to be kind, and was as worried about his hospitalized wife as I was about my daughter.  We met at midnight, in a small waiting room, no bigger than a large closet, on the 4th floor of Westchester Medical Center.  Visitors had gone home, the floor had become quiet as patients who could, were sleeping.  He and I both wandered into the waiting room at about the same time, seeking someplace a bit  more comfortable to spend the night than the hard upright chairs found next to each hospital bed.  I had the linens and blanket thoughtfully provided to me by a nurse.  He had his jacket.  I had the recliner on the right side of the room.  He had the one on the left.  We were separated by the love seat between the two.


I curled up as best I could, trying to convince myself that the hard vinyl recliner was more comfortable than it actually was.  I pulled the covers over my head, in an attempt to block out the harsh glare of the overhead lights, while trying to pretend that I was all alone, somewhere familiar and safe.  I could hear him quietly going through the same ritual of finding his own comfort, when his voice intruded into my charade of solitude to ask if I would mind if he turned out the lights.  Grateful for the chance to be in the dark, with a greater chance of actually getting some real sleep, I quickly gave my consent.  And then I found myself alone in the dark, with a perfect stranger, sharing the intimacy of anxiety and a pretense of sleep, with nothing separating us but our thoughts and a well-worn love seat.


My first thought was to remove myself, mentally if not physically.  I scrunched myself up tighter, tucked my head more deeply under the covers, and did my best to put as much emotional distance between us as I could.  I wanted to be alone in a dark room too small for two strangers.  I managed to doze off a bit, until suddenly awakened by the thought that I was not alone, but that I was sharing a small space with another human being who was as uncomfortable and in as much emotional pain as I was.  That we had more in common at that moment than differences.  That we both loved and were loved by others.  That we both desired well-being and peace.  That we both were concerned for the welfare of someone we cherished.  And with those realizations, rather than pretending that he did not exist, and that I was all alone in that dark and unfamiliar room, I opened up my heart to him.  And so, without ever sharing a word, or moving, or acknowledging that I was doing anything other than pretending to sleep, I bathed this perfect stranger with thoughts of comfort and love.  And as I took my attention off of my own discomfort, my own anxiety, my own concerns, I felt myself fill up with strength.  And as I felt myself growing stronger, I began to realize that it was not just this man who needed comfort, but it was everyone in the hospital hall.  And so, I extended my healing thoughts to them.  And then I realized there was a whole hospital full of people needing healing, comfort and love.  Which led me to realize that there was an entire world of humanity in need of those very same things.  Which led me, ultimately, back to this man with whom I was pretending to sleep, making me realize that I was not alone with a stranger in a strange room, but that we were each a part of that humanity, making us brothers rather than the strangers I had believed us to be.


And as this man transformed within my thoughts, I smiled to myself, feeling the illusive ease that I had only been pretending to feel a short while ago.  And with those feelings strong, I drifted off to a peaceful 3 hours of much needed sleep.  When I opened my eyes, this stranger with whom I had spent the night was gone, with only an indentation in the chair to show where had had been. 


I never saw him again, but I was left with a feeling of gratitude, the reason for which I am uncertain.  Grateful for some silent company?  Grateful that I was able to get some much needed rest?  Grateful for someone with whom I could silently share my concerns?  Grateful to have shared a lonely night, that became a little bit less lonely?  I'm really not sure.  But I don't think it matters.  All that matters is that two human beings crossed paths in an unfriendly room, and shared intimacy in the dark.  And as we each share the dark with our own strangers whom we meet along the way, may we each feel some gratitude of our own.


Update on my daughter, Jess:  After being diagnosed with an intestinal blockage last week, necessitating emergency surgery, she's home and doing well.  We have nothing but fine words for the many people involved in her treatment, and gratitude for the many people whose voices joined in prayer for her complete recovery.  Your voices were heard.



With warmth and great respect for who you are,


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“A man can be himself only so long as he is alone . . . . if he does not love solitude, he will not love freedom; for it is only when he is alone that he is really free.” 

- Schopenhauer


Reading the above quote by Schopenhauer, made real for me my love of solitude, for it put into words the experience I have while being alone.  For it is in those periods of aloneness, that I feel most connected with the truths of all that is.  And it is while being alone amidst natural beauty, that those feelings become most pronounced for me. 


Meditation has been the foundation that has contributed to my growth, my strength, my understandings, and my discernments. While meditating this morning, I was struck by how much this has become a favorite time of my day.  Rather than being a time to "get through", it has become almost a guilty pleasure, much like indulging in a piece of rich chocolate, or taking time out of a busy day to sneak a few pages of a good book.  But unlike chocolate or pulp fiction, it is the one practice that serves me way beyond the time that I’m engaged.


But I do remember my first awkward attempts at meditation.  I do remember how long ten minutes felt.  I do remember thinking that my mind would never cooperate, that I was just wasting my time.  But I am also here to share that at this point in my practice, an hour flies by, often leaving me wanting more, but more importantly, leaving me with feelings of peace, expanded creativity, increased energy, reduced stress and tension, and a stronger ability to focus and concentrate.  But most importantly, I conclude my meditation time feeling deeply relaxed with an all-encompassing feeling of well-being.  Pretty good results from something that costs nothing and has no calories!

But what happens during meditation, you might ask?  Sometimes I am just quiet, something wonderful in and of itself.  Sometimes I realize I am engaging in inner chatter that's serving no purpose other than to distract me with thoughts of no real consequence.  But sometimes, thoughts pop into my head that are totally unexpected, and that serve me deeply.  Insights about dilemmas I've been facing.  Insights about next steps I must take.  Insights about situations that had seemed uncertain, but which suddenly became clear.  And sometimes, I receive discernment about the ways of life that are so unexpected, and so beyond my conscious understanding, that I can only attribute them to a spiritual force wiser than the limits of my knowing. 


Can you expect all that?  Of course.  Will you be likely to experience all that when you begin?  Perhaps. For only you know what's possible for you.  But I will say, that for me, meditation has been a continuously expanding experience of nurturing and insight that it is no longer something I think I must do.  It is something I willingly schedule time for, and return to time and time again at additional times when the stresses of life threaten to get the better of me.  It is a tool that guarantees to ground me in being fully that whom I am meant to be.


For those of you curious about meditation, I invite you to join me at a Center For Authentic Living retreat. Over the course of a deliciously peaceful and inviting day, you will be exposed to a diversity of meditation practices designed to allow you to sample what might work best for you.  For those of you who already enjoy meditation as much as I do, I invite you to join me as well, to participate in a day of solitude, using your practices, or mine, amidst the tranquil and natural beauty of a Hudson River retreat center, for there is nothing so powerful as engaging in spiritual practice with like-minded others. 


With warmth and great respect for whom you are,


I was woken up this morning by an amazing cacophony of bird-noise coming from the canopy of my rose-covered gazebo, home to a nest of fledgling sparrows.  Drawn outside by the noise, I watched, as suddenly, two fledglings awkwardly arose from the leaves, to perch a bit unsteadily atop the weathervane protruding from the dense foliage.  The excited peeping continued from a nest I could not see.  Filled with awe at the cycle of life I was witnessing, I watched as first one young bird, then another, experimented with flight.  They each, in turn, lifted off the weathervane, only to fly a few feet to a location a bit further away on the roof of the gazebo.  Within moments, each, in turn, left the safety of the gazebo roof, to awkwardly fly to the next nearest perch, the limb of a rose climbing the front porch of my house.  They clung there for a few moments, before deciding they could test their wings still further, and off they both flew, in an awkward up and down zigzag, to a tree at the edge of my woods, many yards away.  And from  there, both young birds flew across my yard, to land on the grass.  I watched as they excitedly pecked at the ground, perhaps finding an insect or worm, or two,  and I could only imagine their delight at discovering a whole new world they had no idea existed when they were snuggled within the safety of their nest.  After exploring this brand new world for several minutes, up they each went, smoothly this time, to the highest branches of a woodland tree.  And from that point on - they were birds.  I watched them effortlessly flying from treetop to treetop, every so often returning to the familiarity of the weathervane, until one flight became their last return to the comfort of where they came.

But two fledglings remained in the nest.  They were continuing to emit excited, or perhaps agitated, peeping.  And each time one of their siblings returned for a spell, the volume of their expression went up several notches.  What were they saying? "We want to fly too!  But we're afraid.  Tell us what it's like.  Is the world out there worth leaving the comfort of our nest?  Is it OK?  Will we be alright?  Take us with you.  Show us how it's done."  Or were they saying, "Come back, come back.  We miss you.  We need you.  It's not safe out there.  You're going to get hurt.  Come back to this nest where you belong."  Whatever the peeping meant, it was obvious that returning to a nest they had outgrown was no longer an option, for they had tasted what it felt like to fly.

Suddenly, from out of the dense green foliage of my gazebo roof, another fledgling appeared.  Just like his siblings, he, too, did the "learning how to fly" maneuvers.  He darted up to the top of the weathervane.  Looked around for a few moments.  Flew to perch on the rose branch dangling off the end of my porch.  Paused for a bit, before flying, awkwardly, in the very same direction as had those that had gone before him, until he, too, began to effortlessly fly from treetop to treetop, fully being a bird. 

But one little fledgling remained.  After peeping continuously for most of an hour, the nest suddenly grew silent.  Perhaps a nest that had grown too small now felt comfortable with the absence of roommates.  Perhaps he knew there was no one available to answer his call.  All continued to be quiet from the nest, until first one, and then another, young bird occasionally started returning to perch on the gazebo roof.  And with each brief visit, the one remaining fledgling began his frenetic chirping.  But his call held no appeal for those who had seen the world, for shortly after each visit back home, each young bird once again spread its wings and flew back out to explore some more.  As each sibling took off, the fledgling in the nest would resume his quiet occupancy of a home that no longer held any interest for his more adventurous siblings. 

And then Mama Bird returned with a worm in her mouth.  As if on cue, Baby Bird began his welcoming chirp.  I watched her pause for a moment, listening, before heading back into the forest, worm still in her mouth, youngster left unfed.  Was some instinct letting her know that her job as protector and nurturer had ended?  That Baby Bird needed to get uncomfortable in a nest he had outgrown so that learning how to fly became the preferable option?   Three times I watched her return, worm in mouth, perhaps finding it difficult to give up a role she has been playing for weeks.  And three times I watched her fly off with the worm still in her mouth, much to the agitated chirps of her youngster. 

But then she returned a fourth time with worm in mouth.  And for a fourth time, Baby Bird began his hopeful chirping.  But this time, she did fly into the dense foliage to where the nest was hidden, delivering breakfast to her hungry offspring.  With belly full, the nest became quiet.  No need for Baby Bird to test his wings.  His world was comfortable once again.

So did Mama Bird help him or hurt him?  Was she offering him nourishment, or interfering with his natural urge to fly?  How long would he stay comfortable?  At what point would his programmed desire to fly overcome whatever it was that was keeping him comfortably lounging in his nest?  At what point would not flying, when the urge was there, become more uncomfortable than poking his head out of his nest and tentatively flapping his wings?

I believe we're all just like those birds.  Some of us can't wait to see what's on the next horizon.  We boldly flap our wings as soon as we realize we have the potential to fly, just to see what might happen.  And just like those first two birds, we're quick to see what else we can do, willing to act upon those desires, relegating fear to the back seat.  Our urge to fly is greater than any thoughts to the contrary.  And off we go.

And some of us are like the third bird, allowing others to go ahead of us, but quickly following suit once we observe how it's done, once we see what's possible, and once we realize that the risk is much less than the discomfort of fear.

But some of us are like that fourth bird, doggedly remaining in circumstances we've outgrown, because the comfort of the familiar feels preferable over the uncertainty of the unknown.  But you know what?  If you're meant to fly, you're going to one day start flapping your wings.  You can't help it.  Just like baby birds are meant to fly, and just like acorns are meant to grow into oak trees, you, too, were born with a programmed urge to fully become that whom you were born to be.  But just like birds and acorns, we each progress at our very own pace.  To quote the words of Anais Nin, the time comes when the risk to remain tight in a bud becomes more painful than the risk it takes to blossom.  

And what does it mean to bloom?  There are no words to describe the experience, for it is something you need to discover on your own.  But I will say that it means giving up the familiar based on nothing more than a suspicion that we are meant to evolve.  And when the urge to see what's possible becomes stronger than the urge to stay exactly as you are, you'll poke your head out of your nest and start flapping your wings.

I'm like those first two birds.  I was programmed with an adventurous spirit, eager to test my wings.  My desire to fly propels me forward because that desire is stronger than my tendency to remain the same.  And just like those first two birds returned to the nest to report back that flying was exhilarating, I, too, fly back every so often to invite you to start flapping your own wings in order that you might experience what it's like to soar.    

And that fourth bird?  As of this writing he's still in the nest, and it's been four hours since the first birds took flight.  Will he ever leave that nest?  I would assume so.  But think about the hours of anxiety he's experienced since his first siblings took flight.  He's had a much greater experience of fear than that which was experienced by the birds that flew. 

And I have only one question.  Which bird are you?


What if… it’s not the way we were told?

What if… everything we’ve learned - is wrong? 

What if… it’s not our worry but our joy that frees us?

What if… it’s not our struggle but our submission?

What if… it’s not our never-ending busyness, but rather,

the rare quiet times

that take us to where we want to go?

What if… the way to attain that which we yearn for

was exactly the opposite of that which we have been taught?

What if we’ve been doing it all wrong?


What if… it is as simple as letting go of the fears that bind us

and embracing the truth of what is so?  

What if… it is as simple as smiling more?  Laughing more?  Fretting less?

What if… it is as simple as replacing the heaviness in our hearts with joy? 

Or love? 

Or delight?  

Or peace, or harmony, or bliss?  

What if… it is as simple as replacing uncertainty

with faith in something we cannot see? 

What if… we don’t need permission to be fulfilled?


What if… we’ve been waiting for a tomorrow that will never arrive?

What if… today is the day the desires of your heart have been made real?

What if… it’s as simple as that?


What if… we lived in love… today?

What if… we had peace in our hearts… today?

What if… we gave love freely… today?

What if… we allowed spirit to guide us rather than our good intentions today?      

What if… we noticed our abundance today?

What if… we were fully that whom we were made to be today? 

What if… we did all that we desired to do today?   

What if… our lives were whole and complete today?  

What if… that really was our day… today? 

If it were, would we be waiting for tomorrow? 

I’ve just returned from a lovely, self-created retreat time, alone, somewhere in the beautiful wilderness of Canada.  Thanks to the generosity of my friends Jeff and Rita, I was able to experience spending time with myself, some notebooks, and the natural beauty of an isolated lakeside cottage.  No phones, no cell phone service, no Internet, no TV, no radio.  Just me, the birds, a friendly groundhog, and the rest of the natural world.  Funny, but I live in surroundings that are not that different from the world I just described.  But you know how it is . . . . I felt there were too many distractions in that place I call home, and I wanted to see what happened if I temporarily left my world.  And so, I packed up the sleeping bag, a crate of non-perishable food, my notebooks and pencils, and headed north, where I found myself totally alone and isolated for the first time in my life.  It felt a bit unsettling at first, but there was something appealing about the “not-knowingness” of the experience.  Everything seemed fresh and my senses felt heightened.  And wasn’t that part of the reason I chose to go away?  And the first thing I did when I arrived was to take off my watch, and put it in a place where I wouldn’t be tempted to look at it.  (Thank you, Brenda! ).  And not living by clock-time became one of the most liberating gifts of my time spent in a remote lakeside cottage in Canada. 

And you know what I discovered?  I discovered how much I depended upon looking outside of myself to guide me through my day and my actions.  When to go to bed.  When to get up.  When to eat.  When to meditate and for how long.  It felt totally disconcerting to have no idea what time it was.  Without a clock, how was I to know when it was time to go to bed?  And when I awoke, how would I know if I had had enough sleep and that it was time to get up?  And how would I know if it was time to eat?  How would I know that I had spent enough time meditating and writing? 

I was totally and completely surprised to discover how dependent I was on outside clues, rather than looking inside to find the answers I sought.  And isn’t that a wonderful metaphor for how we tend to go through life?  Looking outside ourselves for the answers, when the answers that we seek are within us all the time.  For of course I know when it’s time to go to sleep without looking at a clock for verification.  And of course I know if I’ve had enough sleep.  And of course I know if I’m hungry, without a clock to let me know that it’s mealtime. 

Living without clocks was amazingly liberating.  I think I awoke pretty early each morning, although I felt so well rested that it seemed quite late.  And rather than eating breakfast, followed by lunch, and then dinner, I had little healthy bites each time I was hungry.  And I meditated and wrote until I no longer had anything to say.  And by not being a slave to the clock, each day felt long, and full, and wonderfully satisfying.  Each day had a tempo that was of my own making, not as the result of time.  I was fully present to the joy of each task, because there was nothing ahead for me to do.  Each day had a wonderfully natural flow, governed only by desire.  And isn’t that how life is meant to unfold? 

I returned home with 110 pages of a manuscript, that is now going in a totally different direction from the direction I had begun.  I returned home with a new sense of freedom, realizing that many of the demands and pressures I place upon myself are of my own making.  I returned home with an understanding that there is a natural rhythm to each day that exists independent of time.  I returned home with a new confidence that I am able to rely upon myself, my insight, my desire, my abilities, to guide me toward results that I seek.  And I returned home with a new appreciation for my ability to stay focused and present, without televisions, telephones, other people, or computers competing for my attention. 

And so I invite you to create your own times of retreat, to discover your own intuitive strengths and resources.   All it takes is being quiet, wherever you may be.  For upon returning home I realized that I never had to leave my beautiful surroundings to attain all that.  The answers were never “out there”.  I traveled ten hours to learn I had everything I needed right inside of me all along.  I just needed to go on a journey to discover what that was.

It all began last Saturday.  It was my daughter's birthday.  I had a houseful of company set to arrive at dinnertime to help celebrate.  The turkey was in the oven.  Soup was simmering on the stove.  My husband, Bruce, was out in the yard taking care of "his" stuff, while I was in the kitchen taking care of mine.  He came into the kitchen to touch base with me, and  that was when I first smelled smoke . . . .


I asked Bruce if a neighbor was burning leaves.  He poked his head out the kitchen door to see, and reported that there was a bit of smoke hovering over the tops of our trees, and he would go check it out.  He headed towards that part of our 5 acres of thick forest that sits high atop a natural rock wall, only to shout at me that it was our woods that were on fire!


And so what do you do?  It all seemed so surreal.  To go from cooking dinner to being told that our woods were on fire.  How bizarre.  But it just goes to show you that life, indeed, can change in an instant.  And I was surprised how calm I was.  As Bruce raced to get our garden hose, a bit insignificant given the quickly raging fire but which the fire department later told us probably kept the fire from spreading toward our house a mere 100 feet away, my mind kicked into efficiency mode.  I called the fire department, thought to take the turkey out of the oven and turned off the heat under the soup.  And then I joined Bruce outside to watch helplessly as the fire started raging through our woods, devouring everything in its path.  As orange flames and thick smoke began to spread, as we could feel the heat start to intensify, as we could hear the crackle of the fire and smell the acrid burning of the smoke, all we could do was wait for help to arrive.  And that's a pretty unusual place to be.  Nothing to do.  Only option was to be.  And as a person much more comfortable in doing rather than being, that was a pretty uncomfortable place to find myself.  But you know what?  I had no choice.  I could distract myself by living in the future, and  thinking of all the things that might happen next.  Or I could just be present to the uniqueness of what I was witnessing, trusting that all would unfold with perfect grace, no matter what the outcome.  And here was Lesson #1:  What is so, is what is so.  Can't change that.  There was nothing I could do to change the fact that my woods were burning out of control.  All I could change were my attitudes and reactions about what was occurring.  And somehow, that is what I did.


Believe it or not, fire is quite beautiful.  Beautiful in its power.  Beautiful in its unpredictability.  Beautiful in its color and form.  Even beautiful in its smell.

Yes . . . . There was most definitely a chance that our house would get caught up in its path.  But there was nothing I could do about that, other than watch, and trust that whatever the outcome, life would continue, we would thrive, and something else would be around the next bend.


And then the fire department arrived.  The assistant chief arrived first in his own vehicle.  He took one look at the fire which had now spread to over two acres, and was rapidly approaching a neighbor's house, and I heard him saying over the radio that this was way bigger than his company could handle alone.  And that's when I learned about service.  In all told, four fire companies and 65 men responded, leaving their families, their lives, their own responsibilities on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, to come on out, as volunteers, to assist a stranger in saving her land and her house.  And I watched as 65 men, most of whom were unknown to one another, having come from different companies, arrived on the scene, some in fire trucks, some in their own vehicles, to join in with very little instruction, like a well-orchestrated dance.  As I watched, I was in awe of how each man arrived, assessed the situation, and just seemed to know what to do.  Some were unrolling hose.  Some were grabbing rakes to begin clearing a large circle around the perimeter of the fire.  Some grabbed chain saws and began cutting down burning trees.  Very little was spoken.  They just worked tirelessly and without ceasing.  And I watched as faces turned red from the strenuous activity amidst the heat, as sweat started to pour down, and still these men tirelessly served me and my family as if they were protecting their own homes.  And here's Lesson #2.  We have an intrinsic desire to serve.  As I stood out of the way, profusely thanking each man as they walked by me, I was aware of the joy they felt as they were serving me.  There was an air of gracious and loving service around each of them, as they humbly tossed off my thanks, letting me know that "thank you" was not needed.  They were just doing what they felt called to do.  And it served to clarify for me a belief that I've held, that we all yearn to make a difference, to have our lives matter, and that it matters not what form that service takes, but that being of service is what gives each one of us profound joy.  It seems a bit unusual to describe the service these men gave as being joyful, but I could feel such a sense of purpose, of self-expression, of love, that the word that kept coming to mind over and over again was that these men were experiencing a certain joy at being fulfilled by being of service to me.  That they were receiving even while they gave.  And for that, I will be eternally grateful.


By now, about an hour had passed since we first smelled smoke, and I could see that the fire, although far from being overcome, was at least no longer making progress.  And since things felt under control, of sorts, I again went into "doing" mode, realizing that I had an opportunity to go into my house, and gather some things, since there was still a chance that the fire would spread to our home.  And here's Lesson #3.  What do you value?  Perhaps you, like me, have played the fantasy game of, "What would I save if the house caught fire . . . . ?"  Periodically over the years, as I caressed a well-loved trinket, I would tell Bruce that if ever the house caught on fire, this or that item needed to be saved, for I believed they were items I valued, either for their beauty, their sentimental memory, or their intrinsic worth.   And here I was, faced with the very real possibility that a lifetime of accumulated "stuff" might be facing a real threat of destruction.  And so I ask you, What would you take?  And I stood by the front door of my house, mentally going through each room and the items they contained.  And you know what?  None of that seemed to matter.  The thought of having to quickly make decisions of what to take and what to leave behind seemed too overwhelming, and relatively . . . . insignificant.  Yes . . . . insignificant.  I'm not sure if I can explain that statement.  But here we were, facing losing everything we valued.  But my family was safe.  My pets were safe.  I had 65 men outside doing their best to preserve what they could.  And my stuff . . . . that stuff that I believed I valued and was so important to me . . . .   Just seemed like stuff.  The jewelry, the artwork, the furniture, the clothes.  I can't quite explain it.  Had you asked me a week ago how I felt about those things, I would have told you they were very important to me.  And here I was, facing the possibility of losing those things, and they just didn't seem all that essential to me.  And as I stood in the doorway of my house, going through a mental process that took seconds but felt like minutes, I gained absolute clarity of what I needed to grab.  Any ideas what I took? 


The one thing I realized that was important to me were all the ideas, records, curriculum, stories, correspondence, manuscripts, and photographs that were stored on my computer.  It wasn't the value of the laptop that sits on my desk that was important to me.  But rather, it was the creativity contained within its silver box that mattered.  What was in that electronic gadget represented me more than any of the beautiful things that I enjoy having around.  And so . . . . I grabbed my laptop, and my external hard drive, my wedding photograph that no longer has a negative, and a few dollars that I saw laying on top of my dresser.  And I put all that into a bag, which I placed next to the front door, ready to grab it quickly should the need arrive. 


And thankfully, that need never came.  All my "stuff" was safe.  I didn't have to go through the sadness of losing things that have become dear and familiar to me.  And perhaps if I was writing that story today, I would be saying something quite different.  But the realization that, although I have many beautiful things that I enjoy, when it came time to choose, I had the very real understanding of their place in my life, and that they are not who I am.  They make how I live more enjoyable, but the only thing that really represented who I am were the records of my creativity sitting inside my computer. 


And so I ask you, what would you take?  If faced with the possibility of losing everything you have taken years to accumulate, what would you take?  An interesting exercise, one that perhaps you cannot truly experience unless faced with the enormity of that possibility.  And may you never find yourself in those circumstances.


And as I write those last words, I realize I have just uncovered Lesson #4.  Life is always perfect and gives us just what we need when we need it.  I just stated that I wouldn't wish these circumstances upon any of you.  But then again, I just shared quite eloquently the value these circumstances had for me.  So were they circumstances to avoid?  Or were they valuable life lessons that will forever change me in positive ways?  Was this a tragedy?  Or was it a gift?  Despite all the drama while the event was occurring, now that it is over, life continues.  The wild animals have returned to the woods, which although naked and blackened, are still standing.  My house still stands unscarred.  My husband and I and our pets are safe.  Had I known of the outcome, would I have experienced the event differently?  Would we all experience life differently if we knew how it turned out?  Would we lie awake at night wondering, at times fearfully, what tomorrow will bring, if we were given a roadmap on the day of our birth, letting us know all that would unfold for us, and why?  And I would propose that we do know the outcome, for ultimately, all of our circumstances have occurred to lead us to here.  And I would also propose, that here is a pretty good place to be.  It's worrying about tomorrow, or regretting yesterday, that makes today less than wonderful.  So which one of your life events would you give up, no matter how unpleasant you may have labeled them, knowing that each one served to move you along, like a playing piece on the board game called Life, to right where you are?  Life is not good or bad.  It just is what is.  Back to Lesson #1.


And so I share my story with you.  But it is not the details of my story that I wish for you to retain.  Rather, it is the lessons my story teaches.  And that's how I view life.  One very long seminar designed to teach us all that we need to know.  It starts on the day we are born, and ends the day we take our last earthly breath.  How well you learn your lessons are up to you.  But I would suspect that until you learn them, you'll be repeating the same courses time and time again, with perhaps different teachers and slightly different content, until you get that passing grade.  And I am here to gently remind you of what you already know.


And as spring is most definitely upon us, no matter where in the world you reside, take some time to smell some flowers, notice some butterflies, and give thanks for the beauty of  your circumstances.  Because wouldn't it be a shame to receive your diploma with no recollection of how it was obtained? 


May you enjoy this day, knowing of its perfection.  For today well lived will make your tomorrows certain, and your yesterdays a powerful memory.


Introduction to COMMON COURAGE by Jude Smith

In the beginning there was love.  Only love.  Love for all that is.  Love for oneself.  Love for one another.  You came into this world knowing nothing but love.  You came into this world wide-eyed with the possibilities life had in store for you.  You came into this world certain that the world was a safe place.  That your needs would be cared for.  That you would remain surrounded by love.  That the world existed to satisfy your desires.  That you were perfect.  That those around you were perfect.  That life in general was perfect.  You knew.  You knew who you were.  You knew from where you came.  You knew the rules.  You knew your purpose for being.  There were no questions.  For you had all the answers.


And then what happened?  With that first blast of cool air upon your warm skin, doubt made its way into the perfection of all that is.  Your certainty over how life is became overshadowed by questions that arose from your temporary discomfort.  And that moment of doubt, that occurred at the moment of your birth, has grown, and festered, until all you have deep within you is more questions than answers.


But I say you know.  You still know.  You do know who you are.  You do know truth.  You do know the power of all that is, and your connection to a spiritual source of well-being.  You do know the world is a safe place designed for your growth, well-being, and self-expression.  You do know that ultimately love is what guides you.  But as you took your first indignant breath, you replaced all that knowing with doubt, outrage, confusion, and fear.


But those were the reactions and conclusions of an immature being.  And now, as you are reading this book, you have had a lifetime of experiences and perceptions that have shaped you into one who has the ability to return to that which you came into the world knowing.  You now have the wisdom that comes from life experience to put all the confusion of your youth into its proper perspective so that the truths you were born with can once again re-emerge.


And why would you wish for this to occur?  Because you hunger for truth.  You yearn to live life in a simpler way.  You crave living life by the laws of the spirit rather than by the rules of men.  You ache to express your unique purpose for being.  You desire love, and certainty, and fulfillment as replacements for the uncertainty, alienation, and fear that you feel.  Your heart cries out for truth.


And life is truly simple.  You have complicated it so by an unsophisticated but well-meaning attempt to make sense of the non-sensible.  You took the experiences of your youth and drew conclusions about life filtered through the mind of immaturity.  And you have spent a lifetime living as though the conclusions drawn by a child are the way life is.


And you had lots of help doing that.  For all those around you of influence were themselves living with misguided interpretations of the way life is.  Any misconceptions you may have concluded were promptly reinforced by the understandings of the well-meaning, but misguided ignorant.  For they received their understandings in the very same way!  And so we have a history of misguided conclusions being represented and reinforced as truth.


But I say you know truth.  There is a part of you that knows there is more to whom you are, to your purpose for being here, to the rules of the game, than you are consciously aware of on a daily basis.  For you have had glimmers of truth.  Your heart stirs and you don't quite know why.  You feel profound emotion, and are not quite sure where it has come from or how it became activated.  You have experienced the veil of unconsciousness lifting temporarily, and the beauty of the world has moved you to tears.  And you have become lost in the eyes of another, until the embarrassment of the love that you shared caused you to turn away.  For no matter how conditioned you have become to the world around you, there is a spark of humanness that refuses to go out.  And that spark has just been patiently waiting to be fed.


And that's where your hunger comes from.  An unidentified hunger that you try to fill by busyness, by indulgences, by eating too much, drinking too much, doing too much, acquiring too much.  We go out into the world seeking more and more of what's out there, when the ability to satisfy that hunger is in here.  For you know.  You know the truth.  You know who you are.  You know how it is meant to be.  You know what you must do.  You know the rules of the game called Life.  You just need to be reminded.


This book is a reminder.  Some of what you are about to read you will know with certainty.  It will sound so simple and obvious you will wonder why it has taken this long to acknowledge its truth.  Other things that you read may seem more foreign to you, more difficult to grasp, for you have spent a lifetime negating what you know.  And I would say, let that be.  For the first rule is to allow what is, to be.  And if what is, is doubt, confusion, denial, disagreement - allow those reactions to be.  For they are what is so at the moment they make themselves known.


You have spent a lifetime wishing for things to be other than the way that they are.  And now you have an opportunity to just let them be as they are.  Start to see the perfection of your life - right now, right at this moment.  It's not waiting to be perfect tomorrow, next week, or next year.  For you are perfect exactly the way you are, and you are being exactly as you were meant to be, and you are doing exactly what you ought to be doing.  Right now.  Right at this moment.  For how can it be any other way?


This is it.  This is your life.  This is how it turned out.  This is who you are.  You're not waiting.  You have arrived.  And life is indeed a miracle.  All you must do is be awakened to seeing it as such.  Many of you have spent a lifetime bumping around in the dark, when you've had a candle in your pocket the entire time.  Let's take a journey together towards that light.


And this book is not meant to be one more set of ideas.  It is meant to be an awakening to that which you know.  Helen Keller once said that life is either a daring adventure, or it is nothing.  And once you become awakened to the magic, the mystery, the perfection of life, your life, too, can take on the quality of an adventure, with excitement and aliveness around every bend.  For the possibilities life has in store for you are limitless.  All you must do is wake up to their existence.  Are you ready?

I am writing this at 3:00 in the morning, having awoken filled with love, gratitude, and inspiration after having spent the evening with a roomful of beautiful souls at Borders Books in Poughkeepsie, New York.  My husband, Bruce,  and I are leading a 6 week workshop on Eckhart Tolle’s book, A New Earth. And we truly received more than we gave last night, as we received love, light, and beauty from a group of strangers who felt like loved-ones by the end of the evening.  And I don’t many details about about these people.  I don’t know what they do.  I don’t know where they live.  I don’t know anything about their circumstances, or where they came from.  All I know is that they felt like brothers and sisters, as we spent two hours together sharing our humanity.  And in what felt like a rare moment by its intimate uniqueness, but what should be the common human condition, one by one we each, shyly a first, began sharing the hearts of whom we are.  We spoke of real things – our hopes, our dreams, our motivations, our desires, our frustration with what keeps us from feeling, living, and believing in who we are.  And with each person sharing of themselves, the light in that room became multiplied, until by the end of the evening I floated out of the store, reluctant to be leaving a group of people I didn’t know two hours before.


But what is my reason for getting up at 3:00 in the morning to share that little vignette with you?  What awoke me this morning was that my experience last night was more than a chance happening.  It was who we are, how we are meant to be with one another, the way life is.  I woke up at 3:00 in the morning with the thought that this was not a little isolated incident of wonder, but rather, that this was life as it was meant to be lived.  That we are all very much more similar than different.  That we have similar desires, although the details may differ.  That we crave waking up to being present in our lives.  The we yearn for true fellowship.  That we know there is more to life than the repetition of each of our days.  That random strangers can come together and know each other more intimately than those you have known for years.  That there is a core to our humanness that is now waking up and seeking expression. 


And so I write to you to share what is possible.  I write to you to say that I know you are just like this roomful of people that I was fortunate to have met last night.  I know that wherever you may live, there are others, too, who are hungry to express themselves a little bit more authentically than perhaps they have had occasion to do in the past.  I am writing to say that I feel it in my bones that a new, but actually very old, way of being is upon us, and that there is a critical mass about to tip us over the line.  But for that critical mass to occur, it takes each one of us to wake up to who we are, for each one of us to become present in our lives, and to fully express our unique gifts into the world.  For to quote the words of Marianne Williamson, “As we let our own lights shine, we unconsciously give permission for others to do the same.”  And wouldn’t the world be a wonderful place if we all were shining with the brightness of young children?  But that will happen one light at a time.  And it all starts with you.


So I am writing to thank you for the connection that we share.  For I know that we have a connection, even if it has no other form than you reading my words.  I am here to say that I am just like you, and to share the joy of awakening to life lived from a more spirit-filled place.  I am here to tweak that desire muscle within you that hears the truth of my words.  Because once that door of desire gets opened, just a crack, opportunities to open it more widely will continue to present themselves.  The secret will be to recognize them when they come, and to invite them in.


And I am reminded, again and again, of the words told to me by my dear friend, Bill Bartmann, that when you become clear on what it is that you want, and when you become clear on why you want it, and when the why is for a larger reason than your own personal well-being, the “how” to accomplish it will show up.  And when I asked this man how often he found these words to be true, and he has a life-time of extraordinary successes behind him, his answer to me was one word, “Always.”   And I am here as a demonstration of the proof of those words.  For as I boldly live my life being fully immersed in the present moment, those opportunities for self-expression continue to show up in delightful, unexpected, and supportive ways.  And the latest?  My very own radio talk show, Life Talk, being aired on radio station 950 AM, to a listening audience of 300,000 people.   And I write that number still in  amazement at the way life continues to beautifully unfold, for as I gave my first radio broadcast this week, I realized I was speaking to more people in that one hour than I would have ever expected to have spoken to in a lifetime. 


But I come back to my statement that I am just like you.  I have fears just like you.  I worry just like you.  I have thoughts at times that I’m kidding myself, that to act boldly is dangerous.  But then I come back to the present moment, and I cloak myself in its perfection.  I see the beauty and abundance of my circumstances today.  I cling to the fact that all is just fine right now, and that I am perfectly capable of doing what I need to do at this instant.  I’m not sure what tomorrow will bring, but all I have is right now, and right now, this moment, this very second, life is pretty grand.  And then I move right into the next moment, and repeat those thoughts all over again.  And the way I figure it, if I keep myself in the moment, and be and do what is needed right now, then I will keep on rolling merrily along in the direction Life means to take me.  And at times my mind wants to whisper to me otherwise, perhaps just like yours.  But the more I live life with the brakes off, the more confident I feel to re-align my mind into thinking thoughts that are more supportive of who I really am.  Just like you.  


It's snowing!  12 inches predicted!  And we have a seminar starting in the morning!  Problem? Opportunity?  The teacher in me can't help but see the opportunity for learning that this snow represents.  For this snow, our reactions to it, the choices we make as a result, are truly a reflection of how we react to all the circumstances of our lives.  And our seminar is actually beginning as you read this email.  So . . . . Read on! 


This snow falling is such a glorious opportunity to examine our selves, our desires, our reactions, and our choices as to the actions we choose to take.  For just as the snow is falling, making it more difficult to follow through with our desires, so too, do other circumstances sometimes have a way of making it more difficult to follow through when there are other desires that we wish to make real. 


And so I must ask you, what will you choose to do in reaction to this gently falling snow?  Will you allow it to alter that which you have chosen to do?  Will you choose comfort over desire?  Will you choose safety over the thought of a little bit of risk?  Will you allow inconvenience or increased effort to stand in the way of obtaining that which you said you wanted?  Or will you lay claim to your desire, and act accordingly, allowing nothing to stand in the way of achieving that which you wish for?   


The choice is yours.  The choice is always yours.  But first you must be clear on what it is that you desire. And it is always that way.  Your desire dictates your actions.  Do you desire to participate in a workshop that you sense is calling you?  Then act accordingly and participate.  Do you desire to put other things ahead of participation?  That is a fine choice too.  Then act accordingly.  There are no good or bad desires.  The value of this experience is not in evaluating the worthiness of your desire.  Rather, the value lies in becoming clear on what it is that you desire - right now - and then acting in accordance with that desire, allowing nothing to stand in the way.  For you see?  Once you are really clear on what it is that you desire - nothing can stand in the way of achieving it - not even a little bit of snow.


So today's snow is indeed a wonderful microcosm for all of life.  What do you truly desire right now?  And what are you willing to do to achieve that desire?  And once you discern the answers to those two simple but profound questions, you will live the life you love.


And if what you desire right now is something other than attending tomorrow's seminar, then by all means act accordingly and do whatever is needed to satisfy the desire you just identified.  But if these words have resonated with you in some way, serving to strengthen your desire to explore these concepts still further, then by all means, do whatever it will take to assure your participation.  For how you do anything is how you do everything.  This is not really about snowstorms and seminars.  This is about getting a bit of insight into how you operate, what you desire, how you have acted in the past, and perhaps changing actions that have been comfortable, but maybe no longer best serve you.  For to return to what we began with - you have no control over what is so.  But you most certainly have control over your reactions to what is so, and in the actions you choose to take. 


Is this snow an annoyance?  An inconvenience?  Or is it a marvelous opportunity for reflection upon how you have done things in the past, and an opportunity to either maintain that doing-ness if it serves you, or to alter your responses if those behavior patterns are standing in the way of achieving all that you desire for yourself. 


And whether or not we see you at our event, you have just received Lesson #1.


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