Saturday, August 31, 2013

Holiday Candy

Top: Halloween candy, Thanksgiving candy
Bottom: Christmas candy, Valentine's Day candy
Today is Saturday, August 31, 2013.

I joined Weight Watchers last year at about this time, and I noticed that the local grocery store began to put out holiday candy in the entryway in late August, just after school started.  It's the same this year.  Summer isn't even over yet, and the display table is already heaped with Halloween candy.  Well before Halloween, when supplies of Halloween treats are running low, they will start putting out Thanksgiving candy.  Before Thanksgiving, they will switch to Christmas candy, and right after Christmas, they will put out the Valentine's Day candy.  Without interruption, they will begin stocking Easter candy.  Since Easter Sunday is on April 20th in 2014, it will not be until late April that the candy is gone. 

Easter candy
How I hate holiday candy!

This past spring, I was so happy when they switched the front-end display from candy to fresh fruit, which I love and can eat a lot of on the Weight Watchers diet.  The strawberries, grapes, raspberries and peaches were wonderful this year.  (And yes, I've lost some weight: 25 pounds so far.)

Frankly, if I had kids, I would hate going grocery shopping, because the candy is the first thing the kids see for months and months and months.  Eight out of twelve months, to be precise!

When I was a grad student at the University of Minnesota, I had a part-time job at Target, and I remember working during all the holidays.  I couldn't believe how much candy people bought, how much money they spent on it, and how heavy the bags of candy were.  No wonder people gain weight on candy!  Try it yourself: Next time you go to the store, pick up a bag of candy and see for yourself how much it weighs.  Multiply that by three or five, the amount that many people buy, and see how heavy it is.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD, of TV fame, and Dr. Gerry Curatola, DDS, say that average American eats 135 to 150 pounds of sugar per year.  About 35 percent of that gets stored as fat, for a typical, slightly overweight person.  The amount of sugar Americans eat is going up.  Forbes magazine says that the average American consumes 3,550 pounds of sugar in an entire lifetime!  That's enough sugar to fill an industrial-sized Dumpster!

The average adult in America eats 22 teaspoons of sugar per day, while the average child eats 35 teaspoons of sugar per day.   They get it from soft drinks, candy, cakes, cookies, pies, fruit drinks, dairy desserts, milk, and foods made of grains such as wheat and corn (because starches break down into sugars in the body).  The average American drinks 53 gallons of soft drinks per year.  Sugars account for at least 500 calories per day.

Forbes also reports that according to brain scans, sugar is as addictive as cocaine! No wonder the urge to eat sweets is so powerful!

I'm so glad I gave up drinking soda pop a long time ago, and I stopped storing refined sugar in my cupboard when I got cancer five years ago.  I have cut down considerably on the bread that I eat, and I no longer eat much ice cream or candy. 

Still, it's hard to walk past that candy display in the grocery store!  :-/

Friday, August 30, 2013

Focusing on Beauty

Today is Friday, August 30, 2013. 

"There's always something beautiful to be experienced wherever you are.  Right now, look around and select beauty as your focus."  –Wayne Dyer

“Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy.”  –Anne Frank

It's one thing for a rich and famous man like Wayne Dyer to recommend focusing on beauty. He lives on the island of Maui in the state of Hawaii, and can afford to surround himself with beauty anytime.  It's quite another thing for a little girl to write about beauty and happiness in a diary that she isn't sure anyone will ever read, while hiding from the Nazis during World War II.  Both of these people have expressed a very important concept that was so well expressed in the Desiderata: "With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world."

Those of us who are able to get outside, or at least look out the window are blessed, because we have plenty of chances to see natural beauty, if we will only pay attention.  The deep blue sky, fluffy white clouds, golden sunshine, fresh green grass, and colorful flowers in a garden are only some of the many beautiful things we can focus on.  There is beauty in humans, as well, and not just the kind they focus on in the fashion magazines.   A smile and caring eyes in a friendly face are beautiful.  Hands that have been of service are beautiful, as well.

There are beautiful sounds, too: the laughter and chatter of happy children or of people gathered together for a meal, church bells, birdsong, the rustling of leaves and tall grasses in the wind, or your favorite music.

 Right now, you may be angry, grief-stricken, or worried.  You may be feeling bitter, fearful, or full of regret.  The world may not seem very beautiful to you now, but it is up to you to find the beauty in the world and focus on it.  Viktor E. Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, learned a lot about creating happiness while forced to work in Nazi concentration camps.  He wrote, "Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."

Those of you who are reading this right now have access to a computer.  If you own it, you have the means to surround yourself with as many beautiful images as you desire.  Go to Google and type in "flowers" or "green grass" or anything else you would like to see.  You can even type in "beautiful images slideshow."  You can create your own slide show of images to view whenever you need a pick-me-up, or you can place beautiful images in your screen saver.  If you don't own the computer you are using, go, right now, to Google and just select some images to view.  Think of your precious time on the computer as your opportunity to surround yourself with beauty.  

When you spend even a few minutes a day looking at something beautiful or listening to beautiful sounds, you will find your mood lifting, and you can think more creatively.  When you get into the habit of focusing on beauty wherever you go throughout the day, you begin to find happy little surprises waiting for you each day.  When you pay attention to the beautiful things as you encounter them, it is easier to recall what you have seen or heard later.  In the dead of night when you are alone in your room, your memories of beauty can be a great comfort.   :-)

Read more here: Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Face the Pain

Image credit: Morning Meditations/
Today is Thursday, August 29, 2013.

Yesterday I wrote a post on my other blog, Reaching for the Sky, called "What You Resist, You Feed."  We are so focused on what we are trying to get away from that we inadvertently draw that very thing into our lives.  This comes about because of the negative emotions that we attach to the thing we are resisting.  Negative emotions are very powerful, and what we don't realize is that emotions bind us to people, places, conditions, and situations. Today, I'd like to focus on pain, both physical and mental or emotional pain. 

We spend an awful lot of time avoiding pain in this country.  Millions of people, including children, are on prescription medications for various kinds of physical and emotional pain.  If the medications really ended the pain, you would be able to take it once, or for a short time, and then stop, and the pain would be gone, but it doesn't seem to work that way.  People stay on meds for extended periods, even years, and many of these medications are habit-forming.  The only winners here are the pharmaceutical companies.

Some people turn to addictions such as smoking, drinking, or "recreational" drug use to dull the pain.  Others create for themselves a hectic lifestyle that buries the pain by making their "busyness" more important.  Whatever you use to resist the pain, you only succeed in inviting more pain into your life.

Experts agree that whether you are dealing with physical pain or emotional pain, the one thing you have to do is face it.  If you continue to resist it, the pain will continue to dog you.

Let's take physical pain first.  If the pain is acute, it's a sign that something is wrong with the body.  It is a message that there is an injury or illness that needs to be treated.  Pains of this nature should never be ignored.  Early treatment is generally simpler, shorter, less invasive, and less costly.  Chronic pain, on the other  hand, is something that a lot of people have learned to live with because their doctors have told them that there's nothing that can be done, or that pain is simply a function of old age.  Some people take aspirin, anti-inflammatory drugs such as Motrin or Tylenol, or narcotics to deal with the pain.  Others seek out chiropractic treatment, physical therapy, acupuncture, homeopathic remedies, electrical stimulation, biofeedback, or behavior modification to deal with the pain.  The problem is that these techniques focus on an outer cause for the pain, and while they can be very helpful, they should be only one part of a two-pronged approach.

Chronic pain is often caused by negative emotions of sadness, grief, worry, anxiety, and fear.  The problem is compounded when people dwell on their pain, which magnifies it.  People end up feeding the pain that they wish to rid themselves of.  The only way to stop the pain is to go to the source, the negative emotion that is causing the pain in the first place.  You may have to re-visit a very negative incident in your past in order to do this, and many people have past-life issues to deal with, as well.  The good part is that when you deal with your emotional issues, you are dealing with root causes, and you are able to deal with both the emotional pain and the physical pain at the same time. 

The first step is accepting the pain.  The Buddhists have a good handle on this process.  They "accept what is" without all the negative emotional baggage that goes with it.  In other words, they step back from their emotions in order to see the issue more clearly.  Once you have accepted the pain, you can begin to search for the root cause. 

The cause is always inside of yourself, never with others.  When you blame other people or outside influences for your pain, you are only giving the people or situations that you blame power over your wellbeing.  Which would you rather be, the victim or the survivor?  When you stop blaming things outside of your control for your pain, you can begin to control it yourself.  

On the physical side, it's important to find an understanding health practitioner who uses a healing modality that works for you, and you need to be an active participant in your own healing.  It's necessary to ask questions, be informed, and don't give up.  Some people have reportedly even downplayed their pain so that their doctor wouldn't "feel like a failure."  Seriously, whose pain is it, yours or the doctor's?  If the doctor isn't doing his or her job, then communicate that, or find another doctor!

On the emotional side, it is up to you whether you wish to consult a therapist or deal with the issue by yourself, but it's never a bad idea to find out what others have done to root out the emotional causes of their pain. Even for methods that you do for yourself, such as meditation, it's helpful to have a teacher or mentor to get you started.   Try whatever method appeals to you, and give it a fair trial. Don't forget to build a support system of understanding friends and relatives, and most of all, don't forget to seek out the support offered freely by the Creator.  :-)

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Focusing on the Journey

Today is Wednesday, August 28, 2013.

"Focus on the journey, not the destination.  Joy is found not in finishing an activity, but in doing it."  –Greg Anderson

Back in 1984, Greg Anderson was diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer and given 30 days to live.  He refused to accept this diagnosis, and began to look for people who had survived so-called "terminal" cancer.  He found them, and interviewed over 16,000 survivors.  The information he got from them forms the basis for an international cancer survivor movement.  Anderson founded the Cancer Recovery Foundation of America and went on to write a number of books, including The Cancer Conqueror: An Incredible Journey to Wellness, The 22 Non-Negotiable Laws of Wellness: Feel, Think and Live Better than You Ever Thought Possible, and Living Life on Purpose: A Guide to Creating a Life of Success and Significance.

Having been on a "cancer journey" of my own, I can attest that one important ingredient in survival is re-focusing on the process, and not the products, of life.  It's not how much you get done, how much you produce, how much you earn.  It's how you live your life and how you interact with others that is important.

Here's another quote by Anais Nin:  "Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death."

When we see our lives as an ongoing process, we can never say that we have arrived.  There is always another place to go, another thing to do.  No matter what the situation may look like, we are never at the end, only somewhere along the way.  We cannot rest on our laurels; neither can we afford to wallow in the mire of our failures.  Like the great white shark, for whom inactivity means death, we must keep moving. 

A couple of years ago, I thought that I would just figure out a routine once I retired and stick to it, and that would be it.  Wrong.  I see that retirement is simply another state of being, and that my life continues to change and morph rapidly.  More to come.  :-)

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Ten to Zen

Today is Tuesday, August 27, 2013.

So many things to let go of!  Let's see... what can I let go of today?  

1.  Let go of comparing.  Lately I've been thinking about my health now as compared with what it was when I was younger.  This is almost always a losing proposition, so why do I do it?  It only makes me miserable to know that I can no longer do things I could do ten years ago, or even seven years ago.  On the other hand, I am stronger than I was a year ago.  I guess the best thing is just to enjoy what health I have left now.

2.  Let go of competing.  This is a little easier, because although I love to play games, I've never been much of a competitor in life.  If I had been, I might have gone ahead and got a doctorate or I might have gone into educational administration.  The best thing here is to remember to do my best at all times, whatever I do, no matter what anyone else may be doing.

3.  Let go of judgments.  Right now, my judgments are mainly about myself, and they are often negative.  That has to stop, because it's not doing me any good.  Maybe I need to start a new journal with positive statements about myself and my life every day.  Add to shopping list: new notebook.

4.  Let go of anger.  My most recent anger is also about myself.  In my state, you don't have to change the address on your driver's license right away, but I waited too long, and forgot that if they didn't know my new address, I wouldn't get the reminder to renew my license tabs in the mail.  Result: I got caught with expired license tabs the other day.  It was my own fault.... but I need to stop beating myself up about it.  A spendy mistake, to be sure, but that's the breaks.  Just move on.

5.  Let go of regrets.  I have lots of regrets in my life, but this is another thing that is just not very productive, since there is no way I can go back and change things.  The best thing I can do now is be aware of opportunities when they come up and grab them before they're gone. 

6.  Let go of worrying.   This is major for me right now.  Worrying about my health and my money will not make problems go away, nor will it make things work out any better.  I need to take actions and then let the chips fall where they may.  My focus needs to be positive.  

7.  Let go of blame.  Once again, the object is myself.  Sure, I'm the author of my misfortune, but other than simply recognizing this and altering my behavior going forward, it is useless to be hard on myself. 

8.  Let go of guilt.  This one is a little easier for me right now.  Thank God something's easier.... .

9.  Let go of fear.  This is related to some of the things I've been worried about.  When we focus on fear, we only draw into our lives that which we fear.   Time to redirect my focus.

10.   Have a proper belly laugh once a day.   I actually did this a few months after I was divorced, and it really made me feel tons better.  Today was a tough day, but I did have a chuckle this evening, which helped.  I need to seek out more chances to laugh. 

Did you try this list for yourself?  What will you do differently tomorrow based on what you wrote down for each item?    :-)

Monday, August 26, 2013

Wellbeing Is Your Birthright

Today is Monday, August 26, 2013.

"You originated from an invisible, spiritual energy field of pure wellbeing.  Your desire is to be balanced in that spirit in your thoughts and behaviors, now, in this life, in this moment, in your bodily form.  You want that harmony, and you sense that it is available without leaving your body, in other words, without dying."  –Wayne Dyer 

 As Soul we come from a place of perfect alignment and perfect health.  It is only when we come to this physical plane that things start to get out of balance.  Our ego, which is a necessary tool for us to live in this world of duality, tells us that we are a separate being, and so we are, physically speaking.  But Soul knows that we are also connected with God and with everyone else.  Here in this physical life, we must come to a conscious realization of this connection.  If we can do this, we can claim our birthright: vibrant health.

Basically, Dyer is saying that when we align with our Source, with God, we come into a state of balance that results in physical, mental and emotional health and wellbeing.  If we can live our lives in a state of spiritual realization or God realization (total alignment with God), then we can achieve health.  

First, we must realize when we are out of balance.  One way we get out of balance is through our addictions, and the vast majority of human beings are addicted to something at least one point in their lives.  Remember that addictions can be to physical substances such as nicotine, cocaine, marijuana, LSD, methamphetamines, painkillers, antidepressants, or other drugs.  We can also addicted to any form of alcohol or nicotine. We can also have addictions to sugar, salty snacks, caffeine, or just to food in general.  Remember also that we can be addicted to approval, sex, drama, our fears, or dangerous thrills, and we can be addicted to money, gambling, or our work.   Frankly, if you haven't been addicted to at least one of these things in your life, then you are a rare person, indeed, but look around you, because chances are you are dealing with at least one Soul who is addicted to one of these things.

Next, we must get to the point where we desire the health and wellbeing that can only be found in alignment (or re-alignment) with God, rather than the imbalance of our addictions.  If you think about it, the things people are addicted to are really things that no sane person would want, but when we invest these things with the power to make us happy, they begin to control us.  The problem is that they never really make us happy for long, and we never seem to get enough.   As Dyer says, "Your addictions tell you that you can never get enough of what you don't want." 

Think about God for a moment.  God is all about giving.  God is the Source of abundant, never-ending, unconditional love.  God never takes, only gives.  If we are to be aligned with God, that must be our goal, as well.  Whenever we give, provide, offer, or create, we are aligned with the Source.  

One way to give is to do one small thing for someone each day.  Do something that is unexpected, and do it anonymously.  Never pass up the chance to be of service to others.  Find ways to keep your surroundings clean, for the enjoyment of others.  Do everything with love in your heart, even if it is a humble action such as washing the dishes or cleaning out the garage.  

Dyer reminds us that St. Francis of Assisi asked, "Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace."   He didn't just say, "Give me peace."  He asked to be made an instrument.  In other words, he was willing to create peace in God's name.  We can do the same with our health, when we ask to be the instrument of God's wellbeing.  We make a conscious effort to align with God and do whatever will create wellbeing in our lives.  Do you get the difference?  God doesn't just hand wellbeing to us on a silver platter.  We have to create it with God's help, and under God's direction.  We have to fulfill our end of the bargain.

It's not easy to conquer our addictions, whether they are physical or emotional, but it is always possible to transcend our physical and emotional programming.  Will you stumble and fall?  Probably.  Will you pick yourself up and try again?  If you want wellbeing badly enough, you will.  :-)

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Being a Teacher

Today is Sunday, August 25, 2013.

Some of these memes on social media really crack me up, but I have laughed the loudest about the ones on teachers. 

What my friends think I do: read stories all day to sweet, obedient children.  (My friends don't seem to know about the fourth-grader who ripped the water fountain from the wall.  They do know about kids who bring drugs to school, but for some reason they can't imagine that any of those kids could be in my classroom.)

What my mom thinks I do: impart important information to students who take notes furiously, hoping to catch every last, precious detail.  (As an elementary school teacher, the stuff I taught was pretty basic, actually, and unless I could turn it into a game, the kids didn't care one way or another.)

What society thinks I do: relax in the teacher's lounge and gossip about the kids and their parents.  (Teachers don't always talk shop in the lounge.  In fact, most of the conversations have to do with other things. Adult things.  Anything that has nothing to do with the classroom, in fact.)

What kids think I do: administer cruel and unusual punishment, also known as homework. (Cry me a river....)

What I think I do: psychoanalyze students. (Well, we do in some ways, but it's a means to an end, not an end in itself.)

What I really do: grade tons of papers.  Oh, and lesson planning.  And report cards. 


What my friends think I do: fool around all summer.  (Not: I spent most summers teaching summer school or doing some other summer job, taking summer classes, and catching up on all my yearly doctor and dentist appointments.)

What my mom thinks I do: complain about my salary.  (Actually, this is what society thinks I do.  My mom knows better, because she is married to a teacher.)

What society thinks I do: support teachers unions and argue for more and more money.  (Teachers really do make way, waaay too much money, ya know....)

What students think I do: harass kids.  (Really, when they get into the army, they are going to get a shock.  My classroom will seem like a picnic in the park, by comparison.)

What I think I do: miracles.  (After you have worked very hard to get a reluctant reader to read, it really does seem like a miracle.)

What I really do: taming wild animals.   (Seriously, the "unwritten curriculum" is to turn little kids into contributing members of society, and that means teaching them "the rules."  We get lambasted for doing this AND for not doing this all the time.)


Here's an Ode to Teachers that I learned from a young woman who was a teacher in Ireland.  I learned later that this little poem has been back and forth across the Pond many times. :-)

 Ode to Teachers

We, the willing,
led by the unknowing,
are trying to do the impossible
for the ungrateful.

We have done so much
with so little
 for so long
that we are now qualified
to do anything
with nothing.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

American Propaganda

Today is Saturday, August 24, 2013.

According to Wikipedia, propaganda is "a form of communication aimed towards influencing the attitude of the community toward some cause or position by presenting only one side of an argument. Propaganda statements may be partly false and partly true. Propaganda is usually repeated and dispersed over a wide variety of media in order to create the chosen result in audience attitudes."

 When I was growing up and learned the word propaganda, I had the impression that propaganda was false information about the United States that the communist government of the Soviet Union disseminated to her people.  In fact, when I first encountered the word, it was always in the expression, "Communist propaganda."  It's true that the people of the Soviet Union under Communist rule, China under Mao, and Cuba under Castro, for example, were systematically fed misinformation about the United States.  We know this because when people came to the United States from these countries, they often remarked that it was much different here from what they had been led to expect.  

I certainly never thought that my own country would engage in this type of practice, but when I lived in Japan, I was given to learn otherwise for myself.  Remember when Ronald Reagan was president, and U.S. forces went to Grenada, a tiny island nation in the Caribbean?  The Japanese newspapers were calling it an invasion, so when I called my mother, I asked about the invasion of Grenada.   

"Invasion?" she asked.  "What invasion?.... Oh! You mean the rescue mission!"  Sure enough, the military action that is now generally considered to be an invasion was being represented to the American people at the time as a rescue mission!  

The faces are caricatures of Adolf Hitler
and General Hideki Tojo.
It's easy now to see how we have used propaganda in our own country to influence the population against those who were perceived at the time to be our enemies.  During the World War II era, folks saw lots of posters defaming the Japanese and Germans.  One that I found warned against starting forest fires, with the insinuation that our enemies would be delighted if someone started a forest fire, and that anyone who started the fire was probably working in collusion with the enemy.

Another shows a caricature of General Tojo with elongated canine teeth, who says he's happy that a worker missed work and lost man-hours.  Another shows a lustful-looking Japanese soldier with a "fu-manchu mustache" holding a handgun, with a naked woman slung over his shoulder.  "This is the enemy!" says the poster.  

It didn't help matters any that the Japanese army did do a lot of senseless looting, killing and raping of women in China and Korea when they took over those countries.  In fact, when I was in Japan, I was told that after the emperor's surrender, Japanese were terribly afraid of the American troops, because they were afraid that they would behave like the Japanese army did in China and Korea.  The Japanese people were incredibly surprised when our troops were, for the most part, friendly and respectful.  When asked why the Japanese army behaved so abominably in Korea and China, one Japanese offered the opinion that that is what they thought invading armies were supposed to do! 

A poster about the German Nazis has a soldier with a swastika on his sleeve running a Bible through with a dagger, to give the impression that the Nazis were anti-Christian.  What they were was anti-Jewish, but so were the Americans, unfortunately, so an image of a soldier running a dagger through a depiction of the Torah would not have done the trick. 

Interestingly enough, German people tolerated the Nazis because they were supposed to be getting rid of the Jews in order to protect Christians from the Christ-killers.  Of course, nobody said that any of this actually makes sense.  The idea is to appeal to people's emotions, particularly their fears.  

If you think propaganda is no longer used, think again.  The government doesn't even have to do it these days, because it is done for them by organizations with an axe to grind.  There is an element in American society that is vehemently anti-Muslim, and they have made a lot of noise ever since two planes slammed into the World Trade Center towers in New York in 2001.  

It's one thing to fear terrorists, although that has probably been overdone, but it's quite another thing to fear that the whole country will be taken over lock, stock and barrel by the Muslims, when there are only two Muslims in the entire 113th Congress.  The poster on the right shows the irrational fear that American public schools will somehow be subject to Sharia Law, for some reason.  (Most non-Muslim people couldn't even tell you what Sharia Law is, to save their own lives, and few know that it is not one single document all written down in one place.)

An organization called American Freedom Defense Initiative, headed by right-wing, anti-Muslim activist Pamela Geller, has put up ads like the one at left in subway stations operated by the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) in New York.  The ad takes a verse from the Quran out of context, next to a photo of the burning World Trade Center towers.  (For what it's worth, the Christian Bible also speaks of dire consequences for unbelievers.)

A group of "concerned citizens," in New York has been plastering these Geller ads with signs of their own that say, Caution (or Warning). This is war propaganda.  You're the target."

I think it's a good sign that more people are generally a little less susceptible to extremist propaganda nowadays, but there is always subtle propaganda that goes unnoticed.  

The Upworthy web site published a great video showing scenes from Afghanistan, in which Afghans are shown as they are, and not as "the enemy."  The photojournalists who created the video said that they were aware that Iraq was also unfairly portrayed while U.S. troops were fighting there.  You can watch the short film about Afghanistan here.   :-)

Teaching Cursive in Schools

Image credit: Steve Blow/
Today was Friday, August 23, 2013.

The kids are heading back to school, and it's time once again to think about what it is we teach, and don't teach, our kids.

By the time I retired from teaching, the vast majority of my elementary school students, even the fifth- and sixth-graders, could not read my cursive handwriting, and mine is a lot better than Steve Blow's (see illustration).  That's because schools have more or less stopped teaching handwriting, specifically cursive.  They don't even do a very good job of teaching kids to print, in my humble opinion.  Many kids write the letters in such a way that writing becomes a laborious exercise in torture.  As a matter of fact, I am now seeing younger teachers who use some of these bad habits passing them on to their students!

A lot of people bemoan or make fun of the way teachers used to tell kids letters and numbers had to be written a certain way.  (Example: to write the "printed" lower-case letter f on lined paper, start about 1/4 of the way from the top, and slightly to the right of where you want the letter to go.  Bring your pencil up and around to the left, then straight down, ending right on the "base" line.  Then cross your letter f right about in the middle, maybe just a smidge higher than the middle, going from left to right.   Lots and lots of kids start writing the letter from the bottom, then can't remember which way the loop at the top goes.  The cross is more often right to left, rather than the other way around, and often slanted.

You may have been one of those "off road" types who rebelled at being told to form your printed or cursive letters a certain way, but I can tell you one thing: kids who don't learn to write correctly (starting with printing) always, always, always write more slowly, and I would say that ninety percent of the time, their writing is hard to read, to boot.  Part of learning to write is learning to do it fast, so you can take notes, jot down ideas, dash off a letter or thank-you note, or make a quick shopping list.  For most people, writing is not an end in itself.  Rather, it is a means to an end.

I can tell you one other thing.  When kids have trouble writing, they also have trouble reading, guaranteed.  Not just reading their own writing: that's nearly impossible.  I mean reading anything, written or printed!  In my career, I almost always got the low readers, the struggling readers, the reluctant readers, and they always had trouble writing!  And I don't mean writing sentences or paragraphs.  I mean writing individual letters and putting them together to make words!

When I went to school, cursive was something we learned in the third grade, and our teachers began to write in cursive on the board from that grade onward.  When I went to college, I don't think I could have taken notes as well as I did if I hadn't learned cursive.   Nowadays, they don't spend much time after first grade teaching kids to write their letters, and cursive is no longer a part of the curriculum.

There are actually some benefits of learning to read and write cursive. For one thing, it trains the brain to learn "functional specialization," which is a multisensory way of learning something. In the case of learning cursive, kids have to coordinate sensation, movement control, and thinking.  When we do this, multiple areas of our brains have to coordinate and work together.   Kids also learn fine motor control when they learn to write in cursive.  How do we know this?  A new field of research, called "haptics" studies the interaction between touch, hand movements, and brain function.  According to studies, cursive writing trains the brain to integrate visual and tactile information and increase the manual dexterity.  

Whether you print or write in cursive, you have to locate each stroke relative to other strokes in the letter (One stroke is from the time your pen or pencil touches the paper until the time you lift the writing instrument from the paper.  The letter s has one stroke.  The lower-case f has two strokes.)  You also have to learn and remember appropriate size of letters, and develop categorization skills to remember the difference between b and d, p and q, n and u, t and f, m and w, or g and j.   If your letters are slanted, all the letters must be slanted the same way, for legibility.   Learning these things is actually good for your brain.

These days, keyboarding is taught as a skill.  (That's typing to us old fogies.)  Isn't learning to use a keyboard just as good as learning to print or type?  Well, functionally speaking, yes, but brain imaging shows us that there are parts of the brain that we use when we write in cursive that we don't use when we are keyboarding.  In addition, in studies using "pre-literate" five-year-olds who were taught to write some cursive letters, the researchers found that the brain's "reading circuit," was activated by handwriting, but not during typing.  By "reading circuit," I mean the regions of the brain that people use when they read.  So I was right after all - the kids who had trouble writing also had trouble reading, and there is indeed a correlation.  (This is an example of the kind of thing teachers know by experience, but can't necessarily prove until some scientist with interest in the subject, time on his hands, and funding from somewhere or other does a study.)

Even if you are not convinced that learning cursive will help your brain function better, cursive is still a cultural tradition worth preserving.  Imagine not being able to read cursive - and not being able to consult original documents written long ago!  Not only is it of benefit in studying history, it is also an art form that ought to be preserved.

My two cents, anyway.  :-)

Friday, August 23, 2013

Becoming Conscious of White Privilege

Today was Thursday, August 22, 2013.

I saw a fabulous video today that is going around on social media, where a black woman tells about an incident at a store in which she went shopping with her sister-in-law, who happens to be "half" black and white, but who can "pass" for white.  Her sister-in-law makes her purchases first, and has a friendly conversation with the cashier as she makes out her check, which is accepted for payment without incident.

Then it is the black woman's turn to have her groceries checked.  When she begins to write out her check, the cashier, who has not bothered to make much conversation, informs her tersely that she will need to see two pieces of ID.  (Normally, if ID is asked for, one piece of ID, is generally considered to be enough.)  The black woman decides not to argue and produces the ID, but the cashier then takes the time to check the driver's license against the numbers of people who have passed bad checks.  Meanwhile, others in line are kept waiting.

The sister-in-law notices what is going on and comes back to call out the cashier for her treatment of the black woman, who realizes that her sister-in-law has decided to use her "white privilege" in a conscious way to point out the unfair treatment.  

Here is a link to the video.

A lot of white people are unaware that white privilege exists, mainly because they don't have to alter their behavior or watch what they say for no other reason than the color of their skin.  White privilege should not be confused with white supremacy (the belief that white people are superior, biologically and mentally. than other races, and that they should therefore dominate society)   As well, it should not be confused with white racism.   There are a growing number of white people nowadays who are well aware that there is nothing particularly superior about the white race, and who do not express racist views in their words or actions.   These people still benefit from white privilege, however, even though they may be unaware of it.

White privilege was well defined back in 1988 in a paper written for Wellesley College by Peggy McIntosh.  Basically, white privilege is an unearned advantage that people have because of the way society is structured.  Here are some examples: (Since I'm white, I'm going to use the pronoun "we" in these examples.)  White people can choose to live virtually anywhere we wish, and we don't have to worry that we or our children will be safe in our chosen neighborhood.  We watch TV, go to movies, and read books in which the protagonist in the story is the same race as we are.  We read magazines in which the vast majority of articles and ads feature white people. 

We can go to any store and find clothing that looks good on us, and food items that are culturally acceptable to us.  Our children can play with dolls and action figures of our own race.  We can go to any hairdresser, confident that they know how to cut and style our hair.  We are not asked to provide unreasonable amounts of ID when we pay for purchases with checks or credit cards, and we are not followed around in stores.   We can stay in any hotel without fearing that we or another member of our race will be refused service or harassed.  We can get legal and medical help when we need it, without hassle.   If we ask to speak to the "person in charge," we are likely to meet a person of our own race.

We can work for an Equal Opportunity Employer without worrying that others will think we got our job because of our race.  When we do something negative or when we do a shoddy job, our entire race is not blamed. When we do something positive, we are not told that we are a "credit to our race," as if this is an unusual thing.   We are not asked to speak for, apologize for, or explain our entire race.

We can be totally ignorant of the languages, customs and cultures of non-white people around us without being openly called ignorant.  We can express criticism of our government without being accused of having racial motives.

At work, in stores, and at our places of worship, we don't generally feel outnumbered, or that our ideas and opinions have no merit. We are well represented at the local, state, and national levels of government.

In the fish illustration above, the largest fish feels that the world is just find and dandy, because it's at the "top of the food chain."  In the world of human beings, that would be white men.  The middle fish feels that there is some justice, but is obviously aware of some injustice, as well.  That would be white women, because they do experience the negative effects of male privilege as well as the perks of white privilege.   The third fish represents just about everyone else. 

White people sometimes get defensive about this issue, because there is a lot of anger on the part of nonwhites, not only about the way they are treated today, but also about the way they have been treated historically.   Whites often say in exasperation, "Well, what do you want me to DO about it?"

Here are three things we can do:
1) We can own up to our white privilege and become conscious of it.
2) We can speak out whenever and wherever we see racial injustice, and work to see that the ideas, opinions, perspectives and values of all racial groups are valued.
3) We can listen, just listen, without judgment, without denial, and without defensiveness, when someone of another race points out how our white privilege has harmed them, or when someone expresses their anger and frustration.  :-)

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Louise Hay on Unconditional Love

Today was Wednesday, August 21, 2013.

Today almost got away from me, but it was a good day, and I got a lot accomplished.   I'll leave you with a great quote by Louise Hay and a few thoughts, and then it will be off to bed so that tomorrow won't get away from me, too.

"If I want to be loved as I am, I have to be willing to love others as they are."  –Louise Hay

No doubt about it, "loving" others just as they are is tough, especially when we don't like what they are.  What gets in the way is our misunderstanding of the word, "love" and our bad habit of making judgments about other people. 

Let's deal with the misunderstanding, first.  What Louise Hay means by "love" is not the warm, personal love between good friends, lovers, or family members.  It's "love" in the sense of goodwill or charity.  It has more to do with tolerance and acceptance than with intimacy.  And acceptance doesn't necessarily have anything to do with agreeing, condoning or approving, either.  (There's that darned judgment, again!)

Loving someone as they are simply means recognizing another person as a child of God, and accepting that they have a right to be here, just as we do.  It means letting them have their experience and allowing them, also, to reap the rewards or consequences of their own actions.   It means setting aside our opinions of them, because our opinions are only worthwhile when we are making choices for our own lives, not when we are making choices for others.   :-) 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Allowing Divine Spirit to Work Through You

Image credit: Rodney Jones/Facebook
Today is Tuesday, August 20, 2013.

"Don't let what you think you cannot do, interfere with what divine spirit can do through you.  Let go... and experience something wonderful."  –Rodney Jones

Someone once asked in an online discussion why we so often get put into situations that are unfamiliar and uncomfortable for us.  For me, the best answer given at the time was this: when we are in situations that are comfortable and familiar, we rely on our own knowledge and experience to get us through, but when we are in situations that are new and difficult, we tend to ask for God's help more often.  That's true as far as it goes, but I also think that unfamiliar situations force us to grow by exercising our creativity in coming up with new ways to deal with our issues, and we are forced also to manifest qualities such as patience or the ability to focus in order to solve our problems.  

Still, it has never occurred to be until now to think that when am put into a situation that seems impossible to deal with, Divine Spirit may be using me to do Its work.  How often have I given up trying to do something with the excuse that I'm just not up to the task, unaware that I was also refusing to allow myself to be used in the service of God?  So many of us say we wish to serve God, but when we are given a task, we balk, unaware that our prayer has just been granted!  

When we let go of our fears and our limitations, we are more easily guided to achieve the seemingly impossible.  When we trust God, and trust the process of "life as a learning opportunity," we can do anything. 

The next time I come upon a situation that seems impossible, I hope that I will be able to remember this little insight.  :-)

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Ongoing Nuclear Disaster in Fukushima

Today is Monday, August 19, 2013. 

On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9 earthquake hit Japan, resulting in a tsunami with waves reaching 133 feet that traveled as far as six miles inland.  The earthquake moved the main island of Japan (Honshu) eight feet east, and even shifted the Earth on its axis.  Whole coastal towns were washed away or severely damaged in a matter of minutes.  Nearly 16,000 deaths were reported, and over 6,000 injuries.  Over 2,600 people were missing.  Structural damage to buildings was estimated at tens of billions of dollars.

But the most far-reaching disaster was the meltdown at the Fukushima Nuclear Plant, operated by the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO).  The earthquake and tsunami resulted in level 7 meltdowns in three of the nuclear plants in the complex.   At this point, there is no reliable estimate of deaths caused by the nuclear leakage.

The disaster at Fukushima is now considered to be much more serious than the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine in 1986.    The Chernobyl disaster resulted in almost one million deaths, mostly from cancer.  The problem is this: it's not just Japanese who have been and will be affected by the Fukushima incident.  You and I are very likely in danger.

Each day, 300 tons of radioactive water seeps into the ocean from Fukushima.  That's right - the contamination has been ongoing ever since the explosion and meltdown that occurred in March of 2011.   For two-and-a-half years, radioactive water has been running in to the Pacific Ocean.

Many people in the United States have been under the impression that the leaks had been stopped, but that is not the case.   The cleanup is ongoing, and there are some buildings that workers have not yet been able to enter.  The radiation alarms have been turned off, because otherwise, they would be sounding constantly.  That should scare you, folks.  It scares me!  As of July 2013, it is estimated that the leakage from Fukushima is 80 to 100 times more expansive and more intense than that of Chernobyl.

Why did TEPCO wait until now to tell people about the leaks?  The only answer I can think of is that they have been in denial.  But now, they have to say something, because another explosion is imminent, and if that happens, it would release thousands of times more nuclear material into the environment. 

The map showing the path of the contaminated ocean water should give you some idea of how we will be affected here in the United States.  If you can't figure it out for yourself, here's a quote that should interest you:  “Hazardous radioactive elements being released in the sea and air around Fukushima accumulate at each step of various food chains (for example, into algae, crustaceans, small fish, bigger fish, then humans; or soil, grass, cow’s meat and milk, then humans). Entering the body, these elements – called internal emitters – migrate to specific organs such as the thyroid, liver, bone, and brain, continuously irradiating small volumes of cells with high doses of alpha, beta and/or gamma radiation, and over many years often induce cancer”. (Helen Caldicott, Fukushima: Nuclear Apologists Play Shoot the Messenger on Radiation, The Age,  April 26, 2011)

Enormous amounts of tritium, cesium and strontium are being released and carried by wind, rain and ocean currents all over the northern Hemisphere.  When you drink water or eat seafood that has been contaminated with these radioactive particles, there will be health consequences.  Cesium can do a great deal of damage to the body. Once it is ingested, it gets distributed uniformly throughout the body.  It can affect the eyes and the reproductive system (if you live that long), and can result in death by bone marrow failure.   It has been estimated that each spent fuel pool at the Fukushima nuclear complex could have 24,000 times the amount of cesium that was produced by the nuclear bomb that the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima at the end of World War 2.

Meanwhile, the good old FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has reported that American seafood is safe from contamination.  How would they know?  They are not currently testing any fish for radiation! (Canada isn't testing fish, either.)  Since the incident in 2011, Greenpeace has claimed that in 34 of 60 seafood samples bought from various stores in eastern Japan contained radioactive cesium-134 and -137, meaning the seafood is contaminated.
And what did our EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) have to do when the explosion happened?  They raised acceptable radiation levels!

An American nuclear engineer, Arnie Gundersen predicted last year that the Fukushima incident would eventually lead to 40 million cancer deaths.  He said deaths from the Three Mile Island incident in the United States were under-reported, and cited the work of Steve Wing, an epidemiologist (medical researcher who finds causes of diseases and tracks their spread) who tracked 10,000 extra deaths from lung cancer in the first six to seven years after that accident.

Gundersen also stated that about 2 million people are still under permanent medical monitoring, quarter of a century after the Chernobyl disaster, and that some reports estimate that nearly 36 percent of children in Fukushima Prefecture have cysts or nodules on their thyroids from iodine poisoning as the result of the explosion and leak of radioactive material.

Pediatrician Helen Caldicott said, "We’re going to see an incredible increase in cancer, leukemia, and — down the time track — genetic disease. Not just in Japan but in the Northern Hemisphere, particularly North America."   Meanwhile, there is already some evidence that residents of Portland, Seattle, and other coastal cities have begun to feel the effects of radiation poisoning.  

Now, two-and-a-half years after the initial meltdown, scientists are planning a major cleanup effort.  They will remove 400 tons of highly irradiated spent fuel beneath the damaged Reactor No. 4.  They will have to remove 1,300 used fuel rod assemblies from their cooling pool.  These rods pack radiation 14,000 times the equivalent of the bomb we dropped on Hiroshima.  Independent experts warn that each of the 1,300 rods has to be handled very delicately, because even one error could set off "a catastrophe greater than any we have ever seen."  The problem is that this type of operation has only been done before with computers.  Because of the damage to structures and equipment, everything will have to be done manually. The operation is set to begin in November, and TEPCO predicts that it will take at least a year to complete the process. 

"They are going to have difficulty in removing a significant number of the rods," Arnie Gundersen told Reuters, especially given their close proximity to each other, which risks breakage and the release of radiation.   Removing the fuel rods is only one part of the cleanup operation, which is  expected to take around four decades, during which any number of other problems could arise.

TEPCO now projects that the cost of the cleanup will be more than $10 billion.    The company has already spent 3 billion.   They are now in the process of asking the Japanese government for financial help.  (Does this sound familiar, folks? Companies spill oil, tar sands, etc., and the government is expected to pitch in for the cleanup.)

Time will tell what the full effect of the Fukushima nuclear disaster will be in terms of human lives lost, affects on unborn generations, and poisoning of our water and food supply.  It doesn't look very pretty. What can you do about it?  Almost nothing, except cut down on your consumption of ocean fish. And stay aware.   :-/

Sunday, August 18, 2013

One Minute Challenge

Today is Sunday, August 18, 2013.

Apparently, one minute challenges are very popular.  It's probably a testament to how little I interact with popular culture that I wasn't aware of that until today.  In any event, when I saw this image on Facebook, I decided it would make a great one minute challenge for whoever reads my blog.

So here's the challenge:  For one minute, walk outside and stand there in silence.  Look up at the sky and contemplate now amazing life is. 

You'll probably want to do this on a night when it's clear and you can see the moon and a few stars.  That seems to make people feel a certain sense of awe. Clouds just don't cut the mustard.

If you prefer daylight, why not try going outside to see the sunrise?  That's awesome, too.  All it takes is just one minute, but I bet you'll want to do this exercise for longer than that.  Go ahead, indulge yourself in the revelation of just how amazing Life is, how amazing Nature is.  You might even think of a few other things that are amazing. :-)

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Where Do You Search for Happiness?

Today is Saturday, August 17, 2013.

A few days ago, I wrote about being an introvert.   I think today's quote (author unknown) has to do with the way introverts normally search for happiness.  Introverts don't get their energy from others, so they don't tend to look for happiness in others, either.  However, the majority of people on the planet are extroverts, which means they do get their energy from other people, so it stands to reason that they tend to look for happiness in others, as well.  

When we invest in others the power of making us happy, we also, unfortunately, invest them with the power to make us unhappy.  In other words, we give away our power to other people.  When we don't make it other people's job to make us happy, we gain freedom to be happy when and how we choose, regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in. 

What is happiness, anyway?  Perhaps the best answer is that it is a form of contentment.  It means we are OK with the way things are, even if the situation seems negative, difficult, or unpleasant, because we know that we can get through it and we will come through on the other side stronger and more capable of dealing with the next problem.  It means that we are aware that our lives are a gift from the Creator, an opportunity to grow and serve.  It means that we realize that nothing happens by chance, that we have the power to affect the outcome of a situation, even if the only thing we can change is our own attitudes. 

Sometimes people think they are unhappy when they are really only bored.  It's as if they have to be entertained all the time.  These people forget that it is possible to entertain oneself.  They also forget that they sometimes feel bored even when they are with someone else.  

These days being in possession of a computer with Internet access is a way of entertaining ourselves.  Perhaps that is why recent studies have shown there are more and more introverts.  Are we as a species re-training ourselves to be alone, physically, because we can still be with others in cyberspace?  Certainly, with the Internet as a window to the world, there should never be an excuse to feel bored or alone. 

On the other hand, social media are what most people use the Internet for, so I guess people are still looking for others to make them happy.    :-/

Friday, August 16, 2013

Becoming a Published Author

Today is Friday, August 16, 2013. 

The reason this blog post is coming out so late in the day is that I have spent most of my time today working on a nonfiction children's book for a publisher in Minnesota. This is not exactly the way I had envisioned becoming a published author, but since I taught challenged readers for many years, it's right up my alley.  Writing books for struggling readers is not that exciting, but it's certainly challenging, because there is a limit on the number of words they can use in the whole book.  The limits are forcing me to choose my words very carefully, indeed.  

Someday I hope to have other things published.  A book, for sure, and perhaps also some magazine articles.  This job is giving me a great insight into how the book publishing industry works, and it will look good on my resume, whatever else happens.  I'm excited for this opportunity to get into the world of publishing, and I am already looking forward to doing other projects. 

One thing I have noticed recently is that I have started to follow more of a routine. My calendar these days includes more optional or changeable events than set-in-stone ones, but I end up with several things to do each day.  My routine is a little different each weekday, and I am no longer quite as sedentary as I was a few months ago.  I'm spending a whole lot more time on my health now than I was when I was working, and I'm finding that I don't really want to give that up, even to make money.  I guess that shows how my values are changing.  :-)

Thursday, August 15, 2013

A New Insight Into a Past-Life Dream

Detail of Franz Roubaud's panoramic painting
The Siege of Sevastopol
Today is Thursday, August 15, 2013.

The other day, I was reminded by a comment from a friend on Facebook of a time when I had two past lives that were very close to one another.  I wondered whether I was perhaps running two bodies at about the same time, which is a possibility, although it is not that common.  

I decided to look up the dates of the two time periods.  One was the Crimean War, which was a conflict between the Russian Empire and an alliance of the French Empire, the British Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and the Kingdom of Sardinia over land that had been held by the Ottoman Empire.  It lasted from October 1853 to February 1856.  The other time period was the Meiji Period in the history of Japan, which lasted from September 1868 through July 1912.  The Meiji Era was a time of "modernization" in Japan, when they came out of their 200-year self-imposed isolation (Sakoku) from the rest of the world, so there was a lot of "Westernization" going on. 

Looking at the paintings of the Crimean War online, I was shocked to realize that the scenes depicted were almost exactly like what I saw in a past-life dream.

Walter Library
Fifteen or twenty years ago I had a vivid dream that I still remember as if it happened last night.  I walked into a huge library on the inner planes that reminded me a lot of the old Walter Library on the campus of the University of Minnesota.  There were columns at the entrance to the building, and the entrance had a high ceiling and walls of polished granite.  From the entrance, I went into the main resource room, which I remembered in the dream as having golden yellow walls.  My mind must have mocked up this image from my time at the University of Minnesota as the setting for this dream. 

Main Reference Room at Walter Library
I went into the Reference Room and sat down at a long table.  There were two spirit guides behind me, which I identified as the "senior guide" on my right and the "junior guide" on my left.  At no time did I actually see these beings.  I only sensed their presence, and I could hear them like a "voice-over" in a movie.  As I sat down, a huge, gilt-edged volume was put in front of me.  It was at least two feet high, so I held it up like a large children's storybook.  Inside the book were a lot of pictures, and just like in the Harry Potter movies, you could actually "go inside" the pictures to participate in the scenes.  

I was immediately drawn into a battle scene that looked a lot like the painting at the top of this post.  I found one other painting, possibly done by artist Adolphe Yvon.  Both of these paintings show exactly what I saw once I "entered" the scene in the picture book.  The sky was gray, whether from clouds or the smoke of cannon fire, possibly both.   The ground was littered with bodies, and I could hear moaning and screaming from the mutilated bodies covered in blood and gore.  There was nothing in what I saw that could have proved for sure which war this was, but a seed-thought planted in my mind said, "Crimean."  I also flashed briefly on the opening scene in the Louisa May Alcott's book, Little Women, in which the girls and their mother talk about the father, who is away in the Crimean.  I remembered feeling very familiar with that particular time period, as if I had actually been there.  I had a feeling that I must have been one of the British troops, or possibly from France.

As soon as I entered the picture, I sensed that I was walking through a battlefield in total chaos, and I felt the weight of extreme grief, depression. and guilt.  I had been spared, while my comrades in arms had all been killed, and my first thought was, "Oh, I don't want to do this.  I don't want to be here." 

Immediately, I found myself back outside the picture, once again sitting in the library, and the book was being shut and taken away.  I realized that this had been a scene from a past life, and that I had just been given a chance to deal with the issues in that lifetime, so I said, "Wait!  Open that book! I want to go back in." 

The senior guide was taking away the book, and the junior guide, taking my side, said, "She says she wants to go back in.  Can't we let her?"  

"No," said the senior guide gently, but firmly.  "She can deal with this another time, when she is ready." 

I came out of the dream and wrote it down, then forgot about it.  Every once in a while, I would recall the dream and feel a sense that something had been left incomplete.  I knew I would have to deal with it sooner or later, and that it would probably be an uncomfortable experience.  I could never quite figure out what it was that I was supposed to deal with, though, so I left it as it was, trusting that I would come back to it when I was ready. 

When I saw the image at the top of this blog, I caught my breath, recalling the vivid dream.  I looked for more paintings, and found another one that reminded me strongly of the battlefield in my dream.  I knew I was onto something important.

Since the end of the Crimean War was only a few short years before the start of the Meiji Era in Japan, it was less likely that I was running concurrent bodies, and more likely that there was some unifying thread running through two different lifetimes.  My memory of being a soldier in the Crimean War was of being a young man in his early twenties.  My memory of the Meiji Period was as an older Japanese man, perhaps in his forties or fifties.  I was very tall, and I was proud of my Western-style clothes and my "modern" outlook, which I compared favorably with the more traditional clothing and attitudes of some of my friends.  I wondered why these lifetimes occurred so close together in time.

It occurred to me suddenly that I had been so depressed after my battlefield experience that I must have killed myself.  Those who come back from near-death experience tell us that Souls are not punished or sent to Hell if they commit suicide, but that suicide is definitely some kind of spiritual violation, probably because it represents a rejection of life given to us by the Creator.  The information brought back from those who have traveled to the Inner Worlds beyond the borders of death is that when a Soul commits suicide, that Soul is sent back in to the physical world to begin another human lifetime almost immediately, perhaps after a brief period of spiritual "cleansing" from the previous lifetime.  Everyone who has committed suicide has to live through another life in which he or she must confront the issue of depression.  Some Souls go through several lifetimes of this until they are at some point strong enough to choose life rather than death by their own hand.  It's regarded as a major accomplishment for a Soul to get through this issue. 

I felt that there was a pall of sadness over the lifetime in Japan, and even in my current lifetime, I have experienced this same pall, most commonly expressed as a seriousness.  A number of my friends have told me that I am too serious, that I lack spontaneity and playfulness.  Now I know why.  Just after my divorce in Japan, I was clinically depressed, and although I never sought help for this problem, I was able to work myself through the issue naturally by getting away from Osaka, where I had lived with my husband, and moving to Tokyo to teach English at Berlitz.  (Psychology and psychiatry were not recognized medical fields in Japan at that time, although it seems to be now.  The World Health Organization has said recently that the number of mental health practitioners in Japan is "inadequate.")

Now I understand why I was sent directly from the lifetime where I fought in the Crimean into a lifetime in a country where suicide was romanticized as an "honorable" thing to do, particularly for the samurai class.  It was considered an act of deep friendship to assist in someone's suicide.  For men, suicide was accomplished by seppuku, or hara kiri, which English speakers mispronounce as "hari kari."  This was a ritual disembowelment using a Japanese short sword.  The person committing suicide would kneel on a mat on the ground and disembowel himself, after making a formal apology for whatever he had done wrong.   The assistant, standing behind him and to one side, would take the person's long sword and cut off the person's head, to avoid a prolonged death and further embarrassment.   Women generally committed suicide by stabbing themselves in the neck with a short sword, and even today, brides are still ritually given a sword to take with them by their parents, with instructions to kill themselves if the marriage doesn't work out for some reason.  The dagger, or kaiken, is tucked into the sash, or obi, of the woman's bridal kimono. 

I can't remember much of the lifetime in Japan, but I may have ended up committing suicide in that lifetime, too. The samurai class still existed at the time of the Meiji Era, and was only formally abolished after the Japanese surrender in World War II.  There may or may not have been more lifetimes between the Japanese one and my current lifetime.  I sense that there were, but I don't remember them, and that's probably a good thing, since they most likely ended in suicide.  

In this lifetime, I lived for almost exactly ten years in Japan, and I remember having a definite déjà vu experience while in the old Marunouchi entrance to Tokyo (train) Station, which is directly in front of the Imperial Palace grounds. In the original station building, there was no other entrance except the one now called the "Marunouchi" entrance on the north side of the building.  There is now a newer entrance, called the "Yaesu" entrance.  The original station building was constructed between 1908 and 1914, so it would have been a newer building during my Japanese lifetime.  

My déjà vu experience occurred while I was still married and living in Osaka.  My husband and I traveled to Tokyo, and as we were riding the bullet train (Shinkansen), I told him that I had a picture in my mind's eye of the main hall in Tokyo Station.  I described the rotunda with the huge clock suspended from the dome, and my husband, surprised, asked me if I'd ever seen a photograph of it.  I said no, and he promised to show it to me as soon as we got there. 

When I saw it, I remember being shocked to realize that it looked just like I thought it would.  I didn't know the term déjà vu at that time, and didn't think in terms of past lives, as I was not yet familiar with the idea of reincarnation.

After my divorce, I moved all by myself to Tokyo, where I worked for Berlitz.  My first position with Berlitz in Tokyo was at the Yaesu branch school, a short walk from Tokyo Station.  It seems now that all my experiences in Japan were geared to remind me of that Meiji Era lifetime, so that I could begin the process of emotional healing from the original act of suicide.

 In this lifetime, in Japan, I had the experience of deep depression right after my divorce, a repetition of an experience that had been repeated in previous lifetimes, beginning with the one during the Crimean War.   This time, however, I rejected the notion of suicide.  This has been my lifetime to come to grips with the issue and choose life.  I sense that I am much stronger in this lifetime than in past lives, and that I had a lot of help from Divine Spirit to overcome the depression.  For this, I am grateful.  :-)