The Good, The Bad, and The Compassionate

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” – Dalai Lama

It’s a pretty scary world we live in these days.  This month alone we’ve seen attacks on police officers in the United States.  We’ve seen unspeakable acts of terror in Germany, France and Turkey.  This week a priest had his throat slit by terrorists at a church in France.  And the other day in Japan a man wielding a knife killed and injured several disabled individuals because he felt they were not fit to serve in society.

We live in a world with both bad and good.  As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Every sweet has its sour; every evil its good.”  But when we are overwhelmed with all the bad, it’s hard to see the good.  It’s hard but more necessary than ever before for all of us to remember that despite all the terror in this world, there will always be more good than evil.  Evil will never prevail because good will always be stronger.

I once read an interesting post which said evil and suffering is actually a necessary part of God’s design.  The writer’s point was if everything was perfect in this world, we would not learn the true meaning of such virtues as forgiveness, courage, kindness, justice, mercy, remorse, generosity and self-sacrifice.

True.  But I would add one other thing to the list and that is compassion.  I’ve read many differing definitions for compassion.  Some state that it literally means “to suffer together” while others claim it means the ability to understand the emotional state of another person and having sympathy for the misfortunes of others.  All are correct.  However, the most important part of compassion in my opinion is that it involves the willingness or desire to help others and alleviate their suffering in any way possible.

I was born with a disability known as cerebral palsy.  On April 12 of this year, I underwent surgery to my right foot and Achilles tendon area.  For several months, my leg had become increasingly spastic and painful.  I was told that my Achilles tendon had begun to fray pretty much like an old rope and I was also shown that I had a huge bone growth.

Removing the bone growth would require extensive surgery and a serious recovery so instead I found a doctor who is known for a procedure he pioneered known as SPML (Selective Percutaneous Myofascial Lengthening).  In addition to lengthening my tendon, several holes were drilled into my bone growth in order to increase blood flow to the area.

procarephotoTruthfully, I was not prepared for the extent of my recovery.  I am now suffering from nerve damage and cannot feel part of my foot and leg.  Hopefully, the feeling will come back sooner than later. I am currently going for physical therapy and have pretty much had to learn how to walk again.  According to my physical therapist, a wonderful-caring man named Dean, my muscles are not working properly so I have to pay attention to every step I take so that my brain makes the connection.  I can hear his voice now, “Heel, step, back…heel, step, back.”  Has it been tough?  Yes, absolutely.  But one of the things that has truly helped me through this ordeal is the compassion I’ve been shown not only by my family and friends but also by complete strangers.

Complete strangers have let me lean on them as I walked through parking lots to my car or have offered to put my bags in the car for me at the supermarket.  Friends have left food and goodies at my door anonymously and have sent flowers and cards to brighten my day.

There was one older woman that I remember most of all.  For some reason, walking on the hard floors at my local Shoprite would cause me a lot of pain and with that pain came more limping than usual.  On this particular day, I could barely make it out of the store.  I only had a handful of items to buy so I didn’t bother getting a shopping cart.  This was a mistake as I didn’t have anything to lean on.

As I made my way slowly out of the store, a woman came up to me and asked if I was OK.  “You look like you’re in pain,” she told me.  To this, I replied that I had recently had surgery on my leg and would be fine.

“Oh,” she replied, I can see the pain on your face.”  Then she reached forward and took the two bags from arms.  At first I tried to refuse her help but she was insistent.  So finally, I smiled gratefully and led this beautiful soul to my truck.

When we reached my vehicle, she put my two bags in the back and reached forward to give me a much-needed hug.  I was all teary-eyed as I thanked her for her kindness.  “God bless you,” she told me.  “We all have crosses to bear but everything will be alright.”

I stood there as she walked away shocked by her words and her compassion. As I got in the truck, the tears flowed.  Unbeknownst to her, I had been feeling so sorry for myself and her words and encouragement gave me a much-needed boost.

Looking back, I don’t know why I didn’t even ask for her name.  But what I do know is that her compassion will forever stay with me.  Her kindheartedness will forever remind me that despite the immoral things that may be happening in this world, the good will always outnumber the bad.  It is this good that we all need to focus on.  As the Bible states, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21 ESV)

Your Memories Can Be Your Cure

“One of the best ways to make yourself happy in the present is to recall happy times from the past.”

~Gretchen Rubin

By: Emily Sorrentino, Guest Blogger

memorieshappinessWhen we are young, our minds are a blank canvas. We hold the paint brushes, and the paint. We have the opportunity and the power to create whatever we want. We add color to our own lives. As we grow and as we discover our worlds, the picture grows and it changes us. The beautiful thing is the memories that form as a result of what we experience.

Memories are the most powerful product of our incredible minds. They have the ability to change how we act, how we feel, and who we are. Psychology has proven that mood and memory go hand-­in-­hand. Experiencing good moods and forming happy memories will work together to keep you happy in the long run.

This can happen in two ways. The first is known as state­-dependent memory. This is a method of memory retrieval in which we are more likely to recall a certain memory when it involves the specific mood that we feel at the time. In other words, we will likely remember something happy from the past when we are happy in the present.

The other way this can happen is called mood-­congruent memory. It is a similar concept that states when we recall happy memories, we will, as a result, replicate those happy feelings experienced in the memory. This is an even more efficient way to lift your spirits if you feel upset, angry, or weary.

So, how can this information help someone? If you are diagnosed with depression, or if you are experiencing a mild case of a depressive disorder, one recommended method of treatment is going to be therapy. In this type of therapy, it is likely that your therapist will take you through exercises including recalling happy memories. This is one way that they will try to help you conjure a happy feeling in the hopes that it will stick and help with recovery.

This can cause a chain effect. If happiness is present, then more positive memories are likely to come flooding back. In some cases, this, often along with medication, can lead a patient to full recovery.

So, if these simple methods can be used to soothe depression, why should it not be used to prevent it? I understand hopelessness, and I know it can make you feel weak and powerless, but we should all know that happiness is a state of mind. Happiness should never be a destination that we try to reach. We should never believe that we need to base our happiness on how much we achieve. We can’t go through life only being happy when we’ve reached socially predetermined goals, like getting married or having kids. Happiness is a state of being. We can be happy at any moment of any day. It’s up to us to make it happen.

If all it takes to brighten our day is a good memory of a happy feeling, I think it’s extremely important to make sure we have those memories in our minds. I’m 18 years old, and I realize now more than ever that this one life that we are given is meant to be lived. I’m actively trying to take every opportunity I can to get out and live life to the fullest. I want to remember all of the important moments. When I wake up at the beach and smell the fresh, salty air, when I drive around town with friends with the windows open and the breeze in our hair, and when I am surrounded by my entire class dressed in blue graduation robes and I realize this is the last step. I am coming up on my last week of high school, but I won’t be sad because I have everything I need to remember. I am prepared to leave and not look back, but I know that I will look back some day. At least I know I can be happy about it.

So, simply live your life. Make memories that you will want to look back on and remember that those memories are your keys to happiness. They will take you far, if you let them. And when you don’t feel as good, they will be your cure.

Rediscover Your Self-Confidence

“Confidence doesn’t come out of nowhere. It’s a result of something… hours and days and weeks and years of constant work and dedication.”

Roger Staubach

Emily

Guest blogger, Emily Sorrentino

There is a bold and noticeable difference between the way someone with self-confidence strides into a room and the way someone with little confidence wanders into the same room. There is a difference in the way these two people talk and sit and smile. It’s apparent in the subtle way someone with confidence holds their head and chest. Their movements are sure and purposeful. They exude a physical sense of conviction. But this doesn’t mean that they are better than everyone else, and the physical aspect of their confidence does not imply that the trait is genetic or hereditary.

Throughout the years of my own struggle to find self-confidence, I’ve realized that confidence is a quality that can only develop if we personally will it to. In my previous blog post, I mentioned that there are many aspects of my life and personality that I love and that make me who I am. I can safely say that my confidence is at the top of that list. My confidence in both myself and my abilities makes everything else I do easier because I am not afraid to make mistakes or try new things. Does this mean I always succeed? Not by a long shot. But I also know that if I don’t succeed, that’s just fine.

So, if confidence isn’t hereditary and it isn’t something that we are born with, why does it seem to come naturally to some people and evade others? Truthfully, it doesn’t come naturally at all. Living a fearless, confident life only comes from attitude adjustment and personal esteem boosts.

People who suffer from low self-confidence don’t necessarily lack praise from others. They lack praise from themselves. The days I started to feel more confident were the days I started telling myself that what I do is great and what I’ve achieved is outstanding. Even when I didn’t believe it, I was assuring myself that I’d done a good job at something. Eventually, that self-assurance motivated me to work harder and improve. Over time, I found that I was actually doing something well because others would praise me, too. Though I didn’t need approval from others to feel good, it reinforced my sense of pride.

I can remember one specific instance where this was applicable in my life. I’ve been a black belt for over three years now. Since my promotion, I’ve grown as a student and a teacher of martial arts. However, I was not always so sure of my abilities. The day I was to be promoted to black belt, I was told that the entire dojo (school for training in martial arts or self-defense) would be participating at the tournament. We all had to perform a kata (an individual training routine for martial artists similar to a dance routine for dancers) and we would be judged and ranked within our group of ten. I was nervous, to say the least. I used to be simply terrified of doing anything in front of people. Just before my turn, I was shaking and I felt sick to my stomach. Everything felt blurry. Even as I performed for the judges, I felt empty and mindless. When I finished and received my scores, I could feel the heat rise in my cheeks. I numbly returned to my seat and finally breathed. However, as ranking was called out, it so happens that I was surprised to learn that I came in first place. I didn’t know how but I ran and received my medal.

When the day was over, I wondered how I could possibly be good at something when I was so scared to do it. I realized that our fear holds us back from discovering our true strengths. All that time, I could have held my head high and looked poised instead of mortified. In the competitions since then, I have taken first place not just because of my talent, but also because of my visible fearlessness and confidence.

This idea of fear holding us back is universal and so obvious in everyday life. We are shown, through social media and everyday interactions that people who put themselves “out there” too much are showy attention hogs. A girl who wears so much makeup and posts a selfie online is “asking for attention.” But what if she just likes the way she looks? What if she’s just a confident woman and wants to share it with her friends? We are taught to shame people who love themselves. This leads to less and less people showing off their confidence. If we stop worrying about and fearing what others may think of us, we can fully, and without hesitation, plunge into life with no apprehension. Don’t be afraid of yourself and what you can do.

As I said earlier, those who lack self-confidence and self-esteem don’t necessarily lack praise from others. They do, however, lack praise from themselves. Truthfully, self-confidence must always begin and end with you.   Because you are the only person who can ever really stand in the way of your success.

 

You Are Your Passion

EmilyRecently, I was asked to participate in a mentorship program for graduating seniors at a local high school.  The program would allow me to mentor an intern for a period of five weeks.  When I agreed, I must admit I did not expect to work with someone so passionate and wise beyond her 18 years. 

 

Emily Sorrentino will be attending the College of New Jersey in the fall, majoring in English and Journalism.  I am an honored to have the privilege of working with this amazing young woman and am extremely grateful for her help.  She will be my guest blogger on this site over the next four weeks.  I hope you all enjoy her wisdom as much as I do.   

“With ordinary talent and extraordinary perseverance, all things are attainable.

Thomas Foxwell Buxton

When I was eight, most girls my age either danced or played a skilled sport. Being without passion for any particular activity, I was in search of a new hobby. Sure, I had danced, but I was never really good and I didn’t feel like my world would end if I gave it up. So, after I inevitably quit, I set off to find something new. I was never like every other girl I knew, so I wanted something unlike what every other girl I knew did. Time and again, my mind landed on karate. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I needed to give it a try. There was a local dojo that seemed credible and fairly priced. I begged my mom for weeks to let me give it a try. I can still remember her making a deal with me. She would say “I’ll let you try it, but you can’t quit. You have to stick with it”. And that was ten years ago.

Yes, it has been ten entire years since I started studying Isshinryu karate. It turned out to be a completely different experience than I anticipated. I expected the stereotypical showy art of jumping really high and kicking boards. I figured I would be taught by a chiseled, burly creature of a man whose muscles looked like over­inflated balloons.

karateemilyBut I remember my first class quite clearly, and I remember meeting my teacher for the first time. I remember the warm greeting and smile that I received when I walked in the door. I remember being clueless but feeling secure and welcomed. My teacher, despite having a full class of kids, guided me through the early learning process and helped me to feel comfortable in a room full of strangers. I didn’t realize it then, but it would be that safe and caring environment he created that would encourage me to dedicate my time and energy to improve and work hard at everything I did.

Most people think that karate, and martial arts in general, is about beating people up and breaking wooden boards and flashy kicks. Well, I’ll admit that I can break boards and I could hold my own in a physical fight, but that’s not what’s important. While my technique has improved over the years, so has my ability to retain information and think critically and ask intelligent questions. I know more about how the body works and the history of karate than I ever thought I would. Karate is about stamina and subtlety. I could be flashy if I wanted to, but I know better. I know that crazy punches and kicks look cool, but they are not as effective. I know that the body works in a certain way and, if I wanted to, I could manipulate it to my advantage. There was a sign hanging by the door of the dojo when I first started. It said “this dojo instills self-­confidence, self­-control, and self- discipline all while learning self-defense.” (A dojo is a place where one studies karate).  I’ll always remember that because sure, I can defend myself, but it is the other three traits that I see in myself every day. They help me be the kind of person I like to be.

Today, my teacher and I have a great relationship and I have been deeply involved in helping and learning at my dojo. I met some of my best friends in my ten years there, and I don’t know what I’m going to do when I have to go to college and say goodbye for a while. Luckily, I will always carry with me the confidence, strength, and intuition that studying karate has given me. Everything I’ve learned is not just important while I’m at karate; it is applicable in every aspect of my life. I am a better student, teacher, friend, and overall person because of my experiences at my dojo. I can even say that my years at karate got me into my dream college. I wrote my essay about karate, it was an important part of my resume, and my teacher wrote a personal and positive letter of recommendation. To simply say that karate is a big part of my life would be a colossal understatement. I see traits in myself that I love, that others around me don’t have, and I feel grateful for the choices I’ve made. I wish everyone could feel about themselves the way I feel about myself.

That’s not to say that everyone out there should get up and join karate. I got lucky; I found a one ­in­-a-­million dojo. I was in a very special environment and, unless everyone plans to move to Madison, New Jersey to take some karate classes, I don’t think anyone could replicate my karate experience. That’s not the point I’m promoting. I hope that everyone can someday find their “karate”. Everyone deserves to have something that they will always remember and that brings them to life­long friends and that changes them for the better. Though it could be found just by chance, like it did with me, I encourage everyone to go out and look for it. Explore your options and explore the world until you find your passion. Once you find it, if you’re that lucky, let it change you. Work hard and commit to loving whatever it is you do. Commit to loving yourself, and then, you will find, life gets easier.  Because in finding your passion, you’ll find you!

 

 

 

WHY HAVEN’T I RECEIVED A SIGN?

“They that love beyond the world cannot be separated by it.  Death cannot kill what never dies.”  William Penn

VisitsHeaven-HROur loved ones are very eager to let us know that they are around after they pass. People always ask me why they haven’t received any signs. But, truthfully, it’s more likely than not that you are receiving visits from heaven or signs and just not noticing them.

Very often, the signs are so subtle that they are overlooked. Oftentimes we are so immersed in grief that we shrug things off as mere coincidence. Let’s be honest, not all signs or dreams are visits from heaven. But if you are not open and alert, you’ll miss them when they really do occur.

So the number one rule is to make sure you pay attention. For example, you hear your loved one’s name three times in one day. You see her name on signs, etc. If you are not paying attention, you may not even notice. Keep a record of anything unusual that happens. Have you been noticing more coins around the house? Have you been smelling a familiar scent?

And if you’re in doubt of whether or not something was a sign, ask your loved one to send you another sign. Talk to them. Ask them.

Also, pay attention to the thoughts that seem to just pop into your head. Since those on the Other Side are in spirit, they communicate telepathically (mind to mind).

Our loved ones are very much aware of what is going on in our lives. They are still with us and want us to know they are around. Often you may just have a feeling that someone is with you. It’s similar to walking down the street and getting that feeling that someone is following you.

Again, our loved ones are very eager to let us know they are around. But if we are immersed in grief and negative emotions, it is often harder for their messages to come through to us.

Try focusing on a positive memory before you go to sleep, for example. Then ask your loved one to come to you in your dreams. In fact, dreams are one of the most common ways that our loved ones come through to us.

My book, Visits from Heaven, is packed with numerous examples of these signs. In fact, every story is backed up by some sort of proof. So try not to doubt what you already know in your heart. Love never dies.

For more information, please visit http://www.josievarga.com.

 

No More Pain

We can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone.” Ronald Reagan

josielegbrace

Me and my dad.

I was born with Spastic Diplegia Cerebral Palsy (SDCP). Basically, this means normal muscle tension is disrupted due to problems with brain-to-nerve communication. This leads to blockage of effective muscle movement and causes muscles to become spastic and tense. Cases of Cerebral Palsy are mild to severe. I am fortunate in that my case is mild.

Having a mild case does not come without pain, however. Over the past several months I have been experiencing extreme pain and stiffness in my right foot and Achilles tendon area. One doctor after another seemed to have no answers for me. After taking anti-inflammatory medicine and and wearing a corrective boot for almost three months, one doctor asked how I was doing. When I responded that I did not feel any improvement whatsoever, his response was, “Well, this is very difficult to treat.”  He then told me to continue taking  the same medicine and wearing the same boot.

Needless to say, I realized that he had no idea how to help me and went elsewhere. Fortunately, I visited with an orthopedic surgeon this week who specializes in Cerebral Palsy named Roy Nuzzo in Summit, New Jersey. Dr. Nuzzo will be performing two surgical procedures on April 12. One is a procedure he pioneered known as SPML (Selective Percutaneous Myofascial Lengthening) which is a non-traditional, minimally invasive procedure used to lengthen and release the affected tendon. He will also perform an additional surgical procedure to increase blood flow to the area to help treat my calcific tendonitis.  Of course, I am not happy about having to have surgery but I am happy to finally find someone who can help me.

This week, while having dinner with my two daughters, the pain in my leg was making it difficult for me to even stand up. My daughter Lia noticed my distress and helped me to a chair in the kitchen. “Mom,” she told me, “I wish I could take your pain and divide it among everyone else in the world.” I looked at her quizzically.

“Why would you do that?” I asked.

“Because,” she cleverly told me, “if everyone in the world takes a little bit eventually there will be no more pain.” Tears formed in my eyes as I reached over to hug her. I am so proud of Lia; she is wise beyond her 14 years.

Her words reminded me of the first universal law . . . the law of divine oneness. Everythingoneness in the universe, though perceived to be separate, is connected. And everything comes from the same source. Whether you call that source God, Jehovah or Allah doesn’t matter.

Since we are all part of this universal consciousness, everything we do, say or think will affect everyone else. Like attracts like.

My daughter Lia is correct when she claims if everyone could just take a little bit of pain there would eventually be no more pain. If we could all just do a little to make the world a better place, we would do more good than we could ever imagine. As Ronald Reagan once said, “We can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone.”

Our actions, both good and bad, create a ripple effect. Every act of kindness for example, no matter how small, helps someone else. Think of it this way, kindness and goodwill increase tenfold when shared.

THE HEART. . . THE SAFEST PLACE TO BE

“None of us can hold someone we love in our arms forever but the one thing we can do is hold them in our hearts.”

safestplacetobeLast week, I was asked to help a woman who just recently lost her son.  Admittedly, requests like these are the hardest part about what I do.  The truth is while I strive to help the bereaved find comfort in the knowledge that love truly doesn’t die, I can’t bring their loved ones back physically.

People ask me all the time if dealing with the loss of a loved one is easier for me now that I know there is life after death.  It’s definitely easier but it’s in no way easy.  When I lose a loved one I find comfort in knowing that life does go on and that I will see my loved ones again but at the same time I miss the physical contact.

The other day I came across a quote that has really stayed with me, “It hurts when you love someone in your heart but can’t have them in your arms.”  I got to thinking this may be true but isn’t the heart the safest place to be?  None of us can hold someone we love in our arms forever but the one thing we can do is hold them in our hearts.

No matter what happens, death cannot take that love away.  No one can.  That love is always there.  It transcends death.

That being said nothing can prepare us for the death of a loved one.  Grief is very personal and individual.  In other ways, it’s our own.  There’s no right or wrong way.  There are no right words.  There are no proven healing methods.  We all grieve in our own way.  What works for some does not work for others.

The word bereaved literally means to be torn apart.  So the way we eventually put the pieces together is our choice.  The one thing that does make a difference is time.  Not to say that the pain is not still there but it certainly helps to have time to reflect and get passed all those “firsts.”  For example, the first birthday without them, the first Christmas, etc.

On Grief and Grieving, a book by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler, describes the five stages of grief.  They are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance.  It’s important to note, however, that not everyone goes through all of them, nor do they necessarily occur in this order.  As I said, grief is a deeply personal and singular experience.

No one can tell you how you should feel, how to get over it or how long it should take.  The only person who can understand and deal with the emotions you are going through is you.

According to Alan D. Wolfelt, PhD, grief is the internal expression of loss whereas mourning is external. In other words, grief is how you deal with it on your own while mourning is what you do in public.

There are no easy steps in dealing with grief; no magic tips.  But I would like to mention two things.  First, don’t hold in the grief; let it out. Be honest with yourself about what you are feeling and find ways to express them.  For example, talk to a family member or friend.  Or if you don’t want to talk about it publically, write how you are feeling in a journal.

I once wrote back to one of my readers suggesting that she write a letter to her deceased husband.  She did and wrote me sometime later explaining how therapeutic it actually was for her. Many of the bereaved feel like they never got to say goodbye or say one last I love you.  Well, you still can.  Write a letter.  Talk to your loved one.  I know I have said this a zillion times in this blog and elsewhere but our loved ones are very much aware of what is going on in our lives and they can still hear us.  They are still there spiritually.

Second, find ways to keep their memory alive.  My friend Nancy bought herself yellow roses on her wedding anniversary, for example, because this was something her deceased husband always did.  When you do little things to keep their memory alive, you will be forever reminded that their love has never left you.

Getting back to the quote I mentioned earlier, “It hurts when you love someone in your heart but can’t have them in your arms.”  Yes, it certainly does but when they are in your heart, no one can ever take them away from you.  No matter where you go and no matter what happens in life, in your heart they will remain.

 

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