Friday, February 27, 2009

Gratitude


“Honor life with GRATITUDE. It is the recognition and expression of appreciation for what is.

“When a gift is nicely wrapped, we take our time to open it. . . Because it looks pretty on the outside we anticipate there is something just as nice on the inside. This is not always the case with gifts we receive, and it is certainly not the case with the life we have received. The experiences and conditions of life are the wrappings; they are not the essence, the invaluable gift. Many of the things we complain about, worry about, create drama about and fear in life are simply ugly wrapping paper. They may not be pleasant to look at or live through, but they do not affect the essence of life. When we think about the true meaning and value of the gift of life, the only worthy response is gratitude. . . gratitude is more than a word or a gesture. Being truly grateful for the gift of life must be an experience.

“It is very easy to get so wrapped up in doing what you feel needs to be done that you forget to be grateful for the ability to do.

“When we become grateful to this degree we will begin to notice the small things. . . You acknowledge everything that you have; more important, you recognize who you are. You are a living expression of the Creator of the universe.

“Gratitude is a state of consciousness. It is the experience of living in a state of joy. I have watched the expressions on the faces of people caught in a traffic jam. I see how irritated they become. I watch them trying to weave in and out to get to somewhere. I often wonder how many of them are grateful to be in a car? How many of them are grateful that they have a watch that informs them that they are about to be late? . . . We forget to live fully now, in the moment we have. If you choose to live in panic, drama and fear, life will accommodate you! It will give you exactly what is required to experience your chosen state of mind. If you want to live peacefully, joyfully and abundantly, you must choose to discover these experiences as often as you can, and you must be grateful for them. My father always said, ‘You must want what you have before you can have what you want.’ Gratitude is like a magnet that attracts more of it to itself; the more grateful you are, the more you will receive to be grateful for.”

from One Day My Soul Just Opened Up by Iyanla Vanzant

Thursday, February 26, 2009

His Father's Footsteps: Michael Landon Jr. makes movies that entertain families—just like his father



By Nina Hämmerling Smith

Creating wholesome entertainment in Hollywood isn't always easy. Neither is following in the footsteps of one of the most beloved, recognizable father figures in TV history. But that's just what director Michael Landon Jr. has done, crafting a career out of telling stories that parents can feel good about watching with their kids—like the new family-friendly movie “The Velveteen Rabbit,” which opened this month.

Landon had the kind of childhood so many kids dream about. "I grew up on the sets of “Bonanza” and “Little House on the Prairie”, he says. "They were magical times for me." He was especially enchanted with the “Bonanza” visits: "I mean, my dad was playing a cowboy! Riding horses, shooting guns, getting bad guys. I have these amazing memories of seeing all this stuff unfold."

By the time Landon Sr. was appearing on “Little House,” his 9-year-old son started showing an interest in his profession. "My father wore several hats; I got to see him as a writer, director, producer and actor. And it was definitely the directing part that interested me the most."

These early happy experiences profoundly affected Landon, and much of his professional life has been dedicated to making the kind of movies that would fit right in to the “Little House” world.

Take his most recent project, “The Velveteen Rabbit.” In this film, Landon has created a fresh interpretation of an iconic children's book. While Margery Williams' novel, first published in 1922, centers on the plush toy's quest to become real through the love of a boy, Landon's movie instead tells the story from the boy's perspective.

This half-live-action, half-animated adaptation (which is more "inspired by" than "based upon" Williams' book, says Landon) imagines the boy—named Toby—"sent away by his very busy father to spend the holidays with his stern, cold grandmother." He feels unloved in the real world, but Toby discovers a "magic attic" where he can escape into an imaginary world full of love.

"In the Margery Williams classic, [the lesson is that] the more you are loved, the more real you become. What I took from that was the basic theme that love makes us real."

Landon's own storybook childhood came to an abrupt halt when, at age 15, his parents went through a bitter divorce. "It was devastating," he says. "I think it was heightened by the fact that I had, not only in my mind, but in the audience's minds, the perfect father."

Angry and confused, he went into a tailspin of drug and alcohol use. "The teenage years are rebellious for everyone," says Landon, "and some take it further than others. The difference in a broken home is that you don't come home to the same stability anymore. So as you're trying to spread your wings and test things, there's no haven to come back to, because the parents are going through their own crisis. There's no foundation."

For the next three years, as he went off to film school to pursue his dream of becoming a director, Landon continued to struggle with substance abuse. During that time, his mother began having some life-changing conversations with her manicurist, Lois. While working on his mother's nails, Lois "would give her tidbits of wisdom; she would apply them to her situation and realized they worked." When his mother asked the source of this wisdom, Lois told her, "Let me take you to church."

And so his mother began attending church services. She got so much out of them that she encouraged Michael to go as well. "She knew I was in a lot of pain," Landon explains. "But I refused, had no interest whatsoever. Finally, just to appease her, I told her I would go. I can't remember what the pastor was talking about that day, but he spoke to my heart." Even then, Landon resisted regular church attendance—until one day "finally I surrendered and turned my life over to Christ."

Healing the hurt and recovering from drugs and alcohol, however, did not happen overnight. "It was definitely a process—an onion," says Landon. That process included letting go of his anger toward his father; the two found some peace before Michael Landon Sr.'s untimely 1991 death, at the age of 54.

Like his father, Landon has had success producing wholesome entertainment—much of it set in bygone eras—including Jeannette Oak's “Love Comes Softly” TV-movies for the Hallmark Channel.

"One of the reasons I love period [“The Velveteen Rabbit” is set in 1910] is that no one is expecting language and nudity. I feel responsible for what it is that I'm showing."

He finds this brand of entertainment to be disappointingly rare in Hollywood, especially in TV programming. "It's an audience that is underserved. When you tell a good story, even if it doesn't have all the dollars and the talent behind it, people still will come and see it. It's either teaching them or affirming how they see the world, what they want for themselves and their families."

As blessed as he's been, Landon's greatest success is his family: He's happily married, to actress Sharee Gregory, and they have three children (Ashley, 17; Brittany, 14; and Austin, 10). "I've been married for 20 years now, been faithful to my wife, have three amazing children, but I don't take credit for any of that because without God, I would've messed it up by now, there's not a doubt in my mind. At the end of the day, it's definitely not me. I take no credit. There's nothing else but grace to me, nothing else."

This interview appeared in Guideposts magazine.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Take a chance

"And the trouble is, if you don't risk anything, you risk even more."
-- Erica Jong

Monday, February 23, 2009

Ruined


Lynn Nottage said she wanted to write a play about the impact the civil war in the Congo was having on women. In Ruined, now playing at Manhattan Theatre Club - Stage I, she gives the conflict human faces and, as she did in Intimate Apparel, creates women who have been victimized, but don’t live as victims. This haunting and involving play reveals unthinkable horrors, but ultimately is about the power of hope and triumph of the human spirit.

Setting the play in a small mining town in the Ituri Rain Forest of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nottage envisioned Mama Nadi (Saidah Arrika Ekulona) as an African Mother Courage. Like Brecht’s famous character, this Mama is shrewd -- “It’s wind if you can’t put it on a scale. It’s nothing.” -- and her brothel services both government and rebel soldiers. But like Mother Courage, she looks out for her children, in this case the young women who work for her. “There must always be a part of you this war can't touch,” she says. And, in a third comparison, Mama proves that while she may be profiting from the young women, she’s also protecting them and is willing to sacrifice her safety to help them.

The comparison to Brecht doesn’t extend, though, to the way the play is presented. Nottage, 44, who won a MacArthur genius grant in 2007, creates characters who evoke deep emotion, whereas Brecht strove for distance so audiences would respond intellectually.

Kate Whoriskey directs a cast that is excellent across the board. Particularly moving are Condola Rashad as Sophie, a teenage girl who has been so brutalized with a bayonet that she walks stiffly and painfully with her legs spread, and Salima (Quincy Tyler Berstine) whose injuries aren’t as obvious but whose second act revelation of the horrors she suffered at the hands of rebels draws gasps from the audience. Salima works as one of Mama’s prostitutes; Sophie is unable to because she is “ruined,” so she sings in the bar portion of Mama’s establishment. “Every step I take I feel them in me, punching me,” she says.

The other cast members are Cherise Boothe, Chris Chalk, William Jackson Harper, Chiké Johnson, Russell Gebert Jones (in photo with Ekulona), Kevin Mambo and Tom Mardirosian.

Adding to the pulsing lifeblood of this play is the original music composed by Dominic Kanza, with lyrics by Nottage, and played by Simon Shabantu Kashama (guitar) and Ron McBee (drum). I would love to have a CD of this music, which is used to enliven the gatherings in Mama’s bar and to set the tone for different scenes.

Derek McLane (scenic design) has created a shabby but somewhat cheery bar and brothel, Paul Tazewell’s women’s costumes are rich with African color and design and Peter Kaczorowski’s lighting design enhances both the tension and the grace of this world.

Nottage shaped her characters after doing extensive interviews with Congolese women, which is why they seem so real and compelling. I’d like to see this play again to more fully appreciate its richness.

Ruined premiered last fall at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre, which is a co-producer of this production. It continues at City Center, 131 W. 55th St., through April 12. For tickets, call (212) 581-1212 or visit ManhattanTheatreClub.com.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Hypnosis and Healing

I have invited my dear friend the Rev. Dr. Peregrine Murphy Kavros to be a guest blogger today. Please visit her web site by clicking on the Focus link on the lower right side of this blog.

Recent articles in the Wall Street Journal (Nov. 12, 2008), the New York Times (Nov. 4, 2008), the Wichita Eagle, and National Public Radio (Feb. 4, 2009) present a disparate and incomplete image of hypnosis – credentials and licensure of professionals providing the treatment not readily apparent, expertise and training variable, application misunderstood, and supportive research not reported. Articles such as these kindle considerable concern in members of the medical and psychotherapeutic community who strive to maintain ethical and professional standards of practice, particularly when using hypnosis. Retta Blaney has kindly offered her blog to counterbalance misperceptions.

As an Episcopal priest I am familiar with the ancient history and ameliorative agency of contemplative prayer on individuals and communities of worship. It was not until I studied cognitive neuroscience as a clinical psychologist, however, that I became aware of the powerful affect of imagery and suggestion on discipline, discernment, attention, and action. Nyberg (2001) found that similar brain regions are activated when individuals engage in a movement as when they are simply imagining or rehearsing the movement (Neuroimage). Decety (2006) continues to investigate the power of the imagination when applied to direct activity (Brain Research). It is not surprising that Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), one of the most effective treatments of individuals who are highly anxious, involves continued exposure to a feared stimulus either through imagined or real presentation. In this case, brain regions after repeated exposure decrease their response to the feared object or situation. Not everyone, though, is willing to undertake repeated exposure to a situation that produces discomfort. In October of 2008, at the annual meeting of the Society of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, I encountered physicians, psychologists, social workers, and other licensed professionals who have experienced successful treatment of resistance and other disorders, however, using hypnosis – sometimes alone, and at other times as an adjunct to CBT and other therapies.

Hypnosis is sometimes viewed as a form of meditative imagery, but it is different. Hypnosis involves a state of heightened attention in an individual, while their critical or skeptical nature and the consequent resistance to new ideas is bypassed, so that the therapist or the individual can deliver acceptable suggestions.

Perhaps the disparate perceptions of hypnosis emerge from its history. Hypnosis traces its early roots from the late 18th century when Franz Anton Mesmer introduced the concept of animal magnetism to France. The practice lost favor when King Louis XVI sought Benjamin Franklin to head a commission investigating the practice. Franklin was not supportive of the practice, said it had to be something other then magnetism, and discouraged its development. James Braid, an English physician, demonstrated that the “something other” was focused attention. Practitioners still found hypnosis therapeutic: surgeons John Elliotson and James Esdaile performed over 300 surgical procedures using hypnotic suggestion for anesthesia, which resulted in a substantial drop of infection from 50% to 5%. Alternatively, Jean Martin Charcot, chief of neurology at the Salpetriere Hospital in Paris, believed that hypnosis induced a trance, which he believed was pathological. Charcot’s student Pierre Janet (and a colleague of Freud) used hypnosis to uncover the traumatic origin of symptoms and produced cathartic cures. Despite these contradictions, acceptance of hypnosis in medicine evolved and research has shown that hypnosis effectively treats a variety of maladies. Dr. Stewart’s (2005) review presents a number of clinical trials using hypnosis ranging from allergies to urology (Mayo Clinic Proceedings). Dr. David Wark (2008) summarizes more recent investigations and enhanced outcome to include 37 more disorders (American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis).

Professional organizations, such as the Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis (http://www.sceh.us), the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (http://www.asch.net), the International Society of Hypnosis (http://www.ish-web.org), among others, have worked actively to correct misunderstandings regarding hypnosis and can help guide individuals seeking hypnosis’ healing efficacy to appropriately trained practitioners and clinical trials. Hypnosis is not a benign procedure. When hypnosis is offered without sensitivity and appropriate professional assessments its practice can be dangerous. While many individuals can be trained in hypnosis, practitioners who are licensed in their own profession are mandated to safeguard the clinical and ethical interests of their patients.

It is misleading when news articles highlight controversy, while omitting scientific evidence supporting an alternative consideration. Movement away from superstition and fallacy surrounding hypnosis will be achieved with the validation of scientific research as well as sound reporting of public information.

Friday, February 20, 2009

10 Ways You Can Beat Worry Now


What, Me Worry?

BY HEATHER E. SCHWARTZ

We all have a little anxiety at times. Here are some ways of dealing with it:

1. Visualize a good day in detail each morning.
Each night, review 10 successes. "Worriers tend to remember their failures rather than their successes," notes Helene. "Acknowledge success. Tell someone, write it down."

2. Make a list of your worries.
Allow yourself a short period each day to stress. When the time is up, quit worrying and move on.

3. Grade your anxiety on a scale of one to 10.
See how the number drops as you continue to face situations? Worry is manageable.

4. Focus on the world around you.
Notice the sights, sounds and smells. Connecting with nature can be a real nerve soother.

5. Act as if.
Even when you feel bad, choose to imagine the best and act as if you feel good.

6. Wear a rubber band on your wrist.
Whenever a negative thought takes hold, literally snap yourself out of it.

7. Do a reality check.
Is what you're worried about likely to happen? Probably not, so get out of your head and involved in the moment. 

8. Ban the words always, never and forever from your vocabulary.
Think more realistically, using words like sometimes and maybe.

9. Keep your body healthy.
Get enough sleep, eat right, exercise regularly and limit your caffeine intake to reduce susceptibility to anxiety.

10. Be your own coach.
Fill your mind with encouraging thoughts. Magnify the positive, minimize the negative and remind yourself you can handle even the worst situation.

This articel appeared in Guideposts magazine.
 

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Spiritual transformation


"I said to my soul, be still, and let the darkness come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God."
--T.S. Eliot

Friday, February 13, 2009

The gift of gab


I love the quote by playwright Hugh Leonard in his obit in today's New York Times describing Irish conversation as "one monologuist waiting for another monologuist to pause for breath."

So true!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Define Your Goals


by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale

What is your goal in life?

We should constantly ask ourselves, "Why was I born? For what purpose did I come into this world? What am I supposed to do here?" Your goal should be well-enough defined so that you can unhesitatingly state it to others. And everything you do should be dedicated to your goal. When that happens, you bring meaning into your life.

Once you establish your goals, how do you reach them? By the application of a twin principle: to will and to believe. Will power is the process by which you utilize an enormous force that is within you. Believing is the process by which you surrender yourself to the power of God. So "to will" means to bring out your personal power; "to believe" means to bring out God's power. And, if you really begin to practice this principle, your achievements can be astonishing.

A friend of mine tells this story about a young California couple. Things were difficult for them, but they had a goal: They wanted to have a home that would be filled with love and beauty. And they talked about the house they wanted. It was the big goal in their early life.

One night the wife sat down and drew a picture of the house —a complete floor plan, upstairs and down, and a garden plan—just the way she wanted it. She showed it to her husband and said, "This is my dream house."

Though the couple had little money, he said, "Let's hold to our dream and to the belief that one day we'll have that house." They looked everywhere trying to find such a home. Real estate agents showed them one house after another, but they did not find it. So they sat down and prayed about it and visualized themselves being led to it.

One night they were talking with friends about their dream house. One of the friends said, "Why, the house you are describing is well known to me; it belongs to a Mr. Davies. His wife died, but he continues to live there. He has turned down offers for three times its price. He won't sell it until he finds a couple who will love the house as he and his wife did."

"Please take us there," the couple asked. When they saw the house, the man and his wife were overwhelmed. It was exactly as it had been pictured in their diagram. Mr. Davies, a kind man, saw the love for this house in the eyes of this young couple. "I've turned down everyone else, waiting for the couple to come along for whom this house was intended," he said.

They were thrilled. But they had to face reality; it was beyond their means.

"Some things are more important than money," said Mr. Davies. "This is your dream house, isn't it? All right, you write your own terms, and I will help you to have this house." The contract was drawn. This couple had practiced the great law: belief is visualization, dreaming, conviction, will. As a result, they reached their cherished goal.

Believe, dream, will, and put it all in the hands of God. Work, struggle, visualize! These are the great principles bound up in the text, "The things which are impossible with men are possible with God." (Luke 18:27). Get it into your mind and get going, and you will reach your greatest goals.

If these techniques fail, as they sometimes will, ask yourself: "Have I failed because I have some dirt in the mind?" By "dirt," I mean wrongdoing. If you allow this miserable thing called sin to grow in you, it will defeat you. Because, you see, dirt clogs, accumulates, creates "carbon" in the mental processes and corrodes the soul.

A young salesman once came up to me and said, "I've concluded that I do not succeed because something is wrong with me personally. I wish you would talk with me and see if you can get at it." Well, the fellow's conversation was filled with profanity. It was clear that his drinking was out of control. And he told me he was "mixed up with a couple of women."

It so happened I had a quotation in my pocket that I had copied from an advertisement for a certain brand of motor oil. It was coincidental that I had it with me, but God works in coincidences. I handed the young man the slip of paper. On it was written: "A clean engine delivers power." I could tell, from the look on his face, that he got the message.

Whatever your goal —if it is a good and honorable one —you have it in you to attain it. If you will be specific, if you will clarify your goal and blueprint it, and if it is within God's righteousness, you can attain your goal. This I sincerely believe.

This article was adapted from a booklet by the Dr. Peale.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

President Obama


Two years ago today Barack Obama announced his candidacy for president. I thank God for the happy ending to that! My friend Alma told me something interesting about his name, that Obama spelled backwards means "I will love" in Latin. Isn't that great?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Paula Zahn at the Cathedral


Check out this video of my church, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. It’s lovely. http://www.thirteen.org/sundayarts/the-cathedral-of-st-john-the-divine/230

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Totality of the Kingdom


“Whenever you deny a blessing to a brother you will feel deprived, because denial is as total as love. . . You need the blessing you can offer him. There is no way for you to have it except by giving it.

“Every response you make is determined by what you think you are, and what you want to be is what you think you are. What you want to be, then, must determine every response you make.

“The gift of life is yours to give, because it was given you. You are unaware of your gift because you do not give it. . . you are not extending the gift you both have and are, and so you do not know your being.

“Give them the appreciation God accords them always, because they are His beloved Sons in whom He is well pleased. You cannot be apart from them because you are not apart from Him. Rest in His Love and protect your rest by loving. . . . You cannot know your own perfection until you have honored all those who were created like you.

“Those who attack do not know they are blessed. . . . Do not share their allusions of scarcity, or you will perceive yourself as lacking.

“But see the Love of God in you, and you will see it everywhere because it is everywhere. See His abundance in everyone, and you will know that you are in Him with them. They are part of you, as you are part of God. You are as lonely without understanding this as God Himself is lonely when His Sons do not know Him.

“The gifts you offer to the ego are always experienced as sacrifices, but the gifts you offer to the Kingdom are gifts to you.”

-- A Course in Miracles, from the Foundation for Inner Peace

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Hedda Gabler


O, death, where is thy sting? This revival of Hedda Gabler is death personified, but Mary-Louise Parker’s Hedda has no sting. What a waste of Ibsen’s complex play.

Under the direction of Ian Rickson (who directed the acclaimed recent Broadway production of The Seagull), Parker takes Hedda’s boredom to such an extreme that Hedda doesn’t even appear to delight in one of her only pleasures -- her cruelty to others. She’s a Hedda desperately in need of Prozac.

Unfortunately, the entire production is as stiff as the 1880s Norway that is suffocating Hedda. The only member of the cast who captures any essence of his character is Michael Cerveris, who plays Hedda's dull professor-husband, Jorgen Tesman. Ana Reeder portrays Thea Elvsted more as a giddy schoolgirl than the disappointed woman stuck in a loveless marriage and Peter Stormare’s Judge Brack (in photo with Parker) is a buffoon. With his bawdy gestures he’s sleazy and repulsive, but not sinister, which this character must be. Paul Sparks as the doomed writer Ejlert Lovborg; Lois Markle as maid Berte and Helen Carey as Miss Juliane Tesman, Tesman's aunt, are serviceable.

Not only are the characters re-imagined in this production, the script is as well. Christopher Shinn's new adaptation updates the language to make it more contemporary, but I missed the familiar words, especially the final sentence which Shinn, a well-respected playwright whose drama Dying City was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, has changed to “Who would do such a thing?” from “People don’t do such things.” It’s far more fitting for Judge Brack to comment on what is proper because the idea of what people can and can’t do is what is so stifling for Hedda. That far better conveys the oppressiveness of Hedda’s conventional society.

Hildegard Bechtler’s stark set conveys the barrenness of Hedda’s life, but with its open, warehouse feeling fails to suggest the claustrophobic feeling that should surround Hedda. Natasha Katz’s lighting captures the dark and ominous quality of the play and Ann Roth’s costumes are appropriate to the period.

When I last saw Hedda Gabler it was the intriguing 2001 Broadway production with Kate Burton. I hope the next time Hedda is resuscitated, it will be presented in a more involving way than this current version.

Hedda Gabler, a Roundabout Theatre Company production, is playing at the American Airlines Theatre, 227 W. 42nd St., through March 29. Tickets, ranging from $66.50 to $111.50, are available through the American Airlines box office, by calling Roundabout Ticket Services at (212)719-1300 or visiting www.roundabouttheatre.org. For further information, visit heddaonbroadway.com.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Contemplation


"In the spiritual world, authentic life is born out of silence and waiting."
-- Djohariah Toor