Just wishing everyone a Happy Earth Day courtesy of The Last March of the Ents in Lord of the Rings. Greedy meanies of the world, beware. Go Ents!
I ended up living two blocks from Melrose Avenue in a very quaint “Melrose Place” type efficiency apartment. I did some PR, read screenplays and took temp assignments at various studios. It was fun, but somewhat silly at times and definitely at odds with my aspirations to be a serious spiritual student and creative. I was always very unclear about my creative path, but crystal clear about the need to find meaning and purpose in my life.
Then one day I did something very simple. I picked up the phone, dialed 411 and asked the operator for the number for Dharma. And you know what? She gave it to me. She gave me the number for the Dharma Zen Center which happened to be a few blocks away from me. Now, if you know anything at all about Los Angeles, having a convenient drive anywhere is a miracle in and of itself.
So the next evening, I went there to sit. I was not prepared for the enthusiastic and complicated Korean chanting, but I fell in love with it almost instantly. This began a very intense and joyful chapter of my life. It was also a strange and wonderful backdrop to working in a city that sort of chewed up and spit people like me out. The irony of my peaceful evenings juxtaposed against my super-stressful days of being “the assistant” or “temp” or “reader” was certainly not lost on me. In fact, I felt like this place provided a perfect balance to what I was trying to accomplish in the material world.
I was then introduced to the teachings of Zen Master Seung Sahn. To me, his pictures made him look like a kindly grandfather, a very happy Buddha. He was not intimidating at all, but radiant and joyful. I had the opportunity to mediate, sit and eat with Dae Soen Sa Nim and I consider myself extremely privileged to have been among such a enlightened and pure soul, however brief.
But what impressed me most about the Dharma Zen Center was the people I met and practiced with and the intense loving care that everyone put into deeply connecting to their true nature. It was refreshing.
The inner journey can seem very scary at times, and confusing. But within the walls of Dharma Zen Center, there was friendship, reality and safety. I enjoyed being a layperson among monks and nuns and I actually lived in the center for a few months sharing house duties like cooking and cleaning the altar. By the time I left I knew every chant by heart, and many of the customs of this very rich tradition. I thought I would learn a lot, but I suppose what really happened was that I remembered a lot.
I found out that my body was strong (108 prostrations every morning at 4:30 a..m. sure helps); that my mind was strong (I could sit for two hours and look at the floor without freaking out); my spirit was strong (I could sense a deep connection with people and sounds and the natural world which I had never experienced before); and my heart was strong (I knew love was the center of it all and that the way of compassion was a deep truth I had been longing to understand).
Here are some books by and about Master Seung Sahn, the champion of “I don’t know.” What a beautiful thing to let go of needing to know it all and moving in the direction of being.
And there is a wonderful documentary about Dae Soen Sa Nim called Wake Up! On the Road with a Zen Master. Here’s a clip:
Susan Boyle, a 47 year-old single British woman who is unemployed, “never been kissed” and was ruthlessly mocked as a child for a disability is my new hero. Let me say that again. She is my new hero. If you have not seen this clip yet (over 1 million have already) check it out now. Lesson to self: be exactly who you are all the time. Never give up. Never Surrender. It moved me to tears… in a good way. Enjoy.
I recently brought a Muppet Show DVD home to introduce our son to the likes of Peter Sellers, John Cleese and Dudley Moore in an age appropriate way. Out of the three episodes, it was Sellers who stood out.
I’ve always been fascinated with Peter Sellers and was convinced that this comic genius and master impersonator was sort of fruit loop, truth be told. But in 1964 he was riddled with several successive heart attacks which permanently damaged his heart. He later told Shirley MacLaine on the set of Being There (for which he received his second Academy Award nomination) that he had an out of body experience during one of his “deaths.” This profoundly changed the actor who many deemed excessively difficult, childlike and self-centered. He began a spiritual journey which brought him to past life exploration, yoga, religion and a slow and steady retreat from the personality he once knew. He crept more and more into the characters he created often speaking like them and revealing less and less about himself.
He said of his death experience: “I wanted to go to that white light more than anything. I’ve never wanted anything more. I know there was love, real love, on the other side of the light which was attracting me so much. It was kind and loving and I remember thinking ‘That’s God'”. (MacLaine, Out on a Limb)
Sellers’ official biographer Alexendar Walker wrote, “The experience of resurrection intensified Sellers’ spiritual concern and friends discerned the start of a new introspectiveness, a sense of his not ‘being there’ in spirit, though present in body.”
The near-death experience also solidified Sellers’ belief that he was a reincarnated soul whose ability to perfectly imitate and create characters and accents was a direct result of having lived many past lives. But in this incarnation he did not know who he was and why he was alive. He told Shirley MacLaine:
“I know I have lived many times before … that experience confirmed it to me, because in this lifetime I felt what it was for my soul to actually be out of my body. But ever since I came back, I don’t know why I don’t know what it is I’m supposed to do, or what I came back for.” (MacLaine,174)
He died of a heart attack in 1980.
Sellers appeared on The Muppet Show television series in 1977. Typically, the guest host is interviewed for about a minute by head muppet, Kermit the Frog. Sellers refused to be interviewed and chose not to appear as himself at any point in the show, which was a first for writers and producers. Sellers instead appeared in a variety of costumes and accents, from a gyspy to a surgeon and more.
When Kermit told Sellers he could relax and be “himself,” Sellers (while wearing a Viking helmet, a girdle and one boxing glove, claiming to have attempted to dress as Queen Victoria), replied, “But that, my dear Kermit, would be altogether impossible… I could never be myself. You see, there is no me. I do not exist. There used to be a me, but I had it surgically removed.”
Lately I have been thinking about some true life stories of women who have tackled the tough task of leaving it all behind and embarking on incredible journeys of self-discovery. I stumbled upon a book I once loved and it got me thinking that I’ve always loved these stories and soaked them up like great fiction. But in these cases, the stories are documented and real, and here are just a few I highly recommend.
On the Way to Satori was written by Gerta Ital, a German-born actress who entered a Japanese Zen Buddhist monastery late in life. She recorded her experiences in two books, The Master, the Monks and I: A Western Woman’s Experience of Zen, and the one I read, On the Way to Satori: A Woman’s Experience of Enlightenment. Both books were published in German in the mid-1960s, but were not translated into English until much later. She recounted the physically and emotionally harsh conditions of being the first Western woman admitted to a Zen monastery.
Then there is The Sorcerer’s Crossing: A Woman’s Journey written by Taisha Abelar with a forward by Carlos Castaneda. Abelar, an anthropologist, recalls the mysterious and mystical journey which took her on many leaps of faith into the world of sorcery. In the late 60s, she was sketching in the mountains around Tucson, Arizona when she met a Mexican woman named Clara Grau. With intensity, gravity and fortitude, Grau convinced Abelar to visit her house in Sonora, Mexico– right then, and right there. Facing her own feelings of being directionless and confused about her future, she went. What followed was a powerful entry into a family of sorcerers which produced powerful healers and wisepeople like Castaneda.
And more recently, Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert hit a major nerve with women seeking purpose, meaning and real clarity in their lives. Though she didn’t shave her head or become inducted into a secret world of magic, Gilbert did have life-changing moment after moment in a global trek which spanned Italy, India and Bali.
The bottom line with all these fine reads is that the real experiences of these brave women have produced books that are as mesmerizing, surprising, enchanting and deeply inspiring as any novel you could crawl into. Check them out.
My son is two years and four months old and he can name each planet in the solar system… in order… repeatedly. This makes me think that 1) I need to crack some books and 2) the kid is smart. He’s always been very verbal, but it occurs to me now– when I hear his sweet, chirpy toddler voice point out the difference between Neptune and Uranus (without laughing)– that I am in for the ride of my life.
Ben can also tell you who Galileo was, that the planets revolve around the sun, that the moon is very big, heavy, gray, beautiful and far away and several names of moons around other planets that I can’t remember. We’ve decided that Ben has quickly graduated from Baby Einstein to Cosmos within the space of four months. He asks questions, we answer them, and that is the heart of his learning process. This makes me uneasy about introducing school to him and we’ve been looking into a variety of options.
For now, when we learn about the universe and the world, I’m happy to say that Ben has the benefit of a scientific Dad and a poetic Mom. Yesterday, we clipped incredible pink cabbage roses, red knock-out roses and some other beautiful flora from our garden to give to our neighbors. When he asked, “why flowers, Mama?” my husband chimed in and said “plants and flowers clean the air and provide oxygen so we can breathe.” Then I said “flowers remind us that beauty is the fuel of life, and sharing it is one of life’s great pleasures.” Obviously, we don’t talk don’t down to Ben, and I think he “gets” more than we give him credit for.
I’ve been proud of Ben since the day he was born, and I know now that he has inherited mine and my husband’s deep love of learning, nature, play and words. But he can keep the trains. Yes, he definitely keep the trains.
Everywhere I go, people tell me how horrible it is to be drinking so much coffee. I get it. Extreme coffee experiences can put your whole sense of well-being out of whack even if it does jolt you to your basic senses first thing in the morning.
So more and more, I’m substituting my coffee routine with tea and I’ve rediscovered a long forgotten passion that began steeping in my soul since my childhood. Growing up in Texas, I was raised on iced tea. Huge tumblers of frosty deep amber tea with lemon. Tea has always been in my life in one way or another. And when I spent a summer in Winchester, UK when I was 14, my admiration for tea culture was officially born. I found the perfect teapot for my mother and I ritually drank my tea while reading Alice in Wonderland or The Chronicles of Narnia. Later, when I went to college in Boston, I had boxes of herbal teas stashed in every corner of my apartments just to help fend off the biting, inhuman cold. Later, I lived in a Zen Center in Hollywood, where I enjoyed the art of tea ceremonies during retreats and using hot tea at every meal to clean our eating bowls.
So it was with great pleasure that I recently discovered Samovar Tea Lounge. Based is San Francisco and shipping around the globe, Samovar recently put together a custom blend prepared for His Holiness The Dalai Lama called Ocean of Wisdom. The tea accommodated The Dalai Lama as he traveled to various art institutions exhibiting the project “The Missing Peace.” Samovar has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, and USA Today rated Samovar teas as one of the top ten teas in the US.
Jesse Jacobs founded Samovar six years ago. I recently had the chance to ask Jesse some tea-related questions.
JHR: We live in such a dense coffee culture, but it seems like tea drinking is on the rise. Is that true and, if so, why? Also, can people really “get going” in the morning with a cup of organic, hand-crafted, artisan tea? Isn’t espresso, you know, faster?
JJ: In the ’90s, the specialty tea industry made $1 billion. In 2007, it was at $7 billion, and its forecasted by 2012 it will be at $14 billion. So, the tea industry is definitely on the rise. Samovar Tea Lounge has grown 300% in last 3 years. Tea has caffeine, and yes it can be used “as a get up and go beverage,” but with less jitters, and more focused awareness. It doesn’t have the same amount of caffeine as coffee, but artisan teas naturally carry caffeine and L-theanine, which induces the alpha state. Its scientifically proven that L-theanine aids in a state of relaxed awareness. This is helpful for the start of your day.
JHR: You’ve created a culture of mindfulness in your business. How important is mindfulness in the hectic life of a business?
JJ: Its very important because life is hectic and can be a frenzy, so there is more need for focus to get things done. I think mindfulness is the same as awareness. Awareness is the key to living fruitfully because if you are aware, you know what’s going on around you. You are sensitive, you can listen to the marketplace, to your customers, to your vendors, to yourself. And if you can listen, and hear, you can make effective and adventageous decisions. Interestingly, awareness is intrinsic in the practice of tea. So, the practice of tea aids in a successful practice of business.
Business is never ending, it is literally a practice, like meditation, or yoga or a martial art. It takes continual refinement, and as a practice, it requires mindfulness. Any study on mindfulness whether it be in meditation, drinking tea, yoga, martial arts, it’s helpful in achieving a better handle on how you approach business. I spent all of my life studying mindfulness practices, on the mat, on the cushion, in the martial arts dojo. Now, this business is just another manifestation of my mindfulness practice.
JHR: It seems like having tea is a time to slow down, connect and regroup. If someone wants to plan the perfect tea time, what are some important elements?
JJ: The important elements are having the freshest, best tea you can find. Having good quality hot water. And, having a moment to manage brewing the leaves, a mini-ritual to slow you down, stop you in the moment, and allow you to consciously take your next step.
JHR: What are some of the health and well-being elements of tea?
JJ: The scientifically proven health benefits of tea are that it is full of antioxidants, there are cancer fighting elements, and numerous vitamins and nutrients. Thousands of studies have been conducted on the benefits of tea. Additionally, a benefit of tea is that is it delicious, it pleases the palate, but also allows for a sense of setting a mood. It serves as a gentle awareness inducing uplifter. Tea brings people together, it serves as a natural social lubricant today just as much as it has when it was discovered several thousand years ago. It brings business, family and personal relations together, and today we really need togetherness. It creates ritual in our highly digitized, fast-paced, frenetic world. We are lacking ritual… the ritual that offers us to slow down, make us healthy, and connect us to the earth, and our humanness.
JHR: What is your current favorite and why?
JJ: Organic Masala Chai: I love this tea because the taste is very complex: spicy, great fragrance, nutty, sweet, aromatic, and earthy. Cooking the chai at my home or at Samovar, it fills the entire space with these overwhelming aromas. The caffeine is a natural and stimulating uplifter.
JHR: You started a podcast series called Passage to Peace linking tea to promoting universal peace. How did that come about and what has the reaction been?
JJ: It came about by looking at what our customers, and therefore the world needs. They need peace. This is part of our mission. So, I thought it would be interesting to connect the people involved in the tea business (i.e. carpenters of peace) to the world at large through a multi-media, educational visual medium. The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, which has motivated me to continue the series in an expanded new direction. We are launching a new video series.
JHR: What ignited your passion for tea?
JJ: My need for slowing down, and having time for myself and for my friends and family. And a remembrance of my childhood on the East Coast where I grew up with being surrounded by constant tea culture. I was always exposed to Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Taiwanese and European influences.
JHR: Can you share five books that have either influenced you or that you just like to read with, well, a good cup of tea?
JJ: Shibumi: Trevanian; The Sun Also Rises: Ernest Hemingway; Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind: Shunryu Suzuki-Roshi; The Book of Five Rings: Miyamoto Musashi; Body and Mature Behavior: Moshe Feldenkrais and Carl Ginsburg
The Executive In Action: Peter F. Drucker
Note: Samovar Tea is nationally available for purchase at http://shop.samovarlife.com/.
I am very excited to announce that today I launched my new radio show on BlogTalkRadio. Also called “Soul Lab,” I will interview authors, artists and experts that influence our culture and open our minds. From spirituality to pop culture, and from parenting to the environment, my job is to get to the heart of why people do what they do… and what that means to the rest of us. Authentic. Irreverant. Uplifting. Soulful. Funny. I hope my interviews and commentary will make you think, laugh, contemplate and sometimes even give you the courage to make change happen.
To see all the recent and upcoming shows, go to: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/jenniferhr
I loved the movie Once and was incredibly pleased that Glen Hansard (of popular Irish rock band The Frames) and Markéta Irglová won Academy Awards for their song “Falling Slowly.” I think this montage is a beautiful representation of two like souls coming together to co-create from the heart. Enjoy!
I first discovered Ainslie MacLeod when he was interviewed on Oprah’s Soul Series last fall regarding his 2007 book, The Instruction. The interview series itself was relatively new, and I felt encouraged and excited that Oprah would extend her already expansive content repertoire of self-help, spirtuality and personal development into the realm of psychic awareness.
Certainly, many of us believe in intuitive abilities and connecting with guides (angels, higher self, universal intelligence, etc.). But to have Ainslie MacLeod sit front and center talking about how the text for The Instruction came into being as a result of direct communication from an army of guides– well, it felt like a turning point in how mass consciousness was softening to the idea that we all have access to small, still voices that are designed to guide us daily– if we choose– to our life’s purpose. Ask most people, and they’ll say there is something to it all– that personal experience directs us to find out more… carefully.
So it was no surprise that MacLeod came clean to his readers from the get go. He was a reluctant psychic. So deep was his reluctance to accept the mantle of “psychic” that he actually ignored the tell-tale signs of his advanced gifts for many years.
But through intensive work and his eventual and total transition from commercial illustrator to psychic, his own life purpose came into crytsal clear focus: help others understand themselves. And he does this through his powerful and evolving work with his guides. Oh, and we all have them– and he helps the rest of us find them.
I recently asked Ainslie about how he helps people realize their life’s purpose.
JHR: Initially you were sort of a self-described reluctant psychic who felt compelled by personal experiences to explore new spiritual territories. How did you make that transition, and how has it changed your life?
AM: I was definitely reluctant when I first started doing psychic readings. I was conscious that there were a lot of charlatans around and I didn’t want anyone thinking I was one of them. I felt like I was telling the world I was a freak.
What initially helped was going through the process I take my clients through now. It wasn’t called the Instruction back then and my spirit guides were not the same as the ones I currently use, but they steered me through the same steps to self-acceptance. They helped me to see that this really was going to be my life, and convinced me that since I’d eventually embrace my calling, I might as well start right away.
Being a psychic has certainly changed my life. I feel like a round peg in a round hole. That old reluctance has gone. I keep learning new things about the soul and how the spiritual world operates, and I get to meet great people through my sessions. I often say that once you step through the spiritual door, there’s no going back. That was very much how it felt to me when I accepted my own destiny.
JHR: The Instruction describes ten doorways that readers pass through to understand their life’s purpose. Is it always important for people to identify their soul age and their soul type in order to get a firm grasp on what his/her life purpose is?
AM: I believe that if you’re going to understand your life, you need to start with the basics. Your soul age describes the source of your beliefs, and your soul types are how you can understand the core of your personality. Everything else follows from that. Knowing these two elements of who you are helps to do everything from finding the right relationship or job, to creating genuine self-acceptance.
JHR: Some people might find that their soul purpose is in stark contrast to what they are currently doing as an occupation. What are some recommendations on how to make a successful transition to living your soul’s purpose?
AM: First of all, let me say that your life’s purpose may not be all about your day job. There are often many activities that can be considered your purpose. Raising kids can be as significant as anything you do during those eight hours in the middle of the day.
When it comes to careers, however, I’ve met many people who ended up in unfulfilling jobs because of other peoples’ expectations. It’s essential to consider your own desires, not those of your parents or teachers, for example. By taking the time to meditate, call in your spirit guides, and ask them for clarity about your life plan, you’ll be doing more than most people ever do. Sometimes spiritual acts, volunteer work for example, can be a great way of creating a stronger sense of purpose in your life, and can help the transition.
JHR: In writing The Instruction you received information from your guides. Can anyone access information from their own guides? If so, how?
AM: Spirit guides are like opinions and certain body parts – we’ve all got them. The problem is most of us don’t actually use them. Asking a simple question is a good way to start working with your guides. Find a quiet spot, ask your spirit guides to be with you, meditate for a good ten minutes, then ask them a yes/no question. Pay attention to your gut feeling. Even if you don’t get words or pictures, you’ll get that simple intuitive feeling that something is right or not. It may be subtle, but practice will help you recognize the signs.
JHR: Why do you think so many people have such a difficult time in understanding and living their life’s purpose?
AM: There are many reasons, but one common problem is that our lives are so noisy it’s hard to hear the small, still voice of our own soul. I’ve heard people say to me that they can’t hear their guides or their soul’s direction. It’s sometimes simply a matter of switching off the TV and getting some real tranquility.
Your soul is continually nudging and urging you to follow your life plan. To live the life your soul intended it’s essential to slow down, and pay attention. And if there’s one thing I hear from my guides over and over again it’s this: “Meditate, meditate, meditate!”
JHR: Are you working on another book? If so, can you tell us about it?
AM: I’ve just begun working on my next book. In it, I describe my spirit guides’ view of why the world is the way it is, and how you can develop your spirituality to help you be part of the coming shift in consciousness that’s going to change our world. The publication date is sometime early next year. As with The Instruction, the publisher is Sounds True who have been terrific to work with.
JHR: Are there any books that you particularly love that would like to recommend to our readers?
AM: I read all the time, so it’s really hard to choose. I love Dr. Ian Stevenson’s fascinating book, Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation. He was a scientific researcher who traveled around India examining the stories of children who offered amazing evidence of their past lives.
In the introduction to The InstructionI tell how, many years ago, a psychic in Atlanta gave me a booklist that really helped to open me to the spiritual world. The list included The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, which jump-started my flagging creativity; Many Lives, Many Masters by Brian Weiss, which is an intriguing insight into past lives, as well as Life After Life by Raymond Moody and Anatomy of the Spirit by Carolyn Myss.