This Sacred River Land

Oneida, Tennessee, photo by Connie Hensley

In his book, Upper Cumberland Country, William Lynwood Montel talks about a culture that permeates Northern Tennessee and parts of Kentucky that stretches from Adair County at the edge of the Pennyroyal Region across Russell, Casey, Pulaski, Wayne, Clinton, Cumberland and eastward to the Cumberland Gap and on down into Tennessee. He calls this region the Upper Cumberland and says that in this region people are “wed to the land.” I suppose one could say that for those of us who’s ancestors arrived during the 1700 and 1800s , the land is sacred. There is a “spirit” in this place that has been here since long before the first European settlers arrived and once you fall in love with this land, it remains with you forever, no matter how far you travel. It calls you back. In that sense, those of us who understand the richness and the history of this place and what it meant to our ancestors, truly are wed to the land. The land which now forms the border between Kentucky and Tennessee was once the southwestern border of North Carolina and Virginia.  Eventually, Tennessee and Kentucky were carved out of Virginia and North Carolina. If Virginia is Kentucky’s mother, then North Carolina is her father and Tennessee is her sister.

This region is known as the Cumberland Plateau which technically encompasses areas of West Virginia, and Alabama, as well. The river that flows through this land is now called the Cumberland, but that was not always the case. Once it was called Wasioto by the Shawnee men, women, and children who LIVED there (not just hunted or camped but LIVED). Wasioto was home to Mound Builders before the Shawnee. The river was sacred to all tribes in the area. One legend has it that there was a terrible massacre there when an encampment of Cherokee women and children were slaughtered at Yahoo Falls near what is now the Kentucky/Tennessee border.

In the late 1700 and early to mid1800s people settled along the Cumberland River in such places as Hawkins, Hancock, Scott, Fentress and Campbell counties in Tennessee and of course, there were no state lines drawn, so some of these families also settled in what is now Leslie, Harlan, Pulaski, Wayne, Clinton, Cumberland, Adair, Russell, Johnson, McGoffin, Whitley, McQueary, Bell, Knox, Laurel, Floyd, Johnson, Perry, Knott, and Casey counties in Kentucky. They came from the New River area of Virginia and North Carolina, many of which were descendants of the White Top Band of Sizemore Indians, some of which are documented as old “Cheraw” or remnants of the Saura people who had been decimated by smallpox. Other were documented as having been born at Fort Christana and a place called Catawba Town. They were a mixture of Tutelo, Saponi, Catawba, Saura and other tribes of the area which had come together due to being decimated by diseases brought over from Europe (mainly Smallpox) for which they had no immunity. Some had Algonquian ties, as well. In time, many of them referred to themselves as “Cherokee” because Cherokee became synonymous with “Indians from the Southeastern U.S.” And, in fact, many of these families did have people of mixed Cherokee, Shawnee, Chickasaw, Creek, and Algonquian tribes marry into their lines.

As their freedoms and rights dwindled in Virginia and the Carolinas, as their lands were stolen, they pushed westward into the mountains, cliffs, caves, valleys, swamps, and gorges of the Cumberland Plateau. They were seeking a place just “to be.”

Thanks to the Racial Integrity Act in Virginia that affected all the surrounding areas, census takers labeled these people based on their own impressions of them. There was a deliberate effort to eradicate the “Indians” by making them either White citizens or designating them as “Mulattos” or “Free People of Color.” It was a time period where being White meant you got to keep your family together, own land and vote. Being mulatto meant you got to live “free,” but you had no legal rights and being Indian meant you didn’t exists unless you agreed to go to a concentration camp (well, they were called Reservations but they were the equivalent of concentration camps.) So, it came to be that Kentucky, once a part of Virginia and North Carolina, had “NO INDIANS.” Of course not, they were politically ripped asunder, buried, ignored, and forgotten.

Due to their inability to point to themselves on Cherokee rolls, they were often denied tribal membership, not because they were not Native American but because they were not documented Cherokee. The descendants of these people make up much of the Upper Cumberland area today. They handed down legends, year after year, generation after generation, of a great-grandmother or great-grandfather who was “Indian.” Some of them remembered they were not Cherokee and used terms like Blackfeet, but many genuinely believed they were Cherokee because it was the only name they had heard repeated. They were made fun of and accused of being wannabe Indians, but the truth is that their heritage was stolen through genocide, sometimes accidental, sometimes on purpose, and in time, they assimilated and became “White” or “Black” just like the government had always wanted them to do.

Sizemore Indians and their kinfolk and neighbors—they often traveled in groups from the same areas, being a mixture of multiple Native branches and Scotch-Irish, Quakers, French and German–and their neighbors settled along the Cumberland River in what is now southern Kentucky and Northern Tennessee. Family names included Riddles, Starnes/Stearns, Bowman, Bolin/Bowling/Bollin, Cox, Wallen, Leach, Harris, Choate, Turner, Gipson, Sizemore, Greene, Smith, Marsh, Moore, Collins, Mullins, Phelps, Phipps, Tallant, Ramsey, Cooper, Harmon, Neal/Neil, Denny, Downey, Wells, Brown, Graham, Blevins, Fields, Fugate, White, Adams, and more.

Now back to the Cumberland River itself, Wasioto is almost 700 miles long and drains from a whopping 18,000 square miles! Multiple rivers and streams flow into the Cumberland River including the Red River, Big South Fork and others. At one point there is only about 2.8 miles of land between the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers (which is fed by the Holston River, flowing out of what is now North Carolina and the French Broad River.)

The Cumberland Plateau, the world’s longest hardwood forested plateau, is home to many plants and animals found nowhere else.

The Cumberland Plateau rises more than 1,000 feet above the Tennessee River Valley to a vast tableland of sandstone and shale dating as far back as 500 million years. The rivers of this region, have eroded away the softer rock beneath, leaving rock houses (natural bridges), caverns, cliffs and caves along the river and stream beds. “From Williamsburg, Ky., above the falls, to the Kentucky–Tennessee state line, the Cumberland crosses a highland bench in the Cumberland Plateau and flows in a gorge between cliffs 300–400 feet (90–120 m) high.” (encyclopedia Britannica)

In 1952, Wolf Creek Dam was built to create Lake Cumberland, caves with petroglyphs (according to older local residents that I’ve interviewed) were flooded, never to be explored again. The community of Rowena as evacuated and flooded. The graves were dug up and moved to the nearby Watauga community and the community’s official records were sent to Burnside, Kentucky, a few miles upstream.  Wolf Creek Dam is the 25th largest of its kind in the United States and Lake Cumberland is over 100 miles long and over a mile wide. It is the 9th largest lake in the U.S. and the larges man-made. It has a capacity of 6,100,000 acre-feet of water, enough to cover all of Kentucky in 3” of water.

Over the years the dam has had a multitude of problems and issues, including that fact that 19 years after it was built, sinkholes developed around the electrical grid near the base of the dam and caused a near failure of the dam. In the late 1960s, liquid concrete was pumped into the dam but that didn’t stop the leaks, so in the 1970s a concrete wall was inserted in the earthen part of the dam, but that didn’t work, either. Uncontrollable seepage continued all the way up until 2005 when the dam was on the verge of collapsing and obliterating the town of Burkesville, Kentucky. In 2007, the lake was lowered to 40 feet and a seven-year, $309,000,000 rehabilitation of the dam included a longer, deeper wall built into the dam’s earthen section.  This wall, completed in 2014, is two feet thick and extends 300 feet into the limestone base. The dam is now considered safe by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. However, they say if the dam were being built today, it would not be built in its current area due to the nature of limestone and karst formations. 

Not far from Wolf Creek Dam is the Dale Hollow Dam which forms Dale Hollow Lake. Clinton County, Kentucky, sits between the two lakes with Dale Hollow to the south and Lake Cumberland to the North.

Rich in history, beautiful beyond belief, wild and rugged, a tremendous area for trout fishing, home to abundant wildlife and trees found nowhere else in the world, the Cumberland River and surrounding plateau have their enemies, TRASH, DEBRIS, and GRAFFITI. The trash is a result of human carelessness, laziness, and ignorance. The debris is a result of homes too close to the riverbanks and the graffiti is a result of stupidity and ignorance. There’s just no other way to phrase that one.  I end this little essay with a plea, if you swim the waters, or fish, or kayak or go white water rafting, if you live on the banks, or go on a picnic or a hike or do anything at all, please, please and PLEASE pick up your trash and don’t leave a mess behind you. It is a karst landscape which means everything finds its ways into the streams, caves, earth and waterways.

Original Photos:

Rowena, Kentucky, photo by Darlene Campbell

Cumberland Falls, first three photos by Scott Harris, fourth photo by Darlene Campbell

Big South Fork, photos by Darlene Campbell

Wolf Creek Dam, Photo by Scott Harris

Rock House Bottom/aka: Creelsboro Arch and Cumberland River, photos by Darlene Campbell

Left: Adair County, Kentucky, photo by Darlene Campbell. Left Paintsville, Kentucky in Johnson County, photo by Darlene Campbell and above: Old PennsStore in Casey County (part of the store and surrounding property are in Boyle and Marion Counties, as well.)


Explore Lake Cumberland [dc1]

Explore Cumberland Plateau [dc2]

Upper Cumberland Country by William Lynwood Montell–1993 University of Mississippi Press, Mississippi

Life in These River Hills by Mary Etta Neal–2006, Old Seventy Creek Press, Albany, Kentucky

A Wandering Tribe: Dispersal of the Catawba Nation 1800 to 1900 by Steven “Pony” Hill | 2016–Backntyme Publishing, Crofton, Kentucky

Cherokee by Blood, Volume 1, Applications 1-1550 Paperback – December 30, 2019; Jerry S. Wright

History of the Cherokee Indians by Emmett Starr, originally published 1929. Now available here:

On Being Humane Beings

I believe in being positive and affirming, even when it’s not popular, doesn’t sell books, make news, gain followers, or make money. I believe in living as peacefully as possible with all people, but in doing that, it means giving up the illusion of ego and the need to be right. Having said that, I’m going to speak my heart.

I just bowed out of a Facebook group in which I had been fairly active because I was constantly bombarded by messages of people screaming for someone else to define them, all the while bashing others who were in the currently “unpopular” camp. Amazing how “enlightened” folks can be so mean, vindictive, accusing, and closed-minded to anyone who has a different or currently unpopular opinion.

I can’t help but think that the Information Age has rapidly turned into a “Self-affirmation Age,” in which people define themselves based on their social media followings, “likes” and opinions of others rather than on self-examination.

In this sea of self-absorption, it’s easy to be removed from the fact that those on the other side of any issue are also human beings and they, too, are so bombarded with messages that they often don’t know what to believe. Some people get so emotionally swayed by digital messages that they literally turn against their own families, putting politics, current events and opinions of celebrities or people half a world away (who may or may not even be aware of their existence) between themselves and the people who have supported them their entire lives! Sometimes, to me, it feels like today’s world is made up of everyone screaming to be heard and nobody listening and as Charlton Hesston once said in Planet of the Apes, “It’s a MADHOUSE!”

It also seems that many people are so polarized. It’s either this or that? Trump or Biden, Black or White, Young or Old, Bigot or Tolerant, Vaccine or Anti-vaccine…but the world, the real one, the one that doesn’t depend on “followings” or have any “likes” or votes to get, isn’t quite so polarized, it’s more blended, muted and free-flowing. It’s the child, the one that has a Black dad, a White mom, and a Hispanic step-sister, sitting in my classroom with two missing front teeth and a big grin on her face, laughing and talking to the blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy next to her and the Vietnamese girl beside her. They’re writing a story and illustrating it together. It’s the little girl from San Salvador who tells me she was born in an Amish bathtub and is learning to speak German. It’s the little red-haired, freckled boy who speaks in a thick Appalachian dialect, telling me he wants to be a paleontologist and the little African-American boy who tells me that one day he is going to be an Art teacher and it’s me, telling him that he will be a great Art teacher and that I’m depending on him, because one day I’m going to get old and retire and I’ll want him to take my place, and it’s all the other kids, of many shapes and shades, filled with dreams and wonder, wanting to discover who they are. And it’s my co-worker who just won a battle with cancer and takes the vaccine because she’s so afraid she might die with COVID and it’s my other co-worker who is afraid of the vaccine because she is afraid of side effects. Neither of them are a villainess. They’re just people, each trying to do what’s best for herself and her family, yet there are people out there on both sides of the issue who pounce upon them and try to paint them out to be “monsters.”

Sweeping statements are blind and end up villainizing others. Anytime you hear someone say, “Those Democrats…” “Those Republians…” “Those Biden Supporters….” “Those Trump Supporters….” “Those Muslims…” “Those White People…” “Those Black People….” “Those Christians…” “Those New Agers…” you are hearing a message that pits polarizes and divides and turns regular folks into “villains.” Sweeping statements dehumanize those who aren’t in our circle of thought and somehow makes them less human, which makes us less humane. If I had a motorcycle wreck and was lying on the side of the road, dying. Do you really think it would matter what shade of skin the ETM trying to save me had? Or gender? Or who he/she voted for?

I remember reading Bury my Heart and Wounded Knee and crying to the point that I couldn’t finish the book and I could never endure Schindler’s List, because I couldn’t understand how people could be so inhumane toward other human beings. Now I get it, when you divide people into “them and us” and begin to view the other side as somehow “less than,” you find yourself capable of horrific atrocities in the name of what’s “right.” Remember, Hitler’s snitches were just being “good citizens.”

So, my point is that we are all human beings, regardless of who we voted for, where we live, which bathroom we use, or the shade of our melanin. When we find ourselves getting angry over someone’s “viewpoint,” perhaps it would serve us well as a species to step back and view them as parents, brothers, sisters, children. It takes self-awareness to step outside yourself and be open to the viewpoints of others. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with them, or forsake your own beliefs, but it will give you a sense of compassion and empathy for others.

I am thinking about Ghandi’s brilliant statement about how that if we live by the rule of an eye for an eye the whole world would be blind and how Jesus said that if we live by the sword, we die by the sword and then there was Saint Francis who prayed not so much to be understood as to have the ability to understand. Jesus said, “Love your enemies. Pray for those who despitefully use you.” What does love mean? In this context, I believe it means to show them basic human kindness, even when you disagree with them. Let go of the illusion of ego and embrace their worth as fellow human beings. I think it means to be humane.

8 Lessons I’ve Learned from my Ancestors

Photo of grave marker for Ella Duncan Wallen. She was not my direct ancestor but was married to a relative of a direct ancestor. I simply saw her beautiful face on this grave marker and read her story on find-a-grave. She and her one-year-old baby died one day apart in 1918 and I couldn’t help but wonder what happened. She was 20 years old.
  1. That if you don’t write things down and document them, whether they are stories or songs–whatever–that within two or three generations they will become the stuff of myths and legends with only bits and pieces left.
  2. That photos are precious and priceless and I would dearly love to have more photos of my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents because they were so important in my life and I want to preserve their likeness for future generations who might one day wish to know who paved the way for them.
  3. Voice recordings, home movies, and letters are so precious. I would love to hear my mom’s, dad’s, brother’s, grandparents and many others’ voices again.
  4. That if we don’t learn from the mistakes of our ancestors, we may end up repeating them. I’ve discovered generational trends by doing family research and only when we become conscious of these trends and the hardships they bring upon the next generation can we STOP them and by the same token I’ve learned that some honorable traditions and traits are also handed down from one generation to the next. These are worth discovering and keeping.
  5. That there is no such thing as “the good old days.” No one generation is better than the next. Sure there is evil in the world now, but there was just as much in the world back then. The difference is that now we hear about it sooner. There were natural disasters then, too. Entire communities were wiped away by tornados, floods, hurricanes and earthquakes. Many of them are completely unknown to today’s generations. News traveled slower back then and many things never got printed beyond the community where it happened. During the good old days, pregnancy could be fatal, about one third of women died in childbirth, babies born to Rh- mothers didn’t survive, the flu wiped out entire communities, tuberculosis wiped out whole families, people died of diseases that can be cured with simple procedures and basic medical supplies these days. In the good old days my dad’s great uncle lost his mother to rabies and she was chained to a tree like an animal. In the good boats brought human beings up the river and sold them as slaves. In the good old days, Native American children were ripped away from their homes and forced to go to schools that tried to rob them of their identities. In the good old days women were often regarded as property, spouse and child abuse were rampant and often accepted. In the good old days women couldn’t even vote. Rape was commonly unreported. In the good old days women’s research and intelligence were downplayed and discoveries made by women, stories written by women and contributions to society that were made by women were often attributed to men. I believe that right now is the best time in the history of the human race to be a woman in America. Studying the hardships of my grandmother and those before her has taught me that In the good old days, boys as young as 13 or 14 could be sent off to war. In the good old days, in some places, if you had “one drop” of African blood you could loose your rights. If you were Indian, you could be stripped of your land and sent to live in a concentration camp called the reservation. Sure, people endure things now, but I do not wish to go back and live in the good old days. I think TODAY is the place to live and NOW is the only moment. However, it is studying the past that has given me such an appreciation for the present.
  6. That every human life is a story. Every person matters and is important in the grand scheme of life. I’m thinking of my friend who died in her early forties right now. I hope there are tons of pictures of her and that somebody recorded her voice and I hope that her kids write things about her and that her great-great-great grandchildren will one day look back and say, “Her courage paved the way for me.” I believe to say that we don’t care where we came from is to say that their lives didn’t matter. They did matter. Even Jesus, in the Bible, had his lineage traced. Word of mouth isn’t good enough because memories fail but if we write it down, even when our memories are gone, someone may still read it and it may encourage them along their way.
  7. That if you are going to make a will–do it now and update it so that you don’t leave out someone you care about or out-live someone to whom you’ve willed something.
  8. We are spiritual beings living in temporal bodies and every one of us…every one…is only here for a short while. In that time we all need to connect in some way. We need to feel valued and accepted. We need to have hope. We need to have a community, whether it’s a geographical region with a few close families, a clan or a tribe or a church family or group of life-long friends and family…we NEED connection, even those of us who are solitary personalities and require amounts of alone time.

Writer’s Blues

The most wonderful part of writing is well, writing. There is such joy in letting a story flow right through you as characters come to life and act out an entire plot line of drama, comedy, suspense, love, relationships, and intrigue. There is something magical about pulling a person from your imagination and breathing “life” into them.

Then there’s the anticipation of having someone read your story and enjoy its unfolding as much as you enjoyed creating.

Even the editing and revisions, as tedious and tiresome as they can be, hold some sort of magic and power of their own. You’re left with the feeling of crafting something beautiful and original, of breathing your soul into a creation.

But somehow, once the story is complete, the main character’s journey has ended and all the subplots have neatly been tied up and tucked away, when the last comma has been properly placed and the last sentence punctuated, there comes that feeling of being in an eternal waiting room. I think it’s the absolute worst part of being a writer. You send out your queries, your synopsis, your sample chapters, your bio and marketing plan and wait for someone with “power” to tell you that your story is sellable.

Being accepted by an agent or a publisher isn’t a guarantee that you work is good, only that it’s marketable. Some of the classics of old wouldn’t stand a chance today because the standards have changed, or at least that’s what I tell myself. It makes it a little more bearable whenever the rejection emails (used to be slips in the mail) start coming or when you go for days, weeks on end, with no reply at all, to the dozens of companies to which you’ve submitted. You wait…and wait…and wait…and wait…to get rejected over and over and over, until finally someone says yes or until you get frustrated that they can’t see the brilliance of your work and decide to self publish or go with a vanity publisher. No matter which way you go, you’re left with the daunting task of marketing and promotion.

That’s where I’m at now. I just finished my newest work. I’ve sent it out there, not getting any responses from my usual publishers. Maybe it’s COVID related. Maybe books just aren’t moving like they were. Maybe tomorrow I will get that “yes” in the mail. Sometimes, I even welcome a no as opposed to the constant–waiting. Writers can be ultra patient while working on a story but this writer is not patient when it comes to waiting on responses. Oh, I know all the reasons it takes so long for editors to get back to me, and I am aware of how many manuscripts editors must see, but that doesn’t make the waiting any more pleasurable than knowing that your dentist is busy makes a shot in the gum less painful.

Tonight I sit here wondering, “Do I send out my letter, bio, synopsis, and chapters to another seven people? Or do I wait in hopes that one of the ones I really had my heart set on accepts it? What if I get accepted by a lesser company and sign a contract then a bigger more promising offer comes along?”

Maybe I set a six month deadline and keep my readers hanging on a while longer. Maybe I say to myself, “If it isn’t accepted in six months, I’ll just self publish it,” but I don’t want to self-publish. And what if I self-publish, then a week later, the publisher of my dreams says, “Hey, we’d like to publish your manuscript?” Eek!

So, I take a sip of chamomile tea, close my copy of Writer’s Market and say, “Wait a few more days. Then select promising candidates and send your unique story (sometimes unique is a hindrance because people like songs they already know words to, so-to-speak) out there again. One day, this new and different piece of work will find a home, be accepted and perhaps, become a familiar song and it won’t be a blues tune or maybe it will. Maybe a blues tune is the kind of story the world is waiting for.

Personal Thoughts to Begin 2021

Don’t wait for a thing to become reality before you are thankful for it. Be thankful, happy, rejoicing over it’s reality and THEN it becomes a reality. Don’t try to force life to happen. Make time to be still, to quiet all the voices of the outside world and listen to your own heart/spirit. Connect with the spirit inside you that is the Great Spirit/Creator and really hear what is in your heart. Make the choice that speaks to your inner being, your true self, in the moment where you are and let that choice guide you. If you try to justify your choice, you will talk yourself out of the very thing that may lead to your greatest self, your divine calling, your individual path. Each of us has a gift and a light, but we often let the opinions of others and fear of ridicule or criticism cause us to keep the gift unwrapped and the light locked inside a box.

I remember once being told to confess what I wanted in my life and it would manifest but I don’t believe that to be true anymore. I believe that when we really want something, we’re not ready for it. Wanting is the acknowledgement of lack. If I want something then I don’t have it. I just now recalled Psalm 23 where it says, “The LORD is my shepherd. I shall not WANT.” Yes, to want something is to LACK and to lack means you don’t have it. I say be thankful for it, embrace the joy of its existence, relish the reality of it and appreciate it even before you see it or in other words, see what you believe before you believe what you see.

The answers to our happiness in life aren’t found “out there” somewhere or a person we will find. The key to happiness is found through an inward journey into the depths of our spirits and psyches. It’s a choice, not a set of circumstances. I believe that gratitude is the key to living an extraordinary life. Gratitude is a constant praise to our maker, simply being thankful for ordinary things leads to extraordinary joy and draws beautiful things into our lives. When we complain and criticize, we draw criticism and bitterness to ourselves. When we fuss about the things we don’t have, we push them farther and farther away from us. Some people would not be happy with all the money in the world. They would never be thankful for what they had and would only want more. Those who worry about money NEVER have enough, no matter how much they have. It’s not what we have or don’t have that makes us happy. It’s the attitude with which we receive it.

I also think it’s important to remind ourselves that yesterday is a story already lived, like a chapter in a book that’s already been read. If we remain in the same chapter, we never finish the story. If we jump ahead to the end, we miss all the good parts of the story and the joy of the reading journey is lost. So it is with life. Yesterday is over, the good and the bad–all gone. We can’t go back and redo and holding grudges only dulls the present. We can’t jump forward for if we do, we miss the most important parts of our story. Love the moment you’re in. Notice the sunlight glinting off your drinking glass as it shines through the window. Taste the seasoning on your food and enjoy its complexity or its simplicity. Smell the flowers in your yard. Feel the cold wind on your face. Enjoy your break at work. Remember; your life is a story, one that has never been nor shall ever be again. And THAT story, YOUR story, is lived in moments with each moment being a new scene, every day a new page, every season a new chapter.

In a sense, we are just this moment. The old saying is true, today is a gift and that is why it’s called the present and no matter how bad the present may feel, remember “this, too, shall pass.” It’s a moment.

Some people are always looking behind and they feel sad and depressed that the world they once knew is gone forever. Other people are always looking for the future, looking for that perfect place where they can finally chase their dream or that perfect person that can finally complete them, but the perfect place is where you are and the perfect person is yourself. Maybe it’s time to stop chasing purpose and realize that YOU are the purpose.

Move moment to moment, listening to the Holy Spirit who will guide you in each step you should take. When we start listening to other people, or getting too wrapped up in our past or worrying about our future, we drown out this guidance system. Each of us has a true calling, a path to walk and it doesn’t matter if it’s logical or reasonable to anyone else. We have to listen to our hearts without justifying ourselves for being true to our calling.

Seize the Day!

My Perfect Day

On a perfect day
there would be no clocks

Photo by Pixabay on

On a perfect day

there would be no clocks



I would awaken

when I was rested

sleep when I was tired

eat when I was hungry

drink when I was dry.

On a perfect day

I would go wherever

my creative muses led me.

I might wade a creek

touching nature

teaching children

or I might go to

France’s Mirmande

cobblestone streets

sun on my face

ancestral winds at my back.

On a perfect day

I might drive over

to Penn’s Store

where I would meander

amongst fellow misfits

poets, painters, songsters.

No one would care

what I looked like

what clothes I had on

or how I wore my hair.

On a perfect day

no one would be nice

because of what I could give them

or do for them

or how I made them feel

about themselves.

No one would misread me

assigning desire where

only kindness was intended

or assuming anger when

quiet contemplation overtook me.

On a perfect day

I might paint, write

sing or dance

or stare quietly into space

not really knowing where

my mind had been

then suddenly

having an inspiration

an insight

an ah-ha, that’s it!

On a perfect day

I might make a memory

with another or a few

without baggage



just joy.

On a perfect day

I would be like a butterfly

landing where flowers bloom

hurting nothing

taking nothing

expecting nothing

–just being.

All I would want

would be warmth and freedom

from jars, nets and insect zoos.

I Wanna Know What Love Is

Once a young man named Jimmy who spent a lot of time alone and in his own thoughts, set out to find and understand love.

In Michigan he had a three month relationship with a kindergarten teacher and asked her, “What is love? “It’s knowing your own worth,” she replied. “And it’s understanding what you want and not settling for less than that.” Soon after that she left Jimmy and went to pursue what she really wanted, so he packed his bags and moved westward.

The young man took a job as a mechanic in North Dakota where he drank coffee at a roadside diner every morning and came to be acquainted with an elderly man called Bobbo who told him stories of the life he had lived.

“What is love?” Jimmy asked him one day.

Bobbo chuckled, “More than I’ve got.” He took a sip of his coffee and stared out the window. “Aw, I reckon it’s giving everything you’ve got to make somebody else feel better about the way they think things ought to be.”

Not long after that Bobbo passed away with lung cancer at the age of 95, the by-product of seventy years worth of cigarettes. Jimmy grew tired of his life in that town and moved to Oklahoma where he became friends with a preacher everybody just called, Brother Moe. As Jimmy listened to Moe’s stories and sermons he again wondered just what love really was, so one day while he helped Brother Moe paint the church he asked, “Brother, what is love, I mean, really, what is it?”

Brother Moe wiped sweat from his forehead, pushing his ball cap back, “Love, is what Jesus had for all of us when he said that we should love one another as he had loved us. On the one hand it’s basic human kindness, on the other, it’s being willing to lay down your life for another person and I suppose that means being willing to give up what you want in exchange for what they need.”

There was a pretty woman in Moe’s church called Sarah. Jimmy dated her a few times and asked her, “Sarah, what’s love?”

Of course, she thought he was trying to profess his love for her so she mustered up her best answer. “It’s compassion,” she said. “It’s that and romance and passion and it’s being strong for another person, listening to them, really listening and being willing to commit your life to them and lay it down for them and… it’s nurturing.”

Not long after that she started dropping hints about marriage and talking about children. Jimmy knew that it was time for him to fly. He wasn’t ready to settle down and “love” Sarah because he hadn’t resolved what love really meant to him. So, he said his good-byes and left.

For a couple of years, Jimmy lived in a tiny Texas town where he worked as a janitor in a factory. After work, he’d go to a small club and have a few beers with some of the locals. One night they all had a little more than usual to drink and got to talking about love. Each of the men at Jimmy’s table had an opinion on it.

One guy, John, said, “Buddy, love means setting boundaries and keeping your own needs and wants separate and….”

“That’s a load of crap,” another buddy, Chaz, cut in. “Love is hanging on tooth and nail to somebody and….”

“No, that’s what’s crap,” John said. “Man, love fights for the highest good no matter what.”

Ann, the waitress came by and chimed in. “You yahoos don’t know what love is,” she said. “That’s why ain’t none of you got any. Love is letting go and not being possessive or stupid jealous and letting somebody be who they are and not trying to change them and make them what you want them to be.” She picked up their dirty dishes and moved on.

“What’s she know?” a big red head named Scooter said. “She’s a woman. They don’t know nothing about love. They think it’s packing in the groceries in the middle of a big game.”

“You’re a brute,” a quieter guy named Bobby Joe said. “Love is action. It IS carrying in the groceries and it’s the gifts you get and the stupid mush that you say. It’s like rock solid care in motion. You know, the ultimate concern, the fabric of the cosmos and all that jazz.”

“You’re a geek,” Scooter said.

A fifth guy at Jimmy’s table, Liam, chimed in. “Love is the essence of life.”

“That doesn’t really tell me anything,” Jimmy said. “What do you mean the essence of life?”

“Well, it’s what you do to make somebody else’s life better,” Liam said. “It’s not like you know, an emotion. It’s way bigger than that. It’s what that nun over in India said, love is a sacrifice, giving up yourself and what you want for the sake of somebody else.”

Scooter banged his fist on the table, “Charlie Brown says it’s a man called Jesus.”

“Yeah, but he told us to love as he had loved,” Jimmy said.

“Love is not religion,” Bobby Joe said. “Jesus didn’t seem very loving when he made that whip and ran those money changers out of that temple.”

“But he was,” John said. “I ain’t no church man but I know he was taking up for the common people, the working folks, like us.”

Annie came back around to refill their glasses. “You guys still arguing about love? Take it from me. It ain’t about sex or lust or romance. All that stuff is a load of hype that Hollywood pushes to keep women buying more products so they can be baby-making machines and then the media downs ya for having kids. It ain’t about making babies or doing dishes or jumping every time a man hollers. I’m telling you, that if you love somebody you are willing to do what’s best for them, even if that means setting them free. Take me, for instance. I been married to my old man for twenty years and he thinks he loves me, but he don’t love me so much as he loves his own comfort. I honestly think that if he loved me, really loved me, more than he loves his own comfort, he’d tell me to go on a six month vacation by myself where I didn’t have to mop the floors, change the oil, mow the yard and do the dishes. I make sacrifices for him and love him because I’m supposed to, but most days of the week I don’t even like him.” She moved on again.

“He sounds like a real looser,” Jimmy said. “I wouldn’t like him either.”

“She’s a good woman,” Scooter said. “A real hard-worker.”

“Yeah,” Bobby Joe said, “and everybody knows that being a hard-worker is what constitutes your worth as a human being.”

Jimmy bade his friends goodnight and they went home, some of them to comfortable, predictable lives, some to chaos and turmoil, but Jimmy went home alone and lay in his small apartment above a professor’s garage and fell asleep on a twin-size bed. Two months later, he received a phone call from his sister in North Carolina, their father was dying and would he please come home.

Jimmy sat by his father’s bed all night, holding his dad’s hand. His siblings slept off and on but he never closed his eyes. He had been gone so long and had missed so much time with his dad. This man had always been strong and soft-spoken and now, he was as weak as a baby and fragile. Jimmy was thankful for the darkness so that his father couldn’t see his tears.

Every so often his dad would say, “I love ya, Son.” It was a faint whisper but Jimmy could hear it. Sometimes he would say, “I’m not afraid. It’s okay. I’m not afraid.”

He remembered the time his dad had taken off work to come watch him play a little league game, knowing that he would lose a half day’s pay. He remembered the time his dad had rescued him at 3 a.m. when he ran out of gas three counties over after a night out with his friends. He remembered all the nights his dad had sat at the kitchen table and told him stories before bed and the time when it snowed and his father couldn’t work and didn’t get paid, so there were no groceries in the house. He remembered how his parents had done without any meat, giving it to he and his siblings.

“I’m sorry, Dad,” he said. “For all the times I caused you grief and put you out and…”

“Love doesn’t keep score,” his dad muttered. He coughed, “I’d do it all….” he coughed harder.

“Don’t talk,” Jimmy said.

“I’d do it all again,” his dad managed to get out in his raspy tones.

Jimmy squeezed his father’s hand. His memories continued. He recalled how his dad had dreamed of playing in a bluegrass band and had pursued that dream for awhile. He had gone on several tours and would be gone weeks at a time. But eventually, the band fell apart and Jimmy’s dad didn’t seem to want to do it anymore. His father had pursued other dreams from time-to-time as well, but he had always been there for his family when they needed him. He didn’t know what his father did when he was away and in this moment, he didn’t care. His father had not been a perfect man but he had been a great man.

“I’m not afraid,” his father said again. He looked from Jimmy to each of his siblings with his glazed eyes. Jimmy wondered what he could actually see. “Love each other,” he gasped. “Let everybody be…be…themselves…be yourself. Help each other. Forgive…forgive. Love one another. Yes, Mama, yes,” he said, then he sat straight up, his eyes bright, a smile on his face and he left his body.

Jimmy and his siblings embraced. Early that morning he went outside to get a breath of air. It had rained all night and now, the sky was clear above the house. Jimmy looked up and saw a beam of sunlight bathing the little house where his father’s body still lay awaiting the coroner. He smiled.

“What are you smiling about?” his sister asked.

“I know what love is,” he said. “I can’t explain it, but I know it.”

In the Shadow Land

original photo by darlene franklin campbell

I believe we are spirits.

We journey through this temporal (or rather time constrained) dimension which is bound by the laws of the physical universe for only a short while. Because it is a physical and temporal universe we must travel through it in physical and temporal vehicles, our bodies.

So long as these bodies are intact and whole, we can stay in them, but if they become too damaged by injury or by sickness, then we must vacate them, or sometimes, as in the case of a few people I know, a spirit so longs to go home that it simply leaves the body. I will borrow from C.S. Lewis (whose writings I love) and call this temporal dimension the Shadow Land.

When we enter this Shadow Land our spirits, or the eternal essence of who we are, becomes shrouded in flesh and blood. Our memory of that place we come from becomes clouded as we experience this world through our physical senses. We take on a persona, a soul. I will liken our souls to our emotions, our wills and our intellects. Yet, as we travel through this world, our spirit selves seek to learn and to grow. We could think of our time in this world like a long summer camp where we learn and experience things that we can only learn and experience in another place that isn’t home. We have left home to come here on this trip. It isn’t permanent and when it’s time, we each go back to where we came from. Just as there are laws of the physical universe, there are laws of the spiritual one. (Love, faith, hope, joy, compassion, gentleness, empathy, mercy, forgiveness, etc.)

So, we could say that we are spirits, we live (while on earth) in bodies and we have souls. When we leave this world, our bodies remain behind, either to decompose or to be preserved through embalming or in urns, etc. However, our spirits carry with them our souls and all the memories and lessons we learned while in this Shadow Land.

While we are traveling through this Shadow Land we each take on a persona, ego, personality (whatever you want to call it). This personality is based on our temperaments, our emotional development and our cognitive development. Our personalities may reflect our character, which transcends our personality. Spiritual awareness (*not necessarily religious) and understanding helps us reach self-actualization while in this world. (see Erik Erikson’s stages of development)

Some of us grow and help others to grow. Some of us get stuck in a developmental stage and may be a fifty-year-old adolescent. Each of us develops a system of cognitive pathways or preferences for interacting with this world. Carl Jung determined that these pathways determined how we perceived the world and how we made sense of what we perceived. He organized these functions into sixteen configuration or cognitive preference types. No one type is better than any other. Each type just takes a different pathway toward self-actualization and growth. Each type has its own unique sets of strengths and weaknesses to overcome. Understanding our own mental processes can help us navigate through our lives and can help us become more understanding and forgiving, propelling us toward self-actualization and spiritual growth, while fostering more positive relationships with other people.

*religion is humanity’s attempt to appease a deity, to work our way into heaven or an afterlife by doing good deeds, sacrifices, rituals, saying the right things, etc. Spirituality may exist within a religion but is not dependent upon a religion. Spirituality is the realization that we are spirit beings and that there is a spiritual dimension with a different set of values than those mandated by religions or man-made organizations or governments.

“…and the pursuit of happiness.” (the law of laughter)

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“A merry heart doeth good like a medicine but a broken spirit dries the bones.” Proverbs 17:22

I love to laugh.

I love to be with people who laugh.

Laughter is contagious.

Sure, there are times to be sad, to be angry, and to grieve, but I believe that even in the face of emotional, physical, and psychological trauma, joy and laughter can set us on the road to recovery.

I once read where Moe Howard (The Three Stooges) said that he felt like the only thing he was good at was making people laugh and believed that was his purpose in life. Minnie Pearl (Grand Ole Opry) talked about how she one day came to the conclusion that she would never be a raving beauty or glamour girl but she had a powerful gift to make a profound difference in the lives of others. She had the gift of making them laugh. Both of these people understood a powerful law of the Spiritual Universe. There is power in laughter and people need it. Laughter is a gift. Laughter is a healing balm.

The late comedians, George Burns and Bob Hope, who both lived to be over one hundred, believed it, too, that there is amazing power in laughter. According to Mayo Clinic, laughter can

  1. Stimulate many organs. Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain.
  2. Activate and relieve your stress response. A rollicking laugh fires up and then cools down your stress response, and it can increase and then decrease your heart rate and blood pressure. The result? A good, relaxed feeling.
  3. Soothe tension. Laughter can also stimulate circulation and aid muscle relaxation, both of which can help reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress.
  4. Improve your immune system. Negative thoughts manifest into chemical reactions that can affect your body by bringing more stress into your system and decreasing your immunity. By contrast, positive thoughts can actually release neuropeptides that help fight stress and potentially more-serious illnesses.
  5. Relieve pain. Laughter may ease pain by causing the body to produce its own natural painkillers.
  6. Increase personal satisfaction. Laughter can also make it easier to cope with difficult situations. It also helps you connect with other people.
  7. Improve your mood. Many people experience depression, sometimes due to chronic illnesses. Laughter can help lessen your depression and anxiety and may make you feel happier.

An old Jewish proverb says, “As soap is to the body, laughter is to the soul.” Laughter can cleanse us. A deep bout of laughter can often be the cheapest form of therapy. Mark Twain, that master of satirical humor, once said, “Power, money, persuasion, supplication, persecution—these can lift at a colossal humbug—push it a little—weaken it a little, century by century, but only laughter can blow it to rags and atoms at a blast. Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.

“Laughter is the sun that drives misery from the human face,” Victor Hugo.

The quotes and evidence that laughter is beneficial on many levels goes on and on. However, there is something even more important than a few moments spent laughing at a party or parked in front of your favorite sitcom and that is inner joy. Those people who have learned to laugh through and at anything have done so because they have learned the power of a MERRY heart, aka, a positive attitude.

Proverbs 15:15 says that a cheerful heart has a continual feast. Happiness is a foundation and joy is an expression of love. However, you have to choose joy. We all face things that bring us down. We all face disappointments. We can either wallow in them or find the light and focus on it.

I remember an old saying I read in a discarded, discount book called How to Stay on Top When the Bottom Falls Out that changed my existence. I was seventeen, shy, alone and in over my head. Trust me when I tell you that my bottom had fallen out. Within three years my grandmother had died of a heart attack, my brother had been killed in an accident and my thirty-eight-year-old mom had suddenly passed away. My father was sinking into grief and depression. I was struggling with anorexia and thoughts of self-harm. I felt there was something innately WRONG with me and that somehow I didn’t deserve to live. I felt like I was never good enough and that people expected perfection I couldn’t give them. To make a long story short, my young life was complicated. All the trust-worthy adults in my life were gone and I was expected to be the adult. I found that ragged paperback book in a box of junk someone gave us and in that book there was a quote, “Two men looked out of prison bars. One saw mud. The other saw stars.” The author went on to say that our perspective changes everything. He quoted another author saying, “Your attitude determines your altitude.”

I made a decision that day. No matter how muddy it was, I was going to see stars. On cloudy evenings, I would remember that the stars were still there, just on the other side of the clouds. And in the day time, a tornado may be blowing at the moment, but no storm lasts forever. The sun is always, ALWAYS going to shine again. I decided that I would choose joy and that every day I would find something for which I could be thankful. Somehow being thankful brings joy.

I have a saying that I sign my work emails with, “Happiness is a choice, not a set of circumstances.” (I think I made that one up, but most likely someone else said it first.) I can’t help but think that the secret to a happy life isn’t in the things we have. It isn’t in the grand experiences we can give ourselves or others. The secret to a happy life is found in taking the moment we are in and consciously being thankful for whatever positive thing presents itself. It might be as grand as dinner in a palace or as simple as a dandelion peeping through the crack in a sidewalk. Corrie ten Boom told of a time when she was in a concentration camp and saw a dandelion poking its head through the cracks in the concrete. She rejoiced. Her sister, Betsie, rejoiced over fleas in their barracks because the fleas kept the guards out.

Paul, a man who wrote much of the New Testament, said, “Rejoice always.” One of the laws of the Spiritual Universe is to choose joy. Gratitude brings happiness and joy. Joy brings laughter and laughter brings healing.

Ponies Will Be Ponies (the Law of Forgiveness)

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“The world belongs to those who let go.” Lao Tzu

When I was a child I had a pony named Lightning. One day I turned my back and he bit me. It hurt. It left prints on my skin. I never forgot how Lightning bit me but I didn’t hold it against him because my mom said, “He’s a pony. That’s the nature of a pony. Don’t turn your back on a pony. Ponies will be ponies.”

So, I accepted that biting me in the back was his nature. I didn’t hate him for it. I didn’t hold onto the pain of the bite. I didn’t let it consume me or cause me not to want to look at, talk about or think about ponies ever again. I accepted it and I moved on. All of these years later, I hold no grudges against that pony, nor other ponies who look like Lightning. I am not filled with remorse, regret, anger, guilt or shame when I remember him. I have let go. I have forgiven my pony. That is an over-simplified example of forgiveness, but the principle is the same. Forgiveness is a law of the Spiritual Universe. Forgiveness is the art of letting go. It has nothing to do with forgetfulness.

When a human being hurts us we can either hold onto the pain, the anger, etc. or we can let it go, realize it is the person’s nature and get on with our lives. That’s forgiveness–just letting go. Holding onto anger toward that person, holding onto pain caused by that person, doesn’t punish the person who hurt us. It hurts US (you, me)–over and over and over again. It gives that person power over our lives. It ties us to the past and robs us of joy in the present. It taints our lives. If we hold on to the negative thoughts and feelings, they will drain our life’s energy, making us bitter, angry, resentful and possibly even sick.

Forgiveness doesn’t equate to forgetfulness. When someone hurts us, forgiving doesn’t mean we don’t remember what was done to us or how much it hurt. It simply means we hold no anger or ill-will toward them. It means we acknowledge that they are the way they are, they were the way they were and we let it go.

But how do you forgive? How do we let go of the pain? The anger? The years of mistreatment or loneliness or feelings of worthlessness that someone inflicted upon us?

Well, realize that it is the past and the past doesn’t have to be our present or our future. Let go of yesterday. We can’t change it, can’t undo what was done. Think of it like a chapter in the book of life. Turn the page and move to the next chapter. Your story (my story) is not over, so don’t stay in a chapter that’s already been read. When you feel those old feelings coming back, turn to God and remember that’s where peace is found, your connection to the eternal spirit, creator of all things. Realize that you are a spirit and your spirit is not controlled by anyone or anything that they did to you. You are a great spiritual being and you are greater than anything your body or mind has endured. Get in touch with the source of all things, and say “I forgive….(whoever)” and feel peace flood over you. Forgiveness is a choice.

Realize that it’s normal to have anger and hurt and pain. They come when we are mistreated or betrayed or backstabbed or manipulated, etc., and we are not bad for feeling what we feel. We don’t have to blame someone else. We don’t have to justify our feelings. We can merely note that we have them and decide how we want to deal with them. But then we have to release them and move forward.

Ultimately, if we choose not to forgive, we choose to remain a victim. Somehow we’ve had this flawed understanding of an eye for an eye drilled into us. Ghandi said that if we lived by such a rule then pretty soon the whole world would be blind. Jesus taught to turn the other cheek, which meant LET IT GO! We have to change the way we perceive things. Stephen Covey called it a paradigm shift. Notice I used the word “choose.” Yes, forgiveness is a choice. Choose to look at it as a life lesson. The pony bit me. Now I know the nature of a pony is to bite. I don’t hate ponies. I realize that a pony is a pony. Stop trying to punish people, guilt people, get even with people, manipulate people and remember that a pony is a pony. That’s the only path to freedom. You can’t change people and holding onto anger isn’t going to do you or them any good.

There is a Chinese saying, “If you’re going to pursue revenge, you’d better dig two graves.” In other words, your desire for revenge, your determination to get even, will eventually destroy you. Retaliation is NEVER the answer.

There’s a scene in the movie Old Yeller that has stuck with me for years. Travis is sad and regretting the fact that he had to shoot the dog he loved so much. He is having a hard time forgiving himself and letting go of the past. His dad comes home from a long journey and finds him still grieving. He tells him that life is part good and part bad. If we spend all of the good times regretting the bad, then we lose out on the good. In this world people are going to hurt us, physically, emotionally and mentally. Spouses are going to leave. People are going to cheat you out of money. They’re going to side-swipe your vehicle, toilet paper your house, shoot your dog, run over your cats, throw beer cans in your yard, cuss you out on Facebook. They’re going to steal from you and lie about you. They’re going to throw you under the bus at work, take the promotion right out from under you. And sometimes–they’ll do it on purpose. We can either spend our whole lives bitter, resentful and feeling sorry for ourselves, holding onto the past and the hurt that they caused us or we can seize the moment and find the beauty that is in front of us right now.

There is freedom in forgiveness.

The Law of Being Kind and Gentle

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What is kindness?

Some people use kind and nice interchangeably but they’re not the same.

A serial killer can be nice but not kind. Nice is an act we put on to be socially acceptable. Nice is surface but kindness comes from deep within. Nice is born of society, but kindness is born of the spirit.

Like compassion, kindness is not an emotion. It’s an act, a choice. It’s choosing to help, to be altruistic, even when you know there’s nothing in it for you, even when you don’t feel like it.

Every day the news is filled with violence, hatred, crime, deception, greed and fear. These are the symptoms of a society, a world, in the grips of temporal displacement, people believing that this life is all that there is and having no true concept of spiritual universe and its laws, which often lie in direct contradiction to what is trending at the moment or even what is popular. These acts testify to people who are spiritually asleep and not in tune with a higher, better way.

Violence breeds more violence and as Ghandi said, an eye for an eye just makes the whole world blind, blind with fear, blind with anger, blind with hatred. People stop seeing each other as human beings. They say and do horrible things to each other, in the name of politics, in the name of religion–doesn’t matter, cruelty is cruelty and if I hate a person, then no matter what I accuse that person of, I am no better. Hatred is a by-product of fear. Violence is never an acceptable way to deal with disappointment or hardship. What was it Jesus said, “If you live by the sword, you die by the sword?” Violence, cruelty and hatred only lead to more violence, cruelty and hatred. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes a person has no choice but to defend himself or herself or the ones they love from violent attacks, but words only hold power over you if you let them. They are never an excuse to be cruel.

When we are kind we are vulnerable, but the vulnerable are the strongest and the bravest of us all. “Nothing is so strong as gentlenessnothing so gentle as real strength.” – Saint Francis de Sales

To be gentle one must also be kind and have integrity. Gentleness implies that a person has learned to control the savage part of his or herself, the reptile brain as it is called in martial arts or that base part of us that just reacts out of survival instinct and fear. Without gentleness we become no more than educated animals. This gentleness comes from the spirit but we must choose to put it on like clothing.

What we throw out into the world gets reflected back to us. If I am a negative person, always criticizing others, always offended then I will draw more negativity and criticism into my life. If I have an attitude of gratitude and sow kindness everywhere I go then I will be loved by many and doors will swing open for me. A kind disposition opens a multitude of doors. “Kindness is bottomless. Once accessed, there is an infinite supply. Helping others, you help yourself. Tao Te Ching

Your own soul is nourished when you are kind; it is destroyed when you are cruel.~Proverbs 11:17 If you are cruel you do yourself more harm than you can imagine. You damage your very soul, your sense of self and become more spiritually blind with each cruel act. Cruelty is poison both to the one it is perpetrated upon and the perpetrator.

Kindness, always produces generosity, and is a mark of spiritual maturity. Gentleness is the by-product of kindness and goes hand-in-hand with humility, grace and compassion. Gentleness is a reflection of an inner strength that can only be found in those mature enough and courageous enough to be kind.

“The heart that is generous and kind most resembles God,” Robert Burns

Rick Warren


The Law of Humility

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“Only great humility and great love allow one to obtain the Great Power, Which is the same as the Power of Tao (the power of the Way).” Lao Tzu

“Happy are the humble: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus

Humility. The very word grates on some people because they have a false concept of it. Apparently, some people think that humility and self-deprecation are one and the same and that to be humble you have to be a doormat. No. No. And NO. That is NOT the meaning of humility.

According to Merriam-Webster’s humility is FREEDOM from pride or arrogance.

Wait a minute. Pride and arrogance are things from which we need to be freed? Yes, in the sense that pride and arrogance (which is an extreme sense of self importance and desire to be adored and admired by others) are the cultivation, preservation and exaltation of self esteem and importance. Constantly, being a slave to “looking good,” is definitely a type of bondage.

To obtain a sense of humility then is to obtain a type of freedom. What exactly IS that freedom? It’s the independence of not needing to prove yourself to anyone, to not need praise or approval. That doesn’t mean that you don’t appreciate it when it comes, merely that you don’t need it or crave it and it’s the freedom from having to look good (be approved of) in the eyes of others. I think it was Ralph Waldo Emerson who said, “A great man is always willing to be little.”

Here’s an example. Once upon a time in ancient Israel, a teenager named David went out to the battlefield to take food and wine to his brothers who were in the army. He was just a scrawny kid, a shepherd, a nobody from nowhere. Nobody looked up to him or respected him. He had no claim to fame. While being an errand boy to his brothers, a giant came out and made fun of the entire Israeli army. David was appalled and asked something like, “Who is this guy and why doesn’t anyone stand up to him?” His brothers were embarrassed by his naive presumption that somebody ought to put this terrifying threat in his place. David then said he’d go fight that giant and his brother’s accused him of being arrogant! But nothing was further from the truth. Human approval meant so little to the boy that he was willing to lay his life on the line to do what he believed was the right thing to do. People laughed at David. They ridiculed him. If there was any pride or arrogance in him at the moment, he would have backed down, but he didn’t.

David cared more about being true to what he knew was right than about what society said or what anyone thought of him. Pride doesn’t do that. Pride wants to look good and get accolades. Pride likes to have a little “worship” from others and craves approval.

David went out to face the most terrifying foe in his world, armed with the simplicity of a shepherd (seriously, the kid had a pouch full of rocks!). The enemy came at David with the best armor the world had to offer at that time. He was superior and he bragged about his superiority. David had only his simple faith, “I come to you in the name of the Lord,” he said. There was no bragging about his own might or ability. But he was confident in the source of his strength.

David ran to the battlefield in humility, just doing what he needed to do where he was at. He had nothing to prove and nothing to lose (well, except his life). That is humility. He wasn’t thinking about himself, but about his God and about his people. If you have ever read the story then you already know that David slung his stone, which struck Goliath in the head and knocked him down.Then David ran over, picked up the giant’s sword and beheaded him with his own weapon. When the opposing army saw how a youngster had defeated a seasoned champion, they were terrified and fled the battlefield with the armies of Israel hot on their trail. If David had been engulfed in “pride” or concern over how he looked in the eyes of everybody else, the battle would never have been won.

It’s worth noting that the person who demands that they be noticed, adores and admired is arrogant, but so is the person who won’t do things because they’re worried that they might “look bad” in front of other people. That is still a type of pride. Arrogance often wears the disguise of politeness and nice-ness.

Being shy or reserved does not equate with humility. Doing everything within your power to keep from standing out does not equate with humility, either. For example, the person who gets on stage and sings his heart out, knowing that he may fall flat on his face or be laughed off stage, exhibits more humility than the musician who worries what others will say and keeps his music all to himself. The artist who never shares her work is more prideful than the one who allows herself to be vulnerable and shares it with the world in hopes of touching someone’s life. It’s not about whether we’re center stage or not. It’s about motivation. A closet narcissist is still a narcissist; they’re just better at disguising their pride in the garments of false humility.

Consider the following true story that I once witnessed.

I was in a group where a gentleman was asked to sing a song. The man stood up and protested, “Oh, I’m not very good at singing,” he was digging in his pocket for his song as he spoke. “I’m just a poor man who does his best, and…” he was now making his way to the platform in the front of the room, “Y’all just listen to the words and not to why I sing them.” He walked with his eyes toward the ground, showing us all that he was shy and humble. Once on the platform, he dispelled other self-depreciating words to let us know what a humble person he was. People were nodding with softened and sympathetic expressions, but something bothered me about the entire episode. Then it hit me. This man was not humble at all. He was PROUD. That’s right; he was proud of his own perceived piety! He was proud of his humility. He wanted everyone to know that he was humble and therefore, spiritual. I almost laughed. Real humility doesn’t need recognition or fan-fare. So what would have been the truly humble response? Easy. He would just gotten up, walked up front, said something like, “I hope you enjoy this song.” Then he would have sung it and gone back to his seat. The most humble thing he could have said would have been thank you. “True humility does not know that it is humble. If it did, it would be proud from the contemplation of so fine a virtue.” – Martin Luther

Humility simply means that you are secure enough in who you are and in what you believe that you have nothing to prove to anybody, you don’t feel the need to impress anybody and you are able to use the god-given gifts or life-skills you’ve acquired to betterment of humanity without needing accolades or praise. This spiritual principle or law is expressed when Jesus said that the greatest among us was the one who willingly served others, not the one who demanded to be served. The greatest leader is the servant. “…avoid putting yourself before others and you can become a leader among men. “– Lao-tzu

If you want others to find you interesting, show interest in them. If you want others to appreciate you, appreciate them. If you want to make a difference in the world, lay aside your concern over the way you appear, your need for approval and let the gifts within you come forth. An apple tree doesn’t care what it looks like, it simply produces apples. It doesn’t matter that some people my not like apples or that others may say the apples or the tree itself are ugly or disgusting or they may ridicule the tree. The truth is that fruit provides nourishment to wildlife and passersby and the tree itself provides shelter for many life-forms. Humility is simply bearing your fruit in this world and being what you were made to be without regards to praise or criticisms.

I close with a quote from Rick Warren, a California pastor, who said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself. It is thinking of yourself less.”

The Law of Seeds and Joy

Continuing with my Laws of the Spiritual Universe series, I’d like to talk about gardening. Yep. You read that right. Gardening.

Photo by Silvia Corradin on

This spring I planted a marigold seed and guess what came up? Uh-huh! A marigold plant! Now it has flowers on it and some of the flowers have gone to seed. In place of one tiny seed, I have hundreds of marigold seeds! Seems pretty obvious, doesn’t it, that you harvest whatever you plant?

Well, in this case, the spiritual law is the same. The types of seeds (attitudes or beliefs) you sow determine the fruit (manifestations) that you receive in your life. What you put out determines what comes back to you. Solomon said that if you cast your bread upon the water, after many days, it will return to you. “Give and it will be given to you, good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over it shall be poured (dumped, heaped) into your lap.” (Luke 6:38 NIV) I’ve heard it said that opposites attract. That’s not true in the spiritual world. In the spiritual world, deep calls out to deep and iron sharpens iron. In other words, like attracts like or what you put out is what you get back.

If you want joy, then share joy. Laugh with others. Do random acts of kindness. Smile at people, even if they don’t smile back. If you choose to be joyful, you will draw people with positive energy into your life. The opposite is also true. Ever heard that old saying, “Misery loves company?” Well, it does. Some people will be uncomfortable around your joy and will attempt to bring you down to their level. Don’t let them. Some may want to siphon off your energy because they haven’t learned this law yet. You can’t force a spiritual understanding upon someone who isn’t “there” yet. Just be you in front of them and hope that one day they grow into it. People mature physically and mentally at different rates. They also mature spiritually at different rates. A thirty-year-old may be spiritually more mature than an eighty-year-old or vice versa. Natural age and spiritual age don’t always correspond.

Share joy as if you’re full of it and eventually, you will be. Laugh a little bit everyday. Find the positive in every situation, no matter how small it may be. Find it and celebrate it.

Planting seeds of gratitude for what you have and doing the best you can with what you’ve got without being bitter, critical and complaining will open doors for you that you could only imagine were possible. Being grateful for small blessings leads to bigger opportunities. It may not happen immediately, but keep celebrating. Keep smiling. Keep hoping and don’t let bitterness, cynicism, jadedness and a critical outlook steal your joy. Constant complaining leads to more things to complain about!

That doesn’t mean that you’ll never experience a down time in your life. Every farmer can tell you that there are times of drought and times of rain. There are times when you have to fight off insects and plagues, but ultimately, the general law is that if you plant corn, you get corn. In the same way, spiritually you might have to stand up to doubt and tell it to take a backseat in your life or you might have to look fear in the eye and tell it to take a hike.

This leads me to my next point–giving. Some people give and then later come back to collect on the gift. That kind of giving has its own reward and that reward is limited, but if you give, expecting nothing in return, then all of heaven will pour out on you when the time is right and you will stand amazed at the blessings (another word for JOY) in your life. When we give, it ought not to be because it looks good or seems like the “right thing to do.” We shouldn’t give out of guilt or obligation, ever. For the law of giving to work, it has to be done because you WANT to do it, because it makes you happy to do it!

In conclusion, whatever you do, do it with all your heart, not begrudgingly (or because you feel like you are obligated, guilted or indebted) but because you want to and it makes you happy. Deep calls out to deep, like draws like, you reap what you sow and as you think in your heart (believe about yourself) that’s what you are. Don’t let anyone else define you because their vision is still small or because they lack faith, hope or joy. Don’t let their fear lie to you about who you are or what you have. Plant marigold seeds, reap marigolds. Plant joy, reap joy. Plant kindness, reap kindness. Plant faith (evidence of the unseen; calling what is not as if though it were), reap the unseen.


Just as the physical universe has laws that govern it, like the laws of gravity and thermodynamics, etc., the spiritual universe also has laws that govern it and those laws may or may not always coincide with the laws of the physical universe. However, they will always supersede them. Over the course of the next few blog posts I hope to highlight what I see as the laws of the spiritual universe.

So, here’s what I perceive as the first law of the spiritual universe: the Law of Compassion. The Dalai Lama sums it up pretty well when he says, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

Compassion allows us to see beyond our side of the story or our own subjective point of view. It allows us to see the “bigger picture” of life and existence. It is both a thing and an action. It is that invisible force, connecting all things in the universe. Unless we tap into this mighty all-connecting force, we will lack the capacity to know true love.

Compassion is not merely feeling bad for someone or feeling sorry for them. That is sympathy. Compassion isn’t just putting yourself in someone else’s place or feeling what they feel. That is empathy. Compassion is greater than both and should be the end result of either. I’m reminded of several stories in the Bible where Jesus was moved with compassion for people and this compassion produced miraculous results.

Compassion is that invisible force, connecting everything in the universe. It is both a force and a feeling, but it always results in a manifestation. It is the ability to see the world for what it is rather than what our judgments make it. Compassion creates peace, healing and miracles.

It’s important to note that true compassion is never prompted by the need for a covert contract. If payback is expected for a favor or an act or a gift, then self-preservation and ultimately, fear, are at the heart of it and not compassion. Compassion does what needs to be done for the genuine good of another person and expects nothing in return, not recognition and not returned favors. Compassion feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, acts as a counselor and doesn’t keep tabs.

“Compassion is the basis of all morality.” – Arthur Schopenhauer