December 29, 2013

When All Else Fails, Choose Gratitude

Posted in Inspiring Stories tagged at 3:38 pm by tiffanyannbrown


This holiday season there were so many things I came across that reminded me of the importance of practicing gratitude, that I decided it would be worth the time to write a post about this simple, yet overlooked concept.

From the logical standpoint, if you really stop to think about the unhappy people in your life, chances are they are only focusing on themselves and their problems. The more they focus on themselves and the more they focus on their problems, it’s almost as if their problems grow worse by the minute. And on the flip side, for the people who focus on being positive and seeing the best in life, they generally manage to keep their heads above water no matter what the circumstances. It’s what the book The Secret is all about.

One day while skimming my news feed on Facebook, I came across this video being shared by several of my friends, so I decided to watch it. It turned out to be an ultimate expression of one individual’s gratitude and how she placed the people she was grateful for, before herself:

Needless to say, I truly believe that practicing gratitude is the secret to a happy life. Being grateful for what you have, despite your circumstances, leads to appreciating the best in the world around you at any given moment, and results in a multitude of benefits including increased health and well-being, less overall stress, a longer life span, higher income, fewer fights, stronger ties within your local community, and better grades (for those in school obviously) … at least, according to this infographic:

Gratitude (Image Source)

However, it’s important to remember that being grateful and practicing gratitude are two different things. From an article I came across entitled “Six Habits of Highly Grateful People,” the author cautions that “gratitude doesn’t make problems and threats disappear.” Rather, it means that you increase your chances of psychologically surviving hard times and stand a chance to be happier in the good times.

People who practice gratitude regularly exude a sense of love, peace, and groundedness. They naturally draw people in rather than push them away. They’re nice to be around and they’re easy to please. Surrounding yourself with people who are grateful for what they have, helps you to pay attention to the things you are grateful for in your own life. So why not be grateful?

For some practical tips on cultivating gratitude, visit UC Berkeley’s page about The Expanding Gratitude Project.

August 10, 2013

Err in the Direction of Kindness

Posted in Experiences, Inspiring Stories, Philosophers at 9:08 am by tiffanyannbrown


kindnessI read a great piece this this morning from New York Times bestselling American writer George Saunders entitled  “George Saunders’ Advice to Graduates,” which has apparently gone viral.  In reading through the address, there was one section in particular that stood out to me:

So let me just say this.  There are ways.  You already know that because, in your life, there have been High Kindness periods and Low Kindness periods, and you know what inclined you toward the former and away from the latter.  Education is good; immersing ourselves in a work of art: good; prayer is good; meditation’s good; a frank talk with a dear friend;  establishing ourselves in some kind of spiritual tradition – recognizing that there have been countless really smart people before us who have asked these same questions and left behind answers for us. Because kindness, it turns out, is hard – it starts out all rainbows and puppy dogs, and expands to include…well, everything.

What I enjoyed about this portion of the speech is that Saunders focuses on what luminaries like Gandhi, Lao Tzu, and Mother Teresa have known for centuries: that kindness expands to include everything.  Because that is such a large statement, below are a couple of quotes on kindness from notable people across the centuries, which offer some insights into this concept:

  • “What wisdom can you find that is greater than kindness?” ― Jean Jacques Rousseau
  • “Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.” ― Lao Tzu
  • “Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.” ― Henry James
  • “My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.” ― Dalai Lama XIV
  • “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” ― Aesop
  • “The simplest acts of kindness are by far more powerful then a thousand heads bowing in prayer.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

The more wisdom achieved, the more likely it is for people to come to the realization that kindness plays a much more important role in this world that one might initially think. While this goes against most of which is unconsciously taught in American culture (“every man for himself”), kindness is something that I believe each person inherently knows has value, and is something each person must work out on his own and experience for his or herself before understanding the true rewards and dividends it pays.

An Amazing Example of Kindness

Of the many “enlightened” people I know who have caught on to the concept of and true importance of kindness, one example stands out above the rest. I have a co-worker currently battling her third round of cancer who has maintained a blog about her experience for years now. In a recent post, she discussed how she celebrated her 38th birthday. In light of cancer, the way she chose to spend her birthday was not with a fancy dinner or wild weekend getaway. Instead, she decided to perform 38 random acts of kindness for her 38th birthday. She writes:

Today was honestly the best birthday I’ve ever had! I realized that it is so easy to bring joy and smiles to other people. I’m so grateful that I was able to complete this list and I encourage everyone to try doing something life this. Today was the greatest gift of life!

And to better illustrate her continued plight toward incorporating kindness in her life and its unspoken benefits, just last week she wrote a post about attending a Dave Matthews concert in which she talked about the many neat things that happened at the concert. Despite being very sick and encouraged not to travel, she wrote: “on the ride I told everyone they had to give one random act of kindness at some point during the night to get our karma back in balance. Apparently that worked because I met a few random angels that night … more to come.” You can read that post here.

Kindness is Catching On

I’ve been fascinated for some time now about how the concept of  how “kindness” is catching on across America. First and foremost the concept of “conscious capitalism” comes to mind, which is a movement in the business world whereby companies have begun to incorporate as “Benefit Corporations.” According to the B Corporation web site, benefit corporations give business leaders legal protection to pursue a higher purpose than profit, and they offer investors and the public greater transparency to protect against pretenders. In short, benefit corporations are manifestations of corporate-level kindness and an example of how business leaders are realizing the importance of kindness at a higher level.

From the Conscious Capitalism web site, there is a quote that reads:

Pioneering naturalist John Muir observed that ‘when you tug at a single thing in nature, you find it attached to the rest of the world.’ Such is the case with business, which is an intricate and interconnected web of relationships.

In short, businesses are recognizing the interconnectedness of the world around us and seeing that kindness, or giving back rather than taking from, is the basis of what makes the world go round.

Think Kindness 

In a similar fashion, there is an organization based in Reno, Nevada known as “Think Kindness” that also continues to intrigue me. The founder recently gave a TED talk where he talked about how he went from working a “suit and tie job” to founding a non-profit based on the concept of “kindness.”  You can learn more about his story, here (begin at 4 minutes and 25 seconds):

While the goal of the Think Kindness organization is simply to inspire acts of kindness around the world―of which you can read more about the many ways in which it is doing so through its web site―there are also now tangible ways of tracking kindness for those wanting to incorporate more kindness into their lives, or for those wanting to track the ripple effect that random acts of kindness have throughout the world for themselves. Learn more about “kindness cards,” here.

Practicing Kindness

There have been many studies done recently linking the practice of kindness and compassion to such health benefits as less stress and anxiety, a strengthened immune system, lower levels of harmful stress hormones, and increased vagal function, which has been associated with efficient regulation of glucose and inflammation, as well as lower incidence of heart disease and diabetes.  For these reasons and all of the others listed so eloquently in  the George Saunders speech noted above, why not kindness? When all else fails, err in the direction of kindness.

June 4, 2013

Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday Series

Posted in Experiences, Inspiring Stories, Philosophers, Science and Relgion, The Mystics, Theologians tagged , at 7:51 pm by tiffanyannbrown


It’s been nearly two years since I last wrote a post on this blog – hard to believe. Around the time I wrote my last post, I recall that Oprah was just getting ready to launch the first episode of her new self-help and spirituality series known as “Super Soul Sunday,” which premiered on the OWN Network back in October of 2011. At the time, I had been listening to her Soul Series podcast on iTunes and thinking about how neat it was that Oprah was giving some air time to such interesting and progressive thinkers as Eckhardt Tolle and Jill Bolte Taylor. But I didn’t realize how soon she would be taking everything so mainstream (and to her credit, for these are important topics).

As might be expected from any modern day media mogul, in approximately two years time, the original podcast has extended into an extremely popular TV series supported by a flashy web site that includes a blog and catalog of videos, which has also led to a strong social media following with nearly 50,000 followers on @SuperSoulSunday’s Twitter account and 119,000 likes on the Facebook page. She also has a great list of books that have been featured on the series, which you can explore in more detail here.

Super Soul Sunday FB

According to a recent press release about the series, Super Soul Sunday features exclusive interviews and all-new conversations with top thinkers, authors, filmmakers and spiritual leaders. Exploring themes and issues including happiness, personal fulfillment, wellness, spirituality and conscious living, Super Soul Sunday presents an array of perspectives on what it means to be alive in today’s world.

If you haven’t had the chance to check out the show yet, I highly recommend that you do. As of today Oprah has hosted dozens of speakers on her series, people I originally first heard about mainly through Tami Simon’s “Insights at the Edge” podcast and other non-traditional avenues like the Omega Institute and the Institute of Noetic Sciences. The discussions she hosts not only raise important questions and new ways of thinking about the world, but bring certain well-accomplished, lesser known, and thoroughly inspiring individuals to the forefront of mainstream dialogue.

August 25, 2011

Insights at the Edge

Posted in Experiences, Inspiring Stories, Science and Relgion, The Mystics tagged , at 11:31 pm by tiffanyannbrown


Earlier this year I came across a goldmine of content when I happened upon the web site located at www.soundstrue.com. While searching for podcasts related to school assignments on iTunes, I stumbled upon some episodes of “Insights at the Edge” with Tami Simon that caught my attention and eventually found a link that provided dozens of free podcasts showcasing some of the world’s foremost authorities on the topics of health and healing, self-empowerment, and spirituality and consciousness. According to the web site:

Sounds True is an independent multimedia publishing company that embraces the world’s major spiritual traditions, as well as the arts and humanities … Sounds True was founded in 1985 by Tami Simon with a clear mission: to disseminate spiritual wisdom. It is in this spirit that we present this podcast, a series of interviews with the world’s leading spiritual teachers, visionary writers, and living luminaries about their newest work and current challenges—the “growing edge” of their inner inquiry and outer contribution to the world.”

Whether it be driving to and from work, running errands, shopping at the grocery store, or on a walk, I’ve managed to log countless hours of listening to these thoroughly introspective and addicting interviews.

Some of the aspects I have most enjoyed about Insights at the Edge have included the caliber of the speakers, the quality of the discussions, and the range of content. While some interviews focus on more practical subjects, others can be highly obscure and complex, bordering on the realm of “out there,” but Tami always has a way of bringing the conversation back to a level of common understanding. Never have I come across such a wide range of specialists, spanning so many disciplines, providing such an array of provocative thinking in one place.

In addition to interviews with such speakers (that I already know and love!) as Peter Russell, Bruce Lipton, Stanislov Grof, Gregg Braden, and Fred Wolf, below is a sampling of some new individuals I came across through this show and would like to hear more from in the future:

  1. Ken Wilber – Ken Wilber is the author of over a dozen books, including The Spectrum of Consciousness; Up from Eden; and Grace and Grit. The Spectrum of Consciousness, written when he was twenty-three years old, established him as perhaps the most comprehensive philosophical thinker of our times. Credited with developing a unified field theory of consciousness—a synthesis and interpretation of the world’s great psychological, philosophical, and spiritual traditions—Ken Wilber is the most cogent and penetrating voice in the recent emergence of a uniquely American wisdom.
  2. Caroline Myss is a five-time New York Times bestselling author and internationally renowned speaker in the fields of human consciousness, spirituality and mysticism, health, energy medicine, and the science of medical intuition. After completing her Master’s degree, Caroline co-founded Stillpoint Publishing and headed the editorial department, producing an average of ten books a year in the field of human consciousness and holistic health.  Caroline developed the field of Energy Anatomy, a science that correlates specific emotional/psychological/physical/spiritual stress patterns with diseases.
  3. Sandra Ingerman – Sandra Ingerman, MA, is the author of eight books including Soul Retrieval, Medicine for the Earth, Shamanic Journeying: A Beginner’s Guide and How to Heal Toxic Thoughts. Sandra is a licensed Marriage and Family therapist and Professional Mental Health Counselor. She is also a board certified expert on traumatic stress as well as certified in acute traumatic stress management.
  4. Anodea Judith, Ph.D. is the founder and director of Sacred Centers, and a groundbreaking thinker, writer, and spiritual teacher. Her passion for the realization of untapped human potential matches her concern for humanity’s impending crises — her fervent wish is that we “wake up in time.” She holds Masters and Doctoral degrees in Psychology and Human Health, is a 500 hour registered yoga teacher, with lifelong studies of healing, mythology, history, sociology, systems theory, and mystic spirituality. She is considered one of the country’s foremost experts on the combination of chakras and therapeutic issues and on the interpretation of the Chakra System for the Western lifestyle.
  5. William Buhlman – William Buhlman is America’s leading expert on out-of-body experiences. The author’s four decades of extensive personal out-of-body explorations give him a unique and thought provoking insight into this subject.

While it’s important to take each interview with a grain of salt, there is always wisdom to be uncovered and connections to be made when listening to new and engaging perspectives. What have you got to lose?

November 16, 2010

Huston Smith: A National Treasure

Posted in Inspiring Stories, Philosophers, Science and Relgion, Theologians at 10:22 pm by tiffanyannbrown


Huston Smith is perhaps one of the wisest, most charming, and insightful men that the good world has ever had the pleasure of knowing. Now in his 90s and living in a Berkeley, California-based assisted living home, he is still married to his wife, Kendra, of nearly 70 years. Having grown up in rural China alongside of missionary parents, then quickly rising up the academic ranks while teaching at such schools as Washington University, M.I.T, Syracuse, and Berkeley, Smith is perhaps best known for his traipsing around the world to discover the unique varieties of religious experience while at the same bringing insight and understanding of such lesser-known traditions to the West. This man has literally seen and done it all.

I was first introduced to Huston Smith, as most college students were, when assigned to read one of his books, The World’s Religions (which sold over 2.5 million copies), during an “Introduction to World Religions” course in college.  Never before had I been presented with such a clear and colorful, concise and vividly written account of the world’s religions. As a result, I became completely captivated with this author, especially after watching portions of his five-part PBS special with Bill Moyers, and went on to read additional books of his including Why Religion Matters: The Fate of the Human Spirit in an Age of Disbelief, Beyond the Postmodern Mind: The Place of Meaning in a Global Civilization, and most recently Tales of Wonder: Adventures in Chasing the Divine. (For a full list of books he has written, click here to visit his Amazon.com page.) In Why Religion Matters, Smith argues that religion is humanity’s greatest asset because it provides us with aspiration, hope, and courage. In Beyond the Postmodern Mind, he distinguishes between the “traditional” worldview that placed God at the center of the universe; the “modern” view in which science ruled; and the “postmodern” view that doubts whether the universe makes sense at all. In Tales of Wonder, he documents his extraordinary travels around the globe that have taken him to some of the world’s holiest places, where he has practiced religion with many of the great spiritual leaders of our time.

From a May 2009 San Francisco Chronicle article entitled “Huston Smith: Rock Star of Religions,” below are some of the reasons why I find him so interesting:

His autobiography is a dizzying tour of a singular life. Smith was there when the 1945 U.N. charter was signed in San Francisco. He met Mother Teresa, interviewed Eleanor Roosevelt and invited the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to speak at Washington University in 1956. Seeking enlightenment, he took mescaline with Timothy Leary and peyote with an Indian shaman. He counts Saul Bellow, Aldous Huxley, Pete Seeger and the Dalai Lama among his legion of friends …  and late on the night before the 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising, he arrived unsuspectingly in Beijing for a conference on Chinese philosophy.

In addition to his books, Smith has (luckily) given many interviews and lectures. Being an ordained Methodist minister, I came across an interview on the United Methodist Church web site where he discusses his faith story. I found his answer to the question of why he has remained a Methodist after having been exposed to so many of the world’s religions interesting. He stated:

I’m often asked why have I stayed in the Methodist church when there are so many other denominations and even other religions which I have studied and venerate. I take my answer from his holiness, the Dalai Lama, whom I have had a very deep friendship with for 35 years and I heard him ask whether conversion to another religion was ever appropriate. He said, it’s better if you can stay within your own tradition because you are imprinted with its form, and its music, and its literature, and Christmas carols, and the like. However, if you’ve been bruised by your tradition, your religion, why then, it is a good idea to look into others and possibly converting. Well, I have never been bruised by my church. I disagree with some of the policies, but just as we can disagree with the policies of the current American administration and still be an American, well, it’s the same way with me.

The link to the full interview is available by clicking here.

In May of 2000, Smith lectured at Duke University on “Why Religion Matters” where he outlined some of the major ideas from his book. Though not told in the rapid, bullet-point fashion of most lectures and presentations given today, and not accented with any flashy graphics or visual representations, I promise that if you listen to this lecture you will not only find wisdom in his words, but such beauty in his expression of them. Smith was in his early 80s at the time; if we could all only aspire to be like him!

In looking back across Smith’s life, you’d be hard-pressed to find a reason that his life has not served a uniquely divine purpose given the coincidences of his interactions with famous cultural icons in American history combined with his presence and involvement at various key events. For a truly enjoyable read and a full outline of his life experiences and lessons to date, please check out the aptly named Tales of Wonder and feel free to share any thoughts here!

August 27, 2010

Trixie Ann Schubert

Posted in Inspiring Stories tagged at 10:56 pm by tiffanyannbrown


In 1965 my grandmother, Trixie Ann Schubert, died in a plane crash. She was accompanied by Joan Merriam Smith, the first woman to fly the equatorial (Amelia Earhart) route around the world, and had been planning to write her life story when their 182 Cessna suddenly malfunctioned over the little mountain town of Wrightwood, CA. Though I never met Trixie, I feel like I’ve known her my entire life thanks to journals, lectures on tape, family photos, news stories, and memories that have been passed down along the way. I came across this quote recently about grandparents, which I thought was really neat:

The history of our grandparents is remembered not with rose petals but in the laughter and tears of their children and their children’s children.  It is into us that the lives of grandparents have gone.  It is in us that their history becomes a future.

The year before she passed away, she wrote an inspiring letter to her three children that eerily foreshadowed her death. Some of the reasons she was so inspiring include the fact that she was a foreign news correspondent, aviatrix, author, lecturer, and mother of three, but more importantly, that she set time aside for the more important things in life. Click here to view her biography.

Without further ado, below is a copy of the letter she wrote to her children, just brimming with purpose, love, and intention:

Dear Monkeys Three – Patrice, Heidi, Norman:  I write this merely to emphasize what you already know – that every breath I breathe is with love for you three and with gratitude to God for having so blessed me with you.

I write, anticipating no problems on the solo flight I’m about to fly, but because I’m somewhat of a fatalist (that all happens by His permissive or positive will and that it is sufficient in life to fulfill our mission here on earth with the living prayer, “Let me be an instrument of Thy will” and nothing else matters) and consider all possible contingencies as my Cub Scout (Norman) knows, wisdom lies in being prepared in all things as much as possible.

This flight is a challenge, one with which I feel capable of coping, or I would not make it.  There is a selfish motive, too.  I want to make you as proud of me as I am of you (and this is not a false pride).  Our love must be bound by purpose, initiative, fulfillment, accomplishment and you three are well launched on that track; we are not born in the image and likeness of God to vegetate.

You have nothing in life to fear, NOTHING, while you adhere to the magnificent faith bestowed on you in Baptism.  Don’t frustrate life by trying to understand all that you KNOW by feeling and experiencing.  The mystery of faith implies that we accept some belief on faith alone; as we accept so many mundane matters because they “work” as we expect them to, even though we don’t understand how (you know – electricity, growing grass, birth, love, – yes, and pain and sorrow).

Temper the truths you hold in faith with tolerance for the beliefs of others, with integrity (don’t imitate; be yourselves above all else and only then do you radiate charm, assurance, warmth, confidence).

As a child when my Mother died, I felt life was over and it wasn’t, though it was at the same time diminished and augmented.  I felt it again when Daddy died when I was not yet adult and had hopes of his being with us as a family again.  And when Nannie died I wanted my world to end, never dreaming that she would come back to me in you three and that she never really left me.  “I will be near, helping and praying for you whenever you need me” she promised, and she’s there – helping, waiting.

Love binds – eternally, you shall discover if you haven’t already.  Obey Daddy and be as tolerant of his few foibles as he always has been of me.  He is an exceptionally wonderful man, as if you didn’t know.  My love grows for him – always a good test of marriage.  That’s enough now of maternal commandments; no one yet has improved on the original ten anyway.

With you, and loving you – ALWAYS.

Mother

On a closing note, you can click here for a link to the 1965 Ogden, UT newspaper story documenting the plane crash.

August 26, 2010

Celebrating Greg Tropea

Posted in Inspiring Stories tagged , at 12:05 pm by tiffanyannbrown


A favorite professor of mine passed away recently, who not only inspired me to reach new levels of thought, but who remained a great friend over the course of the past 10 years. Through a review of old emails and much introspection, I’ve decided to start a blog on the premise of not only discovering but exploring new ideas, picking up where I last left off with him nearly 10 years ago when life was much more adventurous as a full-time student.

Greg not only inspired me to dig deep, “question everything,” think critically, challenge myself, and embrace the abstract, but to make time for people, live openly, give generously, and act kindly. Most of all – he taught me to put the time aside for deep thought and meaningful conversation.

Below is an email I’d like to share, dated May 24, 2006:

“I’m swamped with grading, Tiffany, but one of the things you said in your note brought me back to our conversation last September. In September, we talked about whether living a good life was enough, and as you recall, we agreed that ethics alone would not satisfy the spirit. I think that conversation connects to your thoughts below about putting the important things on hold to take care of the mundane details first. Each of these thoughts, in its own way, seems to me in danger of leaving the spirit out of the picture, the former by not knowing what it is missing and the latter by deciding for that absence.

The mundane details will always be there. Sure, some greater measure of stability may be achieved, but remember the Buddha’s observation that existence has the nature of dukkha, which we can think of as “It’s always something.”

As I see it, putting your best intuitions on hold is like saying you’ll listen to the lower harmonics of a piece of music now and the higher harmonics later. In neither case will there be much satisfaction or understanding.

Our entire life is our learning experience. I don’t think I’m telling you anything new in saying that the course a life takes depends in large measure upon the soul’s attunement. It affects how you perceive and relate to everything. Moreover, as Sartre reminds us, while the activities of the day may be mostly determined by the demands of our professional and personal involvements, HOW we engage in those activities is our choice to make.

So I am not suggesting unrealism or that pitiful new age caricature of wishful thinking. Working constantly for the fullest spectrum of consciousness you can attain will give you a perspective and vision at key decision points that mere strategists will never have. It’s not an either-or, it’s a both-and. Having your calculations and skills in order, like living the ethical life, is the minimum requirement, not the fulfillment of our life’s promise.

Lifetimes go by in the blink of an eye and people with spiritual gifts can get lost in the world. I don’t want that to happen to you and I know you don’t either.

As ever,
Greg”

I remember the very first day in 1999 that I sat in Greg’s Eastern Philosophy class, sizing him up as strange. With long, gray hair pulled back into a ponytail and sporting a long trench coat I instantly made the rash assumption that he and I would find little in common, but in no time at all I was completely enamored with him.

According to an article in the California State University, Chico student paper entitled “Greg Tropea Remembered by Friends”:

A former student recalled Tropea with gratitude. Sitting in Tropea’s logic and critical thinking class as a freshman in the late 1980s, Deedee Vest felt like her mind was opened to new ways of thought, she said. “It changed my life and how I viewed everything,” Vest said.

Reading this, it became apparent to me that I was not the only person made to feel this way. And therein lies the truth that this man was at the core someone both authentic and amazing who lived his own life to the fullest, while inspiring others to do the same. Please click here to read more about Greg Tropea.

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