It has been a while since I last posted anything to this blog and I apologize to my audience for being remiss in my duties and obligations to keep my blog flowing. Lately I’ve been thinking about the concept of the objectification of women. You might be asking yourself,  “Didn’t feminism settle this matter decades earlier?” Many people believe we live in a society where men and women are equals. Sadly, that is not the case. What I am about to explore are the vehicles by which men and societal institutions perpetuate the reality that women are objects.

Image Courtesy of http://feministclassics.wordpress.com

Simone de Beauvoir (Photo credit: http://feministclassics.wordpress.com)

Objectification of women and women’s inequality are not new concepts. For a historical account that is groundbreaking in its approach read Simone de Beauvoir (1989) The Second Sex in which she claims women oppressed by the society at large and specifically by men throughout the ages. Women throughout the centuries were subservient to men. The feminist movement starting in the late 1840s broke the silence and helped women to achieve the right to vote, gain equality which took longer than most anticipated, and helped to end some of the systems of oppression that devalued women or made the objects for male pleasure.

Please note at the outset that I do not view women as objects. I am writing this post from the perspective of a heterosexual male who was guilty of buying into the societal constructs that see women as objects. I have learned valuable lessons over the last six plus years of college and graduate school education that make me more aware of how I interact and engage women to see them as human beings with dignity and self-worth and not as objects of pleasure.

I believe the feminist movement made great strides in helping womankind advance their cause for equality and justice. However, I believe more work remains unfinished. The problem of the 21st century as I see it is a return to the objectification of the past century only more graphic, overt, and explicitly sexual.

In this social critique I would like to explore music, the language of objectification, and the subtle ways we continue to objectify women and lend support to atrocities that include violence towards women and systemic oppression.

Hip-Hop, Rap, and other modern musical styles are my jam, but I am the first to admit that these music genres objectify women and essentially communicate to men, myself included, that we can have what ever women we choose and do whatever our hearts desire and no one or social institution will stop us. Can you see the danger inherent in this music?  Akon’s  ” I Wanna Fuck You” featuring Snoop Dog portrays a club scene in which women are shaking their bodies while singers discuss how they’re going to get into the women’s pants at all costs because they’re horny.  To quote from the song

Girl I spend money like it don’t mean nothing And besides I got a thing for you. I see you winding and grinding up on that pole. I know you see me lookin’ at you when you already know. I wanna fuck you, you already know. I wanna fuck you, you already know”

I apologize for the vulgarity of the quote but it demonstrates the violence implicit and explicit in this music. You can see throughout the video women are  valued in terms of dollars and cents. Those listening to the words and jamming to this music at the club or in the confines of their own bedroom hear the message “Women are objects for your use. Do what ever you like with them.” How would you feel if the person being treated as an object for sexual gratification were your grandmother, mother, aunt, sister, cousin, friend, wife, or coworker?  This song implies women only have value because they “provide” for male sexual needs.  Songs of this form also fail to see the nurturing side of women.

When we listen to songs that make women into objects we strip women of their humanity and by virtue of this we allow for the possibility of rape and murder. Objects have no feelings. The song is communicating to men and society that women have no feelings and their sole purpose is to provide for men. Sounds like society has not left the middle ages, doesn’t it?

It pangs me to say this but men are not solely to blame for female objectification. Women have also played their part in creating a culture that deprives women of their humanity. Consider Nicki Minaj’s 2011 hit Stupid Hoe which repeatedly calls women a stupid hoe and reinforces the old notion that women are objects in need of dominance by men.  Labeling another human being a hoe, slut, pussy or other similar name is another means of depersonalization. We prevent ourselves from seeing the humanity of the person when we use the linguistic construct known as labeling.  Labels allow us to distance our self from the individual. By calling someone a “stupid hoe” as Minaj does in her song she is suggesting that person is not part of the human condition. If that is the case, then violence in the form of abuse, assault, sexual harassment, or the like is permissible.

Imagine what these songs are doing to our youth, our society as a whole, and our psyches.

Songs like Stupid Hoe or I Wanna Fuck You play everyday on radio stations across the nation and the globe sending the message it’s ok to treat women disrespectfully. Furthermore, songs of this nature allow us to perpetuate the objectification of women on a global scale. Gender equality will not occur if we continue to allow these songs to permeate our culture.

You have a part to play in this.

You can be an instrument of peace and social transformation or you can be a blind participant in a culture that supports making women into objects. If you choose the first option, you might begin by looking at the music you listen to on a daily basis. What are the messages being broadcast into your consciousness? Does the music you listen to encourage gender equality? Does it caution you to see others as objects? What other negative messages does it give you? Once you have a sense of this you might also examine other areas of your life and culture that perpetuate the systems of oppression and objectification that I have commented on in this blog post. The violence to women DOES NOT HAVE TO CONTINUE! We can end it right here and right now.

If you find this topic stimulating, I will encourage you to explore this topic more by visiting the following websites:

  • www.goodmenproject.com (The Good Men Project is a great resource of social commentary and community of other individuals trying to end systems of oppression and objectification)
  • http://www.menstoppingviolence.org (Men Stopping Violence is a national training institute that provides organizations, communities, and individuals with the knowledge and tools required to mobilize men to prevent violence against women and girls.)
  • http://www.acalltomen.org (A Call to Men is a leading national violence prevention organization providing training and education for men, boys and communities. Our aim is to shift social norms that negatively impact our culture and promote a more healthy and respectful definition of manhood. We believe that preventing domestic and sexual violence is primarily the responsibility of men.)
  • http://site.nomas.org (NOMAS or National Organization of Men Against Sexism, is an activist organization of men and women supporting positive changes for men. NOMAS advocates a perspective that is pro-feminist, gay affirmative, anti-racist, dedicated to enhancing men’s lives, and committed to justice on a broad range of social issues including class, age, religion, and physical abilities.)
  • http://www.mencanstoprape.org/  (Men Can Stop Rape is an organization whose mission is to mobilize men to use their strength for creating cultures free from violence, especially men’s violence against women.)

I encourage your feedback, comments, & critiques and I also you encourage to keep the conversation going on and offline. Please feel free to share this article and I hope to continue the conversation with you!

May we continue to be instruments of peace and end violence toward women across the world.

Thanks for reading!

Michael

Essential purpose is service

Posted: August 4, 2013 in Will2Meaning

Originally posted on The Practice of Living Awareness:

earth-sun-space-1We can measure our understanding of purpose by how much we understand the purpose of others, including friends, family members, amoeba, fungi, a snowflake, or a poison. Purpose is rarely obvious in the form something is presenting, contrary to Aristotle’s conviction. Instead, purpose is subtle yet drives us, as it does a plant, to complete its reason for being. Doing so, the plant fulfills its purpose and its interdependent reason for existence on our planet. The same is so for you and I.

Our world service meditation is on just this: the sublime emptiness of purpose and that as we live it, the world is served.

Podcast: Essential purpose is service

Webcast: Essential purpose is service

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2013-05-12 13.32.35

Proudly displaying my diploma to the world in front of my school’s banner :)

It has been a few days since I last posted and plenty of things have occurred in the interim. This Sunday was Mother’s day, happy belated Mothers day to all moms, aunts, godmothers, and grandmothers!, and my graduation during which I received my MASTER’s degree. I have been on cloud nine for the last week or so. Now I have more time to devote to my blog and you my devoted readers.

Since you last tuned in I received word from fellow blogger Linda at litebeing chronicles that I was nominated for the Versatile Blogger Award. Thanks Linda for bestowing this honor upon me! Linda is a versatile blogger who discusses astrology, spirituality, and psychology to name a few of her passions. Check out her thought-provoking work and share the love!

The Rules: 

  1. Display the Award Certificate on your website.
  2. Announce your win with a post and link to whoever presented your award.
  3. Present 15 awards to deserving bloggers.
  4. Drop them a comment to tip them off after you’ve linked them in the post.
  5. Post 7 interesting things about yourself.

versatile

7 Random Facts You’ve Waited to Learn About Me!

  1. I have a twin sister. No we don’t look-alike nor do we have the twin connections commonly associated with twins. Sorries!
  2. I sometimes speak with a perfect Russian accent. I’m not Russian but I do appreciate Russian literature, culture and the language. Don’t judge :) We all have our quirks.
  3. I have webbed toes but I cannot swim. Ironic, right?
  4. I’ve studied on two continents (Europe & USA), earned three degrees, and have been in school for all of my life. What can I say I love learning :)
  5. I started learning guitar in January. Please don’t ask me to play for you until I’m a pro. Trust me I’m looking out for your best interest.
  6. I love children and have four nephews and two nieces. Children remind me to enjoy life to the fullest!
  7. I’m currently job seeking.  Offers for interviews or employment are encouraged. Please see my resume to further acquaint you with my skill set and training.

Onto nominating the bloggers who equally deserve this award! I’ve decided to break from the rules and nominate six awesome and awe-inspiring bloggers that I feel a special connection to. I will nominate the to other nine bloggers in the next day or two.

The Nominations for the Versatile Blogger Award are…..

  1. Brett Keegan at Backward Philosophy: Speculations from an Overactive Mind is my first nominee. His posts beckon us to examine our lives and the world around us in critical and awe-inspiring ways.
  2. Kayla at Gen Y Girl is a young twenty- something just entering the work force hoping to share her experiences with other Gen-Yers. Her articles are an inspiration to all members of Generation Y.
  3. Venessa at Loving Psychoanalysis is a versatile bloggers who writes about her experience as a budding psychoanalyst. Her style is honest and reflective and encourages us to examine the unconscious areas of our own lives and the great culture in which we live.
  4. Sean at Your Favorite S.O’B is a talented commentator on social issues with a pithy style that reminds us to shed our preconceived notions of how the world works.
  5. Monika at Symbol Reader  is an excellent source on symbology, mythology, spirituality, and Jungian psychology to name a few of her hats. She blends these subjects in ways that make me appreciate the depthness that is our humanity.
  6. Jim at The Running Father  is an artist, poet, enneagram lover, and Renaissance man who writes about life’s complexity and beauty as well as his personal experiences in ways that breaks new ground in the blogging community. Check out his fabulous artistic endeavors and more! You won’t be disappointed.

Please check out these amazing bloggers who truly deserve the title of versatile blogger. Join me in congratulating them on their fine accomplishment and may we continue to reap the benefits of their thought-provoking content.

Heartfelt Congratualtions, 

Michael, Will2meaning.com

Picture of Me, My parents, brother and nephew outside our house before my graduation ceremony from Adirondack Community College, May 2009

Picture of Me, My parents, brother and nephew outside our house before my graduation ceremony from Adirondack Community College, May 2009

On Friday May 3rd, 2013 at 6:29 PM I received word that I’ve been accepted to the Ph.D program in Clinical Psychology at Saybrook University in San Francisco California. I’m going to be a doctor in four-five years. HAPPPY DANCE!!!!!!!! Even as I write this I have the worlds biggest smile on my face :) When I heard I was accepted I was at a loss for words. And that is a first for those who know me. This is one of the HAPPIEST MOMENTS of my life and fulfills my childhood wish to become a doctor. Since I received this great news I have shouted for joy and celebrating this wonderful accomplishment. I would now like to pause in reflection and thank the universe for providing me with an amazing life and opportunities.

Growing up as the son of Italian immigrants human behavior, language, and culture fascinated me and have driven my passion to pursue a doctoral degree and career studying psychology.  Although my parents are not college educated, from an early age they instilled within me a strong desire to make the world my oyster and take advantage of every opportunity that would help me find meaning and purpose in life.  My academic preparation for doctoral studies grew out of my parents’ encouragement and permission to pursue my passions in ways that would allow me to thrive. My brother Antonio (standng between my mom and I/my dad and I) was the first person in my family educate at the university level. I follow in his footsteps and carved my path fulfillment of the American dream that my parents sought when they immigrated from Sicily and Calabria.

I love the power of learning and owe some of my success to amazing professors and supervisors.

Adirondack Community College (ACC) in Queensbury, NY where I pursued an associate’s degree in liberal arts and developed my love for human behavior, language, and culture as well as academic learning and community service is the starting point of my journey to doctoral studies. My time at ACC allowed me to explore subjects in an interdisciplinary fashion and develop a philosophical outlook on life that I maintain today. I’d like to especially thank Dr. Andrew Costa (a former philosophy professor), Nancy Downer, Nick Healy, Dr. Joanne Malkani (former psych professor), Jeannie Carpentier, Brian Durant, Dr. Ronald C. Heacock, Ember Marie Traino, Suzette Santana, Hope Moses, and countless others (sorry if I left you out ACC friends too many people to name) who helped me become the person I am and cultivate my love of learning.

After ACC I transferred to St. Bonaventure University, a small liberal arts college, where I pursued a bachelor’s degree in theology, studied at Trinity College at the University of Oxford, and completed a master’s degree in counseling where I maintained a 3.82 grade point average. Theology helped me to understand human behavior and culture from a rich and interdisciplinary perspective. It taught me to think critically about individuals from religious and spiritual perspectives different from my own and it allowed me to study across disciplines to see individuals in terms of their context. Theology was my road into psychology and it prepared me to view individuals holistically and with an open mind that welcomes the diversity of humanity. DSCF1555

While I completed my bachelor’ degree I had the privilege and pleasure to study for six weeks at Trinity College in Oxford, England where I pursued courses in British and American media and culture, European art history, and international business. Oxford was an experience of great social, personal and academic growth. I formed strong friendships with individuals from Italy, France, Spain, Ukraine, Turkey and almost every corner of the globe. I learned to move beyond my exclusively American sense of self and blend joyfully with my new local surroundings. Academically, the experience of studying at Oxford and taking courses with Oxford tutors helped to deepen and challenge many of my preconceived notions of how the world works.  The decision to pursue a master’s degree in counseling quenches my thirst to deepen not only my understanding of the human condition but also what helps people to thrive and live out meaningful existences.

As I sit in my room and reflect on twenty-four years of life, 6 years of eduction and three earned academic degrees I am in awe and amazement for everything that has happened to me. I have been on cloud nine and the top of the world with happiness and jubilation and I cannot help but share with that joy with every one I have met. I have been transformed in many ways, mind, body, and soul. I have learned to trust and believe in myself, my intuitions, and God/ the Universe. I have also learned to value experience over grades. Like most parents and siblings mine are proud that I earned A’s and B’s but I’m even prouder to have earned a handful of Cs and Ds because knowledge is not based on what you score on some test.

When I received word of this great news I wanted to send everyone that told me I couldn’t or wouldn’t make it an email but instead I erred on the side of caution. Trust in yourself! Don’t let others show you what path you should or shouldn’t take. Believe me when I say that I’ve had a lot of naysayers in my life and I know what it takes to persevere. The universe sends you good fortune when you put out good energy. No good work or deed goes unrewarded. Have faith in your awesomeness and power to do great things.

I cannot help but share my optimism with the world. I want everyone to feel the experience of being on cloud nine. We all have a destiny some find it when their young and others when their adults. Don’t rush to find your path. LIVE LIFE TO THE FULLEST! 

Life is grande! Live by your intuitions and let the universe or God guide you to the path that is your destiny. Let your passion, hopes, and dreams come true and may you find yourself in the same happiness high I’m currently experiencing. LOVING LIFE :) :) :)

The World of Chaos by Michael J. Gargano (Acrylic Painting), May 3, 2013  The great news of getting into a doctoral program inspired me to paint

The World of Chaos by Michael J. Gargano (Acrylic Painting), May 3, 2013
The great news of getting into a doctoral program inspired me to paint

Thanks to everyone who was or is part of my journey! You are forever ingrained in my consciousness.

Most importanly  I’d like to thank the most-high and all-glorious God for the gift of life filled with many treasures. Amazing friends. Solid education. And a family that will do anything help me be who I am and find my destiny. 

There so much more I’d like to write about but I’m at a loss for words and filled with immense gratitude that I’m graduating and will start doctoral studies this August.

Congrats to everyone graduating in the coming weeks. Know that you are an amazing person and will do great things that will transform the world.

Please feel free to share your thoughts as always.

Peace & Love,

Michael (future Dr. Gargano)

Be Praised, My God!

Posted: May 5, 2013 in Will2Meaning

Michael J. Gargano:

What perfect thoughts for a beautiful day as I sit outside at my Franciscan University in Olean, NY

Originally posted on Darvish:

Salaam and Greetings of Peace:

Be praised, my God, by butterfly and dragonfly wings exercising for their first flight.
Be praised by lightning and thunder causing spring showers.
Be praised by the silent voice of grass growing and trees budding.
Be praised by all the colorful flower trumpets of spring.
Be praised by downy feathers freshly dried on newly hatched ducklings and chicks.
Be praised by the songs of birds, crickets, and frogs.
Be praised, my God, by all your creation which tells of new life.

- A new canticle, from Sr. Mary Goergen, OSF

(Sisters of St. Francis, Rochester, MN)

Ya Haqq!

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Nostalgia  by Michael J. Gargano  Digital Photograph

Nostalgia
by Michael J. Gargano
Digital Photograph

As I settle in for the evening I cannot help but feel grateful for being alive. Grateful for a beautiful day & sunshine, good conversations with friends and colleagues, and nature.

Cultivating gratitude in my life was not an easy task. Like many people I get angry and mad at the world and sometime at people I view as more successful than myself. However, I challenged myself to find things for which I am grateful every day.

Nature always tops my list of things for which I am eternally grateful. There is immense joy in connecting to the trees and animals and the lager universe which provides me life. Friends and people who believe in me share the number one spot with nature.

Like nature people fascinate me. People are mysterious and for that I am grateful. I enjoy the company of others even when words are not spoken.

In the spirit of gratefulness I’ve decided to compile a list of great quotes regarding gratitude that is not exhaustive and are in no particular order:

  • “Gratitude for the gift of life is the primary wellspring of all religions, the hallmark of the mystic, the source of all true art….It is a privilege to be alive in this time when we can choose to take part in the self-healing of our world. -Joanna Macy
  • “Wear gratitude like a cloak and it will feed every corner of your life.” Rumi 
  • “I no longer want to have anything to do with love that forgets to be grateful. Otherwise I will only go on lying to You: and I want to be done with all insincerity for ever and ever.” - Thomas Merton (The Sign of Jonas, p. 290).
  • “Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” -Lao Tzu
  • “Give thanks for a little and you will find a lot.” -Hausa proverb from Nigeria
  • “If we take the time, no matter how crazy and troubled we feel, we can find something to be thankful for.” - Terry Lynn Taylor
  • “Every breath we draw is a gift of God’s love; every moment of existence is a grace.” -Thomas Merton (From “Thoughts in Solitude”)

Take a moment and think of what you’re most grateful for.

If you have a difficult time with this task, journal for a moment about your day. List the top ten things that made you happy to be alive. This task is difficult if your new to finding things or people for which to be grateful but try to find at least one thing or person.

I encourage you to share your thoughts about gratitude generally or what your grateful for today if you feel comfortable.

May you find gratitude, peace, & love on your journey.

Namaste

It is my pleasure to introduce our first of many guest contributors to will2meaning.com. Jim Aldrich is the founder of The Running Father Blog and is a passionate writer of transpersonal spirituality, psychology, & the arts to name a few of his many passions.  I thoroughly enjoy his posts, his witty prose, & his artistic talent. I hope you enjoy his post and his blog as much as I do. Without further adieu….. 
 
Transfixed by Jim Aldrich oil pastel 8 x 10

Transfixed
by Jim Aldrich
oil pastel 8 x 10

Learning our Enneagram type is rarely an easy pill to swallow. From the very beginning, the Enneagram of Personality illuminates the very areas our ego strives to conceal from awareness. Our deepest emotional places, our fixational thinking, and the counterproductive attitudes we glamorize as values, all these and more we are confronted with, and with little warning or sugar to help it go down.

 
The Enneagram don’t play around with us. We are not coddled. It can be stark, direct, and the passive cause of a good measure of cognitive dissonance. It has been a some-times welcomed, but often distressing wake-up call to would-be seekers and self-help tourists for over 40 years now
 
That, friends, is not my story though. I pursed the Enneagram from day one like it owed me money. By the time I was introduced to the Enneagram of Personality, I would have chewed razor-blades if I thought there was truth to be savored in the blood. I typed myself immediately, intuitively and haven’t wavered since.
 
I am Enneatype Four. Aesthetic, melancholy, and on the “search for self”. It is this “Search for Self”, shared by Fours in some form or another, that I want to talk about.

“In the artist of all kinds I think one can detect an inherent dilemma, which belongs to the co-existence of two trends; the urgent need to communicate and the still more urgent need not to be found…” –D.W. Winnicott

Not all Fours are like me, and thank God. You see, we like to remain unique. Seriously, with the advances over the last few years in Enneagram study, namely Tri-types and the development of the Instinctual Variant Stackings, students of the enneagram are finally learning many of the reasons why there is such wild variety within a given Type, and why typing is presently an art more than a science.

All Night in the Park by Jim Aldrich oil 18 x 24

All Night in the Park
by Jim Aldrich
oil 18 x 24

Still, common to type Four is this sense of “searching”. It may be argued that this is a reflection of the disconnection from the mother/source, or from the impossibility of formal languages to express adequately, therefore resorting to a search for a deeper expressive reality. In the end, the Search for Self manifests as any number of rejections of the conventional or surface for the ineffable and extra-ordinary.

From my earliest recollections, I looked outward, to the world, and it had a “togetherness” that I didn’t feel inside. There was something about other people especially. They had “it”, that x-factor, that something-or-another quality that I didn’t possess, and as a toddler, I remember wondering why. Searching for answers, I looked inward, inside my thoughts and feelings, and from a very early age I became an introvert.

Being an introvert is difficult business. We swim around in a world of impulses, desires, and stray thoughts tangled up with emotions. It is a world that has no native language, no “key” to it’s symbols, no index, introduction or cliff-notes. It is a world you can get lost in, and for that reason, several Enneagram types-strategies, or ego-strategies, are remarkably external-oriented. Type seven, for example, can float along a quiet train of thought as nimbly as anyone, but has more difficulty than others just stopping and observing their emotions.

I had no problem becoming a deep-sea diver of the psyche. I would have pushed others out of line just to be first to jump in!. But the difficulty of expressing what I experienced deep inside myself became an issue very early. I was awkward and painfully self-conscious. I didn’t talk a whole lot and NEVER in public, and when I was forced to, the words came out all flat and strange in my ears.

And then, magic. I discovered writing and art. Point, line, plane. Encrypted, potent word combinations. I could let it represent me, and it also hid me from the perceived judging eyes of my family and peers.

Behold the Mystic by Jim Aldrich pencil 8 x 10

Behold the Mystic
by Jim Aldrich
pencil 8 x 10

But before too long, I realized even creative expression wasn’t enough. My problem was disconnection from the divine. I wanted God, truth and reality, and without further growth in that area, all the masterpieces in the universe wouldn’t fill that void.

And that brings me to the gorilla-spiritual, art-heavy attitude, and the growth fast-track I am on today. The feeling of disconnection and the search for “original unity” may be consciously or subconsciously there inside every type Four, but the life-course we take is still uniquely a product of our individual paths, influences, and attitudes and behaviors we develop as reactions to our sense of separateness from God.

Have I found myself? That’s the wrong question really. What I ask myself today is, “Are you taking the next indicated step? Are your actions right? These questions can and should be asked by every man, or woman, regardless of Enneagram Type. Why? Because they are first principal. As the proverb says, “Seek Ye first the Kingdom… then all these things shall be added…”.

The surprising clarity of the Enneagram may be daunting for Fours, or any Enneatype, but for the Type Four traveler, no matter how eagerly or suspiciously received, it can reflect light and offer guidance through the darkest and murkiest of our psyche’s shadow-lands.

Peace to all searching Fours, and to all searching beings, and may you find stillness in this life, and love and union with the eternal.

Jim Aldrich, the RunningFather Blog.

Did you enjoy Jim’s original art? Please visit his art and poetry sections to see more of his masterpieces.

Michael J. Gargano:

I love this!

Originally posted on Everyday Power Blog:

Whether it’s done formally in a separate room or laying in your bed for the first 10 minutes upon waking up, or sitting in your chair right after a shower – daily meditation has innumerable documented benefits.

Do your own 30 day challenge where you keep track by marking off a calendar. Find the best time that works for you, this will usually be early in the morning when there are the least amount of disruptions and distractions. Next, get comfortable and just simply focus on your breathing. If you’re having a difficult time getting started, or maintaining a quiet mind – then just start at 5 minutes for the first day and add a minute a day. Whatever you do, don’t criticize or try to judge how successful you are being in the process. Just do it. Visualize your breath entering and leaving your lungs, over and over and…

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Peace Path at Mount Irenaeus Retreat Center, West Clarksville

Peace Path at Mount Irenaeus Retreat Center, West Clarksville, NY
Photo Credit : © Michael J. Gargano

Silence. Where did the silence go?

Lately I have thought about this question and the significance of silence as an integral part of our evolutionary record. What follows is my attempt to unpack silence from my own experiences with sprinklings of wisdom from mystics, prophets, and philosophers of world religions and spiritual traditions.

The word silence transcends language and evokes deep emotions that are hard to explain. Lexicographers, however, define silence as 1) the complete absence of sound or 2) cause to become silent, prohibit or prevent from speaking. I think there’s more to this simple word than lexicographers care to admit. In my experience silence is not an exercise in ridding sound. Rather, silence is a vehicle through which we can connect to our deeper spiritual selves.

A great Rumi quote about silence states “Why are you so afraid of silence, silence is the root of everything. 
If you spiral into its void, 
a hundred voices will thunder messages you long to hear.”



As social beings we are constantly on the move. It never ceases to amaze me how busy we truly are. Twenty-four hours a day committed to completing hundreds of tasks. Walking up, getting dressed, going to work, cleaning your house, spending time with love one’s, cruising the internet are but a few of the tasks that occupy our day. For some odd reason silence does not seem to have made the cut. Maybe it’s on the editing room floor.

The noise and chaos of our modern world do not create an environment in which we can find silence and peace. I know from experience that my searches for inner silence lead me to withdraw from the fast-paced world around me and into nature. There is something about nature that makes silence flow naturally in and out my being. Sitting alone in the woods or near a lake evokes this sense of oneness with a higher energy that calls me to be silent.

One of my favorite scripture passages from Psalm 40 says, “Be still, and know that I am God! In nature I find this verse become alive.

A forty-five minute drive from my university in West Clarksville reside six Franciscan Friars who operate a retreat center called Mount Irenaeus (the Mountain) for students & alumni of St. Bonaventure University and participants from the world over.  Part of attending retreats at the Mountain is the beautiful and scenic woodlands that surround you from the moment you arrive. Cell phone reception is poor which provides ample opportunity to enter contemplative silence and recharge your inner battery. The Psalm quoted above is a central theme of the Mountain. The Friars encourage you to become still and know that God is here with us – in the woods, the solitude, & in the silence.

Trail at St. Bonaventure University

Trail at St. Bonaventure University, NY
Photo Credit : © Michael J. Gargano

A retreat center with friars may not be your cup of tea or maybe inaccessible due to economic reasons and/ or the time constraints of your work or school schedule but I’m here to say that you can find the same experience of peace in your house, at work, and where ever you find yourself at this moment. Set aside time every day for silence. If you have a tight schedule, find two or three minutes between meetings or classes to sit in complete silence. Shut of your cell phone or computer for the duration of your silent time. Take a few breaths in and out. Set an intention to clear your mind and stay in silence.

At first you will notice that you have difficulty remaining silent for 2-5 minutes but that is natural. Don’t judge your experience. What ever happens is exactly what should happen. Notice whatever thoughts come to mind but try your best not to engage those thoughts. The more you practice the easier it will be to find the silence. What matters most is that you make a conscious effort to be silent. It is in periods of silence that we become more aware of our inner soul and identity.

I leave you with the words of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross Learn to get in touch with the silence within yourself, and know that everything in life has purpose. There are no mistakes, no coincidences, all events are blessings given to us to learn from.”

I pray that you find peace and silence now and always!

Please share your thoughts and insights below.

awarenessLately I have thought about living in the present moment. Last night I presented a workshop on meditation and relaxation to a group of freshmen students and their RA (several of the attendees were my former students). I couldn’t help but recognize that living in the present moment is a hard thing to do.

Like most people I live a 21st century lifestyle. I’m connected to technology 24/7. Well-educated. And my brain is always on. I hunger to learn and find myself lost at times in the galaxy of information that is the worldwide web.  I have noticed there are periods in my life when things do not make sense despite innovations in technology that have made finding answers to my problems easier. What I have come to realize is that I feel the most stressed and inauthentic when I do not live in the present moment.

Leo Tolstoy once said “Remember then: there is only one time that is important–Now! It is the most important time because it is the only time when we have any power.”

Why is living in the present moment a struggle? Since childhood society conditions us to think of our futuristic success. The most influential figures in a child’s life, Mom and Dad, plant the seeds of living in the future from childhood.

Think back to your childhood. Do you remember people asking you “What do you want to be when you grow older?” Get the picture?

In the shuffle to become successful citizens of the world we lose something in the process the ability to live in the present moment. I can remember my parents telling me to shoot for the stars and make the world my oyster.

What does it all mean? Explicitly, the expression encourages us to pursue our dreams. Implicitly, however, we told to acquire money and gain jobs that will secure us economic security. In our materialistic society, human beings are measured in dollars and cents also called “success”. According to our societal standards owning a flat screen television, vacation house, new car, or computer is a status symbol of a successful person.

It seems illogical for society to equate material possessions to the worth of individual human beings. Life is more than materialism. Neither one’s possessions nor one’s Self will live into eternity. We are finite human beings.

Often we neglect the present moment – living in the here and now. Religious traditions from Buddhism to Christianity teach about living in the present moment so where and when did we lose our awareness of it? It is time that we reclaim the present for our sake and humanity’s.

What ever happened to the days of one on one conversation? Text messages, Mp3 plays and social networking sites have cut humanity from authentic human interaction. To become more aware of the present moment necessitates that we make certain sacrifices and make a conscious effort.

In my experience what allows me to live more fully in the present moment is to ask myself these three questions

  1. What do I see, smell, touch, or sense?
  2. What do I think?
  3. What do I feel?

If I cannot answer these questions, I know I’m living on automatic pilot.

What I have learned though trial and error is to practice a form of meditation every day. It could be a simple diaphragmatic breathing exercise, mindful eating, mindfulness in thoughts and actions, centering prayer, or yoga that brings me a deeper understanding and awareness of the present moment.

I take pause everyday to sit outside to enjoy the natural world that surrounds me and/or the company of solid friends who support and encourage me to be an authentic human being. I leave with you two questions to consider as you finish reading this post.

How do you want to live your life? On automatic pilot? Or In awareness of the mystery and beauty that encapsulates you at every minute of the day?

I hope you find peace and comfort where you most need it.

Namaste!

Gallery  —  Posted: April 29, 2013 in Memories, Personal, Pictures, Will2Meaning
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In my earlier post I discussed the current personal energy crisis that we have experience in the digital age. As promised in my last post I’d like to spend some time discussing strategies to regain our awareness of the present moment, control where we direct attention, and how we create meaningful existences that reduce our levels of stress.  Its fortunate or unfortunate, depending on your perspective, that April is National Stress Awareness Month. It is time for us to take control and end the many sources of stress in our lives.

Many of you have heard the word “stress” thrown around like its candy flying out of piñata, but what does it really mean? Simply put stress is the body’s reaction to internal or external stimuli that poses a challenge to the body’s maintenance of wellbeing. For brevity’s sake I urge you to read a well-written article by the Huffington Post that graphically explains your body on stress.

Now the strategies I promised.  

(1) Give Attention to Your Passions: 

We all know people who give their attention to projects, organizations, or other persons that run contrary to their own passions. Take a moment to think and describe these people and how they look. Did you come to the same conclusion that they look stressed? Good!  We live a finite existence and cannot do everything under the sun. Take an inventory of your life. What activities and people give your life higher meaning and what detracts from it? After you create this inventory find things that mesh well with what you have listed. One form of stress arises out being inauthentic or denying your own self by living the life that others say you should. The more I live my life as I understand it the more creative, liberated, and the less stressed I feel.

keep-calm-and-love-who-you-are-28(2) Love Who You Are:

We live in a world that sends us a steady stream of signals to become the next big thing and unconsciously hate the person we have become because we have not gained the status that our society tells us we should have acquired. Healthy relationships with significant others, children, and employers must be grounded in our love for our own selves. We need to undue the influences of media and look to the qualities that make us who we are. Think not about what you do not have but what makes you a unique human being. Many of the stresses we experience in life derive from a lack of love for self and lack of a clear understanding of our needs and wants. Take some time alone to think about your life. Attract the qualities, people, and activities that will make your life meaningful and rid yourself of the negatives or meaningless activities, places, and things or people.

(3) Practice Yoga:

The ancient Indian tradition of Yoga a spiritual discipline and way of life that promote fullness of life and experience is a transformative way to regain perspective of your real self. The more I practice yoga the more I gain control of who I really am and what really matters to me. Yoga has taught me to pay attention to my body. It has also shown me what really matters at the present moment in time awareness of my being connecting to higher energy. At the time I practice my yoga all my troubles take a second seat. Yoga is not an escape rather a way to regain control of attention and what matters. If your interested in yoga and the various intersections of yoga with health and spiritual well-being, check out some great articles by the Huffington Post (my favorite news source and addiction) and any article by the http://www.yogajournal.com.

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(4) Learn Mindfulness:

Mindfulness is similar to yoga in the sense that both stress the present moment and awareness of one’s body as well as both originate in the east. In the United States Jon Kabat-Zinn, Professor of Medicine Emeritus and Founding Director of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, is the worlds leading expert in the medical benefits mindfulness. He wrote several books that are forever ingrained in my consciousness and deepen my newfound appreciation for the beauty that surrounds us and love for myself. These works include:

The aim of mindfulness is to be in the present moment and not to judge the automatic thoughts that you experience millions of times a day. When you practice mindfulness you maintain a stance of open and unconditional acceptance toward yourself and your experience. The art of the mindfulness philosophy is to seek what’s authentically you and not what can be created artificially from objects and people. Today millions of people allow themselves to become victims to the stress they’re currently experiencing. However, mindfulness teaches us that is not the case. We have control over our bodies and our attention and should use both to cut our current levels of stress and live more meaningful experiences. For more on mindfulness please visit these resources :

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(5) Curb Your Social Media Intake:  

Let’s face the facts people social media causes stress. If I could create a disorder not currently defined by the DSM IV (The Diagnostics and Statical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Revised Edition) , it would be “Social Media Induced Stress Disorder”. We live in a connected society. You cannot escape the power or influence of social media sites from Facebook to Twitter and YouTube and there’s always something new to read, like or comment on. I don’t know about you but I feel the “stress” everyday. Did  I like enough of my friends statuses? or Have I read the latest Twitter post that went viral?  or Watch a YouTube video recommended by all my friends that probably isn’t funny but has a million hits? These questions go through my mind every minute.

Did you know that the average Facebook users spends 20 plus minutes online and likes more than a 100 plus comments in a day. And did you know that YouTube has enough videos uploaded every minute to last a few centuries and then some. You can’t even keep up. You done before you leave the starting gate. This tension between staying connected and living my life has prompted me to take some radical changes over the last year or so.

I’ve decided to cut Facebook friends that I haven’t talked to in forever because let’s face it, Facebook was designed to have 150 friends anyways. I’ve curbed my interest in the new YouTube video sensation and telling my friends it doesn’t really interest me. We only have 24 hours in a day so we should use them wisely and consume information that matters to us and not what others say we should consume. Can you relate and do you feel the stresses that I describe?

As always leave your comments and thoughts below. But please remember to live life to its fullest and enjoy the beauty of the natural world around you.

be-true-to-yourself-and-you-will-never-fall Lately I have thought about inner images that we create for our selves as an exemplar of what we would like to become or our idealized self. As I walk through life I have noticed there are times when people have “suggested”  I take one path over another because they feel their way is superior or in my best interest. However, I find myself staying steadfast to that inner image that I created from an earlier age. Call me a rebel.

My studies of counseling in graduate school for the last two and a half years and the clinical experiences completed at various internship sites to fulfill my degree requirements have allowed me an insider’s perspective into the minds and worldviews of people who have lost track of their inner image. Can you relate?

I’m sure we can all think of a former friend, professor, and/ or significant other who told us that we couldn’t do something or wouldn’t amount to anything. From the depth of my being I want to shout “Stick to your inner image. To thy own Self be true. Trust what’s in your heart to guide you to the right path. Listen to your intuition and instincts and carve a path that you know will make you happy. Life’s too short so you ought to make it your own and meaningful.”

I think sometimes we forget that our lives while shared with others remain our enterprise. We suffer not because others cause us to suffer. Rather, we suffer because we move away from living authentically to the image hidden deep with our psyche and soul. My readings of existential and humanistic writings in psychology affirm that our denial of our inner image cause us to experience suffering and a lack of meaning. To live authentically and from the well-spring our own being means trusting your instincts and intuitions. We all have this innate quality to know when something “feels right” or something is happening at the “right moment” but we must deepen our awareness of this potential.

Whether it is your choice of careers, jobs, schools, friends, or anything else in life let your instincts, intuition and inner image be your guide. Trust in yourself to make decisions that will set you on your path to fulfillment of your hopes and dreams.

These thoughts came to me as I laid my head on my pillow and are a work in progress. Please feel free to share your thoughts on this topic or whatever comes to your mind.

Peace!

water“Hold on to what is good, even if it is a handful of earth. Hold on to what you believe, even if it is a tree which stands by itself. Hold on to what you must do, even if it is a long way from here. Hold on to life, even when it is easier letting go. Hold on to my hand, even when I have gone away from you.”

ATTENTIONWe live in a digital world filled with the constant buzz of notifications, from smartphones to social media platforms, asking us to engage in things that may run contrary to our beliefs, passions, and interests. In this 24/7 instant-access age we are inundated with mass amounts of stimuli that prompt us to comment and like as many statuses and tweets as there are minutes in the day.

After reading Wayne W. Dyer’s (2003) There’s a Spiritual Solution to Every Problem, I began to question why I give attention to people and causes that I do not care for. I’m sure you can relate with this sentiment and have spent a great deal of time putting forth energy into relationships (romantic or “friendship”), wasted energy into dead-end jobs, started tasks for which you did not have passion, and any number of related instances.

Pause. Think about your own life. Can you relate?

Have you entered into a heated argument on a social media site that ruined your day to the point that it detracted from your happiness? Or maybe you were not aware that this happened. Off the top of my head, I can think of at least a few dozen moments where I gave my attention to things that I later regretted. I could easily lament that this was time wasted but I would do more service to myself to learn from these experiences.

Several recent Huffington Post articles cite studies from the American Psychological Association that Millennials are the most stressed generation in America and are a generation born into connectivity. Technology and modern interpersonal communications, via social and digital media, have created problems within our society. It is time that we reexamine both our bonds with these tools, and the power they are holding over us.

In the next post I will discuss strategies to regain your attention, control over the digital world, and maximize your happiness. Stay Tuned!

I’m Back

Posted: March 19, 2013 in Will2Meaning
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thank you languagesThanks for your continued support of my blog! I apologize for my absence over the last few weeks! As a graduating graduate student I have been busy with school, studying for the comprehensive examination, application for post-graduation jobs and Ph.D programs. But I am back in the swing of things and will begin posting regularly.

I’d like to leave you with a Rumi poem that I have thought about lately:

“Love rests on no foundation. It is an endless ocean, with no beginning or end. Imagine, a suspended ocean, riding on a cushion of ancient secrets. All souls have drowned in it, and now dwell there. One drop of that ocean is hope, and the rest is fear.”

I look forward to reconnecting with you and the blogging world!

Peace,

Michael

RainThis is something I posted to my Facebook page and it is a brief meditation or reflection on appreciating nature- especially the rain:

Take a moment and listen to the sound of the rain outside. Let the symphonic melodies of rain hitting the pavement bring you into a deeper state of peace and oneness with the world. Feel the gentle cool breezes that invite us to a deeper awareness that we are alive and able to appreciate the beauty of nature. May you find tranquility amidst the beauty of falling rain at this very moment. Peace!

Please feel free to leave your thoughts about nature or what ever this reflections inspires within you!

Will2Meaning’s photostream

Posted: January 22, 2013 in Will2Meaning
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Today we celebrate the life of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the mark he has left on our society. Since I was a child in elementary school I had an admiration for Dr. King and his “I Have a Dream” speech. This speech speaks of a world in which peace, unity and understanding are all possible. His words eloquently describe a society in which men and women, black & white, young and old, can live together with a sense of brotherhood and solidarity. After the forty-four years, nine moths, and sixteen days since Dr. King’s early departure from earth I believe that we have progressed politically, socially, and spiritually; however, we still have more work to do. We live in a world where it is now ok to marry someone of a different color, religion, or social class and owe a great deal of gratitude to Dr. King’s untiring work fighting for social justice and equality for African-Americans during the civil rights movement.

Dr. Martin Luther King-Jr

Like Dr. King I too have a dream.

I have a dream of a society in which we learn to appreciate our differences be they cultural, social, economic, religious or gender differences. I long for a society that takes care of the homeless, the poor, and the down trodden instead of ignoring them or leaving them to survive alone.

I have a dream for a society in which violence and wars are no more. I recall the words of Dr. King as he reminds his followers to use nonviolent methods as they struggle to gain social equality, he says:

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

We are spiritual beings in a material world.

I have a dream that we can peacefully coexist with one another without resorting to shootings, bombings, or other acts of violence. Violence begets violence.

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Lessons learned

This past Monday (January 7, 2013) I returned home for a week-long mini-vacation and have had several opportunities during the afternoons to visit people whom I admire and who have mentored me through my formative years and continue to shape the person I am today and the person I strive to be. The following reflection grows out of my experience visiting former professors and supervisors as well as old friends I have not seen since I was a student at Adirondack Community College (ACC) in Queensbury, New York.  It was refreshing and rekindled my joyeux de vie to return to the place where I launched my academic and professional self which I could not have accomplished without quality mentors to guide me on my path. The following reflection is a collection of thoughts about mentors and good role models as well as the practical lessons I gained along my journey to self-discovery, meaning, and truth.  I started to think after I left my visit with my mentors that as a society we underestimate the value of a good mentor or role model and have replaced this with a “me-centric” value system.

Lesson 1: “Always Go Beyond Step One”

One of my first mentors was Nancy Downer my first supervisor in the Student Activities Office at ACC. Nancy taught me hundreds of important life lessons but for my readers’ sake I will only discuss the top two life lessons that I still try incorporate into my interactions with my friends, family, and students that I’ve taught. Nancy’s first lesson to me was “Always go beyond step one!” At first this saying seems confusing or simple but it is more complex than meets the eye. What this expressions means is do not be afraid to go beyond the first step in whatever project or journey you intend to embark. It can be anxiety provoking to write a paper for a class, apply for a position, or any other task that requires multiple steps and it is our fear that keeps us from going beyond the first step. We all have fear about doing certain tasks in our lives but we should not be confined by those fears or anxieties.

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