September 24, 2009

Beauty and brains…

Posted in Between Us column, Health, Relationships, Television, Women at 5:52 am by dinaheng

For every woman who’s ever worried about being fat, attracting the right guy, or being recognized for our talent at work, Lifetime’s new series “Drop Dead Diva” (Sundays at 9 p.m. Eastern) is a must watch.

In the show, a shallow model-in-training who’s convinced that her looks are the key to success dies in a sudden accident and — karma be blessed — finds her soul transported into the body of a brainy, plus-size, about-to-be deceased attorney.dinah-eng-21

Brooke Elliott, who stars as the spirit of Deb in the body of attorney Jane Bingum, is a delight to watch each week as the newly reincarnated soul learns what it means to be truly committed to others, and uses her own ditzy talents to bring joy and justice to those around her.

“We all relate to having things not go the way we planned,” says Elliott, whose Broadway stage credits include roles in “The Pirate Queen” and “Taboo.” “It would be great if people were able to walk away from the show with a sense of their own worth and their own beauty.”

That, of course, is what we all wish for every day, whether we realize it or not. Whether we’re at work or at home, spending time with friends or family, we look for the situations where we feel most comfortable. We prefer being with people who accept us as we are.

The challenge lies in stretching our boundaries, and being who we are in a world of people who would rather we be like them.

“We all think differently on different days, and behave differently in different situations,” Elliott says. “As an actress, I love the complexity of playing two different people — it’s Deb’s soul and Jane’s behavior.

“I relate to Deb’s joy for life. She fights for what she believes is right. Jane’s got loyalty,  passion, and works hard, and I have that in me. But we’re all everything, not just one aspect of a person.”

It’s in allowing all the different parts of us to emerge that we become truly whole.

Most of the time, we look at “developing” different sides of ourselves as drudgery.  We think we have to “work” at losing that extra 10 lbs., or learning a new skill. Could we see it as  “fun” to do the things that would bring greater happiness into our lives? Could we let go of our fear of what would happen if we tried on that new behavior?

“I think all of us have times where we’re judged for our looks, and not for what we can or cannot do,” Elliott says.

How many times do people see a person’s intellect, and not the beauty of the soul? How many times do we judge ourselves for not being what “society” deems beautiful?  And who is society, anyway, but us?

Beautiful women without brains are just as much a stereotype as brainy women without beauty. The truth is, every woman is beautiful and every woman has a brain.

We just have to create that balance for ourselves.


September 16, 2009

Who’s lying now?

Posted in Between Us column, Health, Relationships at 10:07 pm by dinaheng

“You lie!” shouted Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) during President Obama’s recent speech on health care reform initiatives to Congress.

The heckle that drew condemnation from both sides of the aisle has become a rallying cry for many who are fed up (and frightened) by the pace of change in Washington these days.dinah-eng-21

There’s nothing wrong with expressing our fears — it’s both therapeutic and healthy — as long as those fears don’t stop us from fixing the problems we all agree exist.

Some people fear that government has grown too big and too costly under a Democratic president. If you live in California, as I do, you could say the same about decisions made by a certain Republican governor who’s proved himself to be as inept as any manly man in political office.

As the 2009 legislative year ended in Sacramento, lawmakers went home with little progress to show on any issue. The state’s finances are in shambles, the war over water supplies continues, prisons are still overcrowded, and another politician (Assemblyman Mike Duvall, R-Yorba Linda) bites the dust after bragging about having sex with two women over an open mike.

When is it going to change? It’ll change when we stop lying to ourselves.  When we admit that we are all perpetuating problems by insisting that our opinions are the only ones that matter.

It’ll change when we stop demonizing other people, and see that their hopes, fears and interests are not separate from our own.

It’ll change when we embrace change, instead of fearing it.

We live in scary economic times, but we’re not in a depression. We’re not in the middle of World War III.  Hostile aliens have not landed, planning to obliterate us off the face of the planet.

My friend Christine, who used to work as a space biologist for NASA, told me a story the other day that illustrates what great management requires. She says she once worked for an executive at NASA headquarters whose mantra was, “Don’t bring me a problem without a solution.”

Can you imagine how much Congress, state legislatures and local governments could get done if they hewed to that kind of standard? Can you imagine what all of us would accomplish if we took that attitude to heart in our own lives?

The battle is not over health care and who deserves to have it. The battle is over whether we’re willing to do what it takes to make things better — for everyone.

And that’s the truth.

September 11, 2009

What you read is what you get…

Posted in Between Us column, Relationships, Spirituality at 4:24 am by dinaheng

Whenever anyone asks me, “What are you reading these days?,” I have to stop and think. My habit is to read several books at once, jumping from one to another as the spirit moves me.

I love reading spiritual books, science fiction, mysteries, romance novels, children’s books, and inspirational business books, which pretty much tells you my personality in a nutshell. I love adventurous tales that touch the heart and deepen the spirit.dinah-eng-21

I’ve been on a James Rollins (“Map of  Bones,” “Amazonia”) kick lately, following the adventures of flawed heroes who must save the world from the worst of ourselves. If we only saw everyone as the heroes we are, there wouldn’t be any villains… and probably  fewer adventures to enjoy.

I ascribe to the thought that we always have the problems we want in our lives. On some level, our soul chooses the challenges we face, presenting our human selves the opportunity to learn important lessons.

Debbie Ford’s new book “The 21-Day Consciousness Cleanse… A Breakthrough Program for Connecting with Your Soul’s Deepest Purpose” (Harper One, $24.99) shares some practical tips on how to release destructive behaviors and thoughts from the past, examine where we are in the present, and create the future we want for ourselves.

In many ways, we procrastinate actions that would create our highest good. As Ford writes, “There is no insurance policy big enough to calm your ego’s fears that its needs will not be met. So you will have to choose: Are you going to trust the path that you’ve known, the path that has limited you in some way? Or are you going to roll the dice and bet all your resources on a power greater than yourself…”

Getting in touch with that greater power is what we must do if we are to find our soul’s purpose. In a time of economic uncertainty, when people are losing once “secure” jobs, more  of us are asking, “Who am I really?  What is my true worth in the world?”

One way to discover our own worth is to help others in need, for as we help to strengthen others, we are lifting ourselves up as well.  Susan Skog has written for many years about humanitarians and their projects, and her latest book is a call-to-action for volunteers to change the world, wherever we are.

In “The Give-Back Solution: Create A Better World with Your Time, Talents and Travel (Whether You Have $10 or $10,000)” (Sourcebooks, Inc. $14.99), Skog shares inspirational stories and a practical guide to opportunities that make a difference in people’s lives. As she writes, giving back is a passport to greater joy.

“Helping others reach for a new day rejuvenates us in ways that another margarita-soaked vacation, more stuff, a fatter resume, or a supersized house can’t begin to,” Skog writes. “We want to feel useful. We want to find meaning. We want to know we matter. We want to feel alive and on fire with possibility.”

A dear friend of mine who is turning 70 next month told me that her life is happy and full, with family, friends and many interesting hobbies. “I don’t have many new ambitions,” she said, “ just to be at peace and to serve. Maybe I’ll join the Peace Corps down the road.”

To be at peace and to serve. Sounds like a good book to me.

September 3, 2009

Dealing with good-byes…

Posted in Between Us column, Relationships, Spirituality at 5:35 am by dinaheng

I hate saying good-bye.

The last family reunion of the summer ended today, as my sister Jackie and her two sons, Peter and Sam, left Houston for their new home in Oman. Their dad Jim works overseas for an oil company, and the four have moved to different postings around the world, coming back to the United States once a year or so.

Because the time between visits is so long, the joy in coming together is always equaled by the sadness of parting.dinah-eng-21

We can’t see the ties that bind us to others, but they’re there. We feel them tug on our hearts every time we move away — physically or psychologically — from the people we love. Those invisible threads are God’s reminder that we can never be separate.

We live in a world where families are separated by so many things — geography, cultural differences, political opinions, religious beliefs, you name it, and someone’s family is bound to be divided by it.

Yet I have to believe that there’s something in our core that won’t let the illusion of separateness truly divide us.

When I left home for college, I couldn’t get away from my family fast enough. I wanted to explore new places, in search of a new me. When the outer search finally turned inward, I  began to work through family issues with a therapist. After years of running from my fears, I started to understand that who I am and who I want to be are not different.

We spend so many years in search of… something. Only to discover that the journey is always about finding our way home.

In my mind, home is Los Angeles, where I live and work; Houston, where most of my family resides, and Sedona, where my spirit most feels at peace. Since no one place satisfies all that I am, I find myself still split between geographic places. At the same time, I feel more at home in each place than ever before.

What’s hard are the moments in transit, when I leave one place (or set of loved ones) for another. I know that whenever I visit friends or family, I’ll feel a hole in my heart for a day or two after saying good-bye.

So I throw myself into work projects to avoid thinking about the person I’ve left behind. If a  family member has visited me, I clean the house to erase all physical reminders of the visit, then try to lose myself in a book, all in an effort to distract my mind from the loss. The heart can stand only so much pain, so we defend ourselves by trying to ignore the sadness we feel whenever it’s time to say good-bye.

Yet part of the challenge of life is keeping an open heart, so that no matter where we may be, love can walk in unannounced.

One day, I know there’ll be a time when one place feels more like home than any other. Until then, it’s good to know that good-bye is just a word that has to be said before you can say hello again.