Friday, January 6, 2012

1/7/12-1/8/12—Asking Why

Weekend Reading: Two of Swords from the Alchemical Renewed by Robert Place. This card is about actively questioning and seeking wisdom. It's about not taking things at face value. It's about finding out for yourself. So this weekend, ask questions. Maybe you need to have an internal debate about why you want such-and-such thing. Maybe you're questioning why your kid needs to borrow $50. Or maybe you're asking if something you've being doing for 40 years is truly genuine to you. Whether you're buying $5 cups of coffee or spending 15 minutes every morning warming up your car, ask yourself why. And keep asking why until you get to a REAL answer. We do too many things on a daily basis just because it's the way we've always done it. Or because everyone else does it that way. But if you want to start living more consciously and nourishing yourself more effectively, it's time to start asking some questions.

1/6/12—Talking Tarot

I was interviewed by Amethyst Mahoney recently about many things tarot. You can access our discussion here or link directly to it here. While you're clicking, be sure to visit Amethyst's site.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

1/6/12—Making Your Glingers

Today's Draw: The Five of Whimsicles from the Regretsy Tarot. Do you ever find yourself silencing your unique voice? Have you ever invented/created something then put it aside because people thought it was silly? Do others have to share your thoughts and beliefs in order to make them "right" or viable?

5 of Whimsicals
OK, before I start, I need to say a few things. First, I must credit Donnaleigh de LaRose for alerting me to this deck. Second, understanding Regretsy helps understand the deck.

Etsy is a website where crafters sell their wares. I do a LOT of shopping there. Most everything is one of a kind and made by hand by dedicated artisans. There's a lot to love. BUT there's also a lot to make fun of. There are a lot of weird trends on Etsy. Like crocheted and knitted beards. Anything octopus. And, like with today's card, anything done just because it's cute.

So Regretsy is a webpage that cropped up to make fun of the more horrific crafts you find on Etsy. Their tagline is "Where DIY meets WTF". That site inspired this tarot deck. One suit is Whimsicles, which corresponds to Pentacles. The deck creators are aware that the word is spelled "whimsicals", but they spelled it wrong on purpose because, well, that's so Etsy. (Links and additional card images can be seen at )

So, as you can see on the card, the lady is sporting her "glingers", which are glove-less knitted finger warmers. Yes, you can find some on Etsy. And in the background of the card is the requisite octopus. Why? Because.

Skull Fascinator
Unlike a traditional Five of Pentacles that might be talking about poverty or poverty of spirit, this card is actually talking about how we all have our own unique way of expressing ourselves. And not just that, but no matter how crazy our idea is, we can make it work. Somebody will buy it...haha.

This echoes some of what we've been talking about all week, because we all have our own unique way of seeing God and spirituality and how to move through this world. Thinking differently is not thinking wrong. And there is room out there for all our thoughts. We should all have the courage to believe in ourselves and our own ideas more than we believe in the voice of the people around us. That's the only way anything new can ever see the light of day.

Maybe glingers aren't the answer to the world's problems. But maybe someone with arthritic knuckles has been waiting for glingers all their life. You never know.

4 of Genitalia
Creative people come across this stuff all their lives. While I was writing this, someone had posted on Facebook about what a genius Steve Jobs was, but what a jerk he was, too (based on reading the biography of him). Well, that's probably true. "Nice" doesn't get you heard or understood when you're doing something that hasn't been done before. Persistent does. In-your-face does.

Based on my 25 years as an advertising person, I can tell you that it's rare someone appreciates the value of "original" and "unique". Everyone says they want it, but few have the cajones to walk that talk when they're actually presented with it. And when it comes to invention, few have the vision to see how successful something can be when it's something that's never been done before.

So you have to believe in yourself more than you believe in those around you. Maybe your idea sucks and will never work. That's very possible. But you won't really know until you try. I'm not saying to ignore your trusted confidantes. But I'm saying don't kill an idea you know has legs, just because others can't see the value in it. The worst than can happen is that you fail and learn a lot of really important lessons in the process.

5 of WTF
And back to our week's discussion on spirituality, don't deny something you feel in your heart just because those around you disagree. Look. We are all given one lifetime in which to live our truth. And we waste most of that opportunity caring so much about what others think and believe that we never get around to forming our own beliefs and our own thoughts. Half the time we don't even know if what we believe and think is because we believe it and think it or because we were taught to believe it and think it. But we owe it to ourselves to figure all of that out.

You get this one lifetime to make your glingers. Maybe they're a stupid idea. But they're true to you. And the delight of making them is reason enough to share them with the world.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

1/5/12—Killing By Not Acknowledging

Today's Draw: Nine of Feathers from the Margarete Petersen. Do you confront your fears or hide from them? Would you rather have a deep conversation with someone who thinks just like you do or someone who thinks differently? Do you ever hope that people would see the whole of you, rather than just judge you based something they don't understand?

Normally the thoughts on this blog are ones I take full credit for, but this Nine of Feathers (Swords) presents something I probably wouldn't have come up with on my own. Here is an excerpt of what it says in the little white book (lwb) that comes with the deck: 

"Killing by not acknowledging." "Walk towards that which you reject and fear."

The "killing by not acknowledging" thing is about how we bury our pains and fears, whether they're personal ones that live inside us or social ones in our environment. It's also about how we manage to remain in our own little cocoons where everything is just as we think it is and everyone agrees. 

Lots of lively discussion this week about connecting...about seeing our enemy as ourself, about accepting different beliefs and about connecting directly to God. Of course, killing by not acknowledging is the opposite of all that. And I think we all know that the "things we kill by not acknowledging" never actually die. They just kind of fester and eat at us. The longer you look at today's image, the more you'll see the horror, pain and emotional disfigurement denial or ignoring brings. Some of us are very good at it. But even experts at compartmentalization get snuck up on from behind by the things they pretend aren't there. 

OK. Confession time. If there's anything better than Wife Swap on TV, it's the new Celebrity Wife Swap...haha. Have you seen it? Only a couple of episodes have aired. And the most recent one was when Gary Busey's girlfriend swapped places with Ted Haggard's wife. Ted Haggard is that evangelical minister that supposedly bought a male hooker and some drugs. And Gary Busey is a new age-y (but Christian minded) eccentric actor with anger management issues and a full vocabulary of what he calls "Buseyisms". 

Anyway, at one point Busey basically told Haggard that reincarnation is real because he says so. Then he brought a Lakota healer in to recover her "lost soul". Through the first half of the swap, he didn't seem sensitive at all to the fact that this is a woman who is married to a man who is a preacher, and they have given their entire lives over to their beliefs. It was like he was in his own reality where this woman came to him looking to right herself on her path.  

The second half of this show is when the "wife" gets to make the rules. And the show made it look like she might go all Christian on his ass. At least it seemed that way to me. But what she in fact did was open her heart to him...not necessarily in a Christian way, but in a personal and emotionally intimate way. And instead of Busey getting his ego all up in a wad because it was all about her, he listened. And they shared a beautiful experience. Their hearts opened up to each other. They related as people, from a point of commonality and not from a point of being different. And you know what? The differences didn't matter so much anymore, because they were able to genuinely what was common between them both spiritually and humanly. As she drove away she said something like, "we're a lot alike".

Now this isn't the best example of what today's card is talking about, but it's in my mind still from having just watched it. They didn't walk away from what they rejected or feared about each other, they met at a point of commonality and stayed open beyond that.

We can walk into situations with people who are unlike us and walk away as unchanged and closed minded as when we entered. We can decide we won't like someone before we even meet them. Or we can treat everything like a learning experience, start on common ground, then find a way to ease into those things we normally refuse to acknowledge. When you think about it, it's a way of being genuine. Either you pretend to be interested, pretend to "be" with a person or pretend to connect just so you can keep anything real from happening between you. Or you can really connect.

For those of us who feel "different", we hope for our critics to see who we are...beyond the things they critique us for. Whatever that difference is, it's only one part of us—we're not all colored by just one stroke. Chances are, your critics hope for the same thing. Or someone you're critical of does. Again to the Ghandi quote, "be the change you want to see in this world".

You've probably heard the saying, "monsters live in the dark." Well, the more we walk into those situations that make us cringe...haha...the more we illuminate our fears and the more we learn about ourselves. The growth and change and triumph doesn't come from anything the "other side" has to say. It comes from our willingness to listen, push past our fears and see the world with an open mind, open eyes and open heart. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

1/4/12—Unleashing Your Inner Priest

Today's Draw: The King of Cups from the Tarot of the Holy Light. Who gets to decide what the word of God is? And if you don't believe in God, who tells you what to believe? What do God's confidantes have that you don't have?

In this deck, the King of Cups is equated to a shaman. Technically, a shaman is an intermediary between the human world and the spirit world. Their functions are far ranging, from healer and counselor to diviner and ceremonial leader. He is both medicine man and holy man, a spiritual guide and a priest. You wouldn't find a shaman in a church or temple, however. His church is in nature.

Today's shamans are more healers than priests, though I'm sure there are plenty of aboriginal tribes still around who count their shamans as holy men. From prehistoric man through Iron Age man, there was no "God" as we think of God today. Instead, they worshiped animal spirits, ancestral spirits, elemental spirits, the divine feminine, and the multiple gods of mythology and polytheism. The history of "not a Judeo-Christian God" is significantly longer than the history with one on this earth. 

It's interesting to note that as far back as man has existed, we've had a tendency to entrust our communication with the higher power to a mediator, whether a shaman, priestess, pastor or priest. This is how religions are built. A handful of these special people have communicated with a higher power, had mystical experiences, written texts, interpreted texts, developed a set of morals and values and brought their takeaway to the people, who then adopted the input as beliefs and it became a religion. Whether you worship a bear, Zeus, Allah or Jesus, that's how it happens. Much of what people believe in today is based on the input and interpretations of men who lived a couple thousand years ago. 

But we're talking about spirituality and a kind of "2012 new world order" this week and in the context of both of those things, I think the King of Cups has come here today to tell you that YOUR line to God is just as strong as those men's who lived thousands of years ago. It's just as reliable as your community's most beloved pastor's. And it's just as profound as anything you've ever read in a book. 

Which is not to take away from the studies and knowledge of priests and pastors and the like. They know their scripture better than us, no doubt. But talking to God isn't about scripture, is it? It's about learning to hear and recognize the voice of something greater than ourselves. Which is a capability we're all born with. It's not like holy men are born with a gene we don't have. They just have more of a discipline and practice of communicating with spirit than we do. But that doesn't mean we can't catch up to them and even surpass them in our communications.

So how do you do it? Well, prayer and/or meditation work. But what many may not realize is that we don't always hear clearly and the higher power doesn't always speak in words. You may get messages in symbols or pictures, feelings or intuitions. 

There are a few things that help set the stage. One is being in a quiet place where you can hear your thoughts. While you can connect anywhere, another is being in a place where you think you'll more easily commune with the higher power. For some, that's church. For others, it's nature. Both offer the kind of profound silence and stillness you're looking for. Then state your intention that you want to talk to to God about whatever it is. Visualize and feel the light and presence of the higher power surrounding you and just set yourself on "receive". Then, and this is the most important part, trust what comes to you, whether it's a feeling, thought, picture, words or even a smell. The more you practice, the more fluent the conversations will be. 

***Now for a disclaimer for the marginally stable among us, God's not going to tell you to hurt someone or do something you know is morally or ethically wrong. God won't tell you to manipulate or control. And God won't scare you. So if anything like that is happening, maybe it's a good idea for you to pass the Jesus on the Mainline phone over to someone else.***

A couple of years ago the American Religious Identification Survey (google "ARIS survey") showed that American's are becoming increasingly less religious, identifying themselves as having no religion or being spiritual, but not religious. In fact, the number of people identifying as having no religion has doubled in the past 10 years. These are the people we might call "lapsed Catholics". I know a lot of them. They have faith in God. But they no longer have faith in the church. They've never been told they don't need the church to know God, in fact quite the opposite.Truth is, they can do the same thing those men 3,000 years ago did when the whole earth was just getting to know "God"...find out for themself. 

So me and my Kingly friend here are suggesting that all the answers and love and communication and signs you seek are within your reach. Don't stop talking to God because you stopped talking to the church! And don't give up on a higher power just because you don't believe in God. The "force", the energy, the power, the being, the entity—whatever you call it—has been here all along. In all sorts of flavors and colors. Tens of thousands of years before the first priest came along, he/she/it was communicating on the wind you see blowing into the card above. In the cycles of the sun and moon. In the reflection of the ripples on the water. In the rustling of the trees, shape of the clouds and visage of a bear. In fact, that power was communicating long before man ever existed, just for the insects and dinosaurs to hear.

The 2012-ness of this is that, like the study suggests, we're trending toward being our own self-intermediaries with spirit right now. If we want to have that relationship, it's time to find our own vision. And, if you read yesterday's post, respect the visions of others while you're at it, whether their vision is their own or the church's. Can the earth survive 8 billion different visions of God? I think it already does in one sense. It doesn't have to be organized to resonate in our hearts. And it doesn't have to be a battleground, either. Because everyone I know who has their own mainline to God says the same thing—it's all light and love. And the more we know it and understand it and feel it straight from the horse's mouth, the better off we'll be.

Monday, January 2, 2012

1/3/12—Getting Over Your Bad-Ass Superior Self

Today's Draw: The Two of Swords from the Housewives Tarot. Can you fairly and impartially say that your God is better than my God...or anyone else's God? Do you think that some people come here to be on a spiritual path and others come here to be monsters? Are you ready to really question your integrity when it comes to your beliefs?

The Two of Swords is about being fair and impartial in your assessment of things. All the posts I make are about self development and spirituality, but yesterday's post inspired me to try to equate this week's posts to big lessons we need to learn on the spiritual path. So that's what I'm going to do, assuming the cards cooperate. And today they certainly did. (Meanwhile, I just love the Housewives's so kitschy. So if you're on my blog, you'll get to see a few extra pictures from it.)

Being fair and balanced is, I think, one of the hardest things people learn on their spiritual path. And there are two contexts I'll use to illustrate why. Of course this depends on peoples' beliefs, but I'd venture to say most people reading this will agree:
  1. We are all here for a reason and we walk different paths based on that reason... and we all come here with struggles to overcome and pains to heal. 
  2. There is a higher power that is good and is the one true higher power.  

Now, while most people can agree on those points, many of us struggle to find our balance, fairness and impartiality on those points. Here's what I mean. (And, by the way, if you don't agree with those points, read on. Because the same principles apply to you, too.)

Let's pretend you have a "mean" and "immature" boss. Well if you believe we're all here for a reason, that boss is on a path just like you are, and they're just in a different place along that path. They may be ahead of you in, say, manifesting success and behind you in treating everyone like a beloved lamb of God, for example. So let's say they make you take the blame for something they did at work. In that moment (and all moments afterward, probably) you might have a tendency to dehumanize them. They are no longer on a path and struggling just like you. They are a monster, demented, abusive and something must be done about them. Bad monster! MEAN monster!!!! SICK MONSTER!!!!

OK, that example is a little dramatic, but admit it. You do that. You've done that. We all have.

Being fair and balanced in our beliefs requires us to move past that kind of "us and them" thinking. Having integrity in the belief that all humans are here on a spiritual path that is uniquely their own and not for us to judge, means allowing the "monster" their imperfection. When you see the boss as someone who is so pained by insecurity that they can't take responsibility for their actions, well gosh, haven't we all been there at some point in our lives? 

Being fair means realizing that they struggle just like we do. It means looking into that person's eyes and seeing yourself, even if their lessons are not yours to learn in this lifetime and even if they're way behind schedule learning it and even if they hurt you in the process. Because, let's face it, we all have something crappy to deal with on our plate that someone else skates effortlessly past. For me, one of those things is my struggle with my weight. Something so easy for many of you—moderate diet and exercise—is something I feel powerless against and overwhelmed by. 

Being fair and balanced is allowing everyone else their own crap, even if they are a serial killer. Yes. Even if they're a serial killer. It doesn't mean you have to be their friend. Doesn't mean you have to approve of their behavior. And it doesn't mean their actions don't hurt or piss you off. It just means that if you believe we're all here for a reason and can't judge another's path, then you can't judge their path and label them a monster. You can't continue to see them as something separate from you. Because they're not. They ARE you. They're a spirit struggling in their human skin, just as you are. They're simply learning different lessons and having different difficulties than you in this lifetime. And thank God their issues aren't your cross to bear this time around. But you know what? If you believe in reincarnation, you will, in one lifetime or another, do something so heinous that you will be reviled, too. We all have it in us. Thank god only a few of us have to go there this time around.

Allowing others their stuff is a hard one and probably one we'll always have to work on. So is the next one...the one about God is good and there is only one God. Yes, I have a vision of "God" and, as I said yesterday, I call it the Universe. It's not a being, but an energy. It is a good energy. It is the bestest, juiciest energy ever. To hear me talk about it, you'd think I was talking about Joel Osteen's God. I am. And I'm not. 

Years back I had a terrible dislike of anything Christian. I saw Christians, in general, as misguided hypocrites who talk about Christ like he's his Father (I still don't understand that one) and preach about forgiveness and non-judgment in the same breath as they tell you you're going to burn in hell for being a non-believer. Certainly that was my experience, as seen through my lens at the time.

Meanwhile, I would talk about MY god and how MY god was the SAME god as their god, but MY god was nicer and wouldn't burn anyone in hell. And I'd wonder, "why can't those hypocrites see that my god and their god are the same god, but we just see him through different eyes?"

I should have been asking that question of myself, right? Because if I was fair and balanced in my assessment that there is only one god—a god adept enough to show itself to us in different flavors to accommodate the free will we have here on earth—then I would love their god, too. Because there is no "my" god and "their" god. There is only one god. And instead of looking for the hypocrisy within their beliefs, I'd look in their eyes and see that the love and reverence and hope they had Him all wrapped up in was the exact same as mine. If I were truly fair and balanced and impartial and walking in integrity with my belief, I would allow them their god and their beliefs and their struggles on their paths with their beliefs, rather than see them as something outside of me, different than me, less than me.

It doesn't mean I don't still see hypocrisies and inconsistencies in the beliefs of others, just as my earlier point doesn't mean I don't see when people are acting unkindly or unfairly. What it means is that I'm honest enough to see the hypocrisies and inconsistencies in my own beliefs and behaviors—no belief system is bullet proof. And I'm fair enough in my assessment of others to see that they're struggling and in pain just like me. Just with different stuff.

And here's the thing, I didn't have to compromise anything of what I believe in order to be more inclusive. In fact, I merely had to act in integrity with my beliefs. If there is one true God, as most religions teach, then we all believe in the same one. Even if we call it/him/her/them by different names. And (and I know this is my personal belief and not necessarily the belief of others) the dude is SO cool that he doesn't care about ego issues like what to call him and how to draw a picture of him. He just wants us to know him, in whatever way we're capable. It's not about changing beliefs at all, imo. It's just a way of seeing things that's more inclusive...more Christ-like, frankly.

So those are the two examples I can think of on the spiritual path where people think they're being fair and impartial and good and right and are totally missing the mark. We're quick to recognize it when it's "them" that's doing it, but not so quick when it's us. And you may not believe as I do, but I'll bet you can apply this to your beliefs, as well.

Again on the 2012 thing, there's a whole group of people out there who believe we need to reach a certain tipping point on this inclusiveness thing in order for society to survive. The philosophy is known as Oneness...the idea that we are all one. They believe this year is critical to that, as though we are at a crossroads. One path leads us further into the dark and the other—the path of inclusiveness and oneness—leads us toward the light. 

Personally I don't buy that it has to happen this year or whatever. And there are those who think the Oneness people are a cult...haha. But honestly, what could it hurt to see the person standing next to you through balanced and impartial eyes? What damage does it do to see others with no other agenda than love in our hearts? How can it do anything but further us on our spiritual paths? Call it Oneness or Christ Consciousness or just being a good person. Call it what you will, but so many of us ask why we can't all do that and be that way, then we sit down in front of the TV and look at Lindsy Lohan and shake our heads in disapproval. That's not walking the talk, people. We've all done it and do it, but it's time to heal that part of us, whether our neighbor or the rest of society joins in or not. Ghandi says "be the change you want to see in the world". It ain't gonna happen any other way, folks. Are you up to the task?

Sunday, January 1, 2012

1/2/12—Stoking Our Spiritual Fires

Today's Draw: The Ace of Wands from the Pagan Tarot by Gina Pace. Do you feel a hole where your spirituality should be? Do you feel drawn to deepen your spiritual beliefs? Do you know what spirituality means to you?

It is so appropriate that we begin this year's daily draws somewhat at the beginning...the spark of fire, the spark of life. All aces in the tarot are traditionally depicted as an offering from the heavens...a beginning of something new. There is a lot of energy behind them. Depending on the suit, they may be a beginning in the realm of emotion, thought, material needs or creativity.

When what is being handed to you is fire, however, there's even more energy behind it. The wands speak to our ability to create, stoke passion or pursue spirituality. As Gina Pace puts it in her companion book, the Ace of Wands signifies a spiritual epiphany. And in recent years, there hasn't been a New Year with more spiritual buzz around it than 2012.

So what is spirituality? Some people use it to mean the same as religion, but you won't see me do that. Religion is what is taught through books and words. It is experienced in the head. Spirituality is what you learn through your senses. It is experienced in your heart or core. The two work together beautifully. Or they can work independently. You don't have to know the Bible or a specific set of teachings (such as Jewish or Catholic beliefs) to feel God working in your life. 

And while I'm using the word God here, what I'm really talking about is something greater than the individual. It doesn't have to be a creator. It doesn't have to be a male energy. It doesn't have to be an entity. Indeed, in the way I believe, it's not called God, it's not an entity and it's not a's called the Universe, it's an energy and, in a way, life creates it, instead of the other way around. And I don't mean we create it because we're desperate to believe, I mean we create it because it's the collective energy of all that exists...something larger than the sum of its parts. 

Even some of the atheists I know are people I would consider spiritual, simply because they question "why". There is a lot of crossover between traditional philosophical thought and spirituality. While an atheist may not be attributing the answers to anything mystical, they're still asking the questions. And many feel a deep connection to nature and natural order, but again, don't attribute it to God. That doesn't mean they can't think about it like Rumi.

But back to what most of us consider spirituality...if religion forms the basis of belief for many, spirituality is the part that is unique to the beholder. This may not sit well with religious people, but to me, religion is what man whispers in your ear about God, based on the interpretations and beliefs of other men going back thousands of years. Spirituality is what God whispers in your ear about himself/itself based on your personal relationship with him/it.

For those of us who choose to set aside man's whisperings and focus primarily on what rises organically within us—and let's face it, none of us were raised in a vacuum, so our beliefs are colored by those man-whisperings we've heard around us all our lives, whether we like it or not—spirituality also holds the key to all of those questions that have captivated us since the beginning of time...who are we? Where did we come from? Why are we here?

This Ace of Wands could easily represent the spiritual energy around 2012. There are a lot of theories of what will happen on 12/21/12 ranging from the apocalypse to "it's just another day". All that seems to be true is that, for one reason or another, the Mayans stopped their calendar on that date. It's given spiritual import because these dudes knew stuff about the cosmos that we've only in recent times been able to corroborate with all our machines and doodads. So they seem to have had some sort of advanced knowledge that came from who knows where. But those who know the complexities of Mayan timekeeping say it's really just the end of one calendar cycle and the beginning of another. 

Another thing about 2012 is that it's a "5" year (2+0+1+2=5). Numerologically speaking, it's the number of divine grace and the mediator between God and the universe. It is the number of both human and God.

In tarot, the number 5 signifies the Hierophant and so 2012 is the Hierophant year. Sometimes known as the Pope or Pontiff card, he is the symbol of dogma, religious teachings and religion. But as Barbara Moore (tarot goddess) observes, "pontiff" means bridge...the bridge between theory and practice. Which is what you could call spirituality. In her definition of the Hierophant for her upcoming Steampunk Tarot, she says, "The Hierophant is one who teaches us how to live in accordance with our sacred beliefs. For those belonging to a group, community, or organized religion, there are usually teachers aplenty. For those who follow a more solitary path, they are often their own hierophant. This responsibility is often supplemented by studying sacred texts, works of art, private spiritual practices, and nature."

So here's the thing...warranted or not, there's a lot of spiritual buzz around 2012. And by sheer virtue of the fact that so many are placing their attention on its spiritual import, it will likely become a self-fulfilling prophesy at the very least. So being the mystical woo-woo girl I am, it just seems like there's no better time for all of us to revisit, deepen or explore our spiritual and/or philosophical selves.

So that's what this Ace of Wands is coming here to tell us on the first draw of 2012. To stoke our fires and start at the beginning. Ask "why am I here?" "What have I come here to do?" "What's this all about anyway?" But more importantly, ask the most germinal questions of all...the ones we frequently forget to ask, like "How can I serve?", "How can I reflect God's wisdom, grace and love with my fellow man?" and "How can I end the year a better person than when the year began?"