Esoteric Themes of Waypoints: My Scottish Journey

30 Oct

By Kathy Custren

End at the Beginning, Literally

I feel an urge to write about the more esoteric themes of Waypoints: My Scottish Journey. It is the latest best-selling book by Sam Heughan published by Voracious/Little, Brown and Company/Hachette Book Group, Inc. As the month of October 2022 ends, so does my first foray into its virtual pages. It is about a year from when a branch of the journey takes place. Since others still await the receipt of books on order, I will not spoil any fun with particulars. For those I recommend the book itself, of course.

With a nod of thanks to Kindle/Amazon, I enjoyed the journey over the past few days. Beginning the book with an ending is an intriguing way to draw a reader in. It provides a waypoint of sorts; a direction of what awaits at the end of the road. Well done!

A Mixture of Different Discoveries in Waypoints: My Scottish Journey

Sam writes Waypoints: My Scottish Journey in a style that intertwines parts of his life to date with an almost week-long journey trekking Scotland’s West Highland Way. It was enlightening to read about the struggles of a young actor’s work and a mature actor’s walking experiences as an intrepid explorer. While reading, I could not help but notice greater themes at play.

Like the strands of one’s DNA, Waypoints coalesces multiple threads of Sam’s life story. I am an enthusiastic fan of the greater Conundrum of life, as Consciousness Live readers know. I also much admire Sam Heughan as a human being doing good and well in the world. The esoteric themes are there for those who look to glean from the different discoveries made on this breathtaking trek.

‘Let It Go,’ Seriously

A significant part of both the acting and hiking journeys is the amount of preparation involved. Heughan speaks of his childhood and schooling as any of us might, offering insights into how one adjusts over time to circumstances. Noteworthy throughout is Sam’s positivity; one observes that this outlook serves him well multiple times.

It is just as eye-opening to see him admit to the ramifications of over-preparation at times. In short, Heughan does not shy away in a literary sense from how much burdens and baggage tend to weigh on him. In a more physical sense, we read about how significant the active choice is to ‘let it go.’ And keeping the bare necessities, too; balance is key.

Being In the Zone

Heughan also enlightens us on how freeing himself of said encumbrances enables him to exist in the present and enjoy it fully. I heard Sam speak in a podcast previously about what it was like for him to be in that creative zone. Like an athlete, the preparation and training are the foundation.

As a creative producer, being in the zone enables one to soar. It is attuning to that live state of consciousness, or the interactive torus of energies all around and through us. His skill in eliciting a masterwork from the zone of creativity is a remarkable achievement. Acknowledging its presence in life is no small feat; again, well done and blessed.

Solitary and Social

Another significant thematic mixture are the times when Sam is happily alone with his more solitary thoughts and when he is decidedly social. Within Heughan’s journey, these play out throughout. As another interwoven pair of themes treated deftly, Sam addresses those times and experiences one must go through alone.

We also feel for the adult in him coming to grips with his past, as if finding a sense of balance or reconciliation with philosophy of sorts. Like having a dram, we revel in the more social times best shared with others—human and otherwise. We cannot help but appreciate the fun, creative side of this impressive storyteller as he maneuvers the travails of the West Highland Way. Next up is the audio book, where rumor has it there is singing included; more good vibrations.

If the publishing gods are so inclined, let Sam Heughan write another memoir in another ten or twenty years, at another waypoint of his life and career. It was a pleasure to discover from the onset that the book would be an appealing story to read, in more ways than one. I hope you are just as fascinated by the esoteric themes of Waypoints: My Scottish Journey. ~ Blessings!


How Woke Are You?

11 Oct

Gertie and ET nbcu-U5255-Full-Image_GalleryBackground-en-US-1483993539173._SX1080_The 1982 movie E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial awakened many viewers to the idea that there might be an approachable alien life out there. Science fiction being what it is, there have been cornerstone creatives over the years that took audiences to new heights and depths of such discovery. Whether in film or on the written page (sometimes both), the audience leaves the theatre lobby or closes the book cover with their perspective forever changed.

E.T. of 15 Years Ago

Back in 2005, Eckhart Tolle published his book “The New Earth.” On page 258, he writes, “Your inner purpose is to awaken.” Tolle goes on to say we share this purpose with every other person on the planet. He further speaks about the process of ‘awakening’ as being a shift in consciousness and an act of grace.

Flash forward to our present year, 2020, and the Hulu show, “Woke,” starring Lamorne Morris. The lead character is a man, like many of us, caught up in expressing his talents in life when he is mistreated. His traumatic experience awakens his consciousness to another side of ‘the real world.’ Viewers get to see just how disturbing being ‘woke’ can be.

While Spielberg’s movie, Tolle’s book, and Lamorne’s show are entertaining in their own way, each touches on the same concept.

Whether we approach awakening with grace inquisitively or have it dumped on us through trauma, at some point we do ask our inner self, “How awakened am I?”

“It’s Time to Broaden our Minds”

Much like Jack Nicholson’s Joker in the “Batman” movie of 1989, we may choose to enter a museum in Gotham and leave a bit of our own artistry behind. Many of us now have technology and social media at our fingertips by which to share these more enlightened moments—or maybe just what we ate for breakfast.

Perhaps we share what someone else wrote, but it expresses how we feel about the present moment. Serious topics might pertain to Black Lives Matter, Children in Cages, Climate Change, or the political climate—but we connect with others and share a bit of energy.

Whether it is nod of understanding or, in these days of COVID, a virtual hug, we share a recognition, a sense of seeing ‘the other’ as one of our own. Much like we could find very human qualities in E.T. We also share a greater sense that many of us are going through a similar process. So, here we are, in this weird year of 2020 and we all recognize the underlying impression that ‘something is up.’

Adaption to Insecurity in Times of Crisis

One thing we can probably say is that from the time COVID was ‘a thing in some far-off land,’ deep down many of us knew it would visit our shores. As we saw countries around the world making efforts to contain a viral infection, others of us experienced very real and lingering trauma. And here is where things get a little fuzzy or static-y, thank Goodness.

A few months prior to COVID watch, Hurricane Dorian struck Florida in 2019. Bad storms strike the Gulf states regularly. Like Katrina before, they take lives and bring devastation to families and disrupt their livelihoods. The reason Dorian remains so noteworthy to me was that a former co-worker shared her personal stories of evacuation, and rebuilding afterward. She and her family were lucky; others where she is are still struggling.

On top of these very real traumas and amid nature’s changes then comes the pandemic. Many seeing this all as the ‘end times,’ we soon had to adapt to some frightening realities: no toilet paper or paper products on shelves, canning jars and lids in short supply, other types of food insecurity like not being able to find staples like pasta or rice, along with a dearth of cleaning supplies. Supply and demand, y’all.

If we are not struggling to not share germs, then we are struggling with the depressing view of empty store shelves. Or maybe we deal with the frustration of “no.” We remain indoors and isolated for months. Those of us used to just heading down to the big superstore or ordering online soon find we can’t just order online—even with the funds and technology to do so. Restaurants close, stores limit hours or supplies. What do we do with this false sense of security? We adapt to insecurity in times of crisis. We also realize things are not honky-dory, despite what some of us choose to believe.

Orientation and Entanglement with “The Be(a)st,” a/k/a Greed

In this ‘land of plenty,’ where did all the plentiful supplies go? In our drive to be and have ‘the best,’ what happened? And if people in the middle class feel the pinch of scarcity to a noticeable degree, what of those who have less than we do? Inwardly, anyone with something might feel a grateful sense of relief for what we have. Even those of us without as much to lose can feel “at least” good about what little they do have. “At least” they are not homeless, or “at least” there is enough to pay the bills…this time.

We would like to think that when hard times come, there might be a rescue of some sort. We might look to the skies, ever hopeful for some angelic cloud to descend and all wrongs to be put right. Perhaps an extra-terrestrial from some far-off planet will take pity on us poor humans and lend a hand. Ultimately, we are told, it is up to us to make change happen.

Again, the society we enjoy implies that when it comes to money, we are all in the same boat. This is where having a compass might come in handy. You remember how to use a compass rose, right? It gives the holder a sense of direction, or orientation of place in space. Too many of us lack one of these pieces of directionality. Our lives in society may be less in the same boat and more at the mercy of the sea itself.

Being in a lifeboat after the Titanic capsizes implies waiting, perhaps a little uncomfortably, for a rescue. Whereas being at the mercy of the sea—well, we need a lifesaver “now.” Being in the water means we are in imminent danger of losing breath, and life itself. Society teaches us the dual notion that ‘greed is good’ (as in the movie “Wall Street”). It also holds the lesson that “it is in giving that we receive” (with a nod to St. Francis). Life itself holds the struggle of inward and outward breath.

Breathing and Balance

Where do we balance in the middle? Are our lives that well situated when it comes to not only money but survival—or, what it takes to survive? We need some type of an accounting. Ask the many who are no longer working, or whose prospects of working are slim-to-none: Former actors and theatre workers who find themselves unable to work. Waitstaff whose restaurants or catering jobs may or may not be open this week. How about people whose lives straddled both of those industries?

And then there are those front-line workers whose lives have not had a break since the pandemic. Those who must meet with the sick, ill, dying, or those on other types of life support. While some of us can ‘weather the COVID storm’ by working at home, still others are forced to return to essentially unsafe workplaces. All of this in an effort to ‘get back to normal’ in such uncertain and abnormal times.

Many of us consider giving, donating, generosity, and sharing as necessary outward energies. It is what makes us show up to events and want to participate. Inwardly, the air and other energies we receive are just as necessary. We are what we consume, right? We basically cannot have one without the other. It is part of our makeup.

What is not part of our DNA, however, is the money aspect. Try as we might, we use this tool in a variety of ways, but too often we use the ‘lack of money’ as a reason for not sharing. Generations back saw this lack for what it was and called it The Great Depression. Now that money is that much more an essential part of life, to pay for our essentials, we continue to struggle. We dare not call it another Great Depression, though—it does not seem to qualify for some odd reason.

If it is true that ‘money makes the world go around,’ then the ride for many of us may well be nearing a halt. Were you lucky enough to get a stimulus check recently? What did you do with it? Were you able to be generous with it? Did you use it to pay off an essential bill, stock up on food, or did you stash it into savings for an even rainier day? How have the weeks and months been since then? Is everything ‘back to normal?’

Status Quo? Don’t Think So…

Eckhart Tolle’s book “The New Earth” does reference a number of enlightened passages and texts in describing his vision. What of our vision? Not all of us have the wherewithal to produce a book worthy of being an Oprah’s Book Club selection. Who do we tell what we see in our lives—each other? Does what we share on social media accurately reflect what is really going on?

Maybe it does—maybe we are out and about having marvelous vacations while this pandemic wreaks havoc. If so many of us spend our lives in the ‘virtual world,’ how do we know what is really going on? Maybe we just cannot see the hardships many of our fellow humans experience. While one person is having a marvelous meal they made, others visit the food bank or are dumpster diving to rescue edibles. To each his own? Bootstraps, sucks to be you, and all that? Do we see it and just write it off? Where is our empathy? Moreover, how soon can we change this dire scenario?

Would seeing more of the darker aspects drive home the idea of where we truly are in space—our honest orientation? With winter coming soon in the northern hemisphere, this may well be ‘the winter of our discontent.’ To what lengths will we go to either face truth or hide from it? Many of us find it easy to understand and empathize when someone we know has a problem with drinking or drugs. Life is hard. But just as many of us may not understand how someone can have a problem with money. No money? How is that possible in this day and age? Surely, there must be something we can do.

I saw a news report the other day that said one-third of Americans cannot pay bills. That’s roughly 33 percent of us—or 109.4 million people whose lives are in financial jeopardy. This 33 percent is a little more than the 20-25 percent living with mental illness and a little under the 48 percent who have heart disease. Strength to you if you happen to belong to all three categories along with being jobless during this pandemic.

The first somewhat unwritten rule of trauma survival is when you see something, say something. We do not want to keep letting the bully get away with inflicting pain. Do not let the hurt keep festering and getting infected. There’s plenty of infection going around these days, viral and otherwise.

I’m Going to Tell…

And when we share how our lives are, do our friends ask what they can do about it? “It would be nice to win the lottery,” they may say. If any of us had it within our power to make great changes happen, (to borrow from Streisand), would we…could we? How many ‘GoFundMe’ campaigns is it going to take before we recognize how vast the economic need is? Right now, many of those near and dear to us are barely surviving. If they are, it may well be thanks to the kindness and generosity of those who “can” share a little more than us.

While we may hear the stories of crime and rampant greed that make the headlines, we may fail to hear about the needs that also do not stop. Budgets, funding caps, and closures rarely hit the media. Another axiom of truth: There is always more. How many of us are living in a kind of suspended animation right now? Money for the internet bill has to come from somewhere. How much of this stasis is due to not having any money or enough of it to survive let alone thrive?

On top of the news about one-third of Americans not being able to pay bills, comes word that those in legislature—who we could say are the ones with the power to provide some relief—are not moving forward with additional help. I hope we all have a favorite celebrity or wealthy relative to whom we can turn for a solid assist. The other two-thirds of Americans who are surviving, thriving, and have money to burn and see no problem with how things are. How generous do you suppose they will be?

I am fortunate, I know. I work full-time and oversee a household that includes my three adult children. One of the three works part-time a few days a week at a job he actually loves to do. But he was out of work for weeks during the height of lockdown when most everything closed. Overtime hours stopped and I was grateful to be able to work from home. Our rent is a competitive amount for where we live but is not outrageous. We have not been able to pay our utilities for a few months, so we are grateful for the lockdown-induced moratorium.

With those few hours of overtime, my pay generally covered most of our expenses with my son contributing toward buying food every other week. His contribution aside, here is my current situation:

10/9/20: Bank overdraft $-136
+Payroll deposit $1016
Balance: $880
-Rent Payment $-872
Bank Balance: $8

What these figures do not show is we did not go food shopping last week. Nor can we do much this week, either. So it will mean oatmeal for breakfasts and pasta for dinners. Oh, and traveling to the office will be interesting these next two weeks with a whole eight dollars to spend. Ever industrious, I can at least hand wash some laundry. And with the abundance of free choice, I even get to pick which days I get to ride the bus. But at least I am not over drafted at the bank…today.

This is the type of financial limbo with which many families contend. It is the exciting highwire act of trying to balance life and survival amid the other realities of daily living. If I am one of the fortunate ones, then I really feel for those others in the 33 percent who are struggling with far desperate situations, because I know there are many. Those whose fortunes rely less on Wall Street and more on Main Street jobs. The economy is doing great. 686.1 Billion spent on national defense; no problems there, so they say. Just look how secure we are.

Time for a Wake-up Call

As woke as I may be, I still feel optimistic that things will get better. I also realize they could also get a lot worse. It is time for a wake-up call, so I am sounding the alarm. I’ll be the canary in the coal mine. This is why I am sending my balance sheet to my legislators. I would encourage you, if you can, to do the same. These folks we elected to congressional office to speak for us could be doing a little more—those whose political jobs and healthcare are paid. Our society demands that people need money to pay the bills. We need to demand greater participation in the process—whether it is another stimulus check, basic income payments, healthcare for all, or all of the above. We need it badly, and we need it ‘now.’ Says the writer of this piece now treading water.

Before we awaken to find ourselves on the street. Because that is usually the next bill to be paid. I can see where we are. Is our perspective forever changed yet? I am asking those captaining the boat: May we have a life preserver now, please, if it isn’t too much trouble?


Outlander: For Your Consideration

28 Jun

By Kathy Custren

Deadline Hollywood hosted a virtual screening on June 18th for Outlander, the STARZ series that recently aired its fifth season. Afterward, producer-writer Matthew B. Roberts and co-producer-actors Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan joined attendees for a question and answer session. This is among the special industry appeals to the Television Academy and more this year as part of the award nomination process.

A Most Prodigious Pachyderm

Let’s begin by talking about the elephant in the room, shall we? This article is a blatant plea focusing on getting Outlander nominated for any and all television awards, period. Being primarily housebound with the COVID lockdown, many of us manage to enjoy some binge-worthy shows. For your consideration, and leading the pack in the humble opinion of many fans, is Outlander on STARZ—with streaming also available on Netflix, Hulu, and available for purchase through Amazon, Apple via iTunes, and other retail outlets.

We must also mention the Outlander book series by Diana Gabaldon, which is the genesis of these characters and this enterprise. Season five stories rely heavily on her book, The Fiery Cross. There are large blazing torches that bookend the season, courtesy of the craftsmanship of producer Sam Heughan’s uncle. These are but some of the many intricate details of this quality production. With millions of avid fans around the world and after more than 30 years since its inception, viewership and readership alike continue to grow, which is no small feat.

And yes, spoilers ahead, etc., yadda, yadda, yadda. The season is over and if you have not watched Outlander yet, what’s keeping you? Just be mindful of the fact that, five seasons in, Outlander can be addictive. Go ahead and start now and the fandom will wait for you to catch up. We understand.

Appealing to the Television Academy

It appears that particular notice must be announced within the industry to the Television Academy members calling attention to the fine work that Outlander brings to viewers. We are in the home stretch of the nomination period. Not being an industry insider, it is a mystery to many of us how these things work exactly. It must be connected to who knows whom. So, if you know someone, please say something. Tell them to nominate Outlander and its cast. The hint cannot get much bigger. Share this article widely, please.

Outlander is but one program in a sea of shows. Season five, filmed before the pandemic, has an overarching theme we might call ‘peace of mind,’ It has given this to viewers with many big story lines that elicit impressive performances from its players. Diana Gabaldon herself consults and contributes to the show, which helps maintain its vibrancy. So, why is the fifth season of Outlander so worthy of awards? Why does it deserve “all” of them, as many fans like to say? To borrow from Elizabeth Barrett Browning, let me count the ways….

Noteworthy Cast Performances in Season Five

1. Weddings: At Fraser’s Ridge (Ep. 501) and at River Run (Ep. 506)

Most shows culminate the year with a major event like a wedding as a way to draw viewers to a peak or go out with a bang. Outlander had two significant weddings this season. The first at Fraser’s Ridge marries Brianna (FYC: Sophie Skelton) and Roger (FYC: Richard Rankin) to kick things off. The second occurs midway through at River Run to unite Jocasta (FYC: Maria Doyle Kennedy) with her betrothed, Mr. Innes, after a falling out with Murtagh (FYC Duncan Lacroix) following Brianna and Roger’s wedding.

2. Roger’s Hanging/PTSD (Ep. 508)

Never a team to shy away from depicting mental anguish or physical torture for that matter, and because one time is never traumatic enough, we relive Roger’s lingering horrors of surviving near-death through an ingenious cinematic device, repeatedly—as most who suffer with PTSD do. Buddying with Young Ian (FYC: John Bell) brings matters to a head. Also see #5.

3. Brianna Taking Care of Stephen Bonnet (Ep. 510)

We may as well use this euphemism for all it’s worth because Brianna sure did handle matters definitively. Worries over Stephen Bonnet (FYC: Edward Speleers) pursued the Fraser family since season four. Brianna is assuredly her mother and father’s daughter, after all. And, to answer Roger’s ultimate question: Yes.

4. Jamie’s Snakebite (Ep.509), Redcoat/Losing Murtagh (Ep. 507)—and Claire (Ep. 512)

Jamie Fraser (FYC: Sam Heughan) delivers both a morality play and a mortality play this season with a trio of moving episodes. Scenes touch on the very real choices we make in life and the importance of family dedication. We are only on this earth for a certain amount of time, after all. While viewers may mark Jamie in every episode, even as a background actor in some scenes, these three hold significant award evidence. Heughan galvanizes his quintessential portrayal as if stoking a fiery cross with jet fuel—brilliance personified.

5. Claire’s Purpose (Ep. 503, Ep. 504) and Traumatic Abduction  (Ep. 512)

Much like her on-screen spouse, Claire Fraser (FYC: Caitriona Balfe) also has a trio of poignant episodes that highlight her storyline this season. Multiple pivotal scenes depict Claire’s calling to be a healer/doctor. These culminate with her violent abduction, which employs another clever and creative cinematic style to show us her experience in a slightly less horrific manner. Balfe continues to delight our screens effectively at her most happiest, homiest, and horrendous of times, dragging our hearts, fears, and tears along for the ride. The final scene of season five leaves us feeling as Claire does, safe—for the time being.

Public Relations and Nominations

So, this is the short of it—touching briefly on a handful of reasons why Outlander season five deserves all the awards. What a ride it has been! If you are like most viewers, chances are you have seen your share of bingeworthy shows over the years. But there is just something special fueling the Fraser Fandom this year that makes this Outlander season five even more meaningful. Perhaps it is the pandemic, or due to the fact that we are gearing up for an extended Droughtlander (look it up).

STARZ does its part to promote shows ahead of the season. Actors repeatedly say they do not do their job with awards in mind. However, it is key performers, supporting, and guest stars such as these and the larger creative family that work on Outlander who embody the best in the arts. Together they turn a daily creative process into a reality that viewers get to enjoy every week and over again.

Outlander S5 Crew

With an audience that includes many countries around the world, it may well be that social media has its own influence among those who nominate talented performers for awards. Inventive videos by Tash Pow on Twitter are ‘a little something’ she put together as part of a personal FYC campaign under way for the past 45 days and counting. Reference these two examples:

For Your Consideration – Proposed Nominees

With this in mind, if any one or more of these impressive performers catches your eye and you happen to know someone, anyone, associated with the nomination process in the Television Academy or any other awards out there, please share. Tell your mama and your cousins by the dozens to spread, watch, and enjoy [Please Nominate!!] the great show that is Outlander season five for these noteworthy performers:

Outstanding Drama Series: Outlander

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series: Sam Heughan

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series: Caitriona Balfe

Supporting Actress in a Drama Series: Sophie Skelton

Supporting Actor in a Drama Series: Richard Rankin

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series: Lauren Lyle

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series: Cesar Domboy

Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series: Duncan Lacroix

Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series: Edward Speleers

Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series: David Berry

Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series: Maria Doyle Kennedy

Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series: John Bell

…and thank you for your consideration.

Images courtesy of STARZ


Daring to Live with Risk

10 May

Truth Views

Daring to Live with Risk

By Kathy Custren


This Mother’s Day 2020 brings a special look at what this gift of life means to each of us. The role of mother as life-giver and nurturer means so much more in difficult times, pandemic or not. From the time of inception, life itself is a risky proposition. The act of living is an act of daring, where conscious and unconscious influences alike affect the choices we make.

Our Many Risks in These Viral Times

Among us live any number of ‘foreign invaders.’ These inhabit sizes of various orders of magnitude. Some are more welcome than others, but all pose some measure of risk to our lives. So, our underlying question is, “How much are we willing to be brave, bold, and resume existence?” What will this look like as time moves us ever onward in this new dimension of awareness?

Not being foremost experts on life, to be sure, we do find ourselves at a unique place in space and time. We can look back in history and see how human leaders have dealt with existential threats before and since. They have shunned, built walls, and killed off others they perceived were a danger to society. Lepers were cast out of villages, witches and invalids drowned, refugees committed to cages, while ones addicted and homeless drifted to less visible encampments.

A large risk factor to consider is how many people around the world live without access to healthcare. I could probably rephrase that to say without ability to pay for healthcare. Here in the U.S., there is a growth industry in providing specialized health to people, but it comes at a significant cost. Where larger hospitals find it burdensome to operate, smaller specialty centers spring up to take up the burden.

The Burden of the Golden Rule

The Golden Rule to which most people in various societies adhere says essentially, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ If we want something for ourselves, we ought to allow the same for others—except that paying for the privilege of good health does come at a cost. Once tapped into the expensive medical system few seem to ask where the money will originate, or how sustainable ever-rising premiums are. Many individuals and families are unable to carry the hefty payments of ‘affordable’ healthcare insurance.

Few of us are readers let alone epidemiologists. Medical personnel are like gods in whom we trust with our very lives and we pay highly for that service—as long as it benefits us directly. When we consider ‘giving’ the simplest level of humane care to others using more socialized methods of delivery, we balk at the expense, golden rule be damned.

Yet our most recent disruptor causing the most personal fear is a minute virus most of us cannot see. Unable to restrain it, we ourselves are housebound in an effort to mitigate its spread and impact. There are those who experienced COVID-19 and lived to tell the tale. However, the number of deaths continues to climb, and our ever-present fear of death keeps us distant.

Tolerance and Intolerance Abound

The pandemic that sweeps the planet is teaching us so much about what is and is not important. COVID-19, for all its dangers to life both physically and economically it definitely shows us there are benefits to change. What will we do with this knowledge as we move forward?

After two months of dealing with isolation and other impositions, we hear rumblings of resuming the old ways. There are tolerances or boundaries we feel are reaching their limits. Politics and economics are the driving force behind much of the noise, with health concerns moving to the back seat. People feel they are suffering more from the social distancing than they are from the disease.

Those who have lost loved ones and workers on the front lines who deal with health and basic services offer added insight into what those tolerance ought to be. Inherent inequalities cause some to back up their beliefs with firepower, apparently–life or death, care or ignorance, mask or not, money or starvation. As we move forward, will we listen, recognize the truth, act on it, and come to a greater understanding of what we can withstand, individually and as whole?

Trustworthy Data Would Be Nice

Scientists with data tell us there is still much we do not know. SARS-type viruses like COVID-19 can operate in waves, and we understand with certainty how this is possible thanks to data. Those who do not know they are carriers can infect those who are vulnerable. Data can show us better ways to manage risks in our daily lives. Like a teenager whose parents have reached their limits, the days of ignoring our lack of cleanliness and hygiene are over. We may need to raise the bar; higher expectations help us strive to do better.

Even with a wealth of information at our fingertips, we are less likely to take the time to seek truth. We rely more on what we see storied belief and innuendo than on hard facts. Thinking less critically means we are less mindful and do not question. We follow more than we lead and remain silent in our acquiescence.

By staying indoors primarily these past few months, our planet shows significant signs of recovery from some of our human imposition. Air quality improves, animals venture out, and we start to see what nature intends to drive home—that our home can play a greater role than our workplace. Will we trust that kind of data when the struggle for life at the workplace resumes center stage.

Conspirators: Bullies Versus The Aware

Those who seek to resume ‘business as before’ are sure to use strong-arm tactics. Will we be willing to sign away our physical or health rights and hold employers harmless if we contract COVID on the job? Those of us with compromised systems might have less risk working from home. This may not be an option for all in this position. Will individuals be permitted the sovereignty of choosing how they wish to interact with others in our COVID-induced paradigm?

As with any massive control group, conspiracy theories exist based on who might be manipulating the story. This lack of trust says there are always multiple sides to consider along with various experiences. Being aware of this manipulation level—what some people will do to others to get what they want—has also been a sore spot for many of us. We do not want to endure the shame of being fooled on top of other economic hardships we or our families face.

This will surely give rise to the rights of the individual, perhaps more than ever before. While one may be willing to participate with ‘the system,’ there are limits to life and limb we must consider as heavier burdens today. The impact on the healthcare system alone dictates our need to tread wisely.

Human rights in many respects are being questioned. Idiocy abounds, as we see the return of crowds who protest with guns, amass without safe distance, and encounter without basic masks or covering. There are always those who will say, “Damn the risks; you can’t tell me how to live my life.” And there are those of us who are quite fine with letting them express that sentiment.

The Meaning and Guise of Safety

It may be safe to say that many of us feel comfortable living with some elements of risk. We understand life can never be risk free. We might even count the may things we have or do that add to our overall feeling of comfort and safety. Locking our doors, operating a video camera, alarms, or smoke detectors, having a weapon, having health insurance all stem from ‘just in case,’ the unexpected need arises.

The pandemic causes us to stay indoors and isolated ‘for our safety.’ We understand that while the virus may not be a large bother to people in good health, we see the growing number who die due to the disease. Being at risk for contracting an unseen virus has us all questioning what it means to be safe and what our individual comfort level might be. Will ‘the great unclean’ become an even larger risk than it has in generations and societies of the past?

Picking through the weeds of chaos that surround us will mean making the kinds of choices that best benefit us directly. This mindfulness is especially true where the wrong choice can kill you. Something as simple as washing our hands is a choice. Choosing to avoid others wherever possible and not passing along contaminants is another.

Risking Truth and Consequences

For those of us who may be unable to reach a personal safety conclusion, we can be sure that there will be some level of imposition. Whether it is peer pressure or law enforcement, at some point we will be charged with proving how much of a risk we are in and of ourselves. Testing is the key to determining this safety risk, but a good defense lawyer might advise, we can always question the veracity of those tests. The underlying doubt still exists: Who will we believe?

When there are ways we can stay safe while conducting business, let us do that. When it comes to telling others what they can and cannot do, those boundaries must be drawn clearly while not infringing on our inalienable rights. Provided, of course, those of us living this great life can agree on what those human rights are, truly.

For all who seek truth in this gift of life, it would be wise to remember that our words and actions both have consequences. Let us be mindful to act and speak loudly and clearly. As we awaken to this new pandemic-fueled reality let us be open to the possibilities and make the best decisions we can, as we dare to live.

To Listen, Perchance to Act

24 May

To Listen, Perchance to Act

By Kathy Custren


As I sit here in the early morning, reading an article from early 2019 by Dahr Jamail on, the title becomes painfully clear: “We Can’t Undo This.”

The article on our climate crisis hits all too close to home; to the many truths felt by life around the planet; that I purposely avoid looking at the supporting articles and documentation to which Dahr links. There is no question that there really is no ‘going back,’ or little being done to reverse the train on which we ride.

I liked it much better when comedic philosopher Bill Hicks called life a ride, like a roller coaster, rather than consider this voyage through time and space as little more than a runaway train reaching the perilous end of the line.

As Dahr wraps up the article, he gently encourages readers to ‘listen to the Earth.’ To wit:

Listening While Saying Goodbye

It’s been estimated that between 150 and 200 plant, insect, bird, and mammal species are already going extinct every day. In other words, during the two and a half years I worked on my book 136,800 species may have gone extinct.

We have a finite amount of time left to coexist with significant parts of the biosphere, including glaciers, coral, and thousands of species of plants, animals, and insects. We’re going to have to learn how to say goodbye to them, part of which should involve doing everything we humanly can to save whatever is left, even knowing that the odds are stacked against us. [Emphasis added]

For me, my goodbyes will involve spending as much time as I can on the glaciers in Washington State’s Olympic National Park and North Cascades National Park near where I live, or far more modestly taking in the trees around my home on a daily basis. It’s unclear, after all, how much longer such forest areas are likely to remain fully intact. I often visit a small natural altar I’ve created amid a circle of cedar trees growing around a decomposing mother tree. In this magical spot, I grieve and express my gratitude for the life that is still here. I also go to listen.

Where do you go to listen? And what are you hearing?

For me, these days, it all begins and ends with doing my best to listen to the Earth, with trying my hardest to understand how best to serve, how to devote myself to doing everything possible for the planet, no matter the increasingly bleak prognosis for this time in human history. [Emphasis added]

Perhaps if we listen deeply enough and regularly enough, we ourselves will become the song this planet needs to hear.

Read the full version:

It is in this mode of hospice that I turn on my small desk fan, while noting the irony of reading such a powerful piece on climate disaster. Personal comfort being what it is, these gentle times of listening to our planetary home is encouraging; hopeful, even—ever hopeful.

Leaving a bit of hope for posterity is no small feat in the midst of such huge and vastly changing numbers. We can see it already, the human toll that is rising along with the rest as part of this natural culling. It is ludicrous to think that it might avoid us personally, but here we are. I have little doubt that this very situation happened before—where great change wiped away large numbers of “advanced and civilized societies”—leaving smaller, disparate numbers with which to start anew.

This brings Dahr Jamail’s plea to listen more into focus. Listening to our mother planet, seeking to ease burdens rather than adding to them, being part of the regrowth and sustainability, are all going to be very important as we move forward. And we are moving forward, there is no doubt about that.

Cosmically, we do have our protectors on the spiritual side of things; the energies of ancestors who lived and died before us. This is one less worry if anyone truly cares to look beyond the physical. Of course, we tend to ignore that whole side of our existence, except when it is most expedient to beg and plead for mercy, help, and strength. So many of us would rather gather in multitudes to hear musicians or watch cinematic manipulation than consciously address planetary change.

Few among us carry the label of leader when it comes to climate change and regenerative action. Even fewer worry about the ills of our planetary home and what might be done to save it. Perhaps the message of the conspiracy theorists has hit home…the aliens are waiting to rescue us. That must be it.


Beyond bemoaning the reality, the overwhelming discord that echoes back from the walls of our undeniable doom carries the general message of, “but the problem is so large, what can one person do?” Rather than getting one’s hands dirty, so many are very eager to simply wash their hands of the whole mess.

It is a lofty position in which to be, to be sure.

There is healing to be found in the very Earth itself; and as Dahr’s words encourage, each of us, Each. Of. Us., bears responsibility for handling our very own part of this endeavor.

The looming question beyond the climate is this:

What have “I” done today to help heal the planet?

There is much cleaning to do. ~ Blessings!

What Do You Do When the Tears Keep Falling?

7 Apr

What Do You Do When the Tears Keep Falling?

in memoriumThis title almost sounds like it could be a Country song, but seriously, what do you do? Tissues have become my new best friend since my old friend has departed this life. Gone in advance of when I ever thought he would. Bear with me while I process this pain. –Should I stop envisioning my friends as how I might wish them to be? Tsk, tsk… Checking out before turning 70 was not part of the plan.

Ray Keller - 1970sJames Ray Keller…what can I say about the man, the myth, and the legend? Honestly, he was all three to me. He is legendary because of how long I knew him; more than 40 years. I literally watched him turn from a teenager into a man; always knew him as Ray. Mythic because thanks to some odd quirk of fate across space and time we found and formed a unique kinship. He is someone I could rely on as far more than a friend. As one of the few people from my school days Ray defies definition. He was, using today’s terminology, an influencer, blazing trails as he made his way.

Record Label - courtesy of DiscogsThinking back to when I first met Ray, we were part of the Frankford High School Ambassadors of Song. He was a baritone, I was an alto, and we became fast friends. Ray had a keen interest in music, as well as many other things, but cared little of actual notation—preferring instead to write note names alphabetically and with arrows to indicate octaves. As one fortunate to learn the structure of music, Ray was a maverick to me; someone who thrived in the unexpected. Ray Keller at Queen show MGM Park Las Vegas 090218He could play piano by ear and using his personal notation taught himself to play Queen songs from the radio and records. A huge fan of Freddie Mercury, we got to see Queen in person back when they were popular, and in very much a rivalry with Kiss.

Ray was a fan of Horror while the genre was still in its relative infancy. He turned me on to the writings of Stephen King, Peter Straub, Clive Barker, and more, back when books were just about the only way to escape. Back when books were the main way to tell a story and imaginations could run. Boy, did they run….

Stephen King BooksWhen movies like “Carrie” and “Christine” eventually came out, you know we were among some of the first in line. Horror movie marathons featuring older film stars were a common occurrence in theaters and later at home, as Betamax gave way to VCRs. Fans of musicals, we also shared a common interest in “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” sneaking out to the midnight showing down on South Street. I guess you might say we kept each other in and out of trouble in varying degrees. Sometimes, drama was not limited to the silver screen.

Within the sphere of the cinema, Ray had a keen interest in special effects. I can recall the occasional evenings in his basement bedroom that included a video camera, ropes, knives, and quite a bit of stage blood. Imagine walking home after dark to explain that to your parents as a teenager. We soon kept ‘theatrical garb’ for just such occasions, so as not to draw quite as much attention; live and learn.

Family 2010Ray’s mom, Hannah, also holds a special place in my heart for letting me into her family, even though she already had another daughter with the same name. Ray had a brother and sister older than him, and three younger sisters who treated me like one of their own. I felt part of the clan, always welcome to come by anytime, sit and stay, admire their many pets, play Scrabble, or watch TV.

Roller skating was Ray’s favorite mode of transportation, when he wasn’t walking fast. As a person with much shorter legs, it was not easy keeping up with him in so many ways. But he’d grab me by the hand and off we would go. He lived with my family for a few months while still attending school, and despite the somewhat rocky road we made an interesting time of it. Ray got a job working with my mother for a little while, but he eventually had to leave a most stifling situation.

Ray was to graduate in 1977, the same year as my friend Sandy, but just missed having enough credits. This meant a stint of summer school that technically meant we graduated together in 1978. After graduation, we went different ways, sort of. We both found employment and would meet to catch up with what each other was doing. Ray holds a distinct place in my life of being the first man to ever purchase clothing for me, “just because,” an Easter outfit from a downtown shop complete with hat. What started out as ‘window shopping’ turned into something totally unexpected, as was generally the case where Ray was concerned. He was also the first person with whom I had a drink, and several.

Barbra Streisand Donna Summer Enough is EnoughWithout going into too much detail, which could fill a book or two, we were in and out of each other’s lives over the next few years. The two of us literally dancing around Center City clubs and Frankford neighborhood hangouts. Ray would get an apartment, then I would. Donna Summer was our favorite singer during the heyday of Disco, when LPs and extended singles were in fashion. Together, we would sing and dance to Donna Summer songs. When Donna teamed up with Barbra Streisand on “No More Tears” we had much fun singing parts. This eventually led to an interesting video shoot in the street outside Ray’s apartment, amid traffic no less, lip synching to “Last Dance” in full costume with mic. It was quite a hoot.

Just after 1980, while I worked as a legal secretary, Ray worked as an optician two blocks away. This meant we could ride the el back and forth together. We would compete on the ride into town to be the first to finish the crossword puzzle in the Inquirer, then the one in the Daily News on the way home, and we would check each other’s answers. If work schedules permitted, we ate lunch together many days.

Then he moved, and I moved again and met my first husband through my new neighbors. Ray stood with me during my marriage, then after a few weeks said our farewells as I traveled out of state. He was my rock just a few months later when I returned to Philly very much alone and pregnant. Ray essentially returned the favor of staying with me by generously taking me in for a few months and caring for me as my belly grew, and I slowly got back into my family’s good graces.

About a month after I moved back with my parents in 1982, he became “Uncle Ray” to WOF Vanna Patmy firstborn son. We already had such an unconventional relationship, in raising each other into young adulthood. So, it was especially meaningful when he found his soulmate in Jim Campbell. Ray found success on a trip to California, with significant winning on the TV show, “Wheel of Fortune.” I remember being invited to travel for the taping, to be part of a small cadre of friends to cheer him on, and regret being unable to make the trip. Of course, Ray rose to the top, convivial soul that he is; sorry, was. He was the big winner with over $30K that day, and I most likely still have the episode stashed away on VHS.

Marriage of Ray Keller and Jim Campbell 100998Not long after, Ray and Jim made the decision to move to California. The power of the internet took over where phone calls were once the norm. For more than 30 years, I got to eavesdrop on their lives together as much as they would share. Legally married in 2008 (hooray!) they posted many photos of their cars, dogs, Legos, friends, trips to Ikea, holiday decorating, life changes, vacations, cruises, and special trips back home to visit family. I messaged Jim more than Ray, really; and admit to being a lurker in Ray’s later years, while maintaining contact with his sisters.Ray & Jim Cruise 2018

And now Ray is gone…seven weeks shy of his 59th birthday. One of those people I could never imagine ever being out of my life. A caring soul who lived his life and touched others with such passion, artistry, and fullness. Our own existence is diminished by his passing. So, the shedding of tears happens quite readily. Once the sadness ebbs and stock in Puffs rises, the celebration of life will continue, in much the way Ray taught me many years ago. Rest peacefully; as John Holland says, ‘Your loved ones are just a thought away…,’ and this is and has been very true. Influencer that he was, no doubt Ray Keller is enthralled by his more cosmic surroundings; cheering the rest of us on from the multiverse.

On Reality and Reputation

28 Sep

Ford Kavanaugh

On Reality and Reputation

By Kathy Custren


The current saga of the senate confirmation hearing of judge Brett Kavanaugh unfolding in the public arena of the U.S. Government embodies the struggle between history and storytelling; of reality and reputation. There is a war on, not only to ‘manage the truth,’ but to silence voices that would otherwise speak out—or, as many wonder—would have spoken out years ago. The power struggle is a real one, where we pit one person’s reality of experience against another person’s claim of reputation.

As the senate confirmation hearing points out so well, these are not only larger stories of a nation. These stories reach down to the personal level, as with Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, where so many experiences serve to define what makes or breaks each one of us. What are the lessons that make up our past? What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, or so others tell us. Defining those very personal stories and airing them for the world to see is no small feat; nor does it diminish the horror we find at its core.

For some persons who take charge of telling horrific stories, it is more a matter of choice and creativity. Take very successful novelist Stephen King as a prime example. He has made it his life work to bring us creative stories that scare the bejesus out of us—that shock our sensibilities and may awaken the darker side of our collective psyche as to the unnameable fears that lie dormant in some deep layer or layers of our understanding. King takes us down some dark and sketchy roads at times, but his many readers trust his reputation of masterful telling in the many stories we consume eagerly.

This senate confirmation hearing and the extended stories of the #MeToo movement are quite another thing entirely. With Stephen King’s stories, we pay good money for a good scare. The stories of pain and fear elicited at the hands of other men over time do not hold the same sense of masterful reputation. Women tell stories of scary experiences at the hands of men that are beyond the parameters of choice or want. Persons who suffer abuse would not ‘pay good money’ to have these types of personal encounters or to welcome them to our life story; yet, they are all to prevalent to deny. These are real horror stories, to be sure, and they have an effect on the overall dark and painful experiences of women over time. These are generational stories, not merely national ones reaching the spotlight of public scrutiny.

These painful stories go beyond the airing of one’s dirty laundry—beyond the more civil storytelling of gossip and innuendo. The oddity to all of this may carry the hashtag #WhatsNext. Stories like these are not like good horror novels that we can put down at times after reading a chapter or can put on a shelf to add to our collection. What are we going to do with all these many horror stories that come out of the darkness and into the light?

These are stories of family, friends, sisters, mothers, daughters, and grandmothers that we cannot as easily close the book on and put aside for a while. These are very real stories that open unhealed wounds of persons who relive past trauma. These stories cross cultures and generations in their depth, which only adds to the rising tide of shared pain. These experiences are difficult to digest and, as many in powerful positions would like us to think, hard to believe. Yet these are the very realities of abused women and men which others with reputations, like judges, senators, or priests, would seek to control.

As we walk down the middle road of our existence, with a chorus of painful reality on one side and the ruthless gang of reputation on the other, there is a very real battle for what we believe. Who is telling the real story? Who will we install in positions of power and judgment over others? And who will be around to write the history books when this greater narrative reaches its eventual end? ~ Blessings!

The Forest for the Trees: Doing What We Do Best

16 Jun

silhouette of a man during sunset

Photo by Johannes Plenio on

The Forest for the Trees: Doing What We Do Best

By Kathy Custren


The Forest for the Trees

Part of what intrigues me so about The Conundrum these days is that there are people, very good people, who have such a difficult time with discernment. Oh, vision clarity is not the issue. Unlike yours truly, many can see perfectly well without the aid of corrective lenses. But somewhere along the way, one’s visual acuity or ability to process what we see is called into question. We can describe it as not being able to see the forest for the trees.

Take the issue of life—a large topic, to be sure; but there are those of us who are unable to see the fullness of life. We may have many salient points about the sanctity of life and how important it is to live a good and virtuous life. In our zeal, we hit all the important points about how miraculous and precious it all is, but at some point after that, we fall off from truly committing to the full picture. We see the tree just fine, but not the forest in which it sits. In fact, there is probably a logging project going on not that far away. Forest for the trees, forest for the trees…we struggle with borders and boundaries on a regular basis, and while we tussle over these ill-defined lines, the sand shifts under our collective feet. We are at a point in time where we cannot avoid dealing with our collective consciousness in the forest that surrounds us. –And make no mistake, the other animals in the forest are watching our every move.

Why is it that we are unlikely to equate the taking of, by way of example, a potential human life, with as much gravity as we could the life of an existing tree? Do our rose-colored glasses need that much correction? Try as many do to argue the point, “but it’s only a tree,” a life is still a life, right? We feel pressed to provide rights to one type of life over another. Perhaps this is our problem—the stigma or prejudice we assign to life itself. We hold one type of existence differently than we do another, and this is what permits any number of atrocities to take place. Welcome to our world today.


Playing God, and Other Sundry Pastimes

You see, the issue is not in condemning or annihilating the forest, but in playing god…in thinking we have the right to pave the way—whether it be for profit or some other ‘way of being.’ Ultimately, we are taking one life for another, which is the condensed version of selectivity. As imperfect as we human beings are, where do we get off (a) taking life, (b) telling others they cannot take away life, or (c) enjoying the ability to create life in the first place?

The gods of yore (read your mythology) were keen on the entertainment aspects we puny humans once provided them, and probably still do. They are just a lot quieter now with their storytelling, seeing what their folly has wrought. And while on the supernatural topic of dimension and timelessness, we must remember the concept of reincarnation/karma, which speaks to the transformation of energy and the ability we will undoubtedly get to perfect ourselves if we so choose. We are so wrapped up in the physical that we tend to forget the spiritual aspects associated with being here…the forest for the trees, yet again.

So quick are we to point, ridicule, and stigmatize others, that we cannot see the forest ourselves. The interconnectedness we share whoosh! goes over our heads. The one planetary home on which we exist has cycles and timelines much greater than our own, and rather than paying attention to that story, we would much rather inflict our own narrow view. Bottom line, when we disrespect life it has a way of coming back around to haunt us, ultimately.


Into the Mix We Go—Now What?

Our forebears tried to warn us; they have left clues if we care to take notice. But, our collective visual problems come into focus yet again. We have trouble seeing correspondences within our own age, in active and real time, let alone thinking about ‘the past.’ We tend to leave such analysis to the history books that end up being rewritten to mask the atrocity of our impact on the planet. So, we should worry about ‘the future;’ and rightfully so. There is a shifting role of ‘the bad guy’ in the story—the antagonist—that should keep all of us on our toes. No matter what name we call that character, be it the devil, monster, disease, death, or any number of labels, we fear its presence and fight to overcome it, whatever “it” may be.

This fearsome, fighting mentality leads us to assign ‘war’ to just about everything, and look at us today. We have wars against drugs, crime, terror, “the other” or “the stranger,” and the labels go on. Forest for the trees again; as we are busy fighting wars, there is much collateral damage; so much for the sanctity of life. We tell ourselves that we are fighting a war to at least provide an excuse, as we drill down even further into the personal lives of people who, for a variety of ‘personal’ reasons, would choose to not let another life be born into this existence. Data drives the human machine as much as profits when it comes to caring: health care, life care, what is the real cost of the medicine that keeps us alive or that keeps the lights on at night? Suicide numbers are actively on the rise, so the choice point becomes crystal clear to many—and can we really blame them? Can we? When it is their choice between ‘this life’ and whatever takes place on the other side?

Hypocrisy aside, can we just let these people sit with the pain and reach that conclusion for themselves? Might we at least make the idea of simple existence a little less painful; perhaps cause a little less suffering? We are talking much more than just feeling an occasional pang of anxiousness here. Our collective pain reaches the level of our collective soul and cries out for attention. When we are unable to sleep at night, all of that suffering must go somewhere. If we really wanted to make a difference on a larger scale, why not target the bomb and weapons makers that annihilate entire swathes of living things off the face of the planet? Why choose instead to make life even more miserable for one who is carrying an unborn without the means to provide for it; or who come to our shore seeking asylum from even greater terror and death? We say we want to change lives, but am I and so many others missing the forest here? What support are we giving people who are here up to the point where pregnancy and one new life becomes a larger problem for “everybody?” Where is our humanity when one more hungry mouth to feed becomes unbearable? Nature has its own way of finding balance on a variety of levels, and let’s just contemplate that one a moment, shall we?


Social Media: Processing the Horrible

There is an overarching reason why social media is so consumer-driven. When we consider that we digest more than just nourishment, we cannot ignore the use of virtual reality to process some horrible things. For all those who avoid the internet like the plague, there may be some comfort in that; if not denial. For those of us who are online throughout the day, every day, we worry about the effects of over-consumption and how it might play on us psychologically. Plato’s cave? What is real and what is an illusion?

  • Fake news (from those ‘in charge’) to distract us from horrible changes; many of us would knowingly be in the streets…911…’false flags’…missiles on the way to Hawaii – an oops with deadly results.
  • We ‘elect’ people into positions of governance but fail to direct (provide feedback to) them; instead we get on social media and share memes and thoughts, thoughts and prayers, while few of us attempt to advocate for change or—heaven forbid—actively do something.

Social media goes beyond advertisement…we are not just sharing ideas on the newest restaurant in town or our favorite recipes or sports teams…we use it to process news on all levels, local, state, national, and international. Recent storm damages, wartime skirmishes, human trafficking, and animal poaching and abuse, all find space between the photos we share of our latest meal, Suzie’s school concert, or Uncle Joe’s traveling dart team. I am grateful for the ability of social media to bring us together and share ideas, so let us use this technology wisely. We must bring about great change if we really, really want to make this world a better place.

The way we all process the most horrible parts of our existence means that, in the midst of “all” the things that assail our senses, greater numbers, greater attention, greater energies are spent in managing our time and attention. Can we spend time better by being off the virtual reality and back in the real world and work? We must deal with both the offline and online versions of ourselves—the real and the spiritual combined—and what we bring into this world. So, time and change must apply to both.


What Price, Love? The Real Cost of Our Humanity

Is it me? I grew up under the now liberal(?) Christian notion of people loving one another, being a helper, and doing what we can to make the world a better place. So, seeing overwhelming inequality and suffering mixed in a culture of war and death does not sit very well with my psyche—how about yours? We know we can do better. I come from a time, not that far from this present moment, when people were taught to be kind to each other—where bullying, graft, and greed were seen as evils and faults to eschew rather than inspirational parts of our personality. It is not an ‘ego thing’ to care about others; in fact, we might say this lack of empathy is another human failing that we must address.

It goes beyond ‘to each his own,’ and if it means taking a hard look at what we call our borders and boundaries then let’s do that—maybe it is the right time? Here in the United States, I still like to think the founding fathers had it right—we either unite as one or we die alone. We are stronger together. The natural order does have us looking at the real cost of what it means to be a human alive today, and the price is as incalculable as the unspeakable name of God. Both were once revered and sacrosanct; today, both God and life are trivialized—both subjugated to the realm of control, and quite uncomfortable to wear.

When we lose sight of the forest, we also lose sight of its value. When we lose the knowledge that unites us, we separate like a rogue cancer cell might, enveloping and annihilating the health of the surrounding area and all within it. ‘As above, so below’ comes to mind. We have a collective body of pain and trauma to address and heal, and now is as good a time as any, timeless beings that we are.

Join with me in my fervent and daily prayer: Heaven help us, until we can help ourselves and each other.


Mother, Sister, Writer, Editor, Advocate, Optimizer, Cosmic Interpreter, and Devotee of Positivity, Kathy Custren writes about The Conundrum since 2007. Connect with “Consciousness Live” on WordPress and Facebook. With united hearts, let us move humanity forward.


In These Apocalyptic Times, Is Trump the Antichrist?

20 Dec


In These Apocalyptic Times, Is Trump the Antichrist?

by Kathy Custren

A New Heroic Age Dawns, Hopefully

Surely it crossed somebody else’s mind by now, during these extraordinary times in which we live, that someone must assume one of the pivotal roles of our age. In the grand scale of the story of Revelations, it describes the end of days, with various prescient glimpses of how the rapturous change might appear. With a firmer sense of this impending-if-not-present apocalypse, we must ask who fits the mold of Antichrist? If not the characterization portrayed as Trump, who better to take that role?

Other storytellers offer insight into possibilities. In the eight-being pantheon of archetypes described by the late Joseph Campbell, we have our heroes, mentors, allies, heralds, tricksters, shapeshifters, guardians, and shadows. And we can probably find people to fit any of those identifiable labels.

Could Trump be a shapeshifter? He has certainly been many things to many people over the years…son, mogul, father, owner, and now purported ‘leader of the free world.’ When one man’s rage, outrage, or other tweeted and spoken words cause confusion, pain, and suffering in not only in the U.S. but other parts of globe, it is time to hang the label of Antichrist over the personage as much as any other.

Generations Later, Hitler Redux?

For many, the resurgence of nationalism (MAGA), extremism (tax breaks), racism (white supremacy), reactionary politics (denial), and heavy-handedness (censorship) recalls for many the rise of the Third Reich. As before, it was not one lone figurehead but a group igniting death and destruction and inflaming painful, world-wide effect.

Today’s ‘Hitler redux’ finds America on the brink of economic fallout, class-ism, and a derailing (not merely deregulating) of governmental systems that formerly served its people. We are not simply tweaking a few improvements and getting rid of outdated or outmoded ways. The ‘cost saving’ efforts, combine to not only stoke a sense of fear but also finality; and to what cannot be named exactly. Is it the ‘American Dream?’ Are we at the dawn of another new age? Is it another page of the patriarchy machismo or hero’s story–or will the archetype have a more divinely feminine aspect?

The United Nations fact finding tour viewed the disparity of a world superpower endeavoring to promote and support third-world realities among its citizens. The members of this segment of society grow as exponentially as the economy worsens. By some unofficial estimates, identifiable sectors indicate an approximate threefold inflation over the past 30-40 years. The numbers do not mesh. There is no ‘common wealth’ in many commonwealths; no adjustment of the wealth or generosity by the wealthy, just the brazen attempt to rewrite of the story of our common dream in mid-sentence. The system that once had ‘checks and balances’ is usurped by greed. As this gap widens, the idea of ‘Christian charity’ truly runs amok.

Government of, by and for the People, Revisited

So, while the government seeks to lead, the people feel less a part of the governed and more disenfranchised than ever before. The hands that feed us also seek to sever the ties that bind us, and the resulting flame of hunger fed by the fuel of separation will undoubtedly bring even more unpleasant realities to light. The next level of the pyramid is at hand. That we would spend more of our combined tax money on those with heavy-duty military assets around the globe, and line the pockets of those with so much already in the bank really does seem outrageous. Yet, here we are, not quite outraged enough…yet.

Where is that outrage, many ask? Often, we look to where ‘they’ want us to see. We find no lack of demons ‘out there,’ because we see plenty of horror stories from within our own borders. We no longer need a North Korean missile test to start drums beating when our own society is awash in brutality, trafficking, greed, and vice. As parents cannot feed and house their children, we brutally evict our elders in handcuffs, and close ranks according to select ethnicity, our simmering melting pot will be roiling soon.

Perhaps we do not need an investigation into Russian ties after all, when our own electoral and governing processes contain their own forms of special interests and influence peddling. Draining the political swamp does reveal just how corrupt things are, unfortunately. We need to join together now, more than ever before. This is government we say is in power, until we change it for the better. ~ Blessings!

Us/Them, Left/Right, and Upside Down

1 Dec

Hopi prophecy_rock4

Us/Them, Left/Right, and Upside Down

By Kathy Custren

Maybe it is not odd at all that one of the most popular entertainment shows today is “Stranger Things.” Once upon a time, we found affinity with “The Twilight Zone.” Either title seems appropriate when describing current affairs. American society finds itself in a morass of dystopic proportions, with a narcissistic, self-proclaimed p****y-grabber in the Oval Office and a government quite literally hell-bent on funneling greater funds and freedom to those who are already well-to-do.

Directionality in an Haphazard Space and Time

It is said to be helpful to have a fair sense of place and personhood to know where one is going. While this may be important to get through our everyday lives, how do we maneuver amid chaos? Relax; we’ve got this.

So, to the many on the ‘left’ side of the aisle, who believe in the greater good and the brotherhood of humanity, the outlook of the future appears bleak, if not grim. “Inevitable” is the word as we await ‘official notice’ of the latest round of tax cuts. The writing, as they say, is on the wall.

This is the picture “they” want us to see: one of defeat, struggle, and “winners and losers” (with ‘them’ being the ‘winners,’ of course). Are we going to just let them have their way? Now? In this time of enlightenment and apocalypse, when abuse is finally being discussed out in the open (on the morning and nightly news!) and ‘attacked back’ with legal ramifications? Eyes on the prize, friends….

Hope from the Hopi Tribe

We have a long road ahead, and if the image left us by the ancestors of our Hopi brethren is any indication, there is an uphill climb involved as ‘we the people’ rise to the occasion. Snort with disdain if you will; the Hopi are quite clear that we need not fear an ‘inevitable’ future. They show us how the lines will continue in separate places, as different ways. How many heed the philosophies? The image* shows we must rise above our struggles. That we are better together, even when the road ahead looks more than a little bumpy.

Consider the Inverted Perceptions 

And there are more reminders out there to rediscover. It was not all that long ago that many of us latched on to the “hope and change” ideal. It carried us through the last few years, even though we did not get very far. For every little advancement in the change category we seem to go a few steps backward. We cannot compare our ‘now’ to then, because it really was quite another time, was it not? Our inverted perceptions are part and parcel of this special time, so we may as well embrace them for what they are. Forward, ever forward…do not let the setback or the bumps in the road impede our progress.

Put on another pot of coffee, grab another cup of tea, sharpen the pencils, and light the candle. As Julian of Norwich said, “All will be well.” We just have a lot of work to do; as usual. ~ Blessings!

*Image courtesy of Google Images via source:

Thank You, Coronavirus!

15 Mar

coronavirus shutterstock_Lightspring

By Kathy Custren


Nature Certainly Provides

This message will undoubtedly get buried among the rubble at the end of the epoch, but I must say it: I am very grateful to the coronavirus. Grateful, you may ask, with all the disruption and uncertainty it brings? Indeed. While I may be no less likely to survive than the next person, we are in the midst of a global pandemic that is causing significant change and upheaval. Any of us could be either pushing up or fertilizing daisies within days or weeks, so let us respond to the virus with gratitude for the wake-up call that it is, elementally speaking.

The Earth (thank you, Earth) could have been hit by an asteroid or some other more violent cataclysm, like the Ring of Fire breaking off to form another moon—and it may still encounter such a thing. By comparison, we saw this calamity coming incrementally. Like any good fire (thank you, Fire), it serves to clear away quite a lot of superfluous matter in its path. Just ask anyone who survived the devastating wildfires in recent times. Perhaps now, with these many little warning bells, we might pay better attention?

The collective voice of so many has gone unregistered for so very long that it is but a faint whisper against the roar of incredulity.

Rise Up, Shepherd Sheeple, and Follow

Ah, humanity…seen in so many ways, wearing the guise of many colors, actors all. What script are we living today? Is our story a drama or a comedy? Deep breath (thank you, Air)…either way, we are bound to laugh when things become so utterly absurd and there is little left that looks like it did moments ago. This year of 2020 is the year reality takes a detour. So far we have managed to evade the rumblings of what almost became third world war (Whew! Just avoided that one!) and next across the air from a carrier near you comes corona.

A couple months later and the #coronapocalypse has only just begun; however, the viral #panicbuying is in full swing. Which will be worse—the illness itself or the off-the-wall glut for more stuff and personal comfort? Everyone needs toilet paper when #SHTF, right? What we do moving forward from here can serve as humanity’s defining moments. Then again, to be fair, we have the same opportunity in any given moment to take the best course of action.

When air traffic stopped in the days after September 11, 2001, we had the looming spectre of Terrorism hanging over us. Our latest Sword of Damocles, this medical movement of almost-martial law, is here without that Capital-T threat. We like to think the pen is mightier than the sword. Well, these minute, viral particles are certainly here to teach us something impressive—and kicking some booty to boot.

But will we listen?

Will we take the lesson to heart?

Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way

Those with little have a lot to lose. While those with a lot cannot bear to part with a little. Greed runs rampant. Entire economies are at risk, and the volatile markets rise and fall like waves (thank you, Water). Still, we who like to view humanity as truly human may not know quite what to make of just how surreal it all feels.

Can I get tested?

Are tests even available?

How much will it cost?

Do I really want to know?

What if I already have it?

Do I even believe the science?

Why deny the inevitable?

On one hand experts say numbers do not lie, while on the other hand they urge us all to proceed with caution and shut down for two weeks or more. Will we trust the numbers we see then? How much worse will it be? How many will survive this latest crisis as it circles our planet—and how many times over?

In matters of life and death, we might tend to take refuge in an extreme and feel good about it. Why not, when you’re with your peeps, all in the same boat? However, I am going to challenge you to think outside that comfortable box for a bit. Get uncomfortable enough to think about the folks who live rather uncomfortably 24/7…those who are not just inconvenienced by a mere temporary shortage or disruption of life’s necessities.

These are Life-Changing Times

For far too long, the numbers we admire have been shifting like so much sand underneath our feet. The infrastructure we rely on for so many of life’s pleasures is displacing itself…even it knows when to call it quits. Nature has a unique way of making new paths, and this is one of those times. –How about we choose to go a different path, shall we?

I am reminded of the Hopi Prophesy Rock image, where there are two paths forward: an earthly balance or what we might call a levitated realm of virtual reality. We are certainly at this juxtaposition. Dimensions of time being what they are, it stimulates my own curiosity to know there is so much more than this… there is always more.

‘May you live in interesting times,’ so goes an ancient Chinese ‘curse.’ Well, the dragon of karma certainly is making its way around quite interestingly, indeed. It is also said that we choose to be born into this existence. Somewhere back in our soul’s cosmology is our blueprint for being. We all picked a fun time to be alive, did we not? Grateful that we are all here #AloneTogether for the party. I couldn’t think of any better group to be with, honestly.

Let’s not let each other and our ancestors down. Be sure to give each other a hand, more out of genuine assistance than applause at the show. The days are sure to be entertaining and chock-full of goodness-knows-what. So, take time to breathe, hug your loved ones, pet our pets, and appreciate each moment. In the midst of chaos, each moment may be all we get to hold on to, so stay in the Now. Make each present moment a true gift for the next person, shall we?

The Gift of Ourselves

Share stories, sing songs, and dance…love got us here and love will see us through. ‘All You Need is Love,’ or so The Beatles remind us: ‘Love is all you need.’

As long as we are looking back to the late-1960s, we may as well remember these lyrics from Glen Campbell:

You got to try a little kindness

Yes show a little kindness

Just shine your light for everyone to see

And if you try a little kindness

Then you’ll overlook the blindness

Of narrow-minded people on the narrow-minded streets

Don’t walk around the down and out

Lend a helping hand instead of doubt

And the kindness that you show every day

Will help someone along their way


Natural Remedies for You?

3 Nov

selective focus photography of person touching green leafed plant

Photo by Alan Cabello on

Natural Remedies for You?

By Kathy Custren


Nature Holds the Key to Wellness

Are you sick and tired of being sick and tired? For many of us, it takes this type of an extreme stance to start looking at wellness options. Perhaps our journey consists of seeing various doctors or taking a variety of medications to help gain a healthier body balance for what ails us. Beyond anything we may attempt with help of experts, one of the easier connections we may make on our own is to dive into nature.

How does someone know if a natural remedy will work? True enough, or we might say ‘naturally,’ there are many options when it comes to natural remedies. Each key to wellness comes with its own measure of efficacy. This may sound vague compared to ‘take this pill for two weeks and check back.’ However, the concept is quite the same; in fact, natural or easy remedies may be our first instinct when imbalance or illness first occurs.

It may be our first inclination to find home-based remedies or cures that come from other family members. If something works for one family member, it may also be effective for another. Sometimes, we also just need to be reminded that our human body itself operates in mysterious ways. Trying to wrap our brain around a mystery can be what sends many people to experts seeking quicker answers or faster results.


Making and Taking Time for Healthy Balance

Like many modern humans, most of us drive and thrive on action, movement, and even accomplishment and competition. This onus to ‘keep going no matter what’ on the good side encourages us to give 110 percent to a project or goal. On the other hand, it also leaves us very little time when it comes to finding balance for our health.

Too many of us sacrifice rest or relaxation in our efforts to living a balanced and truly healthy life. Few of us look at our daily schedule with a novice’s eyes. We tend to cram in more into our schedule; on the go more hours of the day than not. We stress over large and small things alike without much care to the side effects. Yet, we know to look for side effects when medication we take is not helping, right? We are quite capable of telling when something just does not feel right.

What kind of natural remedies should one look for? It is obvious to state that we need to look for natural remedies that help us feel good or better than we do now. This can be especially true when one’s individual or family funds are low, and this is a process that takes time. Even people dealing with serious illnesses can find a natural remedy to help relieve some of the dis-ease that affects them. Some easy examples are:

Breathing – Yes, taking time for deep breathing alone can work wonders. Giving your body added boosts of oxygen can be calming in and of itself. Taking a few minutes to breathe mindfully can make a big difference. Give yourself the break to step away from stress just to breathe for a few minutes. Try it for a day or two as a natural remedy and see if you notice that you feel better. How often might we do this?

If someone is in a lot of pain, their physician may prescribe pain reliever to take throughout the day, every few hours. Depending on what causes the pain, the body may build up a tolerance to the medication. Someone who might try mindful breathing could take breaks a few times a day, without much disruption in what they normally do. Deep, mindful breathing is not a placebo for pain medication, but it can help us take a few moments to check in with our body and address the issue rather than gloss it over.

Walking, Indoors – Beyond breathing, taking a brief indoor walk can get our blood flowing. Being able to move and walk is something we can start with being thankful for—being mobile is often preferable to being immobile, as many people are. So, if you do not find reason enough to move for yourself, think of those who cannot and walk for them.

Just like mindful breathing, mindful indoor walking does not have to be lengthy or onerous. If you are at work, take a brief exploration. If you are home bound, check from one room to the next. Just a couple of minutes up and about can keep your body from feeling stuck. If you appreciate this aspect alone, it can translate into other areas of our life, so we might want to do this on an ‘as-needed’ basis.

Walking, Outdoors – Another good option for taking a break is to take a walk outside to truly connect with the natural world. Go find some grass, a bush, or a tree to touch. Feel the green or growing thing that exists outside, which we often just walk past without much thought. Connect with the local flora around where you live or work.

This does not have to take a lot of time, either. Footwear does help, but depending on the time of year, it is not a requirement. Connecting with nature does not have to be painful, so think about comforts you can bring with you outside, for yourself or other creatures. Bring along a crust of bread that you can break apart for the birds or a handful of nuts or seeds for squirrels. A simple walk around the building or a walk around the block can be a worthy natural remedy.

Frequency for walking outdoors may depend on many things but try not to let the weather stop you. If we find ways to truly enjoy being outside even during inclement weather, it helps us see that we can weather a storm. We can still make our way when the weather is rainy or otherwise cold and brutal. Being prepared with the right gear helps us tolerate whatever nature brings our way.


A Little Common Sense Goes a Long Way

Some of this comes with heavy dose of common sense, naturally. This is a big factor in finding wellness and natural remedies. We might get used to enjoying a nice walk outside and not have the gear. Knowing this, we can plan to find ways to “survive.” We cannot take safety for granted, so finding alternatives and planning ahead gives us an empowering way to exist.

Perhaps, if we have a wide enough net of friends, our search for support (whether it is for a listening ear or a spare umbrella) can bring us an easier answer. Allowing others to lend us a hand can also be a natural remedy or can open the door to finding other alternatives and suggestions to consider. ~ Blessings!