Buddha

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Being Authentic… to Ourselves and Each Other

Published May 28, 2020 by Maryanne

Being Authentic: A Memoir by Morhaf Al Achkar, MD, PhD

Review by Maryanne Christiano-Mistretta

While many people are complaining about being cooped up during the pandemic, I’m secretly rejoicing because I’ve been doing what I didn’t have much time for before—READING! Since the mid-March lockdown, I’ve read six books, all special in their own right.

Prior to writing this review, I questioned myself… Is it weird to say I can relate to a man who was born in Syria, two years after I graduated high school? A man who became both an MD and a PhD–whereas I struggled just to get my diploma?

First, I took the safe route and wrote the blog as a regular book review. However, after a re-read, my review appeared dull and stale. This author deserves so much more. After he exposed his deep feelings for all to read, I promised myself I should do the same. I do not see that as narcissistic, but rather compassionate. In this review I want people to see me as a person who can find something in common with almost anyone—male/female, young/older, rich/middle class/poor, black/white/mixed. Because this is what the world needs right now, to focus on what we have in common, rather than what sets us apart. (And, honestly, I’ve been quiet about politics for too long, so read on!)

Leo

Author, Morhaf Al Alchar, MD, PhD, and faithful companion, Leo! 

Morhaf Al Achkar has not reached his 40th birthday, yet he ponders death.

I question: Why is he thinking about this now? Perhaps because of his struggle with both Crohn’s disease and a stage four lung cancer; perhaps because he dealt with the devastating loss of his own mother at a young age; or perhaps because we are in the midst a pandemic, all of us facing a virus that has no cure yet. And so many people are at each other’s throats, making it political.

In his memoir, Dr. Achkar strives to be authentic—his true self. And that he is. His story is direct as he gets right to the point with no apologies. And he is vulnerable. There is absolutely no pretense. You do not feel like you are reading a book written by a doctor, with both an MD and a PhD. Instead, you are chatting with a brand new friend.

Growing up in Syria, in a family of nine children, Morhaf often locked himself in a room reading books. He was labeled the “philosopher of his family” by his father. Early on, one of his major struggles was living in a culture “with hypertrophied masculinity.” Men boasting of foolish things like beatings or shootings was the norm. There were also bullies and schoolteachers who were abusive. Wise beyond his years, Morhaf made sense of it all and did not let any of this hinder his growth as a human being. As a person who was also bullied, I relate to this.

Once I began sharing my story to others, I no longer felt shame, but rather a big relief—even empowered! When I read about other people being bullied, it’s a soft spot for me. I can’t help but get a lump in my throat. Then I immediately switch my brain to the good parts of one’s life; their triumphs!

The saving grace in this picture is Morhaf’s mother, a warm, trusting woman, but one of authority and one who greatly valued education. Reading about how his mom pushed Morhaf to take the first steps on the dance floor reminded me of my grandmother.

Grandma practically raised me since my parents were divorced and neither were around much. I think about a family reunion we had when I was about 12. My sister, cousins and I danced to the hired band. When the reunion came to an end, my grandmother encouraged me to “talk to them.” I was shy, but wanted to make Grandma happy, so with my older cousin, we went up to the stage and asked the musicians for their autographs. A parent or grandparent encouraging the kids to dance or talk to someone at a party is a great move to get a kid out of their shy shell.

Another way I relate to Morhaf is not being satisfied with religion and rituals. As a Muslim he reflects on his faith after his mother passes. I was raised without religion, so I had nothing to go by except the standards Catholic holidays that Italian families practiced. When I was 24, I met an older Filipino gentleman who became my mentor. Together we studied religions and philosophies from all over the world.

Remaining open-minded until I met some Christian friends, I decided to give Christianity a chance. But then after my grandmother died, I lost faith, the same way Morhaf felt his faith was faltering after his mother died.

I stopped going to church and celebrating any holidays that had to do with Jesus. When I returned to faith, I took it all with a grain of salt, saving the positive and discarding what seemed overbearing. I now believe in Jesus, but also Buddha, God, and The Universe.

Perhaps this is something people of all faiths go through, but not many admit. So once again, as I’m reading the book, I am grateful to Morhaf for his honesty.

Amongst his great successes, he has had his shares of disappointments too. His passion in activism inspired was an option to leave his family, but after failing a commission-based job, he returned home.

Some of the best times seem to be spent in America. At first, Morhaf lived in Columbus, Ohio with his sister and continued to study. He traveled extensively throughout the USA. In addition to his studies, he had fun adventures that young people experience like dancing, hookah nights, playing cards, consuming cheap drinks, and adopting a canine companion named Leo.

Sadly, dating was an issue, especially in Indiana, where he lived and where many women were prejudiced to his color and didn’t think twice about making racist remarks. It felt terrible to read this. I am sorry that many USA women put a bad taste in one’s mouth, but I want people from other countries to know we are not all that way.

I live in NJ, a democratic state where we are open-minded to making friends of all races and colors—without judgement. I know behind my back my conservative friends and family refer to me as a “Libtard.” It’s wrong and very hurtful.

As a spiritual person, I refuse to retaliate with words and placing derogatory memes on Facebook. Instead I pray for them. And I pray for our president, who I do not care for.

During the month Donald Trump was elected president, Dr. Morhaf was diagnosed with cancer. As a Syrian immigrant he felt affected by the ban on Muslims, fearing he would not be able to say goodbye to his family. He wrote a letter to speak of his struggles. It was published in a Huffington Post blog, entitled “Dear Mr. Trump, You Are Cancer and I Only Live If You Shrink!” The letter explained what it was like to live with what he had then perceived as a terminal illness and as a Syrian immigrant affected by the ban on Muslims. After writing the letter, he felt empowered and liberated him to engage with the Syrian struggle.

I suppose many have friends who have immigrated to the United States and have been affected by Trump’s stance. It is absolutely heartbreaking seeing families being broken up. I know one personally, and will leave it at that to protect their privacy.

Aside from the prejudice Morhaf experienced from American women, he has decided to stay single because he doesn’t want to be a burden to someone should his health fail. I seriously hope he changes his mind because true love is mending.

I’ve shared the story many times and am happy to share it again. When I first began dating my husband I was going to many doctors because I never felt right. A few doctors feared I had cancer. After many ultra-sounds, CAT scans, and countless opinions nothing was found. Seven months after dating my husband, I had one final test that showed I was cancer-free and perfectly healthy! A week later I felt better than I did my entire life! Having a supportive loving person by my side healed me. I believe that!

So, you can see why I’ve enjoyed “Being Authentic” so much. There’s enough to relate to, but also much to learn. And, that, is what a good book should be!

Morhaf’s reflections on life in his later years, while he is now, fortunately, in stable health, we see that he is a true humanitarian and invites others to be as authentic as he is. This is what I wanted from my book, “I Don’t Want to Be Like You.” I want others to share their stories without feeling disgrace. The troubled times are what got you to where you are today. Always remember that.

When we look deep inside ourselves, and share our notions in writing, the reader gets a peek at our true soul. A reader may not “get it” entirely, but the more open an author is, the more we can learn about each other; and love each other. After all, deep down we are more alike than different. This is a book everyone can learn from. And Morhaf will be remembered for writing it.

To purchase “Being Authentic” (and have a sneak peek inside the book) please click on this link: Being Authentic

Follow Morhaf Al Alchar on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/morhafalachkar

95849294_2817039011678255_9072810759997620224_oBeing Authentic book cover

 

Maryanne Christiano-Mistretta can be reached at: maryannechristiano@gmail.com.

She is available for blogging, ghost writing, writing. She is also available for book signings and motivational speaking engagements. She is the author of the following books :

“Be (Extra)Ordinary: 10 Ways to Become Your Own Hero” is available on Amazon. To get your paperback or Kindle version, visit: https://www.amazon.com/Be-Extra-Ordinary-Ways-Become/dp/1733546227

“I Don’t Want to Be Like You” is available on Amazon. To get your paperback, Kindle or audio copy, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Dont-Want-Be-Like-You/dp/1726273261

 

Religious or Spiritual? Universal!

Published February 24, 2015 by Maryanne

HelloBuddhaDrawing by Maryanne Christiano-Mistretta, 2005

“Religion” means God-fearing. And in this day and age “spiritual” means people-fearing. People are so afraid others thinking they are Catholic or Christian, they wear the word “spiritual” like a badge of courage.

That upsets me.

Because while, no doubt, it’s not healthy to be God-fearing, dogmatic and/or pious, religion does have a huge place in ethereal growth. Yes, even Christianity.

Hear me out.

In the mid-1980s, I spent almost a year studying several different religions with a spiritual mentor. I was only in my mid-20s and back then it was unheard of for a young girl to want to study with a man old enough to be her father. For almost a year, I spent less time in nightclubs and more time in meditation. It was a wondrous experience I will never forget and have several diaries in case I do.

The conclusion I came to was that everyone is right. In fact, my favorite book that my mentor gave me was called “Everyone is Right” which is available on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Everyone-Comparative-Religion-Relation-Science/dp/0875165656

Even though I came to this conclusion I was still drawn to the Christian church. What can I say, I just love the teachings of Jesus Christ. Mind you, I was never forced to go to church as a child. I came to love Jesus on my own. And a few years ago I found a Christian church I was able to call “home” though I don’t go as often as I probably should.

Some Christians don’t relate to me because I still take from other religions. And on the flip side, many non-Christians turn their noses up on me as well for going to church.

It’s okay though. I feel completely comfortable being around others who are not exactly thinking like me. This is the beauty of putting faith into a ritual (of sorts) and sticking to your guns about it. I feel that in order to grow spiritually, you need to be around others who are different from you. That kind of experience makes you more spiritual. Uh … wait … I can’t use that word, it’s become too hipster (and possibly a code word for non-Christian).

Let’s just say I’m universal! That’s a badge of courage I can live with! 🙂

RIP Bayani Mendoza De Leon, Loss of a Very Special Friend and Spiritual Mentor

Published November 17, 2013 by Maryanne

Bayani's PhotoBayani Mendoza De Leon

November 24, 1942 to September 13, 2013

In the late 1980s I was a young girl, not yet 25, working at A.B. Bookman in Garfield, New Jersey, as a typesetter. Bayani Mendoza De Leon was a proofreader there. The first time he spoke to me, it was because he was very impressed with my typing skills and asked how I got to be such a good typist.

Now this was before home computers, and I shared that I spent many hours typing poetry I wrote on my Smith Corona typewriter at home. Bayani expressed interest in my poetry and we became good friends, spending all our lunches and breaks together, as we were both vegetarians and very much into the new age. Bayani was a lot older than me — at age 46 he seemed almost ancient. But the age difference didn’t stop us from becoming friends. Then something extraordinary happened — Bayani became my spiritual mentor. He gave me hundreds of books and tapes on Teachings of the Far East, Gurdjieff, Buddha, Ouspensky, numerology, alphabet-ology, The Bible … and so on. I stopped going to night clubs for about eight months, spending all my time studying with Bayani and on my own.

I celebrated my 25th birthday with Bayani. Our favorite restaurant was The Gate in NYC (of course it’s no longer there). It was a Japanese restaurant that served green tea and red bean ice cream — something extraordinary back in those days. Another restaurant we favored were Pumpkin Eater up on 79th Street. We also saw one of my favorite musicians — Mick Karn — perform at The Bottom Line.

Bayani was also a well known musician in the Philippines. He was friends with another musician, Eleanor Academia, who was from California (where Bayani spent some time living). One day Eleanor treated Bayani and I to lunch in New York City. She had a great saying, “Spend your money, save your soul.”

When Bayani left A.B. Bookman several months after we became good friends, we touched base a few times but really didn’t keep in touch. So I was beyond thrilled when out of the blue I heard from Bayani in 2011! He found me via my website (www.peartreeenterprises.com) and wrote me an email! A few months later, February 2012, we got together for lunch at my favorite restaurant, Veggie Heaven. He was in great spirits and we had a wonderful time. I was 48 (two years older than Bayani was when I first met him!) and Bayani was 69.

We promised to keep in touch, but  sadly, that was the last time I saw Bayani. Our last email was a few weeks after our lunch.

I heard of Bayani’s death today by chance. I was looking up info on music.orb and found that they acknowledged his birthday! I was excited and Googled him — only to find a sad tribute about his death on You Tube.

I was shocked and sad. When we were friends back in the 1980s Bayani met both my mother and grandmother. He also took pictures of my sister and I one night before we went to a Halloween party. That’s how close we were. I once met his sister too and had dinner in his home when she was visiting. I still have photos of me and her together. As well as all the pictures he took of my sister and I on Halloween, 1988. One of the few nights I deviated from my spiritual studies.

So many fond memories, but my favorite was when we took breaks at A.B. Bookman and sat in the hallway sharing vegetarian snacks like Eden Soy Milk and Japanese plum ball sours. In just 15 minutes we shared great food and had such deep conversation. It was great!

So September 2013 was such a tragic month. My Billy cat died Sept. 3, my mentor Joan Finn died a few days later, and then Bayani (which I just found out about) left us at age 70.

Rest in Peace to a wonderful soul and an ever-joyful spirit … a deep, quiet man with a good heart. Definitely heaven’s gain.

Best Lesson of 2012

Published December 18, 2012 by Maryanne

MARYANNE -- Early 30sMe, in my 30s

“It’s better to walk a lonely path than be in the company of a fool.” — Buddha

In the past, I’ve been such a sucker when it comes to friendships. I’ve  hung on to debilitating friendships. I’ve been known to be too nice, give in too much and be too forgiving. I’ve let people who have hurt me in the past back into my life, only to wind up getting hurt over and over again.

But 2012, I’ve learned to  put a stop to all that.

My days are so much happier because I’ve been practicing (and succeeding) a very important lesson:

WHEN TO LET GO!

To me, these are the top three reasons to let go of a friendship:

1. When it’s exhausting. When friendships are too trying because a certain friend is too selfish or too self-centered or jealous; when you are getting tight pains in the chest just thinking of the drama a certain person causes in your life, it’s time to let go. When you are no longer excited about seeing that person and more worried about how your health will fare because he/she is too exhausting.

REMEMBER — YOUR HEALTH SHOULD COME FIRST!

2. When a person resorts to insults or digs. When a friend uses put downs during a disagreement (or worse, just in general!) Friends should never hurt each other verbally. You can agree to disagree, or avoid topics you disagree on, or just let something go. There is no reason to resort to put downs or name calling. We are not children and if you can’t have an adult friendship, it’s not worth it.

It also sucks when a person has to throw in a wise crack or dig to make him or herself feel better. I’ve felt myself falling prey to their jerkiness only to try even harder to get this person to like me more. This is not a healthy friendship and needs to be let go of. It’s devastating to feel you have to try to win someone’s approval.

A real friend will accept you as you are and be supportive of who you are, not belittle you!

YOU ARE SPECIAL — DON’T LET ANYONE TAKE THAT FROM YOU!

3. When someone isn’t there for you. When one person is always calling the other one it really sucks. Friendships are give and take. If you feel like you are doing all the calling, all the emailing  and always making suggestions to get together, just let it go, this person is obviously not that into you. Move on to someone better, who can share your successes and be there if you need a shoulder to cry on! A former friend of mine always seemed to disappear whenever something really good was happening in my life because she was jealous of me. My husband picked up on this, but I gave her chance after chance after chance. But mind you, if someone is jealous, unless she/he gets counseling, there will never be a true friendship. Jealousy is an ugly disease and a jealous person does not make for a good friend.

All this said, my life is now filled with amazing people — 2012 was the BEST year for friendships!

Whenever you are brave enough to let go of something that is not a positive in your life, the universe opens up so many doors for either new good things, or more good from the old!

Since I dropped a few negative people from my life (some in horrible, ugly ways because I just could not stand it anymore and not only had to close the door, but SLAM it shut; and others in a more subtle drifting apart kinda way — mainly because I feared the psycho drama that would occur if I confronted a certain person).

It’s such a relief to let go. There is no need for friendships that are ego-driven or happening because a certain person calls you only when he or she is lonely and has nothing better to do. Or if a person makes it known that he or she is so BUSY and you are resorted to feeling like an obligation!

There may be another reason to let go that isn’t so drastic. Perhaps you and a friend are just going in different directions for a brief period. If there is no exchange of bad words and if you really like a person and know that that person really likes you too, the separation period may be brief and he or she will return to your life when the time is right. In these situations it’s not really letting go, but perhaps merely going with the flow, like the tide of the ocean. And that is a good thing!

The final result of letting go is a beautiful inner peace,

Knowing that ALL the people who remain in your life really care about you and love you.

Thank you to God and the Universe for giving me the tools to make the right decisions when it comes to friendships. And thank you for bringing all these amazing people into my life that I can truly call friends!

Thank you to all my friends for loving me and caring about me!

Know how very important and precious you are to me!

I love you!