Friday’s Focus—Warning: You May be Hazardous to Your Health

Did you ever put your hand in a cookie jar, and while you’re in there, think maybe you’ll take one or two more (since you’re there already, of course!) only to find you can’t fit your fist back out of the opening? Holding on to things that are bigger than us can be like that. It will keep us stuck in a place and unable to move forward unless we loosen our grip and let go. Even by one cookie.

There aren’t many of us who haven’t been touched by the increasing stresses and demands of family, job, and basic day to day living. These increases seemed incremental at first but lately feel like giant leaps forward, making things feel harder to manage. Our first normal reaction is to hold on to what we have and what we know, not just for a sense of security but for a feeling of normalcy, while we try and understand what’s happening. But working to maintain that control over time can do more harm than good. It’s hard to let go, yes, I’ll admit. Even for people who are seasoned in surrendering to what is, can be caught off-guard by news or events and they, too, can reactively close their mental fist as a reaction to hold on.

We can’t always control our surroundings and our circumstances, but we can control our actions and reactions. One of the ways to do this is to listen to our body. While our mind is busy keeping track and being in control, our body’s are locked into a response of flight or fight. You may think you are in control, but your body is probably telling you a completely different story.

Neither one can win alone. That sore throat may not be the beginnings of a cold or that sneezing fit may be more of a stress reaction than an increase in the pollen count.  Our bodies will give us clues to the level of stress we’re experiencing even if we feel that we are in control and handling everything well. The physical signs of stress can be very subtle and easy to brush off as symptoms of other things: catching a cold; getting older; something eaten or drank that’s not sitting well; a bad night’s sleep; not enough sleep; and explaining eczema and skin rashes away as  reactions to a new laundry detergent are just a few examples.

While these signs could be genuine indications of deeper underlying physical problems, if you experience any of these longer than you think you should, it may be time to do an honest mental and emotional check-in to see if there is something you may be blocking or burying but your body won’t let you. It’s also a good idea to also consider the words we use in our thinking. When we tell ourselves “I’m so sick of my job” or “I’m so tired of so-and-so’s drama”, it can have a physical impact. Sick and tired. Those are the words your body intuits, understands, and listens to.

Studies have shown that by paying attention to our breath we can “check in” where we are and use it as a means of re-connecting body and mind. I’ve used this countless times on myself. It’s an ideal gauge of where we think we are versus where are bodies are telling us we really are. For example, shallow breathing is an indication of fear, however conscious or unconscious that feeling is. Long-term shallow breathing reduces the amount of oxygen to your organs, resulting in a myriad of problems including cloudy thinking.

Pay attention to your breath. Pranayama is one of the most important self-cares you can do in times of stress. Without breath we have nothing. Our bodies can survive without some organs, limbs, loss of senses, but it cannot survive without breath. Conscious breathing will not only feed the body with oxygen but it pulls the attention away from the mind, away from the stress, away from the worry at least even for a moment. Practicing pranayama brings the mind and body together and reconnects any disconnects.

It’s absolutely natural to hold on and try and retain some sort of status quo especially these days in the midst of so much tension. Living in our modern society and current levels and outpouring of demands can be hazardous to our health if not approached well. Attempting to control situations and outcomes may seem to work in the short run but no good can come out of it in the long term.

Those that do, miss out on a lot more than the amount of control they gain. So take a moment, and catch your breath!

#takingitdeeper #healingourselvesfromtheinsideoutIMG_0613

Now.

Every single one of us.
Has something to say.
It’s not just a story.
It’s their story.
It’s your story.
It’s your time to tell it.
It’s your time to write it.
To draw it.
To sing it.
To be it.
Will you?
Or.
Will you let it remain.
In your mind.
In your soul.
As a thought.
As a desire.
As a dream.
Let’s make it so.
And be.
Who we have been.
Dreaming ourselves to be.

#taingitdeeper

Friday’s Focus—Everything Has a Heart

Hand on the doorknob, looking out the glass door, I was ready to step outside when I stopped. My eyes locked on a bug hanging onto the door frame with his (her?) 6 fuzzy legs. Its wings were folded back, and its head cocked in a way it seemed it was looking right back at me; curious or perhaps just as equally shocked, I didn’t know. There was no stinger or biting pinchers but I was afraid of what else it could do—you know, get inside the house and attack my hair or just crawl on my skin.

My gut reaction in seeing anything that flies or crawls is to kill it or flick it as far away from me as possible. I was ready to fling the door open to “send it to the light” (light-speak for killing it), when I decided to get one last look at this thing that was big enough to have its own shadow. Of course, having the glass window between us helped facilitate my newfound feelings of bravery.

So there we stood (or rather, he/she/it hung to the door and I stood), nose to wing. Its eyes were so big and round it seemed that’s all there was to its head. Its torso was narrow with an upturn at the end. The legs were long and crinked at sharp angles, ending in what looked like split feet.

I was intrigued and disgusted at the same time. After a few minutes of this science experiment, I was ready to end it and go outside once and for all. I reached for the door handle one more time, and as I took a last look at the bug, a slight movement caught my eye. Peering a bit more closely, I was shocked to realize that I could actually see this thing breathing.

Inoutinoutinoutinoutinout. Its torso pulsing with a rapid in and out movement at a rate that reminded me of a rabbit’s heartbeat.

Heartbeat? Bugs have hearts? Bugs breathe? Bugs have lungs? This was a first, I thought. I’ve dealt with my fair share of bugs in my life but I’ve never seen one breathe. Now mind you, of course, this only added to the ick factor of there being a bug large enough to see it take a breath. My mind immediately began to draw parallels to Kafka’s Metamorphosis, and Vincent Price in the classic 1958 movie, “The Fly.” Maybe it’s even one of those drones I’ve been hearing about. …?

I stepped closer to the glass again and we took each other in. I looked into his huge eyes and wondered what I looked like to him. I looked at the details of his body from the sucker-type feet that clung to the door frame to the tiny, white, hairy protrusions that sprouted in puffs all over his body.  The veining in its wings was a marvel of patterns.

To me, it was a still a bug and it was still gross and scary and big, but seeing it breathe changed the way I looked at it. I suppose, in a sense it made it more “real”. It was no longer a thing—a threat (albeit a perceived one from my end). It was a living, breathing, entity. It was a-l-i-v-e. It was created and I couldn’t bring myself to kill it. That day I understood for the first time that even bugs have hearts, and I felt a shift in my compassion with life. It became so clear that just because I was creeped out by something I didn’t understand or feared, my instinct was to destroy it before it (maybe) destroyed me.

That lesson can easily be magnified into how we are with each other. People seek out to destroy those they fear or don’t understand. So, maybe if we can remember we are all sentient beings just trying to survive in the best way we can, we can deepen our compassion and tolerance with each other and remember, that even bugs have hearts.

Now, spiders—they’re a different story!

Being in Balance While Counting to Zen

Two weeks into the New Year and I am beginning to feel the realignment of balance and the recognition of coming back to a new normal. A new normal for me.

Each morning, as I sit quietly in the predawn, there is a sense of unfoldment, teasing me in its reveal.

The release of previous holds on me are shifting in ways that are creating a deeper understanding of past patterns and situations. Looking back at them, I see how necessary they were in order to build the ladder to the stars that are now aligning.

I continue to pray and listen to a response as I sit on my mat and count to Zen, riding my breath while it moves in and out of this body I have reclaimed.

It’s not enough to just feed the body.
It’s not enough to just feed the soul.

The soul needs the body to give birth to its dreams and the body needs the soul to live and experience those dreams. The feast is an interconnected ying-yang circle of continual flow. Another relationship where one shouldn’t live without the other is the balance of the head and the heart. I say shouldn’t because many of us only live in one or the other, perhaps too afraid of making the connection or simply not knowing how. No judgement. Just acknowledgment.

There are so many things I already knew up there, but as the dots begin to connect, I now know the same things down there, adding color and texture to the monochrome that lay there before. I can’t help but sigh and drop my shoulders as I relax into this realization of deeper knowing in my heart, and wider understanding in my mind. A brand-new landscape, for sure.

I’m excited at the hints I’m seeing of what’s ahead. A work in progress, that’s me but aren’t we all? We’re just at different stages of the artist’s vision. As the day deepens believe me, the loftiness I start the day with is something that needs constant attention because it’s so easy to be pulled one way or another and before I know it I’m taking another deep breath and counting to Zen. But circles aren’t always perfectly round I remind myself—that’s not the important part. The important part is that there is a circle and that the connection remains.

And tomorrow I will sit again, curious at what will unfold but knowing that whatever it is, I will be adding a new rung to the ladder that I’ll use to climb and reach the stars.

Blogging From A to Z: Vulnerable

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A newly hatched bird;
A flower bud;
The first one to say I love you;
Asking your girlfriend to marry you;
Being told you have a disease and there’s nothing more that can be done;
A newborn baby;
An elderly person’s first night in a nursing home;
A bride on her wedding night;
A teenager who just found out she was pregnant;
Openely stating your sexual orientation for the first time;
Writing your first poem, story, post and hitting the “Publish” or “Send” button;
The first public exhibit of your paintings or photographs;
Being interviewed for a much needed job;
Being laid-off;
Burying your loved one;
The first day on your own at college after all the families have gone home;
The first night alone in new a apartment;
All of us in our deepest hour.

Being vulnerable is like standing on the threshold of what was and what will be.

Some of us dance over it, some crawl, some step over it one toe at a time, and some eagerly jump over the threshold with both feet. Being exposed in vulnerability is actually a powerful place to be. Vulnerability is fragility wrapped in hopefulness, hopelessness, security, doubt, wonder, joy, and sadness, all at once.

Are you on the threshold with something that is making you feel vulnerable? Have you made the jump today? Take my hand and let’s walk over that threshold together taking vulnerability and what it means to us deeper.

 

 

Blogging From A to Z: Elderly

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The other day while I was waiting for my husband at the hospital to finish his tests, I realized that the entire waiting room was filled with elderly people. One by one or two by two they came through the doors as though a bus had just dropped them off. Their spouses accompanied some while others were alone. A couple appearing to be in their late 80s with matching walkers particularly fascinated me. He even had a mini-Velcroed cooler attached under the handle grips of his! Their pristine white sneakers shuffled along in unison as they searched for companion seats. I tried to picture what they were like when they were younger. My imagination ran wild with stories of what they must have seen and heard and experienced in their lifetime. These people lived through some of the most significant historical events in the twentieth century this world has ever seen. To me, they were living history right here waiting to be called in for their endoscopies and colonoscopies.

The elderly are our living ancestors. It seems we stopped paying real attention to and honoring our elders once businesses realized they could make more money by focusing on the new generation then on the old. The elderly have become something we tolerate and have to take care of, rather than endeared and welcomed into the family fold. They may have ceased to be productive members of our working society but they have not ceased to still be members of our society. Their worth should not be determined by how much they contribute but instead, be regarded with respect and how much they have already contributed.

These are the people that helped shape our nation into what it is. They weren’t always 70, 80, 90 years old. Once they were like you and me—they were actively employed, bought first-homes, raised families, fought for our nation, and had weekend summer barbecues. They were us and one day we will be them.

The baby-boomer generation has approached the Medicare age with a better understanding of how we grow older and the need to keep our bodies and minds more active, giving the stigma surrounding aging a much needed identity crisis and revamping. The changes are coming but not for the elders we have right now sitting with their son/daughter in the doctor’s office, caught in between business meetings, answering texts and emails from their Blackberry. They are still the lost ones in our society at the mercy of the “sandwich generation”, who splits their attention and focus conferring with caregivers in between office meetings and a quick drop off of the kids at soccer practice.

Blogging from A to Z: Breath

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Breath

Breath—the whisper of the beginning, the sigh of the end. Everything in between, every thought, every feeling, every passion, and every sorrow is accompanied by the breath. It is not just the backbone of our life but the backbone of our sanity and our even our mental health. Breath sustains our life force. It helps us focus from the mental chatter and can calm us when we’re upset (How often have you heard or said, “Take a deep breath and calm down”?), it does all this without us giving it a second thought. But what if we did? What if, even for just a few minutes, you stopped and noticed how you feel, how your body and emotions change by changing your breath? A deep breath versus a shallow breath. A belly breath versus a lung breath. A fast breath versus a long, slow, inhalation and exhalation.

I tend to be a shallow breather so when I consciously breathe into my diaphragm I become aware of new physical sensations and even a change in my thoughts. Sometimes, all you need to do is to take that one big, deep, bellyful, blissful breath for a change in your mental and emotioal direction. Why don’t you try it now? Sit back, close your eyes, and breathe……..Let’s take it deeper.

 

 

Windowpanes

When we first moved to our home, I didn’t so much mind my one-hour commute.  I would tell people that if I was going to commute and if I was going to be stuck in traffic, this would be the ideal, with much of my travel consisting of driving through woods and over causeways above the lakes.

In the spring and summer, the greenness and abundance of the trees and the sunlight reflecting off the water and can be pure joy, reminiscent of childhood summer days. In the fall, there are days it seems I am driving through a tunnel of fire when all the leaves are at their height of color and fall upon my path with a reckless kamikaze abandonment. In the winter, the sun peeks through the snow-laden tree branches making the tree line look like a giant piece of lace if I used soft vision, and the water becomes a frozen oasis with people finally getting a bit of Jesus in them and walking out onto the solid water for ice fishing, skating, or just because they can. Being surrounded by such beauty did slow me down for awhile and when I got stuck in traffic, I enjoyed just staring off into the trees as I waited for God knows what up ahead to be cleared and finally being able to drive faster than I could walk.

It’s been over 10 years since we bought the house and though it’s still very beautiful where I live, there are days when the shine has rubbed off. The stress of commuting and the complications that just seems to happen as we get older and life goes on has made the extraordinary became ordinary. Mundane. Being stuck on a curvy road behind a slow driver or a delivery truck for 25 miles or having one-lane closed for construction has become pure torture more days than not.

I hate to say it but I’ve become blinded to the beauty around me when I drive and these once wondrous sites have turned into obstacles I feel I must overcome. I don’t notice the trees so much anymore, focusing instead on craning my neck to see who is at the head of the line creating a parade during prime commuting time and how much longer it will take me to get to my destination. Everything has suddenly become far.

I’ve been a die-hard commuter for as long as I can remember driving and working. A Jersey commuter who mastered the art of driving a stick shift on the Garden State Parkway and NJ Turnpike during rush hour while drinking a cup of coffee and smoking a cigarette, perfectly balancing them as I rolled down the window to throw in my token at the tollbooths. It was an art and I was queen.

These days, I rarely travel the Parkway and Turnpike anymore, I quit smoking, and I now drive an automatic (though I still drink coffee in the car), but the commuter queen in me has never really gone away. Yes, I know I could /should take these delays as signs to slow down, but it’s not always so easy. And honestly, sometimes I just don’t want to.  I want to get where I’m going!

There is still one thing that takes my breath away and makes me slow down and appreciate where I live that no construction, no Sunday driver, no weather system can ever take away and that is view of the sunrise from my kitchen window.

There are three windows at the back of our house that overlook the backyard and face East. In the morning, as I get ready for the day ahead, I always look out hoping to maybe get a peek of a passing animal or just to see the level of daylight that helps me gauge my degree of lateness! Typically, it’s dark when I get up. A while goes by and I look out the back window and it’s still dark. Then it gets lighter. Shadows. Grey sky. Shadows sharpen into forms. Lighter Grey. And then it happens—the sun climbs over the horizon between the trees and the most awesome pinks and yellows and whites burst open the day. Sunrise. It’s like a lamp gets turned on in the morning that starts the day.

There have been mornings when the sudden beauty of the bursting sunrise has pulled from me an audible gasp but then awed me into silence at the gorgeousness of it all. You want to know if there’s a God or something bigger than us out there? Just watch a sunrise and let’s talk about it afterward. This is when I think, “yeah, this is why I live here” and remember that there is a bigger journey I am on than just the commute from my home to my office.

Sometimes, I’ll lean my forehead against the glass and wonder what windows will I be looking out at 10 years from now and what will I see? 5 years? Next year? What will my scenery be? I have no clue but wherever my windowpane will be and what it will look out onto, I’ll never forget the sunrises.

Patterns

Patterns. Seeing patterns for what they are. Allowing the witness to step out of the shadow. Begging the sky to make it stop and allowing myself the one anguished cry, “why?????”

Today I sat by the woodpile and cried. I felt the clouds and sky closing in. I took a deep shuddering breath and let it go and as I slumped against the garage door.

And then a peaceful calm slowly came over me. The whispering in my ear was gentle yet insistent:

“She has other people who live closer that she can call if this was a real problem, a real emergency.”

“She could take a cab.”

“If it snows, we’ll just leave earlier or take a different road.”

“You can’t cure your husband’s cancer.”

And then even more insistent, “You don’t have to solve the problems. You can let it be and see how it rolls out. What would happen if you didn’t try to solve all this? What if you put down the superhero cape and just listened. No one elected you hero.” I winced.

My heartbeat applauded this sudden reveal of the subtlest of subtle patterns that I had on some level, at some time, created and now truly saw for perhaps the first time in my life. The witness kept whispering and the breeze suddenly blew a lover’s kiss upon my cheek, drying my tears.

I stood up, stretched, and looked up to the sky, suddenly feeling lighter with the realization that the answer doesn’t always have to come from me.