Friday’s Focus—Hyacinths in Bloom

The sounds of the neighborhood waking up with its barking dogs and chirping birds and the ticking of the living room clock keep me company on this rainy morning as I write this. I noticed yesterday that the Hyacinths are starting to come up. They always reminded me of Spring, Easter, and my mom. They were one of her favorite flowers and I always brought her some for Easter. Seeing them start to bloom is bittersweet. It reminds me that it’s been nearly 3 months since she passed away. I don’t know where the time has gone and though I’ve been making peace with her passing there are still some days that are harder than others and I’ve found that a stranger’s condolences and a momentary kindness can still bring me to tears.

The medical bills are arriving and with each one, I’ve needed to make a phone call to verify submission to insurance or to get some clarity on the services charged but not explained. Conversions begin business as usual: name, date of birth, account number, relationship to patient; rote questions coming over the phone from a faceless office worker probably counting the days to Friday like I do.

To help explain why I’m calling about a bill 2 months overdue and that it’s not a shirking of responsibility on our part, I explain that it’s just been forwarded to me from the facilities and that my mom had passed away in December. Suddenly, the numb drone becomes a human being and with a soft intake of breath comes, “Oh, I’m so sorry. Please accept my condolences.” It’s a kind sentiment that’s appreciated and something that still makes me twitch when I hear it, but it’s the personal stories that follow are what brings the feelings of loss fresh all over again.

I can’t begin to say how much it annoys me to have to make these calls to follow-up with doctor offices and agencies, but by the end of the calls, my attitude has completely changed. What starts as a business as usual call ends up with me tearing up listening to sage advice and deep personal experiences that the other person has gone through with the loss of their mother or other loved one.

One woman, now in her late fifties, lost her mother when she was 14. She told me about how she still misses her and the memories they never got a chance to make. She shared with me what she’s learned over time and ended the call with a blessing. I honestly felt that God takes moments and people like this to make direct connections to remind me, all of us, that we are not alone.  

None of us will ever know what can come out of our experiences and how it can help others. There are certain levelers in life that will happen regardless of age, sex, and status, and this is where the human heart comes in if we let it. Those people didn’t have to share their personal stories, but they did, and I was completely changed from each, small conversation. I cried because it was suddenly one grief acknowledging another but I also smiled at the sincerity of the connection. It’s so easy to feel alone because of a death or an illness in the family. 

It’s also easy to feel alone when sometimes the day or recent events have just been difficult, challenging, and going in directions you never imagined. Connecting with a stranger or a friend by one small conversation, one sliver of a share of memory, or genuine good wishes can make the world of difference. It won’t solve our problems or be a miracle cure but when you share your heart, that’s a healing in of itself and a moment you will never forget or regret.

I hope today’s Focus inspires you to keep your eyes open and your heart open wider. You never know what today’s conversations could bring. The birds are still chirping but the rain has stopped. I just looked out the back window and a ray of sun is shining directly on the Hyacinth buds. I think I’m going to go out back and spend some time with the flowers and remember how much she loved them.

#takingitdeeper

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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—Examining Humility

Autumn is my favorite time of the year and I think a part of that is because I’ve always felt September and October were more like a new year than the actual January 1 New Year’s Day. To me, September is the month of beginnings. Even though I’ve been out of school for many years, I still think of September as the beginning of a new school year and with it new opportunities and adventures. Then there’s the changing of the seasons and temperatures and of course, moving into October, the gorgeous transformation and front row seat to nature’s fashion show.

For the first time though, this year feels different to me. I’ve noticed a deeper awareness of events and an acuteness to the days’ wanderings that feel more heightened than ever before. Maybe it has something to do with how much faster time seems to be going.  So many people I know have said the same thing and how, especially this year, time feels as though it’s speeding up and almost out of control.

No one can avoid growing older and the growing pains and warts that come along with it, but how we view this parade of changes is what can make a world of difference in our experiences of them. One way to do that is through our humility, which can lead to a deeper and richer level of wisdom and acceptance. Humility has its own quiet power in its ability to provide strength in the awareness that each one of us is a part of something else. Contrary to what many believe, the universe doesn’t revolve around us or is holding its breath waiting to make its next move based on our decision. It doesn’t work that way no matter who you are, who you know, how much money you have, or businesses you own. The Earth will still turn and the sun will rise and set in accordance to its own laws, without any help from us.

Practicing humility is not about lowering yourself and having feelings of inadequacy. On the contrary, humility is a quiet power that lies in the sublime modesty of one’s own potential and view of oneself. Some people see humility as a weakness, with feelings of unworthiness and lack of pride, but I prefer to think of it is a strength of being able to see ourselves in context and in right perspective with others, and finding that we are not lesser or better than anyone else.

By embracing humility we can we move into life’s moments with wisdom and grace by giving up the need for vanity and self-righteousness. This Autumn has become a season of deeper reds, more vibrant oranges, and fiery yellows of a changing landscape that is within me as well as around me reflected in nature, and I hope that today’s Focus will deepen your own personal Autumn and be a season of change within and without as we learn more about and practice humility.

#takingitdeeper

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Friday’s Focus—Necessary Kindness

Writing today’s focus, I was struck by how it seems we need tragedy in order to remember to be kind to each other and treat each other as human beings. If it weren’t for today’s anniversary of 9/11, would the average person really stop and think about people who lost their lives in senseless violence? Would they say a prayer to the families and victims of hate crimes, injustices, and war if images of bloodshed weren’t streaming on our devices?

There are more acts of kindness today than ever before but not nearly enough so I’m dedicating today’s Friday’s Focus as a reminder to each one of us not to wait until there is war or violence or a catastrophic event to simply be kind to the next person, whether you know them or not.

Peace…..

#takingitdeeper

Friday’s Focus—Don’t Stop Believing

Though the way may not be as clear as you would like, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a path, a way to get there. Don’t stop believing even though you see no reason to. Some call it trust, some call it blind faith. Does it really matter what label it gets? No. We think we’ve got all the answers and if we don’t see a way, then there is no way.

Deep inside of each of us is a trace of the stardust from when we were born and it’s this compass, this connection, that reaches beyond biology and logic and is the map to your possibilities.

Say yes to what is happening to you in the moment. Act as if you are already there without judgement and without trying to change anything. That is when things will begin to shift. So keep believing. It is really quite simple. Engage in any activity in the moment and the path will build itself. Notice where you are and don’t dwell on where you’re not. This is the beginning of the unveiling. Interact as if you are there.

Take each day and rope life like a cowboy and hashtag it with a #whynot.

There will always be a corner, there will always be a door, and there will always be a window. What you believe is on the other side is up to you.

On this Friday’s Focus, set your sights on a star and believe. When you do, it’s only then that true transformation and satisfaction will shift from your imagination and dreams to your reality.

#takingitdeeper

Friday’s Focus—True North

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about intention and surrendering and have been making a more concerted effort to be conscious in my intentions of what I do and say. These two words seemed to be in front of me in enough books and articles I’ve been reading that I started to wonder if it may be more than just a coincidence.

A few weeks ago, we decided to take a much-needed vacation to the Catskills for some down time and just to get away. It took me a couple of days to completely unwind from the harried pace I’ve been existing in, and so early one morning, I decided to just grab a chair and sit on the front porch of the B&B we were staying at. I was trying to release any last residual pre-vacation angst and just let go. As I watched the sunrise and marveled at the beauty of the coming day, I grabbed a journal I brought with me. I wanted to get back to journaling on a regular basis and thought what better time to start again than a vacation?

With all sorts of thoughts in my head and not sure where to begin or what I really wanted to say, I started to write about what was literally in front of me—the two squirrels running around the tree, the sunlight rising over the brook, and the different bird songs I was hearing. I let my pen take me wherever it wanted and soon enough I noticed that two words kept circling the page—“surrender” and “intention”. I felt a tickle of intuition that I was on the cusp of something, and it was but a moment later that I found myself writing the sentence—“Surrender to your intention.” Something deep within me released as I read the sentence over and over. I was stunned by the simplicity. It never occurred to me to connect the two! Once again, I was reminded of the humor and the ways messages can come to us when we need to heed something. No wonder I kept running across these words! I suspected that this was something I needed to pay attention to but it wasn’t until I really stopped and thought about it, that I finally got the message.

Setting an intention and surrendering means being conscious in your thoughts and your speech and in the way you act and react. It’s being mindful in the moment. Discovering your true intention and acting in accordance with it is only a part of it though. To really be in full alignment with yourself, I’ve learned that it needs to be inline with surrendering as well.

When you only surrender, you go with the flow of things and accept the movements and hiccoughs as life’s general “I guess that’s the way things are.” But this can only carry you so far.

By the same token, just working with intention, it, too, will only get you so far. It can certainly help set your sights on where you really want to be and do, but if you still fight those intentions especially unconsciously, and do them grudgingly, the intention is really just surface-based and won’t last long. Being on a diet is a perfect example. Which intention will last longer—dropping those 10 pounds so you’ll look better in your jeans or dropping those 10 pounds to lower your risk of Diabetes?

Each of these things are important enough in their own ways but by putting them together, they become a powerhouse. To honestly live in accordance with the right alignment of your energies and your purpose, you must discover your true intentions in everything you do and surrender to them. Surrendering here does not mean giving in or giving up. You’re surrendering to the story that you’ve been living that may not have been serving you very well or gotten you as far as you want to go. It now becomes about creating a new story—one specific to your vision and your purpose and not anyone else’s. 

When you’re in alignment with the right intention, the shift in personal energy is palpable enough that it would be hard to deny or ignore. In my personal practice, since that morning of journaling discovery,  I’ve found myself almost automatically distanced from my attachments and fears that I had before and the clarity of my perspective on what I thought was important had changed. 

If you’re not moving and living in the direction you deeply and  sincerely desire, finding true intention for your actions and thoughts and finally being able to live them by surrendering to them enables you to create a story that will no longer trap you but will empower you instead. It will help keep you from being caught in your own web.

So how do you start? It’s actually pretty simple. Begin by asking yourself some of the following questions:

What is my intention today?
What is my intention for eating this? For drinking this?
What is my intention when I pray?
What is my intention when I meditate?
What is my intention when I respond to that email?
What is my intention for buying this?

Answering these kinds of questions can be tough and you need to be really honest with yourself. Don’t be afraid to keep digging for the answers—don’t stop at the first answer that pops into your head. Question it again; take it deeper. Once you gain an understanding of what the intention is behind a motivation, surrender to the absolute truth of it and consciously apply it to your actions and thoughts.

Use meditation or simple reflection to help you answer these questions.. Experiment and find what works best for you. Keeping a journal is also a great tool. Let your thoughts come as a stream of consciousness and just write—keeping the pen moving in a doodle or in words. Most of all, don’t edit yourself. It’s there, in that hollow, that you’ll discover your deepest intentions and revelations.

In surrendering to your intentions, you’ll find that there comes a natural realignment of your energies. One that is finally working with your soul’s compass in finding your True North and where you can find your way to where you really want to be and need to be.

#takingitdeeper

Friday’s Focus—Keeping It Real Beyond the Holidays

The holidays of 2014 are in full swing with less than 2 weeks to Thanksgiving, 5 weeks until Hanukkah begins, then Christmas the week after, and finally New Year’s coming in with a blink of an eye only a week after that. Whew!

Barring natural disasters, there is no other time of the year that so much attention is given to the importance of family, friends, and loved ones and extending helping hands and kindness to strangers and those in need than during the holidays of November and December.

Volunteering suddenly goes up; donations to food kitchens rise; coat drives pop up; angel cards appear in town centers stapled to green-painted plywood trees, each denoting the age, sex and suggested gift for a child or senior in a shelter or a home; Toys for Tots bins sit ready and waiting in any given location throughout the city.

This is all wonderful and great and endearing, and it’s exactly these types of acts that help make the holidays feel special—showing and experiencing the kindness and generosity of the human heart and spirit; The way we should be with each other all year long and not just in November and December.

Let’s break through the amnesia that comes in January and continue to do something nice and thoughtful for the next person after the holidays. The calendar should not dictate when we need to offer a helping hand. Needing help doesn’t end after December and being nice, thoughtful, and considerate of the next person shouldn’t either.

Let the generosity of your spirit and depth of kindness for each other continue all year round. Coats may not be needed in June but food still is and basic necessities. Soup kitchens and shelters don’t close after April. Offering help and acts of kindness can take many forms regardless of the time of year.

Let’s take 2015 and make it the year of keeping it real. Keeping the real feelings of love, patience, tolerance, and kindness that we make such an effort to show during the Holiday Season and extend it to wherever it’s needed, to whomever it’s needed, regardless of the time of year.

Have a good weekend!

Keeping it light and singing LiLoLa [Live, Love, Laugh] all the way…

You Talkin’ to ME? Is Rudeness the New Normal?

Maybe it’s the reporter in me making sure I cover all angles or the Libra in me that understands all sides to a situation and so can troubleshoot questions or problems. Or maybe it’s just the anal part of me that can’t stand incomplete information. Case in point, recently I had an interaction with someone I work with that entailed five back and forth emails to answer a simple question of “I don’t see the link on the doc. Where is it?”

(“It’s there.”
“Where?”
“On the doc.”
“WHERE on the doc?”)

If I need to tell someone something, I picture being the recipient and I write the way I would like to be given an answer. I anticipate questions as best I can and prepare as much information as possible to get them what they need instead of wasting time on half-thought through emails that only increase my inbox and give me more questions than answers.

What could have normally been a simple 30 second (if that) conversation, became a frustrating 20 minute email exchange. Sometimes I feel as if I’m in a version of Abbot and Costello’s famous sketch “Who’s on First” but instead of actual verbal banter, it’s being played out in email. Are people becoming lazier? Busier? More contrite with their answers on purpose or has rudeness and bitchiness finally become part of the new business etiquette?

I wish I could relegate this type of rude behavior to just email communication but I see it in road rage, and more recently, in an influx of bad behavior in face to face customer service as well. Is it urgency of anxiety-fueled drama of back-to-school? The incredulous forcing of holidays by having Halloween candy in supermarkets in August? Hey it’s already September—what do you mean the Christmas trees aren’t set up in Aisle 8 yet?

Maybe we’re moving too fast to know how to slow down anymore and that angst and high energy is being reflected in the brusqueness of communication that seems to be the new normal. Granted, some people may not realize that they come off as being terse. I’ve been accused many times of having a “tone” when I honestly didn’t realize there was one. Once it was brought to my attention, however, I heard it and changed accordingly. Sometimes it takes a calling out of someone’s behavior for this to be recognized–like I did with one of our local librarians for being rude. True story.

I called my library asking if they had a book I needed for a class that night and she said it was out but it was expected to be returned that day and she was going to call me when it came in. Click. Okay. First problem. She hung up on me. Fine. I waited a few hours as my initial call was early in the morning. I needed the book for a class that evening (I only waited until the last minute because I had just found out we actually needed that book that night—thanks Prof!).

So I was on a mission. I had no desire to purchase the book unless I had to which is why I turned to my library. The day went by with no call and so, feeling as if I had given the book borrower ample opportunity to return a due library book (a possible lunchtime trip or maybe afternoon), I called the library again on my way out of the office. My thinking was, if the book was not returned, I would make a side trip to the bookstore and just buy it. The phone was answered on the second ring and I recognized the same voice from earlier that morning.

“Hi, I called earlier today….” and before the last word was out of my mouth, she interrupted me, “I TOLD you [emphasis intentional and not exaggerated] I was going to call you.”

Oh no. She did not just talk to me that way, did she? I was so shocked that anyone, let alone a librarian was so rude that I stammered, “Oh, ok.” and hung up. And then I got angry. It was just not right. In my head I rechecked the tone of the conversation from my end, and yep, I was pleasant and courteous each time. I was not going to let this go, so I drove straight to the library and walked in.

A librarian was behind the desk shelving books from a huge cart filled with recent returns. She looked up at me and I said “Hi, I called earlier…”

“I SAID…” [again, emphasis intentional and not exaggerated]

I put up my hand and told her “STOP! Stop right there. I realize the book may not be here yet but I felt that you were so rude on the phone with me that I wanted to come here and tell you in person that I did not appreciate it.” I could see her take a step back as if I my words physically slapped her. She flustered an apology and said she did not realize that was her tone and that was not her intention but she had felt pressured all day to get some things done that needed to be by the end of the day. Now, that, I can understand. Apology accepted and I felt, point made. By the way, the book never did make it back to the library so I had to buy it anyway!

My point with this is to shed light on what I feel is a slow degeneration of communication in emails, phone calls, comment sections on online articles, and even with our cars and the way we behave on the road. There is a false sense of bravado and rudeness that has become rampant, and if there is an “anonymous” option to post a comment, those seem to be the wickedest of all. It’s easy to be rude when you don’t see the other person’s reaction and yet, even if you can see the reaction, some people continue to be discourteous.

I think we need to take more of a stand and just say STOP the next time someone is reactionary toward us. Like the librarian, and even myself sometimes, the person may not realize they have a tone. I don’t know one person who is not overworked, overwhelmed, and stressed with responsibilities and I get the fact that everyone reacts differently, but no one seems to be stopping to take a breath anymore before replying to that email or waiting for the car ahead of us to turn before responding brusquely or with hand gestures. Do people really think that responding tersely is an effective communication? Are good manners and even the hint of professionalism being leeched away by increasing deadlines and work overload? Maybe. I know I’ve perpetuated my own share of bad behavior and terse email responses, but I’d like to say that they are more the exception than the rule.

Taking it deeper.

The Art of Being Human

You don’t need to know a name, date of birth, or occupation and it doesn’t take a big commitment. It can be a gesture as small and simple as a smile, holding the door open, or allowing that car into your lane of traffic. It’s about looking into the cashier’s eyes when they hand you back your change in the supermarket line. It’s about saying Good Morning every day to the security guard at work who never looks up but then one day, returns with his own, Good Morning.

It’s about helping someone who is lost find their way back to familiar surroundings by letting them follow you in their car. It’s about remembering that there are actual people behind the phone calls and tweets and screen names on Facebook. It’s about calling customer service and instead of giving a complaint, complement the service you just received. It’s about sharing an article or a photo with someone because it reminded you of them.

It’s about not always waiting to be asked. It’s about paying it forward, paying it backward and whatever falls in between. It should not be something we need to remember to do, it should be simply the way we are. It’s something that should not wait for a holiday to show people how we feel.

We are spiritual beings learning to be human. We are human beings learning to be spiritual. We never know what each day will bring or even every hour. My mother-in-law used to say, “It’s nice to be nice.” It doesn’t mean we can’t get angry, but recognizing that the anger should be about the right things—for wrongdoings and injustices, and not to be angry just because something didn’t go our way. Anger is a natural emotion and can be all powerful and used the right way, can move mountains, but so can empathy, love, and joy. It’s about the art of being human.

It’s a balance of recognizing each other’s soul and existence and stepping up and out without having a reason for doing so other than opportunity. It’s about not hiding behind our anonymity of technology or the false strength in our insecurities. It’s also about nonexpectations and about trust. We have no way of knowing where our one act of kindness, our one act of humanness can lead, but just trust that it does.