Friday’s Focus—And How Will You?

Your pen can write a love letter or a scathing hate note.

Your pencil can render a beautiful sketch or be used as a weapon.

Your hand can gently caress or slap a face.

Your mouth can utter sweet nothings or spew hateful accusations.

Your foot can take a step forward or kick someone when they are down.

Your words can raise someone’s spirits or tear someone down.

Your whisper can be a secret or a prayer.

Your heart can love immeasurably or shut down, shut out, and beat itself to death out of fear and anxiety.

A glass of wine can be used to unwind or be the first of many toward inebriation.

A locked door can keep you safe or it can be your prison.

And it goes on…

We all have choices. What will you choose?

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#takingitdeeper

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Friday’s Focus—Knowing Nothing

They say, in life, you never stop learning. I remember my father even telling me that as a kid. I can’t imagine going through my days in a stagnant haze of knowledge that doesn’t change, and sometimes (it seems) life gives you a crash course on learning where it’s sink or swim, kiddo; let’s see what ya got kind of thing. When that happens, you can run but you can’t hide. There is no amount of distraction/destruction of your choice and, there is no sandbox deep enough to keep your head buried in, to keep up a denial for very long. Lately it seems as if there are problems and glitches everywhere, and it’s not just me feeling this way. So many people I talk to have been having their share of issues, trials, and personal crises.

For many people, dealing with now daily stresses has become one hour at a time instead of one day at a time. My husband and I have a running quip: “What do you know?” “I know nothing.” No one has all the answers though many think they do. When I say, “I know nothing,” I mean it as an open, palms-up approach to things that keeps me spiritually honest and humanly humble. In the grand scheme of things, the things that really matter, I really don’t know anything, but I’ve learned and what I see is a lot:

Flowers will still grow through cracks in a sidewalk.

Nothing lasts forever but plastic bags and roaches.

Reactions and anger are really fueled by fear.

There are good people still around and sometimes in the most unlikeliest places and guises.

Standing up for yourself and what you believe in takes a certain amount of courage that we must each learn to cultivate in ourselves. No one else can do it for you–nor should they.

It still matters to be nice.

Every star in the sky and every drop of water in the oceans yields in own mysteries that will take lifetimes to discover but is fascinating to behold in the meantime.

We have have become dehumanized in taking care of each other.

It’s okay to cry.

It’s okay to be angry.

We can’t forget that there are actually flesh and blood people with names and personalities behind each set of paperwork on a desk and every screen name.

Sometimes all it takes is one good cup of coffee to hit that re-set button.

Sometimes strangers are kinder than the people we know.

It’s always on the days you’re running late that either (a) you spill your coffee [on you]; (b) your kids tell you (of course mentioning it for the first time) that their school project is due that day; (c) your pet had an “accident” in the house (and you stepped in it); (d) you forgot your password to your computer and now it’s locked you out; (e) all of the above.

What have you learned today?

#takingitdeeper

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Friday’s Focus—Living Dirty

“Addictions are an attempt to cope with intolerable states. The meager lives we are asked to live, in which we are often reduced to ‘earning a living,’ are themselves intolerable. We are meant to have a more sensuous, imaginative, and creative existence.” –Francis Weller, in “The Geography of Sorrow,”  written by Tim McKee from The Sun, October 2015

This quote comes from an interview with Francis Weller, a California psychologist and author of  The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief from an article my brother recently sent me.  Zoltan texted me last week letting me know to expect something in the mail he thought I’d be interested in. Whatever magazines or newspapers he’s sent in the past have always been interesting and so I looked forward to getting this one. When the big brown envelope finally arrived, I eagerly ripped it open and settled in for the read.  And then I read it again, and then once more. Each time, I kept circling back to that quote.

I love, no I crave, the idea of a more sensuous, imaginative and creative existence. Who wouldn’t? I don’t want to wait until I am old to wear purple with that red hat. Shake it up, shake it down, and shake it out. Boogie through your day. Wouldn’t it be great if it was that easy? For some it may be, but for others, like me, not so, at least not all the time. From experiences in my personal life to those I know around me, I’m no stranger to the irresistible pull of addictions used to numb, move on, and make each day—hell, each hour, palpable. The trip up is that it can get too comfortable being swaddled with a habit that digs its way deeper each day until you forget that you’re really only sleepwalking. You’re not really awake, you’re not really feeling, you’re not really living.

I feel that we’ve become numbed by the barrage of violence that daily fills our senses. Add to that feelings of  discomfort about our personal lives, however deeply unconscious they may be, and we’ve created the perfect cocktail of addictions waiting to happen. We need to get dirty and live our lives as if our life depended on it. Because it does. The period of gestation to when we wake up to our lives can be a long time coming for some, but when we decide to emerge through the other side, to living juicy, is up to us.

I don’t think that we’ve forgotten how to but we’ve certainly  become afraid of letting loose and living in the passion and the dirt because we have the car insurance, health insurance, the kids’ education and so on. So many of us have built up a life of what we were told we should have and so we wanted it by default but as the scales of intolerance and numbness tip, some people find a way to heed the siren’s call and throw off the mask. But it isn’t easy. It’s scary. And when we choose that moment to do it, to rip off our own masks, we need to be able to grieve for the loss of who we were, or more aptly, who we thought we were.

Unless there is a blatant loss of a life is no time to grieve or feel sorrow for what is going on inside us and around us. Even with the loss of a loved one, we’re only given a short time to process it before being required to pick up the pieces again and be back at our desks on Monday morning. We don’t allow time to process not just loss, but all that is making up the fabric of our lives  and I’m  not sure we know how to anymore.

Alternating messages of  “Coming up at 11, the latest on the attacks in [fill in your choice of country, town, state, neighborhood]”  immediately followed by a commercial for a new Lincoln Continental or the Super Sale Days at Macy’s comes at a rate faster than anyone can consciously register. The amount of time we’re given a chance to digest is only as long as a soundbyte.

How do you even start to grab the edges of that mask? Notice anything you read or hear that brings you up short; That grabs your attention and makes you come back. There are some whispering memes that are alarm clocks trying to get through the cocoon we’ve wrapped ourselves in. Listen for it and don’t hit the snooze button. Experiencing loss is a part of life, which no one is immune to. Loss constitutes more than the physical death of someone you know. Loss is missed opportunity, personality, a past place or a regret. Without allowing ourselves to grieve over a loss, it will never go away but will only bury itself deeper until we are lying in our own trough of despair and what I call, “Eeyorness” of how our days have become. (Eeyore, the Winnie the Pooh character was always gloomy, depressed, and  a woe is me. The only thing bright about him is the pink bow on his tail!)

Find something to remind you of the spark and make time for yourself to grieve and even wallow, just for a little while, in whatever sorrow you’re carrying.  I hope you find the inspiration, the red velvet and lemonade, in that space and wake up to the siren call of the life you were meant to live.

#takingitdeeper

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Friday’s Focus—Getting Up, Showing Up, and Doing It All Over Again

This week has left me feeling more stressed than usual and I found myself sitting down to my computer every morning filled with dread and ending the day feeling completely drained to the point of answering my husband’s questions in one-syllabic grunts. But then this morning I finished reading a book by Michael Singer called, The Surrender Experiment in which he talks about surrendering to what life is asking each one of us and to look at our lives not as what we want out of life, but rather what is life asking of us.

Near the end of the book, he says “It was not my responsibility to find out what is binding me; that was life’s job. My responsibility was to willingly let go of whatever was brought up within me.”

Wow.

This week in particular had been a struggle for me as a new level of challenges popped up at every turn. Stress begat stress and by the end of Thursday evening, I found myself feeling feverish, achy, and with a sore throat. I was stressing myself into illness.

I already knew from early in the day Monday, that this week wasn’t going to be easy but I tried to keep in mind  Singer’s words about questioning what it was that life wanted from me and not what I wanted out of life. Though it wasn’t always easy, there was a freshness to the approach that appealed to me and my curiosity of where things  could go.

Each day, I showed up and did the best that I could give and knew how to do, and in that I could take solace in and pride. My job is not brain surgery and no one’s life is at stake but I have a high ethic in everything I do and what is expected of me as an employee, daughter, and even my personal expectations of myself. In hindsight to this past week though, it turned out to be more than I could give. Was I seeking perfection? Maybe, as I tend to lean toward that, but it took my body to feel like it was breaking down to really bring it home the stress that I had put on myself. Instead of building on yesterdays gains, I was building upon yesterdays fears and losses as I perceived them. This is how disease and depression grows giving way to a loss of hope.

“My responsibility was to willingly let go of whatever was brought up within me.”

Yes.

Every day I get up, show up, and do it over again the next day. But today was different. Today I showed up with a renewed determination and focus of letting go of whatever is being brought up in me from what’s going on in my life. Surrender. This act, in of itself, is asked of me and each of us every day. It’s not something you do once and you’re done.  Life is continually upping the ante and asking for us to do things that oftentimes we don’t feel we can handle. We can fight life and our situations or we can surrender.

But doesn’t surrendering mean giving up? Giving up what we think we want, yes. Giving up on opportunities that life presents to us, no. It’s surrendering to the energy of the flow of allowing ourselves to end up wherever we need to be. In other words, getting out of our own way. The only control we really have is over our own reactions and so all we can do—the best thing that we can do—is to surrender. Again and again and again and again. Singer calls this the journey beyond ourselves, and what a ride it is.

I don’t know for sure what life is asking from me, but I do know, that at the very minimum, it’s asking me for an open heart, a curious soul, a creative mind, and a clean body. And that, my friends, is what today’s Friday’s Focus is about and what every day hereafter is about, not just for me but for each of us.

Taking it deeper…

Morning Stars and a Blessing in a Message

Looking through the window this morning with sleep in my eyes and dreams in my head, I watched, mesmerized how the screen pixelated my view of the sunlight blinking through the waving branches and leaves.

Each new breeze created a sort of 1 second stop-action of a twinkling morning. I blinked again, unsure if I was dreaming or awake. I let my soft vision take in the glittering pixels and it was no longer morning, but evening, and in the soft vision of the moving images before me, each sunlit square in the screen blinking at its own speed, became a twinkling star.

The sunlight, which just a moment ago was playing hide and seek with the flipping of leaves and swaying of branches, transformed into the flickering lights of stars up in the sky, twinkling in their nightly dance and I swear I heard someone whisper, “Listen to your heart to tell you where to go, not the world. The world wants you for its own agenda. The world’s voice is not yours. Stand tall, stand strong, and shine and twinkle and do your own dance every night and every day, like the star that fell from heaven that you are.”

Blogging From A to Z: Stories

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We all have them. Even if you say you don’t have a story, that’s still a story. So tell me a story. Not just a story. Your story. Not just your story. Your truth.

We tell stories to each other to makes each other feel less alone, to feel less afraid. Some of us tell stories because we are proud and we want to share. We are all storytellers on some level—if not with our words, then with our actions or in our being. We are even storytellers by our silence.

Our stories tell us by the way we hold our head high (or low), and the laugh lines and crows feet that map our joys and sorrows. If there is Botox there instead, then I can still see your story in your eyes. Do you meet mine or would you rather gaze to the distance or to the floor?

There is a story in your hair—the length, the color, and whether it covers your face to further conceal your mask or do you wear it swept back daring the world to gaze at your features as you stare back?

Your chin tells me a story. Is it jutted out in defiance and pride or does it tremble in fear or sadness?

Your shoulders tell me a story. Are they rounded as if you try to hide your existence or are they rolled back, your chest and heart open and wide?

The jewelry you wear tells me stories. Do you shine and glitter like a thousand lights in a chandelier, or do you carry bells on your fingers and toes to dance to as you walk into a room?

I’m interested in the stories of your hands and the babies and lovers that they held in sickness, health, passion, and love.

Your scars and tattoos even share. They tell me one story while your piercings scream another.

I’m interested in the stories in between your stories; the pauses and the sighs in between your words because they speak just as loudly and sometimes louder.

Come closer and whisper to me your secret, whisper to me your story and I’ll tell you mine and then we’ll whisper them into the wind. It doesn’t matter if you are a boy or a girl or a man or a woman. The young have stories called dreams and the old have stories they call memories. Let’s use our imaginations and listen to the stories of the trees and birds and the lions and monkeys and then we’ll tell them to the stars and the moon and the sun until we are one big story with a thousand different voices, a thousand different names, a thousand different experiences and yet, somehow, some way, all one.

So take off your mask and let your shadow step forward, because I can already see your story whether you tell me or not but I want to hear it come from you. I can see your story already as your lips part slightly and your gaze rises to meet mine. I smile in encouragement and nod my head yes, so we can take it a little deeper.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blogging From A to Z: Perception and Perspective

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It’s a sad fact that it’s usually someone else’s misfortune that puts our life back in perspective. I know it is with me at least. I was originally going to talk about painting for today’s post but something happened last night, which made me change my word to perception and perspective instead.

Yesterday was a frustrating day on multiple levels and on top of that I was running late to an appointment I had after work. Only on the road for a few minutes, it wasn’t long before I saw taillights. “Now what?” I said out loud, very annoyed at yet another probably idiot driver causing problems and making me late. Traffic slowed down to a complete stop. I craned my neck out the window trying to get a look at the “idiot” and I could just make out the flashing lights of several police cars. Good news—I was at least close enough to the scene so I wasn’t looking at miles and miles of delay ahead of me. I was still on a slow burn about not having anywhere to turn around, and all I could do was think so I continued to stew about earlier events from the day and become more and more annoyed.

Eventually we started to move—okay crawl. I heard the scream of the ambulance before I saw it but soon enough there it was, splitting the immobile drivers ahead of it like Moses parting the sea. Ambulances are never good. Eventually we all crawled toward each other zippering into one lane, and then I saw it. A car so badly damaged, with debris everywhere and its roof sheared off. I could actually make out the impact of the driver’s head on the spidered windshield. I shuddered.

Immediately my day’s problems became trivial. Mesmerized at the level of devastation, I slowly drove past the accident and was finally able to accelerate onto the open highway. I no longer cared if I was late and my annoyances from earlier in the day suddenly became trivial and not worth the energy of anger and frustration I had given them. I said a prayer for whoever was in the accident and for the family that would get the call to go to the hospital. Yeah, my day could have been a whole lot worse. Perspective. That was last night’s lesson and I knew would be the perfect subject for today’s post.

Our perception is really our opinion and is constantly skewed by judgment many times without us even being aware of it. It’s our view on how things seem to us and not necessarily how they really are. By shifting focus, even just a little bit, will help put our situations in a whole different light:

  • That call that wasn’t returned from your insurance agent? He was at his father’s funeral and just came back into the office.
  • That car that was speeding up on your bumper and passed you at his first opportunity? He is on his way to the hospital for the delivery of his first-born.
  • That obese man in the checkout lane at the supermarket with the steak and butter and potatoes and ice cream? They’re not for him. He’s making a meal for his son and the son’s new fiancé he’ll be meeting for the first time.

Last night was another wake up call for me and so I’m ringing the bells for anyone else reading this.

Someone else took it deeper for me…..

 

Blogging From A to Z: On Being Ordinary and Having an Ordinary Life

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As a teenager, I wanted so badly to be different than who I was. I didn’t want to be ordinary me. I didn’t want to have this ordinary life. How boring! I wanted to be a star! In what? No clue. I wanted to travel anywhere and everywhere. I just wanted to be extraordinary and live an extraordinary life.

Well, life went on, and as I grew older, learning the ropes of college, first jobs, a corporate career, and a starter marriage overshadowed my concerns of being ordinary. Heck, I was too busy learning about myself and how to be in my various roles to figure out how to be extraordinary on top of all that!

It really wasn’t until I reached the “O” letter in my Blogging From A to Z journey that I thought about the word “ordinary” and what it meant to me. Now, when I think of being ordinary, I feel at ease with the concept and it’s associations. Maybe it is just a matter of getting older and wiser and learning to accept the skin I’m in. I’ve come to see that there’s something to be said about being ordinary and living an ordinary life.

A strong backbone to this realization has been the chaos that has been my life for the past 6 months: issues surrounding broken water pipes and frozen furnace pipes at my home; the passing of my father-in law; my husband’s cancer diagnosis and accompanying him to his chemotherapy treatments; bronchitis that came on just in time for our flight to Michigan for my stepdaughter’s wedding (she was so beautiful!); constant threats of layoffs at my job and then having to say good-bye every few months to some wonderful people I’ve known for years; more house issues; snow/ice storms; panic phone calls from my mother for everything from her feet being swollen and she couldn’t walk to getting lost while driving home from the doctor’s office. There was something every day, and in fact, there’s more, but I think you get the gist.

Events have finally slowed down and paled a bit, letting me catch my breath here and there. I know that life can be messy and that there will always be something, but I just felt blindsided by having it crunched into such a short timespan and the enormity of the challenges.

I think my takeaway is my newfound appreciation for the ordinariness of a calm, uneventful day. I look in the mirror in the morning and though I may be a rock star to my husband, I see an ordinary woman staring back who is doing the best that she can and realizing that there is definitely something extraordinary about being ordinary. An ordinary person, on an ordinary day, drinking her ordinary cup of coffee.

Learning to take things deeper…

Blogging From A to Z: Meditation

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I sit in the dark listening to the lonely hooting of the owl as it stands sentry to the stars that fade into the coming day. Hoo… Hoo… It calls. This becomes my mantra of Who … am I? Who…. am I?

I ground myself in Sukhasana; Easy Pose and let my Shadow self find her way. I slow my breath and let it breathe my body instead of my body controlling my breath.

Thoughts enter from all directions. They bump against each other, creating smaller, but louder thoughts that explode with attached emotions in my mind’s eye.

I sigh an internal “sssshhhhhhh” at the carnival and finally the thoughts begin to look like shooting stars. Brilliant in their flash, but with less and less emotion attached to them, they quickly die out. Another one comes to take its place. Then another. Then another. Finally, there are no more. Just my breath and the gentle rocking of my body as it is carried on the inhale and exhale. An oceanic rhythm in solid form.

The shooting stars are gone and in their place is a light brighter than a thousand suns. Even with my eyes closed, I am blinded by the searing white purity of All that Is.

Without conscious thought, my spine lengthens, my shoulders roll back, and and my heart reaches forward to receive the Cosmic kiss of the light. My heart fills with love and my soul aches in the beauty of it. I revel in the remembrance of Who I am, consciously willing to hold it all in for my return journey into this moment, this breathe, this body. Now.

Taking it deeper….

 

Blogging From A to Z: Laughter

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Laughter—Who knew there were so many different kinds? There are chortles and chuckles, giggles and titters, even guffaws and snorts. Then there is the silent laugh, the belly laugh, the drink coming through your nose laugh, or in my opinion, the most infectious kind of laugh of all—the carefree, full-on laugh of a child.

I remember when I was little; I would sometimes get into a fit of giggles over absolutely nothing. Oh how fun that was! Nothing that I can recall started me off. I was just happy, I guess, and started to giggle, which then made my parents laugh along. First, they laughed at me laughing, which quickly turned into laughing with me. When they asked me what was so funny I honestly couldn’t tell them. I didn’t know and didn’t care as a new fit of giggles overtook me. It just felt so good to laugh! In no time at all, the three of us would be there looking at each other and laughing over pretty much nothing but having the best time of our lives. Little did we know back then that laughing did a heck of a lot more than just feel good!

Laughing has physical and emotional benefits that include aiding in digestion, releasing stress, regulating breathing, reducing fear and anxiety, and most interestingly has been discovered to be a wonderful cardio workout. Studies have shown a link between laughter and increased vascular health so cardiologists are now recommending their patients watch funny movies or read amusing stories to encourage laughter and help stimulate better and faster healing rates for their cardiovascular health.

These benefits have already been known in India and the Yogic community and are being taught as a type of yoga—Laughing Yoga to be exact and it is a actual Yoga practice. There are several retreats that practice it and schools and teacher trainings available, but since I don’t have the resources to travel to these, I like to watch Mahaguru Ramesh Pandey, a Himalayan Yoga Master, on YouTube, extolling the virtues of Laughing Yoga: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eXgdSOxaCGI

No matter what kind of day I have, I only need to watch this once to let go of whatever was getting me down or angry and before I know it, I start to smile, which quickly grows into full-fledged mirth. See for yourself! There are several other Laughing Yoga videos available on YouTube so check them all out and laugh yourself happy and healthy!

Taking Laughter and Yoga a little bit deeper!