Tis the season … to live consciously

The holiday season is supposed to be “merry and bright”.  So, why do I start feeling a tightness in my stomach and a mild sense of dread this time of year?  Is it because the days are getting shorter and the to-do list is getting longer?  Is it because I tend to sleep-walk thru the holidays doing what is ‘expected’ with a forced gaiety?  Is it because I don’t stop to reflect on what this season is really about … feeling grateful for my many blessings, reflecting on how I lived this past year, thinking about how I want the next year to unfold and how to live my life with integrity and purpose? 

I think it is all of the above, but this year feels different.  One of the things I’ve practiced this year is based on a quote by Eckert Tolle in The New Earth: “If you are not in the state of either acceptance, enjoyment, or enthusiasm, look closely and you will find that you are creating suffering for yourself and others.”  So, for example, instead of resenting what I feel like I must do, I examine it and make a conscious decision that if I do it, I will do it with acceptance, enjoyment or enthusiasm.  I stop fighting with myself and grumbling under my breath or to others.  I try to do it with grace and ease.  (It doesn’t always work, but that’s why I practice!) 

I am practicing living consciously.  Bringing myself back to the present moment when I notice I am drifting into the past or future.  Noticing my negative thoughts and questioning them.  Reminding myself of Don Miguel Ruiz’ The Four Agreements (which if you haven’t read, you should!) : “Be impeccable with your word, Don’t take anything personally, Don’t make assumptions & Always do your best.”  I don’t always abide by the agreements, but I do try to recognize when I stray and remind myself to keep trying. 

I am a work-in-progress and that is AOK!

Connections

My greatest joy when I was working at Binghamton University was the connections that I made with my students.  I loved our conversations.  I loved hearing their perspectives and ideas about the world and their lives.  I loved sharing my stories and, perhaps, a different perspective.  I loved laughing with them and learning from them.  It is what I miss most about not being there.  

Last night I had a mini-reunion via Zoom with some of my former students.  It was so wonderful to see their beautiful faces and hear about their adventures.  I felt such joy!  It reminded me how important it is to connect with people who bring us joy.  It doesn’t really matter whether we connect in person or over the airwaves.  It matters that we connect.  That we take that time to reach out and connect with people who infuse us with joyful and positive energy.  

I am still smiling and feel so grateful to stay connected to these amazing young adults!  I look forward to staying in touch and celebrating their journeys wherever they may lead!  

Reflections on acceptance and forgiveness

Sundown tomorrow through sundown Thursday is the Jewish Day of Atonement.  This is the day when we reflect on the past year, ask forgiveness from those we have hurt, offer forgiveness to those who have hurt us, knowingly or unknowingly and vow to do better in the coming year. 

As I sat to meditate today, I thought about forgiveness, and I thought about a guided meditation that I came across several years ago by Dr. Lissa Rankin.  The meditation was called “I Accept”.  She starts by stating that “…all suffering comes from our failure to accept what is.”  That was a real brain-twister for me when I first heard that, and I had to think about it for quite a while.  I finally saw that when you really get down to it, it is true.  We suffer when we resist what is happening. But, when we accept what is, we can start to release our fear and hurt and pain.  We can face reality and make choices about how to react and respond. 

We suffer when we don’t accept another person’s behavior.  We replay the hurt and resentment and memories.  It weighs us down.  It holds us back.  Once we accept that another person’s behavior is based on their own story and past and baggage that they carry, we can release judgement and stop taking it personally. That does not mean we have to condone the behavior or engage with it.  We can express how we feel.  We can choose to establish boundaries.  We can choose to walk away.

I think that acceptance and forgiveness are tightly linked.  Once we accept someone as they are and respond in the way that feels right to ourselves, we can begin to forgive.  We can be set free of the heaviness of our feelings and heal those wounds.  We can forgive ourselves for mistakes we have made and people we may have hurt through our words and actions.  

May this day of atonement bring acceptance, forgiveness, and peace to everyone everywhere.  Amen. 

Reflections and gratitude

Sometimes the road I am traveling gets bumpy.  Sh*t happens.  Loved ones need more care and attention.  My mindfulness practice reminds me to take a breath when I feel overwhelmed.  I come back to now and think to myself that … ‘All is well. I am safe’.   

Expressing gratitude is another wonderful practice. I remind myself how grateful I am for … 

  • so much wonderfulness in my life
  • knowing that If I take things one step at a time, everything will get done
  • my amazing, caring friends who check in to see how I’m doing and let me know they are thinking of me
  • the beautiful moon that is always there, even when clouds are blocking my view
  • the peace I feel when I am at my ‘happy place’ (Silver Lake)

Take a moment today to breath consciously and express gratitude!  

Everyone can meditate!

When I tell people that I teach meditation, a common response I hear is “I tried to meditate and I just can’t do it. I can’t stop thinking.”   Well, guess what?  Everyone can learn to meditate!  All you need to do is WANT to learn and practice!    

The biggest misconception people have is that when you meditate you stop all thoughts and make your mind go blank.  That is virtually impossible.  Our brains are wired to think.  When we learn to meditate, we learn to observe our thoughts and let them go.  We focus our attention on an anchor (for example: our breath, a word or phrase, an image) and when we notice that our mind has wandered, we gently bring our attention back to our anchor.  I know…easier said than done.  But, like any new skill that you want to learn, you need to practice.  The more you practice, the easier it becomes. 

I have been meditating for several years and it amazes me how much easier it is to quiet my mind. When I notice myself repeating and rehashing the same thoughts over and over, I pause and come back to the present moment where everything is exactly as it is.  So much more peaceful to live in the present moment. Give it a try!  

Please contact me if you are interested in learning: wdnbus@gmail.com

Steering in the right direction

The other day I got into my car to head to an appointment.  Before I realized what I was doing, I found myself heading instead to Wegman’s.  It was like my car was on autopilot.  Actually, it was like I was on autopilot.  Where was my mind?  Certainly not on the task at the hand.  It was more likely going over something that happened earlier or thinking about something in the future.  I was clearly NOT focused on what I was doing.    

Most people spend a lot of time thinking about the past or future.  We are reviewing things that annoyed us, people who wronged us, what we could have or should have said. Or maybe we are reminiscing about someone or something that we miss.  I know that I find myself spending a lot of time thinking about what I need to do, planning and worrying about outcomes. But the reality is that the past is gone, and the future hasn’t happened yet.  The only thing that is real is right here and right now.  The present moment. 

This is where mindfulness comes in.  Mindfulness is the practice of noticing when our thoughts are focused anywhere else but in this moment.  It is called a practice because it does not come naturally to most people.  We need to train our “mindfulness muscle” to observe when our thoughts are straying and then kindly and without judgement bring ourselves back to this moment.  Each time we become aware that we are caught up anywhere but here, we simply redirect our attention to the present moment. 

Sound challenging?  It is!  But the more we practice, the easier and sooner we notice when we are lost in thought so we can steer ourselves back to now.  There are so many benefits of being mindful and in the moment.  For me, I feel much calmer. I spend less time tied up in knots about something that is over and done with or hasn’t happened yet and more time enjoying what I am doing. 

Give it a try. The next time you get in the car to go somewhere, be fully in the car and notice everything about the experience of driving and getting to where you are heading.  When you have a snack, try eating it without any other distractions.  Notice the crunch of the nuts or the sweetness of the grape.  When you wash your hands, be aware of how nice the warm water feels and give your fingers a gentle massage.  This moment is the only thing that is truly real, so I invite you to practice being present and see how you feel.  And, please let me know if I can help you learn how to be more mindful! 

Happy “Pop Day” !

I love spring!  I love everything about it … even the rain!  I love watching nature come alive.  Listening to the birds chirping with excitement.  Seeing the grass turn green again.  Watching the crocuses and daffodils bloom.  It is amazing to experience and one of the things I love most about being in a climate with distinct seasons.  Spring can be fickle … 70s one day and snow flurries the next.  But, it is all ok because it builds the anticipation of warm, sunny summer days. 

When I was growing up, my bedroom window looked out to the giant oak tree in front of my house.  The window was eye-level with the branches of the tree.  At the start of spring, I would look out my window each day, waiting for tiny buds to appear on the tree.  I would watch, sometimes impatiently, for that day each year when I would open my window shade, look out and see actual leaves on the tree.  It seemed to happen overnight, usually after a good rain. I named that day “Pop Day”.  That was the day that, lo and behold, the world was green again.  I would walk around all day smiling and humming and feeling happy and in-tune with nature.  I would marvel at the pure magic of that day.  When my children were young, I told them about “Pop Day” and have fond memories of that day each year when we would announce to one another … Happy Pop Day!   

Mindfulness is the practice of being in the moment. Being fully present.  Noticing the world around you.  Paying attention to sights, sounds, smells, tastes, sensations.  When we are mindful, we notice things that we overlook and ignore when we are lost in thoughts about the past or future.  Take some time today to go outside and look around.  Notice the grass and the trees and flowers popping up.  Smell spring.  Listen closely to the sounds of spring.  And when you do, wish yourself and the world a Happy Pop Day! 

Day before birthday reflection

As I wrap up my sixty-first year on earth, I am reflecting on my life’s journey and feeling grateful for all the lessons I have learned along the way.  Sixty-one years.  That number feels surreal to me. 

At yoga today, the instructor was talking about the miracle of our bodies.  It’s so true.  My heart has been beating non-stop (thankfully) for almost 62 years!  Think about that!  I don’t own anything that has lasted that long.  My skin has kept my insides safe and protected.  My neck has held my head up.  My legs have carried my wherever I have schlepped my body.  An absolute miracle.  When I get a cut on my finger, it heals!  All I have to do is feed it, hydrate it and let it rest.  It takes care of the rest.  Amazing! 

A birthday is a wonderful time to stop for a few moments to reflect on the miracle of life and all that it encompasses. To give thanks for not just the wonder of my body, but also, and maybe especially, my soul.  For the ability to love.  For the ability to forgive.  For the ability to accept.  For resilience in the face of challenges.  For all of it!   And to remind myself, again, that today is the first day of the rest of my life! 

It’s never too late to learn!

It’s March!  How did that happen so fast?  February came and went in the blink of an eye.  One of the classes I taught last month was for a group of senior citizens at a local retirement community.  Ages ranged from 70s to 90s.  How cool is that?!   The best part was being able to meet with them in person (!) … socially distanced and masked, in the same room and not on a screen!  That was a real treat!

The most interesting thing that I learned while teaching this group was that their experiences and comments were very similar to younger adults I have taught.  They asked many of the same questions and had a lot of the same challenges and reactions. 

The best part for me was spending time with these older adults open to learning new skills and wanting to grow and try new things.  I just loved seeing that.  I know that is how I want to be at that age. 

It is NEVER too late to learn something new. Keep learning and growing and experiencing!  

My word for 2021: Joy!

I was told recently that I had lost my joy.  It was said in a kind and gentle way and I appreciated the comment.  As I thought about it in the days that followed, I realized that it was true.  My joy light had dimmed. 

2019 and 2020 held heaviness for me:  Saying goodbye to my father and dog, Sophie.  Seeing my job shift in ways that weren’t ideal for me, leading to my decision to retire and move on.  Anxiety surrounding the pandemic and caring for my elderly mother.  Lots of ‘stuff’ with a fair amount of grief to process.  I realized that my joy was diminished and I needed to re-kindle that light.  

It’s funny that once a thought gets into your head, you start noticing it show up more. I noticed the words “find joy” in random places.  I received a gift box from a friend that was called “Tokens of Joy”.  There was a card that said, “I choose to be happy and joyful.  I feel JOYFUL.” 

I also kept seeing references in various places about picking a word for the year.  An intention, if you will.  So, I decided to pick a word and, of course, the word was “joy”.  I have been learning to zentangle (if you don’t know what it is, google it!) so I thought I might do a zentangle with the word, joy. 

Yesterday morning, as I was driving to yoga, my head was spinning about something that I was annoyed about.  You know how that goes … obsessively reviewing the evidence proving my case of why I was right to be annoyed.  Blah blah blah.  I stopped at a red light and happened to glance to my left and up the hill where I see (I kid you not) HUGE letters on a lawn that spelled out J-O-Y!  I drive this way a lot and this was the first time I noticed it.  I just sat there laughing.  Ok, universe.  I hear you.  Snapped me right back to the present. 

In the afternoon, I created this tile with my word for 2021.  It is now hanging where I can see it every day.  I hope that 2021 is filled with joy for me, for you and for the world. 

With gratitude to Tangled Yogi for her amazing instructional video!