I Hide My Chocolate

Midlife observations

Category: Mindful Living

Today’s Postcard

Say NO to Eliminating Federal Funding for Public Education and Nutritious School Lunches

Are you tired and annoyed by everyone posting political rants? Yeah, that’s what I was afraid of. So, I hesitate to post. You know me, I’m very non-confrontational. God forbid I should post something provocative or polarizing. Here’s the thing. I’m just a fair-minded, run-of-the-mill feminist and democrat who has never been politically active.

Until now.

Not a day goes by without some news item causing me to exclaim WTF in anger or disgust or cry in despair. I mean, really, what kind of world is it going to be in 10 years for our children and grandchildren?

Let’s be real, I work full time, I have a husband and children, I teach yoga. I am busy. I am not saving the world. What can I do? Does it even make a difference? After the initial shock, where we all shared outraged articles and felt overwhelmed, I took a bit of a deep breath and a bit of a break. I am not someone who jumps into the fray. No no. I need to research every issue and understand all points of view. Then pause and reflect. Then articulate my point of view, in writing. Then assess how I want to move forward. It’s exhausting and overwhelming, especially when every day presents you with a dozen new outrageous items to consider.

I’ve joined my local Indivisible group. I participate in some closed facebook groups. I read a lot and listen to a lot of political podcasts. I didn’t need a new activity, but there you have it. Our country is too important. Our democracy is too important. Our children are too important. Hell, the Earth is too important. I think we have no choice. To put your head in the sand and pretend that everything is going to be okay is immoral. There. I said it. I.M.M.O.R.A.L.

So, I’ve been sending postcards to my congresspeople. I try for one a day, but have not been successful. I get nervous on the phone, so the postcard thing works better for me. I am skeptical of petitions, so I tend not to sign them. So as not to annoy my friends, (I told you I was non-confrontational), I limit myself to no more than one post a day. I imagine that when I post a political pov, a contingent of my friends rolls their eyes and moves on. But, I don’t know, maybe not. Maybe there’s a quiet group out there that appreciates that I put myself out there.

Yesterday, one of those quiet friends quietly asked me what I knew about HR 610. Nothing. I knew nothing. So, I researched it. Yowza. Here goes my limited interpretation of this brief, but devastating bill:

HR 610, the “Choices in Education Act of 2017,” is a bill under consideration in the House of Representatives that proposes “to distribute Federal funds for elementary and secondary education in the form of vouchers for eligible students and to repeal a certain rule relating to nutrition standards in schools.”

  • HR 610 will repeal the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, which is the most far-reaching piece of federal legislation affecting education. It is responsible for ensuring that our public school system is fair, providing funding for low-income students, special education, English as a second language, and much more.
  • HR 610 limits the authority of the Department of Education, such that federal funding would be in the form of block grants to qualifying states. In other words, federal funding of public schools will now be transferred to the states. So, if you’re lucky to live in a progressive and affluent state, all good, probably. But if not, your education system will suffer. So will your children. So will your property value.
  • States, theoretically, will use these funds to create a voucher system for eligible families and schools. In other words, a family could use the voucher to buy a place in a private school.
  • But, more likely, the effect of vouchers could result in a middle class student migrating from a public school to a private school. It does not typically benefit a low-income student.
  • HR 610 repeals the No Kids Hungry Act, the requirement that school lunches meet specific nutrition standards.
  • Say what?! Let that sink in a moment. This bill says school lunches don’t need to be healthy. Um, that might be the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard, at least today. What does anyone have against nutrition for children? For some kids, school lunch is the most healthy food they eat all day. A well-fed child is better able to learn. A well-fed child is healthier and less likely to need medical care, which low-income families will be less able to afford under the new American Health Care Act, if approved.

See what I mean? It’s exhausting. Just a tiny little bill is fraught with complexity. But this one…well, it seems awful to me. So I am sending my congressman a postcard. I hope it helps.

How Many of Us?

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All of Us

Dear Republicans.

You have been warned. Women speak!

Sisters persist. Resist.

How many of us women have been ignored, dismissed, silenced, repressed, suppressed, censored, banished, exiled, sacrificed, raped, stabbed, killed?

How many of us women have felt it too dangerous to speak? To ask, to question, to complain, to expose, to change, to object, to confront, to agitate, to resist, to fight. To be angry. To stand out.

We hang on to our good girl ways. Afraid of being scolded. Smiling, quiet, obedient, following the rules, excelling at the rules, working within the system. Little flickers of resistance emerging in safe outlets. A poem here. A prayer there. A whispered secret message to a daughter.

We all are brave. Just living takes guts. But some have that extra bit of courage to be bold. Heroines. Each generation gets bolder, with more support, and more examples of different women being different.

When our soul can’t stay quiet. When safety is worse than the battle. When we have nothing to lose. When fairness is compromised.

When our children’s future is jeopardized.

Then we speak. Now. We must speak. All of us.

We will persist. Resist.

I am with her. And her. And her. And her.

Not A Normal Day

Today, I am:

Working. Almost always an absorbing activity.

Noon-1:00. Pilates class.

Calling my senators to vote NO on Betsy DeVos.

Dinner and a show with my husband and friends to support the arts, now under fire.

Preparing to lead Circle of Peace meditation tomorrow.

#notanormalday

What Is A Leader?

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“Everybody can be great … because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

– Martin Luther King, Jr.

Many years ago, a new boss of mine insisted that we read Jim Collins’ From Good To Great. It was a collective exercise to encourage us all to think about leadership and to develop our own “Level 5” leadership qualities, as we worked to transform our organization from good to great. The main take-away that I remember from that book is that leaders are humble and put their own self-interest behind what is good for the company.

On this day – honoring Martin Luther King Jr and anticipating the inauguration of someone I think is the antithesis of a leader (let alone a Level 5 leader!) – I am reminded of this book and the path it set me on towards clarifying for me what makes a good leader.

As a yoga teacher, an executive, a mother, a human – I have thought long and hard about what makes people successful and how I can embody the qualities that I value. I marvel at the teachers and bosses and friends who elicit the best from all the people they touch.

These are the qualities of a good leader that inspire me and motivate me.

  • They are teachers. They are patient and explain things well and have no judgment that you should already know something. They are learners, always curious.
  • They are listeners, willing to consider opposing points of view and to grapple with reconciling opposing points of view.
  • They have struggled and are not embarrassed by their struggles – because their hardships make them more approachable and more compassionate. More grateful.
  • They care, passionately, about something. They work hard and will sacrifice at great cost for what they care about. They approach their passion with joy.
  • They make mistakes and can laugh at themselves. They let you make mistakes and don’t make fun of your mistakes. Well, if they laugh at you, it is with affection and understanding.
  • They make other people feel special. Asking questions, listening, and honoring each person as they are, right there right then.
  • They are honest. They do the right thing. They tell the truth and say what needs to be said. Even if it is hard.
  • They are optimistic, confident in their purpose. They foster a team environment and celebrate the holistic gestalt of the team. They are cheerleaders, inspiring and motivating you to be your best.
  • They are inclusive. Every person counts and has a voice. Every one is invited.
  • They are generous. They are kind.

Image Credit: Used with permission from Dave Bowman at Design Turnpike. Thank you!

Choosing Peace

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Uttanasana

I am at peace with my not being at peace. This sums up how I feel this New Year’s.

Gradually, year over year over year, I have moved away from setting ambitious goals and resolutions and moved toward setting intentions – to choose to be more happy and open to love, to listen to my heart more than to my ego, to see what is good – not what is lacking.

Of course, I still want to have more money, achieve more success, eliminate meat and sugar, be a better citizen of the world, read more books, stop picking my cuticles, throw away stuff, get organized already, be a better mother, and so on. And on. And on.

I am familiar with these goals and make mild progress on them from time to time. Really though, it is exhausting. Bordering on boring.

But when you really stop and ask: what do we want from life? Isn’t it: To feel joy, experience love, reduce suffering.

Peace. Inner peace, if not world peace.

B.K.S. Iyengar says that Uttanasana is “a boon to people who get excited quickly, as it soothes the brain cells. After finishing the pose, one feels calm and cool, the eyes start to glow and the mind feels at peace.” Indeed.

When, at the height of my mid-life anxiety, I would do forward folds in yoga class, I would weep. Turning inward, calming down from my busy busy busy pursuit of not feeling, I would feel. My hamstrings. My breath. My sadness. Of time passing. Of rejections. Of goals not achieved. Yoga class was the only place I would let myself be still, still enough to feel.

Folding forward is private. You can be with your self. Feeling your body, your breath. Just feeling. Just being.

Now, on the other side of my mid-life anxiety, Uttanasana is a pause. A transition. A comforting place to breathe and reflect. Kind of like New Year’s. When I look back on the last year (or years), I see a woman who is happier, more open, more grateful, more able to laugh, more loving.

Instead of focusing on what we don’t have, can we focus on what we do have? What is good, not what is bad.

As this year has ended with great uncertainty about what our world will be like under President-elect Trump, I have to fight against anxiety, anger, panic, despair. It is easy to succumb to the swirl of anxiety.

I will not contribute to negative energy. I resolve to be a force for love, compassion, and positive change.

I will choose peace.

Sacred Privilege

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Sacred Duty

This is me. At around 7:45 on the morning of November 8th. Exhilarated! I was so thrilled to have voted for Hillary Clinton, the woman I was so sure was going to be President that I insisted on documenting the historic event with a photo. I am wearing my most patriotic Clinton-esque red pantsuit jacket.

Quaint, eh? About as quaint as the Clinton-Kaine pin my daughter gave me to commemorate the occasion. I carry it around as a talisman, but I worry that it’s just a kitschy souvenir.

My hand is on my heart – pledging allegiance – and showing off the ring I am wearing. My mother’s ring. She was with me that day.

It is from my mother that I got my political grounding.

My mother was a Democrat. On Election Day, she would take me with her into the voting booth and show me how it worked. I felt very grown up, very excited, and very proud. It was a sacred privilege, voting.

My mother was the first feminist I knew. She was a charter subscriber to Ms. Magazine. Literally. She got every issue of the magazine as long as it existed. It’s one of many many magazines that I grew up with in a household where words mattered. No wonder I made a career in magazines.

My mother believed that women were equal to men (actually, I think she believed that women were better than men) and that I could be anything. ANYTHING! She encouraged me to go to Bryn Mawr College so that I would be with other intelligent and serious women who wanted to make a difference. We women wanted to matter. I wanted to matter. To make a difference. To contribute something important to the world.

Sometimes I feel like Hillary must feel. Hard-working, over-prepared, focused on the details, only to be bested by some guy who shoots from the hip. Haven’t we women all been there? When will it stop?

This election was the first election my mother was not alive and did not vote. It seemed fitting that it was the first election in which my daughter could and did vote. Continuing the democratic lineage. Excited and proud.

It is a sacred privilege, voting. Have we forgotten how fortunate we are to live in a democracy? Did we take voting for granted? Our vote does matter, doesn’t it?

Doesn’t it?

The shock that such a selfish and cavalier man could beat such an experienced and intelligent woman has left me with no words.

In the five weeks since, I have reflected on how I want to handle this mind-boggling reality. I alternate between outrage, fear, disbelief, and attempts at patience and optimism. A Democrat, like my mom, I tend to be pragmatic and centrist, always a diplomat, never particularly active. Careful to try to understand both sides and all points of view. Too conflict avoidant to be provocative.

When I am optimistic, I wonder if the outcome of this election is just what we needed to shake us all up. To create a constructive political movement that will lead to positive change.

The week of the election, the Dalai Lama appeared in my dream. He counseled me to distinguish between being concerned and being caring. It’s all about caring, he told me.

Wise words, don’t you think? Being concerned is intellectual and kind of negative and judgmental. Being caring is active and personal and hands on. Caring is positive. I think of that every day. How can I be positive, constructive and caring in an impactful way? What kind of example do I want to set for my children? What political legacy will I leave them?

For now, I have decided to choose and focus on a few issues that are meaningful to me and that honor my mother and her political legacy to me.

  • Women’s Rights. Particularly reproductive freedom. I am Pro Choice.
  • Freedom of the Press. I never thought I would feel the need to fight for the First Amendment.
  • The Environment. After all, if we destroy our world, then it doesn’t really matter who is President, does it?

I don’t quite know all the ways I will act to support these issues. I am not used to feeling that it is imperative that I act. I do know that I will keep caring, peace, and kindness top of mind – like the Dalai Lama.

And, I will not take our democracy for granted. Believing in democracy is not quaint. Voting is a sacred privilege. It is our sacred duty to protect our democracy, our right to vote.

The Beautiful Subway Singer

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Finding Love Right Where We Are

Monday, instead of walking across town in my usual commuter bubble to catch my train home, I decided to take the subway. It was hazy, hot, and humid and the sky had turned ominously black while all our cellphones were sirening the alarm that a storm was near. I’ve been caught in that 5:30 pm summer downpour.  Not today.

I headed down the tunnel below ground and just missed a shuttle. In my bubble, I headed toward the next train. Everyone was standing, crowded in the entry way, even though there were plenty of seats in the middle. I made my way through the crowd to sit by myself in my bubble. When the train started moving, the beautiful woman next to me started singing. Well, at least I think she was beautiful because she gave off a beautiful vibe. Beautiful energy. I didn’t actually look at her. I didn’t actually make eye contact with her. After all, I was in my bubble in the city where I was taught not to make eye contact with strangers. Somehow connecting with others was threatening and could incite danger. This was understandable advice to the young single woman I was many many years ago, but it doesn’t really serve me that well any more. I am capable and savvy, unlikely to be accosted by strangers, and far more inclined now to make a warm connection with someone who could use a smile (and usually that someone is me).

I was startled out of my bubble. Listening. She started out tentatively, a little out of tune. It was a hard song, Ed Sheeran’s Thinking Out Loud. I certainly couldn’t sing it. I certainly wouldn’t have the nerve to burst into song in the subway. I don’t even sing at home if anyone else is around. I just listened. She gained confidence and strength. I suppose she does this all day long and this was just another iteration for her, but it was magical for me. It is such an intimate song. Her timing was impeccable, singing the climax “We found love right where we are,” just as we pulled into Grand Central. One of the more exuberant souls on the train exclaimed “Beautiful!” And it was. She was.

I went back today to the same shuttle train to see if she would be there again. Of course she was not there. That anonymous, ephemeral, magical moment could not be repeated. Imagine, finding love, all around, on the subway – in this stormy time.

Praying for Peace, Again and Again and Again

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Om Shanti Shanti Shanti

We’ve been praying for peace for a long time. Since the beginning of time. Over and over again.

When I was a freshman in high school, I struggled with World Civ (and got my worst grade ever, thanks a lot Ms. B.). I just couldn’t wrap my head around the dates and the names and the significant facts. It was dry, boring, irrelevant, to me. I remember my mother exclaiming, “Really? But it’s so interesting! Just think of it. People like you and me living thousands of years ago. Isn’t that amazing?” Yep, mom, as usual, you were right. It just took me a while to get there. You were the age I am now when you said that. It IS amazing. Truly awesome. People like you and me. Living thousands of years ago. Praying for peace.

Elusive peace.

This weekend, I dragged myself to yoga. Exhausted. Sad. It’s the place where I feel peace. I had to go.  As we joined our energy, our breath, our sadness, our hope, our yoga teacher offered her tears and this prayer, from Vedic texts, ancient sacred texts, probably from 1,000 BC or older. I cried at our collective sadness and hope. We’ve been doing this a long time. Praying for peace. May it be.

 

May there be always joy and happiness for everyone.

May the earth be ruled by righteous rulers and in a right way.

May there be welfare for animals and the men and women of wisdom.

May the entire Universe be Love and Peace.

May the rains fall in proper times.

May the earth bear healthy grains.

May this land never know any agitation.

May the men and women of wisdom be always fearless, in their thoughts, in their words, in their actions.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti

Peace Peace Peace

Image: Abstract Peace Sign 2 by David G. Paul

What Can I Do?

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Ever-Widening Circles of Love

The news is bad. Frightening. Each new crisis pushes yesterday’s crisis below the surface. What about the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram 2 years ago? How are they doing? What about Ray Rice’s wife, Janay Palmer? I heard she was pregnant with their second  child due this Fall. I wonder how she is doing. Is she happy? Is she safe? I wonder.

After skimming (I seem no longer able to read, really read) the latest awful and bizarre highlights from the newspaper, I get hit with an onslaught of more of the same awful and bizarre highlights on my Facebook feed, peppered with articulate and impassioned rants from a variety of people I respect and read. I wonder how I can add value to the fast and furious conversation. It moves too quickly for me to react thought-fully. They are too smart. I am too sad and overwhelmed. I understand why the rants are interspersed with pet videos and yoga poses. Really, how much despair can a person take?

After Orlando. Feeling a mixture of anguish, outrage, and numbness. The most eloquent post popped up. Simple. Not long. “How do we end the hate?”

Well, that’s it, isn’t it? It’s not about terrorism, gun control, or cogent posts. It’s deeper than that. I shut off my phone and reflected. What can I do? Really. I am one person. Busy busy busy in my world. What can I do? Differently. I am not an activist. I am not particularly authoritative about lots of political facts and policy implications. I am quiet. Sensitive. A mother, a marketing executive, a yoga teacher. What can I do?

And then I remembered. My new year’s “resolution.” The one I forgot around January 25th. Greet each person with enthusiasm and joy. Curiosity. Love. That’s it. Simple, right? Look them in the eye, welcome them into my world and open my heart to them.

But it’s not simple. I forget. I get annoyed. I get anxious. I get overwhelmed. I snap. I send off a vibe of “I’m busy busy busy! Leave me alone!” Or worse, I get judgmental. I’m so judgmental. And competitive. You know. I’m more important than you. Or I’m better than you. Or I’m smarter than you. Or I’m more right than you. Ugh! It’s exhausting. And not true. So. Not. True. Being judgmental is a sign that you need to prop yourself up. I don’t need to do that any more. I am good enough.

So, like a meditation practice, when I notice that I’ve forgotten and gone off in some unintended direction, I bring myself back. Maybe gently. More likely with frustration. And greet each person with enthusiasm and joy. Curiosity. Love. Especially my family. They get the brunt of my bad behavior. And maybe, just maybe, if I act with more love and less hate, then maybe, just maybe, the people in my life will also act with more love and less hate. And maybe, just maybe, like water rippling into ever widening circles, there will be a little more love and a little less hate.

That is what I can do.

Image Credit: Lake Ripples by Rosemary Craig

Sankalpa

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May I Be Open

Thank God Christmas is over! Too much food, too many people, too much to do. The austerity of cold and bracing January beckons. Hunker down and resolve to achieve. After all, disciplined effort is where I excel.

Funny though, how all those years of new year’s resolutions haven’t made me happier. I am still the same person at my core. Intense, curious, anxious, becoming happier, more relaxed, more generous and loving and confident. My cuticle-picking has improved slightly. (Good God, I remember resolving to not pick my nails back in college. I’m DONE with that resolution!) I don’t need to lose weight (disciplined effort is where I excel), and I’ve cut out all the meat I’m going to cut out.

So, what’s on deck for 2016? Goals? Teach more yoga! Become a Reiki Master! Take my blog to the next level! Meditate, every day! Learn to sing a new song every month! Write more thank you notes! Yes, good goals. I will work towards them. But they are still outward-facing, achievement-oriented goals with tasks attached.

What if, instead of deprivational lifestyle changes or ambitious goals that imply I am not good enough or have not achieved enough, I started with the premise that I am good enough? Just as I am? Perfect in my imperfection? What would I do?

What if you are good enough, just as you are? What would you do?

Maybe I would smile more. Laugh more. Be more open and inviting to other people. Worry and complain less. Judge less. Compete less. Say Thank You more. Forgive.

Maybe I wouldn’t need to gossip or provoke other people to gossip in order to feel good about myself. Maybe I could simply accept other people for who they are and where they are on their journey, right now, instead of wishing they were different or would change. Because maybe they are good enough just as they are. Imperfectly perfect.

What a relief!

There is a fragile moment of choice before acting. It’s a choice between being open and shutting down. Making eye contact or looking straight ahead. Saying yes or saying no. Choosing to scorn with judgment or empathize with compassion. We rely on habitual patterns of behavior and thought and expectations of what we should do or should think. But what if, at that moment of choice before acting, I checked in with my heart and gut and listened. Choosing compassion, honesty, joy, love. To decide to do the right thing, for me, not the expected thing.

There is a girl. She is painfully introverted and socially awkward. I see her walking in her bubble with her earbuds. She’s odd. Perhaps her parents are odd. It’s easy to judge, to laugh, to scorn. I’ve been that girl. With the odd parents. Afraid to make eye contact. Hoping no one notices me. They will think I’m weird! Maybe they are dangerous! How much happier I would have been if I had worried less, feared less, and smiled more, greeting my fellow humans with openness. When I put myself in her shoes, I want to smile and wave, somehow convey to her that she is okay. But she looks down and I keep my safe distance.

There is a yoga concept, Sankalpa. It means to make a promise to yourself. To resolve to act. Act on your most innermost desire, according to your life purpose. It honors that you are imperfectly perfect just as you are. That you will make mistakes. Like meditation and yoga, you will come back to the breath and try again. While it might involve breaking a negative habit, like nail-picking, or creating a new habit, like meditating daily, it comes from a deeper place of resolve from within, to love and be your best you. You need to be very still and listen to your soul to determine your sankalpa.

So, this year, instead of wishing I were something other than I am, I will pause in that fragile moment. Remember that I have a choice. I will listen to me, not what I think others expect. I will reach out to others more and worry about myself less.

Perhaps, just perhaps, it is as simple as what my friend posted about what she has learned from her dog. (Thank you Kirsten.)

Life Lessons from Beau

Wake up each morning convinced it’s going to be the best day EVER. Become giddy with excitement each time someone you love enters the room. Go for as many walks as possible. But don’t growl at the cat, because that’s not nice.

Oh, and when I forget, I will be kind. Kind to myself, kind to others, kind to my family. (It’s so easy to forget to be kind to one’s family – when really, we should greet them with giddy excitement every time we see them, like Beau.) And when I forget, I will try again.

Credit:  Heart of Gold 2, by Shannon Grissom

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