I Hide My Chocolate

Midlife observations

Category: Yoga

Choosing Peace

img_1076-1

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.

and Equanimity toward the Wicked

11259808_435915833277143_417501577_n

Humble Warrior

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 1.33

By cultivating an attitude of friendship toward those who are happy, compassion toward those in distress, joy toward those who are virtuous, and equanimity toward those who are not virtuous, lucidity arises in the mind.

Like most, I am beyond troubled by the aggressive and hostile extremes of this election season. I am repulsed by Donald Trump. I hate how he looks: a fat, self-satisfied, narcissistic bully. I despise what he stands for: closed-minded racism, misogyny, bigotry. I fear what could happen if he were to be elected: a pendulum swing to the right with a reversal of our rights.

I have struggled with the righteous posturing, the lack of listening, and a disturbing move away from rational centrist humane compassion, frankly, by all of us. When my feelings of anger and revulsion are active and intense, I wonder how to reconcile this with my yoga practice. Is it yogic to hate Donald Trump?

One of the yoga sutras, 1.33, suggests that we cultivate equanimity when faced with nonvirtuous people and their wickedness. This is difficult. How do we deal with bullies, rapists, dictators, killers, kidnappers, terrorists … with equanimity? Torture them, go to war with them, destroy them? Tempting isn’t it? I understand that point of view. Certainly, we must take a stand for what is right. We must. But there must be something other than violence and divisiveness…if our world is going to survive.

Saddled with this dilemma, what to do with my rage and anxiety while being true to my desire to be a compassionate and peaceful human being, I started wondering how yoga could impact Donald Trump. (I do believe people can change.)

What would I do if Donald Trump walked into my yoga class?

I would welcome him. After all, anyone who comes to a yoga class has some curiosity and interest in becoming healthy. Whole.

We would have a brief seated centering. I don’t think he can sit still for very long. I’d have him center his head (it’s always tilted uncomfortably to his right) and rest his hands on his thighs, in stillness. (Those hands always pointing so aggressively!) I’m not sure he can tolerate closing his eyes, but I’d have him gaze softly and pay attention to his breath. Smooth out his dramatic sniffing. Breathe in. Pause. Breathe out. Pause. I’d like to think the pauses would show him how to pause before he speaks.

After a brief warm-up, we’d move into vigorous (for him) sun salutations. I think he needs to be really worn out, wrung out, by a very physical yoga practice. I’d get him breathing and sweating, so much that he couldn’t think about anything else other than surviving another sun sal.

I’d suggest that he dedicate his practice to someone he loves. (Does he love anyone?) We’d pause in Warrior 1. And bow down to Humble Warrior. Peaceful Warrior. Devotional Warrior. Breathe in. Pause. Breathe out. Pause. Surely the combination of meditating on a loved one and bowing down to them would have an impact?

Next, a heart-opening sequence. Donald has an overactive third chakra (thus, his ridiculous overconfidence). He needs to develop his sense of compassion. Cobra, Sphinx, and Locust.

Then Headstand. Yes. He needs to spend some time upside down. Feeling the confusion of not knowing what’s really up and what’s really down. Seeing a different perspective. Getting connected with his crown chakra. A little spirituality Donald?

And Shoulder Stand. Placing the chin in Jalandhara Bandha, to work on balancing his throat chakra. Pause before you speak. Breathe in. Pause. Breathe out. Pause.

Savasana. I’m pretty sure he’d be exhausted by now and ready to collapse in a heap.

For the closing meditation, I’d encourage him to think of the person he loves and imagine the dissolving of barriers. Dissolve the barrier between the outer body and the inner body. Dissolve the barrier between the physical body and the soul. Dissolve the barrier between his soul and his loved one’s soul. Dissolve the barriers between all souls. There is no barrier, no separation.

Finally, OM. Filling the space with universal sound. Feeling the reverberation until it dissolves.

Imagine if Donald Trump did yoga.

Breathe in. Pause. Breathe out. Pause. We are all one.

OM. Shanti. Peace.

 

Image Credit:  Humble Warrior by Mike Villegas

The Mirror

img_1514

Homework

I am in the middle of a yoga training with Colleen Saidman Yee. She has designed thought-full and specific sequences of poses to enhance or mitigate significant emotions and life transitions. All with a goal of achieving peace and confidence in ourselves, in order to be able to say: I Am Enough.

Our assignment this week, among other things, was to look in the mirror, see ourselves, our souls, and say I Love You. When I looked in the mirror, I felt so silly. Who says that?

Why not? Why don’t we give ourselves permission to love ourselves?

It brings up a long buried memory. I am at the wedding of our neighbor. My first wedding. I am about 8, perhaps. I am wearing a fancy dress and my mother did my hair in her favorite way, pulled back into a top-knot. I feel excited and grown up. At the wedding we are chit-chatting with another neighbor who remarks how pretty I look. Feeling confident and pleased, I respond, “I know!” My parents are embarrassed and scold me. One should be modest and humble, not braggy and conceited. The neighbor smiles indulgently and defends me. But the damage is done. A lifelong struggle with how to be in this world begins. Pretty? Smart? Assertive? Confident? Bossy? Slutty? Ambitious? Bitchy? NICE?

It is more socially acceptable to commiserate: I am so busy. I am so tired. I have so many problems. Or to be self-deprecating: I’m too heavy. I’m too thin. I’m too old. I hate my hair. When was the last time someone asked you “How are you?” and you answered: “I am beautiful, healthy, and strong. I like my job. My kids amaze me. My husband loves me.” Well, dammit, that’s how I am. I’m tired of complaining.

Don’t get me wrong. I could complain! My beauty is one of a middle-aged woman now. My wrinkles, age-spots, thinning eyebrows, and jowls (wtf?) shock me. SHOCK! I am not passionate about my job, but it’s interesting. I wish I had more time for yoga, both practicing and teaching. I’ve been hurt. Badly. A lot. I worry about everything. But… I am who I am and I am enough.

What is beauty anyway? We women are encouraged to meet an impossible external standard. Tall, thin, fit, young. Those of us who come close work very hard to get closer to the standard and feel like failures when we don’t. Those of us who don’t come close work very hard to get closer to the standard and feel like failures when we don’t. Or, we give up. As we get older, perhaps we find more peace with who we are and how we look, but our fading looks are a bittersweet reminder of the fleeting impermanence of youth and of life.

We look in the mirror and see our soul shining through our eyes. The same soul from 50 years ago, from 40 years ago, from 30 years ago, from 20 years ago, from 10 years ago. Real beauty is self-acceptance. Self-confidence. Pride. No more wishing to be someone else. No more wishing to be richer, thinner, smarter, nicer, more successful, more popular, more badass, more happy. We are enough.

Besides, it’s not about me anymore. I want my daughter to be happy and to love herself and to know – really know – her value. If I can’t model that kind of love and confidence for me, what makes me think she can do it for her? If my love for myself is a bit tentative and embarrassed and filled with buts and what-if’s, my love for her is fierce.

Dear girl, you are enough.

Praying for Peace, Again and Again and Again

abstract-peace-sign-2-david-g-paul

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 Is Your Dharma?

dsc04556

Sacred Purpose

“What if you don’t know your dharma?” I whispered. Urgently.

Without hesitation Jill answered that my dharma was to be a mom.

What?!

Consumed by my own self-centered ambition to achieve something great, or at least be superior at everything I do, I’ve always thought of being a mom as something I did while pursuing achievement of external goals.

But the truth of the matter is that there is one thing that feels profoundly meaningful and elicits intense, tight chest, lump in the throat emotion. My children.

I was sitting in a circle discussing the Baghavad Gita and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali with a group of yoga teachers. I had shared a strong emotional reaction I had to the Baghavad Gita and its poetic argument for non-attachment. Arjuna is stuck in a state of indecisive and pained inaction as he resists the war he is destined to fight. (Been there. Haven’t you?) He is terrified. Not wanting to kill or be killed. Damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. Krishna counsels him to act. It is his dharma, his sacred purpose, to be a soldier and to fight. He must be the best soldier he can be. He should not be afraid of death, because our souls live on.

I understand loosening the attachment – the grip we have on our stuff. I don’t need all the stuff in my house, in my life. It is not what makes me happy. And there is always someone who has better stuff then me. But after that it gets hard. I care deeply for the ideas I have come to think of as important. Living mindfully, making the world a better place with what you do and how you live.

And when it comes to people, how can we not be attached? Especially to our children. What does it mean to be not attached?

With their birth was born a new and infinite sense of responsibility, fear, and love. Hovering over them as newborns when they slept, making sure I could still sense their breath. Now that they are 16 and 20, the anxiety has evolved.

Are you happy?

Do you feel loved?

Please. Please be safe.

Worrying, worrying, worrying that all my neuroses have rubbed off on my children. (How could they not?) Worrying that my daughter is too much like me, too obedient, too diligent. Is she having enough fun?

Worrying that my son is too much like me, too eager to please.  Will he be decisive and express himself, especially if he is angry or wants to pursue something different from what we have in mind for him?

Worrying that in both cases we’ve controlled their interests and pursuits so tightly that they have lost track of what they feel and want, overshadowed by the need to please Mom and Dad.

But most of all, I am afraid. Afraid of losing them. Please. Please be safe.

If you believe that we are a soul, not a body, and that we continue on in some capacity even after this body dies, then, perhaps, you can lessen your grip on the people you love. Reduce the fear that they will die or that you will die.

But what if you’re not sure?

What does non-attachment mean when it comes to being a mom?

I think it means pausing. Considering whether you are putting your self first or putting them first.

A friend, with still young children, shared how she wakes up very very early so she can have time alone. (I know it well.) Every now and then, a child tiptoes downstairs to be with her. (I know it well.) Shit! There goes my alone time. (I know it well.) Do you send the child back to bed: It’s too early! Go back to bed! Go watch TV! Yes, I’ve done that. Or: Do you welcome the child to join you? Hello Sweetheart! You’re up early! What a wonderful surprise! I love you! What shall we do with our special time together? I have not done that as much as I should have. And when those young children get older, they will stop reaching out to you and you will have as much alone time as you want. (I know it well.)

I think it means being joyful and loving at their presence. Happy to see them.

I think it means helping them be them, not what you want them to be.

I think it means letting go of worrying about whether you are a good mom. I mean, really, how narcissistic is that?

You can’t change what’s already happened in the past and the impact it’s had. After all, it’s made them who they are.

It’s not about regretting the past or worrying about the future. It’s about being present in the present moment for them right here right now. And letting go. Letting them be them.

Photo Credit:  Photo by Cindy Knoke at cindyknoke.com.  Thank you Cindy for your beautiful photos!

Panic or Exhilaration? Your Choice.

b5

Viparita Dandasana

When I wrote my previous post, I was on a yoga HIGH. So high that I glossed over the moment where I almost had a panic attack. Almost. But didn’t. Maybe that’s why I was so exhilarated?

I’m not prone to panic attacks, so this was unusual, but I do tend to be anxious. Spend a few minutes in my brain around 2:17 am or 8:01 am or 3:33 pm or 9:15 pm and you’d be anxious also. It’s a constant struggle, alternating between worry that I am not good enough, fear that something bad will happen, and fantasizing about an unrealistic future.  It goes something like this:

What if I get fired? I wonder if I could make a living with writing, teaching, and Reiki? What if we lost the house? My husband would leave me. Where would I live? Would I stay in New York or move somewhere else? Back to D.C.? Why isn’t my father answering the phone? What if he is dead? How am I going to deal with the house and all his stuff when he dies? I want to be near the kids. My son thinks I love my daughter more than I love him. I am a terrible mother. How could I let that happen? Dammit. I need sleep! So I don’t lose my job. I’m breathing in. I’m breathing out. Try chanting. Abahu purusakaram. I forgot to water the plants.

And so on. However, after years of therapy and years of yoga, I’ve discovered a secret. For me, anxiety is a habit, a go-to emotion that I can change, not a disability that is inherent in my nature. It’s a learned response based on my upbringing and how my parents dealt with their anxiety and enabled my anxiety. It’s gotten me out of stuff I didn’t want to do and gotten other people to take care of me. And, let’s face it, anxiety is a terrific motivator! (If it doesn’t paralyze you.) We all have anxiety. It’s what we do with it that can make the difference between living a circumspect life versus a more open and courageous life. My biggest fear is that I will die regretting that I didn’t do more. Well, no, my biggest fear is that I will lose a child. And that is the worst anxiety that grips me at 2:17 am.

Back to my almost panic attack. After we worked on lifting our ankles and stretching our armpits, among other things, we did some back-bending poses. Back-bending poses alleviate depression and are exhilarating, though they can increase anxiety. I was a textbook case on Monday. We did a pose, similar to the one pictured above, where we used the chair to support and encourage lengthening and flexibility in the back, opening our chest, throat, and neck.   With a more familiar teacher and class, I might have stopped myself.

Sometimes, you need to get out of your comfort zone and do something different. Hear differently. See differently.

The teacher looked at me as I was wiggling my way into the chair, oh-so-cautiously preparing for the pose. (Frankly I was procrastinating.) He said he thought it might be good for my neck, providing a stretch, not a compression (as in headstand, which I currently don’t do). I was skeptical. And afraid, but proceeded. I got into the pose, and gently let my head lean backwards. My neck, throat, and heart open. Exposed.

That’s when the panic arose.

Whoa! My head is heavy. Body scan. Does this hurt? I don’t think so. But it should hurt! Breath tightens, fear arises. Is it okay? Body scan. Does this hurt? I don’t think so. But it should hurt! Breath tightens, fear arises. Can I get out of the pose? When can I get out of the pose? What if I can’t get out of the pose? Breath tightens, fear arises. Should I ask for help? He’s busy helping other students. Maybe I should get out of the pose. I need help! Breath tightens, fear arises. God Damn Iyengar Yoga. Why do they hold poses for so long? Body scan. Hmmm, maybe it doesn’t hurt. Breathe. I’m breathing in. I’m breathing out. Oh! I think I just felt my ear open up a bit. No, I must get out of this pose. Now! I’m going to regret this tomorrow. What if I really hurt myself? Breathe. Oh! I just felt my neck release. When is this pose going to end? How am I going to lift my head out of this pose without hurting myself? I must get out of this pose. Now! Breathe. I’m breathing in. I’m breathing out. Oh! My neck released some more. Phew. Pose is over. I am not doing it again. There’s no fucking way I’m doing this again. But. How about that. Hmmm. I did it!

That’s when the exhilaration arose.

There is new research released recently that studied the brains of people undergoing stress and anxiety. The brains of highly resilient people were demonstrated to acknowledge the stress and anxiety but to dampen the response. Those who were not resilient, who succumbed to the panic, didn’t respond to the anxiety and the stress until it was too late. Breathing became difficult and they overreacted, making the situation worse. One conclusion is that through mindful breathing exercises, you can become more tuned into your reactions and more able to control your response without overreacting.

Breathe. Feel. Feel fear. Feel panic. Feel exhilaration. Feel love. Feel joy. Breathe.

Photo Credit:  Viparita Dandasana by Bobby Clennell

 

Lift Your Ankles!

downward-facing-dog-lovetta-reyes-cairo

Expand Your Heart

I decided to spend today’s holiday at my office even though it was closed. I have been very anxious about my workload as I more enthusiastically embrace a strategic role that involves interacting with high level decision-makers, not easy for an INFJ who would really be very happy quietly thinking by myself, at least most of the time. It was a good decision. The office was empty and I was able to concentrate and prepare for an upcoming meeting. After 4 hours, which was the equivalent of about 104 hours of a regular day filled with meetings and distracting emails, I decided to balance the day with a yoga class at The Inyengar Institute, a studio that is not particularly convenient so I don’t go very often. It is not my “home” studio and I don’t know the students nor the teachers. It took some coaxing to get myself there.

It was a Level 2 class. You’d think by now, after all these years of practicing yoga and teaching yoga, I’d have advanced to at least a Level 3. But it seems that the more yoga I do, the more I’m aware of how much I can still learn from a Level 1 or Level 2 class. And how unwilling I now am to overdo it in a more advanced class and get hurt.

The class was filled with Manhattan yogi’s. But that doesn’t mean what you might think. They weren’t young, athletic, competitive, flexible. They were Iyengar yogi’s, which are a slightly different breed, mainly older. Perhaps wiser, because they’ve dealt with injury. There were a variety of body types and abilities. What struck me was that everyone stood straight, looked you in the eye, and was welcoming. Iyengar yogi’s. A good bunch.

The teacher, a thoughtful and inspiring Matt Dreyfus, greeted me, listened to me share my physical ailments and quietly observed my anxiety and tension and physical pain. He made sure I was safe the entire class, all while keeping track of about 30 other students.

Class began. A completely normal Iyengar class. Who knows when the completely normal class that might be ho hum for one person feels transformational for another? We chanted. So slowly that the OM reverberated through my body. We started working on poses. In Iyengar Yoga, (unlike Vinyasa where you move and flow dance-like from pose to pose with the breath), you hold poses, using props, and building toward a peak pose. It is perhaps boring. The endless and precise instruction. Or it can be exhilarating. Today it was exhilarating. Matt implored us to lift our ankles! We explored the subtle movements that this entailed. We watched him lift his ankles. We laughed at the absurdity of lifting your ankles. And then we felt how different we felt when we lifted our ankles. How our legs became longer. How our spine became longer. How our chest, our heart, expanded. How our breath moved more freely. Wow.

Then we worked on back-bends, those heart-openers that alleviate depression and remind you that it’s good to be alive. Helpful when so many are dying. We worked with the chair. I found myself slightly panicking. Worried about my neck. Worried I might fall. I breathed into my fear. And felt my neck relax. Exhilarated that I did it.

It reminded me of the power of yoga. When you change your body – Stand up straight! Lift your ankles! Stretch you armpits! Expand your chest! Feel your heart! Soften you eyes and your tongue! – you change your mind. The worries of the day-to-day seem petty when compared to the vastness, the divinity of humanity.

Matt spoke about the purpose of yoga. Most of us are so absorbed in our thoughts and attach great importance to them: worrying, fantasizing, planning, hoping, regretting, wanting. Always wanting. With yoga, we focus on the breath and bring attention to the poses which allows us to take a break from all that chatter in our minds. When we can pause and find stillness, we can begin to observe all those crazy thoughts and begin to realize that they are just thoughts. They are not real. They are biased by our experiences.

He encouraged us to feel spacious. Larger than ourselves, larger than our thoughts. When you feel spacious and larger than just you, you feel connected to others and are more able to stand straight, make eye contact, and be welcoming to all. You take your yoga off the mat and into your world. A little bit closer to Martin Luther King’s dream of freedom for all.

Drawing:  Downward Facing Dog by Lovetta Reyes-Cairo

Sankalpa

heart-of-gold-2-shannon-grissom

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

I Need Nothing More

Red Ribbon

‘Tis The Season for Kindness

In this hectic, busy busy busy season – a time of year when I rage against the crowds, the spending, the too high expectations I set for myself, and counter the stress each year by gradually allowing myself to do less and less and buy less and less – I dashed out of the house without my wallet yesterday.

This realization hit me, hard, as the train conductor came by to check tickets. Damn! I cursed, frantically searching my bag. I explained my predicament. He recognized me, pondered what to do, walked away to check more tickets, came back, and gave me a bye. My seat partner, a complete stranger to me, offered me her subway metrocard. Who does that?! I thanked her profusely and told her I didn’t need it. We smiled. A connection made.

I walked to my office. One of my office mates noticed that I seemed disconcerted.  I explained my predicament. She and every other colleague proceeded to whip out a $20 for me. I was turning away money! At the office holiday party that afternoon, my Secret Santa gave me Adele’s new CD and B.K.S. Iyengar’s Light on Yoga. Now that is a thoughtful person who knows me. Music and yoga? I need nothing more.

I was pretty sure my luck would run out on the commute home. I arrived at Grand Central at 5:03 and ran to catch the 5:04. The conductor came by to collect tickets. I explained why I didn’t have my monthly pass. He muttered, “Show it to me next time.”

And there you have it. A day filled with kindness. I need nothing more.

Thank you.  Thank you everyone.

Photo Credit:  Red Ribbon by SK Pfphotography

Striving For Contentment

IMG_0747

Summer Vacation

We have done some variation on the family beach trip every year. My daughter is 19 and my son is 16. That’s a lot of memory-making. Each year we bring the previous years with us, hanging on to our favorite experiences and recreating what we can of those good times. Each year, though, we are a little different, a little older, a little shifted in a new direction. Last year’s trip, or that really fun one from years ago, cannot be recreated. Each year builds on the past and is a bridge to the next year.

The week always puts the kids growth and maturation into sharp – shocking – relief. Remembering a year ago, or five years ago, stuns me. Wasn’t it just yesterday that I was sitting in the shade of an umbrella with an infant son and a bright little girl? Now I am going for long walks with my daughter, a beautiful young woman who amazes me with her bright light. Listening to her sort out her thoughts and aspirations. Counseling her when I can, but mainly listening and loving her, in awe of her humanity.

It’s humbling to have lived through 53 summers. I feel every one of them this year, each making me who I am – the quiet and sensible one who occasionally surprises everyone by dashing spontaneously into the ocean – not the funny one, not the gregarious one. A little sad, a little more relaxed than I was as a young woman, but a little more urgent about not wasting time. After all, how many more summer beach trips will we have together?

When I travel, I make a point of taking a yoga class at a local studio. No matter where I go, I feel at home in a yoga studio. The rituals are the same. Take off your shoes. Set up your mat. Breathe. Move into the familiar poses. Listen to the teacher. I usually hear something in a new way from a different teacher as I listen to my body. Be. Me. This particular beach vacation morning, I knew I needed the grounded familiarity of yoga and snuck off to a class. The studio had Angel Cards. I had never experienced Angel Cards before. I figured it would be fun and was mildly curious as to what I would get. You close your eyes and reach into the bowl and pick a card. What would it be? Wisdom, Birth, Healing? Something powerful and inspirational I was sure. I closed my eyes, stirred the cards, and picked one. Contentment. Contentment? Contentment?! Boring. I laughed and said, “Well, that was not the card I was expecting.” The teacher wisely said, “It usually isn’t.” Indeed.

But, that’s my work. Especially on vacation. How can I be content? Happy with what is instead of unhappy with what isn’t. How can I appreciate where we are right now and not wish for it to be different, longer, more joyful and not dread the end of vacation and the return to another busy busy busy school year and the constant challenge of work.

My 16-year-old son, who likes to stay up late and sleep in, made a firm determination that he wanted to see the sun rise while on vacation. The youngest of the extended family group sharing the beach house this year, he was the one who had (perhaps) most changed, at least in obvious ways, shifting from boy to young man in the last year and taking his place with the men of the family. The first morning, he came down to the porch around 6:45 and learned that you can’t see the sun rise from our porch view. He took some photos on his phone but was teased that he must have taken these photos at noon because the day was already so bright.

He set his ambition with more commitment. He researched the time of sunrise. 6:42 am. We discussed whether this meant the sun would emerge at 6:42 or whether the sun would be fully above the horizon at 6:42. We shared some stories of sunrise watching and sunset watching, considering the benefits of each. He resolved that he would get up at 5:30 so as not to miss a speck of the dawn. I insisted that that was too early, but he was quite adamant. His plan was set. Everyone wished him well and went to bed, pretty sure none of us would be joining him at 5:30 and pretty sure he would not emerge that early either.

Around 6:20 am, I jolted awake, the slight shift in light through the window rousing me. I tiptoed out of bed and down the stairs to get him. He was already gone! Really? Proud and excited, I gazed out from the porch and saw a slender figure in the distance sitting on the beach. He had made it. I headed down the stairs and over the dunes toward that lone figure. When I got there, we knowingly smiled at each other, sharing in the quiet beauty of the moment. The clouds at the horizon were gray, purple, pink, orange, the light gently spreading across the expanse. We gazed. And waited. Waited and waited. Like watching a pot of water prepare to boil. We waited some more. The clouds were heating up with a burning glow. You could see where the spot would be. We gazed and stared and waited some more. Finally – suddenly – the crescent sun peeked above the clouds. Then steadily and quickly rose. There it was! A new day, new hope, new beginnings. I did a sun salutation dance and babbled on about how this was the real meaning of “awesome.” But my son put it best, using a word I had never heard him say before. Majestic. The rising of the sun was majestic.

Filled with awe and love, how could I not be content?

Another vacation, another year is behind us. It was an important week. A week of growth and love and sadness and nostalgia and intimacy and connection and hope. With glimmers of an elusive contentment. It was the kind of week that builds memories as we all grow older by another year.

Photo Credit:  Aidan Murphy

%d bloggers like this: