I Hide My Chocolate

Midlife observations

Tag: Meditation

What Can I Do?

lake-ripples-rose-rotzler

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

Believing in Reiki

healing-hands-patricia-januszkiewicz

Healing Hands

“Why yes. Yes I am. I am a Reiki healer.”

Hahahahahahahaha! Cue the laughter. I am just pretending. Fooled you!

My daughter discovered Reiki through her yoga teachers. I was inclined to poo-poo Reiki as crazy hokum. How can someone heal simply by holding their hands on or near you? I want deep tissue massage! I want little needles! And maybe an occasional pill. I want proof!

My daughter shrugged and said it made her feel comfortable and relaxed and all warm and tingly. I was skeptical. I had to read up on it. That’s my way. Let me read some books. Then I tried a few sessions. My Reiki mentors would tell me they could feel the thoughts exploding out of my head. Always thinking thinking thinking! What? Isn’t everyone’s brain like that? She told me to feel the energy move down to my feet, to ground myself in the present moment. I felt comfortable and relaxed and all warm and tingly. I saw colors and images and felt more than two hands offering me healing energy. (To whom did the other hand belong?) My intuition heightened and I could sense someone’s mood or “aura” just by tuning in. When I asked for a book to read, she counseled me “Why don’t you try not reading and just focus on your experience.” Well, that’s different.

During one session, she paused, stuck on my heart. She interrupted the quiet session and asked me what was going on. I cried. And cried and cried. It was around the end of my mother’s life, though she had not yet had the fall that would break her hip and lead to the infection that ultimately would kill her. But the end of her life was near and I had sensed it for a while. So I cried. Mourning the passing of time, the words said and unsaid, the regret that we had not shared more mixed with the loss of the deep love that we had shared.

During another session, I told her about my skin picking. How I destroy my cuticles and pick and rub at the skin by my ear until it is raw. I beat myself up for this nervous habit. All my life I have had this habit and beaten myself up for it. She shrugged and said “Maybe that’s simply what you need to do to release your anxious energy.” Suddenly, the perspective shifted. Maybe it was no big deal! She gave me permission to give myself permission. That I was okay and I could be kind and forgiving. To me.

My daughter and I received Reiki 1 attunement. Then, my daughter and I received Reiki 2 attunement. It was a meaningful shared experience that brought us closer. Occasionally we practiced on each other. I offered Reiki to my husband. He is the ultimate skeptic. He fell asleep and woke up 9 hours later and said it was the best sleep he had ever had.   I offered Reiki to a beloved young woman who was struggling with a panic attack. She calmed. I offered Reiki to my mother when she was dying. She was able to let go. But mostly I secretly and somewhat embarrassedly practiced on myself when I was alone.

Secretly and somewhat embarrassedly because I don’t understand how it “works.” I can hear all the skeptics in my life poo-pooing me for believing in this crazy hokum. I didn’t want to admit to anyone that I found it comforting and relaxing and felt all warm and tingly. Like any mystery, it requires faith. Certainly, the power of touch and the effects of meditation and deep relaxation are profound, with plenty of scientific evidence. But healing energy? That’s a little woo-woo for me. And yet. I’ve felt the energy. I’ve experienced the healing. Reiki has helped with my chronic anxious insomnia. My cuticles have started healing. My skin has  started healing. I feel happier, more grounded, more able to enjoy the present moment.

This summer, a full year after receiving Reiki 2 attunement, it occurred to me that I could actually offer Reiki to other people. Truly, it was a revelation, like a voice or a gut feeling that simply but insistently turned on.

I decided that for my birthday, to kick off my new year, I would offer a Restorative Yoga and Reiki workshop. It took me a while to remember to tell my yoga students about it. (Even though I am a marketer by trade, I am not so good at marketing myself.) The first time I mentioned it, I said “Yeah, I don’t really understand how Reiki works, but it’s deeply relaxing.” My daughter laughed at me. “Mom, no one is going to come if you don’t believe in yourself and in Reiki!” Indeed. The second time I mentioned it, I sensed intense interest and acceptance. I heard myself say: “Why yes. Yes, I am. I am a Reiki healer.” One of my students looked me in the eye and said, “Well, of course you are. That makes complete sense.”

What do they see that I don’t?

I led my workshop and poured myself into offering Reiki to my students. After it was over, I saw clear eyes and relaxed bodies and love and gratitude. They felt comfortable and relaxed and all warm and tingly. I was amazed and exhilarated!

I’ve had to work a bit to hang on to that exhilaration. Back in my busy busy busy work world of Monday to Friday, it is easy to let the skepticism take over. This Reiki stuff is silly. Crazy hokum. I have important things to do at WORK! But, if I can help people sleep, help people reduce their anxiety and panic, help people die, isn’t that at least as important as being busy busy busy?

I am a Reiki healer. And I am beginning to believe it.

Image:  Healing Hands by Patricia Januszkiewicz, used with permission.  Thank you Patricia!

I Did Not Know The Boy Who Died This Week

4th-mandala--heart-chakra-jennifer-christenson

Go Deep

I did not know the boy who died this week. The friendly, athletic, well-liked 23-year-old from our town. My kids are in different grades than his younger siblings. They play different sports and hang out with different people. I am woefully unconnected with the school and the town. I’m not unsociable but I am quiet and reserved and I work full time in Manhattan. I worry that my introversion is off-putting and has kept my kids from being more integrated with the community. I prefer smaller groups of family and close friends, so my path did not really intersect with him and his family.

I did not know the boy who died this week. While I thought about him and his mother and his father and his sisters and his friends and all those who were touched by him, I did not feel I had a place at the wake or the funeral. I don’t know this family. But they are part of my world. I feel like I could know him. He could have been any number of amazing, interesting, fun 20-somethings that I do know. With full lives ahead of them. I guess he was out with friends. I suppose alcohol was involved. I am sure he thought he was invincible. Don’t we all at 23? It could have been anyone. It could have been my child.

It takes some living and some near misses to learn that accidents do happen. I could die at any moment. You could die at any moment. My children could die at any moment. As babies, I held them close. Nursing, co-sleeping, baby-proofing. “Never let them out of your sight,” our pediatrician said, only half-jokingly when we asked him for the most significant things we could do to keep them safe. Well, that’s not realistic.  And so we have lived our lives. We put them on the school bus. We sent them on sleep-overs and on school trips. We taught them to ski and take risks and be independent. My daughter drives and my son will soon drive. Off they go. Out of the nest. More out of our sight these days than in our sight. As it should be. And yet, I grasp. I want to hold them close. I want to live forever. I want them to live forever. I never want to let them go.

When they were young, I thought being the mother of a newborn was the hardest thing I had ever done. The exhaustion, the worry. Are they eating? Are they pooping? Are they BREATHING? The mothers of children older than mine would smile indulgently. “Just wait. It gets harder.” What? What could be harder than a newborn?! Now I get it. Now the worries are: Are they safe? Are they happy? Will they live full lives? Will they love and be loved? For many years. For many years, long after I die.

I am a very cerebral and sensible and pragmatic person. Skeptical of the mysterious and unproven. Crazy hokum. And yet. Is it? Crazy hokum? I am fascinated and increasingly open to my intuition and the deep experiences I have had with meditation and Reiki. On Wednesday night, I was drawn to take a yoga class with Colleen Saidman Yee. I don’t know her very well, and I am not a regular student of hers, but she recently published a book, Yoga For Life, that is touching me right now. At Savasana, she said something like: “Dare to go deep.  Deep to the places within. The places that frighten you. The places that you touch and scurry away from.” I tried, but not much happened. Still, I knew shifts have been and are happening.

That night, returning home, the streets were blocked for the wake. The one I didn’t attend because I did not know the boy who died this week. We detoured around to my house. My home. That night, I woke. For my middle-of-the-night battle with my bladder. Should I get up and pee or can I make it through the night? I lay there. And saw something. Felt something. A presence. I laughed. Now I am seeing ghosts? I went to the bathroom and felt the night. Felt the presence. Who was it? I decided it was my mom. Who else would it be? Then that night I dreamt I had siblings. I was talking to my “sister.” She was 17 years older than me and she told me that we had two other brothers. Wow. A whole family of people I never even knew I had?! And then I dreamt I was flying! I was terrified of the sensation. It was exciting but terrifying. I touched the sensation and then scurried away, waking.  Afraid to go too deep.

Today, blessed weekend, I took one of my regular yoga classes with one of my yoga friend teachers with my yoga community in my yoga “home.” Heart-openers. Damn you Clare. As I lifted and expanded and breathed into my heart, I thought about the boy I did not know who died this week. And his mom and dad and sisters and friends. And I suppressed tears. Convulsive sobbing tears. I touched that space and scurried away. I wanted to shout to my yoga friends: A young man died this week! I am so sad!  But I didn’t. I went deep but not that deep.

There is a video montage of photos of this boy I did not know who died this week. I watched it. It could be my family photos. Beautiful human beings doing family things together. I saw him grow from a boy to a young man.  I cried. Cathartic heart-opening tears.

A young man died this week! I did not know him. And yet…I do know him.

Go deep. Love deeply. Live joyfully. We all die. And it might be sooner rather than later.

Image:  4th Mandala Heart Chakra, by Jennifer Christenson

I Want Stained Glass Windows!

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Awe

Around about now, I wish I belonged to a church. It seems like such a meaningful way to spend the holidays. You know, Christmas and Easter. Holidays that I celebrate. Secularly. But the sweet baskets of chocolate and the spring tulips and the nice family dinner don’t seem like enough. I want Ceremony. Ritual. Music. Candles. Incense. Stained Glass Windows. The Word of God.

Every decade or so, I wonder about joining a church. The obstacles are many. I was brought up by cerebral scientists who were not necessarily atheists (neither would commit to believing nor not believing), but who were damn sure they did not want to go to church. And, probably not surprising, I married a man with a similar attitude: not quite sure about God but convinced that church is not for him and angry, angry, that religion is the root of so much persecution and conflict in the world.

I am not sure about God, but I don’t believe that Jesus is any more divine than you or me. I am not Christian, but that is the religion to which I’ve been most exposed. I definitely don’t believe that you need to follow a religion and its rules and its mythology to be a good person.  In fact, I am suspicious of those who follow a religion’s rules without questioning.  How can you be so sure? And why is one religion more worthy than another?

But in stillness, the stillness of savasana or meditation or a Reiki session, sometimes – just sometimes – warmth spreads throughout my body. My body tingles with energy. I see colors and images. I am both hyper alert and deeply relaxed. Usually, in my daily life, I am too busy busy busy and too determined to achieve something to be still. To feel. To listen. But in stillness, it happens. Sometimes.

I am sure there is a scientific reason for my very physical, very dramatic, very strange, very powerful, very real experiences. I am equally sure that people who are more comfortable than me with the mysterious and the mystical will claim this as an excellent example of the unknowable. And that I should get myself to church or synagogue or temple without another moment’s hesitation.

When my mother died, I was determined that we would honor her in a church. Unlike our disappointing and unsatisfying nods to Christmas (presents!) and Easter (chocolate!), this life passage needed more meaning. We found a Unitarian minister and church who guided us to create a lovely memorial service. It helped. It made a difference.

I like the Unitarians. They tend to be liberal and intellectual without a lot of strictures. Good God, they hardly even mention God in their beliefs and principles! That’s my kind of religion! I must say however, that their churches hardly seem like churches to me. The church where we had my mother’s memorial service was an ugly building from the uninspired 1960’s. I Want Stained Glass Windows. A Breath-Taking Sanctuary. Ceremony. Ritual. Music. Candles. Incense. The Word of God. A church should define the notion of Awe-Some.  Like the cathedrals that inspired me while I was traipsing all over Europe when I was 20.

I suppose the physical space should not matter. Any space can become beautiful, and sacred, as you spend time there, in stillness. It’s not the stained glass windows that are sacred, but the people who make the stained glass windows and sing in the choir.  Or chant in the yoga studio.  Or pray for peace.  Or act to build peace.  What matters is the community of people and the holiness of love and support between the people and a sense of sacred purpose. Faith that life and love matter.

I will spend some of Easter in stillness, being grateful for the hope and optimism that is Spring, and reflecting on love. I believe that what is holy is love. Love is what is Awe-Some.

Photo is the Rose Window of Chartres Cathedral.

To Sleep

arianna-addormentata

Perchance to Dream

A funny thing has happened as I’ve gotten older (and kinder to myself). I am sleeping more. Maybe it’s the dark mornings of Winter. Maybe I am a little depressed. While I do feel subdued, I don’t feel depressed. Indeed, after the death of my mother, I feel an increased urgency to live authentically, say what I want to say, and not waste time. Sleep doesn’t feel like a waste of time. Sleep feels precious and restorative. I am less and less willing to drag myself out of bed, tired. Maybe it’s peace. Maybe it’s wisdom.

I used to drag myself out of bed. To exercise. To school. To work. Frequently to exercise. Years and years of my life, I have dragged myself out of bed in the cold and the dark for punishing workouts which allowed me to feel virtuous and smug and provided an excuse for eating quantities of food. In my disciplined way, on auto-pilot, I did not listen to whether my body needed rest, I simply got up and did whatever it was I felt compelled to do at 5 am.

Now, when I wake at 4:30 or 5:00, I go to the bathroom, marvel that I ever dragged myself out of bed so early, and go back to sleep. Sometimes I have anxiety and find it difficult to go back to sleep. I breathe, I chant (in my head – my husband would be quite perplexed if I chanted out loud in the middle of the night), I do self-Reiki, and I usually go back to sleep, grateful that I am past the awful, awful, awful (did I say awful?) years-long, chronic insomnia of menopause. And when I go back to sleep at 5 am, I dream. Wild dreams. Convoluted spiritual journeys. Dives of rebirth into deep, deep water. And of course my standby, the anxiety dream. Lately, however, I’ve caught myself mid-anxiety-dream and told myself not to go there. “Don’t go there!” I command myself. And the dream changes or stops before it gets too nightmarish. I take this as a good sign. Of kindness and acceptance of myself. I am grateful.

Being sleep-deprived used to be a badge of honor. Oh, I never sleep more than 6 hours a night! Oh, I am so tired! Oh, I have so much to do! Oh, I am so important! Funny, then, I was sicker, had more headaches, and carried the weight of the world on my shoulders. In fact, “I am so tired” was an automatic mantra. I said it all the time. Now, I catch myself when those words bubble up, usually out of habit. I pause. Am I tired? Why would I say I am tired? Is it an excuse? For what? I’ve realized that it’s usually code for I don’t want to do whatever it is I am about to do. So, I pause and check in. What am I feeling? Am I truly tired? Do I need to do something different? Maybe I need to tackle an obstacle and get through it. Maybe I need to ask for help. Maybe I need a nap.

When I stopped therapy last year, I gave myself permission to treat myself to a massage once a month. This permission is hard for me. Massages feel self-indulgent. But the truth is that I am healthier and more content. The funny thing about these once-a-month massages is that they make me realize how tense I am. On the weekends when I get a massage, I find I am more likely to cut out activities and more likely to take a nap. Rest breeds the need for more rest.

Of course, there is still that voice, that habitual voice, that whispers: “You’re going to get fat. You’re going to get out of shape. You’re going to fall behind on achieving your goals. You Are Lazy. You Are Bad.” But there is a new voice that says, Be Quiet! This is me. I feel better when I rest, restore, sleep. And when I feel better, I am more compassionate to myself, more open to others, more creative, more energetic, more able to live authentically. More myself.

The science of sleep and deep rest (Restorative Yoga, Yoga Nidra, Meditation, Massage) is fascinating. The benefits of sleep are many. Sleep strengthens the immune system, allowing us to heal from pain and wounds. Sleep prevents us from over-eating, helping us to maintain a healthy weight. Sleep eliminates the stress hormones from our body-mind and clears negative emotions, supporting us to be happier and better friends/parents/lovers. Sleep is central to our cognitive well-being, assisting us to process new knowledge and store memories properly. Sleep is crucial for children and teens – growth hormones are more active in certain cycles of sleep. Insufficient sleep is a risk factor for heart disease, diabetes, and possibly Alzheimer’s.  That’s just the short list.

And of course there are all those magical dreams. Those dreams that only occur if you sleep enough to have REM sleep. I’ve started pausing between sleep and waking. Hanging on to my dreams. What was my dream? What does it mean? What can I learn from my dream?

Life is too short to spend it being tired. Go to sleep. Dream. Healing dreams.

Image:  Statue of Sleeping Ariadne

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