Saturday, December 31, 2011

Word of the Year - 2012

I gave up New Year’s resolutions a few years ago.  I know goal setting is important, but I make it so complex.  I’m demanding too, harder on myself than I am on anyone else.  Often I get to the end of the year, only to face the truth;  I haven’t lost the same 20 pounds I've been trying to lose for years, nor run a marathon, and still haven’t made the New York Times bestseller list.   Maybe subliminally, I make  the list so long and demanding, no human power would be able to succeed. Sometimes new experiences, success and the change that accompanies it, can be rather frightening too.  Yet, there was another side to it. I discovered so much on my list, was out of my control. That revelation was  a deep breath of fresh air actually. I can do the legwork, but expecting specific outcomes wasn't to be part of my job description.  For example, to sell a house in a recessed market and community was an unreasonable expectation. Even employment was at the whims of other people and the Universe.  How much is in our control?  Very little.  That manner of goal setting wasn't working for me and I’m kinder to me these days.  I have some “loose goals” now.  When I do put a few on paper, I name it my “wish list” rather than my “resolutions”. 
This end of the year/beginning of the new year soul-searching has evolved into something that works much better for me.  I spend some time in meditation and prayer, sit down with my little worksheet, and allow the word to drift into my consciousness.    A single word or two, like a mantra, that can be a point of focus  as I navigate a brand new year.  Last year, that word was BLOSSOM.  Now, the first week of January 2011, I did start the year off blossoming in a really visible way. My tired, stressed out body, overtaxed my immune system and  I sprouted shingles.  On my face, of all places, and I was confined to the house for the first few weeks of the New Year.  That really wasn’t what I had in mind.  Yet, somehow that solitary time alone honing in on what it means to me to BLOSSOM,  jettisoned my determination to continue to cultivate my talents, take my  spirituality to another level, and rediscover my joy.  That single word served me well.  In my undertakings, major as well as minor, I consistently asked the question, “Is this action, belief, person, or endeavor, going to allow me to continue to open up to life and BLOSSOM into the soul my Creator wants me to be?” I’ve gotten to the end of the year, and have deemed it a success.  I have blossomed.  I’m not the same human spirit I was in January of 2011.  I’ve changed: given up some really bad habits, learned to trust my intuition, burned the doormat, grown closer to others, opened my arms wide to opportunity and the world, rather fearlessly.  I’ve taken some big risks, and put myself out there farther than I ever have in my life.   I worked hard, although it didn’t seem so much like work.  It felt more like holding the intention (word) in my mind and heart and just doing what I was led to do, day by day, step by step and letting it all manifest in its own time.  I’ve forgiven what needed forgiven, accepted what needed accepted, and invited in the Grace that was just waiting for me to ask.  BLOSSOM served me well in 2011.  
I began the process of my word for 2012, and thought I was thorough in my examination and had even selected the word.  Somehow, when I repeated, it just didn’t fit, although in my head I wanted it to.  It was such a nice word.  One I could see taking off in a number of lovely directions.  I could imagine what the word would bring to me.  And, that’s where the unease set in.  I was trying to control the choice of the word with this expected outcome, and visions of how it would play out and serve me in the future.  Because I was working it in my head, I knew it  couldn’t be my word for 2012.  It was contrived.  It needed to be one that rose to the surface, outside of my expectations and control.  What then was my word to be?
Asking for guidance through prayer and meditation and then paying attention, being mindful to the signs around us, always reveals our answer.  At first, it was just a little nudge.... the word.  It sounded strange in the context I saw it in.  It arrived in the mail in the form of a Christmas card.  The sentiment, in part read, “Onto the New Year.  I hope it brings you happiness, joy and freedom.”  Freedom?  From what?  The word jumped out at me.  Where had I heard that word used before, and recently too?  
Right before Christmas, a very special person I hadn’t seen in a few years, paid me a visit.  We had an unexpectedly profound, honest, talk and the conversation and connection clung to me  for the next few days like the sweet scent of my favorite perfume.  I have to claim it as one of the highlights of my season.  The gift of undivided attention and communicating between hearts, is one of the most precious things another can give us.   Later that evening,  posted on my Facebook wall, was the single sentence, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”My holiday angel left me that.  I got it. It was the icing on our conversation with a great big cherry served up on top.  I knew.  
My word for 2012 is FREEDOM.  I’m not really sure where the word will lead me or even how to apply it to my days, but I know that’s the word.  It’s none of my business where it takes me.  As I move through the brand New Year, I am sure I will  continue to ask the question, often, “Does this action, belief, person, or endeavor create FREEDOM in this life of mine?”  I’m not going to put an expectation on how it’s all going to play out.  It’s more of an adventure to let the word take me, rather than me taking the word.  It seems perfect somehow.  You can't be free when you are still trapped inside the bud. You don't even know what it feels like...the warm air, the sunlight on your face, the joy of stretching.  First, you blossom, then you're free. 
May you find your word in the New Year and allow it to manifest your heart's desires.  Happy 2012! Celebrate. Believe. Prosperity. Peace.  

Saturday, December 24, 2011


Merry Christmas to All! Someone shared this with me and it made my day. 
  May your 2012 be filled with surprises, joy and spontaneity!  Enjoy! 

Monday, December 19, 2011

In everyone's life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit. -Albert Schweitzer

This holiday I am feeling really blessed to have this monster house.  I haven’t felt that way for the greater part of 4-5 years now, escalating over the last year.  I see a house that is way too big for one person, peeling paint, an older roof and antique windows.  I see an overwhelming financial burden with a work load and commitment too big for one person to handle. Most of all I feel trapped by the housing crisis, unable to unload and move on.  The American Dream of home ownership has become my American Nightmare.   Sure, I could shirk my responsibilities and walk away, many have been forced to, and have, but that doesn’t align with accountability, integrity, and right living for me, not yet.  If I expect to draw that kind of positive energy into my life, I have to be that too; honorable, responsible, honest.  Trapped between the angel on my right shoulder which says in a soft, sweet voice, “Don’t give up hope. Keep trying.”  And, the devil on my left, whose tone is gruff and flippant and screams, “The hell with it, those same financial institutions holding  mortgages created much of this mess we are in to begin with.  Just walk away.”  It’s harder to hear the softer voice sometimes and would be easier to pay heed to the self-serving demanding one.  Especially when one is really, really worn out.  Right now, I am. 
However, my grandchildren don’t see any of that.   My middle granddaughter, Sydney, told one of my co-workers last week, that I live in a mansion!   My immediate response, “A dilapidated old mansion!”  Sydney looked at me puzzled. Later that evening, the three of them arrived to spend the night. They looked around in awe at the Christmas lights and decorations inside my Albatross.  I’m borrowing their rose colored glasses!  They saw a palace - a thing of beauty.  They saw how lovely the backyard looks from my kitchen bay window, all snow covered, the trees frosted white.  They saw the mystical beauty of the den, fireplace roaring, stockings hung by the chimney with care, soft Christmas lights twinkling, making the room a magical spot.  They did not see peeling paint, dated flooring, or old windows.    I see a house.  They see a home full of love, laughter, comfort, and a dash of Christmas magic. They saw. Then, I saw. Many joyous times, have been lived in this house. My fire was lit.  I can apply a coat of paint, fill the house with people and make some more memories for the time I am here. 
Recently, I found myself stuck again professionally, second-guessing my efforts over the last few years as well as what I intuitively know is my gift.  I’ve been thinking from my ego rather than letting my inner guide direct me.  My work has felt false; contrived, rather than coming from the place my best words arise from.  I’ve also learned, when I look to things of this world to fuel me; verification and approval from others, outside opinions, and monetary reinforcement to validate God’s plan, I am then moving out of faith into fear.     I could see that, but it was almost from a different plane, like the ghost of me was trying to tap the human in me on the shoulder and say stop!  I could see it.  I didn’t know how to stop it.  A few days ago, a brightly decorated Christmas envelope arrived and inside was a book.  It’s title , theWarofArt - Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles.  The inscription on the inside read:
I’ve read this many times over.  I feel I have finally “conquered” what the words taught me and I felt a deep need for you to keep it safe for me.  In case I forget and need it again someday--- throw it back my way.  Much Love, Meg
Just in case you are thinking, well, it’s Christmas, why wouldn’t holiday gifts arrive, you need to know that this book uncannily identifies my recent mood, names my fears, and provides a suggested plan for moving out of that place.  Moreover, the gift was passed on by a beautiful, young, 20 something artist from Chicago, who I watched grow up.  A wise beyond her years young woman, I haven’t seen, nor talked to her in quite a long time. As I drank in the messages of the book, the wisdom of those who have walked the same path, was kindling to my desire to continue down my path, no matter what obstacles appear to distract and block me. 

The Universe works together, with, and through others, to draw forth our purpose, and  fan that ember of creativity, appreciation, and perseverance when we've lost sight of what's important.  What beautiful gifts we receive from the eyes and words of other people.    A new way of looking at things, inspiration, good wishes, and lots of love, even from those who are not with us anymore. 

 The other night before bed I was lounging in the big chair in my den, walking down happy Christmas memory lane, sitting for a little visit with so many of my loved ones who aren’t on this earth anymore.  Sifting through my treasure chest of remembrance, I discovered a stash of candles left behind by all them, made just for me, to help light my way.  I can pull them out and hold them up anytime I choose. One of them had imprinted on them, “You can do anything you set your mind to do,” a gift from a dear grandmother-in-law.  Another read,  simply,” I believe in you.” And, another, “Just do your best, but do it.”  Another read, “Follow your heart.  You are worthy of so much more than you know.”  That one was a gift from my mother just a year before she died.  I know this was all triggered by the dream I had the night before.  In the dream was a former boss who had passed away, much too young.  This gentleman had a profound influence on my life both professionally, and became a good family friend outside of the workplace.  He was an example of integrity, Christian faith, and leadership to both me and my young daughter.  He has been gone for over 20 years. In the dream he looked wonderful; younger, happy, like himself only with an indescribable glow. I was so excited to see him and asked why he was visiting.  He said to me, “I heard you needed some light.”  His candle read, “Trust your intuition and let that be your guide.” 
We are all God’s agents assigned the task of fanning the spark that exists in each of us.  We are here to help each other to find our way, see the beauty and discern our worth in the world we live in.  We are here to do for others sometimes, what they cannot do for themselves. 
Thank you Sydney, Cameron and Alex.  Thank you my living angel, Meg, and all those others who surround me, guiding and watching over me from afar. I am beginning to trust that I always get what I need when I need it, if I simply live from the heart rather than the head. I continue to be humbled and amazed at the immense power and timelessness of Universal love which gently asks of us that we return the favor someday and be another human being's firemaker. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Holiday Traditions

I know, I say this every year, so bear with me.... I LOVE the Holidays!  What’s not to love?  First, people are genuinely kinder and for a few weeks at least we get fun mail in the form of Christmas cards.  Who doesn’t enjoy seeing the lights twinkling everywhere, enchanting and mesmerizing. I think the best part of all, is the food.  It’s like being transported back to ancient Rome, voluptuous banquet tables laden with food.... minus the vomitoriums. If you build it(the buffet table), I will come. Give me your luscious leftovers, tins of homemade goodies, and party trays.   I got an email newsletter from Dr. Oz today entitled, Making Wise and Healthy Holiday Food Choices. This time of year, lets save the wisdom for baby Jesus’ three visitors from the East.  Healthy and Holiday are not even on the same food pyramid. I mean, seriously, I’m going to choose celery sticks and grape tomatoes over baby quiches and buckeyes?  For one month I don’t want to think about the caloric content of that delectable puff pastry I just popped into my mouth, or the homemade caramels my brother-in-law spends hours lovingly making and wrapping. Besides, it’s tradition to enjoy those once a year treats. It’s also tradition to gain 7 pounds; a conservative number. I always start out January 1st with a pork and sauerkraut commitment to salads and hitting the gym seven days a week for the next few months.  You can’t mess with tradition.  
Thanksgiving morning, brings a decades long tradition of tuning into the Macy’s Day Parade.  I usually listen to most of it, background noise, while I prepare food for the feast.  When Santa arrives in all his red and white glory, everything in my world grinds to halt and I sit, watching, mesmerized, eyes glistening, as the jolly old elf pulls up in his sleigh, happily waving at me and all the other good little boys and girls. I think the tears arise from seeing the faces of the little ones, innocent wonder and awe reflected in their eyes. Perhaps for that brief moment, I too can believe in magic and dreams come true again.  My tears too, are just tradition. 

Another tradition is Black Friday shopping with my daughter. We’ve been doing it for a number of years now.  She started it.  Post Thanksgiving dinner, we review the mountain of ads, identifying the best bargains, come up with a strategic attack and argue over the time we’ll don our armour (the lighter the better)and leave for battle.  She always wants to leave early, really early.   I whine no matter what time she picks.  The whining is tradition too. She arrives at my house 3- 4 am, irritatingly peppy in a caffeine altered state, and by 5 am, I’m maniacally grinning ear to ear too,  elbowing my way through the crowds.  Arms overflowing, hangers dangling from my fingertips and some monster Barbie toy tucked between my legs.  Off and running, I trot, waddling like a sack racer through lines that stretch clear back to the loading dock of the store.  Shopping carts on Black Friday are non-existent.  The up side of waiting in line for two hours to check out, is folks get tired, change their minds, or their arm muscles simply give out and they drop that one item you came to the store to obtain. I’ve recovered more than one treasure waiting in line!  That one gets tucked into the only available space on my body, under my chin.  By the end of the day, my thigh muscles have become so toned, I could crack the walnuts for the Christmas cookies we’ll be baking the next week with 'em!  
Cookie burning is a tradition too. I’m not a baker.  My family roll their eyes behind my back whispering, “She can mix, she can cut-out, she can decorate, but, whatever you do, don’t let her bake ‘em!”   No matter how much I beg for them to give me one more chance, they bring out the black mail pictures, an ugly reminder of the ghost of Christmas cookies past.  What a horrific sight captured forever;  twisted masses of candy cane cookie dough, burnt, hardly recognizable, soldered onto the cookie sheet.  Downright frightening. I am, however, allowed to cook.  That I do well.  But, when it comes time for the Christmas dinner rolls to be baked, my son-in-law stands guard over the crescent dough.  If I can distract him long enough to pop them in the oven, I inevitably  burn them, year after year. He scrapes the scorched bottoms off and glares at me through dinner.  Burnt rolls. It’s just part of Christmas dinner tradition.
Every family has their special traditions:  Quirky, kind, loving, sentimental, solemn or silly.  Traditions help us to feel secure, connect us, and provide a scrapbook of memories for future generations.  Traditions are an important part of our holiday celebrations.  They are like a road map we follow carefully so we don’t lose important bits of our past. They teach our children about where they came from and where they're going.   Someday in the not too distant future, my granddaughters will be making fun of their mom, who every year, on Black Friday, will whine about getting up so early to catch the latest bargains.  It’s just tradition, and she’s learned it well! 

Monday, December 5, 2011

The greatest act of faith takes place when a man finally decides that he is not God. - Johann Wolfgang Goethe

Coming to believe, making the decision and conscious contact...... My emerging love affair with God...
I grew up in a traditional Christian faith, a denomination whose doctrine was relatively  rigid and really intimidating.  I rarely felt home there, and so many of the beliefs, I just couldn’t wrap my mind around.  Even at a young age, they didn’t make sense to me.  If God was so powerful and created everything, why would he act like an insolent child and with the stamp of His big foot, destroy the world?  Sure, people were acting in an unrighteous manner, but isn’t He supposed to be above the pettiness of retribution and judgment? After all, He’s God!   And what about His forgiveness message? I need to forgive others to be forgiven?   Didn’t that apply to Him too? Turning folks into pillars of salt, or condemning them to eternal flames didn’t sound particularly compassionate.   To me, He acted like a big bully.   I can’t say I didn’t believe in God, because I did.  I just really didn’t like Him much.  I attributed any suffering in my life as His punishment, doled out because I was a bad person.  The Bible alluded to that,  and I probably couldn’t pay enough dues, nor would there be enough of Jesus' blood for me to gain admittance into heaven anyhow.  I later decided, I really wouldn’t enjoy heaven much anyway since the folks that were going to get in, were obviously brown nosers.... and it must be just a big clique based on favorites and exclusivity, not really much different than life on earth.    There was enough dishonesty, judgment, and anger already present in my life, and if that’s what folks were all about that entered the kingdom, it wasn’t for me.  This idea of calling Him my Heavenly Father was absurd too.  He was sure doing a lousy job of taking care of His child (me) in my mind,  and frankly a real poor example.  Did He walk like He talked?  No way.  If that was what God and religion were all about,  well, who needed it! 
 For many years, I drifted after cutting the cord of my childhood faith and dipped my toe into the fountains of one religious affiliation after another. No immersion for me, just a short visit to review the particulars of each one's varied beliefs.   When any scent of punishment or damnation entered the picture,  I would be off and running in my quest to find a God of love.  I seriously traveled many spiritual roads; from TV evangelists, to the study of other religions, until one would disappoint, again, in their imperfection and humanness.  Perhaps man may have been created in God’s image, but I didn’t want my God to think like man!  I just knew I was better off taking care of my own business because there wasn’t any tangible support coming my way - not from Him, not from anyone.  
I thought I was doing a fine job of it, until I got into a little trouble in my late 20’s with alcohol.  As I spun out of control leaving a wake of destruction in the path of those who had the unfortunate sentence of being a part of my life, I began to recognize, this was something even I couldn’t manage to take care of on my own.  All my attempts at self-control, discipline, and will-power were failing miserable.  I was in a real predicament.  Praying to THAT God of my childhood was not an option for me here either.   At the lowest ebb of my darkness of the soul, I cried out to ANYTHING out there, literally,  and asked for reinforcement.  Seems the plea sounded like this... “If there is something out there,  please help me. I can’t do this myself.”  From that point forward, my problem with alcohol was lifted.   It wasn’t until several years later I recognized what had happened.  Twelve step groups are based on a series of suggested instructions for release from the bondage of addictions, self will run riot, and hopeless lives, providing a pathway towards rebirth, and serenity.  The First Step asks me to surrender and recognize my powerlessness over alcohol, life, food, relationships, (pick your poison). No doubt, I was powerless.  The Second Step asks me to come to believe there is a power greater than me (totally against everything I was taught but what were my options) who could restore me to sanity. The Third Step asks me to just make the decision to turn my will and my life over to A power greater than me.  It doesn’t define that greater power.... It doesn’t say, it’s God, Jesus, Buddha, Lao Tzu, the Republican Party or the current man of the day. It doesn’t tell me I have to be good enough before He’ll help.  It doesn’t even say it’s a He. Just a power greater than me.  The simple acknowledgment that there actually could  be SOMETHING greater than myself, was enough to set into motion the best journey of my life; seeking  a God who works for me in ways that create an environment of love, kindness, flexibility, honesty, growth, and evolution.  This God is the God of my understanding.  Not my daughter’s, my neighbors, Moses, the Dali Lama, Buddha, or the Christian Church.  Instead, a God I have come to know as pure love, present in my life always, revealing Himself (or Herself depending on whether dudes are in my good graces that day- it doesn't matter, I can't put a label on God) through others, nature, and acts of generosity, compassion, and love.  What a beautiful beginning... 

Step Eleven came about a few years into my pursuit of the Twelve Steps, and this new found God of my understanding.   Step Eleven asks me to “Seek through prayer and meditation to improve my conscious contact.”   This is not a chore for me. This is where the joy comes in.   I know now, all those years of questioning and conflict have simply brought me to a place where I yearn to move closer and closer in my relationship with my God.  There is a lovely Sufi saying which says, "Our longing for God is God’s longing for us."  I believe we are all born into this world with that longing. It may get hidden under layers of fear based teachings designed to keep the masses in check, but  that desire for relationship calls us home, and asks of us that we just recognize that there is a God, and we aren’t it. Then, the fun begins.    
Religious Beliefs are as unique to an individual as fingerprints.  Sadly, we live in a World of intolerance.  We attach labels to people and their faith - He’s a Muslim.  She’s Catholic.  He’s a Buddhist, or a Spiritualist.  We have so many versions of suggested pathways to God.   Christianity in itself has too many denominations to count.  I used to  wonder if they all read from the same Bible, each one interpreting it from the mind and voice of man and a diversity of personal opinion.  I wonder how many people are sacrificed at the altar of Religion because of  close-mindedness, judgment, and attempts at control through fear.   Fear never works as a motivator, not in the long haul.   Fear is the Petri dish of intolerance, hatred, isolation, and a myriad of other ugly byproducts like deception, dishonesty, murder and war.  My God is a God of love, and love alone.  My God would never be a champion of any of that.  My God works for me and in me, to create the kind of human being I want to project to the world.   I'm not perfect, but I do now have a goal.  And that goal is to think like God thinks, one day at a time.   In order for me to do that, I can't afford to entertain those qualities that arise from man - fear based judgments and territorial teachings.  

I have come to know, in an intimate manner, there  is a Power Greater and I'm not it.  Thank God.  Because I'm not it, means I have no right to impose, or judge others Power Greater.  All those years.... walking away from the God of "my religion's" understanding has led me to a better, more honorable place for me.  One of awe, faith and joy.  It's brought me to a place where I can take what I need from the roots of my childhood religion and discard the rest.  I enjoy gathering with like minded others in the worship of our Creator in many places.   I just tune out the judgment parts and keep my eyes on the examples of His LOVE in the cross of Jesus,  and the faces of those who have found a God of their understanding.   CS Lewis says it best:  "A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word, “darkness” on the walls of his cell." I believe that and I believe God reveals Himself in many beautifully different and divine ways. 

I choose a God of Love as the God of my understanding.  May you recognize you can choose what works for you too.  If you're struggling to find one, you can borrow mine until you  find your own.  My God loves you deeply too! 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

If you concentrate on finding whatever is good in every situation, you will discover that your life will suddenly be filled with gratitude, a feeling that nurtures the soul. - Rabbi Harold Kushner (from the essay “God’s fingerprints on the Soul”. Source: Handbook for the Soul)

Finding gratitude in unlikely places this Thanksgiving....
My last blog post touched on the idea of gratitude and blessings.  Rabbi Kushner’s thoughts seem to be turning up in many of my readings recently.  In the last decade I’ve learned to note those serendipity's and gentle nudges.   I’m not nearly as evolved as the Rabbi in my ability to find something meaningful in life’s disappointments, and tragedies, but I do believe, just being willing, is meeting God half way in our quest for understanding.  It’s much easier to do this when the sea has calmed and you’re miles up the beach looking back. But it is possible to engage some gratitude in the midst of the storm.  This year, in honor of Thanksgiving, I want to give it my best shot, examining those less obvious blessings. 
In the past I’ve ticked off my gratitude like a shopping list essentially parroting the same things year after year.  Not to minimize them because they aren’t givens.  They’re gifts.  I am immensely grateful for my family, a roof over my head, plenty of food on my table, good friends, experiencing a great love, and living in a free country (as challenged as it appears at times).  In hindsight, I have had a year of ambiguous blessings which packed a big, spiritual punch.  Many joys peppered with a  few profound sorrows has enabled me to practice Rabbi Kushner's search for good in every situation.   That’s been the biggest blessing of all;  an emerging awareness asking me to look for the gems.  To do that, I have to pay very close attention to the moment and the people in it:  listening intently, observing, and tuning into others.  I also had to consciously look at my life as a giant university teaching me about my real essence which is not my physical body and ego.  I do get caught up in the lure and shallowness of that from time to time.  Challenges arise, giving me exactly what I need, to expand me, exactly when I need it and my soul is growing as I navigate life.  Sometimes I need to  repeat a class or two over (and over) again!  Yet, something really shifted this year.  
I am attributing this shift to that state of willingness, and tuning in as an observer rather than a judge.  When my appreciation is drilled down that simply, no matter what other chaos is happening around me, I can generally find some gems.   Things aren’t always what they seem, and the times which are ugly, buried beneath all the pain or suffering, is a timeless heirloom we get to carry with us for the rest of our lives when we really look for it.  
Here is a small sampling of my gratitude list for Thanksgiving 2011.  I am grateful for:
Knowing Unconditional love. We all want that.  Some of us struggle thinking we aren’t worthy of it and often aren’t capable of recognizing what it is and means. Unconditional love does not mean tolerating abuse or unacceptable behavior.  One of my most profound moments came from an unexpected source.  My beloved brother. In a late night discussion, I revealed some thoughts about why I seem to settle for so much less than I deserve.  His response to me was, “Rather than trying so hard with someone who doesn’t appreciate the beauty of you, or wants to change you, why don’t you look at the unconditional love you already have in your life?  I love you.  My family loves you. Your family loves you.  The best part, we all love you exactly as you are and will always love you no matter what you do.”  This kind of love gives me permission to try, make mistakes, make changes, succeed, regress, become.  If you love something, set it free.  If it comes back to you, it’s yours.  If it doesn’t it never was. This kind of love could change the world.  It did mine.  Finally recognizing how well I am loved eliminates any desire to settle for less than what I already have...... from anyone.  Shine on! 
An example of how to live a joy filled life.  My young, beautiful cousin passed away this year.  The prototype of her life,  well lived, surrounded by love, in a  state of surrender and acceptance, are now daily aspirations for me.   Could I apply those qualities, especially in the minutia of my life?  If she could live and die in this kind of grace, I surely can remember, most of what I find myself upset or obsessing about, isn't important and if I can take no positive action to change it, I’ll be much more at peace if I surrender to it.   When I want to put off until tomorrow what I could/should be savoring today, I am also reminded that the happiest, emotionally healthiest individuals, are those that recognize today is all we have. Live in it.  
Experiencing Rejection.  I’ve had a few of these this year.  It wore on me and played nasty tricks on my self-esteem.   By mid year, thanks to an angel who said to me, repeatedly,  Rejection is God’s Protection....I not only now believe it myself, but I understand it!   If I am not given what I think I want in this life, a particular job, man, material object, or friendship, there is a reason.  It’s not mine to be had.  I am not supposed to be there at this time. It’s not a fit or perhaps, good for me.  I get that now.  Not only do I get it, I am also grateful for the protection.  I know the best things for me, are yet to come and I don’t need to keep banging on boarded up and dead bolted doors.  Perhaps I have just learned to trust in the Architect's design for my life. 
Learning to Welcome Change.  My moniker has always been The Queen of Change.  It’s a fact; I have had to adapt to a great deal of change in my life.  Much of it forced upon me by unfortunate circumstance.  Looking back, I’m immensely grateful now for the gift of emotional flexibility change has taught me.  This all ties in with God’s protection of me (see above).  If change happens, its simply time to do something different and grow.  I trust change as a necessary process in the evolution of my soul.  I am grateful for putting down my sword and making peace with change.    
My faith and an intimate connection with my Creator. I’ve always known there was something larger than me running things. I just really didn’t feel comfortable having a relationship with anything that powerful.  Power, equaled control and authority, something I’ve  rebelled against all my life.  My perception of God was, he was either my dad- restricting and punishing, or in times of burning desires granted, Santa Claus. When I did begin to view God in a more positive manner, I still just thought I wasn't one of His chosen.  I was the red-headed step-child, treated a little differently.   Something evolved in the past few years. The relationship I have now is one of communication, and the purest, sweetest love imaginable.  For me, God is not "out there", an authoritarian figure sitting on a throne doling out judgement or blessings.  God is a part of me - the holy spirit which guides me, comforts me and most of all shares with me.  All I need to do is tune in and listen rather than doing all the asking and talking.  (More reflections on the God of my understanding are forthcoming as the holidays near). 
In review, this year has again brought many earthly treasures into my life, and I am so  grateful for those riches.   Sometimes, though we have to dig a little deeper to unearth the heavenly gifts that will sustain far longer than a roof over our head or food in our belly's.  
Happy Thanksgiving to all!  May you take time to reflect and identify the good and your gratitude for those things that may not be so apparent this holiday season. 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

We have no right to ask when sorrow comes, “Why did this happen to me?” unless we ask the same question for every moment of happiness that comes our way. - author unknown

No one state of being is constant.... even gratitude.  I have been back from spending some time in paradise with my family in Monterey, California, about a month now.  I was on Cloud Nine the weeks prior to my departure in spite of  some of the challenges I’ve been facing.  I floated home, all Zen...  Then, wham... life acted like life does sometimes, and all that changed.  A few new challenges arrived on the horizon and spun me in circles making me extremely dizzy (literally)  and emotionally incoherent.  A diagnosis of Vertigo should have called forth some gratitude.  I was certain I was having a stroke, or had a tumor.  Since then, other little irritations have been nibbling at me like a mosquito caught inside the back of my shirt.  It’s been a daily dose of a broken this, a new thingamajig that I couldn’t afford, an ominous health warning, some head banging against closed doors... again, and waves of loneliness I haven’t experienced in a long, long time.    Not a good elixir to enhance one’s serenity buzz.   Rather a deadly combination of self-pity, comparisons, expectations, and a seething low grade resentment or two.  Those feelings don’t attract positive folks, energy, or good juju into our lives.  So, I chose to hole up.  Really for two reasons.  One, on some level I was feeling all cozy, isolated in my pile of doggie do-do.  After all it was a familiar spot at least.  Second, I really didn’t want anyone to know this pillar of strength, optimism, and hope wasn’t really feeling the love.  God forbid I should be the AUTHENTIC  soul I blather on about and fess up to a few bad weeks.   I also forgot to be grateful, one of the tools I use, a tried and true method for reversing direction on the path to nowhere.  Hrrrmmmpphhh.... Why should I be grateful?  After all, everyone around me had so much more.  Ugly?  You bet.... but, that's where I was at.
I did blame a lot of it on the full moon this past week.  Seriously, I believe the moon can affect our frail little bodies and spirits.  Look at the impact it has on the tides!  A likely excuse.   The moon has also cast it’s love light, stroking the endorphins in my brain in the past.  Its MO hasn’t always been of a criminal intent, breaking in and sucking my serotonin dry.  I was reminded by the bookmark in my book of daily readings, that it had been about a month since I last visited.  Which meant, (yikes) it had been about a month since I last scheduled meditation onto my calendar, and probably two months since I had popped in the Yoga DVD.  Sure, I had lived my meditations in the heaven of California, but there is something to be said about routines, and consistency in maintaining our emotional well being.  I hadn’t been very good about concentrating on any well being;  spiritual, emotional, and now physical.   And, it was  showing up in my blood work, my stamina, my attitude, and my state of mind.  
I had been focusing way too much on my unfortunate series of misfortunes puzzled by why these things were happening to me, when essentially, I am a good, kind, honest person.  I’m a good friend to others, loyal, dependable and hardworking .  I remember, years ago when my husband was dying, reading the book by Rabbi Harold Kushner, When Bad Things Happen To Good People.  I simply could not get past my husband’s verdict of terminal cancer and was looking for answers anywhere and everywhere. In a nutshell, his point was, everyone has their time at the river of sorrow.  It has absolutely nothing to do with your goodness, how religious you are, how much you want, give, or do.  It is simply unanswerable.  At least in this lifetime.  But, the thing that takes the sting out of our hardships, is sharing our fears and weaknesses with others.   Hooking up at the heart with another human being and tuning into the sound of our similarities, helping us to know we aren’t unique, nor are we alone.   I hadn't  been doing nearly enough of that recently.  After all, I am strong.  I am invincible.  I am woman.  Such bullshit- all designed to create unhappy, isolated souls who have nothing of substance to pay forward.  I made a few phone calls today. 
As I start the work week, my alarm is set, I will arise in time for a morning kiss and a little one on one with my Creator, first.  Then, read my inspirational message of the day, meditate, and do something positive about my health - eating nourishing food and making my exercise a priority.  Additionally, I am going to start asking myself these questions.... 
Why me?  Why am I surrounded by love, when others have no one?   
Why me?  Why have I been blessed to travel the world when many haven’t even been out of their small town?
  Why me?  Why have I always been given enough to take care of my needs when many others have nothing?
  Why me?  Why have I been granted friendships that have sustained me through the toughest of times when others face discrimination, bullying and loneliness?
My list could (and should) go on... It will.  Every time I think why me when faced with a challenge or a sorrow, my plan is to ask my Creator,  “Why me, God?  Why have I been given so many wonderful experiences, people, and joys in my life?

The wheel of change moves on, and those who were down go up and those who were up go down.  ~Jawaharlal Nehru

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


Anyone who's close to me, knows if I could pick just one heart’s desire of the materialistic sort, it would be to live on the beach.  I should clarify that proclamation or the law of attraction might have me living “on the sand” along with my knapsack of possessions:  a beach bum in every definition of the word.  That’s not exactly what I have in mind.  A little two room cottage will do. Now that’s my idea of residential heaven on earth. From the time I was a young girl, I’ve run to the water; for answers, for healing, for balance, and most of all to connect with my Creator. On a smaller scale, nothing rejuvenates me after a bad day like a soaking tub bath.  Years ago, the hot tub did the trick. It lived in my backyard and was particularly enticing in the winter time. I have the fondest memories of being immersed up to my neck in the midst of the swirling white silence of a snowstorm. My hair, frozen hard with frost, and the rest of my body was enveloped in a blanket of warmth, caressed lovingly by the water.  In this setting there was this sense of profound peace as I silently stargazed.  The water slipped into the nooks and crannies smoothing out the wrinkles of the day.  Yet, water’s value is hardly just aesthetic. Water ensures our continued life.   We would only live a day or two, tops, without water. Our physical bodies are 2/3rd’s water.  We use water to cleanse ourselves and our environments of germs.  It doesn’t stop at our physical bodies either. Water is used in many religions as a symbolic sign of rebirth, purifying the spirit to make room for the holy.   Water itself is soft.... pliable, yet, generates great power in the science of hydraulics, bringing a natural form of energy into our world. To witness the effect of water’s subtle power, look at rocks eroded by a rhythmic, tiny droplet  continuously dripping onto a surface. Mountains are carved.  If water has that kind of authority in nature, in a human body, and cleansing the soul, why wouldn’t I be mystified by it and hungry for the lessons it could teach me?

It’s really more than the water itself. It’s what lies beneath as well. I became entranced with the sea as a teen. Living in Bermuda, the hypnotic pull of the beach sparked my interest in the nether world that lie below sky and earth.  I recall the first time I snorkeled.  I fell hard.  Hook, line and sinker- crazy mad in love.   Mask firmly in place, pressing into my forehead, tight around my nose and eyes, it all felt awkward at first... breathing through a tube.  Until, I stopped fighting what I was unaccustomed to, slowed the frantic flopping of my flippers and relaxed. I began to skim the surface of the water, breathing naturally, and drifted gracefully along,  awe struck by the delicate treasures hiding out from the harsher world above.  At first I felt like an intruder, illegally breaking into a beautiful gated community. The only noise I detected was the rhythmic breath of the sea, and the faintest of heartbeats. Time and space had no meaning; hours seemed like minutes and when I peeked up above the water I had drifted much farther away from the shore than was safe.  I had truly entered a new planet, a foreign land, far, far away. It was magical, like a first love, perfect in every way.   
This life below was full of color and movement. Undulating, gliding, and slipping by me.  The brilliant palette, enhanced by the deep blue of the sea, vibrated with energy, a gallery of uncommon Art in motion. Jellyfish sensually trailing their threads of pain. Starfish with their intricate underbellies, each swirl a one of a kind fingerprint. And, sea anemones, extra terrestrial flowers of sorts, bright, happy colors adorning the ocean floor.   Everything was gentle, unhurried and peaceful down there.  I felt serene, like  my life had been dialed back to the low setting.  The sea life kept drifting by my line of vision, impassively, as if they couldn’t see me, a ghost in the midst of all of this vibrancy.  The meaning in their movement challenged me to try to live my life closer to a state of mindful appreciation.  Slower, easier, gentler.. with flexibility.  The feeling of freedom was close to a near death experience.  Awe, well-being and weightlessness overwhelmed me as I moved towards the light of the sun reflecting deep into the blueness of water. 

This scrapbook of old memories about my deep love of the water and seashore, was revisited recently as I toured the phenomenal Monterey Aquarium in California. What happened to those big dreams of the thirteen year old girl, whose sights were set on a career in oceanography?   It set into motion a new resolve, a middle-aged dream.  So I pulled out the dream board, comitted to work harder, and began to share my secret yearning to live and write by the sea! I envisioned that little two room cottage behind me as I sat on the sand, pen in hand, writing the messages whispered to me through the waves; the sun and the sky touching in and inspiring my heart to really see and hear what longs to be described to those who struggle with an ability to really see.  
Yes, the water, above and below, is a fountain of life and wisdom.  Showing me how to slow down, appreciate what’s around me, and listen patiently for the heartbeat.  For it is there, I always find the answers I seek. Not far behind comes the knowledge that I too, a creation born on land, come from the same power as that droplet of water.  Because of that, anything is possible.    

For whatever we lose (like a you or a me), It's always our self we find in the sea. - e.e. cummings

(All photo's taken at the spectacular Monterey Aquarium- Monterey, California)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And, all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find that after years of struggle that we did not take a trip; a trip took us. - John Steinbeck

Be Still and Know I am God......

I just returned from John Steinbeck country. This slice of the West Coast boasts some of the most scenic views in the world as well as rich farmlands bursting with fruits of the region. Fresh strawberries, lettuce, artichokes, avocados, and herbs are in abundance. The area oozes health of the physical, and spiritual variety. Temperatures are consistent year round, 65-75 degrees and the people seem to be grateful, simple, laid back, and friendly. Why wouldn’t they be? Essentially they are dwelling in Shangri-la.

Surreal views inviting us into another
Ice Plant - Don't let it fool you..
It grows despite the clay and rock and
takes over the cliff side.
Big Sur - Full Sun
Drives along the coast and Big Sur unveiled a painting:  layers of heather, azure, turquoise, and cerulean waters pulverizing into softness, smoky white sands.  In my travels, I have never seen sea water and terrain so diverse.  Venturing down the cliffs to the virgin beaches was a challenge, and commercially manufactured WARNING signs interrupted the sense of transcendence.  The cliffs too were a blanket of unlikely growth with hard, red clay surfaces unable to hold back the riot of dark green, aloe vera like plants known as Ice Plant, hot pink flowers sporadically peeking out from their tops.  Adding to the mystery and ethereal quality of it all, was a gossamer shroud of fog, like the sheerest of lingerie, sensually beckoning visitors to ignore the signs, throw caution to the wind and pursue her gifts.   Mesmerized by the seduction of the mermaids call, it was worth the risk to scale the cliff and drop into another world.  Charleton Heston when he lands on the beach in Planet of Apes came to mind.  This was an area where change could take place... if you let it.  The elusive feeling of oneness that we so desperately seek through literature, prayer, and human interaction just slipped in, with no effort on my part.  I became the sky, the sea, the land.  It took me. 

Sunset in another part of the world.
One evening, our fire logs, food, and blankets in tow, we trekked down to a more populated beach, Carmel by the Sea.  It was bonfire and cookout night!  Navigating the steep steps and climbing over mounds of rock to reach an alcove, my first thought was, “Good Lord, I hope we leave before dark.”  I knew we wouldn’t be because the sun was sliding slowly down the horizon when we arrived.  We started our fire, set up our grill and cooked our burgers.  By the time our bellies were full, the sun had been swallowed up by the sea, leaving our only remaining light to be a 2-3 foot perimeter around our tiny, blazing fire.   The air had taken on a nippy tone, and everyone gathered closer yet to the flames to stay warm.  And it got dark- pitch black. I looked for the moon.  It was nowhere to be seen.  There were a few other little campfires dotting the beach, and I could faintly see  black sillouhette’s outlined by the orange flames reassuring me that there was other civilization out there somewhere nearby.  The sound I heard off in the distance, reassuring me I was right where I needed to be, at the moment, was the intense crash of monster waves as they beat the sand into submission, the gritty granuales at the mercy of the whims of the water.  The cadence of the sound was like a repetitive mantra reassuring, in its sameness.  Hidden inside the noise of the water, a whisper, tickling my brain.  It said,  “I'm in charge. Enjoy this moment, for in this instant is all the wisdom you will ever need.” I felt every muscle in my body relax as I focused on nothing except the sticky sweetness of a melted marshmallow dissolving inside my mouth.  Time slowed and my mind felt like it had been shot full of Novocaine, all tingly, and devoid of man made emotion and thought. Just one sensation remained.  I didn’t think the word “awe”... I felt it with every cell in my body.  
The moon rose up through
the mist and clouds to
guide our way
Soon, the fire was just a few burning embers.  Our skin resembled the scales of a native Pacific salmon to the touch.  We had become truly one with the sea and it was time to slowly re-emerge into the reality, we weren’t of the sea, and we needed to get warm.  In that moment of recognition, the moon suddenly rose, our heavenly flashlight, illuminating our path.   Over the rocks, and up the side of the cliff.  It was as if God said, “See.  All you need to do is enjoy every moment of your life, second by second, with no thoughts for the future.  When its time to move forward, I will provide you with all the knowledge and light you need to get to your next destination.”  
A bonfire on the beach wasn’t in my plans particularly. I had no thoughts of indulging in its simplicity. I had a schedule of sights to see and things to do.   But, it was one of the best things about my trip.  We are constantly receiving gentle (and not so gentle reminders) we aren’t in charge of the Universe, and  the best laid plans, are no plans.  Go with the flow, and trust that the journey will take you where you need to be, to places purposeful and meaningful to your particular trip.   And the best laid lives are those  who allow their journey to take them.  The predictable, consistent, tides ebbed and flowed without my help.  The sun set beautifully over another day  and the moon rose just exactly when it needed to.   
Freedom and joy, pure joy....
Viva the end to struggle!

Friday, October 7, 2011

An Affair to Remember- Real Food

 I was born with a spoon in my mouth.  It wasn’t silver, but, that doesn’t matter, any old spoon will do.  I love food.  My affair with food began very early.  When I was four, we moved to Germany and a favorite family story, retold with a chuckle, was my bravery in indulging in steak tartare (raw beef) and escargot (snails).   Remember the Life cereal commercial with Mikey?  I was Mikey... I ate everything.  Maybe in a past life, I was a starving child.  I just know in this one, I love food.  My mantra was bring it on, I’ll try it.  Early experimentation must have honed sensitive taste buds that were head over heels in love with an epicurean lifestyle.  For me, eating was like a daily vacation into mine (or someone else's) kitchen paradise.   One of the highlights of my day was pondering what I was going to make, or, what I was going to have for dinner.  The blush of new love in my affair with food, surprisingly lasted well beyond the traditional honeymoon period: a good 40 years or so. 
Over the last decade our relationship, (mine and food) has changed.  I found myself eating alone more, and filling the void with fast fixes, serial eating whatever convenient quickie was available at the moment. The family size bag of chips on a Friday night was my tried and true companion, leaving me sprawled on the couch in a carb coma.  I noticed this was also about the same time the FDA began the mandatory labeling process.  It coincided with the low-fat/ fat-free craze.  I began to pore over labels as if smitten by the latest NY Times bestseller, mentally picturing those fat grams clinging to my thighs like frightened children.  The labels grew more explicit and I was now watching sodium, fiber content and doing an Internet search on the chemical make-up of all the ingredients listed.  There was some hesitancy when I saw words like phosphate, enzyme modified, conditioned, artificial and colored. A decade from now, would the same foods have a label plastered on the packaging warning against Red Dye #2 explaining my permanent sun-kissed skin pigmentation?  Some of my packaged meals professed a whopping 42 ingredients! I don’t think a Master’s degree in Chemistry could explain to me why these chemicals were sprinkled onto my food like fresh herbs over an exquisite French dish.  Yet, I continued to eat this light, half the calories, reduced fat, processed cuisine. After all, it was good for me.  The label and the diet industry said so.   Although, I seemed to be hungrier than I recall years ago when I indulged in real fat and unmodified calories.  I also began to notice strange happenings to my body.  Rather than getting smaller eating less fat, half the calories, and light, I was witnessing a midsection engaged in a heated battle of the pudge.  The other half of that missing fat showed up and invaded in droves, spilling over the top of my mid rise jeans. 
Then the low carb craze struck.  Oh, boy!  Now, it really didn’t matter that I cut back on fat, I just needed to give up carbs!   No more bread, beans, or fruit; a few of my food favorites, but people were dropping weight as fast as old baggage at a group therapy session.  So what if their hair was also falling out and they felt lethargic.  They were thin.   
A few years ago, I visited Italy.  I had envisioned Italians predominately like the picture in my kitchen; roly-poly, mustached chef, tossing a pizza in the air as his belly peeked out from a shirt that was way too small. I was wrong!  In my six weeks there, I saw two overweight people.  As I moved closer to them in the Gelato line at the corner stand, I  overhead their conversation, spoken in English, infused with a twang of Bronx.  The Italians ate like I used to eat years ago, only better.  They knew how to make a meal an event. Long leisurely sessions with 4-5 courses spent savoring bread, pasta, freshly prepared seafood dripping in butter, and pizzas with ingredients you wouldn’t imagine on top of homemade crusts.   I was in heaven again, and I even lost a few pounds during my time there. Perhaps there is something to be said for eating fresh, chemical free food and approaching it as a loving friend instead of an enemy that needs to be calculated and conquered.  Maybe food wasn’t meant to be modified and altered to fuel bodies that weren’t designed to ingest and process poly’s, pheno’s, and phospho’s. 
My dieting bottom came the other day as I pulled a teeny-weeny appetizer treat out of the freezer; low calorie, the box touted. As I opened the end, two miniature cups the size of Tinkerbell’s cereal bowl tumbled out on the counter.  Checking the cooking directions I was surprised to see the FDA (aka the food police) and the manufacturers have now stepped things up a notch.  The directions read: Remove dip bowel and pita bread from box. PLACE BOX WITH OTHER 200 SERVING PORTION BACK IN THE FREEZER!  As I debated whether the minuscule portion would be enough to satisfy my lingering hunger, I swear I heard sirens go off, lights flashing and a megaphoned voice say, “Lady, back away from portion two.  Move away from the dip bowel immediately.”     
It’s time to fess up to my love affair with good food, bring it out of the back room, into the light of day.  No more low fat, low carb, low sodium, or packaged meals that exercise secret mind control tactics. 

Article published in Gallon Inquirer October 2011