Mother Love

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First Lesson

Lie back daughter, let your head 
be tipped back in the cup of my hand.
Gently, and I will hold you. Spread 
your arms wide, lie out on the stream
and look high at the gulls. A dead-
man's float is face down. You will dive
and swim soon enough where this tidewater
ebbs to the sea. Daughter, believe 
me, when you tire on the long thrash 
to your island, lie up, and survive.
As you float now, where I held you 
and let go, remember when fear
cramps your heart what I told you:
lie gently and wide to the light-year
stars, lie back, and the sea will hold you up.
~Phillip Booth

My mother has been gone for almost ten years now. In some ways, the loss is as fresh as if it were yesterday. In other ways, it feels like an ache that has been there even longer. The spectrum of grief is like that. It comes in waves. Some days are high tide, other days low.

One of the first jobs a mother has is to comfort her child. A baby responds to soothing from its mother like no other. As an adult, she is often the first person we call to get that sense of comfort when things aren’t going well. I had the feeling of being orphaned when my mother was gone. Who will I call? Who will love me as only she could?

Just as a child is taught to self-soothe with a security blanket or stuffed animal, motherless adults learn to do the same. If you find yourself in this orphan club, know that you are not alone in your pain. Remind yourself that however much time you had with your mother, you were absorbing her love and wisdom into every fiber of your being. She is as much a part of you as the air you breathe. On those low tide days, or when holidays like Mother’s Day come around where her absence is felt even more, remind yourself that she lives on in your heart. You embody her joy and delight. Her love for you could never die. So lie back and let the sea of maternal love hold you up.

"We are born of love, Love is our mother." Rumi

Vast and Singular

"Enlightenment is when a wave realizes it's the ocean."
                       ~Thich Nhat Hanh

I have just returned from a trip to Mexico. It was lovely in so many ways. Time near the ocean feeds my soul. My eyes are constantly drawn to it. I sleep to the sound of it. I walk along it and feel its immense power. Each night I watch the sun fall over the edge of it and am reminded of its vastness.

I am but one person, at this one spot, singular and unique. I am amazed by the contrast. The two words, vast and singular, kept coming to my mind all week.

Our lives can feel this very same way. We all see what transpires in front of us in our own unique way and yet we are all a part of something much bigger than ourselves. I think we forget that perspective sometimes. We are all part of something so vast we can’t even comprehend it and at the same time each of us is the only version of a human being to look, feel and live this unique, singular way.

I think we can all gain this perspective when needed. Some days the world can feel as if it’s closing in on us. That is the time to take a moment and look to the ocean or find the horizon, the night sky, or some other focal point that feeds your soul. Take a moment to remind yourself that you are both vast and singular.

Welcome to the Strong Women Club

I am late to the celebration of International Women’s Day. But the idea of strong women has been on my mind a lot lately. The above photo is a picture of my mother on her wedding day to my dad. She is surrounded by my grandmothers, aunts, cousin and my sister. There are not many photos to commemorate this day as the photographer forgot to put film in the camera. This is what happens when you try to cut costs and hire a friend. So the fact that this particular photo exists makes it all the more special. And while not every female I admire in my family is in this photo, I am blessed to be surrounded not only in my family but also my husband’s family with courageous, strong, selfless women.

Our daughter, Caroline, gave birth to our first grandson, Jaxon Richard Gaspari, in February. Needless to say, we are over the moon in love. This past month has been eventful for Caroline and her husband, Jordan. While I won’t go into detail here, it’s become clear to me that we have added a new member to the strong women club. I already knew that Caroline could be a member. In the past, she has faced some tough situations in her life with poise and strength.

This past month has solidified her membership. Becoming a mother takes a woman to a whole new place that requires more patience, more fortitude and more love. I have been proud to watch her rise to the occasion. While no parent wants to see their child go through struggles, I know moving forward she will be the better for it. Each new challenge will only make her stronger. Plus, she has a heavenly chorus of strong women backing her up, and quite a few in this realm to lend a hand.

And yes, I still have my mother’s pillbox wedding hat.

Namaste’ Thich Nhat Hanh

Breathing in, I calm my body, Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment, I know this is a wonderful moment! 

I fell in love with Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings when I first began my yoga journey. His simple, clear words helped me to understand the transformational use of my breath. Each breath in each moment can be a meditation if we are thoughtful enough. I refer to his books to this day. Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese buddhist monk died yesterday at the age of 95. While his earthly presence may be gone, his light will shine on through his beautiful teachings. Rest now, Thay, you are forever in our hearts.

"Please Call Me by My True Names"

Do not say that I'll depart tomorrow
because even today I still arrive.

Look deeply:  I arrive in every second
to be a bud on a spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
In order to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my hear is the birth and
death of all that are alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river,
and I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time
 to eat the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond,
and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence,
feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea
pirate,
and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and 
loving.
I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my
hands,
and I am the man who has to pay his "debt of blood" to my
people,
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.

My joy is like a spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all
walks of life.

My pain is like a river of tears, so full it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.

Forever Friend

A friend is someone who knows all about you and loves you just the same.

I met my friend, Amy, my freshman year in college at the University of Kansas. My dad was helping me move into my dorm room and noticed a man he had gone to KU with moving his daughter into the same floor of the dorm. My dad said to me, you need to make a point of introducing yourself to Max Deterding’s daughter. I brushed him off at the time, more consumed with moving and not excited at my dad trying to make friends for me. Little did I know that her dad was having the same conversation with her.

We did eventually meet. And WOW, was she ever fun. She had come from a tiny town in Kansas and it was like she had been shot out of a cannon. She had been coming to KU for football and basketball games with her family her whole life and knew her way around. Which gave her a head start on where to go and what to do on any given day or night as the case might be. With this head start and her “zest for life” personality, there was never a dull moment with her around.

At the same time, she rarely missed a class. Not only was she book smart but intelligent in ways beyond her 18 years. She was who you went to with a problem or a question. If she didn’t know the answer, she knew someone who would. Yes, these are the days before google. She WAS our google.

We remained friends after our freshman year. We lived in different sororities and other living arrangements throughout our college years, but the friendship was sealed. My boyfriend and I introduced her to her future husband. Eventually, she married Mark and I married Rob and we spent much of our young married lives doing things as couples.

Through the years, we have supported each other through all that life has thrown our way. There have been some amazing highs and some tragic lows. Amy and Mark were the first friends to visit us each time we moved to a new city. We had the trip of a lifetime to Italy together several years ago. It was always easy with them. The kind of friends who know you through thick and thin. At some point, Amy started calling us forever friends. It was sort of a joke at the time given our ages, but it also rang true. We have been there for each other for so many years now.

Amy died recently after a valiant fight against brain cancer. She leaves behind family and friends that adore her and a brand new granddaughter that she just missed getting to meet. The very definition that life isn’t fair.

Today is her birthday and I am missing my forever friend. I’ll miss our phone chats and visits to each other. I’ll miss her laughter and wicked sense of humor. This forever friendship is now completely different. And feels so very one-sided. I hope to honor you by living life with zest. To love deeply, laugh often and support the loved ones you left behind. I love you forever, friend.

Happy New Year!

Wrinkles mean you laughed, grey hair means you cared and scars mean you lived.

I had a spill on my bike the other day. I fell on my face, literally. My eyebrow split open and was in two places on my face. A good samaritan took care of me until Rob could pick me up and take me to the emergency room. All this man said in the face of my injury was, I think you might need stitches. His gentle kindness kept me calm even though I was bleeding profusely.

Having a gash on your face is humbling. Not knowing how it is going to heal makes vanity rear its head. It’s also an opportunity to be with what is. I will most likely have some small scar the rest of my life. I am doing all the things I am told to do hoping to not look like Harry Potter in such an obvious way. And at the same time I keep reminding myself that scars mean I lived.

As my birthday and the new year approach, my 58th time around the sun, I am filled with gratitude that I am able to lead an active lifestyle. Most days I live with an ease of well-being. Sure there are times when I feel every bit my age but not very often. I am fortunate that way and well aware that that is not the case for so many people. I have also had several reminders lately of just how precious life is.

In my birthday/new year’s blog last year, I talked about being an ageless goddess. Meaning, not attaching who you are to the age on your driver’s license. I hear many of my peers talking with a kind of resignation. Because I am this old, I can’t do this, or remember that or try this. Why let a number define who you are and what you can do? For 2022, my plan is to say YES. Yes to adventures, to trying new things and to continue to grow. And yes to babysitting! Our first grandchild arrives in Feb. and I can’t wait to see what this new chapter brings to our lives.

So cheers to wrinkles, grey hairs, scars and living life to its fullest.

New Years

Another fresh new year is here...
Another year to live!
To banish worry, doubt and fear,
to live and laugh and give!

This bright new year is given me
to live each day with zest...
to daily grow and try to be
my highest and my best!

I have the opportunity
once more to right some wrongs,
to pray for peace, to plant a tree,
and sing more joyful songs!
       ~William Arthur Ward

My Latte Runneth Over

"Decorate yourself from the inside out."                 ~Waleed Basyouni 

I like this quote at this time of year. We often get caught up in decorating our exteriors and not dealing with our interiors, especially during the holidays where positive and negative feelings bubble-up. In this case, it’s important to do some personal, internal decor. One way to “decorate” yourself is to find things in your life to feel grateful for. This is called cultivating a gratitude practice. There are gratitude journals, calendars, bracelets, etc. These are aids that can help you with your gratitude practice, but at some point you may need to go it on your own.

This is not to say that we aren’t allowed to feel the feelings that arise in bad situations. That is important work and must be done and felt. I am saying that it’s equally important to look beyond that source of pain and find what is still good. Even the smallest thing to feel grateful for can create a shift. And that shift is where the healing can begin.

This “decorating” from the inside comes from an open heart. A heart that feels the pain of humanity but at the same time can stay connected to the power of love. Life is a roller coaster ride. There are going to be extreme highs and lows. It is my belief that when you can keep gratitude in your heart, the highs will feel more joyous and the lows can be weathered with more ease.

My latte pictured above is in my Christmas pottery mug. We have a full set of Christmas dishes thanks to my dish-loving mother. Each year we swap out our regular plates and use these dishes in December. These dishes are at least thirty years old at this point. They have seen so many Christmases. There have been the Christmases after the loss of a loved one. Christmases spent with lots of family together and those with just a few of us. Christmases that have been a challenge to find the budget to get those “it” gifts and those where it was easier to fill all wishes. Present in each of those Christmases past is joy and love.

So when I hold my cup of joe in my hands, I connect back to all those memories and am filled with gratitude. It is my hope that despite all the sadness and grief of this past year, that you too can find some gratitude for your heart. Happy Holidays to you and yours.

"I don't know what to do! cried Scrooge, laughing and crying in the same breath, and making a perfect Laocoon of himself with his stockings. I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a schoolboy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to everybody! A happy New Year to all the world! Hallo here! Whoop! Hallo!"
          ~ Ebenezer Scrooge from Charles Dickens' " A Christmas Carol"

Thoughts

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I am not my thoughts. I repeat, I am not my thoughts. What a liberating thing! I don’t know about you, but I can have some dark, snarky, petty thoughts. Sometimes they play in my head over and over again. That isn’t the real ME. It is my brain at work doing what it does…thinking.

As Judith Hanson Lasater says in “A Year of Living Your Yoga,” thoughts are just neurotransmitters locking into receptor sites: they are not the truth. Just as “movies are flickering pictures that appear to have form; so are my thoughts,” says Lasater. Our job, if we choose to do the work, is to become the master over our thoughts. We do not have to be ruled over where our mind tends to go. We can become aware and choose a more conscious path.

Our mind and our breath are linked together. If you notice during times of stress, thoughts come quick and breath is shallow. For many of us, this is our constant state due to stressful jobs, high anxiety and fast-paced lifestyle. In this place of stress, thoughts tend to gravitate to the negative.

When a dark thought comes to mind, become aware of it. You have the power to flip your own narrative. Notice where your mind went and think of an alternate, positive idea. Rather than react to a grumpy server with anger in your mind, consider how overworked and underpaid they might be.

When I first sit to meditate, my thoughts tend to be quick and constant. Then, I take my awareness to my breath and watch the flow of inhale and exhale. I link my mind to my breath as a focus. As my breath becomes slower, so do my thoughts. I feel as if I have hit pause on the incessant tape recorder of my mind. Even if you don’t have time to meditate, taking a break to breathe consciously can be an easy way to take control back from the chatter of the mind. By the way, folks that don’t have time to meditate would benefit from it the most.

“Simply by slowing down the mind- the first purpose of meditation- much of this tension can be removed. Then we are free to respond to life’s difficulties not as sources of stress but as challenges, which will draw out of us deeper resources than we ever suspected we had. A one-pointed mind is slow and sound, which gives it immense resilience under stress. With a mind like this, we always have a choice in how we respond to life around us.” Eknath Easwaran in “Words to Live By, Short Readings of Daily Wisdom”