Gratitude for…

Gratitude for...

This physical body that houses my unique spirit.
This life force energy that propels me through the day.
This mind that has thoughts both spacious and focused.
These senses that absorb the world around me.
These hands that work with dexterity.
These feet that feel solid underneath me.
This heart that has felt the spectrum of emotions, from complete desolation to boundless joy.
For this life, I am grateful. I am complete.





HOME

There’s no place like home.

Dorothy Gale

I have spent some time recently in my home town of Wichita, KS. I have not actually resided there since 1996, yet it still gives me a sense of home when I am there. I never had aspirations of leaving Kansas. Life was easy there and I had close friends and family around me. As new job opportunities came up, we took them and that took us away from home. We have moved more than we planned to over the years…that’s how life goes. But I have loved each new town we have spent time in. We have made many lifelong friends and had so many wonderful experiences because of those opportunities.

But there is just something about going home. There is a feeling of belonging. No matter how long I am away, I am welcomed back. The multiple homes I lived in over the years all belong to others now. Both of my parents and other family members are gone now too. But I still have my beloved in-laws, my brother and his family, and several cousins to connect with when I’m there.

I have spent time in my in-laws home for forty years now. When I think of home, that is where my mind immediately goes. So many memories come to mind when I pull into their driveway. I see reflections of the early years of visiting my boyfriend’s house, to a few years later bringing my babies over to see Grammy and Papa Buzz, to just recently introducing them to their great-grandchild. No matter the occasion, I’m always met at the door with love and acceptance. Which is usually followed by a cold drink and an amazing meal.

Home isn’t necessarily a place. It’s more of a feeling in your heart. Certain people and places give this to us. It’s an interesting meditation to ponder what home means to you. For me, home will always mean Kansas.

Some things that make me a Kansan:

  • I have a fascination with big thunderstorms that might produce tornados.
  • I start to feel claustrophobic if I can’t see the horizon.
  • It still feels strange to buy liquor at a grocery store, especially on a Sunday.
  • I have never lost the feeling of needing to use hairspray thanks to the ever present Kansas wind.
  • I say “hi” to everyone. Midwesterners are a friendly bunch.
  • Yes, I have attempted to tip a cow. I was unsuccessful.
  • I call them lightening bugs.
  • I say ar-KAN-sas River, not AR-kan-saw River.
  • I have come to the conclusion that mosquitos and humidity seem to work in tandem during Kansas summers.
  • I have a deep understanding of farm-to-table. The life of a farmer is not an easy one.
  • I feel a lot pride that the University of Kansas is the birthplace of basketball.
  • I hold close the memory of fried chicken dinner at Grandma’s house on Sunday afternoon.

Fear

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We are living in fear filled days. Fires, violence, sickness and death seem to dominate our news and our conversations. And even if we try and filter our news and conversations, fear finds other ways to manifest itself. Fear can come from the idea of being separated from something or someone that we think we need in order to feel secure or happy. Fear can come from being threatened by others. Fear can come from ignorance or self grasping. Fear can come from a past traumatic event that leaves a lasting influence. And, of course, fear of death can also have a very powerful effect.

When we let our fear or anger based emotions take up residence, it gives those emotions more power than they deserve. In yoga, we call these impressions Samaskaras. They are often compared to grooves in the road that get driven over again and again. Over time, these imprints begin to contribute to behavior patterns that can then lead to the forming of habits. Then that fear takes hold and feeds upon itself. One way to combat this negative cycle is to acknowledge the source of the fear and ask yourself why you feel this way.

  1. Do you have a fear of losing someone or something?
  2. Do you have a fear based on a threat from an outside force?
  3. Do you have a fear based on grasping or ignorance?
  4. Do you have a fear based on a traumatic event in the past?
  5. Do you have a fear of death?

Once you ask yourself these questions and acknowledge their presence, say to yourself “I am feeling this way because of my fear of ______ and I am not going to allow these feelings to create a Samaskara.”

Let that fearful thought move through you and don’t allow it to stick or create a rut or groove. It’s as if your mind/body is a filter and you let the worst of it pass through, not allowing it to take up residence. Then see if there is something positive or loving to focus on in its place.

In the wisdom of Buddha:

The thought manifests as the word,
The word manifests as the deed,
The deed develops into habit,
And habit hardens into character;
So watch the thought and its ways with care,
And let it spring from love.
Born out of concern for all beings..

As the shadow follows the body,
As we think, so we become.

Buddha

A Good Scare

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The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek. ~ Joseph Campbell

Fear was once our primal survival technique. The good news is that we don’t live in a time where our very existence is threatened on a daily basis. I have two older siblings, and I am pretty certain that they helped introduce me to the idea of fear. I can remember stories about the creepy house on our street. The giant bug waiting to bite me in a certain bush. The secret pathway that might have ghosts. All of it childhood play, but also a starting point to fearing the unknown.

This time of year we often explore what it feels like to be afraid. Halloween has become one of our biggest holidays. I think it’s become so popular because it gives us a way of coping with our inner fears in a safe way. We watch scary movies that have us on the edge of our seats, or in my case, pacing the room. We visit haunted houses to allow others to scare and threaten us in a safe way.

What happens when we are in this frightened state? Heart rate increases, there is a sense of heightened awareness, palms sweat, and every nerve seems to tingle. In some ways, we are never more fully alive than when we are in a state of fear. Maybe that’s why so many teens enjoy a scary movie, novel or haunted house.

Teens love to push the boundaries of what it feels like to be fully alive. As we get older, we often let go of this need. Life itself can often become scary enough. Deep fears can manifest into anxiety and phobias, which can lead to the need for professional help. But for less serious fears it can actually be fun to visit this dark side. To visit that heightened sense, in a safe way, can often give us a boost in confidence once we are on the other side. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, ” Do one thing every day that scares you.”

Let Go

“Holding on is believing that there’s only a past, letting go is knowing there’s a future.”
~ Daphne Rise Kingma

This simple phrase is loaded with meaning. I am of a certain age, with an empty nest, and I have done quite a bit of letting go. I have written before about selling most of our household items and moving to an apartment in a new state. I continue to enjoy my minimalist lifestyle, and letting go of those items helps me feel light and unencumbered.

As we get older, I realize how much of life involves letting go. As we watch our daughter’s new family grow, I am reminded of our time as new parents. Infants are completely dependent on their caretakers. Yet with each new milestone, that baby is making his way to independence, and so begins the process of letting them go. The reward is seeing our children become independent adults. Now our role is supporter and cheerleader. We do our best to only offer advice when asked (easier said than done).

I have also been thinking lately about being too emotionally attached to “things.” For example, when we lose someone close to us, it’s obviously heartbreaking. But as the grieving eases, we sometimes find ourselves clinging to items they have left behind. There is true comfort in treasures from a loved one. They can be touchstones in the grieving process. But clinging to them can be unhealthy. I have small remembrances from my great grandmother, my grandparents, my dad, my brother, and my mother. These tokens do not bring back their love for me. That is stored in my heart and never, ever leaves me. Do I need every sweater, every piece of jewelry, every item that reminds me of them? No. I choose to let go instead.

So let’s let go:

  • Let go of the story of your past. Let the present moment define who you are.
  • Let go of material items that no longer serve you. Less clutter, less to dust.
  • Let go of people that are too much work. You will know who they are if they deplete your energy rather than bring you joy.
  • Let go of habits that have become ingrained simply because of repetition, not because they actually make you better.
  • Let go of lingering hurt and hostilities. Holding on to these feelings only causes you harm.
  • Let go of long held grief. Some losses are too big to ever get over, but consider trying to pivot to a place of gratitude for what that person brought to your life.
  • Let go of the idea that you can control your future. Worrying about the future is the root cause of anxiety. When has worry every changed an outcome? Life does not happen in a predictable way. Never has and never will.

The heart yearns to feel light. Let go to make room for whatever is coming next. Most likely it is bigger and better than you can even imagine.

“You can’t reach what’s in from of you until you let go of what’s behind you.” ~Unknown

MOVE!

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Our five-month-old grandson is in constant motion. Kicking his legs and waving his arms, all the while babbling like he has a very important story to tell us. In other words, doing the developmental things he is supposed to be doing. All of his movement is building neurological pathways that will eventually bring him to crawling, walking, and not long from now, running. Say a prayer for his parents.

I have just finished reading “Move! The New Science of Body Over Mind” by Caroline Williams. It was recommended to me by my friend and yoga teacher, Lori Gaspar. This book is about correlations between movement and the health of the mind, and how scientists have mapped the areas of the brain that benefit from different forms of movement.

For example, we have all taken a walk to clear our head at some point in our lives. Now there is science to back it up. Walking is said to be linked to activity in the prefrontal cortex, which is where our thoughts occur. The movement of walking has been shown to bring more clarity to thoughts. A literal clearing of the cobwebs that enables us to have more of those “aha” moments.

Dance and free form movement have been shown to be a mood enhancer. The inner ear, where our sense of balance is, is tied directly to the limbic system. This is the place that signals the sensations of pleasure. When we dance, we are taking ourselves slightly out of balance and each time we right ourselves the body comes back to a place of stability. Repeating this action over and over brings a sense of pleasure. No wonder so many of us love swings, rollercoasters, skiing, biking and any other activity that shifts us from standing on two feet.

A strong core from exercises like pilates, yoga and tai chi not only enhances good posture, but also helps alleviate stress, anxiety and depression. Scientists now believe a strong core also helps our minds. As we age, our chances of falling increases. This is often due to a change in posture, perhaps because our core weakens and we become more stooped over. While scientists have not yet found the direct link between an upright posture and having positive feelings, it makes sense that when we stand tall there is a sense of confidence. This then leads to a sense of well-being.

Whether we are walking, dancing, or working out, movement is good! Our lack of movement, according to scientists, directly correlates with a rise in mental health issues like anxiety, stress and depression. It’s time for everyone to get moving again. Our grandson does it on instinct. The rest of us need to make it an important part of our daily or weekly routine.

It’s often said that sitting is now the new smoking. I believe it, and scientists are proving that movement is vital to our well-being not only physically but mentally and particularly as we age. The saying “Use it or Lose it” is actually the truth. So let’s get up and move. I’m getting up now to go dance around my kitchen.

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.