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”

Fall Haiku

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A change in the air
Leaves turn and cascade to earth
Signs of fall's entrance

Sweaters, boots and scarves
Darkness comes earlier now
Wet leaves under shoes

Apples, pumpkins, squash
Chilly days and cozy nights
Football and tailgates

Cycle of seasons
Transition to turning in
Earth's prep for Winter





Dear Human

Our lives are built on myths and wounds
But we are not our lives
We are made of sun and moon
Wave and particle and desire.
Bound up in silver thread
Each disabled heart
Winds back to its original spool
Where love becomes unfurled.
~Kay Eck

My dear friend, Kay Eck, has written a beautiful love letter to humanity. When I read this book it felt as if she was telling my heart everything it had always wanted to hear. Or rather, what my heart knew at some point but had forgotten. It’s a reminder to all humans that we are all born of love and can tap into that universal love at anytime.

Eck says this book was inspired by the lessons she learned while writing her first book entitled, “Divorce: a love story.” She took the context out of divorce and into her broader life so that more people could be supported by it. She found the same universal truths hold for both.

While “Divorce: a love story” was founded in self-exploration, she believes the topics in “dear human” will speak to not only those starting out on their spiritual path, but also those who might be feeling a bit lost or “pulled toward the idea that there must be something more.”

“If there were only one way to be winning as a human, it would be through the love you lavish upon yourself. The difficulty of that task will teach you everything you came to learn. Mastering it will take you everywhere you want to go,” she writes in the book.

Eck is a great cheerleader of humanity. We first met during yoga teacher training at Prairie Yoga in Lisle, Illinois. A few years later, I worked for her when she opened her own yoga studio called Shine, in nearby Batavia. She is someone who has a gift for nurturing other humans. Her podcast, “Alive and Kicking with Kay Eck” is a great support to those who are in a time of breakdown/breakthrough. Her guests are ordinary people who are leading extraordinary lives. As Eck so eloquently says in her book, “We are human – a little ho-hum and profoundly marvelous.”

“Dear Human” will rest on my bedside table to be read and reread as an amazing reminder to myself to “let life love me back.”

Teachers

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“When one teaches, two learn.” Robert Heinlein

Fall is coming, it’s back to school time for kids, and I have been thinking about my favorite childhood teachers. These people taught me things that no ordinary teachers possibly could. I learned not only from their instructions, but from their actions and examples. It’s often said that children learn not from what you say, but what you do.

Parents are our first teachers. I was blessed to be surrounded by love, and shown great examples of the benefits of hard work by my parents. We were a family of the era, my dad working and my mom staying home with us. My mom had been brought up very traditionally, and knew how to cook and clean and entertain.

At some point during my late elementary years, my mom took a job with an interior design company. She had always had an eye for style. When I look back now, it’s pretty impressive that she was even hired. She didn’t finish her college degree and had zero previous design experience. But she loved that job. And while I may have pouted about not having her around as much, I was secretly so proud. She taught me to find a venue for my creativity. She taught me it’s ok to have something for yourself and still love your family.

My aunt Phyllis was a wonderful example for me as well. She graduated college with a teaching degree and had taught several years before having her kids. Then, when her babies were a bit older, she decided to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor and applied to medical school. She was not accepted to a few schools because, back in the 1970’s, a married woman with children just did not go to medical school. She was finally accepted by a school to study Osteopathy. She worked her tail off and was a successful family practice doctor until her retirement a few years ago. She even ended up working for one of the medical schools that had turned her down. She taught me to go for your dreams, no matter what anyone says, and that it’s never too late to learn new things.

Ms. Powell, my fifth grade teacher, was my most influential teacher in a school setting. First of all she was a “Ms.,” which was a fairly new thing in the early ’70’s. She had short black hair, a la Liza Minelli, and wore the most stylish of clothes. I am sure she was a Gloria Steinem devotee, or as we used to say, a women’s libber. She was a young teacher with new ideas, and she taught in a way that challenged you. Your words mattered in her class. As a fifth grader, I didn’t have a true understanding of what it meant to find your voice until Ms. Powell helped me find mine. We held debates and mock trials. She lit a fire in me to look at things from all angles and see another person’s point of view. She also taught me what a strong independent woman looks like. None of these things were a part of the curriculum.

Teachers are undervalued in our society. I have seen first hand what it takes to teach in the public schools through our daughter, who taught for 5 years after graduating. She gave her whole heart to her fourth and fifth grade classes. Today, you not only have to teach the curriculum, but also manage student’s behavior plans, be a social worker, lead shooting drills, assemblies, crafts, and state testing programs also get thrown into the mix. And all of this with 30 or more students in a single classroom.

Teaching is hard. I was fortunate to have some great ones, and I am sure many of you did. So I would ask that if you know a teacher in your public school system ask them what they need to make their lives easier. Chances are they will welcome your help!

The Pregnant Pause

We are going to be grandparents! It is a moment we have hoped for but didn’t dare assume would happen. Since I learned this joyous news, I have been filled with so many emotions.

This time before our sweet grand baby is born is full of potential, anticipation and excitement. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word “pregnant” as “full of meaning” and in use dating back to the 15th century. This goes along with the definition of pregnant pause. The pregnant pause is a “silence full of potential in the way a pregnant body is full of a new human being. A pregnant pause leaves the listener full of anticipation, just like a pregnancy is full of excitement and the forthcoming baby.”

This news officially takes us to a new stage in life. Yoga master B.K.S. Iyengar talks about the four stages in human life in his book “Light on Life.” The first stage is called Brahmacharya in Sanskrit. The translation suggests self control and discipline. This stage is our childhood and adolescence. We go to school and channel our childhood energy into learning. Our parents inform and discipline us to be able to conform to society.

The second stage is called Grhasthasrama in Sanskrit, meaning “house.” This is the householder stage. We have finished with school and live on our own with potentially a home and a spouse. Books and school work are now replaced with the joys of family life.

The third stage, Vanaprasthasrama , or “transition” is the stage that Rob and I have now entered. This is a time to transition away from work and career, and focus on a deep involvement with one’s family. It is a time to continue to learn and grow but to let go of goal driven activities. In other words, letting the ego soften. It’s also a time to share the knowledge that has been acquired over the years.

The final stage, if one is lucky to live long enough, is the Sannyasa stage or a time of renunciation. It is the stage of ultimate detachment and a time of preparing for death. There is deep rooted wisdom at this stage learned from a long life. It is often referred to as the “old crone” period.

Being in our current stage, transition, fills me with joy. I find myself thinking back to the days when our children were little. I have lost the memories of the day-to-day care and stress of family life. Now what stands out to me is the joy of what children bring to life. I think this is nature’s way of guiding us into our new role. It’s our turn to help our kids see the big picture. We can support the new parents in the way that our parents supported us. Rob and I have had such great examples of this in our own parents.

In particular, Rob’s folks were there in ways that were so valuable to us. I don’t think they ever said “no” to anything we asked of them. This included leaving our eight month old baby with them so we could vacation in Mexico for nine days. The kids loved being in their home. “Vanilla Milk” was invented there to make our daughter feel better about not liking hot chocolate. One of Grammy’s favorite things to say to our son was, “let’s see how much trouble we can get into.” That usually meant getting two toys at Toys R Us instead of one.

As new parents, they soothed us with their gentle wisdom. There was never judgement, just support and love. In their minds, our kids and all of their grandkids were the most special people ever born. And they still are the best cheerleaders for us all. They are the example that I keep in my heart as we wait in this special pregnant pause. In six months our new grand baby will arrive and it will be our turn to see “how much trouble we can get into” as we love, cherish and support this brand new family.