Saturday, February 9, 2019

United We Stand - The Importance of Being Present

The left hemisphere of the brain looks at details, mines for similarities and explains the world based on differences and similarities, and can take over much of our brains activity when we are not guiding ourselves to be present and listen.  Being present is a key ingredient for having the full benefit of both right and left hemispheres.  The right hemisphere looks at the big picture and the left is the detective looking for details, steps to follow and past experience for predicting future outcomes.  The right knows the big picture. It already knows that I/it/the universe has many components which are all connected, and the more we can back up enough to get the big picture, the more successful we can be. Often, before we become more experienced at being present, our fearful egos, which live in the left hemisphere and simply want to be in control and not be hurt/made a fool of will over ride the more sensitive insights which can be provided by cooperation between the hemispheres.  We want the left and right sides of our  brain to be in constant communication and work cooperatively.  The now (present) is the place where this can occur.

Within the individual, the pain of past events waits to spring out when the current situation mirrors past emotions/thoughts/events.  That pain causes a flood of self-protection/self-recrimination/guilt/resentments that completely obscures the big picture.    The details in the left overwhelms/or high jacks our mental processing.  The wise overseer (silent watcher) or right hemisphere seer of the big picture cannot be heard due to the left hemisphere taking up so much of the bandwidth.  When you have a moment of being impressed with something you think or feel and think, "Where did that come from", it is from your right hemisphere, silent observer, enlightened self, getting a word in edgewise.  The goal of being present is to have the full capacity of both sides of the brain.  The two sides should be working in constant cooperation.  Unfortunately we get hung up on the minutiae of who is right and who is wrong, and us against them thinking which is predominant in our left brains.

These thoughts were tumbling around last night while I watched an episode of "A Million Little Things".  Suddenly, my pain body (long buried grief, resentment, sense of rejection) which hangs out with the ego part of my left brain was triggered by the depiction on the show of something that happened long ago to me.  I found myself sobbing, but the whole time my calming right hemisphere reassured me and pointed out what was going on.  I did not feel as I had in the past when something brought those feelings up, like I was underwater and drowning.  I told no one about the trauma for many years.  When I finally did tell others, the emotions of it remained buried. I have "known" from the right hemisphere that we must Face, Feel, and Forgive for a long time and had done as best I could (Ruiz's "Four Agreements").  We  cannot skip over the feeling it, but sometimes we need the proper tools.  I had Faced (seen it, labelled it) it but had not felt it.  As a result, I had been unsuccessful in Forgiving it.  Until you feel it, you are prone to subject it to the categorizing, comparing, us against them left brain processing without embracing the big picture.  When I apply feeling and get the big picture of we are all connected,  many of those false beliefs can fall away and truth can emerge within me.

The answer may be to help  people learn to experience being present by noticing thoughts and feelings and applying that to everyday life.  They must have skills to not flee from the oldest, biggest, most overwhelming pain when it emerges, and then, can simply notice it, label it and release it no matter how big it feels.  Not being able to forgive it caused me to continue too suffer and to be tripped when the pain was triggered by someone doing something that felt like that long ago betrayal.   My left hemisphere gathered the facts and a label for it but did not apply it at the deepest level of hurt.  The emotions were not processed, so they came up every time there was a felt betrayal by someone I trusted. Deep, gut wrenching sadness, fear and resentment lay beneath ongoing reactions.   The closer the relationship with the one by whom I felt betrayed, the more it hurt.  I realized that I had been utilizing the insights from my right hemisphere in a really good way for decades as a therapist.  I "instinctively" (right brain) knew what my clients who had been traumatized needed to hear and learn, and made sure they received that from me. Being present allows us to regain our full mental and emotional capacities. When I was ready (last night), that long buried initial pain trauma surfaced and could be quickly released by applying the ability to be present.  Being present had already increased my capacity to love and care for myself.  It had also already impacted my ability to love others.  This foundation is a key to progress in being present and learning to use both hemispheres.  United I stand.  I am connected.  I am one.  United we stand.  We are all connected.  We are all one in this amazing universe.


Sunday, December 23, 2018

Onward to a Life of Being Present

After I read "The Four Agreements" and began using it to start (and restart as needed) my day, I dove into "The Power of Now" by Eckhart Tolle.  The Buddhist practice of meditation instructs on letting go of thoughts as they come up while meditating.  Much as I had heard but not understood fully "not taking things personally" before I read "The Four Agreements", I found my ability to let go of thoughts to be limited. In hindsight, I realize that I did not have a comprehensive understanding of thoughts and emotions and exactly what part they played in having success in being mindful.  Tolle's concepts as presented in "The Power of Now" and "A New Earth" have helped me more quickly identify when I am unconscious rather than being present.  

If you read "The 4 Agreements" by Ruiz, you remember that he said we are all asleep and are unconscious because we are in a dream state. Tolle lends more explanation of being asleep that helps me want to splash some cold water on my face to be fully awake or present. Thinking about the past or thinking about the future is neither is real (Tolle) or awake (Ruiz).  Only the Now exists.  The past is a memory of bits and pieces of something that happened.  The future is all the things we anticipate or dread happening.  Most of them will never really occur.  I repeat, only the Now exists.  Ruiz helped me pay more attention to my thoughts by looking for unkind thoughts that judged, by taking things personally making it all about me, or by making assumptions telling myself stories about others and what they meant.  Kindness towards myself and all others (loving kindness/compassion) began to be understood and my moments being present increased.

Tolle's books helped me figure out more about the emotions that arose during the day.   It seems that  every time someone has hurt me, intentionally or unintentionally, I have stored up negative emotions from the event. Every time I have messed something up and hurt another, that disappointment in myself has been stored.  Fear which boils down to fear of annihilation (death) and sadness and despair that I am not good enough (for anyone to love or care about me) set off incessant narration in my head.  These mean things I was saying to/about myself or others is called the ego. The Buddhists tell us that the reason to be present (mindful) is because suffering ensues when we are not present.  The suffering is caused by the ego firing up every time my pain body is goosed/triggered/awakened.  Those mean thoughts cause me to lash out at myself or others.  Now the ego is just doing its job which is to protect me.  The pain body says "warning!" because this reminds me of when that bully knocked me off the swing (which put some fear of death in my pain body reservoir).  So now, when someone does something that hurts my feelings and I feel anxious (watered down fear), I start looking around for the stimulus. If I listen to the thoughts in my head, the anxiety can turn in to fight or flight level fear and sadness as I think of possible outcomes.  In the moment,  my ego wants to protect me so it points at what Sally said, and I feel a bit angry at her. The ego wants to find who is responsible and points not to the past but to something immediate but then every event that mirrors that emotion even remotely pours in through the pain body.  It then may use future possible outcomes or to fuel my current emotion. Using what Tolle teaches, I am watching (the watcher) my thoughts (ego), feeling the emotion (pain body) and observing my reaction (back to watcher).  By identifying with the watcher, I lift myself out of the fray, if you will, and just watch the part of each player.  I can quickly identify the thought, my feelings and realize they are bigger than the incident and have nothing to do with me or Sally because it is the sum total of old stuff being triggered by something she said that really had nothing to do with me but a lot to do with each of us (Sally's with her dream scape or culture and me with my ego and pain body) being asleep (or not in the Now).  

Having watched many including myself struggle with meditation and the whole being present with limited success, I was eager for something that would help.  I practiced as Tolle suggests while reading the books, and I  noticed how quickly I could change my percentage of time being present and decrease the time it took for me to know that I was coming from my unconscious dream (Ruiz) world or ego/pain body (Tolle).

I am trying to boil this down a bit for the purposes of this blog, but REALLY encourage all who are interested to read and begin applying Tolle's book(s).  If you are like me, reading the books will become an ongoing thing.  Instructions or reading and applying Tolle to be more mindful/present/conscious include:
  1. Read and apply in that moment, 
  2. Underline and apply in that moment
  3. Apply when you notice a reaction
  4. Do not resist the reactive emotion but just notice it
  5. Feel the emotion
  6. Continue to watch for thoughts (sometimes they disappear as soon as you notice and feel the emotion!)
  7. If the thoughts continue, breath
  8. say "I am"
  9. Breath
  10. Take a moment when you are in having a conversation to clear a space and remember to be present
Facebook has some great groups for those who are students of Tolle that I recommend following once you have read or listened to at least one of his books.  

Happy Holidays!




Sunday, November 18, 2018

The Journey Toward Mindfulness

I retired from the corporate world in January of 2017.  I spent the next few months putting my private clinical practice together and began seeing clients in April.  I decided to include mindfulness practice in my therapeutic approach. During my break from being a therapist when in the corporate world, mindfulness began being recognized as an evidence based practice.  I have been meditating for a several decades. Through it, I have experienced growth and improvement in my own peace and tranquility. Working with my clients on increasing mindfulness seemed like the next step for me.  It prompted me to work more on me in this area and study how to incorporate it into my clinical work.

Some people become enlightened in a moment.  Others become enlightened based on a daily practice.  My journey has been marked by meditative practices, by finding authors and teachers who gave me increased insight, by finding new tools and by having friends to talk with as I journeyed toward mindfulness. I have had moments of awakening that changed my life, but I still struggled with thoughts and feelings that disrupted my mindfulness. Because I have continued to have moments when I was not mindful, this would cause harm through thoughts and words to myself and others.  I seek being awake and mindful and harming no one. 

The best part of this ongoing process is that my son and fitness coach is also working on becoming more mindful.  We talk about authors, books and insights during weekly weight training workouts.  During 2018, he read The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz and asked me to read it.   I found this book to contain what has become a daily practice.  I list them here briefly.  I encourage you to read the book. It is quite short and worth your time.  May it be the glove you put on every morning (and repeatedly) to help you stay mindful.  Self-love is the key to being kind and loving toward others, and these agreements definitely promote increased love and compassion toward self and others.  If you choose to use them, remember to apply them with love and humor.  When my thoughts are not impeccable (1), I take things personally (2), or I make assumptions (3), I give myself a gentle nudge and reminder by pointing to the fact that I always do my best (4).

Agreement 1:  I agree I will have impeccable thoughts and words toward MYSELF and ALL others.  I found this a bit challenging in these days of social media posts but very helpful to reset me, especially in traffic or when identifying negative thoughts toward myself.  It really helps with loving kindness towards self and others. I use loving words toward myself and others. I do not judge or blame myself or you as those negative thoughts will cause me to be more negative toward me and others.  I strive to use my words for truth and love and gratitude and not for anger, jealousy, envy or hate.  Impeccable words can transcend this world from one of suffering to one of joy.

Agreement 2:  I agree I will not take things personally.  We have all heard this, but when I read Ruiz's discussion of Toltec beliefs, it made it really sync with my head.  You see the Toltecs believed we are all asleep and have our own dreamworld based on everything we have learned, both intentional and unintentional.   Our beliefs are not reality or truth, but we feel they are. Our thoughts are just thoughts based on past learning.    Our purpose in life is to wake up to this by being present in every moment.  By doing this, we learn to notice our thoughts but not let them decide our actions and words.  I do not take things personally because what you say to or about me is about your dream world and has nothing to do with who I am. You can only know me by asking questions and me answering.   It helps neither of us if I respond out of my dream world and get offended.  If I FEEL offended, I must realize I took what you said personally and simply need to notice this rather than act on it.  I can do this by remembering that each thought is simply one of tens of thousands I will have each day and is not truth. I do this by remembering how little we really know about each other, no matter how long we have known each other.   

Agreement 3:  I agree I will not make assumptions about anyone or anything.  I ask questions to learn more. We are too often afraid to ask questions.  If asking questions is not possible (because it is about someone or something in the past) or profitable because I am aware from experience that the person is unable to speak honestly, I simply dismiss the story I am telling myself, moving on in the present moment and staying out of the past or present.   I try to stay clear of the trap of making assumptions and taking things personally.  These things can lead to gossip which is definitely not impeccable. When I ask questions, I increase my understanding and decrease the the potential for hurtful words and thoughts.  When I recognize that what you say about me comes out of your dreamworld, I know it has nothing to do with who I am. 

Agreement 4:  I agree that I always do my best.  This helps me not judge myself when my thoughts are not impeccable, I take things personally, or I make assumptions.  I will not profit from looking back and critiquing my behavior which results in blaming myself or others.  I accept that I always do my best.  I cannot go back because the past no longer exists.   I can only be present in the now.  I agree to do my best, to learn to be fully present in every moment.  I agree to see you (me), hear you (me) and ask questions of you(me).  This is my best. 

If you are on the journey toward mindfulness, are thinking about the possibility of becoming more present and mindful, try using these agreements to help you in the process.  It is very helpful to have people who are also working on mindfulness to support your journey.


Next up:  "The Power of Now" - because I need to know how to handle all those misguided thoughts and feelings.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Dogs and Mindfulness - In memoriam for Havana

13 years ago, my youngest son, then a recent graduate of UT, was starting his adulthood with a real after college job.  When he rented a house with a buddy, he adopted his first pet, a mixed breed rescue from the animal shelter in Austin.  She quickly grew into a gorgeous brindle colored dog who often received compliments for her striking appearance.  I swear, she would always smile and stand a bit taller when she received attention from an admiring stranger. She was one of my "grand dogs".  She watched over my son, then his wife and finally each of his two children when they joined the family.  She was always gentle with children, but had a bark and bristled spine that would make grown men stop and step back a few steps.    She could not sit in my lap as the smaller dogs do, but she would put her head in my lap and stare at me for ear scratches. Sometimes I would lie down beside her on the floor to give her extensive pets and scratches.

She loved my backyard.  She would sometimes tromp about in my Jasmine and monkey grass or just look regal lying in the St. Augustine under my majestic pecan trees.  She supervised the grands when they were drawing with chalk, blowing bubbles or playing in the sprinkler.  She would help keep the squirrels properly in their places in the trees.

In recent months her age of 13 on a 65 pound shepherd size dog had taken its toll.  Her hind legs would sometimes just refuse to bear her weight, and she would have to take a rest until one of us gave her an assist or she felt sufficient energy to get up.  Her eyes were not as sharp as they once had been and her walk was slower as she favored her stiff joints.  She used to go on walks for several blocks with me but in recent times, we would make it for just a few houses.  She still insisted I take her for a turn. She smelled every blade of grass and especially loved the spring flowers on the corner this year.  I would muse as we walked that I hoped someone would take me for walks when I am her commiserate age of 91, just far enough for me to admire the sights and smells of nature. My dog, much smaller but also 13, would go for walks with Havana and me a couple of years ago.  That was quite a sight with a 6 pound dog on one leash and a 65 pound dog on the other.   I called us the "Golden Girls" (see the picture below taken by my oldest grand daughter when she was 4 after a walk with both dogs). Recently,  I had to learn to take the dogs on separate walks when Havana was visiting so I could let each savor their time on leash.

Sadly, Havana went on one last walk on July 8. She managed an escape from her yard.  During the week that she was missing, before we found out the end of her story, I helped go by animal services on a regular basis to walk the kennels looking for her.   The staff was quick to let us know they were not always able to keep up with everything so the best answer was to go look.  Ultimately, the family was able to find closure by putting up posters and placing  them in their neighbors mailboxes. If you are thinking of lecturing, she was chipped and was wearing her collar with her tag.  The posters resulted in a neighbor providing the answer as to what happened.  I will leave it at that. 

Havana had a relatively long, and healthy life.  She had some great moments judging from the smiles I saw on her face. I miss her and know from previous deaths of my loved ones, she will enter my thoughts regularly.  Today I cannot quite enjoy my backyard without some thinking of the loss, but I know that soon instead of feeling sadness I will feel only joy in my various memories of her.

I  find that I think more about what is important in life and the imminence of death as I age.  Havana had it right about how to live life.  She lived in the moment. If someone dropped a bite of food she quickly noticed and seized the opportunity for a treat.  If you looked like you wanted to share a bite she also noticed and relished it when you offered it.   She let you know when something was bothering her (strangers, squirrels, a need to go check the backyard).  She never left us questioning whether she loved us as she looked with her adoring eyes into our eyes or gave us a nudge with her nose.  She was always close behind my grands in line to greet me when I visited her house. She did not seem to take things personally when corrected, in fact, she might ignore you, figuring, I guess, that your words were about your mood more than what she was doing.  She did not appear to worry about what would happen next. She received each smell, taste, sight or sound with every fiber of  her being. 

The moral for me is:  Be present, be mindful, and be in the moment.  Moments are precious and unpredictable.  Perhaps you can take this blog as a challenge to love and live fully in each moment and not waste time worrying about the future and being tortured by the past.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Rest of the Story Regarding 2016 New Years Resolution

Fifteen months ago I wrote a blog about the resolution I made for 2016.  Perhaps someone will benefit from this update to the outcome.

My resolution was to increase my mindfulness practice by trying to spend time weekly in my meditation practice. I downloaded some apps to assist me with this, one of which recorded my efforts.  On that particular app, I logged 42.5 hours of meditation during 2016.  There was more that was not logged there, but that is the bulk of it.  Much of this was done in 6-10 minutes segments.  It turns out that this resolution helped me withstand a quite difficult situation.  For large periods of the year my meditation efforts were completed daily.

In 2016, I was encouraged to apply for a promotion at the company where I worked.  I was generally content with what I was doing but was becoming a trifle bored which happens in about 5 year increments for me.   I planned to work two and a half more years and retire.  I had shared this with my supervisor.  I talked myself into applying for the promotion and accepted it.  I told myself I was already splitting time between the new position and my old one.  I thought the pay bump would help me put more aside for retirement, and that I might as well be paid for the responsibility.

I worked both jobs for most of the year with increasing emphasis on the new job beginning in May. As I was given more responsibility for the new job, I found myself experiencing overwhelming critical oversight from multiple sources.  I had many voices telling me I needed to do more and master all things immediately.

My reaction to the stress shocked me.  In retrospect, I have diagnosed myself with emotional reactions relating to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from childhood experiences with a critical, unpredictable adult. I found myself reverting to behaviors which I thought had been extinguished. Under the pressure of constant critiquing I felt frozen (flight or fight). This paralysis caused me to be unable to fluently voice my opinions, to silence the micro managers or to keep those who answered to me in line.  My irritability increased.  None of this was in keeping with the professional persona I developed for myself during the last 50 years.  I was working 7 days a week and not finding the time to do self-care.  My five year old granddaughter asked why she no longer was invited to spend the night with me.  I am a family oriented person. Hurting a family member with my work behavior was unacceptable to me.

In September, the voices of criticism increased in volume as did my flight or fight reactions.  I was offered the options of being placed on a plan of correction in the new job or being replaced in the new job and returning full-time to my old one.  I would have to return to my old salary when I returned full-time to the old position. I agreed to go back to the old position as I felt that the plans of correction I had seen never ended well.  I was asked to continue in the new job while they looked for a replacement and to accept the demotion to my old job but could keep the current salary until they replaced me.  They would cease looking for a replacement for that old position and keep it for me.  I had been doing both jobs for six months at this point.  I would have to continue to do both jobs "until a suitable replacement was found".  They had been searching for a replacement for my old job for five months at that point.

I found myself forced to  make a decision about my future.  I did not like the choices I had, but it seemed inevitable that I had to do something distasteful and alien to me. With over fifty years as an employee, I have never even had a poor review much less been faced with a plan of correction or demotion.  Fate intervened for me.

In October,  a company wide early retirement package was offered for any who qualified and I applied.  I was awarded the package and retired from the company in January at full pay for the promotion I was given in May.  This meant I would not have to take a demotion or be placed on a plan of correction.

I am reinventing my life for the next era. I did not know how much of me I had misplaced until about a month into my retirement.  As normalcy returns, I can sleep more than 4-5 hours.  I can truly smell the flowers again. I am taking my meditation to the next level, re-developing a social life, and enjoying my family.

Without my daily meditation practice and listening to Audio Dharma on my commute to work each day during the second half of 2016, I surely would have run emotionally from the building and quit which would not have ultimately been in my best interests.

I had no idea how crucial to my future well-being my 2016 New Years Resolution would be. Remember this as you struggle with the resolutions you made for 2017.  Namaste

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Mindfulness 2016

I seldom have told people what my resolution for the year is, and, honestly, I often do not make one.  I had been thinking about making a resolution for improvement this year and made it official last Saturday by telling my son and his wife what I had resolved.

My awareness of  thoughts and how they can create or destroy inner peace has been a recurring theme for the last few months. I have found myself  having frequent conversations about mindfulness and realizing a renewed awareness of its importance. I have been using more breath work to keep me centered and calm when I feel my emotions surging in negative directions.  

I decided that it was time to start further exercising the contemplative aspects of my life in 2016.  Taking time to be purposefully mindful is a key to increasing one's practice of being mindful.  It operates on the same principal of taking care of one's body.  You do not have to exercise your body every day and eat healthy things every meal, but every time that you do increases your sense of well-being.  

I decided to set up a little corner of my life to accommodate a place to be mindful.  I pulled out an old plant stand, set up the things I like to have to help me center and calm my mind, and made a decision to take a few minutes frequently to meditate.  I have things from the past that  I have used but have been remiss in taking the time to do so in recent years.  I bought a small rug to put under my zafu (meditation cushion) since my wooden floors are a bit chilly in the winter.  No other expenditure was necessary.

This habit has not been exercised in recent years, so I am dusting it off and building my stamina.  To my delight, I am up to 15 minutes in a setting and have meditated 5 of the last 6 days.  It really does help to be accountable to others about it.  I have told a couple of friends of my intent.  

What is the importance of meditation?  In this crazy, busy world that we live in, in which we can use all manner of electronic entertainment to keep our minds engaged in often distressing news and negative energy, it is a place of calm.  As you clear your mind and invite peace and love to be the center of your thoughts, amazing clarity comes.

Meditation is a place where you can see your connection to all living beings.  In a world that often wants to point out our differences, which by the way are all just thoughts and not reality, it brings unity.

May 2016 contain an abundance of peace and love for each of you.



Sunday, November 1, 2015

Happy Days

I celebrated my 67th Birthday this weekend.  I decided I would, for the first time in my long work career, take some time off for the day.  My birthday was on Friday, but I took off Thursday as well.

As I do my best to practice, I decided to embrace each moment and really had little planned in the way of celebration besides being mindful and spending a little time with the family on Saturday.   On Thursday I decided I wanted to finally replace my well worn recliner.  A shopping trip to Rooms To Go found the perfect leather recliner with a push button control.  It is both beautiful and very comfortable.  They will deliver it on Wednesday, so I have been prepping my dog, since we always share it.  She is pretty excited about it.  I felt festive all day about it and still do.

When I got up Friday morning I sang Happy Birthday to me.  As I was drying my hair I noticed a voicemail had come in.  It was from Mike, his wife and two kids.  The three older family members sang it, and at the end they all said "Bye"and wished me a great day. The baby (turns one on November 11) said "Bye" at the very end after his sister did.  At that point I could not stop smiling and thought how awesome that was.  I was glad it was recorded so I could listen again (and again).

My next planned event was a training session with Jim, my oldest son.  His daughter was in the gym when I arrived, and I got to visit and play with her before my session.  Jim handed me a birthday card and a Mandala he had decorated.   The card contained a very loving handwritten note that brought tears to my eyes.  He apologized for the handwriting because his one year old helped him as he wrote.  Of course that just made it more precious.  So at that point, my heart is full and I am happy beyond compare.  It remains full as I think back about it.

I went home and changed to go to an awards luncheon for Mary, Mike's wife.  I managed to arrive on time and made my way to the table Mary had reserved for her guests.  My son arrived as did her parents and I told my son about my birthday present I bought the day before.  We talked about the phone call from them that morning.  I turned to talk to Mary's parents and the next thing I knew, the people at our table began singing Happy Birthday to me. I absolutely love spontaneous fun and that was what that was for me.   I watched Mary receive a much deserved award and literally had to run out to retrieve my car to a haircut appointment I had changed three times.  I kept having unexpected schedule conflicts.  

I really like my stylist, heard about her wedding the weekend before, and we talked about how for the last two haircuts she felt she really had learned my hair and turned it into "her" cut.  Suffice it to say some not great things had happened in the styling shops I visited in the years before.  As I was paying out, another customer came up and started effusively complimenting my haircut.  I am not terribly vain but I do like my hair to be at its best.  That filled up another corner of my being.

As I was driving home I received a text from Jim inviting me to the Perot Museum with his family.  I had dropped by Trader Joe for a couple of items, but as I was checking out the checker said, "are you gluten intolerant?"  He was not psychic. I go to Trader Joe's for some of my gluten free groceries and the items I chose were clearly gluten free.   He asked if I had seen a new IPA gluten free beer by Stone.  I told me I had not and he stopped checking to go grab one off the shelf to show it to me.  Now, isn't that just a fun thing to happen?  We talked about his experience with a family member who is also gluten intolerant.  I am so happy and mellow at this point I could melt.

So, then I jumped in my car, headed home, changed clothes and went to Jim's.  We loaded up two cars because Tina's sister, Jeanne was visiting from Rochester, New York with her husband and six month old son.  Perot was awesome as we all explored it (it changes all the time) and really spent time taking in the sights and sounds.  

Now that was absolutely top of the mark in Birth Days!  I felt loving and loved.   

On Saturday I went back to Jim and Tina's.  This was for the   planned celebration of the weekend.   Aunt Jeanne and Tina share an October 31st birthday.  A happy group of 10 family members celebrated with The October Birthday Club which included me, little Jeanne, Aunt Jeanne and Tina.  We feasted on Fajitas, Tina made Chocolate cake and Mike bought gluten free cupcakes. There were babies everywhere!  It was positively marvelous.  Jeanne smiled and said "Grandma" when I came into the house.  Jeanne and Christian played with me in the living room.  Emily hugged me when she came in and hid behind me as she met Aunt Jeanne.  Little Connor spotted me when Mike put him down and crawled to me for me to pick him up.  I am of course full and completely running over with happiness and love at this point.

Saturday is also Halloween, and I always pass out candy. The crowds have been small but growing for the last three years, so I stocked up and bought one large and three smaller bags of Halloween candy. A record crowd showed up.  I had to slow down from my normal three or four pieces to the last little group who only got one each.  I had to turn out my light because I was out!  It was the very first time that ever happened to me. I chatted with all the little "trick or treat" munchkins and their parents.  

What's my point in this blog?  The point is, I decide each moment of every day to find the good in every moment and to notice and dispel negative thoughts.  I decide to treat myself with love and caring.  I acknowledge that I have lived 67 wonderful years and can claim a healthy body and mind. I wear my years as gracefully as I can, and I am fit and strong. I love and care about those with whom I cross paths and receive it back in an abundance that leaves me wanting for nothing.  A weekend with little planned turned into a love-filled festival.  May you love yourself, love others and receive their love.  

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Denial is not Lying (Or is It?)


Denial is one of our human defense mechanisms.  I have used it numerous (thousands?) of times in my lifetime.  It is unconscious, which means we do not realize we are lying to ourselves.  Its not a conscious lie, but it is not the truth.


A few years ago a physician suggested that I try a gluten free diet. This was after I told her I had cut out lactose because it caused digestive symptoms.  I told her I still had some digestive problems even without lactose.  She told me to try omitting gluten for a couple of weeks and see if it helped.  Sadly, it did help.  This was just shortly before "gluten free"  became a popular diet.  I was quite happy when it became a fad and made grocery shopping much easier.  People kept asking if I had Celiac Disease when I told them I was "gluten free", and I said no.  Truthfully, even being off gluten and lactose, I still had symptoms.  I added the constraints of "Low Fodmaps" to my diet which omitted garlic and onion and some fruits and vegetables.  My current diet is a pain for my loved ones, but will most likely add to my longevity.  

When I changed  doctors,  the new doctor listened patiently as I explained that I seemed to be both lactose and gluten intolerant so had modified by diet.   She asked if I had Celiac Disease.  I told her that I did not to my knowledge.  She ran a blood test, but said that since I had been off gluten it was inconclusive and would only be accurate if I began eating gluten again.  Neither of us thought that was a good idea.  There are some long term consequences to not modifying one's diet to accommodate Celiac Disease, and I do not like the symptoms of ingesting gluten.

I stored the conversation above as "I do not have Celiac Disease".  I was reviewing my health record a couple of days ago and realized my doctor did indeed diagnose me as having gluten enteropathy (common description: Celiac Disease).  My first response was, "no that is not right;  she said my blood test was negative.  Wait, no she said it did not show up but it most likely would not because I have been off gluten."  I did not like the diagnosis (label), so I denied it and used selective memory in storing the highlights of the conversation.

Until I began to recall the details of our conversation, I just had stored my conclusion as "I do not have Celiac Disease".  Finally, this morning my curiosity overcame my desire to deny, and I was rather amazed as I surfed the Internet.  
  • Having Celiac Disease can inhibit your growth.  I am the shortest member of an admittedly short  nuclear family.  I am not quite 5 feet.  They were all at least several inches taller than I am.  My son's are both 5'10.
  • I have always been thin without much effort.  Celiac disease causes one to not be able to metabolize and use the nutrients in food efficiently and so many who have it are thin. 
  • If a person with Celiac Disease does not cut out gluten, they will often become intolerant to lactose.  
  • Developing osteoporosis is common for those with Celiac Disease.  I was diagnosed with osteopenia at about 45.  Thanks to weight bearing exercise and cutting out gluten, it has not progressed to osteoporosis.  
I was diagnosed as having IBS as a teenager.  At the time they did not apparently know much about diets and Celiac Disease, and the symptoms seemed to decrease as I moved through adolescence and slightly modified my diet.  As I aged but still  had bouts of "symptoms", people would ask if I had IBS. I would reply that I did not.  If you read my Shadow Boxes entry, you know I do not like labels. Sometimes that desire to not be labelled can lead to denying the obvious.

This is how denial works!  We don't or do want something to be true, so we edit our thoughts to support what we want to believe.  Only when we think about why we do or don't believe something can we uncover the truth.  Mindfulness (exploring my thoughts with fresh lenses) is a cure for denial.  

As I read the symptoms of Celiac Disease, I realized it did answer questions and explain symptoms that seemed rather random in the past.  To know more about myself and my body, entertaining the knowledge of what that particular disease can do is helpful to maintaining my health.

Denial is a crippling defense mechanism.  It clouds our vision and causes us to believe things that simply are/are not true.  Challenge your thoughts!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Annual Bucket List Update

With some nudges from my oldest son, I went on my first solo travel excursion in August.

It was full of firsts and I am very pleased to report, was very enjoyable.  My list contains travel which includes parts of the U.S. I have not seen as well as other countries.  

This year I chose Boston, Ma.  I am a bit of a history buff so it was on my list of east coast places to visit.  My friends asked if I was from there, had friends there or had family there. The answer to all three is no.  In the interest of full-disclosure,  my daughter-in-law told me as I was about to depart that she had a cousin there if I found myself in need of assistance.  

I do not usually plan extensively beyond time and location but life has taught me that having a place to stay makes the trip less stressful.  I chose a location from one of the owner leased vacation accommodations and was delighted.  I was in a one bedroom condo in Boston's south end. 

I so enjoyed strolling the streets, finding small, intimate restaurants and taverns to visit, and just taking in the ambiance of the city.  I walked unless my destination was over a mile and was amazed at all I discovered.

I visited the Freedom Trail, did a land/sea sightseeing trip around the city, took a ferry boat ride to Provincetown, and I visited the JFK Museum and the Boston Museum of Art.  It was a full four days that was so leisurely in comparison to my norm that I came back in a fully zen state.  

The Freedom Trail caused me to reflect upon our origins as a nation.  I visited the second oldest cemetery where Paul Revere is buried as well as the Boston commons which has an abundance of unmarked graves.  There is just something special about seeing the headstones of people who died in the 1600's and thinking about what I know about that era.   I am pleased to report that Boston is full of friendly people who are very helpful and who did not seem to notice my Texas accent.  

On the day I took a ferry boat ride, a "nor'easter" blew in and stayed with me most of the day resulting in a lovely drenching as I returned to the ferry.  The result of all that rain was that I had two very enjoyable experiences of meeting locals and having extended conversations with them.  If one maintains a focus on the positive all is lovely.  

Firsts are so much fun and so invigorating!  I can see no reason why anyone should wait for the right tour group to start checking off destinations they want to visit.  Every day of the trip was remarkable for one reason or the other.

Namaste!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Father's Day

There is nothing more delightful to see than my sons being awesome father's to their children.

Yesterday I watched my 3.75 year old granddaughter play with her dad in the pool.  I had quite a few moments of recalling her dad doing similar antics with me when he was her age - discovering goggles underwater and playing tirelessly once the basics of aquatic life were learned.  He became dad to his second child this year.  

My oldest son became a dad this year for the first time and has an 8 month old daughter.  When he beams at his progeny  and worries over details of her life, I revisit those parts of parenthood.  She is the apple of his eye, that is clear to see.  I revel in watching his family grow.  

The contentment I feel as I watch scenes  with my sons featured as dad's fills every portion  of my being.  

I am so proud of both son's for the way they tackle life as parents, and find joy, peace and new levels of love within themselves.  

For all dad's everywhere, know that grandparents do notice what you are doing and are filled with pride at all you do to care for your children.   Thank you for all you do to help this generation become all they can be.   Remember to be in the moment!


Sunday, March 29, 2015

Kindness

About a decade ago, as I was strolling through life,  I stumbled across a better understanding of the philosophy of the Buddha.   I have always been open to learning more.  I have studied a wide variety of philosophies to try to find a better version of myself and to discover the truths for healthy/happy living.

To understand the Buddha, I attended classes taught by modern Buddhist nuns.  I read books by a variety of modern day Buddhists. and I went to see the Dalai Lama when he was speaking in Houston at Rice University. I felt his connection to the thousands who were in the room with him.  There was something different about him.  He was not raising money or seeking anything except to convey the source of his well-being.  His well-being was palpable.  I struggled to understand because it seemed so simple.  I am in control of me. I am in control of my thoughts.  I can choose who I am and how I am.  I can be miserable or I can be happy.  I can let go of any attachment to all outcomes.

I began to meditate and practice mindfulness.  Meditation is not magical.  It simply teaches you to quit driving yourself crazy with random thoughts.  It helps me take control of my own mind.  I quit believing my thoughts are truth. They are just thoughts.  I recognized how random they could be and how much they could mislead me. They could lead me to be unkind to myself and to others.

I did not learn anything new by studying the nuggets of truth I found in what was taught by the Buddha.  I did understand more about what I knew.

Jesus of Nazareth taught some things that were inarguable.  He loved those around him unconditionally and taught kindness through words and example. He pointed out the unhelpful things that people did to one another.  

The Buddha - 500 years before Jesus - loved people  and taught kindness.  He eschewed the thought that you had to punish yourself to find the true essence of life.  

Religion always seems to find ways to do considerable harm to others.  Religion ends up believing that all who do not believe exactly as a church or religion does are wrong and need to be saved from themselves.  Religions make it complicated.  

The capacity for understanding is within each individual.  The meaning of life is happiness.  The way to happiness is an inside job. I have to master my thoughts and find joy and peace in the moment.  I live moment to moment.  I live knowing we are all part of and connected to each other.  If I hurt you, I am hurting a part of myself.  All you need to be happy is kindness from within. The next step is to start giving that same kindness to others.

The only peace and happiness I have known is when I turn off the chatter from without - do this, don't do that, that is wrong the chatter says. The chatter within is just as bad because it repeats all the chatter I have picked up throughout my life.  Meditation is about learning to notice the chatter and to let it go.  The chatter says I have to know what is next and control the outcome.  Kindness recognizes the futility of that.

When I tune in and ask myself, "is that a kind thing to do, say, be?", I will find the answer.  The thoughts (chatter) in my head may argue, but ultimately it is not very difficult to know if something is kind. Does it hurt me?  Does it hurt another?  Will it bring a smile? Will it bring a tear of pain?  What is my purpose in saying it or doing it?  Is it to win?  Is it to be accepted? Is it to please you so you will like me?  Is it to dash your belief in something so you will believe what I do?

My children and grandchildren taught me more about kindness. They are clearly a part of me.   Seeing them hurt, hurts my heart.  If they are physically injured, I feel the pain in my own body. 

What if we all reacted to everyone that way?

The truth is we are all connected to one another. When I am kind the results are positive feelings (happy and/or loving). When I am not kind it causes negative feelings of (anger and or hurt/sadness). 

Let all be kind to each other.  In the words of the Dalai Lama, "My religion is simple.  My religion is kindness."

Sunday, November 30, 2014

What If...?

Do you ever find yourself wondering about the decisions you have made in your life?  From the vantage point of the future, we look back and second guess our decisions.  

Do you know what always stops me in my tracks as I prepare to blast myself for some decision that I made in the past? I have to pause in my self-recrimination as I remember the good things that I experienced after the decision! Let me add, that decision may have been to remain where I was,  and it may have been to move on to something different.   For all the negatives that may have flowed from that decision, there are positives as well.  

The self reproach sounds something like, "well, if I had/had not done that, this negative thing would not have happened".  The remembrance of the good takes over to say, "if I had/had not done that, I would never have known X or experienced Y.  X can be filled in as someone I met after the decision who graced my life for some period of time and taught me to consider something that added to my peace and happiness.  Y is some sweet memory of life after that decision. 

The bottom line is that there are both good and bad results whether you make a change or you do not.

We each face difficult, mind bending decisions at times.  We can never really know how things will turn out whether we make a change or not.  

How do you decide what is best for you and, even more difficult, those you love?  You will make decisions that have negative impacts on you and the people you love.  You will also make decisions that will have very positive impacts on you and the people you love.  

The cool thing about life is that it offers us opportunities to change again and to have more insight the next time we have an important decision to make.   You do not have to remain stuck in what turns out to be a change that costs you too much of your own peace and happiness.

I know I will make more decisions in the future.  Some of those decisions will be "spot on" and some will suck swamp water.   Finding inner peace with my decision is what will bring me happiness. Learning to move on when I am in a place that robs me of my peace is equally important. If I am surrounded by people who are not at peace in themselves, I will not be able to find complete peace.
   
The Dalai Lama says that the Meaning of life is Happiness and the journey of life is to discover what truly brings happiness.  The spoiler is that happiness comes from inner peace.  Hanging with others who know that inner peace (at times) is the "icing on the cake".  Most likely, they have not yet attained complete and constant inner peace.  Truthfully, the only living person I suspect as having found total enlightenment, is the Dalai Lama.  He exudes something unique even when you are sitting in a huge audience experiencing his presence.   The important part is that others in your life are questing for that peace, a positive attitude and gentle correction within themselves.  May you always be in the moment and find the peace and happiness within it.  May you find many with whom to share your life who seek inner peace.  

As I helped my son clean up Thanksgiving mess, I felt peaceful and happy.  Its not what you are doing, it is being at peace in it. Finding your peace wherever you are is the source of happiness and happiness is the meaning (purpose) of life.  I can, if I allow it, find my peace (and happiness).  Peace shared is peace magnified.  

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Fall of the Year

I do love the fall of the year.   The beginning of fall is somewhat understated in Texas.  I always recognize it with  the first little brisk touch to the air as the heat of summer begins to dissipate. Across that change from oppressive heat to a gentle cooling, sounds seem to float farther.  It always makes my heart skip a beat to hear the sounds of school marching bands practicing in the early morning.  The next sign of fall in Texas is the appearance of the annual "Fairs".  Ah, I have some wonderful memories of those shared with my sons.

As October marches on, the first decorations of fall festivities appear.  Halloween pumpkins with carved out faces appear at the front of homes along with scattered witches, black cats, and ghosts suspended from trees.  Of course there is also the fact that the day before  Halloween is marked by the day I was born.  In the era I was born there was an accepted practice that if Halloween fell on a Sunday it was observed on Saturday.  You could therefore not be denied the fun of "trick or treating" and could still go to Sunday evening church.  I thought that was quite a civilized approach to the matter.  I was born on a Saturday, October 30, so the "Trick or Treaters" were out shortly after I made my appearance.  I remember a great sense of anticipation on every childhood celebration of my birthday to be followed by an abundance of knocking on neighbors doors in order to collect my sweet second celebration of life.

Halloween is followed by autumn leaves and Thanksgiving turkeys, pumpkin pies and sweet family gatherings. We all have special memories around that wonderful celebration.  I wrote about Thanksgiving in an earlier blog.

When I had children I found them appearing from mid-September until late January.  It seems my grandchildren are following along in that pattern. My first was born three years ago in September. Currently I am awaiting the birth of my second grandchild.  She was due on the 15th but has her own sense of timing.  Her mom and dad are awaiting her appearance with as much patience as is possible with that first baby.  Another baby is due in November when my first grandson will join his older sister.  The anticipation I used to feel at the beginning of fall is a shadow of what I feel in this moment.

As is my practice I was treating my restlessness and mild dissatisfaction this morning with giving attention to the moment I am currently experiencing.  Visions of all my previous falls danced like sugarplums in my head (oops, mixed my metaphors).  I took a breath and thought of all the positive things in my life in this moment.  I took my focus off what isn't and what might be and thought instead of all the joys, both big and small, that I have experienced.  I thought of all the lives I have been joined with for brief fleeting moments or for most of my life and smiled.  

Living is about our connectivity to other humans.  Living is about experiencing every moment, learning in each moment, and  knowing in each moment how interwoven we all are with each component of this marvelous world.  It is about being present for ourselves and for others. I am definitely in the fall season of my life.  Sounds carry, feelings resonate, leaves turn to autumn colors and I rejoice at the fullness of my life.  When negativity tries to enter, I turn my back on it and smell the fall in the air, which for me is the same as eager anticipation of what is and what will be. 


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Bucket List

I had a wonderful summer!  We all have bucket lists of one type or the other, I suppose.  My bucket list was inspired to take more form by watching the movie of that name a few years ago.  I began to think about what I would like to do that I have not done. 

I want to have a great relationship with each of my grandchildren (at that point none were being actively planned) and each of my children and their spouses.  I began the journey of improvement in that area with the birth of my first grandchild in September 2011. That coupled with the invitation of my children, prompted me to move to Dallas to be closer to them.  I found a new job which was definitely a huge change when I thought I was too old to be switching horses. That change has challenged my thinking and inspired new directions in my career.  

Soon the number of grandchildren I am building relationships with will grow from the one pictured here to three! My sons and their wives will add more cubs to the den in October and November of this year.  That is a grand total of three! This is an item on my list which will continue to need attention in order to continue to build relationships. 

I have some places I want to go.  Again, the item is multi-faceted so will continue to need attention.  I received my first passport stamp by going to Canada this summer.  What a fun trip!  I have a few other stamps for that passport on my bucket list to attain. 

Attending a National instead of just a state conference of Social Workers was on my list and was achieved this summer.  It was an amazing conference with awe inspiring speakers at each of the plenary sessions.  I actually was able to see a few folks I never thought I would see in person.

My life has really been full of momentous occasions which fill my memory banks.  I saw the Dalai Lama in person a few years ago - definitely on my bucket list and completely amazing!  I saw Yo-Yo Ma perform with the Austin Symphony a few years ago.  I really never thought I would be able to see him in concert!  I saw a Cowboy game live!  I realize I am not finished just yet and will continue to add to my Bucket List and check the items off.

One of the most important things on my bucket list is being present in each moment I am lucky enough to experience.  If you catch me with my attention wandering, give me a nudge!

You are never too old to do the things you want.  I don't write mine down at this point.  I do not always realize something is "on my bucket list" until I think "I REALLY would like to...".  It is at that point that it goes on my list TBD.  I find that this exercise helps me really experience something.  Knowing that "I really want to ..." helps me seize it and enjoy it when the opportunity arises to accomplish it.  When opportunity arises, I take it.  In the meantime, I enjoy each moment.  I do not let worry about "what if" rob me of the pleasure of what is.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Change

Springtime is a change we embrace.  The grass turns green and flowers add a variety of colors as they awaken from a winter slumber.  New hope and joy abounds.  The animals turn to nesting, preparing for their new offspring and raising this generation.  What can compare to a warming sun, a breeze in the air, and the birds chirping.  Winter gray is chased away.

This is indeed a beautiful time of the year.  The fragrance of the flowers, the beauty of the colors, and the sounds of so much life envelops us and brings peace and contentment.  We recall past spring seasons.   Hope abounds!

These changes happen every year, and we embrace them. Change is often feared.  Complaints made about change is that it is too sudden and warning should have been given.  Have you ever wondered if your life will be this way for ever and think how bored you are with it?  Even as you think this, changes are occurring that will not be obvious for some time.    Those changes, when visible, will take your breath away.

Preparation for spring has been occurring below the surface for quite some time before we really see, smell or feel it.

We embrace the changes brought by the spring of the year even though we all know that the change in season can also bring violent and destructive storms.  It certainly brings an onslaught of allergic reactions to the pollen in the air. We will notice that some of the plants and trees did not survive the winter.  Even though the spring may have some negative outcomes attached,  we focus most on the positive. This is a lesson for life.

Life brings many changes. The immutable fact is that things change. The person one sees in the mirror changes.  Businesses change and some close, we move or our friends move, and the lives of those we know and depend on are changed or ended.

The next time you are faced with a change, think about the spring of each year.
  • Remember, you have been through many changes. 
  • You often do not fully recognize that change is coming until it is undeniably upon you.  
  • You will miss things from the past, so face them, feel the loss and let them go.
  • New challenges and experiences await you.  
Change tells you that you are alive, that you are experiencing one of the "truths" of life.  Everything changes. The best way to meet change is to simply embrace it and to let go of the past.  Therein lies peace and happiness.  Easy to say but sometimes it takes work to accomplish it.

Enjoy the Spring!


Sunday, March 9, 2014

Thoughts Are Fleeting

Have you ever thought about the fact that negative thoughts are fleeting.  My negative thoughts revisit my younger days of very low self-esteem.  In those times, I found myself doubting that I ever had a friend, that I was worthy of love, and thinking that I had more flaws than anyone else.  I have learned over the years that those dark thoughts are just whispers from the past. I remind myself of that and begin doing some refocusing when they resurface.   I look around and find the things in my life that make it a pleasure.  I focus on those things.

About a week ago I had a few negative thoughts.  I decided to refocus my thoughts and accept any opportunities if they came my way.  Opportunities for happiness began to pile up.  If I had stayed focused on those negative thoughts, I would probably have missed some of these opportunities to enjoy my life.

There will always be challenges.  There will always be bad things that happen for no apparent reason.  We do not have to focus all our being on those.  We should see them in order to navigate through, around or over them.  We should not take responsibility for anything besides our own behavior.  We should learn any lessons about our own behavior that are available.  While doing those positive things,  we can also remember to look around to find the good in our lives.  

As I get older I find I have to spend more time refocusing my physical eyes.  They used to quickly adjust when I changed my focal point.  It takes a few more blinks as I age.  On the other hand, I refocus my thoughts more quickly, thanks to much practice at remembering that negative thoughts (and the feelings that go with them) are fleeting.  

I am fully convinced that people who do themselves harm get caught up in a moment of negative thoughts.  

If we get stuck on a negative thought, its like being in a whirlwind. Round and round it goes with no end in sight. That can cause us to feel hopeless and helpless.  A reminder to yourself that it is just a thought and you can control it, will stop the whirlwind. Like a leaf drifting down the river, a negative thought is momentary and will soon be gone from sight if you let it go.  You have control over the thought.

Remember, all we really have in life is the moment we are in.  I like to think things like "Be Happy" and "Seize the Day" to remind myself how important it is to stay tuned in to the good things in my life and to let go of any thoughts that are negative.  

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Integrity


In September of this year I began attending a support group.  It is one that has a  lengthy history and is based on traditions that have withstood the tests of time.  This week, we talked about the concept of integrity.  Integrity as a group member includes not talking about what others say.  

Anonymity of all who attend the support groups sponsored by these traditions is a vital component of the success of the institution.  You can say whatever you want about yourself but you cannot say anything about what another person said or even that they were there. You can repeat what you share in the group to whomever you please. You can tell others what you learned.  While in the group, when someone shares, you do not insert your opinion.  You just listen. Each member is encouraged to examine their own lives and take personal responsibility for themselves.  

Practicing these things in the group gives me lessons in keeping my eyes on my path of travel. Humans are not very disciplined in that. We always want to study others, compare our lives to them and rate ourselves in comparison.  We like to share our judgments with others. Think about the last time a friend told you about something they were upset about.  What did you think while they were talking?  Did you think about your experiences in that area and start formulating a response to them, or did you keep listening and try to be with them in what they were saying?  Did you hold the confidence they shared or did you go tell others about it?

When you are driving on the interstate and there is an accident in the opposite direction of travel, do you drive slowly past and try to glimpse whatever tragedy occurred?  You may even be telling yourself not to look but be mindful of the traffic, but still, you glance back and forth between the accident and the traffic around you.  Do you have any idea how many additional accidents are caused by "rubber necking"?  What if we all just paid attention to our driving?  Fewer accidents would occur! 

I endanger my own integrity and self-control when I take my eyes off what I am doing in relationship to others.  I can control what I do.  I cannot do anything about that wreck in the opposite lane of traffic. I can feel sympathy or empathy but need to stay focused on what I am doing and how I might negatively impact others if I do not stay mindful of what I am doing and saying.  I can avoid accidents that hurt others by being mindful of my thoughts and actions.  

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Resolutions

Do you ever wonder  how your life has impacted those around you, if at all?  Do you wonder what legacy you will leave?   

Perhaps the best bequests to those who survive me will be in elements of how I lived my life.   I have worked with hundreds of people as a therapist.  I have raised two sons.  I have a two year old grandchild.  I have two daughter in laws,  friends and many acquaintances.   I have served as supervisor and boss to some.  I have mentored a few.  Just like all of us, I have touched many lives in some manner.  What will those I have touched remember about me? What words will float through their heads when a memory of me comes back?  Those thoughts and words will be their legacy from me.  Sometimes people seem to love and respect me.  Sometimes they roll their eyes or find my behavior disappointing. 

I continue to change and evolve.  The things I hold most dear are summarized below.  These are the elements of my life that I hope others can sometimes see and might choose to retain for themselves. 

(1) Inner Peace - It is sometimes elusive but I hope I am often remembered for  reflecting calm.  I bequest to those who have known me a legacy of peace in times of storms.  I never knew peace until I was 40+.  It is no longer a wonder when I experience it, so I must be getting better at it.

(2) Happiness - I hope I am remembered with a smile on my face and for ultimately smiling at the problems life brought. I bequest the gift of smiles and laughter.  When I find that I am not smiling very much, I know something is amiss within.  If I am at peace and am nurturing positive thoughts, I smile a great deal.

(3) Loyalty - Loyalty means you always "have the back" of those around you.  You watch out for them so you can protect and defend them if they are too vulnerable.  I hope loyal is one of the words people think when they remember me.   My loyalty means not casting stones, being a voice for and defending the defenseless or standing quietly beside those who are struggling but do not desire an advocate.   

(4) Forgiveness - I hope that I am remembered as a vessel who gave and received forgiveness with a happy heart.  This would include never being afraid or ashamed to say "I am sorry" and the grace to say "of course" when asked for forgiveness.  The legacy would include the injunction to only say "I am sorry" or "of course" when you mean it.  If you can't mean it, keep working on your own heart. That is my bequest.  P.S. Until you can say "of course" say "thank you for saying that".

(5) Do things out of love not duty.  This means to try to do the right thing for the right reason.  If a fearless inventory internally reveals any resentment within or manipulative intent, it is a sign that a change of attitude and intent is needed. 

(6) Honesty - Be honest, don't lie.  Some rules apply to honesty.  Find a way to say what needs to be said without blasting another.  Honesty is not a license to unload on others.  It is unfair to blame another for what you did.  Own your part in all matters. Use I statements.  Remember YOU CAN ONLY CHANGE YOURSELF.  Be honest with yourself.  Do no harm.  Just because I think I know something doesn't mean I need to tell others.  That could be gossip and unkind.

(7) Accountability means you must have people in your life with whom you can be entirely honest.  We all need someone to admit our flaws to in order to be held accountable for working on them. This one has not been easy for me.   I find I tend to be fearful of revealing too much of my weaknesses.  Being accountable to others has been a great help to me in evolving further.

(8) Be Kind - Treat people with kindness and caring.  Do not gossip, say mean spirited things, belittle or judge others.  Even if you just think those things, correct the thought.  Remind yourself that you are being unkind. Remind yourself that you really have no idea why people do the things they do and have compassion for them.

Hopefully, some or all of these things will be in my bequests when I am no longer on this earth in this body.  The stats predict that since I have lived to 65 my life expectancy is to have an additional 18.4 years.  Each year that I live from now on adds time (in the statistical tables) to the length of time I have. That means I could have two decades (more or less) to work on these traits for my bequests.   For now, these values will be my day to day, in the moment, resolutions for 2014.  It is always good to live each moment to the fullest and as if it may be your last!  Happy New Year!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Thanksgiving 2013

I am thankful for so many things in this moment.

I am thankful that I am incredibly healthy.  My sons decided that this year I should celebrate the 15th anniversary of my 50th birthday.  I found that to be a lovely way to experience my birthday.   Because I do not often or deeply think of myself as old, I occasionally get startled by someone who looks like they are old enough to be my mother saying, "when you get to be OUR age...".   Honestly, I am also startled sometimes by the image reflected in my mirror.  For those of you who are too young to have experienced this, remember my words when you are celebrating the 15th anniversary of your 50th birthday.  

My oldest son  is a fitness coach with whom I currently work out twice a week.  He has me squatting, doing overhead presses and all manner of other things with much more weight than I would have dreamed to be possible.  I am thankful that his love of fitness has inspired me to a higher level of fitness.  My back is in better shape than it has been in 30 years due to us working on my core strength, back muscles and increased awareness of what it means to lift with my legs. I am thankful for getting to be with him at least twice a week.  I am thankful that he is a deep thinker which makes his conversation meaningful to me.  He studies and develops his own opinions about a wide variety of topics.  He shares those thoughts sparingly but with great depth.  I am thankful that he is a talented musician who recently learned to play the ukulele in less than a day. I am thankful that I feel very comfortable in my relationship with him.   He is 35 and married to a woman who is clearly an awesome partner for him.  She is a wonderful mix of straightforward communication and kind compassion.  I do love and admire her just for being who she is and for the fact that she clearly loves my son. I am thankful for her wonderful family and their beautiful hospitality.  I am thankful for my son and his wife and for their wonderful "cuddle pup" Schnauzer.   

My youngest birth son is 33 (today!) a lawyer, the father of my granddaughter, and is married to a woman with legs almost as long as I am (I am horizontally challenged), especially when she wears those heels she loves to wear. I am blessed this year by watching my son prove that he is a man of great character and emotional strength and depth.  I am blessed that I am getting to know his wife at a deeper level.  I have watched with love and admiration as she meets some difficult challenges.  I am thankful that she has allowed me to be a witness in her life.  They are in their seventh year of marriage, have had some major issues to address in the last year and are meeting them head on.  They share their baby a great deal with me which is truly awesome.  My grand baby is smart, cute and has a personality that is endearing and so much fun!  I am blessed by all three of them, and especially blessed that they honor me with sharing their lives with me.  I get to see them, or various constellations of them, at least twice a week.  I am thankful for their dogs, Havana and Henry.  Henry is their four month old pup who will soon outgrow me (he might be a Great Dane mix), and Havana is a gorgeous brindle mix who has spent time with me for many years.  

I am thankful spending time with my third son.  He is 25, and spent the first five years of his life living with us.  After those five years, eight years passed with only a couple of very brief visits. When he was a teenager we had a few years of semi-annual visits. He is intelligent, caring and talented.   This year, a couple of days before my birthday, he came for a visit. I am thankful for a long walk with him and my dog at White Rock Lake and for a shopping trip to Trader Joe's with him.  I am thankful for preparing and sharing a pomegranate with him.  I am thankful for learning more of his dreams for his future and getting to spend this Thanksgiving with him.  I am thankful for him and all the moments we have shared. 

I am eternally thankful that I worked the twelve steps 20 years ago. The process made an indescribable difference in me  and brought me to a new level of enlightenment.  I had a huge storehouse of anger built up in 1993 that needed to be purged.  I was angry with so many.   My ex-husband was an alcoholic who passed away at aged 65 still drinking excessively every day of his life.  We remained friends, but it was a difficult friendship because of his alcoholism.  The alcohol too often hid the caring, sensitive man with whom I fell in love.  By working the steps I was able to quit being angry at him and everyone else that I perceived as "failing to meet my expectations". 

I am thankful that I realized that I had continued some co-dependent behavior.  I am thankful that I started attending Al-Anon in September of this year. It is wonderful to have a place to go and share with people who are trying to come to terms with their issues. Those people are not perfect and do not pretend to be.   There is some ritual to the meetings that is humanly comforting,  but mostly it is a study group in which members freely admit their shortcomings to each other.  We do not try to solve the problems. We just listen to each other and encourage working the steps.

I am thankful that this year I have come to a greater awareness that the answer to loneliness is not being over enmeshed with a single human being or with a single group.  I have for my entire life vacillated between being single and lonely or being over enmeshed with a person or a group.  I have realized that I could find something in between and not end up angry and disappointed when a person or group "failed" to meet my expectations.  I am working the steps.  If I keep reviewing them every day of my life until I die I can make sure I am cleaning out those things that hold me back from enlightenment.  I can be aware of my connection to and impact on all other sentient beings.  I do not need to be "attached" to a person or a group.  I am a part of all beings and all beings are a part of me.

I am thankful that I am employed in a position that makes a difference for thousands of people.  It has been a challenge to learn my roles but well worth the effort.  I am thankful for two new bosses (the boss of the state enterprise and the boss of my department).  I would certainly have moved on to something different if the new big boss had not chosen to look more deeply at who I was and helped me find a way to turn my position into something meaningful.

I am thankful for every moment that I am blessed by spending it with my sons, my daughters and my grand baby.  I am thankful for my home, my dog, my grand dogs and my health.  I am thankful that I live in a country that allows me to believe what I choose to believe.  I am thankful for new friends and old friends and every moment that I spend with them or thinking about them.  I am thankful beyond words for being aware and Present!  May you all be present and find the things worthy of thanksgiving in every moment.  




Sunday, November 3, 2013

Anger Management Step 8 - Helpful Hints for Staying on the Path


Things to remember as you manage your anger:

Amends is defined as compensation for a loss or injury.  In our society we often think this is analogous to money.  Although monetary payment could be the right thing to do if you have stolen money from someone by taking their belongings or by not repaying a debt, it is not always relevant when talking about human relationships.  

It is good to say at the end of your apology you will be open to further discussion now or at a later time as the person you are apologizing to may choose.  This keeps the door open in case your actions have opened something in them they need to talk about. The amends may need to continue depending on what that person might bring forward through that open door.

Do not apologize to a person because  you want them to apologize to you.  You would be giving the amends in order to get something you want. That is manipulative and not based on love.  It will result in harm to you and to them.  Remember, we get back what we give.  If I try to manipulate you, sooner or later someone I care about will try to manipulate me.  It is guaranteed that you will end up feeling worse, not better, in the long run.  Do not say you are sorry to someone unless you truly do not need anything from them.

Before you make a personal contact, think about what you think the worst possible reaction or result might be.  Ask yourself how you will react and feel if the worst actually does occur.  If you do not think you can deal with that, then don't make an apology directly.  Write the letter, read it to a friend, and put it in a file.   Maybe someday you will decide that you can deal with the worst that can happen.  Maybe you will never get there. Do keep loving yourself and being kind to yourself.  

I have asked for forgiveness from many I have wronged, and can readily say that sometimes the worst that I could imagine did happen.  Sometimes I thought things through and decided I could not bear the worst that could happen, so I simply wrote a letter I never mailed.  Sometimes when I apologized the reaction was much less than I anticipated.  Sometimes the apology went well and the person continued to do harm to my well-being when I was around them.  Sometimes I found myself engaging in a negative exchange. The relationship was toxic.  I simply distanced myself from them when I realized this.  I did not return to my anger but I did not stay in a place that harmed me. 

Making amends is well worth the time.  You will get better at the practice of being aware of your own stimulus impact.  I still open my mouth when I shouldn't and people do not always accept my first apology.  Yes, that means sometimes it takes more than one heartfelt apology for someone to hear you.  Even after they hear you,  it may then take time for them to accept it.   In those cases, I do continue to try to do no harm and work at making amends.  If I have betrayed trust, it is not easy to rebuild it. I keep that in mind and continue to be mindful of my need to be trustworthy with all people.  

Even after you finish your list of people to apologize to, remember to keep practicing the things you have learned.  We are humans, so we will make mistakes.  To decrease your mistakes, be mindful of what you think, say and do. When you find yourself reacting with anger which is coming out of fear or sadness, be aware that you can spin off into old habits. You can always choose not to spin off or to spin back to the new habit.  You can say to yourself, "Stop that".  You can listen to what you are saying to yourself.  Life is indeed about minute to minute choices.  Just because you find yourself in anger doesn't mean you have to harm someone.  You can decide to just sit with that anger, examine it, and think about what you might do with it.   You can decide to just let it go whenever you choose.

When I was early in reworking my expression of anger,  I became incensed at someone.  I thought about what the person did and thought, "I want to tell them they are a @$$!!##".  I said, "No". Then I thought I could just tell them what I thought of what they "did to me".  Again, I thought, "No".  Finally, I thought, I could just let it go and forgive them.  I realized anything I did would be harmful to both of us.  Strangely the last thought gave me peace about it.  Interestingly, I do not remember who I was angry with or what they had done.   I do remember my thought process because it marked the beginning of me being in control of my behavior.   

Anger Management is a process.  It is a process that has enriched my life.  I have seen other lives enriched by a person taking the process and making it their own.