Saturday, July 28, 2012

Imaginary Conversations

Affirmation:  I release myself from imaginary conversations and fully trust in God’s loving care.

This affirmation was created during a visit to our mountain retreat place.  It’s a small two bedroom condo in the North Carolina mountains, in a community called Hound Ears.  It’s called that because the two mountains it lies between look like doggie ears, or so I am told.  The condo looks out over the hills, a few ponds and a pristine golf course.  I journal in the morning sitting on the porch.  Many mornings I watch the mist rising from the hills as the sun begins its ascent.  One morning there was a heron flying through the mist.  I put up a couple of potted plants containing Petunias so that there is food for the humming bird who visits.  We have one dear friend who calls it Shangri-La.  Shangri-La being a fictional place described in the 1933 novel Lost Horizon by British author James Hilton. Hilton describes Shangri-La as a mystical, harmonious valley. Shangri-La has become synonymous with any earthly paradise but particularly a mythical Himalayan utopia — a permanently happy land, isolated from the outside world. In the novel Lost Horizon, the people who live at Shangri-La are almost immortal, living years beyond the normal lifespan and only very slowly aging in appearance. (  Hound Ears is our Shangri-La and if you saw the number of healthy, hearty octogenarians and nonagenarians who reside here, you might think so too.

When I am in Hound Ears, I never want to leave but unlike many of the residents who are retired and can come for six months, we are lucky if we get to stay for a few weeks.  Most years we have a lot of family and friends come visit and we enjoy many moments of sharing time and making memories.  Then, towards the end of our vacation we have some quiet time.  It’s a nice balance and gives me time to reflect, write and pray. As the time to leave gets closer and closer, I have to use all my tools to help me to not go home “early.”  I have to do all in my power to stay in the moment and to relish the present so that I don’t leave this healing place before the actual time.  Truly, it is a mediation, a moment to moment meditation.  As soon as I let go, my thoughts jump to home.  Home, some years, can mean I am returning to what are for me, some challenging situations. 

I’ve been guilty of having many imaginary conversations with many people.  Why do I say guilty?  Well, I am usually thinking about what I can say, or what I would say or what I should have said or how about, what I could have said!  What words would have been more effective.  Will I have the right words?  Are there any words?  Do I have the power to help someone else “see the light” or the power to make someone else go from being sad and anxious to happy and calm?  Can I say anything to improve and lighten another person’s load?  Have you ever been here?  Have you ever had a continuous, one way conversation over and over?  The essence of suffering is wanting things to be different than they are and that’s what I’m doing.  I am creating my own suffering  because I want to change the way another is perceiving something.  Certainly, there are communication tools that can sometimes achieve this desired result but it can’t happen if I only have the conversation in my mind.  Writing, journaling helps me but this kind of self-talk usually leads me to a very unsettled feeling.  How can it not?  There is no resolution.  It never really ends. It’s like a recording on repeat.  But, it serves no purpose, does it?  It takes one away from the moment.  It takes me into my imagination and unless I choose to paint it, sculpt it or as now, write about it, it has no closure. 

According to the Myers-Briggs personality test all of us fall either into the “introvert” or “extrovert” category.  There is a range in each section so one’s score can be high or low on the scale.  What the authors of this test are referring to when they use the words introvert and extrovert are not how you relate to people but more, how you get your energy.  An extreme introvert might need to be alone most of the time while an extreme extrovert might need to be out with people all the time.  The category also refers to how one may communicate.  One type of personality says exactly what they’re thinking when they’re thinking it.  The other personality type ruminates on what they want to say, sometimes over and over depending on the degree of introversion before they say anything.  Just ask yourself if you have to “practice” what you want to say before you make a phone call, especially a call involving something that requires a resolution.  Your answer will give you some indication of whether you’re an “E” or an “I.”  I am a weak “I.”  I practice and depending on the situation, I can find myself practicing way too much.

Mind you, I’m not practicing for the best.  I am usually practicing for what I think will be an uncomfortable conversation.  One of my other affirmations is “The best is yet to come.” but when I’m facing some potential confrontation, it’s really hard for me to call that one into existence. 

When I began creating the affirmation about “imaginary conversations”, I found myself using the phrase “obsessive thoughts.”  I release myself from “obsessive thoughts.”  But, the longer I worked on it, the more I realized it was more than that, it was the whole motion picture I was developing or perhaps even a mini-series.  Wow, I was really good at writing this story.  I found that what I really wanted to accomplish was to stop writing fiction, at least with regard to the issues I was facing when I would return home.  I began writing, “I release myself from imaginary conversations and fully trust in God’s loving care.”  I know I am much better off letting God write the story. 

After several days of writing the affirmation in my morning pages, I began to feel my body relax.  All the tension would seep away.  What else did my new thought call to me?  Mornings of journaling as I watch the mist rise from the hills, joy from the presence of the hummingbird as it flit around my planters and an invitation to share my yoga practice with a friend who’s looking for some calming tools.  As I prepared for the session, I renewed several of my own peace giving practices; daily breathing rituals, guided mediations, gratitude and release sun salutations and regular deep breaths. 

My new affirmation brought peace, contentment and a sated feeling.  This is a perfect moment.  I am blessed and resting in God’s loving care.  As the pastor at St. Bernadette’s in Linville, NC said in his homily, “People, we have it all.  We want for nothing.”  That’s it.  I want for nothing, that is my meditation, at least for this moment and truly, isn’t that all we have?

Friday, July 13, 2012

Living a Compassionate Life

Affirmation: I live a Christ centered life of love, peace, hope, gratitude and compassion.

One of the most compassionate people I know is my mother-in-law, Yolanda. She's always been one of my heroines and an amazing role model.  I have never heard her criticize anyone.  And, I've known her now for well over 43 years. 

Compassion is defined as co-suffering but that's not enough.  For one to be truly compassionate you must try to do something to alleviate another's suffering.

One night we were watching the TV show The Amazing Race.  I was visiting Yolanda to help her prepare for her move to Savannah.  (She had lived in the same house for over 56 years and now, at the age of 90 she was moving to an independent living facility in Georgia.  This was her choice.  She made the decision herself.  I keep hoping that when and if, I'm 90 I'll get to choose some adventure on which I want to embark and not have the adventure chosen for me.)  This episode of The Amazing Race had a young unmarried couple who were racing from country to country.  They were doing fairly well and were leading the race when this episode began.  When the episode ended they were in last place.  They lost because one of the challenges was to go down a huge water slide through some sharks and into a pool.  The young woman of the team was terrified of heights and sharks.  With two of her greatest fears combined, she chose not to finish the race.  I was amazed and felt very impatient.  "For heaven's sake" I thought, "just get on the slide and get it over with!" Really, it would have been over in 3 minutes.  And, then there was Yolanda, "Oh, the poor thing!  What are they doing?  Why don't they just let her walk down?  I can't stand to see her suffering so much." I think if Yolanda had been there, she would have jumped on that slide and gone down it in place of the young woman, even though she too is afraid of water.  Me?  I'm sad to tell you I would have suggested to her partner to just pick her up, put her on his lap and go for it.  It really was a wonderful lesson for me to sit there and share this experience with my mother-in-law.  I don't think I would have seen it any differently if I hadn't been exposed to her point of view.  Then, the final lesson came when the emcee interviewed them and asked her boyfriend how he felt about the whole episode.  I thought, "Here it comes!  He's going to be so angry!" instead, he was as compassionate about it as Yolanda had been. 

In Al-Anon, one of the suggestions given is to learn to take care of yourself.  It's not an easy concept, especially for someone who has been caring for a loved one with an addiction.  A lot of the time, many people who attend Al-Anon are enablers.  One of their chief skills is taking care of others, sometimes with total disregard for themselves.  In the book, The Courage to Change, One Day at a Time, one of the readings tells a story about a woman who had recently become an Al-Anon member.  Every night when she went to bed, she found her drunken husband fallen out of bed and lying on the floor.  She'd help him back in bed, cover him up and then finally get to go to bed too.  After her Al-Anon session, she decided she'd just step over him and go straight to bed. When she shared her new approach at a meeting, they gently told her she had gone to the other extreme. So, the next night she used a different approach.  She gently placed a blanket on him, stepped over him and went to bed.  She managed to find a place where she could both be compassionate and take care of herself.

My friend works out with a trainer.  I knew this personal trainer when he was having terrible back pain and when I saw him again I asked him how his back was doing.  He said it was fine.  Then he told me he was pleased he'd had the bad back experience because it made him a better trainer.  It made him more compassionate.

I know many people take tragic experiences and use them to better the lives of others.  There is story after story of people who chose to use their tragedy as a stepping stone not only for their own recovery but for anyone else who is looking for help with the same type of situation.  I am sure it wouldn't take much for you to recall some of the more well known examples.  How about the Amber Alert program?  I regularly see the signs for missing children on the freeways.

Twenty five years ago Rachel and Saul Schanberg lost their young daughter Linda to cancer.  Before Linda died she asked her mom to make a difference in the Duke Cancer Center.  She asked her to help people feel cared for and not just cared about.  Rachel began the Duke Cancer Patient Support Program with herself and four volunteers in an office the size of a closet.  Today her efforts have created a program world renown for their care of cancer patients and their loved ones.  It's all free.  Most hospitals wouldn't consider supporting a program that doesn't bring in any revenue but because of Rachel's passion and compassion, we have over 300 volunteers and the most amazing services you can imagine.  The impact the program has made on the new Duke Cancer Center can be seen in the center's warm, inviting atmosphere.

Our challenging life experiences offer us two choices.  We can become more caring, gentle and compassionate or we can become bitter, hard and reclusive.  My intention to be a more compassionate person, to be more Yolanda like, is a quality I always want to be developing.  Recently, I read a book to help me better understand and care for an aging parent.  The main lesson in the book encourages the reader, the caretaker, to try to see life as their parent may see it.  When they rephrased some of the concerns of the parent using language based on the author's years of experienced, it brought me a greater understanding of that which my parent is concerned.  And, with understanding I felt a deeper sense of compassion. 

I am an ardent believer in the power of prayer.  I don't know how it works but I believe it does.  I keep a list in the front of my journal of all the people for whom I am currently praying.  I always add “And, especially for those who most need Your mercy.”  Since practicing compassion requires one to “do” something along with experiencing feelings of empathy, I can pray.  If there is no other way for me to bring help and solace to those I am concerned about, it gives me great comfort to know I can offer them up in prayer and to believe that God is blessing them in ways beyond my comprehension.  Truly, that's how I want to see myself; that's the person I want to be.  If when I die my obituary refers to me as compassionate, I will rest with the satisfaction of a life well lived.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Field of Dreams

Affirmation: “If I can imagine it, I can achieve it; if I can dream it, I can become it.”

“If you build it, they will come.”  Do you remember that phrase?  It was used in the movie Field of Dreams with Kevin Costner.  He was a farmer in Iowa who kept seeing the spirits of old baseball players in his corn field.  He decided to mow down his crop and build a baseball field for his spiritual visitors.  Most people thought he was crazy but he went ahead anyway and at the end of the movie, they show lines of cars coming to his farm to see, well, I guess they’re hoping to see what Kevin was seeing, the late, great baseball players.

Over the years, I’ve been fascinated by people who decide to build a field of dreams somewhere hoping, sometimes expecting, people to come.  One example of this is my fiddle teacher.  She's a marvelous teacher and a wonderful person. A few years back, she decided she’d sponsor a fiddle class at our local Senior Center.  Now, how many older adults do you think there are who want to learn to play the fiddle?  It didn’t seem to matter to Mara.  The center told her she needed to have at least 4 people for the class to happen.  Four people signed up.  Some weeks only one person was there and that didn’t matter to Mara.  She was always there.  It’s been about four years now that she’s been having her Thursday morning class.  Four years and every year there are more students attending.  This year, we are up to six fiddlers.  And, there’s little doubt that every year, there will be more and more of us.  

Another example of this is the water aerobics class at my mountain community.  We “lost” our instructor four years back.  So, one of our members offered to facilitate the class.  She’d never taught before but she’d taken a lot of water classes and it was her main form of exercise.  She has an issue or two with her back and she’s never injured herself in the water.  She’s been sponsoring this class every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning during the summer months for a few years now.  If no one comes, she exercises alone.  Initially, there were about six of us.  We couldn’t figure out why everyone wasn't there; it’s such a wonderful experience.  She's a marvelous teacher.  Now, three years later about fifteen people are attending.  She built the “field” in the water and people are definitely interested.

I know it’s true that people may not come to what you think is a good idea even if you’re willing to dedicate yourself to it.  At one point in our lives, my daughter and I opened a stationery store.  We had it for five years.  We were there every day except Sunday and we were knowledgeable and very responsive to our customer’s needs but during those five years, the popularity of the internet blossomed.  We found we were a great place in which people could actually see and touch the product that interested them but then they’d go home and buy it online from a large distributor.  Sometimes they actually brought it back to us if they weren’t satisfied or if they had made a mistake in ordering.  There was nothing we could do except to encourage them to order it from us.  We guaranteed all our work.  The internet sold our products for less retail than we could buy them wholesale.  By the time we closed the store, we had days when we wondered if we had forgotten to take down the “closed” sign.  But, if we hadn’t tried at all, we would have never known and we would have missed out on an experience that for the most part we really enjoyed.

When I decided to have a beach retreat for women breast cancer survivors ( I wasn’t sure anyone would come.  I had no idea if anyone else would be interested or if I could find people that would want to help.  At our first meeting a dozen people showed up and volunteered to help.  Our first year we had brochures and flyers that we distributed anywhere we could.  We had about 23 women attend.  In our eighth year we merely opened registration up online and we had 35 women register almost immediately.  That’s our maximum number, 35.  I wish we could take anyone who wants to come and so far that’s what we’ve been doing but this year, we had to close registration.  It made me sad but just like the fiddle class and the water aerobics, we had built our “field of dreams” and people are coming.  

Do you think that most successes are determined by sheer dedication and determination?  I often think of Thomas Alva Edison and the fact that it took him 12 years and 1000 tries to develop the light bulb.  How about Pistol Pete Maravich, one of the greatest basketball players of all time.  He never put the basketball down.  He slept with it.  He could spin it on his hand for over an hour without stopping.  Sister Mary Margaret of A Place for Women to Gather had a dream.  She was the first in her community to create a place for women to share their insight and knowledge.  As of 2012 A Place has been opened for ten years, serving hundreds of women in their quest for personal and spiritual growth.

My husband is one of my heroes.  His dedication and determination has led him to professional and personal success beyond that of most people.  We often find ourselves looking around at our life and being awed by the blessings we’ve reaped.  Blessings that came from hard work and integrity and a close connection with our God.  Sandy is now on his 3rd or 4th career.  I’ve lost count.  He’s become a motivational speaker.  He wrote a book called Humanity at Work; encouraging spirit, achievement and truth to flourish in the workplace.  And then he began building his “field.”  I was fascinated to watch him go about creating and pursuing his dream.  There is little doubt in my mind that the day will come when people will be lining up to hire him for their inspiration and education.  (You can find him at: www.  In fact, many people have already discovered him.

I am sure you too can think of many examples of “true dreams.”  Some may be of famous people, some may be those of friends and family. “If you build it, they will come.”  What about you?  What have you thought about creating?  What have you already created?  Do you have a dream you’re willing to commit to?   “If you can imagine it, you can achieve it; if you can dream it, you can become it.” (William Arthur Ward)

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Opening to Miracles

Affirmation:  I know by meditating on Jesus throughout my day, I am in union with the Divine; miracles are created and without struggle my life is transformed in ways beyond my imagination

My mom has always been a very self-sufficient, independent woman.  Truly, her spirit was the reason I went to college.  I was the first generation in my family to attend and graduate from a university.  No one encouraged me to go on after high school.  It was 1960 and I was a girl from the blue collar working class.  My future according to societal norms and my dad was to develop good clerical skills, marry and raise children.  But, my mom, a very smart lady, had tasted the life of financial independence and knew there were larger opportunities and would nudge me every so often to check them out.  I guess it didn't take more than a little nudge, especially since I was at St. Agnes Academic High School for girls and was with all these brilliant young women who were planning their futures and their first step was college.

My mom, Margaret (never Maggie, Peg or Peggy) moved to North Carolina when she was 75.  She made the move with little help from the family and started to create a new life almost immediately. She volunteered at The Food Bank, took a part-time clerical position with a non-profit, became an officer in the Cary Senior Association and became a Raleigh Ambassador, touring the city and assisting at dozens of special events, including the Special Olympics.  She was one of the first people to join the Cary Senior Center and instrumental in bringing line dancing to the facility.  (She always loved to dance.)

She went from living in a condo, to a senior apartment complex and then to an independent senior complex with some services.  Then at 89 1/2 her body seemed to start to shut down.  We did everything in our power, everything, to make her comfortable, to make sure she maintained her dignity.

The calls for help came more and more frequently and they were filled with more and more panic.  My heart ached.  Part of me wished she would be spared the dying process and just go to sleep and not wake up. We've had several friends and relatives who died in their sleep.  Ann Landers once said her life goal was "to die healthy." I want that too.  I want that for my mom, for all of us but, that's not the usual, is it?  When we took mom to the cardiologist to make sure her heart was ok, he said "I only hope I have a heart like hers at age 89." So, I wasn't holding much hope for her for a quick, easy death.

The decision I was faced with after the last panic filled phone call was, “How can mom be best cared for and who can help me decide this?" Certainly, I was so emotionally involved I wasn't very clear-sighted.  I called both her doctors, compassionate, kind women and they did what good doctors do best, they listened and guided me.  Then, I called my family.  But, I must say I had been calling my Lord, the Blessed Mother, all our Angels and Guides for many years and especially for these last few weeks, asking for them to pave the way, to smooth the path and to light the dark road of my mother's care.  And, on that day of the most recent panic phone call all the forces of nature and God came together.  For any of you that have dealt with this kind of situation, you will recognize the hand of God.

Within the next six hours mom was living in an assisted living facility.  Her new apartment was completely decorated and fully operational, even cable TV.  My husband had immediately come home from work.  By the time we arrived at mom's home, my daughter had spoken with the administrators of her facility and had secured mom a place in the assisted living facility.  Her doctors came within the hour and signed all the forms.  My son brought in lunch and my daughter-in-law took mom to another room in the building and shared lunch with her and kept her entertained while we dismantled her apartment and moved everything to her new space.  My brother who lives in another state  "just happened" to have a meeting close by and was already on his way towards us when I called him.  His wife and daughter were also on their way.

When my daughter-in-law wheeled mom into her new home, the look on her face said it all,  even mom's drapes were installed.  She said "This is amazing!" It was amazing.  It was a miracle!  And, I fully realize I can only see the tip of the miracle.  All the forces that had come to support us may never be revealed.  My prayers, the prayers of our family and friends had all been answered.

What if I lived my whole life believing God, the Universe, had only miracles in store for me?  Think of the power I could rely on.  Think of the calm that would permeate my mind, body and spirit.  Think of the joy that would fill my heart!  To truly believe that God wants only my best and it's up to me to be completely open and trusting in order to receive the blessings.  Yes, my job is to stay fully connected to God, to allow Her to do the work She wants to do.  For me, that means praying incessantly; a deep breath, sighing the name of Jesus and opening my heart to the miracles of life.