Friday, August 30, 2013

What Was I Thinking?

Affirmation:  I carefully choose my thoughts. 
This year's 2013 Pink Ribbon Yoga Retreat has just ended.  It was our 9th retreat.  You can gather more information about it from the web site, or you can find us on Facebook.  The retreat provides women breast cancer survivors with support, coping skills, and relaxation.  It is designed to be both nurturing and empowering.   What happens over four days and three nights?  Miracles happen. 
This year 29 people attended the retreat. We always take an intention to guide our planning and this year our intention for this year's retreat was "On Wings of Joy."  We borrowed a thousand paper cranes from the Duke Cancer Patient Support Program and hung them from the rafts and Nancy Soho, one of our committee members, created mobiles for everyone.  She hand folded 5 paper cranes for each one and then added a hand cut card from which they hung.  Along with Irene Talton, our gifted yoga-off-the-mat instructor, they crafted inspirational words on the top of each mobile.

We have a very specific format that the retreat follows.  It's proven to be extremely beneficial for creating a healing environment for each individual and for the group as a whole.  Over the years we've discovered that if we provide a single meaningful word for each person they are more comfortable speaking in our opening circle.  This year we used the words on the mobiles to initiate sharing.  We then left the mobiles hanging on the back of the chairs and reused them for our closing circle.  I think only one person got the same word for both circles and that was me.  It was "healing."
Healing is one of the miracles that take place during these four days.  I know because I always come away feeling healed.  I like to hope that it's a complete healing from all my ailments: mind, body and spirit but I don't know that for sure.  There certainly could be some rebellious cells floating around inside, although I hope not.  I do know, however, that I come away feeling rested, valued, calmer, centered, nurtured and empowered.  I know too that all those positive emotions can lead me, my body to a place of better physical health and even if I am not cured of all my ailments, I know I am healed.  There is a difference and I know I am not alone.  I know it because over the last nine years the women, who have participated in the retreat, have told me so.  It is true.
The very first thing we do when the retreat starts is to provide an atmosphere of safety.  We encourage everyone to respect the confidentiality of any sharing that takes place.  We ask that only one person speak at a time and that everyone else simply listen.  We ask that each person use the word "I", not the third person "you" or "we."  We let everyone know that sharing is optional and that silence is not only accepted but valued.  Before the next person begins speaking, the last person must declare that they are "complete." 

We tell everyone that this is their time, all four days and three nights.  We have all sorts of wonderful offerings but their first responsibly is to take care of themselves and so if they need to take a walk or a nap or to just have some quiet time, then that's what they should do.  Of course, if they want to do yoga on the beach, try creating a water color of spirit, participate in yoga dance, eat ice cream with the group, try the meditation sessions or experience laughing yoga, they are welcome to join in.  One other thing that quickly becomes apparent is the lack of judgment that permeates the event.  For at least a short while no one has to hide whatever might cause one to be embarrassed in the outside world.  With that, the women can simply be.  There is no striving, no pretending.  It's liberating.  It's another modality that promotes healing.
One of our traditions is to jump into the ocean after the early morning yoga.  There's something very magical about floating on the warm waves early in the day with a group of friends.  One morning I was quite tired and I thought maybe I'd skip the swim and just head back to breakfast but I wore my swimsuit just in case.  The yoga ended and several ladies headed towards the water.  I joined them.  As I floated over and through the gentle waves, I couldn't imagine what I had been thinking that would have kept me from this amazing experience and then I realized, I often find myself in really neat situations that I was initially hesitant to join.  Sometimes they involve big steps, like when I joined my daughter-in-law and traveled with her to Ecuador and other times, they're small steps, like jumping into the ocean.  Each time, however, I find myself wondering, "What was I thinking?"
Perhaps, if we paid close attention we'd discover that most of the time we're not very clear about what we really want or what will make us really happy or perhaps what our best choice is.  An example would be when we choose to have that second helping of something that tasted really good but which is not good for us.  How often have any of us done that and then shortly afterwards wondered, "What was I thinking?"  It would be wonderful to always be clear about our decisions, to always be mindful but it's a practice, a life-long practice.  We can only stay alert and be aware.
After the retreat is over I find myself asking that same question about having this idea of a yoga-beach retreat for women breast cancer survivors, "What was I thinking?"  What made me think it would become a reality?  Did I believe that it would turn into such a powerful, healing experience for so many people?  Where would the money come from so everyone could afford to attend?  Where would we find a place to stay?  Who would volunteer to be our teachers?  How would we advertise?  There were dozens of questions and challenges to making this a reality.  "What was I thinking?"  I was thinking this was a good idea and if I moved forward and it didn't happen, well at least I tried.  It's better to try and fail than to never try at all but it didn't fail.  It happened.  It happened and it has provided comfort and healing, support and respite to more people than I had ever imagined.  "What was I thinking?"  I don't really know what I was thinking but I do know I'm really glad and actually very proud that I was thinking at all. I'm thrilled that the retreat exists and that because of the work of so many wonderful people, we achieved the creation of such an amazing, awesome experience.  As of today it's been over a week since the retreat began and I am pleased to say I am still floating on the "wings of joy."

Sunday, August 25, 2013

What Do You Live For?

Affirmation: Every day I invite God into my life.
In Rediscover Catholicism, Matthew Kelly asks many interesting questions and he presents many topics for contemplation.  One of the questions is "What do you live for?" He tells the story of Abraham Lincoln calling in a soldier and asking the soldier to deliver an important message.  The soldier tells Lincoln, "Sir, I would die for our cause."  Lincoln says, "Son, I have thousands of men who will die for our cause.  What I need is one man who will live for it."  I love that story.  It made me question myself.  What do I live for?  Where do I spend my time, talent and treasure? 

Rediscover Catholicism is a three hundred page book which is distributed for free.  I received it at my church in Cary N.C., St Michael the Archangel.  I think we were encouraged to give it to someone who has "fallen away" from the church but I felt I could use something to reenergize my faith and so I brought it home and promptly put it on my shelf.  There it sat for several months along with a whole stack of other "mean to read" books.  Do you have any like that? 

One day a fairly new friend and I were discussing the Church and she began to tell me about Matthew Kelly and his book, The Dynamic Catholic.  She's seems more sure of our Church than I and I was interested in what she had to share and quite taken with her enthusiasm for this author and his passion.  I then realized his book was sitting right there with us.  It felt like I was being directed by Spirit, by God, to read this book.  I began using it as a prelude to my journaling in the morning, as I like to do with different reading material.  My intention is to read something inspirational at night, I have recently been focusing on the New Testament, and something motivational in the morning.  For the last few weeks, I've been reading Rediscover Catholicism.

It's very easy to focus on the faults of the Catholic Church.  It's no different than focusing on the faults of the world, the government, any organization, friends or family.  It's very easy to sink to the level of non constructive criticism.  It's easier to go to a negative place than to a positive one and the Church is a magnet for that criticism.  It has had many serious problems as an organization, devastating behavior that cannot be justified. When I refer to the Church, I am referring to the hierarchy.  The patriarchal leaders who determine the philosophy and tenor of Catholicism. Even with all its blemishes the Catholic faith has provided me with the tools to help me deepen my faith and to grow in my relationship with God.  Matthew Kelly's book has helped me, my Small Christian Community study group, another study group called the Women of Grace and recently a few new friends.

One of the concepts presented in the book The Celestine Prophesy by James Redfield is that there are no coincidences; everything that happens is "supposed" to happen.  We are always in exactly the place and time within which we are created to be.  The choice of what we do and how we choose to perceive the situation, however, at that moment is completely ours.  One  of my daily prayers is "Come Holy Spirit fill the heart of Your faithful.  Enkindle in me the fire of Your love." It warms my soul to say that prayer.  It truly is the desire of my heart.  I want to live a Christ centered life of love and forgiveness and service and when I say that prayer and invite God to fill me with Divine Presence, I feel hopeful.  "Ask and you shall receive, knock and it will be opened."  In my quest to unite my will to the will of God I have been drawn to activities and people who are guiding me, inspiring me.  I once had a friend who always seemed to be running into people, even strangers, who needed her help.  I asked her about her propensity towards this mission and she told me she asked God everyday to send her people she could help.  It seems so simple, doesn't it, if we can just remember to ask?  I'm a great believer in answered prayer.

My faith is growing.  My relationship with my God is becoming stronger.  Thank heavens because it makes my life richer and more peaceful.  I find more and more opportunities to learn about my faith and to sink deeper and deeper into its comfort.  Looking back on the last year alone, I can see several invitations I've said "yes" to which have led me to a more appreciative attitude towards Catholicism.  The strongest influence has been the newer friends who have entered my life and have chosen to reach out to me and include me in their lives.  It's been a tremendous joy, an honor and a privilege to become their friend.  Each presents their faith in a different but vibrant, loving way and I am inspired by it.  Recently, one of the women said, "I love my Church."  I love my Church!  It was wonderful to hear someone say that.  I too am guilty of focusing on the faults and not the beauty of my faith.  "I love my Church."  I'm not there yet but perhaps with my daily prayer the Holy Spirit will lead me to fall in love with it too.  I know I've fallen in love with the men and women of my church who are in my life and who with each encounter lead me into that rich, deep relationship with God I so desperately desire. 


Monday, August 12, 2013

Why Be Vulnerable

Affirmation:  By going outside of my comfort zone I empower myself.

When I first moved to North Carolina in 1986 my young neighbor invited me to walk with her.  I'd always been physically active.  I skated as a child, both ice and roller.  I climbed trees, jumped rope, played ball and rode a bike to name just a few activities.  As a young adult I played tennis but I had never exercised for the sake of exercising.  This invitation was inviting me to try something new.  She also wanted me to walk with her three mornings a week at 5 AM.  I love the mornings and I've always risen at a fairly early hour but to get up when it was still dark and to be dressed and out the door and walking the streets was for me quite a challenge.  We were to walk several miles and initially I was not physically prepared.  I needed to ice my shins after each walk because of shin splints, sharp pains in the front of my calves.  But, after a couple of weeks, the shin splints disappeared and I started to look forward to our chats.  After a short time, a few of the other neighbors joined us and now we were not only exercising our bodies but building our community.  I moved from that neighborhood in 1990 but walking has become an essential part of my quest to be optimally healthy. I do not, however, walk at 5:30 AM.  I now have the luxury of heading out after the sun has risen. The decision to say "yes" to my young neighbor's invitation was a life-changing experience.  It not only opened my world to the importance of exercise but it empowered me by allowing myself to see what I could accomplish if I decided to unite my mind and my body. 

I had stepped outside of my comfort zone.  It may seem like a small step but for me, it was a giant leap.  It was the beginning of a lifetime pursuit of staying strong and healthy.  It certainly wasn't the first time I had been outside my comfort zone.  When I arrived here in NC I was already 40 years old.  I'd moved many times, had 3 children and had taught for several years but somehow this was different.  Accepting and meeting this challenge was life changing.  Perhaps, I didn't think I could make such a commitment, but I did and once I allowed myself to be proud of this feat, I found myself wondering what else I was capable of.  I guess, looking back on it, it was one of the most empowering decisions of my life.     

Every day we are faced with decisions, small and large, important and trivial but each decision shapes our lives and shapes our future.  Certainly, I can look back on my life and see how some choices enhanced my life and I can see how if I had chosen differently how very different my life would be today.  Right now I'm reading The Time In Between by Duenas.  It's a marvelous example of how choice colors our life.  We are not only charged with making choices that will enhance our lives; we are then charged with making a conscious choice to mentally frame that choice in a positive light, to make sure that the consequences of that decision enhances our lives.  It's easy if it was a choice that easily led to some perceived blessing but when the decision led to a struggle or perhaps even a disaster, reframing it can prove to be extremely difficult but with practice, it can be done even if it's simply to use the experience as a lesson which empowers us going forward.

The second focus of Brene Brown's Daring Greatly is vulnerability.  (The first focus was about shame and I wrote about it in the blog, Shame on You!) When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable we open ourselves up to making mistakes but we also open ourselves up to opportunity and growth.  One must walk the fine line between humility and foolishness if one is to embrace the quality of vulnerability.  What Brene Brown is talking about is the opportunity to live a full, rich life because we are not afraid to try something that makes us uncomfortable, to try something at which we might fail.  That behavior not only takes us outside of our comfort zone but it encourages the virtue of humility. 

What would one try if one wasn't afraid to fail, if one was willing to be vulnerable?  It's not only what one might learn but who one might become.  I have some of the most amazing friends.  People who are not just willing to try something new but look for opportunities to do so.  My only concern is that sometimes they don't see what remarkable things they are doing.  They don't or won't take credit for their awesome spirits.  Sure, there are historical accounts of people whose humility changed the world, people like Abraham Lincoln and Mahatma Gandhi.  I, however, love to look at those heroes who are in my immediate life and relish their virtues.  There are so very many. 

There are the writers who open up their lives to others.  The painters who display their work.  There are those who start their own businesses.  I have friends who have done mission trips to all different parts of the world.  How about those friends who begin a new career in their retirement years?  Some of the most remarkable women I've ever met are the ones who attend the Pink Ribbon Yoga Retreat every year especially the ones who come knowing no one and without a clue of where they are going or what they'll be doing.  I'm sure you can think of many people in your life who step outside of their comfort zones.  They may not initially think they can but that doesn't stop them; they do it anyway.  They know they might fail but they also know they might succeed.  It doesn't matter one way or the other because just by saying "yes", simply by being willing to be vulnerable, to be humble, their lives will be richer and more rewarding.

Yes, it was a small step to agree to walk at 5 AM three mornings a week.  We need not take huge steps to initiate change in our lives.  The little "yeses" are the beginning which empowers us to one day take a giant step and maybe not only change our world but The world.