Saturday, September 28, 2013

And Then the Wind Chime Rang

Affirmation:  When I practice an attitude of gratitude, I let go of regret and disappointment.

My energy was really low.  The house was in the middle of a renovation.  We were leaving for a trip that morning and I had received three calls from family members the day before, each regarding a different issue and each presenting a fairly serious, if not life threatening problem.  I'd had a terrible night's sleep.  It had taken a long time to fall asleep and by 4 AM I was wide awake.  I'd lain there and said the Rosary and all the memorized prayers I knew and I think I dozed on and off but by 6 AM I was wide awake.  I silently slipped out of bed because my husband was still resting peacefully, grabbed my daily meditation book and my journal.  I put on my slippers and a cover-up and made a cup of tea and headed downstairs to the sun room but it looked like a beautiful warm morning and so I chose instead to sit on the patio. 

At the Pink Ribbon Yoga Retreat the month before this particular day, we were led in a guided mediation by TJ Martin, one of our dedicated founding yoga teachers. Our intention for our yoga-off-the-mat was to help the participants find their heart space, that place where they felt safe and calm.  Once they were able to visualize it they were then encouraged to draw it and finally to paint it.  Irene Talton, our yoga-off-the-mat facilitator and TJ Martin showed us how to use the water colors to achieve our goals, or at least to come close to them for those of us who didn't have a clue how to paint.  The guided meditation led me to my back yard patio.  It wasn't the first time I was stunned by the place mediation had taken me.

One time many years ago I had been invited by a doctor friend to come to his home and to do some "imaging."  Once I was in a relaxed state he too had me imagine a safe place.  Whoosh!  There I was sitting on a bench in front of the Eseeola Lodge in Linville, NC.  We had visited there many times with very dear friends but I had never considered it a safe or sacred place.  I was so surprised to "be" there that I gave a small gasp.  I can still remember that session with Dr. Telfer.  It was in 1999 but every time I recall it, it's as clear to me now as it was then.

Now I was "on" my patio.  We had lived in this particular house for a little over six years.  It isn't my dream house but it's a good house.  It's spacious and I've had it painted lots of bright colors, yellow being the primary one.  We've spent a lot of time and treasure spiffing it up and making it the way we'd like it to be but I still missed the house I had left, my former dream home.  It was not an attitude of gratitude and I knew it but I was still lacking in thankfulness.  Now here I was at the retreat visualizing my sacred space; it could be anywhere in the world or anywhere in my imagination and where was I, I was on my patio!

As I sat down this morning with my tea and my journal I felt blessed to actually be in my sacred space.  It was coolish but I had my hot tea and my cover-up so I was comfortable.  I opened the journal and began to write.  I noted I wasn't well rested and then a stiff breeze blew and the wind chime in the tree rang out.  The sound went right into my chest, my heart and reverberated up and out all of my limbs.  I was stunned by the feeling.  I stopped writing and listened.  There's a small waterfall off to the side of the patio and it was rippling joyfully.  The birds were waking up and their chirping was lyrical.  Then I heard the young children who live behind me talking with their parents.  They were giggling.  Tears sprang to my eyes.  Thank you I wrote.  Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

The day before this epiphany I had walked the local lake with a neighbor friend.  I always wondered why she didn't always understand what I said to her.  I had decided it was my NY accent and her foreign ears but this morning she shared with me that she had been very ill as a young woman and had lost half of her hearing.  It hadn't slowed her down and she went onto a very blessed life but as I sat there on my patio this morning, I was even more aware of the gift of my hearing. I have continued the practice of listing each morning three joys from the day before.  On this morning I listed the joys I had discovered at sunrise.  The joy of waking to a new day.  The joy of having a sacred space I could actually walk onto.  The joy of being married to a man who supports me and my dreams, no matter how daunting they may seem.  The joy of taking time in the morning to pray and write.  The joy of being the person her family turns to when they need support.  I know that's more than three joys.  Most mornings there are way more than three.  This morning I also listed the joy of the gift of my hearing.   My attitude of gratitude had finally overtaken my thanklessness and that sound of the wind chime had pierced not just my chest and my heart but it had pierced and healed my soul.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Movie of My Life

Affirmation:  I live a Christ centered life of love, peace, joy, gratitude and compassion.
Jason Becker, Not Dead Yet, is the name of the movie we were invited to view.  It was the premier and it was being held to benefit Jason Becker and the ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, aka Lou Gehrig's Disease) Foundation.  We were guests of Cytokinetics which is a drug development group doing research to aid in the treatment and cure of these types of diseases. We didn't know Jason. We knew nothing about his story but the invitation was for a group of us to travel to a club, Bimbo's, in San Francisco and have dinner and watch the film.  We were already in California at the time so it was an appealing invitation.  We entered the club, got a beverage and then went to meet Jason.  He was in a motorized wheel chair and there was a line to meet him.  He could no longer move any part of his body other than his eyes and some facial muscles.  He was surrounded by what I assumed to be family members and caregivers. 
My first impression of him was how handsome he was.  We had been told a little about Jason's story before we arrived.  He was a guitar virtuoso from the time he was five years old until he was eighteen when he was diagnosed with ALS.  The disease progressed very quickly and while he was able to record a lot of his work before his upper body deserted him, he had to drop out of the David Roth world tour. He had been recruited as Van Halen's replacement. He was now 41. His father had developed a system of communication that allowed Jason to "talk" with his eyes.  It was a matrix system and it depended on how many times he blinked and what direction he rolled his eyes.  His parents and caregivers could spell out the words Jason was indicting and then they would share his comments with the visitor.  We were next in line to meet him.

I'd never met anyone with ALS and I've never really tried to have a conversation with a paraplegic.  But, he had his interpreters with him so I wasn't too concerned.  We approached and I confessed to him that I was new to his story but I was looking forward to becoming one of his newest fans.  He made a few eye movements and his father told us he had just responded, "awesome."  Awesome was exactly what I was thinking and after we watched the film, awesome was exactly the word I would use to describe this young man's talent, the dedication of his amazing family and friends and his undaunted courage.
A diagnosis of ALS is considered a terminal diagnosis.  There is no cure.  There is no treatment.  There is no hope.  Normally, one would die within a few years of the diagnosis.  As of this date, Jason has been alive for 23 years after the diagnosis; he's "not dead yet."  Not only is he still alive but he's still composing music.  His father has come up with another way to help Jason compose the music he can still hear, the music he's still creating in his mind.  My husband, Sandy and I were inspired by Jason story.  We are inspired by Jason himself and by the love and support he has gathered around him.
The next morning I sat with another event attendee and we began to discuss all we had learned from the night before.  We shared our newfound appreciation for Jason and his family.  I then shared that after last night's experience I found myself asking the question, if someone was to make a movie of my life, what would be in it?  Jason is only 41.  Most of the movie revolved around his first eighteen years and the accomplishments he had already made.  It appeared he was on his way to becoming one of the all-time great guitarists.  He was on his way to becoming a legend.  I'm not a guitar aficionado but even I recognized several of the names of the people in the movie who spoke about him.  He had already commanded such respect as an artist and as a human being by the age of eighteen that twenty-three years later, these famous musicians were still giving testimony to him and his talent.
I don't know about you but I must admit that if my life's reputation had to depend on what I'd accomplished up until my eighteenth year, it would be very lacking in accomplishments.  I'm sixty-seven as of this writing and I would hope that I have finally achieved some measure of respect for a lifetime of loving effort.  What would a movie of my life include?  What would a movie of your life look like?  When discussing this with my friend, we found ourselves focusing on the virtues of kindness and love.  As long as our movie focused on promoting those two qualities, we decided it would be a good film.
I once saw a really scary movie with Robin Williams about an internal camera device that was implanted in everyone at their birth and was extracted when they died.  His profession was to put together their obituary in film form from their camera.  He was supposed to be one of the best because he could edit the film of even the most cruel, horrendous behavior and make the obituary a glowing commendation of the deceased.  It was so disturbing that I shut it off almost at the beginning but the concept left me with a lot to think about.
The day will come when someone will be piecing my life together to help others remember me.  It's inevitable.  What will my "movie" say about me?  Will I need a professional editor?  Will it be a comedy or a drama and what will it be rated? Have you heard the advice about writing out your own obituary so you can decide before you die how you want to be remembered and then take the steps necessary to paint that picture?  I know no matter how we craft our lives not everyone will appreciate what we've attempted to do no matter how kind and caring we have acted.  If it happens so be it but I shouldn't expect to be recognized for my good works.  Really, the most important part of all this is if I did my best, my utmost to live a life worthy of my own respect and that of my God.  Kindness, forgiveness and love are the three qualities I'd like the movie of my life to revolve around.  Hopefully, I have a few more years left to make sure the ending of my movie is as close to my ideal as it possibly can be.


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Just Pick Up the Phone

Affirmation:  When I quickly and directly resolve an issue, I feel less stressed and more peaceful.

This is the age of electronic communications.  On Longmire, one of my favorite TV shows, Longmire's deputy checked the victim's phone for text messages rather than for phone calls.  And, that was the correct method for finding out about the victim's activity.  It's so very easy to send a text, an email or a tweet but it isn't necessarily the quickest way to communicate with someone.  One day my grandson texted me from another room in our home to ask me a question.  I thought he'd left without telling me and I panicked but he hadn't.  He's 13 at this writing.  If he continues along this path, he may not make it to 14.

Recently, I've had several situations that were making me a little anxious.  In all cases I had emailed the person or the company and had either not received an answer or I didn't get the answer I wanted.  The first issue was with I had bought a faucet for our kitchen.  The kitchen was being remodeled and by the time the plumbers were ready to install the faucet, my return date had passed.  The faucet didn't fit.  When I went online to return it, I got the pop-up that it was too late to send it back.  I was quite annoyed and then I thought, "Just pick up the phone."  I had a quick conversation with a very nice person and he waved the return date so I could send it back.  It was easy but if I hadn't made the phone call, I'd still own that faucet.

I was on a roll now.  I've become my Mom's financial caretaker.  She's always done an amazing job with her resources but it had become too much for her.  Her credit card bill came and I put it on the shelf.  For the first time in her life, her next credit card bill came with a service charge on it.  Oh my!  I was in trouble!  It was quite a penalty for a very small overdue balance.  I picked up the phone and spoke with a very nice young woman.  I guessed she could immediately see the bill had never been late before and she immediately took off the penalty fee.  Whew!

It seems this is the lesson I needed to learn at this time.  Once I began looking at different situations with an eye towards finding easier, quicker resolutions, more and more opportunities kept presenting themselves.  I found with each episode that came up if I acted immediately and directly rather than just mulling over what to do, I was less stressed and more peaceful.

The faucet wasn't the only remodeling snafu.  We had hired a very nice young man to be our contractor and he seemed quite efficient.  At the beginning of the project he put together some sort of computer notification system than showed us the exact time of each part of the job and the exact cost of every single step.  Over the next few weeks that program would pop up almost daily with some sort of time change or even worse, some sort of price increase.  Needless to say I was becoming more and more anxious every time I'd see an email with his company's name on it.  At first I found my stomach would knot up and my head would begin to ache but then I changed my approach and when something was changed, I'd call him and many times he'd relieve my anxiety with a detailed explanation or he'd remove the extra fee because he'd made a mistake.  (I chose to believe it was an error.) With that phone call came the ability for me to take deeper breaths and relax about whatever was being presented.

Even with my family I've noticed how often we now text or email one another rather than calling, although not as readily as my grandson.  All too often I wasn't getting an answer to my questions or they were wondering why I hadn't replied to their queries.  Usually it was because the emails got lost in the ether somewhere.  But, with a simple phone call, whatever question we had would be resolved, immediately.
Since this was my lesson for now, I began to wonder if I shouldn't apply it to my prayer life too.  How often did I obsess over some life issue that needed to be let go of and turned over to God?  What if I took my new lesson and rather than letting the issue weigh me down, I immediately "picked up the phone" and shared it with The Lord?  What would that look like?  What number would I dial?  I closed my eyes and sat quietly and envisioned the phone.  It wasn't a cell phone.  Interestingly, it was an old fashioned phone like the one in Dr. Strangelove with Peter Sellers and it was red.  Of course it was because in the movie the red phone was a direct line to the President.  I didn't need a phone number at all.  I just needed to pick up that old fashioned red phone and God would be on the other end.  God is always on the other end, waiting for me to call.  Once I've taken the time and made the effort to connect, I am connected.  No, the situation may not be resolved as quickly as it was at or LL Bean although it might be, but I quickly realized I felt better about my concerns.  By taking the time to "call" God, I felt less stressed and I felt more peaceful.