Sunday, December 8, 2013

Strengthening Our Spirit

Affirmation: I have a healthy spirit because I pay attention to those practices that strengthen it.

As I write this the United States is passing from celebrating the holiday of Thanksgiving to preparing for Christmas.  Every year the space between Thanksgiving and Christmas gets smaller and smaller, actually there is not any space unless you claim it because retail begins Christmas right after Halloween.  Recently there was a very sad cartoon in the paper.  An older couple was standing at the head of an empty but fully set dining table.  They had the roasted turkey on a platter and were ready to serve but no one was there.  The wife's comment was "We should have known what to expect when they announced the sales would begin on Thanksgiving Day."  My good news is that except for my youngest daughter who lives in England, our table held the entire family including my grandson's (Joe) fiancé.

My husband and I love Thanksgiving.  We love any occasion that brings our family to our home and to our table.  Sharing time and stories and our lives with the people we love the most is the highest blessing of our lives.  It is heartwarming that our family responds in kind.  They did not leave early to start their shopping or to go to the movies or to escape for any other reason.  We shared the meal, had coffee and dessert and then our grandson, Sam played and sang three original songs he has written.  My heart overflowed.

Madonna, the singer, prophesied what has become reality.  We live in a material world.  I am as guilty of liking and wanting nice things as anyone else.  I love it when the house is all pretty inside.  I like a new pair of shoes or a new outfit.  I love a gadget or two.  I like my comforts and my security but my age puts me closer to the end of my life than the beginning and I recognize that the material things of this world are not where my ultimate happiness lies.

As you know if you read this blog my mother is in assisted living.  She's a strong 91 but I see her becoming more and more frail. I visit there often both to see her and to bring communion to the Catholic residents in the entire facility from the independent living to the Alzheimer's unity.  It's a gift to me to share the lives of the residents even in such a small way.  It makes me very aware of my phase of life and very grateful for the stage I am in today.

"I worked on my external well-being in the early part of my life and recognized I needed to work on my internal well-being for the later part of my life."  This was the statement from an older woman I know who hosts weekly gatherings at her home to examine different spiritual concepts.  About fifteen women attend each week and if she's away, someone else has her key so the group can still gather. What are you doing to work on your internal well-being?   What steps need to be taken so that when you may no longer be able to do all you want to do, you will still feel safe and comfortable and alive!

It's a fact that we all age differently.  I've written before about one of my heroines, Eleanor Cioffi, my mother's best friend.  She still lives alone and yesterday there she was at the gym working out on the weight machines.  She'd adjust the machine, put her cane down and then do her reps.  One of the aerobics instructors recently told me she was shocked to see Eleanor's age on a form, "She's 94." she claimed.  I asked her to go back and redo the numbers.  I knew that Eleanor has a birthday this month.  She'll be 99!  I want to be an Eleanor.  I'm doing all in my power to stay as healthy as possible and I know I am in charge of some of my physical well-being but not all of it.  I know too that fate can be a life changing influence, so I am also working on strengthening my spiritual and emotional well-being.

I am always open to opportunities for inner growth.   My yoga practice is an excellent exercise in being open and flexible.  I often have people tell me how they "can't do yoga."  They tell me they are not flexible enough." Yes, if they think yoga is about standing on your head or twisting up like a pretzel, they are right but if one can breathe, one can do yoga.  As the body changes, the practice can change.  It is not a competitive sport.  It's all about connecting your mind, body and spirit.  At one time you may have been able to do a hand stand (or not) and that's nice but now your practice may have a softer, more gentle feel.  You're still breathing.  You're still being aware.  You're still connecting the three major elements of your being: mind, body and spirit.  The same may be true of your life as you age.  You're still breathing.  You're still aware.  You can still connect the three major elements of your being.  You just may need to do it in a different, perhaps a more gentle way, than in the past.

Life is about growth and learning to adjust to change, not just adjusting but also thriving within it.  Another one of the gentlemen I visit at Woodland Terrace bemoaned his physical limitations but then he told me he had a new toy; he'd bought a computer and was learning to use it.  He was excited by this whole new aspect to his life.  It was helping him with his physical limitations.  I am always inspired by those who adjust their life poses to accommodate their new circumstances and find joy and even excitement in their new position.

So, I now not only do physical exercise, I also do spiritual aerobics.  I actively seek those practices that strengthen my emotional and spiritual muscles.  I look for community that nurtures and inspires me.  One of my favorite groups is a study group where we discuss different self-help books.  We meet twice a month and have done so for years.  I'd like to think we have years to go.  When recently discussing this topic of physical changes, one friend reminded me "We can always talk."  It's a gift for me to have the support of these friends in a safe, nonjudgmental environment. We are working on our "internal well-being" and I do feel stronger and healthier because of our sharing and camaraderie.

Some of my other spiritual "push-ups" consist of prayer time, journaling, reading, connecting with friends and family and always being open to new experiences.  Whatever life throws at me, I am hoping and yes, praying that I will have developed the strength and fortitude to pull myself up above the fray.  If faced with an emotional marathon I am hoping to have trained well enough to be able to cross the finish line regardless of my physical limitations.  What nurtures your mind and spirit?  Whatever it is invest in it.  Put your time, treasure and talent into those practices that will enable you to be internally strong and powerful.

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