Saturday, February 22, 2014

God's Garmin

Affirmation: I am in awe of the guidance God sends me, through people as I travel down a new and difficult path.

What is needed in order to navigate through new territory?  Lewis and Clark, Columbus and Magellan and Dr. Livingston are a few examples of pioneers who headed out into the world without any foreknowledge of what lied ahead and created trails for others to follow.  There are now maps for most anywhere one wants to go.  There is even Google Earth, where we can examine almost every square foot of our planet without leaving our home. 

When my daughter, Ellen, moved to London I desperately wanted to see where she would be living but flying over there was not in our plans.  She sent me a video from Google Earth with her apartment circled in red.  I could then move the cursor around on the page and see everything she could see from her front window.  It was miraculous.  Since then I have occasionally gone to the site to see the areas where I resided when I was younger.  It was fascinating to see how the areas had changed and to share the photos of the neighborhood with my children or with my friends.

Yes, it seems as if the whole world is mapped out and we aren't in need of pioneers any longer.  Even the moon and Mars have "rovers" with cameras on them.  Of course there is the rest of the Universe "where no man has ever gone before."  I don't believe many of us will be faced with an adventure into outer space.  In addition to outer space, however, there are also the Olympics.  Right now, the 2014 Winter Olympics are taking place in Sochi Russia.  No one needed a map to get to Sochi and no one is following a geographical path that hasn't been carefully laid out but these gifted, dedicated and determined young people are definitely blazing new trails.  The new gold medal winner for the Men's Snow Boarding Half Pipe, Iouri Podladtchikov, not only performed an almost flawless run, he created and executed a new maneuver called the YOLO.  The men and women skiers and skaters broke all time speed records, and the Russian figure skating pairs gold medalists Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov, the 2013 world champions, broke at least four world records with their performances.  There were also many other records set.  All the athletes needed guidance to reach the peak of their skill.  They went higher and further along the path of their craft than anyone had gone before.  Their coaches and families helped them lay out the map for their successes.

I've always loved a map.  Maybe it's because it's a little like a puzzle, a maze which can help get you to your set destination.  I've usually been the navigator when my husband and I traveled.  My expertise wasn't always in evidence.  For example, from my reading of the map, I once insisted we were are on the right road to reach the main highway when it dead-ended in someone's driveway.  At one time, I used to contact AAA for little map booklets that had a different section of the road on each page to lay out our path.  I'm sure they don't have them anymore. Now, my husband and I don't use maps at all.  First we graduated to Map-quest and would have sheets of paper listing the twists and turns and the distances and the estimated arrival time.   We even used Map-quest for one of our European trips.  It was a lot easier than trying to read maps in a foreign language.  Then we went to a Nuvi or a Garmin and we had audible turn by turn instructions.  I must say in the beginning it would seem to me the device would sometimes take me to my final destination by way of another continent.  Now, we have the smart phone. The technology now seems to be much more accurate and I can rely on it anywhere I travel.  I've also become so used to having a computer map on my dashboard that I feel "lost" when I'm in a car without one even if I'm going around my neighborhood. Recently, however, I have had to chart a new path. 

There wasn't a map or a Garmin for this journey.  My 91 year old mother left the hospital after her first two surgeries ever, a hip replacement and a pacemaker and was admitted to a rehab unit.  I needed a map or an audio guide.  I needed any direction and guidance that was available and there was very little "out there."  I did do some research on the web to determine the best facility in the area and I did make the necessary phone calls to make sure that's where she was admitted but after that I felt like I had just landed on an alien planet, not country, but a planet beyond our solar system.  I have never been so intimately involved in the care of a seriously ill individual, and to be honest my mom has led a very independent lifestyle up until her fall.  I wish someone wise and experienced had taken my hand and led me step by step down this road. 

I wish I knew in the beginning of this journey what I know now.  I've prayed for years for dignity for my mom and mother in law in their old age.  Now, I'm seeing what dignity can look like and may not look like.  After entering the rehab, mom contracted C.diff.  One more thing I knew nothing about, another huge detour on the road.  I've reached out to God and to everyone I know.  I actually sent an email to several of my communities that was titled "Help!"  Help has come and hopefully will keep coming.  Help not just for my mom but for me, the main caregiver.  Yes, I am seeing the blessings.  Some of the best help has been what I now consider to be "God's Garmins."  They are all those people in the know who have taken the time and effort to share with me what I need to be doing and in what direction I should be going. 

When Sandy and I traveled to Ireland several years ago, we found the most joyful part of the trip was getting lost because we would stop and ask an always delightful, friendly Irish man or woman for directions.  We stopped once on a back road and were invited in for tea!  That's been my experience here with my mom and her illness, the people who have reached out to me explaining the path best chosen have brought clarity and joy to a very frightening and strange road.  I've decided there is very seldom an easy way through chronic illness or the dying process but like all our adversities there are blessings to be found and usually, they come in the form of loving, caring people who take our hands and our hearts and lead us along the path of what we call life.  I like to think of them as God's Garmin, audibly directing us down the road to our final destination, Peace.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Love is Your Only Job

Affirmation: My Only Job is to Love

There are many asanas (poses) in yoga that are designed to help one open their heart.  For example, any sort of back bend will put you in a position where your chest is raised towards the sky.  Even a slight back bend opens the heart as in Fish pose.  In the book Eat Pray Love, Liz Gilbert tells a story about a man she meets in the ashram in India who shares he's been seeking an open heart.  She asks him what motivated him to come to the ashram and he tells her he kept asking God to "open his heart." One day he had a heart attack and his heart was literally opened.  One need not have surgery to create a more open heart.  There are many more gentle ways to accomplish this worthwhile trait.

Many years ago when my children were younger I found myself struggling with one particular incident.  I felt very hurt by this episode and was sharing it with a good friend.  It really wasn't such a big deal looking back on it but at the time I was upset and I felt I was justified in my complaining.  So, there I was moaning about the situation.  She listened and then gave me some of the best advice I have ever had in my whole life.  She said, "Remember, Jean, your only job is to love."

As a journaler who has written three pages every morning for the last 20 years, I have many many journals boxed up.  Every time I begin a new journal I transfer a few things to the front paper pockets and the beginning pages.  I transfer my intentions for the year, my daily prayers, my list of people I am presently praying for and my positive affirmations.  I also write on the inside of the front cover, "Remember, Jean, your only job is to love."

I believe that with all my heart.  It's the main message Jesus Christ came to give us.  When he was asked; Mt 22:36 [Jesus], which is the great commandment in the law?He said to them, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.

Why do some people seem to have a greater capacity to love than others?  Do you think it's because of their DNA or is it because of their upbringing?  Is it "nature" or "nurture"?  It's probably like most of our traits; it's a combination of both.  But, can we learn to love more, love greater?  Can we be people who can love no matter what?  You've heard the stories about people who forgive their worst enemies.  Can you learn to love an enemy?  Can one learn to separate the sinner from the sin?

I've been very lucky in my life.  I married a man who has a huge heart.  I believe he was genetically predisposed to being a loving, kind man and then, he had the additional advantage of having amazing parents who showed him by example exactly what unconditional love is, especially his mother. I have never heard my mother-in-law say anything, ever, that was derogatory about another human being, and especially about someone in her family.  My husband teases that if we had a bank robber in the family his mom would say, "He's the best bank robbed ever!"

On my travels through Ecuador, I was kissed in three weeks more times than I have been kissed in three years.  Almost everyone I met gave me a kiss on the cheek and a warm hug.  One day we went to the soccer practice of my consuegra's (my daughter-in-law's mother) granddaughter.  Six of us sat in the bleachers watching her practice, her three grandparents, her aunt, my son and myself.  When the girls were finished practicing the entire team came up to the stands to greet us.  I watched these teenage girls start down the row kissing and greeting all the grandparents, then they kissed the aunt.  I thought they'd stop at that point and was amazed when they continued on to kiss my son and then me, two people they "didn't know from Adam."

I know it was a cultural response to greet us all in that manner but at this point in my travels I'd been greeted like this for several weeks.  Greeted and welcomed into people's homes, lives and in some cases into their hopes and dreams.  As far as I could see these people in this culture responded with more affection and respect than I normally experienced.  I had the honor of being hosted by my consuegra and I can share with you that the hugs and warm daily greetings and good nights were freely shared with anyone who happen to be in her home. 

When I first received the directive to love no matter what, I remember thinking, "I can do that." But, I must admit it is easier said than done.  There are many in my life that I find very easy to love and there are some I struggle to love.  Some days I feel like my heart is closed and hard.  When I am aware of that state, I engage my breath to help me open up.  I take several deep breaths and visualize my heart expanding in my chest, like a red balloon.  I've also done many other "open heart" mediations.  These mediations usually involve inviting loving thoughts and feelings into one's heart.  First, you invite those who you find easy to love, then you invite someone you may be struggling with and finally, you invite yourself.  You take the time to allow each person to rest within the warmth of your bosom and then you release them and yourself out into the universe, full of light and warmth and wonderful energy, a release that blesses you, them and the world.

I believe we can learn to love more fully, more deeply, unconditionally.  But, I think there's a secret.  I don't think we need to be born into a family of warm blooded Latinos or Italians.  It's nice if we're born into a loving, affectionate family.  It probably makes it easier but the secret is to learn to accept love, to believe you are worthy of love, to believe that you are truly loved, loved for who you are because you are and not for any other reason.  We need to believe we are loved, loved first and foremost by God.  We need to know without a doubt that we are amazing wonderful beings who deserve to be loved.  Once we can fully embrace that concept, we can open our heart to receive and then to give that which we have received.  If we don't accept it, we can't, it is impossible, to give it out.  It's like filling up the car with gas.  If you don't open the gas cap and let the gas flow in, you won't be able to go anywhere.  You'll be stuck in one place, empty and dried out.  

What if you approached everyone in life with the thought, "Remember, (your name), your only job is to love."? What kind of an effect would that have on your relationships, on you, on your life?  What kind of an effect would that have on our world? 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Blessed are the Balanced

Affirmation:  I am fully aware of the importance of maintaining a healthy balance.

Balance is another gift of yoga.  There are the obvious asanas that offer the yogi the opportunity to practice balancing: head stand, dancer's pose, warrior III and the classic tree pose to name a few but unless one is lying on his or her back or stomach, balance is always involved in a pose, just like in life.  We then have the opportunity of taking our balancing practice with us out into our day and into our world.  What does it mean to balance?  Is one ever balanced or is there only the practice of balancing? 

Recently, I have taken on caring for a loved one.  The care requires much more effort than was required or desired in the past.  I've spent a great deal of time at the hospital, the rehab and on the phone or the email connecting with caretakers, family and friends.  I'm happy to do it.  I love her and am pleased to have the opportunity to do whatever is necessary to be of service but life has been extremely full.  I now have the additional activities required for this care-taking and my normal full life.  When I was guided to do tree pose in a recent yoga class, I immediately placed all my weight on my right foot, the soul of my left foot against my inner thigh and chose one spot on which to focus.  I then put my hands over my head and became a tree.  I've done this hundreds, maybe thousands of times.  I was then guided to switch sides.  I couldn't do it.  My left leg would not hold my weight on its own.  I needed help.  I went to the wall in order to maintain my balance.  The imbalance of my life at the present time was reflected in my yoga practice.  I was stunned that the imbalance in my daily life was so glaringly presented to me in my pose.  I didn't feel too worried about it because I recognized that while I was out of balance at the moment, I was now fully aware of it and I needed to attend to whatever it would take to help me level out.

There are all kinds of balance: work and play, self-care and community service, calories in versus calories out, time alone and time with others, spending and saving money, exercise and rest.  The list can go on and on.  I'm sure you can think of a few, perhaps some on which you've been working.  One challenging part of achieving balance is it's so personal. What is good for one person may not be true for another.  Like any life skill one is trying to improve upon, the very first step is awareness, actually recognizing when you're out of sync.  Another factor is the time frame it's placed within.  Are we looking to be in balance every moment, every day, once a week or are we content to look over the whole year and think something like, "I worked hard for most of the year and now I'm going to take it easy for the end of the year."?  

The truth is it's no different than dieting.  First we need a focus point, perhaps that's a specific weight we are trying to maintain.  Every day we make choices and each choice will lead to a better balanced life.  When we are watching our calories you can have a heavier day one day and a lighter one the next day to balance out your intake or perhaps you are fairly conscientious during the week and that allows you to eat a little heavier on the weekend.  If we take it one step further, perhaps you're fairly restrictive most of the year but let yourself relax while you're on vacation or at a celebration.  As long as you can maintain your healthy weight, it doesn't matter how you do it but you're going to have to balance out those calories or your weight will either climb up, or get too low.  It's no different with anything else to which you want to bring balance. 

Many years ago a very spiritual woman told me a story about her volunteer work.  She was determined to become more faithful and with that she decided to spend more time at her church and then that became even more time.  Finally, she was at the church all the time and her family and her work were falling apart.  She couldn't figure out what was wrong, if anything, because she was sure she was following the better path to God.  Before her world came crashing down upon her, the parish priest counseled her to look at the imbalance of her life.  She examined her priorities, made several changes and saved herself. The path to holiness requires that we attend not to just the spirit but to the mind and to the body.  That means the path to holiness requires balance or at least an ongoing attempt at balancing. 

In order to walk the tight rope of life, we must be vigilant and place one foot gingerly and mindfully in front of the other.  It takes practice.  It takes the lessons from the yoga mat and from wherever and from whomever we can learn them.  Perhaps with enough practice one will even be able to stand on one's head.  If not, perhaps at least on one foot at a time, or even just both feet without toppling over.  The following week I took some extra "me" time and when I returned to class I once again was able to become a tree, on the right side and, on the left side.