Saturday, June 28, 2014

10 Hugs a Day

Affirmation:  I gather ten hugs a day.

My mother is of English-Scottish decent and my father was an only child whose father was Swiss-German.  I don't know if that's why we didn't do a lot of hugging but we didn't.  My husband's family is pure Italian.  Some are from Naples and others are from Sicily but both his mother and his father's family immigrated from Italy.  When Sandy took me to his house to meet his family the front door flew open and his mother, all five feet of her, threw open her arms and hugged me with all her might.  I was home.  I think I had waited my whole young life to be embraced with such ardor.  This was where I belonged.

I read many years ago that we are supposed to gather ten hugs a day.  I know some people don't like being touched.  I know it's not appropriate to go around hugging everyone but oh, how I love to give and get a hug.  I've found it fascinating that once you tell someone about the ten hug a day quota, or at least the people I see regularly, they are excited about sharing a hug.  I have adopted Yolanda's warm greeting with almost everyone who comes to our home.  I feel my hug says "Welcome!  I'm so glad you're here!  Come in and share the warmth and safety of our home." 

Most of the groups I belong to greet each other with a hug.  Touch is an essential part of staying healthy.  During World War II psychologists noted that orphaned infants who were not cuddled suffered stunted growth both physically and mentally and in some instances actually died. Now we have all sorts of programs that insure babies will be held and even massaged to promote their healthy development.  We all need to be touched.  Massage has been shown to be an amazing tool in the arsenal for staying healthy.  The elderly need touch.  When I did my MSW at Chapel Hill, NC I focused on gerontology. One of the topics discussed was how as we age many people don't get enough affection.  Now, whenever I visit the assisted living or the Alzheimer's unit I make sure to hold hands or touch their arms or shoulders.  If they seem agreeable to a hug, I freely give one.  

There are so many ways to greet people and so much of it is determined by the culture in which we reside.  Of course it's also determined by the relationship we have with a person.  In most cases we greet a complete stranger with a nod, perhaps a smile or a handshake.  I've been in European countries where I was kissed on both cheeks by someone I'd just met.  When I was at Kripalu studying Yoga, we had one full day of silence.  It was not the first time I'd been in a silent mode at a retreat but this time the teacher instructed us to not even make eye contact.  She explained that even that type of communication required energy and the purpose of this exercise was to completely focus within.  It was the first time I was so aware of how much effort I put into my casual contacts.  I can remember walking the quad in college and making an effort to acknowledge everyone I passed that I knew or that even looked familiar.  I still do that.  My walks around Apex Lake here in North Carolina contain many nods, smiles and greetings.  It seems so natural to me.  I am always perplexed by those who have on their ear pieces and don't even look my way as they pass by, perplexed but I do not judge them.  Perhaps this is their "silent retreat" time. 

My husband, Sandy, believes the Italians invented hugging but my daughter-in-law is from Ecuador and they too are great huggers.  She has taught even us how to greet every family member.  You get up from wherever you are and you go to the person who has just arrived and you give them a warm hug and maybe even a kiss.  Her greetings say, "I love you and you are important in my life."  It's been another gift she has brought to our family.

There are many different types of hugs.  There is the one arm hug, the wrap your arms around someone and hold them tenderly hug, there is the bear hug, there is the spoon while lying down hug and there is the heart to heart hug.  If you rest your left cheek on the other's left cheek and shift your weight to the right, your heart will rest on top of theirs and you'll feel the heart's rhythm.

How do you greet people?  What comes naturally?  Do you think you can learn to hug if it doesn't come naturally?  Once I was with a friend in a department store and I went and asked a sales person a question.  The sales associate had on a name tag and I called her by her name.  My friend was shocked that I would use someone's name to whom I had never been introduced.  I love a name tag.  I make every effort I can to read a service person's tag and to call them by name.  For me, it's another type of a hug, a verbal hug.  It's the same message we each send when we greet someone warmly, "I care about you. You are important." 

Ten hugs a day keeps the doctor away.  Yesterday I walked into the choir room at St.  Michael the Archangel to sing for a funeral.  I am a member of the Resurrection choir.  The room was packed with people because our former pastor was being buried and the regular choir from two churches were singing.  I was immediately embraced by several people.  I found myself counting, "one, two, three, four, five."  Five hugs plus Sandy's early morning hug, "six."  "Only four more to go," I thought, "this will be an easy goal today."  Ten hugs a day keeps us healthy and keeps those healthy with whom we share them.  A simple heart felt hug can brighten your life and the lives of all those you care about.  Can you gather ten hugs today?  Be careful, it's a random act of sharing joy and affection.  Once you begin you might have to hold back with that stranger walking past you. 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Carpe Diem

Affirmation: This is the day The Lord has made, let me rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24)

 Benjamin Franklin said, "The only things certain in life are death and taxes."  I'm sure there are those who hope to avoid taxes; I would imagine most get caught. Willie Nelson and Al Capon are two who come to mind. Some others, however, don't make enough money to have to pay taxes and that seems very sad to me.  When it comes to death, however, no one, I repeat, no one gets out of it.  There is no avoiding it, we are all caught in the end. 

It seems to me that many people especially here in the west believe if you don't think about death, it won't happen.  Certainly it's one of our greatest fears.  I've read that's because it's the greatest unknown.  Those who have a faith have reasons to believe in an afterlife and that can bring a great deal of comfort.  I myself have chosen that belief but I haven't met anyone who has returned from the great unknown.  I do know one or two people who have had near-death experiences and from what I've read that is usually a very positive experience but other than the tales I've read about people who claim to have had life-after-death events, I can't claim any personal experience.  I guess part of the good news is those who have those experiences report something, not a total void, not completed nothingness.  In the Naked Now, Richard Rohr shares his belief that our spiritual development here on earth will determine our after death experience.  He says that the relationship we've developed with God here on earth will be the relationship we have after death.  I once had a dear friend tell me she thought Christians would be met by Christ, Muslims by Allah and Buddhists (even though they don't believe in an afterlife) Buddha.  Does that mean an atheist is met by no one? 

Death has been very prominent in my life during the first half of 2014.  I lost my mom in March and that was difficult but much of my life's work revolves around supporting people in crisis.  The two Duke advisory boards I sit on are both for cancer programs.  The DCPSP is for the patients and families of cancer patients and the other is the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Advisory Board.  My passion for the Pink Ribbon Yoga Retreat brings me in contact with many people challenged by breast cancer and I sing for my church's Resurrection Choir during the funerals and belong to two prayer groups.  I don't know if you know this but most prayers on a prayer list are not prayers of praise and thanksgiving, they are prayers for the healing, peace and comfort of the afflicted.  Lately, I've been inundated with requests for prayers for a lot of people who are faced with some very serious life-threatening challenges.

Even though I have practiced yoga for over 40 years I had never given too much thought to the final resting pose, savasana or in English, Corpse Pose.  When I attended the Raleigh Yoga Fest, one teacher, Jill Stockman, told us that Corpse Pose is called that to bring death to our attention.  At the end of our practice she instructed us to imagine we were dying, to imagine letting go of Everything.  She presented it as an opportunity for growth and awareness.  It was a very powerful exercise for me.  It made the rolling over to one side into a fetal position before coming to a seated position, even more meaningful.  My practice is taking me from death into rebirth.  I'm beginning again, a new start and that's what I believe death is.  It's a new beginning, hopefully for me with Christ as has been promised.  However, even if I'm practicing, I'm not ready.  What has happened, however, with all of the news I've been receiving lately, is I'm even more aware of how precious every day is.

Let's admit it; we may be only one breath away from this life and the next.  I cannot tell you how many people have come into my life in the last two weeks who have had a prognosis of less than a month to live.  These people were not ill.  They just started feeling yucky, finally went to get it checked out and boom, they were given the news that they were terminal!  It's really scary.  It didn't help that I then picked up the book, The End of Life Book Club which came highly recommended by several friends.  What was I thinking?  I know we have no way of knowing when our final day will occur.  Sometimes there's absolutely no warning.  I heard a tale about a man who went to market in Samaria and returned ashen.  When he was asked what was wrong, he shared that he had had a brush with death.  He asked a friend if he could borrow his horse so he could get away and go to Bagdad.  His friend obliged him and then went to the market to see what was going on.  When he arrived he ran into Death and asked him why he was looking for his friend.  Death said that he wasn't looking for the friend and was simply surprised to see him in Samaria because he had an appointment to meet him tomorrow in Bagdad. 

Ever since my dad died in 1980 when I was only 34, I've tried not to waste a day.  I became very aware of the preciousness of each and every day.  Its mediation, however, and I'm not always present to it.  But, after these last few months and especially these last few weeks, I've been even more aware of enjoying every day to the fullest.  I even ate MacDonald's french fries one day for lunch which for me is very daring. This is it!  Seize it! Live it! Be joyful in it, count the blessings, and be grateful for what is and what is not.  Do not utter a complaint or a criticism.  Look around, recognize what truly is a problem and what are "ha ha" problems; those problems most of the world wishes they had and then give praise and thanksgiving. Go ahead, eat dessert first and even more important, and tell your loved ones how you feel. Don't let the day slip away without living it and sharing it to the fullest.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Embracing Mystery

Affirmation:  My faith is stronger when I allow mystery to have a place in my life.

In Rachel Remen's book The Will to Live and Other Mysteries, she offers up the opinion that most people are more concerned with mastery than with mystery.  She goes onto give examples of events she and others have experienced that cannot be explained with science or with logic but if one is open to believing in the unbelievable, the events not only take on meaning; they become powerful examples of spirit alive and at work in the world and in our lives.

My Christian faith is grounded in mystery.  At some point I had to decide to believe the unbelievable.  Let's admit it the whole story of Jesus Christ's birth, death and resurrection is pure mystery.  If I were to assume that my limited intelligence or anyone's, even that of the brilliant, is able to understand God, I would not only be arrogant but stupid.  For heaven's sake we may one day completely understand our own bodies but we will never be able to duplicate them.  Only Divine power could have created a human being.  We may one day be able to travel the Universe but will we ever reach its outer limits? Sir Arthur Eddington, British astronomer, physicist, and mathematician of the early 20th century said, "The universe is not only stranger than we imagined, but stranger than we can imagine." and David Finkelstein, a brilliant physicist said, "We haven't the capacity to imagine anything crazy enough to stand a chance of being right."  We are human and so we are limited in our understanding but we are also spirit, made in God's image and likeness and therefore we can tap into, connect to the unknown and perhaps even rest in it. 

I have discovered that in order for me to be at peace I need to embrace the mystery of my faith and the mystery of life.  I choose to believe in a personal God, one who can work miracles in my life, one who is listening to my dreams, concerns and petitions and even the whispers of my heart if I stay close, open and present. 

I am not aware of any personal acquaintances that have experienced significant miracles. I wish I were. Certainly, I have read about others who have and when my husband and I visited St. Joseph's Oratory of Mount Royal in Montreal, I was stunned by the hundreds and hundreds of crutches hanging on the walls that were left by people who had come there for a miracle and found one.  I recently googled "miracle locations" and one site,, listed the top ten recorded miracles.  You may recognize some of the more well known, Fatima, Lourdes, Our Lady of Guadeloupe, and more recently Padre Pio.  All of these places and events are known for the unexplainable.  Lourdes, the site of the appearance of the Blessed Mother to St. Bernadette, has 68 "official" miracles but thousands of unofficial healings.  

Are the healings simply the result of the power of positive thinking?  People really believe it will happen and so it does? Could be, so what?  Something miraculous occurred.  Maybe that's the secret to miracles; if we are open to them, if we truly believe, "even as a grain of mustard seed" our beings are transformed into receptors for miracles. 
Notice I have a tendency to focus on the illogical positive experiences that happen to people, this is after all a site for creating positive affirmations.  I avoid focusing on the occult or unsettling things one might hear about or see in the media.  Those don't help me in any way to feel hopeful, peaceful or grounded.  It's my choice on that which I focus. I know there is evil in the world. 

The news coming into my life these last few weeks has been very unsettling.  There have been multiple requests for prayers for the suffering and struggles of friends and friends of friends.  In two cases acquaintances that did not appear to be very ill were diagnosed with cancer and given less than three weeks to live.  I, myself, had a scare during my annual mammogram when a lump was found and I was sent for an ultra sound.  It turned out to be normal tissue but it shook me to the core.  Besides deciding to eat French fries and a cookie, "Carpet Diem! I needed, I need a way to find peace with the whims of the world and so I did what I have been practicing, I rested in my faith.  I not only don't know what the future holds other than death and I don't understand most of what life is about but once again, if I connect to the Divine, to my God, I find I can simply allow life to be and allow myself to be at peace with all as it is, at lease for this very moment. 

When I went through my yoga teacher training we were invited to "rest in the inquiry."  We were encouraged during our practice not to try to figure everything out, but to simply let our asanas unfold. I've taken that practice into my faith. I'm doing my utmost to shed Divine light on life and into other lives, perhaps even into the world. I'm offering us an opportunity to let go of our egos, especially mine and to allow my Loving Father, my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, His Holy Spirit, our Blessed Mother, my guardian angel and all those unseen entities who want to guide me and you to a richer, peaceful, blessed life the opportunity to do so.  For today, for now, I am allowing Spirit to inhabit my heart, soul and body.  I've invited it in and I am choosing to simply rest with it.  I know I don't know and that's ok with me in this moment. 
I know in today's world this is a path less chosen but my intention for this year is to "connect to the Divine."  My intention for my life is to strengthen my faith.  With those intentions in place I have chosen to focus on mystery and to release myself from trying to understand all things.  Once I adopted that approach even the unexplainable became meaningful and God's presence became more real.  Along with this gift I've given myself, even the great unknown, the future and the greatest unknown, life after death has become less fearful, less anxiety producing and I find I can still breathe and live peacefully, at least for these few moments.