Jean Anne Costa
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Loving Speech

Affirmation:  I am committed to cultivating loving speech and deep listening.
What do you like to talk about?  What topics make you sit up and get interested in the conversation?  I remember the first time I heard the phrase, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, come sit here by me.”  It was in the movie Steel Magnolias and it was spoken by Olympia Dukakis.  It’s a famous quote from Alice Roosevelt Longworth (1884-1980) who actually said, “”If you haven’t got anything nice to say about anybody, come sit next to me.”  All I can say about that is I hope I’m remembered for saying something more along the lines of John Lennon, “Let’s Give Peace a Chance” or for something like the above affirmation, “I am committed to cultivating loving speech and deep listening” by Tich Nhat Hanh as written in Coming Home
When I heard those words in Steel Magnolia I was shocked.  I was so surprised that someone so openly relished talking badly about another.  I don’t know why I felt that way.  I think most of the people in my life make an effort to be kind to and about one another.  Sure, there’s the occasional slip but I don’t I have a lot of people in my life who talk maliciously about others. I must confess that I can be guilty, guilty, guilty about getting caught up in the conversation when it becomes “gossipy.”  I can be very curious about what they have to say and there have been times in my life when I have had a tough time with someone and felt a desperate need to share the experience with another, all from my slanted point of view. 

Is it alright to talk about others?  Do you think it’s OK to tell tales about people?  When you begin talking about another is there a way to do it with love and kindness even when they have injured you?  When I am wounded or slighted, I usually seek support from loved ones by telling my story.  It’s not usually just the facts.  It’s usually about my emotional reactions. Most of us need to seek comfort from others when we have a difficult experience.  We need to tell our story but we get to choose how we tell it.  Do we tear down and berate the other or do we do it with kindness and gentleness, even towards our enemies? 

I am very judgmental about judgmental people.  When someone in my life has a tendency to label people as “good or bad”, “nice or mean”, or as “someone they like a lot” which means there are others they don’t like at all; I find myself recoiling from them.  It seems to me if they are going around judging everyone else, they must have a very definitive opinion about me and I become very leery. 
Many years ago I hired a young person to help me do some painting around the house.  In the process I needed to empty out my closet and I was somewhat embarrassed by the number of shoes I owned.  I mentioned it to him adding an apology and he stopped me before I even got all the words out.  “I’m not here to judge anyone.”  I’m not here to judge ANYONE!  Yes, I would like to claim that as a character trait.  I do affirm “I love unconditionally, non-judgmentally and non graspingly.”  It’s an intention I’ve set for those who are close to me in my life but when it comes to the rest of the world, can I be non-judgmental?  Probably not, but, I can try.  The truth is I seldom have the whole picture.  I only have that little piece that I can see.

I belong to a gym that has a huge senior population.  When I was there this week, there was a new plaque on an easel and I stopped to check it out.  It was a photo of a plane from WWII with a huge hole in the right wing.  Framed with it was a thank you from one of the members, Hal Shook, for the service of the people who work at our gym and an award, The Legion of Honor, that he received in 2011 more than sixty years after the end of the war.  He had sent it to the facility as a token of his gratitude.  After I viewed the framed presentation I found myself wondering about all those people I usually see there.  I began to wonder about what I’ve been missing by not getting to know some of these individuals.  I am sure this gentleman is not the only hero that’s walking around that gym.  I wonder if I were to see him, what sort of judgment would I form?  I would not have even guessed at his honorary past.  Why then should I judge at all?  My job is simply to observe.

In Kripalu Yoga they incorporate BRFWA into their practice.  It means we “breathe, relax, feel, watch, and allow.”  Nowhere does it tell me I need to judge my practice or myself.  The other lesson is not to make Yoga into a completive sport.  “Stay on your mat; don’t go invading someone else’s practice, watching them and comparing yourself to them”.  These are the same lessons we can take with us into the world. 
I actually think the affirmation should be, “I am committed to cultivating loving thoughts and deep listening.”  Maybe if I worked on that regularly, the loving speech would simply become second nature.

The Power of Prayer

Affirmation:  I pray unceasingly.
Do you believe that prayer makes a difference?  Do you have a theory about why it does or doesn’t work?  Have you ever “tested” your theory?  
The older I become, the more I pray; the more I value prayer.  One of the popular comedians said that’s very normal because as we age we realize we’re getting closer to death and we’re “hedging our bets.”  That could be true.  I also have more time to pray.  I don’t have to rush out every morning or get the children off to school.

I get to begin my day before I even rise with a prayer of thanksgiving and with the invitation to God to join me throughout my day & to bring blessings and favors on all those for whom I have promised to pray.  I pray for my spouse, my children and grand-children by name and then go on and list my siblings and their families.  Next, I include all my “dear, dear friends” and especially those who most need God’s mercy.”  I try to recall each of those special people by name who I know need extra prayers.  I can usually remember them.  If not, I do keep a prayer list.  After my friends I include all “the special intentions of those in my Small Christian Community.”  I then go on to add “all the support people in my life, seen and unseen and their loved ones.”  I so value all those people who make my life so much easier and richer because of their hard work.  I include our “fighting men and women and their families” and finally I pray for “wisdom for our world leaders and peace for this world.”  Then, it is time to rise.

Am I making a difference?  I’m making a difference in how I value those in my life and how I perceive them and the world.  I sometimes think this aspect is the most powerful effect of prayer; the change that takes place in me when I take the time and spend my energy to pray for others.  But, I believe prayer makes a difference in ways we cannot even fathom.  It is one of the most powerful tools available to us to tap into the Divine.  If we are spiritual beings having a human experience, why not connect with spirit and let that power work the miracles we are asking for in our lives?
According to Norman Vincent Peale in The Power of Positive Thinking, the whole world is made up of vibrations and prayer is one way to activate and send out positive vibrations to create change in the world.  Energy and how it can by directed and controlled has been written about to name just a few, by Eckhart Tolle and Gary Zukav.  That’s what prayer is.  It’s a form of energy.  Several years ago Duke Health did a study on prayer.  They had two groups prayed for by a variety of people from all different religious theologies.  The results of their study did not show any difference in the recovery of the patients.  But, I wonder what did change for those who were receiving the prayers?  Do you think it might have been something that wasn’t measurable like grace, peace, hope and other non-tangibles; things we all value and look for but for which there is no measurement?

Prayer changes lives.  The greatest challenge is believing in its power; believing that it really can have an effect on the situation.  The second challenge is believing that it will be a positive effect, even if it’s not the apparent answer for which we prayed.  Prayer and the belief in it and the ability to tap into the Divine do not remove our difficulties but it can make our difficulties, our challenges, easier to bear.  It can bring us a sense of peace and hope believing that there is a kind and loving Supreme Being who wants what’s best for us, especially if we’re willing to ask and then to listen. 

When we first moved to North Carolina I said a prayer that God would lead us to the best house and neighborhood for us.  And, then I asked for a “sign.”  I asked for some sort of burning bush.  Yes, I was testing.  Well, we drove everywhere and I never saw that bush.  We finally settled on a lovely house in a new neighborhood and I let go of my search for the perfect place for us.  I actually loved our new home and our new neighbors, so all was good.  Several years later, we were taking my in-laws around showing them the area and we saw a beautiful house that was for sale.  We were able to tour it on the spot and I loved it!  Soon, we had sold our other house and moved into the new one.  One day, I was walking with someone who knew a lot about shrubs and he was telling me about the different bushes around the house.  I stopped dead when he pointed to the bushes at the bottom of the driveway and told me they were called Burning Bushes (Euonymus).  There were six of them!  Was that answered prayer?  As far as I was concerned it was. 

I don’t go around testing God any longer.  I simply expect my prayers to be answered.  I know they are answered and I know they make a difference, a difference in my life and a difference in the world but I must remind myself that God’s plan may not be my plan and that God’s timing is something I will never be able to fathom. 

Fun!

Affirmation:  I have fun, fun!
My affirmation used to be, I have fun, fun, fun!  But I was actually having too much fun.  I could exhaust myself running from activity to activity, so I took off one of the “funs.”  This may seem like a silly, trite affirmation but this one developed from the advice and example of a very dear friend and fellow breast cancer survivor.  No matter what she was going through in her life she always focused on the fun; she focused on the upside of the challenges.  She is inspirational in the way she attacks her experiences with joy and hope. 
When I went for tests to prepare for chemotherapy treatments, I had a young male technician ask me why I was undergoing the tests and when I shared with him that I was beginning chemo on Wednesday for breast cancer he said, “Boy, I hope you’re doing something fun on Thursday.”  I can still hear his voice and remember my shocked response.  I was just getting ready.  I hadn’t really planned for anything afterwards.  To be honest, I was wondering if I’d even be able to get out of bed afterwards no less plan for something fun.  But, that one statement sent me on a remarkable journey.

What was it that brought me joy?  What did I like to do that was fun?  Well, I had a list but my favorite thing was to invite my friends to my home for lunch or dinner.  I’d have an after chemo luncheon!  With the help of a dear friend, we sent out invitations to all those people who had reached out to me when they heard about my diagnosis.  We invited them to lunch at my home and we invited them to bring a dish to share.  Yes, I had several calls and messages asking me if I were sure about this decision and a couple of people who told me I was crazy but I assured them that this was what I wanted to do.

Seventy five people showed up for what was to be the first of four after chemo luncheons.  I was not feeling my best, to put it mildly but I was having company and I needed to pull myself together and greet my guests and receive all the hugs and warm wishes they had brought with them.  It was a marvelous event!  I invited my yoga teacher to open with some pranayama (yogic breathing) and mediation.  At each luncheon someone shared a meditation or a story with the group and helped us bless the food and the gathering before we came together to eat and visit and celebrate the healing process that I was undergoing.  At the last three luncheons, I was bald and I was suffering some of the other effects of the treatments but it didn’t matter.  I was surrounded by all these amazing people who had taken their time and energy and had chosen to come support me during this major life challenge.
Very few men came to the luncheons, although they were always included in the invitations.  I can clearly recall the ones who chose to brave the onslaught of women attendees and step into a situation that is mostly female related.  One of them was my brother.  To my complete surprise he and his wife drove down from another state.  This is one of the many gifts I gave myself when I decided to share my journey and my life with those who had shown me love and concern. 

The question asked on that day of tests by that wonderful technician completely turned around my breast cancer treatment from scary and onerous to one that was nurturing and yes, fun!  If one can turn chemo and radiation into a fun experience, I think she or he may only need to put two “funs” into their affirmation.  In fact they may only need one “fun.” How many do you want in your affirmation?  What’s something you are facing with trepidation that you might be able to turn around by finding some aspect that you can call “fun?”

An Ethical Will

Affirmation:  I discern well between those actions that empower me versus those that enable me and direct my energies towards the former.

What are you leaving your family when you die?  Have you made out a will?  Have you written down who will get the silver, the house, and the many treasures you’ve collected over the years?  When we moved several years ago, we had an attic and in that attic were many treasures I was sure the “children” would one day want.  I had saved their baby furniture.  All three children used the same cradle and the same baby carriage.  All three children used the same layette set to come home from the hospital.  We also had a huge doll house that my son and I had built.  You know the kind; the kind that has a shingled roof and into which people put tiny furniture and lights and decorations.  It took us months to glue it all together.  We did it on our dining room table.  These are just a few of the treasure we had saved over the years.  Now, it was time to pass them onto the people we thought would want them.  Have you guessed their response?  They had no desire to own these items.  The baby furniture was outdated and not considered safe any longer.  The doll house was just too big for their tiny apartments or small homes.  The layette may have had a lot of sentimental meaning for me but they could have cared less about the outfit they wore home from the hospital.  Wow!  What a learning experience.  All those years of accumulating stuff, caring for stuff and now getting rid of that stuff.  What else have I, we, been collecting that no one is interested in? 

But, there must be something my family, my children and my grandchildren would like to have.  There must be something that I can leave them so they will remember me.  Perhaps the best I can leave them is what life lessons I have learned over these many generations.  What are they?  What are the most important things I have learned that I can leave for posterity?  What words do I want to use?  What sentiments do I want to write down?  What would your shared life lessons look like?

This is my “ethical will”, I write:  Love-love yourself and love others.  It’s our first responsibility-our #1 job.  Look for, discover and grow a belief in a Higher Power.  Find a way to trust that you can tap into God’s love and concern for you as an individual.  Know you are exactly where you are supposed to be at any given moment; practice being in the moment, being in the present.  Write down your priorities; use them to guide you in all your decisions-stay true to them and to yourself.  Write down your dreams.  There’s power in putting them on paper, energy is born and without struggle they will be manifested.  We are always manifesting, beware of your words and thoughts.  Focus on joy.  Focus on compassion and gratitude.  Find a way to see the blessings and benefits in everything that happens to you in life.  Say thank you, thank you, thank you.  Forgive, Forgive, Forgive-yourself and all others.  Smile, Laugh, Play & Dance!!

What does your “ethical will” look like?  Give it some thought and write it out.  It’s small.  It takes up very little space.  You won’t need an attic for it, just a drawer some place and it’s a gift that will benefit them far greater than any piece of old clothing or furniture. 

Manifesting the New Year

Affirmation:  I am always manifesting; I manifest to my highest and best.
The beginning of a new year can be filled with mixed feelings and expectations.  Many years ago the cartoon For Better or For Worse had a New Year’s Day cartoon of Elizabeth, the young daughter, opening her new calendar and exclaiming “I can’t wait to put down all the wonderful things that will happen.”  If I were to closely examine my reaction to a new year it would not necessarily be filled with the expectation of delightful events.  I find I must be very aware of the feeling of dread that can present itself as I look forward to the future especially if I am dealing with post Christmas let-down.  It takes a conscientious effort to turn my thinking around and to prepare myself for the delights that I am sure are waiting for me.  Once again, I am faced with the choice of Faith or Fear.
I truly believe we manifest our own realities.  I am always manifesting and I want to manifest to my highest and best.  I don’t like to leave the quality of my life to chance.  There are always things I can be working on that will enrich my life.  One of my practices of many years is to take time at the beginning of the new year and to decide what’s important to me and what I’d like to see manifest itself.  I do this by looking at the different aspects of my life and seeing what I want to emphasize and concentrate on.

I divide my life into several categories.  Certainly, you can choose any that might work for you but mine are:  Spiritual, Physical, Mental, Family & Friends, Material, Community and Financial.  I set intentions and create affirmations for each section.   

Spiritual:  For example, one of my intentions is to meditate daily. I write:  I meditate once a day for at least 20 minutes.  Another Spiritual desire is to increase my faith so I write:  I pray daily and I attend church weekly.  I participate in my Small Christian Community and look for other  opportunities to participate in events that will increase my faith.
Physical:   My intention here is to be of optimal health.  What steps do I need to take that will lead to that state?  I write:  I fine tune my diet by eating clean at least 80% of the time.  I look for fun ways to exercise.  I do some form of exercise daily. 
Mental:  I know I am either green and growing or ripe and rotten.  I read a wonderful news article about a 93 year old man who recently learned to read and write.  He then went on to publish a book.  That’s my intention; to be learning as long as I’m alive.  So I write:  I look for opportunities that help me grow.  I am studying the fiddle, Spanish and doing a crossword a day.  I am open to all learning opportunities: travel, classes, lectures, documentaries, and new people and experience. 
Family & Friends:  When it comes to my Family and Friends category, I usually focus on what I’d like the most if they were considering me and try to create that intention for themselves.  I would like more of their time and attention.  So I write:  I carve out a regular time to spend with each of my loved ones and look for opportunities when we can share experiences. 
Material:  I include the Material category because I feel we live in a material world and it needs to be addressed.  In the past I’ve focused on living in a different house or perhaps making the house I live in, different, lighter, brighter, more comfortable.  This year I write:  I only keep the things I love and use and let go of the rest. 
Community:  Community is essential to everyone’s well being.  I write:  I volunteer my time, treasure and talent to help those who are within my power to be of help to.  I focus my talents on projects that I know make a positive difference in the lives of others.  I enjoy sharing my home with my friends and family and look for opportunities to do so.
Financial:  I attract financial prosperity.  I look for opportunities that increase our income and that decrease our expenses. 
 I don’t review them regularly.  I have found that there is great power in simply writing out my intentions and then letting them marinate.  I usually review last year’s at the beginning of the New Year.  I am always fascinated by how many of the intentions have come to fruition; fascinated and grateful that I took the time to work on manifesting the year ahead.  What do you want your New Year to manifest?  Claim some time, give it some thought and put it on paper.  Fill in your calendar now before the year starts.  Fill it in with all the things you want it to hold:  joy, love, hope, peace, great health, adventure.  It’s yours; it’s waiting for you to claim it and to manifest it. 

Don’t Make a Resolution, Create an Affirmation

How many New Year’s have you tried to enact some form of change for yourself?  New Year’s resolutions present themselves every January, and once in a while, although very seldom, a resolution will work.  One of the problems with a resolution is the wording.  Most of them are phrased using the future tense.  “This year I will begin exercising.”  “As of January 2nd, I will begin my diet.”  “I will stop smoking.”  It’s like making a wish and then waiting to see if it comes true or not.

A more effective way to initiate change in your life is to create an affirmation.

What exactly is an affirmation?  What does it look like?  How should it sound?  What phrases work, which ones don’t?  An affirmation is a statement that affirms, make firm, that which you believe.  It is a statement about that which you perceive to be true.  You can have positive or negative affirmations.  Most of us have lived our lives telling ourselves about our faults.  We also rarely hesitate to tell others about our faults.  When was the last time you graciously accepted a compliment?  When was the last time you complimented yourself?  When I began writing out my affirmations, I discovered the power of controlling my thoughts and taking charge of my life.  For me the joy was also about creating the affirmations; testing the words that resonated and deciding what was so important to me that I would focus on it day after day. 

Not sure it will work for you?  Think about this.  All those negative statements you’ve been telling yourself for as long as you can remember how have they been working?  They’ve probably worked quite well but not to your benefit.  Changing them to positive statements will work too and think how much better you’ll feel. What does your self-talk sound like?  Sometimes, you’re having the conversation when you’re alone.  Sometimes, you’re having the conversation when you’re with others and you’re not feeling comfortable, maybe you’re feeling very uncomfortable.  What are the phrases you’ve adopted over the years?  “Boy, am I stupid.” or “I never get it right!” How about, “I can’t do that. It frightens me.”  This is about changing the things you tell yourself.  You can do it.  Why would you want to start saying positive things to yourself?  Because, it’s a powerful, free tool that makes a positive difference in the quality of your life.  Begin by noticing when your self-talk weakens you, makes you feel powerless, or useless.  Pay attention! 

Join me as we go on this journey.  We’ll take it one step at a time. 
When creating an affirmation avoid the word “not.”  Why?  It won’t work to your benefit; it may even work to your detriment. I heard a story many years ago about a mother teaching her daughter to drive.  There was a huge bolder in the road ahead.  The mother kept reminding her daughter about it.  “Watch out for the bolder.”  “Don’t’ hit the bolder.” “Make sure you miss the bolder.”  What do you think happened?  They were both so focused on missing the rock in the road, they drove right into it.   It’s the same with negatives in your affirmation.  You won’t hear the “not” and you’ll move right into the place you’re trying to avoid. What are some things in your life you’d like to let go of, or release?  Make a list, choose one or two that seem the most relevant. 
There are some phrases you can use instead of enlisting the negative.  For example:  “I release” or “I let go of.”  Two of my affirmations using those phrases are:  “I let go of fear and anxiety.” and “I release myself from my childhood limitations.”  I’m sure you can come up with some others.  Give it a try.  It’s simply more effective than saying: “I will not let fear and anxiety influence my life.”  Can you hear the difference?  Can you feel the difference? 

 When creating an affirmation, it is helpful to use words that resonate deeply with you.  Try out some of the words; see if they cause a visceral reaction.  The following list is one I have used for several yoga retreats I’ve facilitated and many of which you will find in my daily affirmations.  Some are adjectives and some are nouns.  It doesn’t matter, use them anyway that works for you.

Accomplished, Faithful, Hopeful, Humble, Empowering, Grateful, Connected, Integrated, Joyful, Direct, Discerning, Loving, Capable, Sense of Humor, Enlightened, Compassionate, Influential, Dedicated, Delightful, Dependable, Devoted, Learner, Energized, Imaginative, Attentive, Daring, Facilitator, Family Oriented, Accepting, Free, Fun, Inventive, Laughs Easily, Aware, Sensitive, Tender, Honest, Articulate, Artistic, Courageous, Inquisitive, Instructor, Passionate, Sexy, Sensual, Present, Grace-Filled, Careful, Beautiful, Healthy, Patient, Unique, Preserving, Vulnerable, Radiant, Refined, Adventurer, Satisfied, Educated, Calm, Content, Peaceful, Open-Minded, Transformative, Serene, Truthful, Spontaneous, Thoughtful, Creative, Experienced, Leader, Teacher, Guide, Encouraging, Seeker, Trustworthy, Happy, Abundant, Planner, Visionary, Gentle, Soft, Triumphant, Understanding, Uplifting, Supportive, Prosperous, Contributor, Discoverer, Nurturing, Graceful, Glowing, Hearty, Hardy, Hottie, Playful, Fulfilled, Forgiving, Non-Judgemental, Non-Grasping, Dreamer, Questioning, Optimistic.
I sometimes write out the affirmation without too much thought and then take time to fine tune it. Begin by taking a few minutes and re-reading the words.  You are looking for words that stir an emotion in you.  Don’t over analyze it.  Circle the ones that jump out at you.  Pick three or four from the circled ones and write them down.  Let the sentence be a statement of how you want to perceive your life.  Write it in the present tense.  See how it sounds; see if it truly resonates with you. 
One example of an affirmation I use in my daily practice is:  When I stay focused on the present, I am calmer and more peaceful.  I created this one because I believe what is truly important is today.  Worry magnifies my difficulties and diminishes my ability to live fully in the present moment. Anxieties almost always arise because I fail to put all my effort into the here and now.  I am calmer and more peaceful when I focus more on the gifts of each day, instead of worrying about tomorrow or reliving something unpleasant from the past.

The quality of my life is all about how I perceive every event and person, including myself.  If I can change myself for the better, won’t that help others? If you did the same thing, how would that help you, the world, or at least your world? It’s an amazing process.  Do it!  Take full advantage of it.  Write them down, write them every day, post them on your bathroom mirror, by your doorway, on your computer and wait! Instead of another set of New Year’s resolutions you didn’t keep, you’ll have created a set of affirmations that will change your life in ways you never before dreamed possible.

Perfecting Christmas

Affirmation:  I let go of perfection.

Christmas is almost upon us.  At this writing there are only 2 days left.  My entire family will be here, all our children, all our grandchildren, all the in-laws and both of our mothers.  There might even be a few coming of whom I’m not aware.  I feel blessed to be surrounded by so many loving people and the really good news is everyone usually likes everyone else.  I am also blessed because I have the good health and the energy to do everything I like to do for Christmas. 

I love to decorate the house.  I would like to leave my Christmas tree up all year long.  I love having red sparkly and gold glitzy things all around.  It makes me feel warm and enlivened.  I love to put together the Christmas cards and I love to snail mail them out to all the people on my list.  I like recalling the memories associated with each one as I write their names and try to take enough time to say a small blessing over each envelope.  I usually send a photo card and I love to go through the year’s photos, re-live the memories and choose the best picture of each person.  I also like to do a photo family calendar.  I was so excited the first time I saw such a thing.  I knew it would be something I would try.  The first year, it took me days to get it done.  The good news is now it only takes hours.  I’m sure someday I’ll be even more efficient but it’s OK either way.  I love going over the year’s photos and putting different memories on each monthly page and then putting my loved one’s photos in the date box of their birthday. 

In the South Christmas starts the day after Thanksgiving.  Yes, it starts much earlier in the stores; earlier and earlier each year and some of my neighbors have their houses decorated before Thanksgiving.  But, for many of us here in North Carolina, at least in the area I live in, the decorations go up Thanksgiving weekend.  I love that too.  I get to enjoy the festive sprit in my home for about a month. 
But, even though I am crazy about all the activies involved in our celebration, I can stress out.  Yes, there is good stress and there is bad stress but stress is stress and it can be exhausting.  Most of our traditions seem to be activities that I have taken on as my responsibility.  I purchase most of the gifts.  I plan the menu.  I buy most of the food.  I wrap most of the presents.  You can probably add to the list.  Most women reading this probably have many other items for which they feel responsible.  I usually handle most of our activities fairly well unless life happens.  You know about life.  Life is what happens in between all our plans.  
I like order.  I like things neat and clean.  There are times when I’m sure my desire for order borders on obsessive-compulsive.  But, the truth is there is only so much time and energy and money and at some point, I have to let some things slide.  It’s a requirement to maintain my mental and physical health.  I have several artist friends and they occasionally speak about what happens to their art work when they strive for perfection.  They add one more dab of paint, one more stroke of the brush, one more line to the drawing or one more turn to the potter’s wheel and they have ruined their work.  From them, I have taken the lesson that while I strive to do my best, I cannot always expect perfection from myself.  When I do that, I will consistently ruin my work and ruin the enjoyment I take from the process.  I must tell myself, “I let go of perfection.”  The more I practice releasing myself from unrealistic expectations, the more joyful I am.  The more I practice letting go of going for the gold, the more relaxed I am.  And, when I can be centered and calm, my Christmas, my life and the life of many of those around me is filled with the things that are truly important to me and to the world; peace, love, joy, compassion and gratitude. 
May you and your loved ones have a Blessed Christmas, a Happy Holiday season and a Happy New Year.

Perception

Affirmation:  I am the product of my genes and my thoughts and my thoughts influence my cellular structure.
Stephen Covey the author of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People tells a story about a man on a subway train with his children.  The children are out of control and most of the people on the train are looking very annoyed.  Have you ever ridden the subway?  Usually the only noise one hears is the train itself.  It can be a very meditative space.  Finally the man looks up and explains to the people in his immediate area that his wife has just died and he’s not sure what to do next.  No one was annoyed any longer. They shifted their perception.  But, couldn’t they have held a more compassionate response to the family without that information?  If they were going to judge couldn’t they have given him, the father, the benefit of the doubt in the beginning?

I play the fiddle.  I seldom claim to be a fiddler.  It’s the same with golf.  I usually say “I play golf.”  I have never said “I am a golfer.”  Can you hear the difference?  There are titles I claim for myself but fiddler and golfer are neither of them. 
This last week the message that has appeared has been about perception.  It’s appeared in many conversations and in several of my readings.  It’s been about how we perceive (judge) what others “do” or “don’t do” and how we relate their behavior to ourselves;  how we perceive ourselves through their behavior. 
I like people to be happy.  I like them to feel good.  I can sometimes try to orchestrate another’s feel good mood even if I don’t really know them very well.  And, I will normally remove myself from someone who is grouchy and complaining.  That’s not to say I am not compassionate and I have learned not to always comfort those in pain but to simply sit with them and allow them to experience their feelings.  But, on a daily basis I encourage smiles and warm hearts.  I find it quite easy to raise people’s spirits, a smile, a hug, a genuine warm welcome and usually people respond in a very positive manner.
But, what about those who do not respond?  Am I the reason?  Did I “do” or “not do” something?  Is everyone’s happiness my responsibility?  Sister Mary Margaret from a Place for Women to Gather in Raleigh, NC says “Happiness is an inside job.”  There is only one person’s happiness and sense of well being I am responsible for, me.  Sure, I’d like to believe I am all powerful and can influence the emotional state of all those in my life but I can’t and truth to tell whether they are happy or unhappy usually has very little, if anything to do with me.  It’s all about them.  And, then there’s all that stuff we make up in our minds about what people are thinking and there’s the rub.

My plan for playing my fiddle at my group’s very first performance was to occasionally fake fiddle.  I mean there were twelve of us.  Who other than my teacher could possibly tell if I missed a few notes or dropped out if I were totally lost?  Well, the two people who sat down only four feet from me were concert musicians.  I had recently been introduced to them and I was told the gentleman was a concert violinist and composer.  And, there they were directly in front of me!  I knew without a doubt that they could hear every wrong note I hit and I hit many many wrong notes. I knew what they were thinking.  I made up a whole store in my head and it wasn’t very affirming.  In fact, it was quite demoralizing.

No, I couldn’t stop and turn my thinking around.  There was just too much going on for me to calm myself.  But the day after the recital, I realized what I had done.  I had robbed myself of the joy of the moment by imagining the thoughts of two people I didn’t even know and even if they thought my fiddling to be substandard, why should I care?  I was with my friends, making music and playing for free for the benefit of others.  Oh, it’s not the first time I’ve compared my inside with someone else’s outside and every time it’s a devaluing experience.  But, each time I do it, I become more aware of the exercise and hopefully, recognize my behavior and let go of what I think they’re thinking and I let go of caring what the other person or persons are thinking.  “Happiness is an inside job” and I can choose for myself not to be reactive to my imagination.  Or, I can choose to imagine with compassion and kindness whether I’m imagining for myself or about others. 
Our life is our perception.  Choose carefully.  Be kind to yourself and to those around you.

 

Attachment

Affirmation:   I love unconditionally, non-judgmentally and without attachment.   
When my husband and I went to the Grand Canyon we took a walk along the south ridge and there in the middle of the walk was a logged bench.  It must have weighed a couple of tons.  It was a lovely spot to look out over the Canyon.  When we rose, we noticed that the bench had been chained down.  What we couldn’t figure out is why.  It seemed virtually impossible for someone to move the bench no less pick it up and take it away.  I can only guess they had their reasons.  Maybe they needed to give someone a job and they made that one up.  Maybe they caught a few people trying to move the bench and decided not to take any chances.  Maybe you can think up a couple of reasons why they felt they needed to chain down a bench of that size and weight. 
Over 2,000 years ago Patanjali, the grandfather of Yoga, recorded Yoga sutras (threads of wisdom) that can help us cope with limitations of the human condition.  In writings that reflected the knowledge of all the yogis before him, Patanjali claimed that these practices would help conquer the five human afflictions that cause suffering (kleshas): ignorance, ego-ism, aversion, possessiveness and attachment.
I have read that in India loggers use elephants to help them do their work.  They begin training the elephants from the time they are very young.  One of the training tools is a steak and a chain.  They chain a baby elephant to a stake so it will stay put.  When the elephant is an adult, they use the same procedure.  The adult elephant still stays where it is put because it believes it cannot free itself. 
In both cases the chains are superfluous.  They serve no purpose whatsoever.  They are simply used to give the illusion that the item needs to be attached to something.  It is the season of Advent as I write this.  We have been inundated with advertisements about all the stuff we should want, want for ourselves and want for others.  And, along with all the material possessions we are seduced by there is also the expectations we have about what the holidays will be like, who we will be with, what events will take place, how much attention we will receive or are expected to give.  We are attached to so many things, material and emotional. These can be the chains we have created that keep us connected to things that we don’t really need to be connected to; chains that we’ve created that are useless, superfluous.   Can you see why Patanjali thought attachment was a human affliction?
One of my affirmations is:  I love unconditionally, non-judgmentally and without attachment.   It means I must leave my ego and my expectations aside.  Of course being human means we do become attached to people and things but not feeling like you own them and they are fully yours takes effort.

Have you ever had the pleasure of watching the Tibetan monks create a sand mandala?  When they were here in Raleigh, N.C. I went to watch them create it.  They had these little tiny tubes of colored sand and they placed the sand grain by grain where they wanted it in order to make the picture.  I’d say it was about six feet square.  It took about a week.  I also attended the final ceremony.  They scooped up all the sand and walked it to the lake and poured it in.  They completely let it go; they released it.

I’m sure it’s the same as the artists who do the sand sculptures or the ones who do the chalk drawings.  I find it fascinating that someone can spend so much time creating something so remarkable and beautiful and yet know that it will not last, it will wash away.  All mothers and fathers create this precious one of a kind piece of art, our children.  Perhaps, that’s the final lesson.  All the things of this earth, of this world, of our world will not last; they will one day be gone.  If we can find a way to embrace that concept, life will be less painful, more serene. 
I have a vision that not only has the elephant finally found its freedom but so has that bench.  Just like in the cartoons, it looks down, sees that silly chain and snaps it off as it goes to find its perfect location; as it goes to find its freedom and its bliss.  What do your chains look like?  What attachments are causing you angst or sadness?  How long have they been holding you there?  What would it take for you to break the chain or to at least pull it out so you can run free? 

The Big Picture

Affirmation:  Because of my relationship with my Lord Jesus Christ, I let go of fear and anxiety and fully trust in His loving care for me

Have you heard the story about the farmer who lived in ancient times?  He had a lovely farm and one son and one horse.  One day they found the gate to the corral open and the horse was missing.  All his friends and neighbors gathered around and said “Oh no, you poor man.  You’ve lost your only horse, how terrible!”  He answered, “Maybe yes, maybe no.”  His son then borrowed a horse and went to look for their missing animal.  In a while, his father looked up and saw his son coming towards him riding the missing horse and behind him was a whole heard of horses.  He opened the gate and all the horses ran into the corral.  All his friends and neighbors gathered around and said “Oh, you lucky man.  You’ve not only found your horse. You now have a whole heard of horses, how wonderful!”  He answered, “Maybe yes, maybe no.”  His son began taming the wild horses and one day he fell off and broke his leg.  All his friends and neighbors gathered around and said “Oh no, you poor man.  Your only son has broken his leg and now he cannot help you with all the work on your farm, how terrible!”  He answered, “Maybe yes, maybe no.”  While his son was recuperating, the local war lord and his men showed up.  They were conscripting all the eligible young men to fight in their war.  Of course, they could not take the farmer’s son because of his broken leg.  Once again, all his friends and neighbors gathered around and said “Oh, you lucky man.  Your only son has been saved from fighting for the local war lord, how wonderful!”  I’m not going to tell you his answer.  I think you already know it.  

How many times have you had something happen to you and you judged the quality of the experience as good or bad and then, later, sometimes much later, you saw it in a different light and realized you didn’t have a clue at the time it occurred about how it was going to affect your life?  It’s so easy to fall into the pit of despair, anxiety and depression.  According to quantum physics negative energy resonates at a lower level than positive energy.  That makes it easier for us to connect with it and more difficult to tap into the positive.  We have to work harder to find the positive.  I’m sure you have many examples of events that created openings into opportunities of which you never dreamed.  In our family alone, we have experienced job loss that led to a new and better opportunity.  We’ve witnessed the sad disillusionment of a marriage that later led to a new, healthier, happier family unit.  We’ve seen so much suffering and struggle that in time brought reward and accomplishment.   Of course, that’s not always true.  But, doesn’t it bring comfort that it can work out for the better?
That’s not to say we shouldn’t allow ourselves our feelings.  Not only should we allow them, we need to experience them.  There is no short cut through grief; there is only the direct path through it.  If you try to skirt around it, it will catch up with you when you least expect it.  And, grief comes from many different types of loses, not just from death.  One can experience grief over the loss of a dream; perhaps the dream of a perfect marriage, a perfect job, what one thought a perfect career should look like.  One can experience grief over the loss of health, money, youth and even less recognized events like that of thinning hair or a thickening middle.  It’s all part of our lives.  It’s important to acknowledge how we feel about loss and then move towards recovery.  But, it’s also important to realize nothing is stagnant.  Life is always changing and whatever is causing you distress will change too and it might just be the one thing to open a door to something marvelous.  Why not simply watch and see how it works itself out?
We are only capable of seeing a small part of the picture.  Only God can see the big picture.  The question is can you trust enough to believe He/She has your best interest at heart; that that which was meant for your harm, God will use for your good?   Garth Brooks has a country song entitled “Thank God for Unanswered Prayer.”  In it he tells the story of a man who meets an old flame, the one woman he prayed to God to make his wife.  It didn’t work out and now as he walks away from her, he realizes how lucky he was.  He’s married to the real love of his life and so he remembers to “thank God for unanswered prayer.”  It’s another example of loss and grief and an experience that led to something better.  I’m sure he couldn’t see it when it happened.  He had to wait to recognize the blessing that came from the breakup with his first love. 

For me, this is why I practice my faith.  I don’t want it to be all about life after death.  I want to live this life with the trust that God really does want only my best and that if I practice that, if I trust, all will be well.  It may not be the way I expected.  It may not be anything like what I had asked for but if I believe that whatever is happening is exactly what should be happening, think of the peace I experience.  I must confess it’s not an easy process, simple maybe, but not easy.  It takes work.  It takes staying connected to the Divine at every possible moment.  I have a wonderful meditation tape by Belleruth Naparstak.  At one point in the tape she speaks about all the angels and guides who are surrounding the listener and then as they begin to fade away they say, “Remember, we are always with you.  It is you who comes and goes.”  What comfort that brings me.  If I can stay focused, if I choose to stay in the presence of God, God will always be with me.  That’s my choice; that’s my meditation; to remain in the presence of God and with all my angels and helpers as often as possible and to trust in their divine protection.  Then, when faced with a challenging situation instead of labeling it ‘good or bad, lucky or unlucky” I can simply watch it and think “maybe yes, maybe no.”