Jean Anne Costa
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A Blessed Life

 Affirmation: I enjoy every moment of this blessed life.

The conversation revolved around the needs of the poor and destitute and what we are capable and willing to do to alleviate their sufferings. The news stories revolving around the excitement of the 2016 Summer Olympics were in a sharp contrast to those of the sport stories. They were grim and horrific.  The photo on the front of the August 14th Wall Street Journal was that of a little toddler, Omran Daqneesh, 5, who was rescued after an airstrike in the Syrian city of Aleppo. Within hours, this photo of his dust and blood-covered face captured the world’s attention.  You can google it if you like.  It was taken by Mahmoud Raslan.  It has been compared to the photo of the little girl running from the napalm blast during the Vietnam War.  It’s a single image that brings into our homes and hearts the complete devastation caused by hate and evil.

The question, however, always seems to remains the same, “What can I do?” What can I do?   I know I’ve written about this before and as you might know I do volunteer and raise money and send money to different charities especially those that help children.  I do pray daily for “those most in need of God’s mercy.”   It’s a part of my morning ritual and part of my Rosary but is that enough?  Yes, I would like a magic wand to wave. I’d like “all the money in the world.”   I’d like to be a mini Mother Teresa but I do not have those gifts and some days I simply feel helpless in the face of such suffering and agony.

As you probably know. I live in North Carolina.   I think it’s one of the most beautiful parts of the states, if not the world.  We have the ocean at one end and the mountains at the other.  We have Carolina blue skies and when you fly into this area all you see is green green green.  If that isn’t enough we have flowering bushes and trees that dot the landscape wherever you go.   Most days I am in awe of living here.  How did this happen?  Why am I living in this paradise?  Did I “do” something right?  Did I “do” something to deserve this?  Am I a favorite child of God and so She/He placed me here in the midst of Shangri-La?  Why do I get to live this life of abundance and comfort when so many are making do with so little or perhaps nothing at all?

I know some would tell me that I chose this experience before I was even conceived, smart me.  Some others might say that this is karma, what I did in a previous life earned me this life I now have.  Good job, Jean!  I, however, do not have an answer that makes any sense to me.  Maybe you do?  I know my Christian faith tells me I am called to give much because I have been given much.  I’m not even sure I understand that.  How much is enough?  I have heard many religious people talk about how everything we have is a gift from God.   I don’t really get that either.  I’m grateful for everything I have, even those things I didn’t think I wanted but received anyway but really did God bestow those on me?  Does God really look down and say, “There’s little Jean Anne and I think she should enjoy a piece of chocolate, a good husband, wonderful children, a beautiful sunset or a stunning vista?”   I don’t think so!  I do believe, however, that we get to choose how to view whatever it is that comes into our lives and we can choose to be grateful to a God that can create the beauty and pleasures and even the challenges of this life. That’s what free will is all about; we get to choose how we perceive whatever is or has occurred in our lives, especially those of us who live a life of comfort and privilege.

I am re-reading Christiane Northrup’s, Goddesses Never Age, with my study group, The Seekers. The chapter on optimal health revolves around the concept of finding pleasure.  I know it sounds hedonistic but the lesson Dr. Northrup is teaching is about fully embracing the joys and gifts of our lives.  It’s not just about the concept of pleasure but of how to affect a healthy response to what we enjoy.  She’s not telling us to simply notice those aspects of our lives that bring us joy.  We are being encouraged to not only be grateful, which I know for many is a challenge in itself; we are being called to savor those experiences, to taste them, to feel them, to let them raise us up beyond our wildest dreams and fill every cell in our bodies with tingling sensations.  She is suggesting that when we have that piece of chocolate or see that sunset or hold the hand of a loved one, we take the time to fully embrace the feelings of the experience. What happens when we allow ourselves to completely experience such pleasure?  There is a physical reaction where our bodies emit Nitric Oxide and NO has healing properties that cause all sorts of wonderful effects including a delicious sense of well-being.

I believe God does care about us. I believe God loves us beyond our wildest dreams and that He/She will and does intervene in our lives in a very personal way but we have to ask and we have to be open to those gifts and then, the most important part is that we must fully appreciate our gifts, even those we didn’t think we wanted.  The conversation I was having about the poor and destitute and our responsibility took a completely different turn than I had expected.  The wise woman across from me said with emphasis, “Well then, Jean, you must fully enjoy every moment of this blessed life.”  That felt like quite a challenge.  I had another person tell me they thought when we arrived at the pearly gates St. Peter’s question would be just that, “Did you fully enjoy every moment of your blessed life?”  I’m working on having that answer be, “Yes.”  Perhaps with an attitude of gratitude my healthy healing body and spirit will in itself spread out and make a difference in someone’s life that is less fortunate than I.  Perhaps part of my giving back and sharing my bounty doesn’t lie in only giving time, talent and treasure.  Perhaps it also requires unconditional love and bringing hope and joy into every part of our lives and therefore, the world.

Claiming Your Power

Affirmation: I Did It!

Isabelle and her brothers, Sam, Joe, & Owen and sister-in-law, Arden 

Graduations of all type have taken place at this time of year during which this is being written; celebrations of milestones, accomplishments and dreams come true. My oldest grandaughter, Isabelle, graduated from the Raleigh Collaborative High School. It was a tiny school, only twelve children. There were only four students graduating. Our whole family attended the ceremony. It was a wonderful event. Two of the three teachers spoke, the principal, Doctor Anderson, spoke and each family had a family member (Isabelle chose her grandfather, my hubby) speak. Then, each student showed a slide presentation of their life and also gave a short speech. All of them were very nervous. There were about sixty people in the audience.

Isabelle was gracious in her talk, thanking her entire family for their support and including us and stressing how blessed she felt to be a part of such a loving family. My heart almost burst. We are all so very proud of her.  She was the first presenter. The last student to speak was a young man, a man we knew to be twenty years of age, who was slight in stature and appeared very timid. He read his speech, hesitating over the pages and stumbling through several of the phrases. He ended and then he began to walk off the stage when he suddenly stopped and said, “Oh, I forgot something.” He returned to the dais, looked out at the audience and especially towards his family and raising his fist shouted, “I did it.” I wasn’t the only person there with tears in my eyes. As I write this I still feel weepy with the joy of his accomplishment.

My friend told me that when we arrive in heaven she thinks the question Saint Peter will ask us is, “Did you appreciate and celebrate all God gave you. Were you joyful and grateful?” Was I? Have I been? Really? I began to journal. How many times in my life have I shouted, “I did it!” I have not, I have not claimed victory. I have downplayed my accomplishments more often than I have celebrated them!

Right now I am in the process of preparing for an outward bound type of trip to the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska. Isabelle has been accepted to the Savannah College of Art and Design. It’s the only school to which she applied and she will be attending as a photography major. It is her passion. I am providing her the opportunity to photograph a part of the world which with neither of us are very familiar. I am anxious. I’ve been gathering all the gear necessary for this expedition, things I have rarely packed, if ever. I recognize I am blessed and lucky to be able to do this and to share this time with one of my favorite human beings but it is way outside of my comfort zone and so I have been quite nervous.

Recently I finished Christian Northrup’s book, Goddesses Never Age. Don’t miss this book. I truly believe that any woman over the age of eighteen, maybe even younger, should be required to read this marvelous guide for a woman’s life. If you don’t get it and you’re a woman reading this, at least turn the title into one of your affirmations and claim it! Towards the end of her book, in the middle of this trip’s preparation, she writes about the healing effects of being in nature.  Isabelle and I will be in the thick of nature and Dr. Northrup’s advice helped calm me.

Several of my readings lately, including Dr. Northrup’s book has stressed the life changing practice of letting go of our own agendas and attempting to live a life within the Divine flow. You’ve probably heard it, “Let go and let God.” It’s a life long practice. It takes patience and quiet and setting aside our egos. For me, I feel like I’m right there, following the “path” God seems to have laid out and then I’m off doing my own thing again, taking back control of my life and truly believing I have control of it. Ha! What if, however, because of my time with the Lord, my prayer time and my meditation time, I am actually being led to this Alaskan experience? What if this is a place where I will learn and grow and heal in a way beyond my wildest dreams? If I could truly believe that would I still be anxious or would I be excited?

After graduation and pondering the accomplishments of these four young people, I sat with my journal and wrote down several things in my life of which I feel very proud. I began with my education and then listed this wonderful family my husband and I have created. I went on to list several charity projects I’ve spearheaded and the positive, joyful manner in which I went through breast cancer. It wasn’t a long list but I felt good about it. Then I sat back and I read it over. I read it again and I thought, “If I didn’t know this woman and I read this list of accomplishments, I’d say, ‘Wow, this is a remarkable woman. I’d really like to meet her.'” Then, I thought of all the people in my life who, like myself, don’t always see their amazing selves as others might see them. There are so many who don’t really claim their accomplishments, especially the women.

My experience has led me to believe that most of us try to be humble and it’s not always to our benefit. Just recently a young friend was sharing her accomplishments at work. She’s effecting amazing changes in her work place by guiding people towards a healthier life style. She had engaged more people in this project than anyone else in her organization. She went onto explain why she was so much more successful than others. It wasn’t because of her passion and knowledge. It was because the other counsellors were at some sort of disadvantage. “No, no, no,” I said. “Claim it! You did it!” “You are using God’s gifts to be the change people need. You are a remarkable woman.” My other friend chimed in and said, “Don’t bury your coins,” or as Marianne Williamson says,

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

What if each of us took some time to write down several things of which we are proud? I encourage you to do this exercise. Then read them like it’s about someone you do not know. I’ll bet you’ll find yourself saying, “Wow! This is a remarkable person. I’d really like to meet her or him.” I’m expecting to add my Alaska outward bound trip to my list when Isabelle and I return and with great joy and gratitude I hope to shout from the dais of my stage, “I did it.”

Throwing Away the Trash

Affirmation: I freely forgive myself and others.

The topic of the NPR story was about the abolition of the death penalty. What type of response do you have to the phrase “death penalty?” You must have given it some thought. The Old Testament promotes, “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot.” (Exodus 21:24) Then, Jesus came along and promoted a whole new concept, forgiveness. Even at the end when He had been unjustly toured and crucified He prayed for His executioners, for all of us, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:24)

I think of this quote often. Someone once commented to me that He did not say, “Father, I forgive them for they know not what they do” or even “Father, I forgive them even if they know what they are doing.” I’m sure there are many biblical scholars who have dissected these last words of Christ that are much more qualified to fully explain all the implications of His petition; I am not one of them. I am simply trying to absorb the lesson that even after Our Lord was put to death because some people did not approve of Him healing the sick, raising the dead, and protecting and promoting the care of those who most needed love and care; He refused to hold onto the burning coal of hatred. In His final moments He was teaching us His greatest lesson.

As I drove along that day the story being discussed on the radio was about the death penalty in China and the tradition that allows a family member of the victim to actively participate in the execution of the offender by removing the support from under the person who is to be hung. The narrator told of a young man who had been stabbed to death by another young man and the mother of the victim had chosen to perform the execution. She approached the condemned, reached up and slapped him and then reached out and helped him down from his perch. She then went over and took the hand of the mother of the condemned man. The story resonated throughout China and now it was being shared with the rest of the world. Because of her action, the Chinese authorities were reconsidering their tradition. Because of her act of forgiveness, some of the world’s conscience was being awakened.

Why do most of us find it so difficult to forgive, me included? I am not normally angry. I’ll get hurt before I respond with anger. Perhaps that’s just another form of anger. Sometimes, however, I’m angry at institutions, authorities or systems. Sometimes I’m angry with individuals. I can be angry with strangers, friends and worst of all, with people I love. Some small injurious word or behavior and I can feel the resentment building. Most of the time just when I think I’m “over” something that has happened, I don’t even realize I haven’t let go of the perceived injury or intentional slight or harm but then some reminder comes along and I’m back with my sad response. I can recall events from decades ago that still cause my body to tighten up but most times I don’t even recognize the emotion. Sometimes when the anger arrives the feeling puzzles me because it is so rare for me to respond in an angry manner. The point is, however, whether or not anger or hurt feelings come quickly or slowly, responding appropriately and then releasing it is not only to your benefit, but to the world’s.

The question that sometimes comes to my mind is, “What do I know to be true; what do I believe absolutely with all of my mind and my heart?” “The only important thing in life is to love and to forgive.” This is a quote from a wise older woman who was from my Small Christian Community. I believe with all my mind, body and soul that the above statement is absolutely true. Richard Rohr, one of my favorite spiritual teachers explains the Beatitudes in this way, “Jesus seems to be saying, our inner attitudes and states are the real sources of our problems. How we live in our hearts is our real truth.” When I can carry only love in my heart and my body and when I can release myself from any resentment, my life is rich and rewarding and peaceful. My life is then filled with hope and joy and I am able to take those emotions, those qualities with me out into the world.

One of my morning meditations took me into a subway station. What am I doing here, I pondered? On the station were 6 briefcases evenly spaced along the edge. The train came and five people picked up a case and boarded. I went over to the sixth case and looked down. It had my name on it and so I opened it. It was filled with trash. It was filled with the resentments of yesterday, perhaps of my whole life? I carried it up out of the subway, found a trash can and threw it away. Perhaps like most of the garbage in my life, I need to gather those resentments up periodically and toss them out. Perhaps with practice, I can throw away all those resentments and other junk that interfere with the love and joy with which I want my life to be surrounded.

The Chinese woman in the story was changing the world because of her ability to forgive. I believe we are called upon to do the same and that with the softening of our hearts; we too will change the world.

Focusing on the Positive

Affirmation:  I have the power to choose the positive over the negative.  

Father Richard Rohr, prolific writer and teacher, has a daily e-mail missive that is published by him and his organization, The Center for Action and Contemplation.  One of my daily practices is to read something motivational in the morning and inspirational in the evening.  Sometimes, actually many times, one reading can prove to be both.  Father Rohr’s writings often fall into the dual category. Father Rohr is a Franciscan friar and much of his theology and philosophy stems from the writings and practices of Saint Francis.  I have also been told his approach to religion can be somewhat controversial.  He has a very inclusive approach to God and spirit; you wouldn’t think that would spark any controversy but it does.  He doesn’t follow all the rules.  His focus is on one rule, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  He speaks a lot about non-dualistic thinking and the non-dualistic mind.  He encourages his readers and followers not to judge.  He encourages simply observing, not labeling.  I find his advice to be so very refreshing, also quite yogic, also very Zen.  

One of his exercises in The Naked Now directs one to focus his or her attention on a single object and just to observe it.  What purpose could that possibly serve you might ask?  A dear friend of mine is part of my church study group and we are presently reading The Naked Now.  She wasn’t too enamored with Father Rohr’s teachings but she is a good student and followed his suggestion.  She found a chair on which to focus in a doctor’s waiting room.  Her eyes settled on it and she shared that her first thought was, “That is the ugliest chair I have ever seen!”  She’s quite a remarkable woman, a searcher, looking to increase her faith and grow to know God better.  She shared how powerful that moment was for her.  If she couldn’t even focus on a chair without judgement, how was she approaching the really important things and especially the people in her life?  It’s a very challenging practice to learn to simply observe and not to judge.  It may be even harder according to some studies to judge something in a positive light than a negative light.  

Today’s reading, this February 19,2016, from The Center for Action and Contemplation, Father Rohr wrote about how important but challenging it is to focus on the positive.  
Dan O’Grady, a psychologist and Living School student, told me recently that our negative and critical thoughts are like Velcro, they stick and hold; whereas our positive and joyful thoughts are like Teflon, they slide away. We have to deliberately choose to hold onto positive thoughts before they “imprint.”
Neuroscience can now demonstrate the brain indeed has a negative bias; the brain prefers to constellate around fearful, negative, or problematic situations. In fact, when a loving, positive, or unproblematic thing comes your way, you have to savor it consciously for at least fifteen-seconds before it can harbor and store itself in your “implicit memory;” otherwise it doesn’t stick. We must indeed savor the good in order to significantly change our regular attitudes and moods and we need to strictly monitor all the “Velcro” negative thoughts.”

No matter what I read or hear about concerning the mind the message is the same; we have the God given free will to control what we think.  We get to choose our thoughts.  It’s a gift.  It’s given freely.  Maybe the power we have over our thoughts is another phrase for “grace.”  Grace, freely given to whomever requests it.
I heard a story about a man who was traveling through the South in the US and ordered toast and eggs for breakfast at a local diner.  When the breakfast came there was also a white looking “cereal” on the plate.  He said to the waitress, “What is that?”  she explained they were grits.  He told her he hadn’t ordered grits.  She said, “Honey, you don’t have to order grits.  They just come.”  The story was being told to emphasize that grace is just like grits in the South.  You don’t order it, it just comes.  I loved this story but, I thought, you still must choose whether or not to eat the grits.  I believe Grace is like that too.  We must decide whether or not to accept the Grace.  We must decide whether or not we are going to focus on the “fearful, negative or problematic situations,” or if we are going to focus on joy, hope, peace, love and gratitude.  

This is one of the reasons I write in my daily journal three joys from the previous day and one joy to which I am looking forward for the present day.  It forces me to concentrate throughout the day on those things that bring me joy so that I can remember them for the next morning.  Today a Blue Heron swooped as I sat to begin my mediation and then a Pelican came along and finally before I closed my eyes one of the two Osprey that seem to be nesting close by soared above me.  I just sat and absorbed the awe I felt as these amazing creatures flew by.  If you assumed I am somewhere close to the sea at this time, you would be correct.  

My husband and I chose to spend some time in Florida for one of my significant birthdays.  We went online last year to Vacation Rental By Owner (VRBO) and chose a home.  We got a larger than needed home with the hope that our children and grandchildren and as many friends as possible would come and stay with us and would celebrate with us.  This was our first VRBO rental and it has been quite an adventure.  It began before we left home when a friend warned me of potential scams; people advertise proper that’s not theirs or doesn’t even exist.  I did my due diligence and alleviated myself of that worry.  The house did exist.  We arrived and there it was.  It looked like an estate located somewhere other than the United States, maybe somewhere in South America or some island somewhere.  The first thing we noticed was an abandoned car on the side lawn.  The garage portico was filled with all sorts of plastic chairs and tables, heaters and who knows what else; stuff that would be used for a very large event.  
The owner met us at the front door.  She and her family had been cleaning all day.  We took a deep breath and entered.  The furniture was very dated, beyond antique status and there was a huge Christmas wreath still hanging over the fireplace.  The wires for the lights were hanging off of it.  I think we were so stunned we didn’t have any words.  We had rented this place for a few weeks and I’m not sure what recourse we had other than to suck it up and make the best of it.  Does it sound like I only focused on the negative?  Well, it’s true.  The tale becomes even more bazaar but I’m not going to go into any more detail at this point.

Now comes the part where I have to decide if I’m going to focus on that abandoned car and Christmas wreath or the fresh flowers and chocolates the owner put everywhere or the heated pool out back or the views from the windows out of the back of the house, the views that allowed me to sit quietly and watch the Blue Heron, the Pelican and the Osprey soar gloriously through the air and bring me one or maybe three of my joys to record for the next day.  Dan O’Grady is right.  That negative stuff stuck to me like Velcro.  It took quite a few days to get it off of me and to come to the point where I could focus on the positive, on the joys that were available to us in this VRBO adventure.  It’s good we have the power to choose.  It’s good I’ve been practicing for quite a while.  I chose to find the joy, the grace and the blessings of a husband and a family that wanted to celebrate this life of mine of which I’ve been so blessed to live.

Claim Your Power, Choose Your Perceptions

Affirmation: I have the power to choose my perceptions of all the events of my life.

 

images-2We are presently into the third week of 2016. It’s the beginning of a whole new year. Many people have shared with me their goals or resolutions. One person when describing her expectation of the new year used the word “awesome!” Another told me she always gets excited at the beginning of a new year with all the possibilities that will be presented to her. Certainly we get to choose how we want to imagine our unknown future. I have one person in my life who says she doesn’t imagine the future at all. She simply allows it to unfold, there’s no expectation of any sort. Do you think that’s actually possible? She must be making plans for some things and she, I would imagine is planning for a good or at least a pleasant outcome. When we start out on an adventure, and yes a new year (even a new day) is the beginning of an adventure, we will normally carry in our minds and hearts some sense of anticipation. When the angels appeared to the shepherd to announce the beginning of Jesus’ life here on earth they heralded, “Be not afraid.” They were offering them a choice and guiding them to be at peace. Our response to what happens to us is in most respects what we get to choose. We may be anxious about the unknown but we can choose whether we want to be excited or filled with fear.

womens-retreat-1At this year’s Immaculate Conception women’s retreat I found myself pondering the question of how to hold the future events of my life in a positive, blessed light? I began by trying to believe that everything that will happen to me will be for my good and while that may be true, the real truth is there are some things that I would rather avoid, even if they are for my good. I guess it’s like not wanting to require medicine in order to get over some illness or even not having to eat Kale in order to stay healthy. When unpleasant things arise and someone shares with me that’s it’s probably for my benefit, I think of my husband Sandy’s expression when he says, “that’s like practicing bleeding.” It’s not anything with which anyone wants to deal. So, I began to go around asking people how they make peace with all the aspects of their lives, those we label “bad” or “disagreeable” or worst of all “disastrous.”

 

The Seekers, one of my study groups, usually does a year end review together and we present a few questions to help shape the vision of the future year. This year we have chosen several questions from Sarah Susanka, renown architect and author of The Not So Big House and The Not So Big Life. She actually sent out the questions to promote a workshop she was presenting in Chapel Hill. I share them here for your perusal:

 

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What has inspired you over the past year?

  • What were your sorrows and disappointments from the year, and how have you been changed by them?
  • What were your enthusiasms, accomplishments, creations and joys, and how have you been changed by them?
  • What new patterns of behavior have you adopted over the past year, and what effects have they had?
  • How are you different this year than you were last year at this time?
  • Are there any things you are being asked to do right now that you are rejecting?
  • What recent synchronicities do you recall?
  • To what part of yourself are you giving birth?
  • Specifically what is it that you wish to focus on or experience in the coming year?

Father Jude Siciliano was our retreat facilitator this year. He leads gently, not with commands but with a soft voice and reflective questions and readings. This year he opened the first session with Rumi’s The Guest House.

 

 

jude-1

images-3This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

What does it take to “welcome them all in?” Once I learn to do that will I have peace, will I no longer carry fear and anxiety with me into the unknown? If my faith is true and strong will I be protected and gently cared for and be spared the travails and disasters of life? If they do come is it because I wasn’t “good enough” or faithful enough? This was my question to all I met as I began this new year? I am pleased to share that I have found the answer or perhaps a better phrase would be that I have been blessed with an answer.

Unknown-1The answer, for me, is that life will happen no matter how strong or great my faith. Life will present challenges and disappointments no matter how many positive affirmations I create to try to avoid suffering. Pain is a part of our human existence and no one gets to go through life without it. Sometimes it’s in small things, like a festering splinter or a bad cold and sometimes it’s heart wrenching and debilitating. We all know what those events can look like. There’s a popular phrase used in the media right now, to paraphrase it it says, “stuff happens.” We may be able to welcome it all in, like Rumi suggests but it’s the challenge of a lifetime. What I have discovered is that after, yes after, not normally during, I will get to choose how I want to perceive the “stuff.” Will I see it for the blessing it can be, it may have brought, the lessons I may have received or will it remain nothing but continued pain and suffering? I began to make peace with who I am and how I have previously responded to the challenges of my life and I realized that with my faith, from all these years of practicing my faith, I have the free will to choose how I shape that experience, no matter how I labeled it at the moment of its conception. I am a strong, resourceful, loving person and I fully recognize that things will happen to me that will knock me down but I also believe that I have created the inner and outer resources to rise up again and to believe that I can,

“meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.”

So in answer to Sarah Susanka’s last question, for the following year I want to focus on the fact that I can choose to believe 2016 will be exciting because I know I get to choose my response to whatever happens to me and I choose “Awesome.” In fact, I’ve decided to choose “Awesome” for the rest of my life.

The Devil’s Tool

Affirmation: I Choose Joy.

Joy to the world! The Lord has come
Let earth receive her King!
Let every heart prepare Him room

The 2016 Christmas season is here as I write this. Christmas day has come and gone but the season itself lasts until January 6th, Three Kings’ Day. I had spent the beginning of the season preparing for Christmas. I was ready. The question, however, that I kept asking myself was for what had I, we, all of us been preparing?

st._michael__event_image-1At the beginning of Advent Father Ryan at Saint Michael the Archangel Catholic Church offered a suggestion to help the faithful prepare. He simply suggested that we focus on joy. It’s such a simple suggestion, so simple but like so many things in life, so very difficult. Maybe not for everyone but I have a feeling it’s true for many people especially at this time of year when we are being reminded, have been reminded for many weeks about how the season “should” look and feel.

I’ve been facilitating a group at A Place for Women to Gather here in Raleigh, North Carolina for the last few months of 2015. We call it “A Sacred Circle.” There are half a dozen women who participate, sometimes more. We take some time to center and talk some about our journaling process. We each create a positive affirmation to focus on for the month, or perhaps the year or maybe for our entire lives. The question I usually ask is, “Do you find that focusing on your affirmation has made any difference in your life?” Let’s face it, if you’re working on living intentionally and you aren’t seeing or feeling any difference, you should find another approach; although I believe with all my being that if you’re truly working on this process of journaling and writing out your affirmations, it cannot not work. The answer is usually “definitely.” I share this with you because my affirmation for December ( or perhaps forever) is, “I focus on the joy in all things.” How, you may ask, has that worked for me?

My gifted acupuncturist, Jennifer Spain, of Ancient Elements Accupuncture always seems to have a lesson for me along with the healing she encourages. Maybe the two can’t be separated. One of our sessions focused on how we manifest reality. I’ve always believed in that principle. It’s another of my affirmations, “I am always manifesting. I manifest my highest and best.” She took this to another level when she proposed that everything that becomes “real” begins energetically. I must admit I forget that we are energy. We are pure energy, just like the moon and the stars, the flowers and the trees, the hills and the dales. It’s hard to imagine that our solid forms are a zillion little atoms and other forms of energy that appear to be solid but that’s the reality. Not only are we first formed by “intention” but everything that comes about begins with a thought, either consciously or unconsciously. Recognizing this concept brings a whole new importance to choosing our thoughts. Do I want to manifest joy or do I manifest fear and anxiety and all the other negative emotions that bring sadness and gloom?

Have you ever been rolling along feeling great and having fun when all of a sudden some unsettling thought pops into your head? I was sitting at a delightful concert with my husband when out of the blue I began to become anxious about some event that I was imagining might take place at sometime in the future. I couldn’t believe what I was doing to myself. All of a sudden my heart was beating too fast, my hands became sweaty and my muscles were feeling achy. Where, how, why was this going on? The joy I had been feeling just moments before was sucked out and I was in “fight or flight” mode. I felt terrible. How did this benefit me? Who did it benefit? Was this how my loving God wanted me to feel? I don’t think so.

images-1There’s a lot of stories about the devil. Of course, it all begins for most Christians with Genesis and the creation story of the Garden of Eden. The story is that he took the form of a snake and transformed the garden into the world we have now. He, Satan, did not want those two people, Adam and Eve, or for that matter any of us to be content and happy. Whether or not you take the tale literally the message is the same. There is a force beyond our understanding that relishes our state of suffering; not only does it relish it, it does whatever is necessary to promote it. As I sat at that concert and felt that feeling of panic come over me, I decided the devil was moving in using his or her tools to sap my joy and my peace. Once I discovered who or what was at work here, I could then chase it away with a command to “go to hell” or “get behind me Satan” and reclaim my equilibrium. The devil may have tools but I have tools too. I have prayer and faith and a brain that I can use to foster those skills that sooth me and lift me up and one that has changed my life is deciding how and what I want to claim. I claim joy!

Tom Hanks portrayed James Donovan in the film Bridge of Spies. It’s the story of the Cold War and an attorney who is asked by his government to facilitate the swap of a prisoner of war between Russia and the US. The spy is played by the veteran actor Mark Rylance. Tom Hanks keeps asking him if he’s worried, frightened, anxious? And the spy, Rudolph Abel keeps answering with the phase, “Would that make a difference?” Since its release several people have mentioned this movie to me and each one has focused on that phase. “Would that make a difference?” Everyone seemed to understand that it would not. The challenge is to move that understanding from our heads to our hearts. Once we’ve accomplished that, we will be in a very good place.

MV5BNDkzODEyOTU0OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzQyNDI5NjE40._V1_UY100_CR252C02C1002C100_AL_My preparation for Christmas revolved around my affirmation created during our December Sacred Circle, “I choose joy in all things” and I found that it did definitely make a difference in how I approached not only the season but each activity in which I participated, each person with whom I interacted, and most importantly each moment I was able to let the intention of claiming joy reside in my heart.

May you too have a Blessed, Joyful Christmas and a Happy New Year.

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Legions of Angels

Affirmation: I believe I am surrounded and supported by Christ and His legions of Angels and spiritual guides. I am empowered and feel nurtured when I stop and recognize their presence.

 

belleruth-1When I first listened to Belleruth Naparstek’s CD, Guided Mediation to Help with Chemotherapy I was greatly comforted by her description of spiritual beings who came to assist me with my
healing, “some of which look familiar.” As I listened I clearly envisioned the presence of several ethereal beings and yes, one looked very familiar. He was my father, Francis Grolimund, long
deceased but whose memory and presence always seems to be lingering about me. I’ve listened to and played that recording dozens of times. I love to end a yoga session with it. It’s full of
hope and tools to encourage healing.

I’ve been dealing with a chronic ache the last year and a half and found myself feeling weak and discouraged. I’d done all within my power to help my body heal, much of which revolved around alternative healing. I did go the western medicine route also but that too did not present an answer.

journal-1When I journal I’m usually writing a stream of consciousness. I do always try to focus on three joys from the day before and list one for the day to come but otherwise it’s just my form of rambling and dumping. It’s a gift I give myself. I love the practice. One day, however, I remembered my friend’s approach to her morning ritual. Joan Junginger often talks about her “coffee with Jesus.” Periodically I’ve tried writing to God or the Angels. It never seemed to resolve anything but I was becoming quite desperate and decided this one morning to give it another try and to write that letter to Jesus and see if anything new appeared.

When Joan, cofounder of The Heart’s Journey, leads retreats which she recently did for a large group of women at St. Michael the Archangel and which I had attended, she normally encourages the participants to write such a letter and then she instructs them to write a letter to themselves from Jesus. I heard some remarkable stories from a few of the women who had been doing this exercise for a several years. I’m sure that’s why the journaling on this one morning was taking on a new twist.

ScreenShot2015-10-28at8.32.03PMAs I wrote out my concerns to the Lord I found a name appearing on the page that I hadn’t thought about in a very long time. This woman, Suzanne Egan, is a massage therapist and a health and wellness coach. She’s lived and worked in my area for many years and is very knowledgeable about the different physicians and practices. I had struggled with a hip issue for many
years when I first showed up at her practice and with her guidance I was led to Sangini Rane of Apex PT, who specializes in Postural Restoration Therapy and who guided me to a pain free hip. After my journaling was done I immediately contacted Suzanne. Luckily she was still at the same number. She responded right away and had several suggestions for my latest challenge that I had not fully investigated. Even better was the fact that she had a couple of clients who had dealt successfully with the same issue. She contacted them and got their referrals and then made a few more recommendations of her own. I know you’ve had this experience too. I was being given the gift of hope.

creatingpositiveThen too as I wrote I began to value all the years and hours I had put into my prayer life. I don’t always take credit for the fact that I’ve been practicing my faith for my whole
life and I’ve been especially fervent for the last 40 plus years. Each morning I invite all my Angels and especially my guardian Angel, Saranna, and my guides to join me. It’s the prayer I say when I wake and as I begin my journaling. It’s on the last page of my book, Creating Positive Affirmations,Living an Intentional Life.

Lord, be united with me
this day and always. I invite You and
all those who nurture and guide me,
seen and unseen to aid me in bringing glory and honor and praise to this gift
of life You have so generously given me.

This particular morning I found myself picturing those spiritual beings manifesting themselves around me but it felt different. For the first time I felt the presence of a legion of beings, not just the few I’d always called upon. I felt like a curtain had been raised. I hadn’t been able to see everyone who answered my call until that day. I had been limiting God’s response. I was shocked to realize my small mindedness. I’ve always known we get to choose whether to go to God in prayer with a thimble, a bucket or a pipeline but I hadn’t let the knowledge go from my head into my heart and this day, for the first time, it weaved it’s way right down into the center of my being.

JesusandAngelsI created a new affirmation to cement the concept and have been saying it and writing it every day since then.

I believe I
am surrounded and supported by Christ and His legions of Angels and spiritual
guides. I am empowered and feel nurtured when I stop and recognize their
presence.

I’ve even had visions of those animated armies you see in some of the sci-fi films. The ones where the beings cover the entire landscape and keep coming over the hills and ridges. I know it sounds extreme, maybe a little (?) crazy but just like all my affirmations, it brings me a sense of calm and even power, which I had misplaced while dealing with this issue.

I’ve followed Suzanne’s recommendations and I’m saying my affirmation daily to tap into the Divine army available to my loved ones and me. I can’t tell you at this time if I’m cured but something very deep within me has shifted and I am not carrying around that initial sense of weakness and powerlessness any longer. I’ve been here before with other physical challenges especially with my hip and many years ago with breast cancer and I must say this is a good place. My heart and my head are finally united and I’m in a place of hope and positive expectation.

guides-1I share this with you in case you too have been going to God with just a small container, not attaching the pipeline that is right there in front of you. Perhaps, you too will begin to
envision a legion of spiritual beings surrounding you and protecting you and giving you the support with whatever you’re dealing so that you too will experience hope and peace and feel strong and powerful.

“May the power of angels come to greet you may they lead you to paradise,” both here and in the hereafter.

Have Courage and Be Kind

Affirmation: I live a Christ centered life of love, hope, peace, gratitude and compassion.

LouisePenny26BookLouise Penny, the author of the crime novels about Three Pines, Canada and Inspector Gamache came to Meredith College in September of this year, 2015 to promote her newest book, The Nature of the Beast. It’s her twelfth book in this series. The auditorium was full. I guessed there to be about 300 people there. I became a fan a few years back when one of the women in my book group, Anne Brill, recommended Mrs. Penny’s work. My husband, Sandy and I like to listen to a good book if we have an extended drive and I purchased The Beautiful Mystery for us several years ago. We were immediately hooked. We can’t wait for our next long trip to delve into the newest novel and to be reunited with the inspector and the rest of our new “friends.”

ScreenShot2015-09-16at11.59.32AMLouise didn’t really speak about her books because she said she might give away some of the story line which she felt would interfere with her reader’s enjoyment. Instead she spoke about her
journey to becoming a successful writer. It wasn’t an unusual story. It took her a long time and required quite a bit of stamina and also a few serendipitous events. One event revolved around a fundraiser in a foreign country where she met her publisher, the only person with whom she had an encounter during the whole night. Her whole story was interesting but the message with which I came away was about “kindness.”

She said she modeled the inspector after her husband. If you’ve read any of her work you will know the inspector is a wonderful man. He is a family man, he cares deeply about his coworkers and he rises above the call of duty to a place of kindness and compassion. What a gift to have someone in your life like that, and especially the person with whom you’ve chosen to spend your life. I know it’s a gift because I too have a husband like that. When she spoke about the qualities these men exemplify she focused on kindness. It was a short sentence but it emphasized to
me the power of words. “It is easier to be mean than it is to be kind.” Well, I thought, isn’t that the truth!

Don’t you love it when the same message repeats itself in your life? Why, I wonder am I hearing this concept on a regular basis. What is God or simply the Universe trying to tell me? What more am I to learn? Over the last two weeks the phrase, “have courage and be kind” has appeared two more times. I bet you didn’t know that those were Cinderella’s mother’s last words to Ella. Disney’s latest adaptation of the famous fairytale added that phrase. In this edition, Cinderella wasn’t simply saved by the handsome prince, they chose to empower her with qualities that enabled her to change her life and still be compassionate. Thank heavens!

It seems to me it’s so much easier for people to be spiteful, to be right, to be “all about me and not about you.” We all recognize when we are being treating kindly. Are we called to be kind to everyone? It seems we are. We are even called to be kind to our enemies. What does that look like? Does it take more energy to be kind than mean or indifferent? Maybe it just takes a
different kind of energy. I believe it certainly takes a more conscientious effort to rise to the higher good than to sink to the lowest common denominator.

Kindness is a close relative of compassion. Many of the messages I’ve received lately in several of my readings have revolved around my responsibility to show compassion for the marginalized and suffering of the world. Compassion is kindness put into action. I believe as I age that responsibility becomes even greater. This is a time in my life when I have the luxury of having more time and how I use that time is very important. I want to leave this world a better place than I found it. I must confess there are many days when I look around and can’t even imagine what steps I can take
to help the world. It helps for me to recognize that I support several projects that reach out beyond my normal sphere of influence to the benefit of those who need exceptional help. I really can’t help the whole world but I can do some things that makes a difference or can I?

Starfish-1Do you know the story about the boy who is throwing starfish into the ocean? A man comes along and asks him what he’s doing and he explains he’s saving lives. The man laughs and tells him he’s wasting his time; he can’t possible save all the starfish. It’s not making a difference. The boy picks up another starfish and throws it into the ocean and says, “Well, I made a difference to that one.” My sister, Gloria Hafner, was a specialized reading teacher in NY. She took one or two students at a time and helped them learn to read at or above age level. She always told anyone who would listen about her work and that she had, “made a difference to that one.”

Pope-and-Ecuadorian-woman-2015-1At the time of this entry Pope Francis is about to come to the United States. There has been a lot of publicity revolving around his visit. His approach to the world is causing quite a stir. He seems to me to be filled with love and compassion. He wants us all to fill ourselves with these intentions and then to put them into action. He doesn’t want to hear excuses and he doesn’t want or be our judge or jury. He is encouraging everyone to hear the message of Jesus and to go forward to make the world a better place. I personally find his message and his example to be refreshing, inspirational and challenging.

One of my efforts revolves around my belief in the power of prayer. I pray the Rosary daily for those “who most need God’s mercy.” I am trusting that my prayers seep out into the universe and relieve someone’s pain and suffering. It seems to me there is so much anguish. Perhaps the world is always like it is now and we simply see it more clearly because of the media but what is taking place especially at this time with the refugees from Syria and Africa is beyond tragic.

Miracles-1One of the conversations I’ve had recently revolved around energy and our ability to influence it. The scientist I spoke with didn’t believe there was such a thing and that the only reason there was any sort of change was due to a placebo effect. I didn’t feel qualified to argue with him but I left feeling very sad. He didn’t believe in mystery. He only believed in “mastery.” He only seemed to believe in what he could see and touch and prove. I am sure he is not alone but I need “mystery.” I need to believe that there is more to this life than what I perceive.

I don’t believe there will ever be any definite proof that our thoughts and prayers change the world but I truly believe they do. I actually embrace the mystery and imagine one day when I am no longer physically part of this world, being shown how the time and effort I made to send help to others through prayer manifested itself. It’ll be my judgment day. I’ll see where I failed to rise to the level of a higher plane and where I truly made a difference because I cared and was willing to take the time and make an effort to pray.

Maybe that’s why lately the words, “courage” and “kind” are appearing together. It may be harder to be kind than mean and kindness is a very important quality to practice but it takes courage to be compassionate. It takes the ability to “suffer with” another and that is very hard. It’s so much easier to turn off the TV or to turn away from the homeless and hungry. Pope Francis and now even
Disney are calling all of us to step outside of our comfort zone and find a way to help those in need. Perhaps it will be with prayer. Perhaps it will be only to reach out to one person, someone for whom we can claim, “it made a difference to that one.”

ScreenShot2015-09-16at12.25.49PM

Tools for Better Aging

Affirmation: The Best is Yet to Come.

 

Unknown-3-2On a delightful day in the North Carolina Mountains, my friend, Travis and I headed to the Watauga County Farmer’s Market. What would we find? We found fresh from the farm fruits and veggies, hand crafted pottery and jewelry, home made jams and soaps, wild flowers and giant sunflowers and a street musician or two. There were gifts for all of the senses and there were all types of people from the farmers and craft people to the tourists and the “snow birds.” So, while we found loads of goodies, the neatest part of our outing was meeting a couple of the vendors who were not selling produce but were selling services.

logo-2One young woman was there representing the Women’s Sustainable Agriculture Association. The following Saturday was to be the local garden and farm tour. You would receive a map and for $15 you could spend the day driving from farm to farm. She was with AmeriCorps. She explained it was like the Peace-core. Her two year assignment was almost up and when I asked her about her experience she exclaimed that it was, “wonderful!” Wonderful! Wow, I immediately wanted to be in my early twenties and a volunteer or perhaps I could at least share the concept with my grandchildren and encourage them towards “wonderful.”

fairydaysquaresmall-2Then we headed to the Daniel Boone Gardens. They were sponsoring “Fairy Day.” There were dozens of little girls skipping around in tutus, flowery headbands and gossamer wings. Once again I wished I were younger and had a pair of those shiny sparkle wings. Part of the event included a group from Appalachian State University. They were there representing the AgeLabs of the Psychology Department. The young woman, Lisa Emery, we stopped to chat with was a professor in that department and they were looking for older adults to volunteer for some of their research projects. Would we be interested? Well, I wasn’t young enough to join AmeriCorps and I felt too old to wear fairy wings and tutus but I didn’t feel old enough to qualify for an “older adult” research study.

As we talked we gravitated towards my favorite subject, our self-talk; how we create it and how it influences every aspect of our lives. She shared that one of the studies regarding aging and attitude showed a direct relationship between our later years and our perception of aging. For example, if one believes that one’s memory will definitely deteriorate as one ages, one’s memory will most likely become worse. What that pre-conceived notion also creates is a vacuum for a helpful medial diagnosis like a hormonal issue, a thyroid condition or even perhaps a brain tumor. This belief system may lead one to an earlier deterioration or even an early death.

What are your pre-conceived beliefs about aging? Do you think you must get heavier, weaker, less agile, more crotchety? Perhaps you think you’ll be a worse driver, have no real purpose, or not find any meaning in life anymore. Maybe you’re someone who chooses to see the later years as a time of freedom and adventure. Guess what? The future you imagine is more likely to happen than not. Certainly, if you do not see a future filled with blessings and possibilities, even when they arrive you probably won’t recognize them.

Unknown-1-2Sister Joan Chittister in The Gift of Years, Growing Older Gracefully says one of the challenges of aging is that there’s no defined purpose to life after the age of 70. Before that most people, not in a third world country, are getting an education, then raising a family and developing a career and finally crafting a retirement plan and then “wham” if you’re one of the lucky ones you’re on your own to figure out what life without a societal definition looks like. I find her writing to be uplifting and filled with hope. Her chapter on Immediacy reminded me, once again, of the power I have to choose moment to moment, day to day, on what I want to focus. She writes, “What we too often fail to realize is that living fully depends a great deal more on our frame of mind, our fundamental spirituality, than it does on our physical condition.”

images-2-2The question that I find myself asking is, how do I want to live out the years I have left? What words do I want to choose to craft a joyful, meaningful later life? I have some of the most inspirational older men and women in my life. I want to emulate them. I have one dear friend, Joanne, who at this time is almost retired and has prepared for it by taking up gardening at the NC Museum of Art, helping different chefs demonstrate their cooking techniques at a local kitchen shop, refurbishing furniture for people with limited incomes who are trying to set up a home and she also became a qualified “barbecue” judge. Another of my dear friends, Jean, is a phenomenal artist who founded and supports The Cary Artist’s (coop) Gallery. Two of my heroines are Sisters Mary Margaret and Judy, who are co-directors of A Place for Women to Gather in Raleigh, NC. At the Duke Cancer Patient Support Program there are dozens of retirees who show up once a week and sometimes more often to be patient navigators and supporters. The list is endless. People who created meaningful, fulfilling lives after their years of defined work.

images-4Some of my passions are learning, yoga, the fiddle and writing. I love to travel too. I love a car trip. I actually took up the fiddle because of my deceased Uncle Frank. I never heard him play but I knew he played with the Long Island Senior Symphony until his late 90s. He and my dearly departed Aunt Alice had a very rich older life revolving around their music and their church. I recognized that I might need something I could do while sitting. Little did I realize the physical toll violin playing or fiddling can take on the body. (I’m often asked, “What’s the difference between a violin and a fiddle?” The answer came from a seven year old one day. “A violin has strings and a fiddle has strangs.”) It has been a joy learning how to fiddle. As an adult learner I still struggle but I love love love playing. If my arm and shoulder don’t cooperate, I plan to take up the Irish drum. (If you’d like to see my group in action view, The Elderberry Jam Band: https://youtu.be/Bp7hu358LH8.)

I plan to stay strong. I see myself as still agile and alert. I see myself still trying new things and embracing new people and new ideas. I see myself surrounded by love and compassion. I see myself as still contributing anyway possible, especially with prayer, to hopefully make this world a better place. I can’t help but see some of the challenges and loses I will also face but I see myself dealing with those the same way I’ve dealt with the ones in the past, with grace, dignity and even some humor. I think the affirmation that most fits this concept of looking towards the future with excitement and optimism is: The Best is yet to Come. I can own those words. I can believe that with all the tools I’ve collected over my lifetime, especially that of my faith, family and friends, life will be better as I age than it has ever been before.

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Just Breathe

Affirmation: I take several deep belly breaths throughout the day.

 

YogaBreathingorPranayama28129Stephen Levine, author and death and dying guru, presented several workshops in the 1990’s at Duke for The Flying Monkey Foundation. It was the first time I heard the expression “soft belly.” He suggested that one easy way to reduce tension was to let the belly relax, to maintain a soft belly. It seemed then as it still does now to be the opposite of the cultural norm. As far as I can see, most of our society is focused on tight abs and six or even eight pack “wash boards”. For most, the bulging belly is not a thing of beauty unless it’s filled with the potential of new life.

One of the eight limbs of yoga is pranayama, focusing on the breath. There are many different breathing modalities. Some require short shallow pants, others slow deep breaths. Some focus on nasal breathing, others include mouth breathing. Some encourage making sounds, others are completely silent but the one thing they all have in common is that they keep you present to the moment. As soon as you stop focusing on the breath, you’ve lost your concentration. One of the easiest breaths to practice is “dirgha” breath. You inhale through your nose and slowly fill your lungs. You begin with the upper part of your lungs, the chest area. Then you go to the middle part, expanding the area around the heart finally you let the breath expand into the bottom of your
lungs, the belly section. It’s the deepest breath you can take. Once you have filled all three parts of the lungs, you slowly exhale from the top down, like you’re pouring out a pitcher of liquid.
You squeeze out every last drop so that all the stale air from the very bottom of your lungs is expelled. In the process, your heart rate slows, your blood pressure drops and your mind calms.

breathe-2It seems like such a simple, essential rule, “Take a deep breath.” How many times have you heard that statement, especially when someone is becoming agitated? “Take a deep breath!” It would seem like the most natural thing in the world to remember to breathe, but we forget. How many times do we find ourselves holding our breath? One of the women in my fiddle group forgets to breathe every time she’s learning a new song. I know whenever I’m faced with a sudden shock, I hold my breath. It’s my first reaction. There’s also the fight or flight reaction to distress which means our breath becomes faster and more shallow. That’s why some people actually faint in those situations.

img-rex-wellness-carylocation-2Yoga, practiced properly always includes a focus on the breath. Sometimes the teacher will instruct you when to inhale and when to exhale, other times they may simply tell you to “watch” your breath and to decide for yourself. “Watching,” the breath, however, is always an important part of the practice. I begin all my classes and my personal practice by calling attention to the breath. “Watch the rise and fall, the in and out, the up and the down.” Just by creating that simple awareness, the body and mind unite and calm. Taking it one step further, you can let your exhale be longer than your inhale. That has been shown to engage the parasympathetic nervous system: The part of the involuntary nervous system that serves to slow the heart rate, increase intestinal and glandular activity, and relax the sphincter muscles. Karin Johnson, yoga teacher extraordinaire at Rex Wellness in Cary took our inhale and exhale to another level at one of our recent classes. “What qualities can you take in on your inhale? What can you release on your exhale?” Ah, the gift of time deliberately spent moving and breathing.

What additional benefits come from breathing “properly” by taking deep belly breaths? Recently I learned that if we want to keep our internal organs healthy and perky, we should not be holding in our abdominals. For me, that seemed completely the opposite of what I’d learned over the years. I’ve always made an effort to contract my abdominals but I have now been instructed by my PT, Sarah Talley, to let my belly “blossom.” It has been explained to me that by sucking in my gut, I’m pushing my internal organs down and constricting their ability to properly function. It makes sense but I must say letting my belly be soft is taking a very concentrated effort.

sorrow-2My intention for the year has been to “let go of struggle.” I never dreamt, however, that would include letting my belly relax but that’s what I’m being guided to do. In his book, Unattended Sorrow,
Recovering from Loss and Reviving the Heart, Stephen Levine offers this advice,

As we soften the belly, letting go of trying to control the rise and fall of each breath but instead observing it as sensations come and go with each inhalation and exhalation, we begin to free level after level of holding. In the levels and levels of softening are levels and levels of letting go. Let old holdings begin to float in the new openness created by softening, as there arises a new willingness to heal, to go beyond our pain. As we begin to soften the belly, we unburden the body and mind of their automatic withdrawal from and walling-off of pain. As these burdens begin to lift, we find ourselves a bit lighter and the road ahead that much easier to travel; we’re a bit more able to continue on with our lives.

He goes on to suggest we make a conscious decision to soften the belly several times throughout the day and that many people who use this practice claim “a better day.” Give it a try. Take a deep “dirgha” breath and let the belly expand and then slowly let it release. Not only will you be improving your day but your health. All those crunched up organs will thank you and you might just find that by softening your belly, you also soften your heart. There will be more room for healing and for love.