Jean Anne Costa
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10 Hugs a Day

Affirmation:  I gather ten hugs a day.
My mother
is of English-Scottish decent and my father was an only child whose father was
Swiss-German.  I don’t know if that’s why
we didn’t do a lot of hugging but we didn’t. 
My husband’s family is pure Italian. 
Some are from Naples and others are from Sicily but both his mother and
his father’s family immigrated from Italy. 
When Sandy took me to his house to meet his family the front door flew
open and his mother, all five feet of her, threw open her arms and hugged me
with all her might.  I was home.  I think I had waited my whole young life to
be embraced with such ardor.  This was
where I belonged.
I read
many years ago that we are supposed to gather ten hugs a day.  I know some people don’t like being
touched.  I know it’s not appropriate to
go around hugging everyone but oh, how I love to give and get a hug.  I’ve found it fascinating that once you tell
someone about the ten hug a day quota, or at least the people I see regularly,
they are excited about sharing a hug.  I
have adopted Yolanda’s warm greeting with almost everyone who comes to our
home.  I feel my hug says
“Welcome!  I’m so glad you’re
here!  Come in and share the warmth and
safety of our home.” 
Most of
the groups I belong to greet each other with a hug.  Touch is an essential part of staying
healthy.  During World War II
psychologists noted that orphaned infants who were not cuddled suffered stunted
growth both physically and mentally and in some instances actually died. Now we
have all sorts of programs that insure babies will be held and even massaged to
promote their healthy development.  We
all need to be touched.  Massage has been
shown to be an amazing tool in the arsenal for staying healthy.  The elderly need touch.  When I did my MSW at Chapel Hill, NC I
focused on gerontology. One of the topics discussed was how as we age many
people don’t get enough affection.  Now,
whenever I visit the assisted living or the Alzheimer’s unit I make sure to
hold hands or touch their arms or shoulders. 
If they seem agreeable to a hug, I freely give one.  
There are
so many ways to greet people and so much of it is determined by the culture in
which we reside.  Of course it’s also
determined by the relationship we have with a person.  In most cases we greet a complete stranger
with a nod, perhaps a smile or a handshake. 
I’ve been in European countries where I was kissed on both cheeks by
someone I’d just met.  When I was at
Kripalu studying Yoga, we had one full day of silence.  It was not the first time I’d been in a
silent mode at a retreat but this time the teacher instructed us to not even
make eye contact.  She explained that
even that type of communication required energy and the purpose of this exercise
was to completely focus within.  It was
the first time I was so aware of how much effort I put into my casual
contacts.  I can remember walking the
quad in college and making an effort to acknowledge everyone I passed that I
knew or that even looked familiar.  I
still do that.  My walks around Apex Lake
here in North Carolina contain many nods, smiles and greetings.  It seems so natural to me.  I am always perplexed by those who have on
their ear pieces and don’t even look my way as they pass by, perplexed but I do
not judge them.  Perhaps this is their
“silent retreat” time. 
My
husband, Sandy, believes the Italians invented hugging but my daughter-in-law
is from Ecuador and they too are great huggers. 
She has taught even us how to greet every family member.  You get up from wherever you are and you go
to the person who has just arrived and you give them a warm hug and maybe even
a kiss.  Her greetings say, “I love
you and you are important in my life.” 
It’s been another gift she has brought to our family.
There are
many different types of hugs.  There is
the one arm hug, the wrap your arms around someone and hold them tenderly hug,
there is the bear hug, there is the spoon while lying down hug and there is the
heart to heart hug.  If you rest your
left cheek on the other’s left cheek and shift your weight to the right, your
heart will rest on top of theirs and you’ll feel the heart’s rhythm.
How do
you greet people?  What comes
naturally?  Do you think you can learn to
hug if it doesn’t come naturally?  Once I
was with a friend in a department store and I went and asked a sales person a
question.  The sales associate had on a
name tag and I called her by her name. 
My friend was shocked that I would use someone’s name to whom I had
never been introduced.  I love a name
tag.  I make every effort I can to read a
service person’s tag and to call them by name. 
For me, it’s another type of a hug, a verbal hug.  It’s the same message we each send when we
greet someone warmly, “I care about you. You are important.” 

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

Carpe Diem

Affirmation: This is the day The Lord has made, let me rejoice
and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24)
 Benjamin Franklin said, “The only things certain in life are
death and taxes.”  I’m sure there
are those who hope to avoid taxes; I would imagine most get caught. Willie
Nelson and Al Capon are two who come to mind. Some others, however, don’t make
enough money to have to pay taxes and that seems very sad to me.  When it comes to death, however, no one, I
repeat, no one gets out of it.  There is
no avoiding it, we are all caught in the end. 
It seems to me that many people especially here in the west
believe if you don’t think about death, it won’t happen.  Certainly it’s one of our greatest
fears.  I’ve read that’s because it’s the
greatest unknown.  Those who have a faith
have reasons to believe in an afterlife and that can bring a great deal of
comfort.  I myself have chosen that
belief but I haven’t met anyone who has returned from the great unknown.  I do know one or two people who have had
near-death experiences and from what I’ve read that is usually a very positive
experience but other than the tales I’ve read about people who claim to have
had life-after-death events, I can’t claim any personal experience.  I guess part of the good news is those who
have those experiences report something, not a total void, not completed
nothingness.  In the Naked Now, Richard
Rohr shares his belief that our spiritual development here on earth will
determine our after death experience.  He
says that the relationship we’ve developed with God here on earth will be the
relationship we have after death.  I once
had a dear friend tell me she thought Christians would be met by Christ,
Muslims by Allah and Buddhists (even though they don’t believe in an afterlife)
Buddha.  Does that mean an atheist is met
by no one? 
Death has been very prominent in my life during the first half of
2014.  I lost my mom in March and that
was difficult but much of my life’s work revolves around supporting people in
crisis.  The two Duke advisory boards I
sit on are both for cancer programs.  The
DCPSP is for the patients and families of cancer patients and the other is the
Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Advisory Board.  My passion for the Pink Ribbon Yoga Retreat
brings me in contact with many people challenged by breast cancer and I sing
for my church’s Resurrection Choir during the funerals and belong to two prayer
groups.  I don’t know if you know this
but most prayers on a prayer list are not prayers of praise and thanksgiving,
they are prayers for the healing, peace and comfort of the afflicted.  Lately, I’ve been inundated with requests for
prayers for a lot of people who are faced with some very serious life-threatening
challenges.
Even though I have practiced yoga for over 40 years I had never
given too much thought to the final resting pose, savasana or in English,
Corpse Pose.  When I attended the Raleigh
Yoga Fest, one teacher, Jill Stockman, told us that Corpse Pose is called that
to bring death to our attention.  At the
end of our practice she instructed us to imagine we were dying, to imagine
letting go of Everything.  She presented
it as an opportunity for growth and awareness. 
It was a very powerful exercise for me. 
It made the rolling over to one side into a fetal position before coming
to a seated position, even more meaningful. 
My practice is taking me from death into rebirth.  I’m beginning again, a new start and that’s
what I believe death is.  It’s a new
beginning, hopefully for me with Christ as has been promised.  However, even if I’m practicing, I’m not
ready.  What has happened, however, with
all of the news I’ve been receiving lately, is I’m even more aware of how
precious every day is.
Let’s admit it; we may be only one breath away from this life and
the next.  I cannot tell you how many
people have come into my life in the last two weeks who have had a prognosis of
less than a month to live.  These people
were not ill.  They just started feeling
yucky, finally went to get it checked out and boom, they were given the news
that they were terminal!  It’s really
scary.  It didn’t help that I then picked
up the book, The End of Life Book Club which came highly recommended by several
friends.  What was I thinking?  I know we have no way of knowing when our
final day will occur.  Sometimes there’s
absolutely no warning.  I heard a tale
about a man who went to market in Samaria and returned ashen.  When he was asked what was wrong, he shared
that he had had a brush with death.  He
asked a friend if he could borrow his horse so he could get away and go to
Bagdad.  His friend obliged him and then
went to the market to see what was going on. 
When he arrived he ran into Death and asked him why he was looking for
his friend.  Death said that he wasn’t
looking for the friend and was simply surprised to see him in Samaria because
he had an appointment to meet him tomorrow in Bagdad. 
Ever since my dad died in 1980 when I was only 34, I’ve tried not
to waste a day.  I became very aware of
the preciousness of each and every day.  Its
mediation, however, and I’m not always present to it.  But, after these last few months and
especially these last few weeks, I’ve been even more aware of enjoying every
day to the fullest.  I even ate
MacDonald’s french fries one day for lunch which for me is very daring. This is
it!  Seize it! Live it! Be joyful in it,
count the blessings, and be grateful for what is and what is not.  Do not utter a complaint or a criticism.  Look around, recognize what truly is a
problem and what are “ha ha” problems; those problems most of the
world wishes they had and then give praise and thanksgiving. Go ahead, eat
dessert first and even more important, and tell your loved ones how you feel.
Don’t let the day slip away without living it and sharing it to the fullest.

Embracing Mystery

Affirmation:  My faith is
stronger when I allow mystery to have a place in my life.
In Rachel Remen’s book The Will to Live and Other Mysteries,
she offers up the opinion that most people are more concerned with mastery than
with mystery.  She goes onto give
examples of events she and others have experienced that cannot be explained
with science or with logic but if one is open to believing in the unbelievable,
the events not only take on meaning; they become powerful examples of spirit
alive and at work in the world and in our lives.
My Christian faith is grounded in
mystery.  At some point I had to decide
to believe the unbelievable.  Let’s admit
it the whole story of Jesus Christ’s birth, death and resurrection is pure mystery.  If I were to assume that my limited
intelligence or anyone’s, even that of the brilliant, is able to understand
God, I would not only be arrogant but stupid. 
For heaven’s sake we may one day completely understand our own bodies
but we will never be able to duplicate them. 
Only Divine power could have created a human being.  We may one day be able to travel the Universe
but will we ever reach its outer limits? Sir Arthur Eddington, British
astronomer, physicist, and mathematician of the early 20th century said,
“The universe is not only stranger than we imagined, but stranger than we
can imagine.” and David Finkelstein, a brilliant physicist said, “We
haven’t the capacity to imagine anything crazy enough to stand a chance of
being right.”  We are human and so
we are limited in our understanding but we are also spirit, made in God’s image
and likeness and therefore we can tap into, connect to the unknown and perhaps
even rest in it. 
I have discovered that in order for me to be at peace I need to
embrace the mystery of my faith and the mystery of life.  I choose to believe in a personal God, one
who can work miracles in my life, one who is listening to my dreams, concerns
and petitions and even the whispers of my heart if I stay close, open and present. 
I am not aware of any personal acquaintances that have experienced significant miracles. I wish I
were. Certainly, I have read about others who have and when my husband and I
visited St. Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal in Montreal, I was stunned by the
hundreds and hundreds of crutches hanging on the walls that were left by people
who had come there for a miracle and found one. 
I recently googled “miracle locations” and one site, ListVerse.com,
listed the top ten recorded miracles. 
You may recognize some of the more well known, Fatima, Lourdes, Our Lady
of Guadeloupe, and more recently Padre Pio. 
All of these places and events are known for the unexplainable.  Lourdes, the site of the appearance of the
Blessed Mother to St. Bernadette, has 68 “official” miracles but
thousands of unofficial healings.  
Are the healings simply the result of the power of positive
thinking?  People really believe it will
happen and so it does? Could be, so what? 
Something miraculous occurred. 
Maybe that’s the secret to miracles; if we are open to them, if we truly
believe, “even as a grain of mustard seed” our beings are transformed
into receptors for miracles. 
Notice I have a tendency to focus on the illogical positive experiences
that happen to people, this is after all a site for creating positive
affirmations.  I avoid focusing on the
occult or unsettling things one might hear about or see in the media.  Those don’t help me in any way to feel
hopeful, peaceful or grounded.  It’s my
choice on that which I focus. I know there is evil in the world. 
The news coming into my life these last few weeks has been very
unsettling.  There have been multiple
requests for prayers for the suffering and struggles of friends and friends of
friends.  In two cases acquaintances that
did not appear to be very ill were diagnosed with cancer and given less than
three weeks to live.  I, myself, had a
scare during my annual mammogram when a lump was found and I was sent for an
ultra sound.  It turned out to be normal
tissue but it shook me to the core. 
Besides deciding to eat French fries and a cookie, “Carpet Diem!”
I needed, I need a way to find peace with the whims of the world and so I did
what I have been practicing, I rested in my faith.  I not only don’t know what the future holds
other than death and I don’t understand most of what life is about but once
again, if I connect to the Divine, to my God, I find I can simply allow life to
be and allow myself to be at peace with all as it is, at lease for this very
moment. 
When I went through my yoga teacher training we were invited to
“rest in the inquiry.”  We were
encouraged during our practice not to try to figure everything out, but to
simply let our asanas unfold. I’ve taken that practice into my faith. I’m doing
my utmost to shed Divine light on life and into other lives, perhaps even into
the world. I’m offering us an opportunity to let go of our egos, especially
mine and to allow my Loving Father, my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, His Holy
Spirit, our Blessed Mother, my guardian angel and all those unseen entities who
want to guide me and you to a richer, peaceful, blessed life the opportunity to
do so.  For today, for now, I am allowing
Spirit to inhabit my heart, soul and body. 
I’ve invited it in and I am choosing to simply rest with it.  I know I don’t know and that’s ok with me in
this moment. 

 

I know in today’s world this is a path less chosen but my
intention for this year is to “connect to the Divine.”  My intention for my life is to strengthen my
faith.  With those intentions in place I
have chosen to focus on mystery and to release myself from trying to understand
all things.  Once I adopted that approach
even the unexplainable became meaningful and God’s presence became more real.  Along with this gift I’ve given myself, even
the great unknown, the future and the greatest unknown, life after death has
become less fearful, less anxiety producing and I find I can still breathe and
live peacefully, at least for these few moments.

Developing a Sense of Appreciation

Affirmation: I have an attitude of appreciation for all things.
The yoga class at Rex Wellness here in Cary had just begun when
our teacher, Karin Johnson, invited us to “take an intention.”  She then suggested “appreciation.”
Gratitude had been coming to me lately as the intention for my practice. I am
in a place of delightful bliss these last few weeks.  It feels marvelous.  It’s Spring as I sit and write.  The singing birds and flowering trees, bushes
and plants have filled my ears with music and my vision with the color and
miracle of new birth.  Presently life
holds the promise of a joy filled wedding celebration for that of my youngest
daughter, Ellen and her sweetheart, Adam O’Sullivan.  We have been preparing and planning for the
warm welcome and entertainment of our family, dear friends and new family to be
from all over the world.  We have gifts,
food, hugs and smiles ready and waiting. 
My spiritual director, Sister Judy Hallock, also invited me to
“take an intention.”  This time
it was to be for the upcoming celebrations and to hold it for the events and
for all those who would be involved in the celebrations. 
When I spoke with Sister Judy about the upcoming wedding I told
her I was simply staying calm and allowing it to unfold in its own way.  I am more than happy to be intimately
involved in the support of the celebration but both Sandy and I recognize that
this is Ellen and Adam’s wedding, not ours. 
We feel our role is to help them make their dream come true, not to
force our preferences upon them, even if we could.  Sister Judy, however, changed my focus.  An intention of sitting back and letting the
events simply unfold was not enough.  She
suggested I hold the week and all those who were helping us celebrate “in
Divine Light.”  I was ready for this
guidance.  I know about blessing events
well before they begin.  I’ve prayed for
our Pink Ribbon Yoga Retreat, any workshops or classes I present, and all the
communities in which I’m involved.  I
pray for the people individually and as a group.  I pray for blessings and that the time spent
is only to their benefit.  I’ve done this
for many many years.  I seldom enter into
an event in which I’m either responsible for or in which I’m simply a
participant, without having held that event in prayer.  Does it change how the event or the meeting
goes?  It changes it for me and I am sure
I bring an attitude of joyful expectation rather than skepticism or worse, and
that has to make a positive difference. 
Now, I needed to do the same for the wedding of two of my favorite
people.  They’ve been together for over
fifteen years.  My husband and I are
overjoyed that they have decided to make this public commitment to one another
and to their world.
When Karin suggested we take “appreciation” as our
intention, I wondered how that would be different from “gratitude” so
I decided to give it a try.  Later that
day NPR had an interview with a man who had developed a mechanical spoon that
allowed people to eat who had Parkinson’s disease or any other tremor
illness.  It was explained that people
with that type of condition cannot feed themselves.  I had never thought about that
disability.  Immediately I remembered my
intention from my class and appreciated the fact that I wasn’t faced with that
challenge.  Recently I had also heard of
Non-24, a disorder affecting the totally blind. 
It’s a sleep disorder with which they struggle because they can’t tell
the difference between day and night.  I
wondered what other things I take for granted that may be a challenge for
another?  My appreciation of the lack of
struggle my life presently holds instantly surged.  I thought of all the friends and relatives I
know about and for whom I am holding in prayer and was again appreciative.  Really, when I look around the world and see
what so many people have to deal with, I am in awe of the blessings of my
life.  I have no reason to complain or to
be ungrateful about anything.  It seems
appreciation and grateful easily go together and I just needed a boost and
Karin’s suggestion helped heighten my sense of gratitude.  
By holding our upcoming celebrations in Divine Light I have found
I have a heightened sense of appreciation and gratitude for these events and
all the blessings I know will emerge during this time.  I also expect the weather to be perfect.  I expect there to not be any glitches or
bumps in the actual event.  I expect all
the guests will behave appropriately and there will be complete harmony among
everyone in the family.  Just
teasing!  What has already happened
because of my new intention is I have a peaceful, joyful heart.  I am expecting the best and am at peace with
whatever that may look like.  I am
writing this with an anticipation filled with the excitement of the union of
Ellen and Adam and of the blessings that will emerge from the union of our two
families. 
Thank you, Karin.  Thank
you, Sister Judy.  Thank you, Loving God
for the gift of Divine Light.  I fully
appreciate it and already feel its presence pouring forth blessings on the
upcoming weeks. 

Nuturing the Self

Affirmation:  I recognize
it’s important to take time to nurture myself.
Mother’s Day is tomorrow. 
It’s a day probably created by Hallmark cards but no matter, most honor
it as if it were a national or religious holiday.  Everyone has a mother.  If we are blessed she’s a woman who has
nurtured us and guided us towards a life of love and generosity and
compassion.  She has helped shape us,
both intentionally and unintentionally, in a way that has empowered us to lead
lives of value and worth; lives that make a positive difference in the world or
at least in our world.
I was recently invited by Alice Lutz of Triangle Family Services
(www.tfsnc.org)
to present a self-care workshop for the staff. 
This organization is seventy seven years old.  It is open seven days a week and serves over
five thousand people every year.  The staff
is composed of men and women who assist those who are experiencing family
violence, financial crisis and mental health issues.  I was honored to be invited. I am in awe of
the work the staff does.  They are in the
trenches serving the neediest of our area. 
I know it’s both rewarding and draining. 
Because of my experience with Hospice of Wake County and with the Duke
Cancer Patient Support Program, I know firsthand that helping people who are in
crisis is both gratifying and overwhelming. 
My goal, therefore, was to nurture the nurturers.  I designed an hour of respite.  From the feedback I received it appears to have
been well received.
With the help of Blaire Schultz and Monica Shelton, the women who
own and operate the Bodhi Tree Holistic Bodywork and Skincare Center (bodhitreeholistics.com),
we presented each staff member with a small vial of lavender oil.  Lavender is known for its stress and anxiety
reducing effect.  We began the hour by
placing a tiny bit of oil in the palm of our hands and rubbing them together to
create warmth and then gently placing our palms over our eyes and our
noses.  I invited everyone to sit
comfortably, close their eyes and to begin focusing on their breath in order to
gather their energy into the room and then into their bodies.  After several minutes of breathing, we gently
opened our eyes and did one consensual OHM, focusing on the “mmmm”
sound at the end.  It vibrates through
the body and releases stress. The energy in the room had already become calmer
and we had only been there for less than ten minutes.  We went onto discuss the “tools”
different individuals used to care for themselves.  There were a wide range of suggestions from
listening to music to cooking.  My hope
was that each person would go home with one new way to nurture themselves.  We ended the session with a guided mediation
CD and a final OHM. One hour of luxury in the middle of the work day, perhaps I
even gave some of the staff the opportunity to take a much needed cat-nap.  Everyone was appreciative and as they left
they moved a little slower, a little more deliberately than when they had
arrived. 
When the airline attendant demonstrates the use of oxygen in case
of an emergency, the instruction is always to place the oxygen over your mouth
and nose and then to help any child who is with you.  It’s a wonderful analogy for what’s needed in
order to care for another; we must find a way to care for ourselves first.  If we spend all our energy taking care of
others and never take the time to take care of us, we will be left without
enough oxygen to live.  Life is busy.  Most people like to be busy.  They like to feel they are being productive
and in order to produce, one must work. 
That’s good but we must also find some time and some tools that soothe
us.  They are different for different
people and for some, especially working mothers, they need to claim that time
and space or the responsibilities of their lives will overwhelm them and let’s
face it, no one benefits from a grumpy, overwhelmed mother, boss, spouse,
coworker or human being. 
I want to offer you a few simple suggestions to nurture
yourself.  Sure there are things like
retreats, yoga classes, massages, facials and dinners out but all those are
time consuming and costly.  If you’re
able to take advantage of those type of self-care activities, good.  Go for it! 
There are, however, other things of which one can take advantage, small
easy steps that soothe.  
*Take a few minutes between activities to breathe, perhaps you
can even get in a couple of deep breaths and a small prayer. 
*Let your time in the car be quiet time.  Don’t turn on the radio or talk on the
phone.  North Carolina in the spring is
absolutely breathtaking.  When I drive
without distraction, I can fully embrace the beauty of my surroundings.  I can also use that time to reconnect to the
Divine, adding a few prayers to my drive makes me calmer and less
frenetic. 
*I have a small vile of lavender in my purse.  Whenever I can I open it and let the aroma
sooth me. 
*Put some flowers or a pretty plant in your space.  There’s something about the softness of a
flower that can help me relax. 
*Take a walk.  It’s free
and it doesn’t have to be long. Sometimes just the intention of getting outside
for a short time can re-energize you. 
*Stretch.  It doesn’t
matter if you do it sitting or standing. 
Gently move your neck from side to side, shrug and release your
shoulders, make circles with your hips, flex your hands and feet.  Mini yoga, remember to breathe with the
movement. 
*Eat mindfully.  Say
grace.  There’s power in blessing the
food you’re about to put into your body. Don’t read, don’t watch TV, don’t do
work, take time to savor the food and imagine how it is helping fuel your body
for whatever it is you will need to do going forward.
    
Take some time and think about those small steps you can take
that will soothe your body and fill your heart. For all the mothers out there
and for all those who “mother” whomever needs caring, may you have a
blessed day filled with love and care both from those you care for and
especially, from yourself.

When the student is ready the teacher will appear.

Affirmation: When I am open to knowledge and guidance, it comes
to me.
 
In the TV mystery series Murder She Wrote starring Angela
Landsbury, Jessica Fletcher was renowned for her sleuthing abilities.  The series ran for twelve seasons and in each
episode, Jessica was somehow involved in solving a very mysterious murder.  She did this because of her remarkable
ability to notice and remember all the little details that led up to the
crime.  I was in awe of her ability.  Certainly, she’s not the only sleuth to have
amazing powers of observation.  In my
opinion the most famous of all characters with this ability is Sherlock.  Yes, Sherlock Holmes.  I’ve always loved the works written about him
and Doctor Watson.  I mustn’t be the only
one considering there never seems to be a time when there isn’t some sort of
series or new movie about the famous British detective. 
How are your powers of observation?  I decided after watching Murder She Wrote
that I would not become a sleuth.  I
don’t pay close attention to the daily minutiae that occurs in my life.  I have a tendency to see the bigger picture.
Sometimes I think it’s simply because I’m going too fast.  Have you noticed how different a street or a
neighborhood appears when you walk through it versus when you ride through
it? 
Recently I was with a friend at a restaurant that we’ve been
going to for over thirty years.  She
turned to me and pointed out a new logo they had designed.  It was hung on one of the walls and
practically covered half the wall. 
“Wow,” she exclaimed, “that is beautiful.  I wonder when they created that?” she questioned.  “At least twenty five years ago,” I
replied. She didn’t believe me but when we checked with the owner, we found out
it had been there for well over twenty years. 
She had just never noticed it before. 
She hadn’t been ready to see it until this visit. 
“When the student is ready the teacher will appear,” is
a saying some attribute to the Buddha even though that’s not true but whoever
said it presents us with an interesting concept.  When we are ready and only when we are ready
will we learn what we need to learn.  How
many times have you heard someone state that they wish they had known about
something before now?  They might have
been given the information many times but they didn’t hear it.  They couldn’t hear it until it was the right
time. 
Recently my study group was presented with the question,
“What do you have the most difficulty remembering?” I have a lot of
difficulty remembering the dates of significant events, like when my children
graduated or when they married.  I have
to have it written down to know the right answer.  I am very envious of people who can recall
that information without hesitation.  I’d
love to be someone who remembered everything I ever learned.  My husband, Sandy, is amazing when it comes
to recalling information.  He can still
remember most of the science he studied in pharmacy school.  He remembers dates and historical facts to
name just some of his recall.  Not
me!  Thank heavens for Google! I don’t,
however, get upset with myself when I fail to recall that which I am trying to
uncover from the recesses of my brain.  I
am aware, however, that I am aging and sometimes that presents physical
challenges to the brain.  I desperately
hope that’s not the reason I’m not recalling the information I’m seeking.  With that caveat in mind, I have learned that
what is really important to me and that which I need to know, I usually do.
I took a private yoga class once because my hip was very sore and
I needed some extra guidance.  I was
concerned at the end of the session that I hadn’t written everything down about
which I was told.  When I voiced my
concern to the teacher, she told me not to be concerned, I would remember that
which I needed to remember and it was true. 
The rest of the stuff just drifted away. 
When I need that information, I am sure it will come to me.  It usually does. 
This is about more than just our visual intake.  I have discovered that answers to many of my
life’s challenges arrive just when I need them most.  I don’t think I’d receive them if I weren’t
actively looking.  I can’t get the answer
if I’m not willing to open the book, to check on the computer or to believe
that the solution or even better, the miracle is out there somewhere and I need
to wait with open arms the “teacher” for that situation. 
Back to being a world class sleuth.  I had an appointment with someone I visit
once a week.  One week recently I noticed
some delightful feathers she had strung along the mantle.  They were all different shades of blue and
fluttered in the light breeze of the room. 
“When did you put those up? I asked.  You probably guessed the answer, “Several
weeks ago.”  Once again I was
grateful I didn’t need to make my living by being intensely aware of my
surroundings.  I am gentle with myself.  I remind myself that it’s OK not to be able
to remember everything.  If I remain open
that which I need will come to me, either through a deliberate effort or
through Divine intervention.  I remind
myself to relax, to breathe and to embrace the concept that all is exactly as
it’s supposed to be at this very moment and that might include not having the
answer to all of my questions.

Reflections

Affirmation: I choose to see myself as beautiful.
What is your reaction when you look in the mirror?  Do you look? 
I know some people who avoid mirrors at all costs and I know others who
can’t seem to turn away when they see their image.  What if I told you that you can make a
conscious decision about how you perceive your image? 
As I write this it’s Spring. 
North Carolina looks like the Garden of Eden or a fairyland right
now.  Everything is in bloom.  The Dogwoods are breathtaking.  The flowering pear, cherry and apple trees
are awesome.  The Azaleas, pink, white
and rose colored have just gone into full bloom and all the bulbs, daffodils,
crocuses and tulips to name a few are up and showing off.  Along with all this beauty comes the natural
instinct of the birds and the bees.  We
have a flock of Robins living in our wooded area and one of them has gone
insane.  She, we believe, is protecting
her nest.  She’s doing this by slamming
her beak and her body into any of our windows that she perceives harbor an
enemy.  It’s been going on for
weeks.  All day long, thwack, thwack,
thwack
. There isn’t a solution other than to wait it out.  I know, I’ve researched it and tried half a
dozen suggestions.  None of them
work.  Her bird brain defense towards her
reflection makes me wonder how often my perception is so skewed that I too see
what isn’t the truth.
Did you hear about the Dove beauty patch?  It’s an ad on You Tube.  Normally I skip the ads but this one caught
my attention right away.  I was
intrigued.  It showed a psychiatrist
interviewing several young women and applying the Dove beauty patch to their
upper arms and explaining to them how to use it over the next week or so.  The ladies videoed their reactions and the
first few days they reported no significant changes but by the end of the trial
period, they all reported an increased sense of well-being.  They felt more beautiful.  The psychiatrist then showed them the secret
ingredient in the patch.  Can you guess
what it was?  Nothing.  It was empty. 
They felt better because they believed they were going to feel
better.  Several of them began to
cry.  They were actually pleased that
their thoughts and not some random drug had been the key ingredient in their
new sense of beauty. 
One of my dear friends told me that as she aged she was startled
to see her mother every morning looking back at her from her bathroom
mirror.  Then one morning she woke up to
find her grandmother looking back at her. 
She decided right then and there to put an end to that reflection.  She did not go get a face lift, Botox or any
fillers.  She did something a lot cheaper
and probably much more empowering.  She
decided to greet her daily image with the phrase “Hello beautiful.”  She said at first it was hard to say but
after a while she realized it was causing her to smile and she found it easier
and easier, until she actually began to believe it.  When she writes me a note she always begins
it with, “Hello beautiful.”  It
makes me smile too.
“Beauty is only skin deep” “Don’t judge a book by
its cover” and, ” Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” are some
of the adages about our outside appearance. 
But, the truth is most of us live in a society that has a standard for
attractiveness and few of us are able to completely disregard how we are viewed.  The Twilight Zone with Rod Sterling had a
show that revolved around a society that forced every young woman to choose a
physical model from a menu of womanly styles when they reached the end of their
teenage years.  One young woman refused.  She didn’t want to look like everyone
else.  She liked herself the way she was
but this was not an option.  She was
forced to undergo the procedure.  Her
parents chose from the menu for her and the powers that be took her away for
the process.  When the last scene is
shown we see this Barbie like woman looking in the mirror and being very
pleased with what she sees.  Yes, it was
extremely disturbing but like so much science fiction, it is becoming a present
day reality. I’m not against getting some “help” if that’s what
someone needs to do to feel better.  As a
cancer survivor I know the importance of looking good in order to feel
good.  My friend Greta Schiffman has
presented the Look Better, Feel Better program to hundreds of women cancer
survivors.  The Duke Cancer Patient
Support Program provides wigs, turbans and prosthetics for cancer
patients.  There are times in our lives
when we need to take a few extra steps to enhance our sense of well-being and
that’s just fine.  
The lesson learned from the Dove beauty patch is fairly obvious;
we can feel better about ourselves if we think differently. If we think we are
beautiful we will feel more beautiful. 
I’m not talking about a narcissistic obsession with ourselves.  I’m talking about a healthy view and
appreciation for who we are and how we look, regardless of another’s
opinion.  We can decide to feel better by
changing the way we think, by changing what we think.  We aren’t limited to our outer appearance
either.  How we choose and shape our
thoughts affects every aspect of our lives. 
It affects our relationships, our work, our health and our spirit.  We get to choose what we want to focus on and
what we want to believe about ourselves and the world and with those choices,
we determine the quality and maybe even the quantity of our lives.  What’s your choice?   Do you want to look in the mirror and see
ugly and sad or like my dear friend, do you want to see happy and beautiful or
perhaps, handsome? Give it a try, “Hello Beautiful!” or “Hi
Handsome!”  Maybe you can avoid ever
becoming a crazy Robin and banging your head into something that won’t ever
make you feel better and only makes you feel worse.

A Place for Mystery

Affirmation: I let Mystery have a place in me.
Terry Gross of NPR’s Fresh Air was interviewing Bart Ehrman, a
professor of religious studies at UNC, Chapel Hill.  He had just written another book.  This one is called How Jesus Became God.  I had a feeling I knew where this interview
was going but I love to learn about anything to do with religion, any religion
and I love talk radio, so I stayed tuned in.
NPR had this introduction on their web site, “When Bart
Ehrman was a young Evangelical Christian, he wanted to know how God became a
man, but now, as an agnostic and historian of early Christianity, he wants to
know how a man became God.
When and why did Jesus’ followers start saying “Jesus as
God” and what did they mean by that? His new book is called How Jesus
Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee.
‘In this book I actually do not take a stand on either the
question of whether Jesus was God, or whether he was actually raised from the
dead,” Ehrman tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross. “I leave open both
questions because those are theological questions based on religious beliefs
and I’m writing the book as a historian.'”
I gave up doubt for this year’s Lent this Easter Season.  For me, it’s easy to doubt.  It seems to me that our egos are so involved
in our identity that most of us believe we need to be able to understand
everything.  If we can’t understand it,
it must not be true.  But, over the years
I’ve discovered I actually understand very little.  There is so much that is simply unknown.  I could list all the questions I have about
life and the Universe but I’m sure that you have many of your own.  The simple question about what happens to us
after we die is one very prominent unknown. 
One of life’s greatest mysteries. 
I was surprised by my reaction to Professor Ehrman’s interview.  I know I have only that segment on which to
base my response to his theories but his words left me feeling very sad. 
I did listen carefully. 
Certainly his research was very factual.  There didn’t seem to be much one could
dispute.  He had gathered his facts very
carefully.  His research confirmed his
beliefs.  Like the web site stated, he
had gone from being an Evangelical Christian to an atheist. It appears the New
Testament gospel stories about what immediately took place after Jesus died is
fictitious.  Oh yes, Jesus was tortured,
humiliated and crucified but there was no way he was then taken down from the
cross after his death, placed in a tomb and rose three days later.  According to Roman tradition, that’s just not
how things were done back then.  Back
then?  As far as I know that’s not how
things are done now.  Rising from the
dead sure isn’t the norm even in today’s world. 
Father Alapati of St. Michael’s Catholic Church here in Cary
recently told a joke as part of his homily. 
It appears a gentleman rose one morning to find his obituary in the
paper.  He was shocked and immediately
called his friend and said, “Did you see my obituary in today’s
paper?” His friend responded, “Yes, but where are you calling from
heaven or hell?” 
Facts supporting the Resurrection would be lovely.  The Apostle Thomas seemed to feel the same
way.  “But he said unto them, Except
I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the
print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
(John 20: 25) I’ve always been fascinated by the Apostles.  So afraid, so timid, so uneducated hiding
away in a room somewhere, waiting for those angry crowds to come and pull them
off to the same torture and death their leader just endured.  I can feel the fear.  I can almost taste it.  We’ve seen what angry crowds do.  We’re watching it now in all parts of the
world.  I would be terrified.  What happened to change them so?  What facts can be gathered to explain why they
would leave that room and go out into the crowds and begin to preach the Good
News?  These men (and let’s hope a woman
or two) left their safe space and changed the world forever.  How does one explain that?  It’s a mystery.
My fellow yoga teacher, friend and mentor, Nancy Hannah, shared
with me a saying with which her mother, Bunny Stone, would guide her.  “Let mystery have its place In
you.”  According to Nancy, her mom
was a remarkable woman who made amazing in-roads and created life changing
programs here in North Carolina.  In
Rachel Remen’s The Will to Live and Other Mysteries she writes about the
fact that our western culture is more a culture of mastery than mystery but
life is more about mystery than mastery. Most of us, however, refuse to
recognize the mystery that permeates our lives. 
We need to understand all things because by understanding we believe we
are in control.  It’s a fallacy.  After controlling our thought process, there
is very little else of which we are in control. 
How our egos interfere in the really important values of our
lives: peace, hope, love, gratitude, compassion and yes, faith.  What facts are available to prove these
qualities exist?  Can we ask to place our
hands into them, our fingers?  Here is
where faith must triumph over facts. 
Faith, trust on steroids, is believing in something so completely
irrational because one has let go of their ego. 
The test here is to decide to believe and to let God work within and
through us.  This is when we are called
upon to let mystery have its place in us. 
I find comfort in my faith.  I
find peace.  I like resting in the
mystery and not trying to figure it all out. 
We might not be able to hold the proof in our hands but if we choose, we
can hold it in our hearts.

Just Breathe

Affirmation:  When I
focus on my breath, I feel calmer and when I am very attentive to it, I
recognize I am connecting to the Divine.
 
Jill Sockman led the class. 
It was at the third annual Yoga Fest in Raleigh, NC.  This was Howie Shareff’s inspiration.  He heads an organization called “You
Call This Yoga” and his organization was sponsoring this event. There were
over 500 people attending the day long workshop and I had been “called”
to be one of them.  I hadn’t felt any
inclination to attend either of the first two but the message had come through
to me loud and clear that I was supposed to be at his year’s Yoga Fest.  I didn’t know anyone else who was attending
and I had a trip the next day for which I needed to pack but that interior
voice was screaming at me, “Go, you need to go” and so, I did.
I would be taking four classes over the course of the day and I
didn’t know one teacher from the other. 
They all looked interesting and I know I can always learn something new
from any experience so it didn’t really matter to me which class I took.  I decided to trust that whichever class in
which I found myself it would be exactly the class I was supposed to take.  
The first class was good, very good.  The room was packed and I learned a breathing
technique I had not consistently applied to my practice.  Nice! 
The next class was titled “Finding Your Edge.”  I wasn’t really sure I wanted to participate
in a dynamic flow class, which is what I assumed this class would be but I was
signed up for it and following my own advice, I decided to stay for it.  It was not very good, it was
inspirational.  Jill was a master
teacher.  She was young and wispy and
confident and all that is nice but those are not the qualities not that make a
teacher a master.  She was wise and she
clearly imparted her wisdom in a concise, universal language.  This, I knew was why I had been led to come
to Yoga Fest.  Where was my
recorder? 
Jill began by reminding us to take a full deep breath and to fill
our lungs and chest and a deliberate exhale with a reminder to draw in our
belly buttons to our spine and engage our Mula Bandha (the pelvic floor).  We then went on with some Kapalahbati
breathing, she incorporated several series of Ohms and she then ended with
another round of Kapalahbati.  I felt an
internal shift take place.  I
“returned” to Kripalu, the home of my training and a place where I
had absorbed the positive, calming energy of the yoga practice. 
The breath is the foundation of life.  We begin life with our first inhale and we
end life with our last exhale and yet, how many times during our day do we even
notice our breathing?  A dear friend gave
me a plaque one day that said, “Things I need to do today,
Breathe.”  One of the most important
yogic tools is the breath.  There are
dozens of different types of breathing, some are slow and deep, others are more
like panting and some require one to hold one nostril closed and alternate
between the two.  Yoga is not just a
series of poses or asanas.  The ancient
writings of Patanjali, the father of yoga, describes eight limbs or disciplines
involved in the practice of yoga.  The
breathing or Pranayama is one of them. 
They all interweave with each other. 
When you unite your breath with your movements, you unite your mind with
your body and with your spirit.  It’s a
very powerful tool.  I like to start my
yoga classes by inviting the practitioners to watch their breath.  “Watch the rise and the fall, the in and
the out, the up and the down. Do not judge. There’s no right or wrong, no good
or bad.  Just notice.”  Calm penetrates the atmosphere of the
room.  It’s palpable.  I decided I was at Jill’s class to be
reminded of how powerful life can be when I choose to focus on my breath. 
In the ten week course on Mindful Meditation at Duke’s
Integrative Medicine, the main teaching is how to calm the mind and therefore
the body by simply sitting quietly and watching the breath.  The basic teaching is to “watch” the
breath and when thoughts come along, which they always do, notice them, release
them and go back to watching your breath. 
Most meditation practices focus on the breath.  Many practices also invite you to create a
mantra, a word that you can repeat over and over.  I’d like to claim to be a devoted meditating
but I am not.  I pray, I journal but I
have only meditated sporadically, not religiously, even though I truly believe
it’s one of the best paths to optimal mental and physical health.  When I have meditated and searched for a
mantra, I found myself focusing on the word, “Jesus.”  My inhale led me to “Jees” and my
exhale to “us.”  Then I
realized that even if I’m not in a meditative state, I’m always breathing and I
could use my mantra any time I stopped and took a deep breath.  “Jesus”  It was a short prayer, a short prayer that
brought me home to my God.  Now, all I
needed to do was to put the exercise into practice, to make a conscious choice
to take that deep breath whenever I possibly could, whenever I would think to
do so.
The focus of my daily reading during the month of February in Spiritual
Insights
is on meditation.  Actually,
any of the self-help books I’ve ever picked up have at least one section
devoted to meditation.  I am presently
reading Richard Rohr’s, The Naked Now
He too speaks about the breath. 
He explains that the Hebrew term for God, Yahweh, is believed to be
derived from four sounds, Yod Hay Vov Hay. 
The sound of breathing.  It was
such a sacred sound, the name of God, that the Hebrews rarely spoke it.  They didn’t need to speak it, they honored
God, brought God to them, into them with every breath.  The breath is the life giving force which
sustains us and which, if we choose, can keep us connected to the Divine. 
I think I’ve figured out that I was “called” to Yoga
Fest for several reasons, some of which I may not even know just yet but one of
the reasons I believe was to help me refocus on the importance of paying
attention to my breathing.  I’ve had a
really rough start in 2014 and I’d lost touch with my breathing practice.  It was a wonderful gift to receive from Jill
and the other yoga instructors.  It’s
interesting to me how often my yoga practice helps me to strengthen my faith
and helps me to reconnect with my God. 
It’s amazing that something so simple, breathing, can be so complex and
so very powerful.  Join me, “Take a
deep breath, and exhale fully. Again. One more time.” When I focus
on my breath, I feel calmer and when I am very attentive to it, I recognize I
am connecting to the Divine.