Jean Anne Costa
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What Was I Thinking?

Affirmation:  I carefully choose my thoughts. 
 
This year’s 2013
Pink Ribbon Yoga Retreat has just ended. 
It was our 9th retreat.  You can
gather more information about it from the web site, www.PinkRibbonYoga.org or you can find us on
Facebook.  The retreat provides women
breast cancer survivors with support, coping skills, and relaxation.  It is designed to be both nurturing and
empowering.   What happens over four days
and three nights?  Miracles happen. 
 
 
This year 29
people attended the retreat. We always take an intention to guide our planning
and this year our intention for this year’s retreat was “On Wings of
Joy.”  We borrowed a thousand paper
cranes from the Duke Cancer Patient Support Program and hung them from the
rafts and Nancy Soho, one of our committee members, created mobiles for
everyone.  She hand folded 5 paper cranes
for each one and then added a hand cut card from which they hung.  Along with Irene Talton, our gifted
yoga-off-the-mat instructor, they crafted inspirational words on the top of
each mobile.
 
We have a very
specific format that the retreat follows. 
It’s proven to be extremely beneficial for creating a healing
environment for each individual and for the group as a whole.  Over the years we’ve discovered that if we
provide a single meaningful word for each person they are more comfortable
speaking in our opening circle.  This year
we used the words on the mobiles to initiate sharing.  We then left the mobiles hanging on the back
of the chairs and reused them for our closing circle.  I think only one person got the same word for
both circles and that was me.  It was
“healing.”
 
Healing is one of
the miracles that take place during these four days.  I know because I always come away feeling
healed.  I like to hope that it’s a
complete healing from all my ailments: mind, body and spirit but I don’t know
that for sure.  There certainly could be
some rebellious cells floating around inside, although I hope not.  I do know, however, that I come away feeling
rested, valued, calmer, centered, nurtured and empowered.  I know too that all those positive emotions
can lead me, my body to a place of better physical health and even if I am not
cured of all my ailments, I know I am healed. 
There is a difference and I know I am not alone.  I know it because over the last nine years
the women, who have participated in the retreat, have told me so.  It is true.
 
 
 
The very first
thing we do when the retreat starts is to provide an atmosphere of safety.  We encourage everyone to respect the
confidentiality of any sharing that takes place.  We ask that only one person speak at a time
and that everyone else simply listen.  We
ask that each person use the word “I”, not the third person
“you” or “we.”  We
let everyone know that sharing is optional and that silence is not only
accepted but valued.  Before the next
person begins speaking, the last person must declare that they are
“complete.” 

We tell everyone
that this is their time, all four days and three nights.  We have all sorts of wonderful offerings but
their first responsibly is to take care of themselves and so if they need to
take a walk or a nap or to just have some quiet time, then that’s what they
should do.  Of course, if they want to do
yoga on the beach, try creating a water color of spirit, participate in yoga
dance, eat ice cream with the group, try the meditation sessions or experience
laughing yoga, they are welcome to join in. 
One other thing that quickly becomes apparent is the lack of judgment
that permeates the event.  For at least a
short while no one has to hide whatever might cause one to be embarrassed in
the outside world.  With that, the women
can simply be.  There is no striving, no
pretending.  It’s liberating.  It’s another modality that promotes
healing.
 
One of our
traditions is to jump into the ocean after the early morning yoga.  There’s something very magical about floating
on the warm waves early in the day with a group of friends.  One morning I was quite tired and I thought
maybe I’d skip the swim and just head back to breakfast but I wore my swimsuit
just in case.  The yoga ended and several
ladies headed towards the water.  I
joined them.  As I floated over and
through the gentle waves, I couldn’t imagine what I had been thinking that
would have kept me from this amazing experience and then I realized, I often
find myself in really neat situations that I was initially hesitant to
join.  Sometimes they involve big steps,
like when I joined my daughter-in-law and traveled with her to Ecuador and
other times, they’re small steps, like jumping into the ocean.  Each time, however, I find myself wondering,
“What was I thinking?”
 
Perhaps, if we
paid close attention we’d discover that most of the time we’re not very clear
about what we really want or what will make us really happy or perhaps what our
best choice is.  An example would be when
we choose to have that second helping of something that tasted really good but
which is not good for us.  How often have
any of us done that and then shortly afterwards wondered, “What was I
thinking?”  It would be wonderful to
always be clear about our decisions, to always be mindful but it’s a practice,
a life-long practice.  We can only stay
alert and be aware.
 
 
After the retreat
is over I find myself asking that same question about having this idea of a
yoga-beach retreat for women breast cancer survivors, “What was I
thinking?”  What made me think it
would become a reality?  Did I believe
that it would turn into such a powerful, healing experience for so many
people?  Where would the money come from
so everyone could afford to attend? 
Where would we find a place to stay? 
Who would volunteer to be our teachers? 
How would we advertise?  There
were dozens of questions and challenges to making this a reality.  “What was I thinking?”  I was thinking this was a good idea and if I
moved forward and it didn’t happen, well at least I tried.  It’s better to try and fail than to never try
at all but it didn’t fail.  It
happened.  It happened and it has
provided comfort and healing, support and respite to more people than I had
ever imagined.  “What was I
thinking?”  I don’t really know what
I was thinking but I do know I’m really glad and actually very proud that I was
thinking at all. I’m thrilled that the retreat exists and that because of the
work of so many wonderful people, we achieved the creation of such an amazing,
awesome experience.  As of today it’s
been over a week since the retreat began and I am pleased to say I am still
floating on the “wings of joy.”

What Do You Live For?

Affirmation:
Every day I invite God into my life.
In Rediscover
Catholicism
, Matthew Kelly asks many interesting questions and he presents
many topics for contemplation.  One of
the questions is “What do you live for?” He tells the story of
Abraham Lincoln calling in a soldier and asking the soldier to deliver an
important message.  The soldier tells
Lincoln, “Sir, I would die for our cause.”  Lincoln says, “Son, I have thousands of
men who will die for our cause.  What I
need is one man who will live for it.” 
I love that story.  It made me
question myself.  What do I live for?  Where do I spend my time, talent and
treasure? 

Rediscover
Catholicism
is a
three hundred page book which is distributed for free.  I received it at my church in Cary N.C., St
Michael the Archangel.  I think we were
encouraged to give it to someone who has “fallen away” from the
church but I felt I could use something to reenergize my faith and so I brought
it home and promptly put it on my shelf. 
There it sat for several months along with a whole stack of other
“mean to read” books.  Do you
have any like that? 

One day a fairly
new friend and I were discussing the Church and she began to tell me about
Matthew Kelly and his book, The Dynamic Catholic.  She’s seems more sure of our Church than I
and I was interested in what she had to share and quite taken with her
enthusiasm for this author and his passion. 
I then realized his book was sitting right there with us.  It felt like I was being directed by Spirit,
by God, to read this book.  I began using
it as a prelude to my journaling in the morning, as I like to do with different
reading material.  My intention is to read
something inspirational at night, I have recently been focusing on the New
Testament, and something motivational in the morning.  For the last few weeks, I’ve been reading Rediscover
Catholicism
.

It’s very easy to
focus on the faults of the Catholic Church. 
It’s no different than focusing on the faults of the world, the government,
any organization, friends or family. 
It’s very easy to sink to the level of non constructive criticism.  It’s easier to go to a negative place than to
a positive one and the Church is a magnet for that criticism.  It has had many serious problems as an
organization, devastating behavior that cannot be justified. When I refer to
the Church, I am referring to the hierarchy. 
The patriarchal leaders who determine the philosophy and tenor of
Catholicism. Even with all its blemishes the Catholic faith has provided me with the
tools to help me deepen my faith and to grow in my relationship with God.  Matthew Kelly’s book has helped me, my Small Christian Community
study group, another study group called the Women of Grace and recently a few
new friends.

One of the
concepts presented in the book The Celestine Prophesy by James Redfield
is that there are no coincidences; everything that happens is
“supposed” to happen.  We are
always in exactly the place and time within which we are created to be.  The choice of what we do and how we choose to
perceive the situation, however, at that moment is completely ours.  One  of
my daily prayers is “Come Holy Spirit fill the heart of Your
faithful.  Enkindle in me the fire of
Your love.” It warms my soul to say that prayer.  It truly is the desire of my heart.  I want to live a Christ centered life of love
and forgiveness and service and when I say that prayer and invite God to fill
me with Divine Presence, I feel hopeful. 
“Ask and you shall receive, knock and it will be opened.”  In my quest to unite my will to the will of
God I have been drawn to activities and people who are guiding me, inspiring
me.  I once had a friend who always
seemed to be running into people, even strangers, who needed her help.  I asked her about her propensity towards this
mission and she told me she asked God everyday to send her people she could
help.  It seems so simple, doesn’t it, if
we can just remember to ask?  I’m a great
believer in answered prayer.

My faith is
growing.  My relationship with my God is
becoming stronger.  Thank heavens because
it makes my life richer and more peaceful. 
I find more and more opportunities to learn about my faith and to sink
deeper and deeper into its comfort. 
Looking back on the last year alone, I can see several invitations I’ve
said “yes” to which have led me to a more appreciative attitude
towards Catholicism.  The strongest
influence has been the newer friends who have entered my life and have chosen
to reach out to me and include me in their lives.  It’s been a tremendous joy, an honor and a
privilege to become their friend.  Each
presents their faith in a different but vibrant, loving way and I am inspired
by it.  Recently, one of the women said,
“I love my Church.”  I love my
Church!  It was wonderful to hear someone
say that.  I too am guilty of focusing on
the faults and not the beauty of my faith. 
“I love my Church.”  I’m
not there yet but perhaps with my daily prayer the Holy Spirit will lead me to
fall in love with it too.  I know I’ve
fallen in love with the men and women of my church who are in my life and who
with each encounter lead me into that rich, deep relationship with God I so
desperately desire. 

   

Why Be Vulnerable

Affirmation:  By going outside of my comfort zone I empower
myself.
When I first
moved to North Carolina in 1986 my young neighbor invited me to walk with
her.  I’d always been physically
active.  I skated as a child, both ice
and roller.  I climbed trees, jumped
rope, played ball and rode a bike to name just a few activities.  As a young adult I played tennis but I had
never exercised for the sake of exercising. 
This invitation was inviting me to try something new.  She also wanted me to walk with her three
mornings a week at 5 AM.  I love the
mornings and I’ve always risen at a fairly early hour but to get up when it was
still dark and to be dressed and out the door and walking the streets was for
me quite a challenge.  We were to walk
several miles and initially I was not physically prepared.  I needed to ice my shins after each walk
because of shin splints, sharp pains in the front of my calves.  But, after a couple of weeks, the shin
splints disappeared and I started to look forward to our chats.  After a short time, a few of the other
neighbors joined us and now we were not only exercising our bodies but building
our community.  I moved from that
neighborhood in 1990 but walking has become an essential part of my quest to be
optimally healthy. I do not, however, walk at 5:30 AM.  I now have the luxury of heading out after
the sun has risen. The decision to say “yes” to my young neighbor’s
invitation was a life-changing experience. 
It not only opened my world to the importance of exercise but it
empowered me by allowing myself to see what I could accomplish if I decided to
unite my mind and my body. 
I had stepped
outside of my comfort zone.  It may seem
like a small step but for me, it was a giant leap.  It was the beginning of a lifetime pursuit of
staying strong and healthy.  It certainly
wasn’t the first time I had been outside my comfort zone.  When I arrived here in NC I was already 40
years old.  I’d moved many times, had 3
children and had taught for several years but somehow this was different.  Accepting and meeting this challenge was life
changing.  Perhaps, I didn’t think I
could make such a commitment, but I did and once I allowed myself to be proud
of this feat, I found myself wondering what else I was capable of.  I guess, looking back on it, it was one of
the most empowering decisions of my life.     
Every day we are
faced with decisions, small and large, important and trivial but each decision
shapes our lives and shapes our future. 
Certainly, I can look back on my life and see how some choices enhanced
my life and I can see how if I had chosen differently how very different my
life would be today.  Right now I’m
reading The Time In Between by Duenas. 
It’s a marvelous example of how choice colors our life.  We are not only charged with making choices
that will enhance our lives; we are then charged with making a conscious choice
to mentally frame that choice in a positive light, to make sure that the
consequences of that decision enhances our lives.  It’s easy if it was a choice that easily led
to some perceived blessing but when the decision led to a struggle or perhaps
even a disaster, reframing it can prove to be extremely difficult but with
practice, it can be done even if it’s simply to use the experience as a lesson
which empowers us going forward.
The second focus
of Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly is vulnerability.  (The first focus was about shame and I wrote
about it in the blog, Shame on You!) When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable
we open ourselves up to making mistakes but we also open ourselves up to
opportunity and growth.  One must walk
the fine line between humility and foolishness if one is to embrace the quality
of vulnerability.  What Brene Brown is
talking about is the opportunity to live a full, rich life because we are not
afraid to try something that makes us uncomfortable, to try something at which
we might fail.  That behavior not only
takes us outside of our comfort zone but it encourages the virtue of humility. 
What would one
try if one wasn’t afraid to fail, if one was willing to be vulnerable?  It’s not only what one might learn but who
one might become.  I have some of the
most amazing friends.  People who are not
just willing to try something new but look for opportunities to do so.  My only concern is that sometimes they don’t
see what remarkable things they are doing. 
They don’t or won’t take credit for their awesome spirits.  Sure, there are historical accounts of people
whose humility changed the world, people
like Abraham Lincoln and Mahatma Gandhi.  I, however, love to look at those heroes who
are in my immediate life and relish their virtues.  There are so very many. 
There are the
writers who open up their lives to others. 
The painters who display their work. 
There are those who start their own businesses.  I have friends who have done mission trips to
all different parts of the world.  How
about those friends who begin a new career in their retirement years?  Some of the most remarkable women I’ve ever
met are the ones who attend the Pink Ribbon Yoga Retreat every year especially
the ones who come knowing no one and without a clue of where they are going or
what they’ll be doing.  I’m sure you can
think of many people in your life who step outside of their comfort zones.  They may not initially think they can but
that doesn’t stop them; they do it anyway. 
They know they might fail but they also know they might succeed.  It doesn’t matter one way or the other
because just by saying “yes”, simply by being willing to be
vulnerable, to be humble, their lives will be richer and more rewarding.

Yes, it was a
small step to agree to walk at 5 AM three mornings a week.  We need not take huge steps to initiate
change in our lives.  The little
“yeses” are the beginning which empowers us to one day take a giant
step and maybe not only change our world but The world. 

Shame On You!

Affirmation:  I release myself from shame.
“Shame on you!”  This phrase can sometimes be accompanied by an accuser wagging his or her index finger at you while they are saying it.  “Shame on you!”  Does anyone use that phrase anymore?  I hope not but whether it’s said or not, many people carry around a deep sense of shame even if they don’t understand its meaning.  My study group is in the process of reading Daring Greatly by Brene Brown and one of her main topics is shame.
Is shame different than guilt?  Can it possibly be a useful emotion, one that might help someone become healthier and more productive?  Could it possibly help someone at least become kind and compassionate?  No, I don’t believe it helps  
 in anyway.  In fact when I Googled it one of the phrases used to describe shame was an “unhealthy emotion.”  I think when someone is pointing their finger at you and saying, “Shame on you.” It’s no different than them cursing you and telling you to, “Go to Hell!”  There is no redeeming value in their condemnation. They are condemning you as a person; they are not condemning your behavior and that’s where the difference comes in between shame and guilt.  
Shame is when you feel like you are unworthy because you believe there is something inherently wrong with you; you are a bad person.  Guilt is when your behavior is faulty and because of it, because of your humanity, you’ve made a mistake, you’ve done something wrong.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t have to be someone other than ourselves pointing that finger.  Many of us are very adept at saying, “Shame on me!”  That too is not doing anything to help you create a better life.  One needs to fully comprehend the difference between believing they are inherently evil and that they have done an evil thing and can make amends and go onto change their behavior. 
I believe many people suffer from shame because of what they were told as a child by some authority figure, either a parent, teacher or some other misguided authority figure or even worse, something that was done to them as a child.  Those who make it to adulthood and don’t suffer from the malady of shame are either completely skewed or had some wonderful people in their lives who with their affirmations diffused those who attempted to harm them.They gave them the gift of discernment.  I’ve had many people tell me their religion made them feel worthless and shameful.  I can see how that might happen but at some point don’t you think you have to shuck off that mantle and decide what empowers you and what is hurting you, instead of blaming it on something in your past?  How is that done?
That’s why I started this site.  To give people the opportunity to think about their beliefs and whether or not those beliefs are enhancing their lives or diminishing their lives.  When discussing this specific topic with a friend she told me SHAME was an acronym for “should have already mastered everything.”  I don’t think she was talking about our hobbies, although I believe how we approach our hobbies is a reflection of how we feel about the more important aspects of our lives, like our faith and our relationships.  Perfection is the birthplace of shame.  We may have a belief system that has led us to a point where we expect so very much from ourselves.  There seems to be a fine line between expecting to do something perfectly and setting the bar so low that we never excel at anything.  If you follow this blog, you know that I have recently raised the bar on both my golf game and my fiddle playing.  There’s no way to keep score for fiddle improvement so since I’ve been practicing almost daily, I’ll give myself credit for improving.  Golf, however, is very different.  Each swing no matter how big or small, near or far counts equally.  Gauging my improvement or lack thereof is very easy.  

Soon after writing the Never Give Up blog, but after some additional practice and a lesson I headed out to play with “the big girls.”  What a lesson in life for me.  I was abysmal!  Notice the phrase carefully.  I didn’t write, “My game was abysmal.”  I fully felt like there was something inherently wrong with me.  When describing my experience to a dear friend and life-long golfer I was hoping for some great insight to dispel how embarrassed and actually ashamed I was by my performance.  In retrospect I am so grateful to have had this experience.  It was non-threatening, even trivial in some way but because I’ve been studying Daring Greatly, it gave me a great opportunity to see how I can point that finger of shame at myself and suffer that unhealthy emotion.
My friend and her husband said all the right things.  There they are, the people we all need in our lives to lift us up and affirm our personhood.  I wasn’t being silly.  “It was easy to beat ourselves up over our performances.”  They had had exactly the same experiences.  With their encouragement and a few more lessons from my coach and number one fan, my husband, Sandy, I took the lessons of golf and life that I had just learned and headed out to play once again.  I headed out with a whole new attitude.  I would do my very best and no matter what, I would have fun.  I would enjoy my time.  I would not beat myself up.  I felt differently heading out and I think that alone helped me play better.  A life lesson for me.  Do my best and choose to enjoy whatever I’m involved with.  And, when I’m shamed either by myself or another, take it to those who love me and let them help lift me back up to a place of light and joy.
Shame is a disease of the spirit, not the mind.  This is probably why religion has been so successful at using shame as a tool to control their flocks.  We don’t really need to be reminded of our sinful nature, most of us are very aware of our imperfections.  What we really need is encouragement and healing.  That too is available through most faiths.  Unfortunately, we must sift through the fire and brimstone to find it but it is there.  That’s where the healing is too.  It’s in the attention to spirit.  In fact, I firmly believe once we ask for healing, the Universe will gather all its forces to begin the process and will come to us in ways in which we never even dreamed.  
I am a great believer in the Holy Spirit.  Oh I am sure there are many many names given  the Holy Spirit by all those that believe there is a power greater than anything of which we have an inkling.  Give it any name you like.  It’s that life force that penetrates the very core of every living thing.  It’s available to all of us but most of us are simply too busy or too thick to notice it.  When we sit in silence and invite Divine Energy into our lives and our beings, miracles occur, healing occurs.  This is the antidote to shame.  We invite God into every cell of our beings.  We are part of the Divine.  It is our birthright to share in the holiness and glory of God.  Once we acknowledge our connection and our heritage to God’s Divine gifts, healing begins.  

The Demise of Cursive Writing

Affirmation:  I am a life-long learner.

The
conversation with my children was about writing.  It wasn’t about creative writing, it was
about penmanship.  Well there’s an old
fashioned word.  I didn’t know how outdated
it was until we had this discussion.  I
was informed by my adult daughter, Melissa, that cursive writing was no longer
part of the core curriculum in the North Carolina school system.  After the third grade, children are not
taught how to write long-hand.  I’m still
in shock.  I’ve been writing three pages
of long-hand in my journal every morning for over fifteen years.  My adult son, Joey, went onto say that he
almost never uses a pen or a pencil. 
When he does, he finds them awkward to use.  His writing method is almost always a keyboard.  Penmanship is no longer considered an
essential life skill.

That
certainly wasn’t true when I was in school. 
The cursive alphabet was on long strips of black paper resting above the
black board.  Yes, the board was black,
not white and we used chalk not erasable magic markers.  There were several lines on the paper and
each one was a height that determined where a loop, a “t”, an
“i” or a capital letter was to land on the page.  We were handed blank lined pages and the
students tried to copy the letters onto the paper from the form above the
boards.  We used number 2 pencils with
erasers.  I loved it!  I liked the form and the lines for guidance
and the feel of the pencil on the paper and I loved seeing the letters take
shape and appear on the page.  I became a
math teacher later in life.  I was never
much for coloring outside the lines so it seems fairly understandable why I
liked the rigid format that was used to learn cursive. 

I’ve
always been fascinated by hand writing. 
Some is so legible and others completely illegible.  Some is neat and clean and others are
sloppy.  Some is flowery and others are
straight up and down.  People have made a
living “reading” hand writing. 
They are supposed to be able to figure out a person’s personality from
what their hand writing looks like.  Not
anymore!  Did you ever watch a detective
show where the sleuth looked at a type written note and determined whether
someone was right handed or left handed because of how some of the letters
appeared darker; they had been hit harder by the dominant hand?  Not anymore! 
I went to summer school to learn how to type.  My mother told me it was an invaluable life
skill.  She was right!  The key board I use today is laid out exactly
the same as the one that was on my manual typewriter.  If you don’t know what a typewriter looks
like, Google it. But, they don’t teach typing in school anymore
either.  I think it comes already hard
wired in the brains of anyone born after 1990. 
I’ve seen two year olds working a computer key board. 

Reading,
writing and arithmetic were the three “Rs” that we were told were the
core skills we would need for life.  The
question about why we needed to learn mathematics when most people would never
use it once they were out of school is decades old.  As a math teacher, I sometimes wondered the
same thing but I knew the value of making the brain work in different ways and
for me there was always a great satisfaction in solving a problem correctly.  I loved solving the “puzzle.” But,
it’s true; most people didn’t have any use for Algebra or Geometry or Trig.
once they have finished with the class. 
Now, most people don’t even need to know the basics of math.  There’s a calculator on every phone.  It appears to be one more life skill we no
longer need. 

So, that
leaves reading as the last core skill we were told we needed.  I can’t imagine not reading. I love a good
book.  Recently I had cataract surgery
and the lenses that were implanted were determined by whether or not I read
books and papers regularly or if I read from a computer.  Can you imagine not being able to read?  There are organizations dedicated to teaching
adults how to read.  It seems it still is
an essential life skill.  But, I wonder
will that always be true?  Recently, I
downloaded an app called OverDrive.  It
allows me to connect to my library and to download audio books onto my phone or
iPad.  I can then listen to the book
wherever and whenever I want.  I know
there have been audio books for decades but now they are prolific and free; for
many it’s their preferred way to “read” a book.  What does this foretell?

If we
don’t need to learn the three “Rs” any longer, what do we need to
learn or even more important, what do we need to be teaching?  What are the schools focusing on that is
preparing our young people to live meaningful, productive lives?  We have several people in the family who have
been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder. 
I know it is more commonly diagnosed today than ever before.  I’m not sure if it’s because more people
struggle with it or because we’re more knowledgeable about it.  My youngest grandson was really struggling in
his traditional middle school because of ADD. 
We were fortunate to find a small private local school that had a
different, more hands-on approach to learning. 
Once there he blossomed both mentally and emotionally.  His learning “style” needed a place
with a different environment in order for it to take root.  What is he learning at his new school that is
different from the other one?  He’s
learning how to learn. 

Let’s
face it all the information we need or want to learn  is available to us
in one form or another.  Today it’s even
more readily available because of our access to the Internet.  I am in awe of the range of information
available online.  There are lessons on
everything!  There are lessons about
things I probably don’t want know anything about.  I have, however, looked up music lessons and
how to fix different things.  My son uses
the Internet to renovate equipment, like boats, cars, engines and all sorts of
electronic equipment.  The other day our
refrigerator broke down and the first thing we did, after throwing away the
perishables was to go online to see if we could diagnose it and fix it
ourselves.  Owen is always telling me
about different places he’s never been to or about scientific data he’s looked
up.  It’s beyond exciting!  Back in March of 2013 he pretended to be a
reporter and interviewed Galileo about his theories.  My husband, Sandy, played the role of the
famous scientist.  It was for Owen’s
science project.  Everyone learned
something and it was fun. 

I’d like
to think that our educational system is closely examining what our young people
need to learn in order to be productive healthy citizens.  What do you think the new core skills should
be?  It seems to me one of the most
important ones would be to learn how to learn. 
Owen is an experiential learner. 
Once he discovered that, he found he can learn whatever he wants.  I am mainly an auditory learner.  If I had known that earlier on, learning
would have come a lot easier to me.  Some
of us are visual; others need a variety of approaches. Once we’ve learned how
to gather the information, the rest is just doing it.  But what other core skills do we want our
children to master?  What are the
essential life skills?  If it’s true we
learn all we need to know in Kindergarten, what are we doing with the rest of
our years of schooling?  How about
focusing on the Golden Rule?  “Do
unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  How about the Ten Commandments?  What about relationship skills: how to
resolve conflict, how to create community, how to get your needs met without
hurting another?  What if the three
“Rs” morphed into the three “Cs”: compassion, communication
and cooperation? 

Yes, we
still need to know how to read and write, if not in cursive than at least we
need to know how to compose a grammatically correct sentence.  But, the key to all of this is it’s not so
much what we learn but that we do learn and not just while we’re in school but
for as long as we’re alive.  Expand your
knowledge.  Go out there and learn about
life, learn about living, learn whatever it is that makes you feel fully
alive.  Then perhaps you’ll write about
it.  Perhaps you’ll share it with the
world.  Who knows maybe someday someone
will download it and listen to it. 

Never Give Up

Affirmation:  Because of visualization and dedication, I am
a remarkable golfer and a terrific fiddler.

Once
again I am learning about who I am and how I approach life by two of the more
challenging hobbies I have chosen to pursue for these many years.  I hate to quit at something I’ve made up my
mind to learn.  My learning style is more
about being slow and steady.  I have
discovered that as long as I don’t give up, sooner or later I can become fairly
proficient at what I want to do.  I do
have a tendency to think of myself as a “jack of all trades, a master of
none.”  That’s not a very positive
affirmation, is it?  In some ways it has
served me well because I will attempt to do something regardless of my
knowledge or skill level.  I don’t think
I have to be perfect.  I don’t expect
perfection so why not give it a shot. 
Unfortunately for me, however, I have a tendency to focus on those
things at which I am not exceptional and not claim those skills at which I am
very accomplished.  There are things I do
very well.  There are skills and talents
of which I have pursued and worked hard and feel good about but there are those
of which I have told myself I will never be masterful.  I’ve often thought there are just some things
where I reach my level of mediocrity and can’t seem to break through it or
chose not to break through it.  Golf and
fiddling are two of those things. I thought I’d made peace with that.  I thought I was just fine still plugging
along and not seeing any great improvement until my chiropractor, Joanne Noel,
took some time to help me reframe my intentions. 

I
mentioned my playing golf during my visit to her.  I’m sure I didn’t sound too excited.  “Really” I tell myself and
sometimes others, “I just play to keep my husband company and to be with
my son and daughter-in-law.  If I don’t
keep score, I’m a really good golfer. I am!”  But, I don’t know how to not keep score.  Even when I don’t write it down, I find
myself counting each stroke in my head. 
At the end of 18 holes I always know how many times I have swung the
club and it’s always a lot of times.  I
really don’t understand it.  I have a few
flubs now and then but if you were watching me I think you’d see that I hit the
ball fairly far, I have a nice short game and I’ve become a pretty good putter
but when I add all that up, it’s always a lot. 
How does one determine if a score represents a lot of swings?  It’s determined by one’s handicap and my
handicap is the highest a woman can have. 
This after playing this sport as of this year for 46 years!  

There is
not a numerical handicap to determine one’s fiddling skill.  As of this writing I  haven’t been playing the fiddle for 46
years.  I really wish I had been.  I imagine I’d be much more skilled.  Although, if my golfing skills are an
indication of how long it would take before I became a master, it might not
make much of a difference but I do imagine, I actually dream that if I’d
learned to play as a child and had practiced and played all these many years, I
would play with abandonment and I’d make this wonderful sound and perhaps I
could even play by ear.  I’d be able to
join any jam session and when the song began there I’d be fiddling along either
picking up the tune or adding to the beat with my knowledge and skill.  It’s a dream. 
It’s good to have dreams but you can sit around forever wishing
something to be true and if it involves learning and practice, it will never
happen. Never! Never! Never! 

My music
teacher, Mara Shea sent me the link to this You-tube video: Never Give Up.  If you have anything in your life you’re
working at improving, I highly recommend watching it.  It’s not about golfing or fiddling.  It’s the heroic story of a Gulf War veteran
who was left severely handicapped after his time of service.  He was told he would never be able to walk on
his own again.  It took quite a while but
he decided they were wrong and he found a teacher and began practicing
yoga.  It documents his journey.  With dedication and persistence he completely
changed his life.  I wasn’t sure if Mara
sent it to me because I am a Yoga teacher and she knew I’d love it or because
she wanted me to know that if I continue to practice and not give up, someday
my dream of being a terrific fiddler will finally come true.  Regardless of her reason, I found it to be
moving and motivational. 

My
chiropractor, Joanne Noel responded to my comments about my golf game by
telling me the story of a patient of hers who after years of being a sub par
golfer one day decided to become a scratch golfer.  That’s someone with a zero handicap.  Joanne shared that her patient hadn’t yet
reached her goal and maybe she never would but that her patient now had a
remarkable golf game.  Remarkable!  Right then and there I knew I would one day
have a remarkable golf game.  Mara Shea
encourages me to become the best fiddler I can possibly be.  She’d love to see my dream of being a
terrific fiddler come true.  Michelangelo
said, “The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high
and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.”  I have been aiming too low.  But now, I am not going to simply sit around
and wish that I become a remarkable golfer and a terrific fiddler, I have a new
affirmation and I’ve already seen the beginnings of its power.  I have a vision and I am ready to work. 

What are
your visions?  What dreams do you have
that you are willing to work at?  I could
continue writing this blog.  It’s such a
powerful concept, the concept of visualizing our lives and then stepping up our
efforts to bring our visualization into reality but, I have to go practice the
fiddle and later today, I will be practicing my golf swing.  I took a lesson this week and I need to
relearn the way I hit my clubs.  I can
already see that if I practice this new technique my swing will be more consistent
and the ball will go further.  I can see
that handicap score lowering any day now and I can hear that jam session
calling me.  I’m getting ready!

Savoring Life

Affirmation:  I eat mindfully
Mindfulness
is the practice of being fully aware of the present moment without
judging.  John Kabat-Zinn brought a
greater awareness to the practice back in 1970’s when he began teaching
Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). It is still taught worldwide. I
studies MBSR at Duke Integrative Medicine, NC several years ago. It’s a gift we
give ourselves when we develop the ability to be in the present moment.  It’s also the practice of a lifetime.  Most of here in the West don’t sit in a lotus
position for several hours a day chanting or focusing on a mantra (a single
word or phrase).  Most Americans are more
concerned about the past or the future and are missing whatever is happening in
the present.  In general we are a busy,
pre-occupied population.  But, most of us
are also looking for ways to improve the quality of our lives.  We are searching for that which will enhance
our daily experiences and not leave us feeling so worn out and tired.  Tools, we are looking for the tools we can
use to fix or to shape or to color our lives so that we are able to take deeper
breaths, appreciate the beauty of nature and relish the precious moments of
connection with those we love.
For many,
prayer is a powerful tool.  It’s my first
choice.  Time to communicate with my God,
time to tell Her my concerns, to offer up thanksgiving for all my blessings and
time to simply sit and listen.  It
doesn’t have to be formal prayer.  My day
is lifted up and given over to God, Jesus Christ, before I even rise from the
bed.  Then, if it’s a day of unending
activity which I must confess is not unusual, I still know that I am in prayer
mode throughout all the business. 
In yoga
the practitioner is called upon to focus on his or her breath.  Sometimes a yoga practice may only involve
pranayama, breathing techniques.  There
are many, some more elaborate than others. 
The simplest one involves watching one’s breath.  I encourage my students at the very beginning
of practice to simply notice their breath. 
“Close your eyes and begin to focus on your breath, the in and the
out, the up and the down, the rise and the fall.”  After years of beginning practice this way, I
simply need to think the words and I feel calmer.  When a group of us are all focusing on our
breath at the same time, the entire energy level in the room changes from
charged to serene. 
Another
breathing technique that can be used anywhere anytime is to simply take a deep
breath.  Breathe all the way down into
your belly and then release it.  Want to
make it even more effective, sigh it out. 
Oh, not just a little sigh, make it a full “haaaaa!”  Don’t believe it’ll make a difference?  Try it right now, do it a few times and then
just notice.  Don’t judge, just observe
if you feel any different.  I attach the
name of Jesus to my deep breaths.  It’s a
mini-prayer that I can do anywhere, anytime. 
Journaling
is also an opportunity for me to practice mindfulness.  I like to have a large mug of tea next to me;
my favorite spiral bound journal, an easy flowing ballpoint pen and a pleasant
space.  I usually write in my sun
room.  I have a nice chair and ottoman
and the room faces my garden, the bird feeders and a small waterfall.  It’s a yellow room with much of my favorite
memorabilia on the shelves.  I begin with
a prayer and then write my three pages. 
I am fully there in the time and space. 
It centers me for the day.  It
leaves me feeling grounded and calm. 
Another
way for me to practice mindfulness is when I am eating.  It’s a reciprocal process in that when I
focus on the process of eating, my eating becomes healthier.  I’m always fine tuning my diet.  I’m a moderate person, meaning I don’t usually
go overboard when I’m making changes. 
I’m a sure and steady kind of gal. I share this with you because while I
know a lot about vegan diets and vegetarian diets, I have not fully embraced
any restrictive form of eating.  I avoid
certain foods that I think aren’t my best choices, like things with sugar,
artificial colors or flavorings, foods that are heavily salted or have
preservatives.  I try to eat mostly fresh
vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fish and chicken.  I love a glass of wine periodically and
sharing an ice cream with friends or especially with a grandchild, is a real
treat for me.  I know how important it is
to eat a “good” diet.  I’m also
aware of the global impact my choices have on the rest of the world. 
When I
trained at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, breakfast was always
silent.  It was a very educational
experience for me. I am a social eater. 
I love to sit with family and friends and share a meal and conversation.
If there’s no one around, I don’t really care if I eat or not. I’m an
“eat-to-live” person, not a “live-to-eat” person.  In order to make the best food choices for me
I decided to simply pay close attention to the eating experience.  Have you ever tried the “raisin”
experiment?  You place a single raisin in
your mouth and you don’t chew it.  You
allow it to dissolve very very slowly. 
You notice the texture, the sweetness. 
You think about how it came to become a raisin, where it was grown, who
harvested it.  It can take 10 or even 15
minutes to eat that one raisin.  It can
bring you to a whole new appreciation for every bit you take.
What is
your eating environment like?  Do you
take your time and savor each bite or have you just gone through the drive-thru
and are eating as you go?  What’s dinner
like?  Is the TV on or is the computer in
front of you?  What if you simply sat at
the table and focused on the food you are putting into your mouth and your
body?  If you ate mindfully would your
choices be different?  Mine are. We are
what we eat.  What and how we feed our
bodies, our minds and our spirits determines every cell of our being.  Slow down, breathe deeply, say grace before your meal and
savor each bite and especially each moment of your life. 
 

Hugging for Health

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. 

Peace Be With You

Affirmation:  I live a Christ centered life of love,
peace, joy, gratitude and compassion.
Once upon a time
an amateur golfer could purchase hole-in-one insurance.  If the golfer made a hole-in-one, he or she
would receive an all-expense paid trip to anywhere in the world.  I knew this because one of my husband’s
business associates at that time had just returned from a trip to Hawaii that
he had “won” through this program.  My
husband had a birthday coming up and I thought this would be an excellent
present for him (for us!)  I probably had
a slight attack of conscience because I mentioned it to him to make sure this
was something he’d really enjoy.  He
would not, he told me.  What he really
wanted was a new set of golf head-covers. 
That’s what I bought him.  He was
happy.  The following week my husband had
his first hole-in-one.  It did not make
him happy.  He certainly didn’t want to
call me to tell me about it.  I think if
he could have kept it from me for the rest of his life, he would have but we
lived in the tiny town of Norwich, New York and word would reach me probably
sooner than later.  As you can imagine I
was very disappointed.  I can think of
several things I might have done differently had I known he was to have this
hole-in-one after telling me not to buy him the $40.00 hole-in-one
insurance.  But, it’s always easier in
retrospect, isn’t it?  We’re always so
much wiser in retrospect, aren’t we? 
What would life be like if we were people who knew ahead of time what
was going to happen?  
I love those
sci-fi movies about people who are time travelers.  I especially like the ones where people go
back to the past.  Two of my favorites
are Back to the Future with Michael
J. Fox and Peggy Sue with Kathleen
Turner.  In both films they were able to
impart helpful knowledge to people in their past to help them improve their
lives in the future.  In Peggy Sue,
Kathleen Turner had a nerdy friend who believed her story that she was from the
future.  He wanted to know what he should
invest in.  “Panty hose,” she
suggested.  What should I invest in now
that will insure my future success?  Do I
need to be able to see the future to make those decisions?  Maybe I would be able to pick out the winning
power ball number or I could buy some sort of unknown stock, like Apple, before
it went through the ceiling.  Perhaps one
would know who not to marry or what job not to pass up.  Oh, the places one could go and the things
one could do without any concern, without any confusion. 
I have several
dear friends whose early married lives were very difficult.  One friend’s husband left her with three
children and declared bankruptcy.  Right
after he left, her house burned to the ground. 
These were only a few of the challenges she faced at that time. Her husband
then began a new relationship and a new business and she was left to figure out
how to survive.  The really good news is
she did more than survive, she thrived! 
It’s been a few decades now since all this began but recently she found
out he was dying.  She held a lot of
justified resentment towards him but she picked up the phone to talk to him and
instead of venting all her frustration and anger, she found herself thanking
him.  For what?  For her three wonderful children, for her
stamina and fortitude and for the life she now lives.  If she could have seen into the future with
all the travail she would face, she probably would have still chosen the same;
a different choice would have meant she would be a different person and she’s a
marvelous human being because of the trials she’s overcome.  She has made peace not only with her
ex-husband but with life.
In the Catholic
Mass we have one phrase that is used three times.  “Peace be with you.”  Three times the priest says, “Peace be with
you.”  No other phrase is repeated even
once but this one is repeated three times. 
Why?  Because it’s the one gift
everyone desires, peace.  When we are in
the middle of war most of the population wants it to end.  They want peace.  When we are in the throes of caring for someone
in pain, we pray for their peace.  When
someone has experienced the death of a loved one, we ask for them to have
peace.  When we or someone we know is
faced with any sort of difficulty, financial or physical, we want to see them
come to a peaceful place.  Peace.  What does it look like?  Can one find it in any situation?  Recently, an acquaintance confided that his
job might be at risk.  We reacted with
alarm.  He, on the other hand told us he
wasn’t worried.  There was nothing he
could do about it right now, so he wasn’t upset.  He was at peace.  We may not have a definitive definition for
peace but we all know when it’s missing. 
We all know when we are not at peace. 
It is one of God’s greatest gifts. 
We can claim it whenever we want.  Sometimes all it takes is a short prayer, a deep breath and a silent few moments.  Once we are at peace with ourselves, we can radiate that peace out into
the rest of the world. 
It might seem like
foreknowledge might be a better gift than peace but it doesn’t matter.  There is no such thing, no matter what the
psychic tells us.  There’s no guarantee
that we’ll ever know what the future will hold. 
But, we can find peace with whatever life has brought us.  We can let go of the disappointments, the
trials, the hurts, the not so wise choices and we can ask God to let us go
forward with the gift of peace.  We can
go forward knowing that our lives, the good, the bad and the ugly are exactly
as they are supposed to be and that with God’s gift of peace, we can rest in
all of it.  

P.S.  Because of Sandy’s career we have not only traveled to Hawaii, we have traveled the world.  We really didn’t need that hole-in-one insurance.  

A Year of Love

Affirmation:
I am fully open to love, human and divine. 
Love surrounds me and permeates every aspect of my existence.

When I
went to visit Paul I noticed the wedding pictures on his wall.  He was one of the few men in the Alzheimer’s
unit and he was a flirt.  He was good
looking, tall and lean and always had on a baseball cap.  He was in the beginning stages and I could
easily have a conversation with him. 
Then I also noticed the memorial card with what I guessed was his wife’s
name.  I asked him if I were correct and
if the card referred to his wife.  It
did.  “Were you married a long
time?” I asked.  I didn’t really
expect an answer.  I was just making
conversation.  “Sixty-one
years,” he replied.  “Wow”
I responded, “that’s a long time.” 
He came right back at me, “Not long enough!”  That was several years ago but even as I
write this my heart aches and my eyes tear up. 
“Not long enough.” What a lesson!  It came at me like a speeding train and left
me dazed by the side of the tracks.  Life
is precious and life for many is “not long enough.”

One of my
dear friends recently lost her mother to Alzheimer’s.  It was a long, difficult battle.  My friend lives in North Carolina but her
“mum” lived I England.  She
would often fly over to visit and to care for her mother.  When her mother was finally admitted to a
care facility, my friend would get up every morning she was there, take the bus
and spend the entire day visiting and helping with the other residents.  The facility eventually offered her a
job.  Her mother stopped recognizing her
daughter but one day she told my friend, “I don’t know who you are but I
know you love me very much.”

“I
know you love me very much.” 
“Not long enough.” 
Words spoken emanating from a place deep within, nothing trite or
superficial.  The murmurings of the
heart, not just of the mind.  If I were
to look at my life today, search my soul, what heart murmurs would I hear?  And if I lost my mind would the messages be
about love?  I’ve dedicated this, my 68th
year, as The Year of Love.

My
church, the Catholic Church, dedicates each year to some worthy theme: The Year
of Faith or The Year of the Eucharist, etc. 
Why not let it be an example for me and dedicate a year of my life to
some worthy concept?  The Year of
Love!  It’s my ultimate goal, to love
deeply, unconditionally, non-judgmentally and without attachment.  It’s the work of a lifetime.  It seems worthwhile and appropriate to take
at least a year and to focus on love.

One more
Alzheimer story.  In the video for the
song “Raymond” by Bret Eldridge an elderly woman has the mistaken
idea that the maintenance man is her deceased son, Raymond.  The video shows that Raymond died in the
Vietnam War but Kathryn, the lady in the video, has no memory of that.  Her memory only goes back to 1943.  She’s a blessed woman.  She appears comfortable in her surroundings
and the cleaning man is kind and gracious. 
“I bring her morning coffee every day,” he sings.  “Sometimes I find myself wishing I’d
been there.”  He seems to love her,
this woman who believes he is her son. 
He knows she loves him.  It’s such
a small act of kindness but it’s such a grand act of love. The video reflects
love in its purest form.  It seems to
seep from the page out into the room.  I
never fail to weep when I watch it. 

What is
more important than creating a life filled with love?  Once we can learn to accept love, we can more
generously give love.  We may not like
everyone, that’s a given but it is possible to still love them or at least to
hold them in a space of love.  You can
pray for your worst enemy and I don’t mean for evil to invade their lives.  It is possible to find a place in our hearts
to ask for the best for everyone in the world, both those we find easy to love
and those who challenge us.  Remember,
you can’t make your world any brighter by blowing out someone else’s
light.  The heart is a muscle.  If we want it to become strong and healthy,
we have to exercise it just like any other muscle. 

If I lose
my mind, which I must confess seems more threatening some days than others, I
want to know that my heart is still full of love and my body, my spirit is
filled with the blessings of a life filled with love.  I want to live a life where I can say
“not long enough.”  A life where
one day someone will look at me and say, “I know you love me.”  Hopefully, they will also know who I am and I
will know who they are.