Jean Anne Costa
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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.
 

Blessing Adversity

Affirmation:  What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger and being stronger makes life easier and richer.  
“What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger, stronger” so goes the saying and the now popular song by Kelly Clarkson.  I wonder would I want to be tested to the point of dying to become stronger?  I have been tested by breast cancer.  I wouldn’t have chosen it but it has made me stronger.  It seems like a given that most people believe becoming stronger is a good thing.

I do work at being physically strong.  I fully recognize the advantages of having a strong body.  Besides practicing Yoga regularly, twice a week I participate in a class called Rep-Reebok.  It’s weight lifting to music and since I began it, I do feel I’ve gained quite a bit of muscle.  I’m not so concerned about how it affects my shape but I know the stronger I  am, the less likely I am to injure myself.  Having physical strength makes my daily activities easier.  I also work at having mental and spiritual fortitude. It makes my whole existence easier.

Sherri Shepherd recently released a book entitled Plan D: How to Lose Weight and Beat Diabetes.  Presently she’s one of the talk show hostesses on The View.  She’s very funny and she’s always been a very large lady, actually the word is obese.  She was interviewed by Doctor Oz this week and shared the diabetic history of her family.  She said they called it “the sugar” and no one took any steps to deal with it, regardless of how much the disease had progressed.  She too was guilty of the same behavior.  Denial is the term for the way some people deal with situations they don’t want to face.  She was in denial until someone asked her in so many words if she was ready to die one amputation at a time.  She changed her life.  She took charge.  She changed her diet and began exercising.  She changed a lIfe threatening situation into a life enhancing practice.  She shared some of her new healthy eating techniques and said she now works out at a gym and has turned her home into a gym, not a fancy room with all the bells and whistles. The stairs are her “stair-master.”  Her kitchen sink is her “ballet bare” and she never rests her bottom on the toilette.  That’s her opportunity to do squats!  Diabetes changed her life, for the better.   

The conversation I had with a woman I had recently met revolved around her brother’s recovery from drug abuse.  He too had a devastating disease.  He too had taken steps to become healthy.  When speaking about his life, she shared that he had become a wonderful father.  He was raising his son by himself.  The mother was also an addict and had given up her son.  He had shared with his sister that the challenge of being a single parent was his greatest blessing.  His life was as good as it was because his son needed him and helped him rise to the challenge of creating a healthy, loving life.  
It’s an old saying, “We can choose to make lemons into lemonade.”  Life is full of adversity, all different levels.  Diseases of the mind, body and spirit are faced by all of us at sometime or another.  Where do we find the resources to lift ourselves from the darkness back into the light?  For many, it’s their faith but not everyone has that gift.  It is a gift to believe in a loving, beneficent God or at least to believe that our pain is serving some higher purpose. We all have pain. Others must find another way to rise above their adversity.  For most help comes in the form of others: family, friends and community.  

This second of week of May, 2013 the media has been full of news about Angelina Jolie and her choice to have a prophylactic double mastectomy.  It’s not an unusual story.  It’s a decision thousands of women have faced and many of whom have chosen the same path.  Angelia’s mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer when her mother was in her forties.  She died at 55.  She decided to undergo the gene test to see if it was indeed a hereditary condition and it came back positive.  She had an 87% chance of dying of breast cancer.   She chose not to wait for fate to decide her future.  She chose to take radical steps to insure that she would not have the words “breast cancer” on her death certificate.  Her popularity, perhaps we could even say notoriety, propelled her decision to the front of the news.  I personally commend her for making her decision public.  It opens the avenue for important discussions.  It’s similar to when Betty Ford stepped forward as First Lady and shared she was undergoing treatment for breast cancer.  We sometimes need celebrities to she’d light on issues that might otherwise go unexamined.  

How can one see a prophylactic double mastectomy as a blessing?  How easy it would be to perceive oneself as a victim.  How easy it would be to wallow in self pity.  Brad Pitt, Angelina’s fiancé told the media they didn’t view her surgery as a loss.  They viewed it as a gain; they had gained years of life. They believed his wife and the mother of their children would now be a part of their lives for many years to come.

When we are in the middle of some challenge, it’s almost impossible to see it as beneficial.  I believe we need to move away and outside of it before we can begin to see ways it may and can bless our lives.  It’s all about the whole package, all of life’s lessons are valuable.  We are all going to be faced with adversity.  Most of us will come through it; there’s no going around it.  How we perceive our experience will be determined by how we view our lives.  Do we wake each morning and see the blessings the day may bestow upon us or do we rise in fear and dread? What are we focusing on?   How do you view the glass, half empty or half full?  I’m not talking about not recognizing your sadness and fear.  We must acknowledge all our emotions but once we’ve done that and walked through the “valley of death” do we want to continue to suffer (maybe some do.)  I, however, would prefer to let the experience teach me whatever lesson I needed to know and then take that knowledge and use it to make me “stronger! stronger! stand a little taller!” as Kelly sings and to enjoy a tall cool glass of that lemonade.

Journeying Through Motherhood

Affirmation:  Being a mother is my greatest joy.
As we walked around the lake the geese couple were crossing the path and next to them was a gaggle of goslings.  The female goose raised her head and stared right at us daring us to come closer.  Behind us was another walker and her dog.  The mother goose didn’t hesitate.  She took off charging, squawking loudly at the dog. It had come too close to her babies.  
I’ve been a mother for over 40 years now.  Now, I’m also a grandmother.  My adult gym now offers toddler swim lessons on Saturday mornings.  I feel a deep ache as I watch the parents interact with the children.  I have an even stronger reaction when I see them holding out their arms for the child to jump into and holding their little hands as they lead them to and from the pool. I’m nostalgic for that time but I remember those lessons when I did them and I am just fine that now I’m simply an appreciative observer.  

One day a young mother shared with a group of us that her 15 year old teenage daughter and husband had had their first terrible blow out.  She was worried they would never have a trusting, loving relationship.  The other mothers present assured her it was all normal growing pains and if it had taken this long for them to have this type of interaction, they were probably going to be just fine, probably even better than fine.  Many years ago the New York Times ran an article about the happiness level of parents.  The research reported that in general the parents of teenagers were unhappier than parents at any other stage.  I don’t remember being unhappy when my children were teenagers but I do know that now that they are adults, I thoroughly enjoy their company and that of their spouses.  It’s pure joy when I have the opportunity to spend time with them. I think what we spend our money on reflects that on which we consider to be the important and I’d rather spend my money on events that bring us all together than on anything else.
Today when I see a young family together I want to run up to them and tell them it’s a “short long journey.”  I want to embrace them and shake them and make sure they know it and tell them to savor every moment of it.  Motherhood is work.  It’s painful and it’s challenging.  It’s demanding and it’s tiring.  It’s frustrating and it’s confusing.  It’s also an amazing journey.  

As a young mother I was never around family.  Our first move was when my oldest was 6 weeks old.  Our second move five years later was when my middle child was 18 months old and then ten years after that, we moved when Ellen was just three.  I never had a support system.  Every time we moved, I was completely on my own.  I didn’t have a clue how very hard it was but looking back I can see how hard it truly was.  Each time we moved, I had to create a new support system.  It was easier sometimes than others.  It was exciting to go to a new place but it was also lonely.  Our last move brought us here to North Carolina over 26 years go.  We began again.  Now, I live close to most of my family.   

My oldest girl, Melissa and her kind, loving husband, Larry and my four grandchildren live about 2 miles away.  My son, Joey and his beautiful (inside and out) wife Belen also live close.  My mom lives nearby and I’m blessed to still have my husband of 45 years in my life.  My youngest is in London but I’m optimistic about her future.

My years of motherhood are not over.  Once a mother, always a mother but this stage, being the mother of adult children is for me a rich blessing.  While the children were growing, I was too busy with the cares of life and daily activities to savor all the precious moments they offered me but now, I can relish each moment.  I can relax in their company.  When I was doing my MSW I decided I would ask each of them, all adults at that time, how I did as a mother.  Truly, this has been my life’s work.  I wondered how they felt I did.  When I look back I remember each of their births.  I remember all the times they were sick and needed care.  I remember all those miles in the car to different sporting events or classes.  I remembered making dinner almost every night.  I remember reading stories and grabbing hugs and kisses as often as possible.  I remember helping with homework and visiting schools.  I remember helping find colleges and going to ceremonies.  I remember a home that I always hoped felt safe and secure. I welcomed their friends and eventually their spouses.  I encouraged them to follow their dreams and listened when life went a different way.  I hadn’t had any training and other than my wonderful husband, I hadn’t had any family around to guide me but it appeared I’d done alright.  What did they think?  I was curious and I was brave.  
Yes, it’s been a “long short journey.”  If I could do it again what would I change?  I wouldn’t change much.  If I were as wise at 20, 30 or 40 as I am now, what would I do differently.  I’d not clean the house so often.  Occasionally I’d have cereal for dinner instead of taking time to cook each evening.  I’d read even more stories, hold hands even more often.  I’d sit and just listen whenever they wanted to tell me something.  I’d know this moment will soon be gone and I’d treasure it for the gift it was.  
They were kind to me when they answered my question.  That response alone was an answer in itself.  I’d done OK.  I must have done OK.  They’re still hanging out with me.  In fact as I write this today, Mother’s Day the family is on their way over.  All except Ellen.  She’ll be here next week.  We’ll celebrate then.  Yes, I might change the way I did some things, go slower, be more mindful but I wouldn’t change choosing to be a mother, especially to these three remarkable people.  I’ve been blessed and at least now I can go slower and relish each and every moment I get to spend with them. 

Golf & Lessons Learned

Affirmation: 
Every
life experience leads to wisdom and knowledge.

On
June 19th, 2011 Rory McIlroy won the US Open in golf.  I am married to a golfer and my adult son,
Joey, has given up sky diving and taken up golf.  (Thank You, Lord!)  Considering Sandy and I have been married for
almost 45 years, I have learned a lot about the sport.  I have never considered myself a golfer but I
have played golf for over forty years, ever since I married.  Sandy is an amazing golfer.  Truly, his game is superb and it’s such fun
to watch him play.     

I
use to resent his dedication to this past time. When I had three young
children, the time away from the family required by golf and desired by my
husband was onerous for me.  But, now with
the children grown and on their own, I can see the sport in a different
light.  Actually, over the last few
summers, I might even occasionally refer to myself as a “golfer.” 

Many
years ago I read James Dobson’s, Final Rounds.  It completely changed the way I saw the
sport.  It truly was a life changing
read.  It helped too that my children
were older and I had a little more free time. 
But, when I read the memories that he and his dad had collected
together, I better understood the appeal of the game.  Golf wasn’t just “a good walk spoiled” as
Mark Twain said; it was about so much more. 
It was about relationships and adventures and shared experiences.  I took it to heart and started focusing on
those aspects and not how many times I was hitting (or swinging) at that little
ball.  Yes, something changed. I started
having more fun and truly valuing the time I spent with Sandy and now with my
son.  Sometimes my daughter-in-law, Belen,
joins us on the course as Joey’s chauffeur. 
It can be a delightful day and I really have learned to value the
experience.

Part
of our shared interest lies in occasionally watching the major tournaments with
my family.  The US Open is one of
them.  The 2011 US Open was especially
exciting.  Rory McIlroy (22 years) won.
He’s from Northern Island.  Not only did
he win but he broke all sorts of records. 
He shot 65-66-68-68.  He was as
much as 17 under par at one point.  He
went into the tournament winning by 8 strokes. 
These are unheard of accomplishments. 

That’s
all wonderful and exciting but for me it was the story behind his win that
touched my heart.  His father was there;
it was his Father’s Day present.  The
story that emerged was of a family of very hard working people.  His dad had worked as a janitor and when his
son showed an interest in golf, he became the bar tender at the golf club so
that they could afford his lessons.  When
he accepted his award, he didn’t’ leave out his “mum” either.  He said it was because of their hard work and
sacrifice that he was there today. 

The
media spent a great deal of time talking about this young man’s loss at the
2010 Masters in Augusta.  They kept
talking about how he was winning by 4 strokes when the final round began, and
then he “fell apart.”  Everyone was
amazed that he had pulled himself together so quickly and was doing so
well.  Some thought he might never
recover from such a devastating loss.  It
was one of the questions presented to him several minutes after accepting the
US Open trophy.  The announcer asked him
to speak about losing the Masters and what that had been like.  Ready? 
“The Masters was a very valuable experience for me.  I learned a few things about myself and my
game.” 

One
day I went to play golf with the “big girls.” 
These are the ladies who play golf often and for the most part, quite
well.  I was way outside of my comfort
zone.

Golf, yoga, and tennis are the three main physical
activities in which I’ve participated.  I
think there’s so much to learn about myself and sometimes others from watching
the behavior that is exhibited during the event, the match.  Concentration, perseverance, balance,
forgiveness, humor, humility and graciousness are required of the civil player
and many times, more than one aspect at a time is required.

The psychology of 18 holes of golf is again a microcosm
of our lives.  How do we interact with
others?  Are we kind, considerate,
deferential, polite, encouraging?  And,
how do we treat ourselves?  Do we berate
ourselves when we hit a bad shot?  Are we
annoyed when someone else does better? 
Can we focus regardless of what else is going on?  What are we thinking about; is it lunch or
dinner, or are we present to the experience? 
Do we notice not only the condition of the course but the topography,
the fresh air and the beautiful vistas?

Whatever we are doing on the golf course, we are
repeating in our daily lives.  Our
behavior both towards others, ourselves and the experience reflects our
behavior through our lives.
Yes, it’s the same in many sports.  If you watch carefully, you’ll see all your
faults surface but keep watching, be aware and you’ll be able to notice your
strengths too.  Perhaps, it will be as
simple as being able to share time with your loved ones, your buddies, a kind
partner and when asked how you played, even if the game didn’t go as you had
hoped, even though you didn’t feel you played your best game, you answer,
“Wow!  I had a great time!” 
Rory
McIlroy was much wiser than his 22 years. 
It takes some of us a lifetime to discover that every life experience leads
to wisdom and knowledge.  It’s all up to
us how we perceive it and whether or not we value every single one of them,
both the accomplishments and the disappointments.  Like Rory, it can lead us to championship
skills, the skills of leading a rewarding, fulfilling life. 

And, just in case you’re curious, I played ok on that
outing with the “big girls.”  I would
even say, on that day, I was really and truly a “golfer.”

Owning My Own Behavior

Affirmation:  I am only responsible for my own behavior.

In 2000 my
husband and I attended a workshop at Canyon Ranch called Sex, Body and
Soul.  It was the year after I was
treated for breast cancer and I asked him to go with me.  I had been there several months earlier and
heard Dr. Lana Holstein speak and decided it would be a good thing for us in
which to participate.  We’d been married
more than 20 years by then and it seemed to me we could use a little more
knowledge other than what we’d brought to the relationship when we were in our
early 20’s.  My husband Sandy is a kind
and gracious man and he has spent most of our married life doing his best to
make sure I’m happy.  I am a lucky woman
and I know it.  In the case of accepting
this invitation, it took a lot of courage and humility to go along with me and
I was very grateful when he accepted. 
Dr. Holstein and her husband, Dr. David Taylor led the group and set up
some ground rules right away and I never felt uncomfortable.  Yes, we learned a great deal but as with many
learning experiences the most important lesson had very little to do with the
curriculum.

It was obvious
from the beginning that one of the couples, there were about 15 in attendance,
was a strange match.  She was all bubbly and
floaty and he was just plain grumpy.  He
did not want to be there and he told us right away but, he said, he was there
because he loved her and this was what she wanted.  We were there for four days and he complained
the entire time.  Watching her was my
greatest learning experience at the workshop. 
She never paid any attention to his moaning.  She just let him be himself and did whatever
she wanted to do.  She never grimaced or
cringed when he would speak.  She never,
ever apologized for his behavior.  After
a short time, it was obvious she didn’t hold herself responsible for his
behavior and because of her detachment no one in the group held her responsible
for his behavior.  For me, it was pure
enlightenment. 

I’d like to tell
you that after that experience I never again acted embarrassed because someone
I was with acted inappropriately, or acted in a way I judged reflected poor judgment.  But, while I could grasp this lesson
mentally, it will probably take me a lifetime to absorb it emotionally. 

In the Al-Anon
book One Day at a Time one of the readings tells a story about a woman
who had just begun the program and after a short time decided the best way to
deal with her alcoholic husband was to ignore him.  Up until that time, she would find him after
falling out of bed, asleep on the floor. 
She’d help him up, put him back in bed and then cover him up.  Then she’d go to bed.  After a couple of Al-Anon meetings, she
decided she needed to take better care of herself.  So, she decided she wouldn’t help him.  She’d leave him on the floor, step over him
and just go to bed.  She shared this at
one of the meetings.  Members explained
that wasn’t exactly what the program promoted. 
She then came up with a happy medium. 
She decided to cover him with a blanket and then step over him and go to
bed. 

One time my
husband and I found ourselves having dinner with a couple we had just met.  As the dinner progressed, the fellow kept
ordering drinks.  By the end of the
dinner it was quite obvious that he was very drunk.  I kept waiting for his wife to try to stop
him from ordering.  When that didn’t
happen, I began to wait for her to correct him. 
When that didn’t happen, I thought maybe she’d get him away from the
dinner and take him home.  When that
didn’t happen, I thought she’d begin to look embarrassed.  You guessed it.  She never responded in any way.  Once again, I saw myself completely absolve
her of her husband’s behavior.  She
simply allowed him to be responsible for himself.  She was sober and elegant and classy and I
was in awe. 

I had a friend
tell me once that if her husband ever fell asleep in church, she would be
furious.  I wondered why?  Maybe he snored?  Would his being asleep embarrass her?  Why should it?  She would still be awake.  Would someone look over, or maybe the preacher
looks out and sees him sleeping and says, “Look at that woman next to the
sleeping man.  I bet that’s his
wife.  She must be a terrible person to
allow him to sleep during the service.”? 
If someone is judging you because of your companion’s behavior, is that
someone you care about?  Is that someone
who you even want to know?

I wonder if we
learn this kind of reaction from being a parent.  I think most people would agree that a parent
is judged by their children’s behavior. 
How many times have you been in a situation when a child behaved poorly
and you just wanted the parent to “do something” to correct the
problem?  In Steven Covey’s book Seven
Habits of Highly Successful People
he tells the story of a man on the
subway with a couple of poorly behaved children.  People were obviously annoyed.  Finally, the father looked up and said,
“My wife just died and I don’t know what I should do.”  People were no longer annoyed but why did he
have to share that?  Why were people judging
in the first place?  Why, if they were,
didn’t they give him the benefit of the doubt? 

Is this a control
issue?  Do we feel we should be able to
shape the atmosphere and therefore influence the behavior of those to whom we
are close?  Once we recognize that we
can’t change anyone else; we can only change ourselves, perhaps then we can
learn to just let go and let people be whoever they are, even if they’re
complete jerks. 

Another story in
the One Day at a Time Al-Anon book refers to a tombstone that reads,
“Here lies ‘Morty Mort’ he’s finally minding his own business.”  I hope by the time I’m laid to rest, I have
finally absorbed the lesson that I am only responsible for my own behavior
into not only my mind, but my heart and my spirit. 

Looking for Halos

Affirmations:  I see the holiness of people when I pay close attention to their loving spirits.

It is said Saint Francis of Assisi taught, “Preach the gospel at all times and when needed use worlds.” I am fond of this quote.  It means I don’t have to go around evangelizing the world, or at least my world, in order to promote my faith.  It relieves me of any anxiety I might feel because I am not a preacher and I’m not someone who likes to push their ideas on others, or am I?  Is it simply a matter of what I feel is safe?  Certainly, if I found the greatest shoe store ever or the best place online to order cute clothes, I’d share that without hesitation.  But, sharing my faith seems so different.  What’s the saying about never discussing religion or politics?

At the Ignited by Truth Catholic Conference this April, Scott Hahn talked about St. Francis’ teaching but he took it one step further.  He asked the two-thousand people attending, “How many people have you met who are so holy, their lives exemplify their faith.”  How holy is my life?  Is it so holy that when people see me or interact with me, they are thinking, “Wow, I need to go check out Jean’s belief system.”?

I’ve inventoried my life and made a list of all those things I do to build my faith and to contribute to society.  I think it looks pretty good.  I’m not comparing it to anyone else’s accomplishments for that is always a fatalistic exercise.  I’m simply saying that for a someone with my background and imperfections, I’ve made and continue to make a concerted effort to make the world, mine and the world in general, a better place.  As I compiled my list I wondered if God would be pleased?

My deceased friend and healer, Valerie Kelly, could see auras and the chakra colors.  When I walked in for a massage session with her, she immediately knew how I was feeling.  I never questioned whether she had that gift or not because she always gave me such comfort with her care.  I felt healed when I left her presence and part of that was when she would tell me one of my chakras, especially my heart chakra had opened and was an inviting green color.  Sometime, she would stand at the end of the table and be quiet for a minute and then say, “Good!  Your energy is flowing evenly and freely from your toes up through the crown of your head.”  I always left there feeling like I was glowing.  It was such a gracious and glorious gift.

I can’t see auras and I can’t see chakra colors.  I don’t see energy flowing through people bodies but lately, I think I can see halos.  In fact, this weekend, I saw halos everywhere.  I saw people who were so holy, they didn’t need to preach.  I have no idea what religious traditions they follow but they dedicate their lives to the betterment of society and I was in awe.  I spent the weekend at the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor events.  On Friday there were a series of lectures and informal presentations from the scientists, physicians, staff and patients associated with the program.  On Sunday the Angels Among Us Walk was held.  It was it’s 20th year and there were 5000+ people present and they raises $2,015,000 for brain tumor research.  Both my father, Frank Grolimund and Sandy’s father, Joseph Costa died from glioblastomas.  We are very invested in the eradication of brain cancer if not all cancer.

The dedication and commitment of the people I listened to and met with is phenomenal.  The brain tumor center at Duke is the premier center in the world.  This is where Senator Ted Kennedy came to be treated.  He’s not the only well know person.  It is not uncommon for the influential and well-to-do to eventually arrive at the door of the Tisch Brain Tumor Center.  The research alone is enough to give one hope.  Recently, they have begun successfully injecting the polio virus with unparalleled success into qualified tumors.  I could see a few halos as theses dedicated Duke people shared the miracles they’ve seen.  The brightest halos however, were the ones hanging over some of the patients and their caregivers.

They shared stories of walks taken, bake sales given, basketball games played, and bike rides across the state or even the country.  They shared stories of reaching out to others even when they were in the depths of personal crises.  They were husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers.  They were neighbors and fellow parishioners.  They were friends and they were community.  They had faced death in an upfront and very personal way and many had emerged with the strength and courage of an angel.  One of my favorite stories was told by Tony McEachern.  He’s been battling brain cancer for almost ten years, a rare length of success.  He has begun the Team Tony Foundation.  He is a “lifelong jock” and now he has re-channeled his energy to focus on reaching out to other cancer patients.  Tony teases that the only place he isn’t asked about his bad hair-do is at the brain tumor clinic.  He has many challenges as a result of his struggle but like so many I met this weekend, he is more concerned with bringing comfort and strength to others than he is with his own struggle.  I am sure I could see his halo.

You don’t have to go to the Angels Among Us event to see halos.  I’ve decided they are everywhere.  There are so many amazing people who shine brightly because of their caring, generous, loving spirits.  I think the reason I haven’t seen many halos before now is because I wasn’t looking closely enough.  There are so many, thank God, who never need to use words.  Yes, preaching the bible can be a powerful exercise but I think St. Francis was righ-on when he encouraged us to lead by example, regardless of our religious preferences.  We can be be the light of God in this world if we choose to focus on others with a loving heart and maybe even form our own personal halos.

The Fragile Ego

Affirmation:  I have a childlike ego.
The yoga teacher took us from Warrior II into Side Angle.  The pose requires you to bend your front leg and lean over it and rest your forearm on your thigh.  Normally, your palm is faced downward.  “Turn your palm up” she said, “pretend you are holding something fragile, perhaps your ego.”  I laughed out loud.  This is why I practice yoga.  I look everywhere for those messages that will enrich my life.  I search every day for those insights that will enable me to know myself better so that I may live a fuller, more meaningful existence.  This day, it came to me from my teacher, Karin Johnson, at Rex Wellness here in Cary, NC.  How fragile is my ego?

One day while attending a class we were encouraged to go into an asana known as Crow.  In this pose you squat down with your feet and knees wide and your palms between your legs, flat on the ground.  You are then suppose to raise up onto your palms while balancing your thighs against your upper arms.  I’ve done this pose.  It’s not easy and requires upper body strength as well as balance.  Another reason I practice yoga is to take me out of my comfort zone.  When I attempt a pose that I know does not come easily, it makes me feel brave.  It’s brave with a small “b” but it empowers me when I’m out in the world to be brave, sometimes even “Brave.”  I took the position and slowly raised up onto my palms and then fell straight over onto my nose.  I fell with a very loud “whack!”  This particular yoga class had about thirty people in it and I know everyone of them heard the sound of my flop.  I hoped they were so involved in trying their own pose that they didn’t look up but I was sure everyone was looking at me, if just to make sure I was still alive.

 “Yoga is not a competitive sport.”  I start most of my classes with that statement.  “Bring you attention to your mat, into your body.”  The purpose of yoga is to unite the mind and the body.  I usually add, “and the spirit.”  I believe when we only focus on the physical aspect of the practice, we deny ourselves the real essence of yoga.  When we practice we are called to be present, to stay in the moment.  That’s the reason the ancient yogis initially came up with all these contortions.  It’s almost impossible to stand on one leg with your hands high in the air, Tree pose, and to be thinking about anything other than what you are doing in that moment.  You are fully present.  It’s a gift.  It’s the main lesson of the practice, stay in the here and the now.  Once you learn to do that on your mat, it too is something you can take out into the world and practice in your everyday life.  

I was lucky and my fall didn’t result in a broken or bloody nose but it did result in a dented ego.  Most of the class knows I am a Registered Yoga Teacher and I pride myself on my ability to do some of the more advanced positions and there was my lesson.  I was prideful.  I am always telling people, “Anyone can do yoga.”  But, the response I usually get is that they are not flexible enough.  What they are really saying is unless I’m already good at something, I am not willing to try it.  Our egos have become the wall that keeps us imprisoned in our small comfortable space.  Whenever I think of that fall while attempting the Crow pose, I laugh.  It was a wonderful lesson.  It was humbling and it was exactly what I needed to learn from that day’s practice.  

Recently I attended the NC Senior Follies.  One of my fiddle buddies, Constance Belton, is the teacher and choreographer of the line dancing team, The Cary Cure Alls.  She and six other women did a mock strip tease to the song Fever.  They came out in scrubs and white coats with caps on their heads, surgical gloves and wearing stethoscopes and began to remove one item at a time while they tap danced.  (Look them up on YouTube.) They won one of the Gold Medals and were the overall champions.  There were about a dozen different acts.  Some of the seniors sang, some played musical instruments and one group call themselves The Shakers.  They are the Senior Game cheerleaders.  The event was pure fun.  

After being told to “hold my fragile ego gently in my palm.” I began to think of all those other times when my ego prevented me from fully experiencing life.  I wondered when did that begin?  Certainly, as a child I wasn’t afraid to try new things.  If that were true, one would never learn to walk or to talk.  One would never learn anything!  Those amazing seniors had put away their egos in order to go onto the stage and share their skills.  That’s another secret to a full, rich, fun filled life; hold your ego gently and don’t let it prevent you from trying something new, something at which you might not be good, something at which you might be terrible but who cares!  Life is too short not to experience it all.  Gently place your ego down and live life like a child whose is first exploring their world.

I heard a story about an older successful executive who was with a group of people when the topic turned to, “What have you always wanted to do that you haven’t yet done.”  He told the group he always wanted to try tap dancing.  That evening he looked up dance studios in his area and the next day he began his lessons.  He loved it!  For all I know, he’s out there somewhere competing in his local Senior Follies.  For me, well maybe I’ll try standing on my head in my next yoga class, maybe!