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Living an Intentional Life

Affirmation:  Everyday I
get to choose how I want to perceive my life experience.
Mo Martin won the Women’s British Open at Royal Birkdale in
England this July, 2014.  When she was
interviewed she mentioned her “intention” was to win the
tournament.  At the time she was ranked
99th on the tour and it appeared no one had her listed as a potential
champion.  She ended her win and her
final hole with an eagle, which means she had three shots on a hole on which a good
golfer would normally have five shots. 
As of this writing, I am lucky enough to be in the mountains of
North Carolina and once again I find myself playing golf.  If you follow this blog you know that golf is
not one of my gifts.  It’s something at
which I have to work very hard in order to play somewhat decently and to tell
the truth, I only work on it for the few weeks I’m up in the mountains.  I do, however, love the sport.  I share the time with my husband, Sandy.  He’s an amazing golfer and many times my son,
Joey, is with us.  Sometimes his
beautiful wife, Belen, comes along.  It’s
beautiful up here and the course we get to play on looks like a post card.  It’s so exhilarating when I actually hit that
little ball and it soars away down the fairway towards the pin.  I love it when I putt the ball and it rolls
along and plops in the hole.  I actually
love to watch someone else make a long difficult putt. It almost seems surreal
to me to finally have that tiny ball fall into that tiny spot on this huge
expanse of lawn.  I think a big part of
the excitement for me is that I’m so surprised and delighted when things
actually go better than I even imagined. 
I don’t intend to have a low expectation of my performance but after
years of playing I have come to recognize that I will probably remain a below
average player unless I decide to play more than just the month of July.  However, I always set an intention to do
well, for me, and to enjoy the day.   

The first time I heard the phase “take an intention”
was at a yoga class many years ago.  The
teacher did not provide any other guidance. 
She simply told us to “take an intention for your practice”
and then left us to figure it out.  I
remember it clearly.  The word
“gratitude” popped into my mind and so I embraced it and let it sit
with me for the hour.  Interestingly it
didn’t leave me at the end.  I found it
was with me as I went into the day and here I sit many years later still embracing
gratitude, every day.  When I teach I
always follow that same example.  I
encourage everyone to chant an “ohm” and to bring their palm together
in front of their heart and with their thumbs touching their heart I say
“Take an intention for this time you’re giving yourself.   Any word that comes to mind is
fine.”  And then at the end of our
practice, we repeat the chant and I remind the participants to recall the
intention they took at the beginning of class and encourage them to take it
with them into their day, and perhaps into their lives. 
That simple instruction so many years ago has had a very powerful
impact on my life.  I found myself taking
an intention each morning for the day. 
As I journal and pray in the morning, I wait to see what word or words
come to my awareness and I let them sit with me as I finish my quiet time and
then bring them with me into my day. 
It’s very seldom that something doesn’t come to the surface.  If not, I just let go for the day.  I decided also that I might as well take an
intention for each year.  I only began
this two years ago but it’s been a wonderful gift to give myself.  You may remember that my intention for 2014
is to, “connect to the Divine.” 
It’s been quite a journey so far and I’m looking forward to what the
rest of the year will present. 
When I listened to Mo Martin’s interview, I found her expression
of intent to be of interest.  I assume
she’s a yogini.  Maybe yes, maybe no, but
yogini or not, she has a remarkable attitude. 
She “took an intention” to win!  Yeah, Mo! 
Go girl!  Why not?  She set herself up for success.  She knew it was possible she wouldn’t win but
once she set that intention, she recognized that she could very well achieve
her goal.  She also said even when she
wasn’t playing well, when she wasn’t winning, she still woke up everyday with a
smile and a sense of excitement about being able to play. 
By living an intentional life it means you’ve given thought to
what you want your life to look like.  I
would imagine if you’re reading this you already are someone who is choosing
how to live your life but don’t assume that’s how most of the world lives.  Unfortunately, many people are faced with
such dire challenges they don’t have the energy to focus on choice. Others
simply have chosen not to choose but to let life and fate just play itself out.
Once you begin “taking an intention” you may find your day and
therefore you life takes on a richness that makes you feel like a winner no matter
what challenge life presents or at the very least, you wake up each morning,
like Mo, with a smile on your face and a sense of excitement about being able
to play, the game of life.

Saving the World

Affirmation: I believe that my prayer to help someone in need is
always answered and is supported by God in amazing ways that I cannot even
imagine.
In the book The End of Life Book Club by Will Shwalbe, he
tells the story of his mother’s life. 
The story revolves around her battle with Pancreatic cancer and their
journey through her treatment and as you can figure out from the title, her
death.  They are a two person book club
with either the advantage or disadvantage depending upon your view, of not
having to provide food for the attendees. 
There is a long list of books they read and discuss over the two year
period of her treatment.  It appears they
have always been a two person book club but didn’t “officially”
establish it until they were sharing her final challenge.  It’s cleverly written in that with each book
read, he not only writes about the book but about his mother’s life.  I’ve made a list of each of the books with
the intention of reading some of the ones they shared. Some of them I’ve
already read.  I already know, however,
that I’ll be skipping some of his recommendations.  They are way too disturbing for my
taste.  Just listening to the struggles
of the protagonists on their reading list was enough to remind me of how cruel
the world and fate can be.  He is a
publisher at the beginning of the book. 
His mother is an activist and a heroine. 
She’s in her seventies at the time of her diagnosis and has been a
“first” for women in many fields and areas. For example, she was the
founding director of the Women’s Refugee Commission. 
She was an advocate for
women and children refugees all over the world and she’d traveled to many of
those areas. You can Google her or read the book if you’d like more
information.  Her final project was to
build a library in Afghanistan and she wasn’t going to die until that was
accomplished.  It was built.  I guess she was a lot like Angelina Jolie,
just not a famous celebrity.  I also have
the impression she didn’t have the protection, guidance or ease of travel given
to a famous movie star.  She was in the
trenches with those who most needed help. 
Mary Anne Schwalbe was a courageous and compassionate woman.  Her whole life regardless of the danger of
difficulty, revolved around being of service to others.
This has been a good book for me. 
I live a blessed life of comfort and the older I get the more I seem to
gravitate towards being comfortable. 
That includes an element of safety. 
I have not traveled to “dangerous” places, at least as far as
I believe.  I know sometimes going around
the block can sometimes be dangerous.  I
have, however, been working at seeing the broader, worldwide picture of those
in need.  I know there are people
suffering in ways I cannot even imagine and don’t want to imagine.  My husband, Sandy and I sponsor several
children in different programs around the world. We’ve always contributed to
our church’s appeals and those of nations who suffered natural disasters and we
make every effort to reach out whenever we are directly faced with a need we
can assist.   
Our church, St. Michael the
Archangel, has a sister parish in Honduras and we support that and more
recently we reached out to a charity in Tanzania presented to us by St. Bernadette
Church in Linville, NC.  We’ve also
supported Oie Ostercamp’s Share Fish organization which does work with the poor
in Honduras. Last year, after I read Fr. Albert Haas’ Catching Fire,
Becoming Flame
in order to do something more, I added praying the Rosary
for those “most in need of God’s mercy.”  It allowed me to stay safely in my comfort
zone and yet to become more sensitive and aware of the world’s plight.   I’m sharing these examples to illustrate
that I’ve really tried to be more “world conscious.”  I try to stay informed but not overly
concerned because I feel I only have so much energy and some days just caring
for myself and my family is all I feel I can do.  Let’s face it, the world is a very big place
and here I sit, one of billions of beings. 
What kind of a difference can I make? Yet, when I read about people like
Mary Anne Schwalbe, I wonder what more can I do?  What else can I add to my efforts that might
bring comfort, peace, hope and even joy to those suffering on this planet?
Then recently, one of my study groups began Anthony DeStefano’s, Ten
Prayers God Always Says Yes To.
  One
of the first prayers he offers is, “Please use me to help someone in
need.”  I hesitated.  My initial reaction was to back away.  I fully recognized this was a prayer God
would not deny but what would be required of me in order to follow Her
will?  Would I be asked to travel to a
third world country undergoing revolution or that had just experienced a
devastating weather event?  Would I be
asked to give up all I now have, like the young man in the New Testament and
follow God to poverty and perhaps martyrdom? 
Perhaps even worse would be if more and more was added to my already
full plate and in an effort to do be of greater service to the world, I became
neglectful of where my true service lies, my family and my community.  I could immediately see all the pitfalls of
such a prayer and yet, I felt ready to step out in faith.  I said the prayer.  I’ve been saying it now for several weeks and
as I’ve journaled I found myself relaxing in the prayer, relaxing in my belief
that if I’m called to do God’s work, to be of more service to those in need,
that God will provide the support to do just that.  I am stepping out in faith.  I believe that through prayer not only will I
be of greater service but that I will be given the discernment to know which
requests are from God and which are of my ego. 
Deep breaths, quiet time and prayers from the depth of my heart will
lead me where I am most needed.  Yes, it
could be to some third world country.  I
trust God will come with me there too. 
It could also be to a place I haven’t yet examined, a place within,
which takes me to a marvelous place not so far from where I am now but enables
me to see it in a different light, a light of service right here and right
now. 
 
What do you think?  Are you
willing to step out in faith?  Go ahead,
say it, “God, please use me to help someone in need.”  I hope you’ll let me know what you discover.

10 Hugs a Day

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

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