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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.