Affirmation
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Believing in Angels

Affirmation: I choose to believe in Angles.

 

angle-2Do you ever think about angles? Not the LA baseball team but the ones that appear in mythology and theology. They are a part of all the major religions. Do you believe in angels? Do you think they all have wings? Are they male and female or gender neutral? Do they ever appear in their true form or do they take on human characteristics? Do you think we really have guardian angels? What if you did believe, truly believe that there was a powerful spiritual presence hovering over you, advising you, and guiding you? How would that feel? Would it make you feel calmer? Would you become more conscious of your choices?

There have been many movies made about angles. My favorite is very old. It’s the black and white version of The Bishop’s Wife with Cary Grant, David Niven and Loretta Young. There was the TV series that ran from 1994-2003 called Touched by an Angel and of course, Hallmark loves stories that have an angel theme. I’ve also read several books about angles. There are stories about people who see angles, talk to angels, and receive guidance from angels. One of the books I read many years ago offered a journaling process to help you “hear” the wisdom of the angles involved in your life. And, of course, there is the ultimate angel book, the Bible.

The whole salvation story begins with the angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she is to be the mother of the Messiah. They go on to announce the birth of our Savior to the shepherds and then continue to guide and protect the Holy Family throughout the beginning of the New Testament. Was that it? Did they stop visiting after that?

angel-104-2For many years one of my affirmations has been, “I have a very active guardian angel.” I don’t know when I began to truly believe that she (yes, she) was actively looking after me but looking back on my life, I completely believe that someone very powerful was helping me make decisions that were to my benefit rather than my detriment. There has always been a greater force in my life planting thoughts and ideas that led me along a path that has resulted in the life I now relish, a force that was not recognizable, not tangible. I look back and I am in awe of how I’ve been guided. I mean let’s face it, we all have those moments when if we went left instead of right, we know without any doubt that our lives would have been much harder, maybe even shorter, had we gone in that perilous direction. I simply look back and feel blessed. I know it has been my Guardian Angel, Saranna.

I’d been talking to her, Saranna, for many years when my dear deceased friend and massage therapist, Valerie Kelly, one day announced that there was an angel in the room with us. She took a deep breath and seemed quite startled. I was not surprised. Then she asked me if I wanted to know her name. I had named my angel many years before. Someone told me it was a good idea. I had named her Anna. It seemed like a nice angel name. Valerie stopped and listened for a moment and then said, “Her name is Saranna.” And so she is.

I call on her guidance quite often. I invite her to lead the way or to pave the way. Sometimes, I request that she speak with her fiends who are my loved one’s angles and ask them to smooth the way or direct the way. I know if you are a realist and don’t believe in the spiritual world, you probably have stopped reading by now. I know if you’re a therapist without any faith in a power greater than us, you have diagnosed me as someone with a problem or at the very least an overactive imagination. I haven’t heard the angels and sadly I haven’t seen them, in their natural state but I know they are here. I simply know it.

My husband, Sandy, will not pass a homeless person without giving him or her money. He always tells me that they could be an angel in disguise. The weekend of April 25th, 2015 was the twenty first Angels Among Us Walk for the Preston Robert Tish Brain Tumor Center at Duke. They open the walk with the song, “Angels Among Us” and the survivors lead the way for several thousand walkers who are there to raise awareness and money for brain tumor research. This year they raised over $2,094,000. Two of the first patients treated with the new polio virus technique led the way. They are cancer free of glioblastomas, an unheard of accomplishment until the last couple of years. I didn’t “see” any angles that Saturday but I am sure there were many, many of them present.

JeanDuke2-2

Archangels-2In May my friend and massage therapist invited me to be part of a chain begun in 2000. She explained to me that I would be inviting the Archangels into my home for five days and when they left I would invite three other friends to host them. Why not? I followed the directions and set up the little welcome station that had a candle, a white flower, three slips of paper with a personal request, a family request and a community request and an apple to absorb the blessings of their presence. They arrived at 10:30 PM on the date I was told and as far as I was concerned they were using my home as their base for the next five days. Were there any unusual happenings? We’re there any miracles? Did I see or notice anything unusual? No, no and no but I felt difference. I had a sense of peace and comfort that was beyond my normal. Just the thought that they were blessing my home and family gave me comfort. They are “gone” now but I’ve decided since I’ve opened my home to them, I can now consider them to be close friends and when I have a pressing need, they will return.

I looked up the mythology revolving around the Archangels. It seems there are somewhere between three and seven. I don’t know how many were here during their visit. I know Michael, Rafael and Gabriel were here for sure. I attend St. Michael the Archangel Church. I live off of Rafael Drive and have several people in my life named Gabriel. It’s all a mystery, isn’t it? I am comfortable with mystery at this time in my life. I don’t have to understand everything that I believe. That’s what faith is all about, believing the unbelievable. I choose to believe in angels. I choose to believe there is a higher, compassionate, wise power that wants to lead us to a better, more fulfilling life and with that belief, for me, it brings peace and comfort and hope.

Being Worthy

Affirmation: I am worthy.
What determines the worthiness of a human being?  In 1997 the movie Gattica came out staring
Ethan Hawke.  It was a sci-fi film about
genetically altering the human fetus towards a specific occupation.  A child who was born without this alteration
was considered “imperfect” or “inferior” and that human was
deigned useful only for menial jobs. 
Ethan was one of those children born without the advantage of the
sophisticated science of the time.  He
was not happy with his pre-determined role and the movie revolves around what
he needs to do to give the illusion of being one of the perfect people.  As we all know, the science fiction of today
has often become the reality of tomorrow. 
With genetic testing widely available and with the mapping of the Gnome,
the theme of Gattica may not be too far removed from the very near future. 
When I’ve facilitated programs about creating affirmations people
are encouraged to create phrases that do not have any negatives in them.  A few years back, however, I had one person
who had had a very difficult childhood and she decided she was going to use
“not” in her affirmation because it was the best phrase to help her
feel better and so she did.  Most of the
time when we use a negative in an affirmation, our brains ignore the negative
and we wind up doing or feeling exactly the opposite of what we had intended.
She decided she did NOT need to do anything more or be anyone other than who
she was to be of value.  When she shared
her affirmation it was obvious to everyone present that it was going to have a
powerful impact for her even with the word “not” as part of it.
Recently I was involved in an activity that was more than
humbling.  I was actually embarrassed by
what I perceived as my poor performance. 
(If you’ve been following this blog you can probably guess what I was
doing.) I then became annoyed with myself for judging myself so harshly.  For me this was another experience that made
me wonder, what determines the value of a human being? 
When someone is asked, “What do you do?” the answer
generally generates a visceral response in both the questioned and the
questioner.  Have you watched the
physical response of both parties as this question is presented, have you
observed yourself?  I’ve seen the persons
being asked sometimes “puff-up”, stand taller, perhaps their
shoulders go back.  I’ve watched some
people slump over, maybe step back as if they’re preparing for battle.  Then there’s the person’s response when the
answer is given.  For example, if the
answer is, “I’m a brain surgeon” most people would probably have a
different response than if the answer was, “I’m a trash
collector.”  We generally judge and
many times value an individual based on what they “do.” 
I am fascinated by society’s value determination of occupations.  As far as I’m concerned if people were
financially rewarded for their services based on how they benefit society,
sports persons would not be making millions of dollars while teachers eek out a
living.  Movie stars would not be some of
the richest people in our country while those who care for the sick and elderly
barely make minimum wage. 
Where am I going with this? 
I want everyone to feel valued simply because they are a human
being.  My friend was right.  We don’t need to do anything more or be
anybody special to be worthy.  We need to
value each person simply because they are a creation of God.  If we don’t do that it would mean that the
sick, the infirm, the elderly, the mentally ill are of no value.  It will mean that someday society will allow
science to genetically alter or design a human being and those that don’t come
out “perfect” will be relegated to a subservient place or even worse
destroyed.
My faith, the Catholic Church, promotes the sanctity of life from
the womb to the tomb.  I know this is not
a popular concept and I understand how people because of dire circumstances
sometimes want to be in charge of who lives and who dies and when, but it seems
to me it’s a slippery slope towards devaluing the human being and life itself. 
Several years ago I was invited by a dear friend, Ann Baucom, to
join her and a group of women in developing a personal “charter of
compassion.”  I came up with six
steps: Pray, Embrace Silence, Listen for God’s voice, Affirm what is important
to me, Release it into God’s care, and Love, non-judgmentally, non-graspingly
and unconditionally.  When I shared this
charter with a friend, she thought it was too self-centered and not enough
other-centered but I feel I can’t affect
any change in the world until I change myself. 
Each human being is a masterpiece, no matter what the flaws.  The flaws can add color, depth and
texture.  We are each a precious treasure
and with that concept we should know that we are worthy; worthy of respect,
worthy of love, worthy of all the good and prosperity of a Divine
creation.  Once we believe in ourselves,
we will posses the wherewithal to give back to the world.
We can be of service by simply knowing God is always with us and
She is leading us and guiding us.  If we
are listening we will do it with love and honor and compassion.  We are of service if daily we rise with the
intention to bless the world in our thoughts and words and deeds. We can impact
the world regardless of what we do or, are unable to do if we simply hold our
fellow man or woman in our thoughts with blessings and love. I am a perfect
being created by a loving God regardless of what I do or don’t do and so are
you!

Growing in Faith

Affirmation:  Something wonderful is about to happen.

On
Belleruth Naparstek’s chemo tape she has a phrase she uses about getting a
sensation that something wonderful is about to happen and about how you may
have not felt this sensation in quite a while but right now you do.  Have you ever had a sensation like that?  That sense that something marvelous is coming
your way?  I wonder if that happens when
we are preparing for an event or a trip or maybe a change in our career.  Perhaps, it’s that feeling when a loved one
and you are to be reunited.  I know a
change and new things can also bring with them a feeling of anxiety and maybe
we get anxiety and excitement mixed up. 
But, when Belleruth describes this marvelous feeling of expectation, I
know it; I feel it. I fully recognize it even though I can’t remember when I
last felt that way and it feels good!

For
the past several months I have had a growth in my faith experiences.  As I’ve shared before I have been
“working” on my faith for many years ever since I met my evangelical
neighbor, Shaun McLean in Cincinnati, Ohio and when shortly thereafter my
father died.  When Shaun showed up at the
back gate of my new home she proceeded to become a constant thorn in my
faith.  I am so grateful to her for that
nudging. She was so certain about her relationship with God and with Jesus
Christ and I was a cradle Catholic who didn’t feel sure about anything. I
didn’t envy her but I did find myself questioning, questioning, and questioning
even more.  What did I truly
believe? 

Let’s
admit it, the story of Jesus Christ, his birth death and resurrection is quite
unbelievable.  It defies natural
law.  I for one have had my doubts.  I have not been a compliant subservient
faith- filled follower.  I wanted
proof.  I’m sure if one searches for
proof that the “Good News” is not factual, one will find answers
supporting that premise but I chose to go the other way.  I’ve chosen to seek out reasons to
believe.  I have also found that at some
point if one is to truly have faith, one must set aside disbelief and just
decide to have faith in the mystery.  I
decided to believe. 

I’ve
watched movies about the “facts” of His life and ministry.  I’ve read the bible and listened to lectures
and homilies.  But, the reason I believe
is because I want to believe.  I want to
believe He came to change the world.  He
came to teach us to love.  He came to
eradicate sin and evil.  He came to show
us, to show me unconditional love.  He
came to prepare a place for me in the afterworld and to show me that this life
is not the end.  This life is simply a
transition before the next, before I can finally rest in a place of peace and
pure love.  I want to believe this and so
I do and once I made up my mind to accept this belief system amazing events
have taken place to support my journey.   

My
faith journey has led me many places.  It
is not just about things related to my church. 
I was reminded this week by Sister Judy Hallock one of the women who
facilitate A Place for Women to Gather that our lives are interconnected with
our faith.  If we are truly faith-filled
people we cannot separate our mind, body and spirit.  Every aspect of our lives, every single one
of them, is affected by our faith. 

 
I
am on a continual search for a deeper, richer relationship with God.  I want to feel that peace that I believe
comes when one connects to spirit but even more importantly when one develops a
relationship with a personal God, not just some ethereal concept.  This last week I have been feeling that sense
of expectation that I have not felt for a very long time.  Something wonderful is about to be
manifested.  I haven’t a clue what it is
or how it will come or from whom but I can feel it.  The feeling is palatable and I am simply enjoying
it and waiting to see what or who appears.

My
faith journey this year has taken me to some amazing destinations.  I’ve shared some of them with you here in
this blog but as the holidays approach and the end of the year comes closer, I
find myself thinking about all that has taken place.  One of my affirmations is, “When I stay
connected to the Divine, miracles occur and without struggle my life is
transformed.”  I think that’s
exactly what’s been happening.  I don’t
know why I’m so surprised.  I’ve never
created an affirmation and focused on it where it hasn’t worked.  Never! 

 
Several
months ago I discovered a new prayer that I’ve incorporated into my nightly
prayers.  “Come Holy Spirit, fill
the heart of Your faithful.  Enkindle in
me the fire of Your love.”  I found
it to be a comforting prayer and truly the desire of my heart.  I think the Holy Spirit has accepted my
invitation.  I’m always a little curious
about where my faith journey will take me. 
It shouldn’t surprise me that it has brought me further into the fold of
the Catholic Church.  I’ve gone off
looking for alternatives many times but I’m always led back to the church of my
birth.  Certainly, I have kept an open
acceptance of other modalities. I’ve studied Reiki.  I practice yoga and I love the insights
afforded me with the Enneagram.  I
facilitate Artist Way programs and have attended many mediation sessions with
leaders of different faiths.  I read many
different books about different spiritual concepts.  All of these experiences have led me to a
deeper faith and a greater awareness of a personal god. 

This
year, however, has brought with it the additional gift of several new female
friends who are practicing Catholics and it has been a wonderful, heartwarming
experience.  We certainly are not all in
the “same place” in our faith journey but there’s no judgment.  We simply are accepting of our different
stages, accepting and yet still supportive. There are many studies showing the
healing qualities associated with belonging to a support group.  I feel like I’ve discovered a gift with the
friendship of these women, the gift of being supported in my faith journey and
I am grateful that this new community has added to this feeling that something
wonderful is about to happen.  Now,
there’s an affirmation I can focus on and wait for it to come to fruition,
“Something wonderful is about to happen.”  The really cool part of this affirmation is I
have discovered that that Something Wonderful is having this feeling of blessed
expectation and that that in itself is just marvelous.

Don’t Make a Resolution, Create an Affirmation

How many new years have you tried to enact some form
of change for yourself?  New Year’s
resolutions present themselves every January, and once in a while a resolution
works but all too often they fail leaving us exactly where we started and
feeling powerless or just plain sad.  One
of the problems with a resolution is that most of them are phrased using the
future tense.  “This year I will begin
exercising.”  “As of January 2nd, I will
begin my diet.”  “I will stop
smoking.”  It’s like making a wish and
then sitting back and waiting to see if it comes true or not.
A more effective way to initiate change in your life
is to set an intention and then to create an affirmation.
When teaching yoga I encourage the participants to
“set an intention” for their practice session.  That’s all I say.  I could give them examples but it’s so much
more effective and powerful when a yogi forms his or her own intention.  I have carried this beginning practice step
into my life.  I make an effort to set an
intention for each day and especially for the beginning of the New Year.  Once my intention becomes known to me, I then
form an affirmation to cement it into my mind, body and spirit.
 
What exactly is an affirmation?  An affirmation
is a statement that makes firm that which you believe.  It is a statement
about that which you perceive to be true. 
You can have positive or negative affirmations.  When I began
writing out my affirmations, I discovered the power of controlling my
thoughts.  Once you take charge of what
you’re thinking, you then take charge of your life.  For me there was also joy and power in the
process of creating the affirmations.  I
love testing the words, seeing what resonated and deciding what was so important
to me that I would focus on it day after day.
Not sure it will work for you?  Think about this.  All those negative statements you’ve been
telling yourself for as long as you can remember, how have they been working?  They’ve probably worked quite well but
unfortunately not to your benefit. 
Changing them to positive statements will work too and think how much
better you’ll feel.
What does your self-talk look like?  Sometimes,
you’re having the conversation when you’re alone.  Sometimes, you’re saying
the same things to yourself but you’re not alone.  And, sometimes you’re saying things aloud
about yourself that you would never say to or about a dear friend.  What are the phrases you’ve adopted over the
years?  “Boy, am I stupid.” or “I never get it right!”
How about, “I can’t do that.” or “It frightens me.”  An affirmation is about changing the things
you tell yourself in order to empower yourself and improve the quality of your
life.  It’s a powerful free tool that can
make a positive difference in your life.  Begin by noticing when your
self-talk weakens you, makes you feel powerless, or useless.  Pay
attention!  That’s the first step, awareness.
When creating an affirmation avoid the word
“not.”  It won’t work to your benefit; it may even work to your
detriment. I heard a story many years ago about a mother teaching her
daughter to drive.  There was a huge
bolder in the road ahead.  The mother
kept reminding her daughter about it. 
“Don’t go near the bolder.” 
“Don’t’ hit the bolder.”   What do
you think happened?  They were both so
focused on missing the rock in the road, they drove right into it.  It’s the same with negatives in your
affirmation.  You won’t hear the “not”
and you’ll move right into the place you’re trying to avoid.
There are phrases you can use instead of enlisting the
negative.  For example:  “I release” or “I let go
of.”  Two of my affirmations using those phrases are:  “I
let go of fear and anxiety.” and “I release myself from my childhood
limitations.”  It’s simply more
effective than saying: “I will not let fear and anxiety influence my
life.”  I have chosen to tell myself, “I eat mindfully”
instead of saying, “I do not eat foods that are bad for me.”  Another example is, “I attract financial
prosperity.” rather than, “I don’t waste my money.”  Can you hear the difference?  Can you
feel the difference? 
I sometimes write out the affirmation without too much
thought and then take time to fine tune it. Begin by taking a few minutes
and re-reading the words.  You are
looking for words that stir an emotion in you. 
Don’t over analyze it.  Let the
sentence be a statement of how you want to perceive your life.  Write it in the present tense.  It may be a statement you have a difficult
time believing but try it anyway. 
Sometimes those are the most powerful. I have a dear friend whose
affirmation is, “I am a gifted and talented artist.”  When she first claimed that, she did not feel
that way but that’s how she wanted to feel. 
It worked!  She now is a gifted
and talented artist.  Her affirmation led
her to the steps which led her to believe in herself and to expand her gifts
and talents. 
One example of an affirmation I use in my daily
practice is:  When I stay focused on the
present, I am calmer and more peaceful. 
I created this one because I believe what is truly important is
today.  Worry magnifies my difficulties and diminishes my ability to live
fully in the present moment.  Anxieties
almost always arise because I fail to put all my effort into the here and
now.  I am calmer and more peaceful when I focus more on the gifts of each
day, instead of worrying about tomorrow or reliving something unpleasant from
the past. 
The quality of my life is all about how I perceive
every event and person, including myself. 
If I can change myself for the better, won’t that help others? If you
did the same thing, wouldn’t that help you, the world, or at least your world?
It’s an amazing process. Take full advantage of it.  Write them down, write them every day, post
them on your bathroom mirror, by your doorway, on your computer and wait! 
Instead of another set of New Year’s resolutions you didn’t keep, you’ll have
created a set of affirmations that will change your life in ways you never
before dreamed possible.

Learning to Love Your Life

Affirmation:  I savor life.  I glory in life.  I love my life!
I love my life. 

I haven’t always felt that way but I wanted to feel that way and isn’t that what affirmations are for, to empower us to create our own reality?  
I can remember very clearly the first time I heard someone say, “I love my job.”  I was a teacher in a rural middle school.  I’d been teaching for several years.  The gentleman who spoke those words was the English Chair of this very small school, three people in his department.  How much money could he have been making?  I knew that wasn’t the reason for his happiness.  I didn’t ask him why but over the years, I listened for others to say the same thing and I very rarely heard it.  How often have you heard such a declaration?  
Then, one day many years later, I heard a woman say to me, “I love my life.”  She had shared with me in the past how unhappy she was, so this time I asked why.  She had made some very conscious choices and some very drastic changes.  She had moved to Italy, took up painting and dancing and fell in love with life.  Was it necessary to make such drastic changes in order to love life?  Were there other tools she could have used to find happiness without moving to another continent?  

Our dear friend Oie Osterkamp is the director of the Ronald MacDonald House here in Durham, NC.  Most of his life has been dedicated to helping other people.  His writing is all about making the lives of others better, richer. 

His first book is called Sharefish  (the opposite of selfish.)  He then went on to create Sharefish Int’l (http://www.sharefish.org) an organization dedicated to “bringing  hope to the hopeless” in Honduras.  I don’t know the exact number of people who interviewed for the directorship of the Ronald MacDonald House but I remember it was a very large number.  My husband and I were with him right after he received the news of his appointment.  Of course, he was ecstatic.  He told us “I was born to do this.”  What a gift, to be employed doing something you love.

At the time of this writing, Earline Middleton, Vice-President of Agency Services & Programs for the North Carolina Food Bank (http://www.foodbankcenc.org) has worked there for many years.  I came to know her through the Young Women’s Christian Association.  She and I sat on the board together many years ago.  Then, my mom, Margaret Grolimund, became one of their dedicated volunteers when she moved here.  One day, Earline shared that she had when she first took the job at the Food Bank she had no idea she’d be with them for so long.  She said she was “lucky” she had taken a job and found a passion.  

We’ve read about them, we’ve met them, perhaps we are them, one of those people who knew from an early age what they were destined for, what they were created to do.  Patricia Sprinkle, prolific writer and teacher shared with our class that she picked up a career brochure one day when she was fourteen which defined “writer”. She finished reading it and thought, “Oh, that’s me.  I’m a writer.”  And, so she is. Her passion for writing is palpable.  It truly is a gift, don’t you think?  When someone is born with a talent that presents itself to them at any point in their lives, but especially at an early age. 

I have always been fascinated by Dale Chihully, the famous glass blower.  His works are stunning, massive and he has exhibits all over the world.  He once created The Tower of David exhibit in a section of Jerusalem.  It was one of the most remarkable things I’ve ever viewed although I had to imagine the full effect by relating it to the exhibit I actually viewed at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens.  I can’t imagine how he discovered that he was to be one of the best of such an unusual talent.  I think if most people had been born with such a rare gift, it would go unfulfilled.

Have you ever heard an adult say “I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up?”   It seems to me, that’s most of the population but it’s never too late.  When I facilitate Artist Way workshops, we use Julia Cameron’s process to discover what it is that brings us fulfillment and joy.  What nurtured our creative spirit when we were children; what nurtures it now?  What is it that we get lost in doing?  I have watched many people come through the program with a sense of awe when they discover what they have set aside and almost lost in the name of surviving only to see their passion for their gifts is still there.  It’s just been lying dormant waiting for a little sunshine to bring it forward.  

Sure, if I moved to Italy or even went to visit for an extended period maybe, maybe I would feel like my friend.  But, maybe I can create, here and now, a life that I can claim to love.  I am the author of my own life.  I am the sculptress of what I want my life to look like.  With some soul searching, prayer and a supportive community, I can shape a life I love.  One of the most powerful tools to us is to come up with an affirmation affirming how one feels about their life.  Can one change the way they feet about life by simply stating “I love my life?”  I decided to try.  So, I created the affirmation,  “I savor life.  I glory in life.  I love my life!”  And, I claimed it, I wrote it, I read it every morning.  Then, it happened.  I realized, I did love my life.  I have surrounded myself with love, love of God, family, friends.  My life is really cool and I feel wonderful about it.  This is what I believed happened.  By the power of my affirmation, I slowly began to change.  I became more conscious about my decisions, about what I chose to do and not to do, about who I chose to be with and who I did not want in my life.  The affirmation worked just like affirmations do.  It slowly permeated every fiber of my life and without struggle I was off “living in Italy” painting, dancing and loving my life.  

Reach Your Full Potential

Affirmation:  I encourage my loved ones to reach their full potential.

This week I am sharing what my husband of many years wrote about his 2012 experience at the JCC Folk School.  I am so excited to know he has decided to use his hands more often to get in touch with his creative self.  I usually have a whole list of things for him on the weekends, all of which involve some sort of “hands on” activity.   I can’t wait to tell him my affirmation and encourage him to reach his full potential.  I know he’ll be so excited!

“Look at what I made!” The Hand Teaches the Mind Many Useful Things

Last week I made the wooden bowl pictured here. Crafting this bowl is one of my most satisfying accomplishments in quite some time. It’s also a surprise that I could actually do it, adding to the pleasure and humor of the thing. At this point you may be saying to yourself, “This poor guy has lived a pretty shallow, uninteresting life.” But hear me out. The point is that I made the bowl with my hands.
Jean Anne and I have just returned from our annual pilgrimage to the John C. Campbell Folk School, at Brasstown, North Carolina, in the Blue Ridge Mountains, far from the city. The school is one of the most creative learning centers in the country. Based on the Danish folk school model, it was founded in 1925 by John Campbell’s wife, Olive. Today it provides year-round weeklong and weekend classes for adults in craft, art, music, dance, cooking, gardening, nature studies, photography, and writing. As the school’s literature says, students’ experiences “in non-competitive learning and community life are joyful and enlivening”–exactly what we needed!
Folk schools are non-competitive, allowing students to learn at their own rate. As the website explains, “The folkehojskole (folk school) had long been a force in the rural life of Denmark. These schools-for-life helped transform [the people of] the Danish countryside into a vibrant, creative force. The Campbells . . . establish[ed] such a school in the rural southern United States as an alternative to the higher-education facilities that drew young people away from the family farm.”
This year I took a course in wood turning. I was taught by two highly skilled instructors how to carve a bowl out of a quartered log, a piece of wood in all ways similar to countless pieces of fuel I feed to our wood-burning stove with nary a thought. Another thing that was so remarkable is that at first I couldn’t imagine where the bowl “resided in” the piece of wood. Slowly, by starting out on the project though feeling I was working somewhat in the dark, I learned to see. And I recalled that after Michelangelo had completed his “David,” he was asked to explain how he’d taken a raw block of marble and carved the elegant yet strong figure of the young man. “He was in there,” the sculptor replied. “As I carved the marble away, piece by piece, I simply set him free—and there he stands.”
I chuckled to myself at that thought, knowing my 3-D imaginative gifts were far from the Italian master’s. But as I worked on the lathe, learning patience and focus, slowly finding the bowl’s best nature and adapting my hand and eye to what in nature that might be, I found myself becoming engrossed in the activity. I was soon completely caught in the moment. And I started to see, too, how therapeutic it is to work with your hands, bringing your own hands and eyes, your own energy into harmony with nature’s energy.

There is a frequent match play—a verbal game, where we fence about unanswerable, and in most cases highly impractical, questions—“What is more difficult, more trying, to work with your hands or be making a living in a manner that is less physical, more brainy?” My answer is who cares? Particularly because there is a cultural elitism that believes folks who work with their hands are a notch below cerebral wage-earners. Rather, I suggest that a more rewarding exploration would be to reflect on which type of work is more nurturing? And, following on that, how can we make the other type of work, the head-centered kind, more nurturing too?
Understand that I am not suggesting that we slide out of our current vocations and apprentice to a blacksmith or a cobbler or a wheelwright. What I am suggesting is that instead of relying on the latest self-help book to right a teetering psyche via reading the book, a mental activity, let’s think about making a quilt or binding a book—really! When Charles Darwin was worrying over a difficult issue, he would go into his garden and weed the flower beds. Winston Churchill built stone fences when his decisions and responsibilities were weighing too heavily. Surely you know countless individuals who have been eager to retire into a more intensive study and practice of their favorite hobby, often one that caused them to create things with their eyes and hands in concert.
The fact is that working with our hands is one of the most powerful forms of meditation I can imagine. When you turn wood as it spins on the lathe and your cutting tool unearths the layers of cellulose fibers, you see a constantly changing symphony of rings. Colors appear against a background as you discover embedded knots and imperfections. Can you imagine a more magical way to employ your hands and your mind! And all of this benefit is without even mentioning the obvious: at the end of the project, you have made something new, something fine that wasn’t there before; and since you are now an artisan, not an artist, the new creation is beautiful and useful.
Because of my experience at the folk school, I’ve come to see that the best way to flourish at your thought-work daily is to make sure you take time daily, or perhaps for a good part of the weekend, to work with your hands. If your business has a mission of understanding more closely the world or some aspect thereof while improving the lives of others—and whose does not?—then work toward completing that mission by sculpting, building, making something every week. Here’s why: J. Bronowski, in his 1973 book The Ascent of Man, writes that “Discovery is a double relation of analysis and synthesis together. As an analysis, it probes for what is there; but then, as a synthesis, it puts the parts together in a form by which the creative mind transcends the bare limits, the bare skeleton, that nature provides. . . . Thus, we have to understand that the world can only be grasped by action, not by contemplation” or intellectual problem-solving at our desks or in conference. “The hand is more important than the eye,” Bronowski concludes.

As I turned the lathe and carved my bowl last week, I was practicing bringing together analysis and synthesis of sensed data—wood, carving tool, force, motion, my hand in time—to make and do something—learning a practice that will help me to do a better and healthier job daily in what some people call my real work. But now I know that there’s more to preparing for that work than I thought. Plus, Jean Anne and I have a light-filled wooden bowl to use in our house.

Claiming Your Power

Affirmation:  I stand in my power.
How many women do you know who would say they love themselves?  It seems to me, that most women have a lot of difficultly valuing themselves.  Most of the discussions I have with my female friends and women attendees at my workshops are about ways to increase our self-esteem especially as we grow older. 

The intention I set for my yoga practice and for when I teach any class is to “nurture and empower.”  I believe that a regular yoga practice is one of the tools that will help us develop and encourage us to deepen both of those qualities.  Some poses allow us to rest and let gravity hold us while we slowly release more deeply into the pose.  I feel that way when I do Pose of the Child.  In it you kneel down, sit back onto your heels, place your forehead on the floor and rest your arms, hands down, along side of your body.  As you breathe your whole back stretches open from the bottom of your spine up to the top.  Your legs and feet loosen up and your shoulders relax into the ground.  Of, course there is also Savasana, Corpse Pose.  It’s the last pose in most practices when the yogi lies flat out on his or her back, hands placed palms up next to one’s side and let’s gravity hold you while keeping the mind free of the clutter of life.  I always remind my students that this is a very important pose because as one of my mentors, Nancy Hannah, taught me “Mindful movement followed by stillness brings healing to the mind, body and spirit.”

But,  when I practice and when I teach, my mission is to also empower.  There are many poses which can encourage a sense of strength and power.  One of the poses that is frequently included in most practices is Virabhadrasana, Warrior Pose.  There are three Warrior Poses.  The tale surrounding these poses is that a young woman was deeply wounded by her father and decided to shed her body.  While in a meditative state her body burst into flames.  When her husband, the god Shiva, heard of her death he called on his fiercest warrior and named this warrior, Virabhadra,  Vira (hero) + Bhadra (friend).  He then ordered Virabhadra to go and revenge his wife’s death, which Virabhadra did.  Nowhere in the story does it say if the warrior is a man or a woman.  You get to choose. When you take a stance for Warrior I, you spread your legs apart, both feet pointing forward, the back foot a little turned out, you bend your front knee, face forward and raise your straight arms overhead.  You ground your feet and lift your torso. In Warrior II, you take the same basic stance, but you turn your torso to the side, place your arms in a tee position, palms down, and gaze out over the front hand. It looks like you’re preparing to throw a spear or a javelin.  In Warrior III, you stand on one leg and your other leg is stretched back and it and your torso and arms are parallel to the ground, like your about to swing out and kick something.  Practicing any one of these stances will elicit a feeling of power in mind, body and spirit. 

A diagnosis and treatment plan for cancer or some other life threatening illnesses, can be a very dis-empowering experience.  Many in the medical field in an attempt to help you save your life forget that you still need to be in charge.  They may need a reminder that you are more than willing to partner with them in your health care but you are not going to allow them to take over your whole life.  Claiming your power in this instance can be the difference between life and death.  If you have a feeling that the caregiver you are working with is not on your team, it is imperative that you resolve the conflict or find a new caregiver.  Follow your instincts and claim your power.  Before I began treatment for breast cancer I decided to practice my Virabhadrasana poses.  I decided I need to take a warrior stance in order to prepare myself for the cancer process.  I found a counselor with the Duke Cancer Patient Support Program.  I then gathered my troops about me and got all the information I could find about other steps people have successfully used to empower themselves through this experience; a nutritionist, an acupuncturist, a massage therapist, and most importantly, my prayer groups. I invited and allowed any friend who wanted to help me through cancer, to help me in anyway that suited them.  Truly, I entered into that first chemo session fully armed.  I had my family, doctors, nurses and technicians to guide the meds and treatment and I had prayers, information, mediation tapes and a USA Today crossword puzzle.  I was fully prepared for battle.

The first time I heard someone tell me they needed to “stand in their power” I knew immediately what she meant.  Sometimes it’s too easy to think small.  It’s too easy to feel small, to let things go unresolved so that someone’s feelings are not ruffled but that can become a habit that only diminishes our power and our spirit.  Years ago when I was a very young woman there were courses designed to help people become more assertive, not aggressive, they would stress, but assertive.  Mostly these courses were attended by women.  What decides wether or not a woman feels powerful or not or for that matter, how anyone feels about themselves?  I’m sure the first criteria is their childhood experiences.  Were they led to believe they were special, smart, gifted?  Were they encouraged to follow their hearts and their imagination or were they treated poorly or worse?  But, even after such spirit damaging treatment, many people go onto find their self worth. 

Steve Jobs founder of Apple, died in October of 2011.  He changed the face of IT and the way the world saw and used all sorts of technological equipment.  One of the stories about Steve Jobs is that as a child when confronted by another child about his adoption, he became very upset.  The other child asked him how it felt to know he was abandoned by his birth parents.  His adopted parents gave the perfect answer to his question of abandonment.  They explained to him that they had chosen him from all the other children in the world.  For most of us, that would be enough to help us feel better and to value ourselves.  Steve Jobs took it to a whole new level.  He said from that moment on he knew he was not abandoned, he was CHOSEN!

As women age in our society, traditionally their value is diminished.  Older women are not normally looked upon as favorably as older men.  Just look at our older actors versus our older actresses.  But, even if in America you don’t find a lot of older women in the movies, thank heavens for the Brits and Dames Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren and Judi Dench.  It seems to me that the values our society holds up as a reflection of “success” are normally male held values.  But, it is changing.  Women today seem to be able to stay true to themselves and still find worldly success.  But, let’s face it sadly, we still don’t have many women officially leading the countries of the world.  We have had, however, many women warriors who have led our society out of darkness and into the light: Mother Teresa, Eleanor Roosevelt, Susan B. Anthony, Rosa Parks, and Helen Keller to name just a few.  And, we do have many more women in professions that were once consider strictly male territory.  When I majored in mathematics in college, I was one of 5 women in a program of about 100 men.  No more!   We now have women leading the fields of medicine, science, law and politics.  But, perhaps, some of your heroines aren’t on this list.  What of our mothers, sisters, friends and mentors?  They may be the women you think of when you think of powerful, strong women. 

What if you believed that every thing you do, everything you say, every thought you have, has an influence on everyone else in the world?  Would you think of yourself as powerful?  I am here to tell you that is true!  Our simple presence in this world, affects everyone else and everything else that exists.  We are interwoven in ways we cannot even fathom.  There is a network of energy that runs from each of us to each other.  Therefore, we have a responsibility to value ourselves and each other.  We have a responsibility to claim our power.  We must all believe in ourselves, we must!  We must recognize and value our contributions, our existence. Men and women alike need to know without doubt that we have value, each of us, and it’s especially important to claim it as we age.  We need to recognize and take credit for the way we have made life better.  It will affect every aspect of our life and every person we encounter.  When you truly claim your power and let your light shine, you give permission to the rest of world to do the same. 

What do you think your life would be like if you believed that you are chosen?  What would it take for you to believe that you are powerful?  What tools can you use to insure that as you move forward you will know that simply because you are, you are important; you are a force with which to be reckoned.  One of the first tools is to stand up and tell yourself, “I am powerful!  I stand in my power!  I claim my power!”  Yes we are chosen, each and every one of us.  We have been chosen by the greatest Father of all time.  Claim your power.  Say it!  Write it!  Watch how your body responds.  An affirmation can feel strange at first but don’t give up, keep with it and one day if you’re not there already, you’ll be in a place where you find yourself standing tall, feeling strong and you’ll know without a doubt that you are valued, you are important, you are loved.

Healthy Mind, Healthy Body

Affirmation: I invite God’s divine healing light into my mind, body and spirit creating a state of total well-being.

One day someone asked me if I liked my body.  I said “no.”  Afterwards, I was so disappointed.  I’ve been affirming for years how much I value my body but my gut reaction to the question in no way reflected my intention. Not only am I an integral part of American society with all the hang-ups presented to us through the media about the female image, I have also had quite a bit of pain, not to mention, cancer.  I haven’t always felt safe in my body, especially after breast cancer.  I mean I was feeling great.  I wasn’t sick and then “boom” and I was now being operated on, chemoed and radiated!

During one of my visits to my Chiropractor our discussion turned to healing one’s self. She spoke to me about how the beliefs we have concerning our health have a direct impact on our state of well being, or ill being.  She and her assistant have a practice they use to make life changes.  She explained that not only did she find a phrase or sentence to affirm the desired change, but they also took time to visualize it.  I left with a new found sense of power.  I had been struggling for years with this sense of anxiety about my health and especially with a sore hip and here I was being told, I could change that by thinking differently about it.  I’ve been practicing affirmations for years but truth to tell, I never thought about re-framing the ache in my hip. 

Then, I was led to re-read John Sarno’s book: Healing Back Pain.  There it was again, the same message.  How you think about your body, your health, has a direct effect on its state.  At one point in the book, Dr. Sarno says that you either believe the theory or you embrace it simply because you’re so desperate for relief.  I happen to fall into the first category. I know one must be careful believing we are fully responsible for everything that happens to us. It can lead to a blame the victim mentality. But, I choose to think I am responsible for almost everything that happens to me.  However, sometimes forces beyond our control overcome our best intentions. Believing that can be scary but it also takes away the blame.  I read where people who think of themselves as resilient have fewer health problems.  I wonder if they have fewer problems all together.  After talking to my chiropractor and re-evaluating how I visualized my body, I decided it was time to change my thinking and so, I came up with the above affirmation.  Oh, there’s much more to it.  I tell myself I am strong, resilient, flexible, and powerful, any words that affirm this body in a positive light.  When I took the time to closely examine how I could feel about my body, I realized I was only focusing on the negative and had totally neglected the positive aspects; like the fact that most of my body does not hurt, or that I have produced the miracle of three healthy children.  My body is a miracle unto itself.  I understand so little of how it operates but it does; most of it is in good working order, miraculously. So, I am making a very conscious effort to value my body, to believe in its ability to heal itself, to be strong and healthy.  I believe it begins by loving it.

An article in USA Today talked about a study done to help women increase their sexual desire.  Apparently there are many many women who are interested in this because this study involved several hundred of them.  As in most studies there was a control group.  This group was told they were taking a “magic” elixir which would do all they would hope it would do.  It was however a placebo.  Can you guess what happened?  Most of these women had a definite increase in their level of desire.  This study took place over several months and their levels did not decrease.  I don’t know if they were ever told it was a placebo and for all I know they are all still out there enjoying themselves without knowing it’s all in their minds.  And, that’s just the point. What else is just in our minds?  What else can we change to our benefit by simply believing it is true?  That’s the purpose and secret of positive affirmations; say it as if it already is; believe it as if it’s already true.  Fake it until you make it!  It’s without a doubt a great way to live your life.  Sexy?  Well, if that’s one of your intentions, go for it.  If hundreds of women can feel that way by simply taking a sugar pill, certainly it’s available to those of us who decide to choose to believe it to be true.
The message is clear.  How you think has a direct impact on how you feel.  So, the next time someone asks me if I love my body I know I will say, “yes.”  I affirm:  “I have an awesome body.  I invite God’s divine healing light into my mind, body and spirit; creating a state of total well being.”