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Expanding Your Gaze

Affirmation: I choose peace and love.

 

Jean2-2Have you heard of Yogaville? It is a yoga ashram located on 750 acres in Virginia. It was founded by Swami Satchidananda. The shrine, called the LOTUS was opened in 1986. It’s an acronym that stands for Light Of Truth Universal Shrine. I was looking for something to do with my granddaughter, Isabelle (age 17), for my birthday because my husband, Sandy, had told me he would be traveling at that time. Isabelle and I had been practicing yoga together for a while before this and I thought it would be a great adventure for us to share. It turned out to be only a three-hour drive from our home. I signed us up for a course called “Healthy Relationships in Yoga & The Path of Heart.”

God bless my granddaughter. What a light she is and what a good sport! The diet was strictly vegan and we were quite challenged to find something on which to focus other than kale and tofu. Also, she was the youngest by about ten years. Her youthful spirit and presence alone brought joy and smiles to everyone we encountered. We laughed, we ate weird food, we met new interesting people and most importantly we created some wonderful memories.

Jean3One of the first things we were told when we arrived was not to miss seeing the shrine. We were in the middle of nowhere and I envisioned a small concrete or wooden structure with maybe a Hindu deity in the middle. The next morning we headed out to walk about a mile through the woods to take photos and see what there was to see. We reached a road and followed it up a hill and then from out of the valley below rose a giant pink and blue lotus shaped building. It was, I guessed, as large as the White House in DC but it wasn’t white. We were stunned. It’s one of a huge complex consisting of three buildings that started at the top of the mountain and ended down in the valley. What would we find inside?

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On Tuesday, February 2nd, 2015 Kate Cook was the yoga teacher at Fire Fly Hot Yoga here in Cary, NC. She leads an hour and a half Intensive Slow Flow class. She’s one of the best Yoginis with whom I have ever studied. She is so precise in her language and she always brings a lesson with her to deepen our practice. This last week she instructed us to gaze on the ball of energy we created when we cupped our hands and placed them in front of us. As we breathed in our hands moved together, as we breathed out, they expanded. Then as we were doing our balance poses, she encouraged us to “change our gaze.”

Normally, when one is balancing the instruction is to focus on one point. In Yoga it’s called a “drishti.” Kate reminded us that our mat practice is a metaphor for our life practice. What we learn on our mats, we have the opportunity to take with us out into the world. As far as I’m concerned developing balance is one of the most important qualities we can cultivate for ourselves. I do like to remind myself, however, that as one yoga teacher said, “There is no balance, there is only balancing.” We are either coming into balance or falling out. I know this is true for me. As I stood there on one leg with my fingers wrapped around my big toe and my lifted leg straight out to one side, my drishti was on some unmovable object in front of me. Trying to stay upright and trying to remember to breathe, Kate then suggested we “change our gaze” and look in one direction and then the other. I fell over and I tried again and I fell over and again. I lost my balance. Without a focus I couldn’t stay steady with a focus I couldn’t see the rest of the space. Which is better? I decided neither. Sometimes one is needed and other times, a grater perspective is essential.

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It’s good to be focused. It helps me accomplish the tasks I set before myself but when it’s limits my perspective on life, it shrinks my world into a smaller box and I need to get smaller to fit into it. I don’t want to be small. At five feet tall, I’m small enough. I want to take a big giant breath and expand my world to include all sorts of people, places and ideas. Then I have to decide what to allow to stay with me and of what I want to let go. What is “of God” and what is not. What will enhance my life and what will diminish it? It’s a mediation, don’t you think? We are faced with this choice day in and day out. Sometimes it’s about food. Sometimes it’s about activities. It can be about people and most certainly it’s about our ideas, our beliefs, our concepts.

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The shrine in Yogaville is dedicated to all religions in the world, those that are well known and those that are yet to come. There are twelve altars in the lower level with reminders of Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, the Moslem faith and eight others. It was respectful and well presented. It was a home for all, even the atheist. My initial reaction was small minded but I prefer to be an inclusive person and Kate’s recently taken yoga class helped me respond in a more open, accepting, non-judgmental mode.

93df774313ec5583c878fb90c91ea8f8-2I’m reading Pope Francis’ encyclical, “The Joy of the Gospel.” He too talks about accepting all faiths, not judging, even accepting the non-believers. Peace. I believe this is Peace. I know we are instructed to “spread the good news.” We are actually commanded to do so. The best way I know to do that is to try to always be a kind and compassionate person but when someone tells you they are right and you are “so very wrong,” what is your reaction? It’s not normally a peaceful one, is it? The course Isabelle and I took was led by two of the founders of Yogaville, Jeevakan & Priya Abbate. They were kind, gentle, compassionate people. I could see why so many are attracted to this place. It radiated peace and acceptance. One of the lessons was around the concept that, “We can be right or we can have peace.” I’ve also heard it phrased, “We can be right or we can love.” This is the difference between having a focus and seeing the broader picture.

I’m a Christian. I’m a Catholic. Here I sit with a focus on Christ but for me, God is everywhere. God is everything. I am not here to limit God’s unfathomable power. Yogaville was a good place for me to share an adventure with Isabelle. It was a great birthday weekend. I was outside of my comfort zone. I had to broaden my horizons and see God in all things, even within a giant pink and blue concrete flower rising out of the Virginia valley.

Being Catholic

Affirmation:  I love being a Catholic
During this month, October 2014, the Catholic Church has been front-page news.  It’s not unusual for the Church to be in the headlines.  It seems to me it’s an easy target for criticism, especially in this day and time.  This time the initial news being reported was more positive.  Pope Francis called a synod, a group of bishops from around the world, and the discussion that came from that meeting was highly publicized.  It’s unclear if everything that was written about the meeting was true but that’s nothing new for the media.  The initial bent of the stories would lead most people to believe that the Catholic Church has decided to become more liberal. 
At St. Benedict’s Church in Linville, NC Father Christopher Gober’s homily revolved around the procedures that are required before the Church, or what I would prefer to refer to as the hierarchy, makes any changes in Church doctrine.  “It will take years.”  Well, it doesn’t take a genius to figure that out.  The two thousand year old church has never been quick to make any changes.  It took them several hundred years to forgive Galileo who they excommunicated because he claimed the earth revolved around the sun.  With a history like that those of us, which includes me, who are ever hopeful that our church will become more open and accepting are not holding our breath.  But, there are some signs that our Church, the people who make up the foundation of our parishes may see a greater shift towards compassion and inclusion that hasn’t appeared to be the main focus until lately.
Before the synod ever began I was listening to a Tapestry podcast with Mary Hines called, Liars, Cheats and Sinners and the writer she was interviewing, described as a Roman Catholic thinker, Mary Gordon, said she didn’t expect anything would be discussed that would make a difference for the laity.  She, however, I am pleased to say, was wrong.  Even if the doctrines are the same and it takes years, if ever, to make changes, Pope Francis seems to bring a whole different flavor to the meaning of our faith.  When the leader of an institution calls for compassion and inclusion, when a leader in an institution is humble and deferential and when a leader of an institution leads by example and not simply with words, the institution will reflect those qualities and that, it seems to me is Pope Francis.
I may be grasping at straws here, hoping that he will bring our church to a place where many times people feel as if they simply can’t ever get it right, where many people just find it too difficult to be part of such a restrictive environment.  I know in many ways the Catholic Church is a liberal institution if you compare it to many other fundamental faiths of the world but in my opinion some of the stands it takes on issues which affect so many of it’s faithful are just wrong.  My hope is Pope Francis will lead these men to a place of compassion and openness so that the fastest growing religion in the United States today is not “former Catholics.”
Our Church has so much to offer and because of all the bad publicity some of which is very justified, we aren’t recognized for all our Church has done and continues to do to make this world a better place.  For example, the Catholic Church feeds, educates and tends to the health of tens of thousands of people a day.  The people they serve aren’t asked about their belief system or about their religion, they are simply helped.  Why isn’t that ever written about in the news? 
I once had someone tell me she was an Protestant because unlike Catholics she didn’t have to leave her brain at the church door.  I can’t even imagine why someone would think it was all right to say that to anyone but trust me that’s not true. I have carefully considered whether or not I want to continue to be a Catholic.  I’ve headed out many times; I’ve studied many faiths; I’ve read many different theologies.  I finally had to recognize that I was always called back to Catholicism. That’s my home.  Maybe, just by being who I am I can make a difference in the way the church responds to some of these controversial issuers.  Certainly, I have a better chance than if I walked away, if I simply quit. 
I had one very powerful experience of asking God in prayer what path I should follow.  I didn’t’ know how the answer would come but I believe in answered prayer and I did expect an answer.  The answer came in a dream.  Jesus floated down, He wasn’t very clear but I was pretty sure a white floating being was divine and He said, “Jean, I am the answer for you.”  I believed it then and I still believe it now.  I have a dear friend who has told me for years, “I don’t let the Church interfere with my relationship with God.”  That’s not good enough for me.  My Church needs practices and rituals that enhance and strengthen my relationship with God and with that, my relationships with my family, friends and even my enemies and it does provide those practices.  Unfortunately, the emphasis on Jesus’ message of love and compassion gets clouded and our beautiful faith gets tied up in the rules and regulations.  
I love the Catholic Church.  I love being a Catholic.  Yes, I know it has zits and dysfunction.  What family doesn’t?  I have chosen to stay in this family, this place where the people I interact with are more often than not, kind, generous, compassionate and loving. I’m still a Catholic because of my belief in the sanctity of the Eucharist and the rituals of the Mass and our seven sacraments and because it has led me to this relationship with Christ that sustains me in all things.

The last headline I saw about the synod before I wrote this said, “Pope Francis: ‘God is not afraid of new things.'”  Yes, I believe we are presently in the hands and heart of a loving, compassionate person who will bring our church to a place of more acceptance and kindness; who will help our parishes become places of refuge and hope; who will guide the hierarchy towards being less rule oriented and more people oriented.  I’m not too hopeful about changes with the perception of women’s roles but that’s a whole other blog.  I do believe, however, that our Pope Francis hasn’t left his brain or his heart at the door and I don’t believe he expects us to live our faith and our lives without deep thought and commitment. 

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.

Blessed are the Balanced

Affirmation:  I am fully
aware of the importance of maintaining a healthy balance.

Balance is another gift of yoga. 
There are the obvious asanas that offer the yogi the opportunity to
practice balancing: head stand, dancer’s pose, warrior III and the classic tree
pose to name a few but unless one is lying on his or her back or stomach, balance
is always involved in a pose, just like in life.  We then have the opportunity of taking our
balancing practice with us out into our day and into our world.  What does it mean to balance?  Is one ever balanced or is there only the
practice of balancing? 

Recently, I have taken on caring for a loved one.  The care requires much more effort than was
required or desired in the past.  I’ve
spent a great deal of time at the hospital, the rehab and on the phone or the
email connecting with caretakers, family and friends.  I’m happy to do it.  I love her and am pleased to have the
opportunity to do whatever is necessary to be of service but life has been
extremely full.  I now have the
additional activities required for this care-taking and my normal full
life.  When I was guided to do tree pose
in a recent yoga class, I immediately placed all my weight on my right foot,
the soul of my left foot against my inner thigh and chose one spot on which to
focus.  I then put my hands over my head
and became a tree.  I’ve done this
hundreds, maybe thousands of times.  I
was then guided to switch sides.  I
couldn’t do it.  My left leg would not
hold my weight on its own.  I needed
help.  I went to the wall in order to
maintain my balance.  The imbalance of my
life at the present time was reflected in my yoga practice.  I was stunned that the imbalance in my daily
life was so glaringly presented to me in my pose.  I didn’t feel too worried about it because I
recognized that while I was out of balance at the moment, I was now fully aware
of it and I needed to attend to whatever it would take to help me level out.
There are all kinds of balance: work and play, self-care and
community service, calories in versus calories out, time alone and time with
others, spending and saving money, exercise and rest.  The list can go on and on.  I’m sure you can think of a few, perhaps some
on which you’ve been working.  One
challenging part of achieving balance is it’s so personal. What is good for one
person may not be true for another.  Like
any life skill one is trying to improve upon, the very first step is awareness,
actually recognizing when you’re out of sync. 
Another factor is the time frame it’s placed within.  Are we looking to be in balance every moment,
every day, once a week or are we content to look over the whole year and think
something like, “I worked hard for most of the year and now I’m going to
take it easy for the end of the year.”?  
The truth is it’s no different than dieting.  First we need a focus point, perhaps that’s a
specific weight we are trying to maintain. 
Every day we make choices and each choice will lead to a better balanced
life.  When we are watching our calories
you can have a heavier day one day and a lighter one the next day to balance
out your intake or perhaps you are fairly conscientious during the week and
that allows you to eat a little heavier on the weekend.  If we take it one step further, perhaps
you’re fairly restrictive most of the year but let yourself relax while you’re
on vacation or at a celebration.  As long
as you can maintain your healthy weight, it doesn’t matter how you do it but
you’re going to have to balance out those calories or your weight will either
climb up, or get too low.  It’s no
different with anything else to which you want to bring balance. 
Many years ago a very spiritual woman told me a story about her
volunteer work.  She was determined to
become more faithful and with that she decided to spend more time at her church
and then that became even more time. 
Finally, she was at the church all the time and her family and her work
were falling apart.  She couldn’t figure
out what was wrong, if anything, because she was sure she was following the
better path to God.  Before her world
came crashing down upon her, the parish priest counseled her to look at the
imbalance of her life.  She examined her
priorities, made several changes and saved herself. The path to holiness
requires that we attend not to just the spirit but to the mind and to the
body.  That means the path to holiness
requires balance or at least an ongoing attempt at balancing. 
In order to walk the tight rope of life, we must be vigilant and
place one foot gingerly and mindfully in front of the other.  It takes practice.  It takes the lessons from the yoga mat and
from wherever and from whomever we can learn them.  Perhaps with enough practice one will even be
able to stand on one’s head.  If not,
perhaps at least on one foot at a time, or even just both feet without toppling
over.  The following week I took some
extra “me” time and when I returned to class I once again was able to
become a tree, on the right side and, on the left side.

Setting An Intention

Affirmation: 2014 is
dedicated as “The Year of Divine Connection.”
It’s January 2014, the beginning
of a new year.  I’ve already visited and
examined the past year and now I want to look forward.  Of course, I don’t know what whims of fate
await me but I’ve stocked the tool box with tons of coping skills so I’m not
going to go forward in fear.  I am going
forward in faith and with joyful expectation. 
What would you expect from someone who writes about Positive
Affirmations?  Last year was a good
year.  When I answered the 1st of last
week’s blog questions about the hardest thing I had to do, the answer wasn’t
really all that difficult.  It was a lot
better than some years that’s for sure. 
After I wrote the answer I actually felt myself smiling at how blessed I
am. 
Many years ago I owned a
refrigerator sized calendar that had the entire year on one piece of
paper.  I loved that calendar.  I loved looking at the whole year ahead and
planning our adventures and special occasions. 
I still like to look at the year ahead but now it’s all on my
computer.  Somehow it doesn’t feel as
satisfying but I’m adjusting. 

Taking an intention is a regular
part of a yoga practice.  I’ve expanded
that to my “off the mat” practice. 
I sometimes take an intention for the day. It’s pretty cool when it
appears in my daily journal.  We take an
intention for each of the Pink Ribbon Yoga Retreats.  We’ve just begun the planning for this year’s
retreat.  I’m very excited to see what
will appear.  It usually comes fairly
quickly as the committee discusses on that which they’d like to focus.  Last year was the first time I decided to set
a personal intention for the whole year. 
I declared 2013 “The Year of Love.” 

I have always loved the color
yellow.  I live in a yellow
“submarine.”  It makes me feel
happy and yet I still feel grounded when I’m in a yellow room.  Not all yellows, however, it’s more buttery
than gold.  I’ve usually added other
colors to punch it up, like hot pink or purple. 
For the last few months I’ve had an attraction to the color green.  I mention this because it’s a new phase.  In the past I have avoided green.  There wasn’t any green inside my home or in
my wardrobe.  Now, I’ve painted my office
apple green. I’ve added a Kelly green print to a couch and then I went crazy
and chose green granite for the renovated kitchen.  Nothing I had in the former kitchen went with
the green color but I was irresistibly drawn to it and I just relaxed and let
it happen.  Why I wondered was this shift
taking place?  I was discussing my
intention for 2013 with a wise yogi and mentioned my new bent towards the green
color.  She reminded me about the chakra
colors.  Guess what color the heart
chakra is!  Yup, it’s green. 
I’d like to believe that my
dedication to The Year of Love led to more than just an attraction to green and
a new decorating scheme.  Personal growth
and internal development is a slow process. 
It’s just like most other changes one is attempting.  They take time.  There are subtle differences that may not
even be perceived for a long time.  It’s
like that with our affirmations.  We
choose them carefully, write them, read them, perhaps say them to ourselves and
let them slowly permeate our subconscious and eventually our cellular
structure.  Then one day we respond to a
situation differently than we had in the past, in a way that affirms us, not
diminishes us and we realize our affirmation has manifested. 
As I looked forward to 2014 I had
trouble deciding on what besides love was important enough to focus on for a
whole year.  I thought about choosing
faith as a focus and I considered forgiveness but neither of those felt
right.  I do however; want to keep a
focus on forgiveness.  One of my
affirmations is, I freely forgive myself and others.  And, I do want my faith to grow. I attended a
retreat many years ago with my friend Ann Baucom and her spiritual
director.  I was going over those notes
very recently and there was the spiritual direction for which I was
looking.  It entreated me to let my

faith
grow not because of a sense of obedience or even a sense of belonging but
because it is rooted in experience. 
Faith doesn’t only increase because of our religious experiences
although it is possible but for many, me included, my faith experiences happen
both in and outside of church and that’s exactly what I want.  I want to see the moon and the stars, I want
to feel the sun warm my skin, I want to relish holding someone’s hand, I want
to hear the bird’s song and the ocean’s road and I want in that experience to
feel God’s presence.  I want to feel
connected to the Divine.  I’d like to be
connected at all times but this is a mediation, a practice.  In order for me to achieve this relationship,
this intention, I need to pay close attention and focus on my ultimate desire.  Yes, that is something I would be willing to
spend a year cultivating, even a lifetime. 
I have dedicated 2014 as The Year of Connecting to the Divine. 

What are you willing to dedicate
of year of your life towards?  Perhaps,
it’s not one phrase; perhaps you have a list of intentions.  I have one of them too.  It hasn’t changed from last year. It reminds
me of God’s bounty and of the truth that I cannot fathom the riches that can be
found once we connect to the Divine. My ideal life always includes optimal
health but good health and an ideal life require more than care for the body,
the body will cease to exist one day no matter how well I care for it.  I need to focus on the spirit too.  As in past January months I carefully
considered what my ideal life would include. 
I have carefully crafted ten intentions. 
Pray Unceasingly
Forgive Continually
Accept and Give Love Freely
Hug Whenever Possible
Learn Constantly
Dance
Often
Eat
Mindfully
Recognize the Shadows
Smile Early, Laugh Daily
Be Grateful, Always and for All
Things
Happy New Year!  May your year be filled with abundant
blessings, prosperity and joy.  Take some
time and write down your intentions. 
Won’t it be wonderful when you do your 2014 review, if you find you’ve
manifested your dreams and aspirations? 

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.

Savoring Joy

Affirmation: I savor all the joyful experiences of my
life.

I have read that
most people remember their negative or sad experiences better than they
remember their positive, happy experiences. According to the article we have a
tendency to dwell on the negative and sad and to barely notice the joyful
experiences therefore, not fully absorbing them. The advice given was that we
take more notice of the uplifting events; that we let them soak into our
cellular structure by savoring them, not letting them slip by unvalued.

Recently, I
adopted the tool of each morning writing out three joys experienced the day
before.  The practice is helping me pay
closer attention to what enhances the quality of my life.  I notice those things that make me smile and
make a mental note.  Then by writing them
out the next day  I’m recording them
not only on paper but in my heart. 

My mother-in-law
turned 92 this year. Have you ever wondered what you’d be like in your
old age, or if you’ll
even have an old age? (That’s
a whole other topic.) My mom, Margaret is 90 this year.

My
mother-in-law is named Yolanda. They both live independently and are lucky
enough to live in adult communities that offer not only a myriad of services
but easy access to community. They are also in very good health.  I visit my mom regularly.  Getting old is not for the faint of
heart.  It can be a very difficult time
of life.  I often wonder what that will
be like for me.  I’ve been taking note of
how different people approach what appears to be the same situation.  I’m taking notes with the hope that I will
learn how to maintain my sense of joy and adventure.  Is it a deep abiding faith?  Is it cellular, once an optimist, always an
optimist?  Is it being able to review
your life and value, truly value, all you’ve accomplished?

My husband and I
usually travel to see Yolanda for her birthday. I spend the time soaking in the
joy that Yolanda eludes. She counts her birthday cards and reads each one to us
and tells us about the people who sent them, if we don’t already know them. If
we do know them, she tells us about them anyway. She tells us how wonderful
they all are. How kind and talented and smart they are. It’s such fun to
listen to her take pleasure in her family and friends. She’s one of the most
non-judgmental, unconditionally loving people I have ever met. I’ve been blessed by
having her for a mentor and a friend. I’ve
learned so much from this woman who readily accepted me as her daughter simply
because her son loved me.

We moved away from
the New York area very soon after her first granddaughter was born. Melissa was
six weeks old and we moved to a farm town five hours away. They must have been
so unsettled by our decision. But, they never let on, neither she nor Sandy’s dad, Joe. They
simply showed up any chance they got bringing home cooked meals and gifts
galore. I was young. I was a little defensive about keeping my own space, my
own house and I didn’t
fully appreciate what a gift I was being given. 
Now, a grandmother myself I fully appreciate all she and Sandy’s father
did for us.

She now lives in
Savannah. She moved there right before her 90th birthday. We drove
her to the airport; she got on a plane and began a whole new life. I was in
awe. I can only hope that when I’m
90 I will have the gumption to make a lifestyle change.

There are so many
lessons to learn about life from Yolanda. She has a deep abiding faith.  She loves people; they are usually good and
kind and generous, according to her. 
She’s lived a rich life caring for her family and pursuing a
career.  Her whole view of life is
flavored with love: love of God, love of family and friends, love of memories,
love of being alive each and every day. 
I’m
sure you have people in your life from whom you too have learned a lot. But,
one of the lessons I took away from
sharing Yolanda’s celebrations with her was how important it is to savor the
joys of our lives and to absorb them. I believe it will color our attitude, our
health, our quality of life not only now but for the rest of our lives and then
maybe we too can be 90 or 92 or 100+ and giggle and enjoy all the wonderful
moments and celebrations of our lives.

Rising with Christ

Affirmation: I know by meditating on Jesus throughout
my day, I am in union with the Divine, miracles are created and without
struggle my life is transformed in ways beyond my imagination.

Lent is upon us. As I write this Ash Wednesday has passed. Lent is
one of my favorite times of the year.  In
the Catholic tradition, ashes are smeared on one’s forehead in the sign of a
cross with the words, “Remember that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt
return.” Genesis 3:19.   It is a
reminder of our mortality and of the promises of Christ of our life to come.
Lent in the Catholic faith is the time to prepare for the death and most
importantly, the miraculous resurrection of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Wow!
What a story! And, we are called to travel with Him on His journey. We are
called to stay present to the time, the season, the death and the rebirth. It’s
a time that takes many of us out of the depths of “winter” and into the
fullness of “spring.”

One of the challenges offered to us during Lent is to make it a
time of sacrifice. We are encouraged to deny ourselves and to do works of
mercy. Oh, I don’t think it has to be any great effort but we are called to do
something so that we are more aware of the 46 days; so we stay more present to
the Lenten season. It’s a gift we give ourselves.
 

If you grew up with this concept of Lent, you know the first
question most people are asked about their Lenten practice is, “What are you
giving up for Lent?” While I understand it is a season of fasting and
abstinence, it’s also a time to rest in the Lord, to take time to listen to
God’s voice, to the voices of our Angels and Guides. It’s a time to share those
things that are truly precious to me; my time, talent and treasure. It’s a time
to plant some seeds and to tend to them so they may produce the flowers and
fruits of love and joy. Now, that is something that takes quite a bit of
guidance. What needs to do be done to create such a bountiful harvest?

Several years ago, Father Emmanuel from Africa gave the Ash
Wednesday homily. He had a very eastern approach to Lent. He said he had
watched our American culture take on more, do more and struggle more during
Lent and he wondered if maybe we shouldn’t consider “doing less.” Doing less!!
Oh my, now that’s a self-discipline I might find very difficult to embrace. I
like to “do.” I like to be busy, busy, busy. I like to think I’m making a
difference in the world. I’m contributing; I’m making the world a better place
to live. And now, I am being challenged to do less.  At another time another visiting African
priest also presented the concept of doing with less.  This time he suggested we fast not only from
food but from the internet, the TV, radio and newspapers.  Instead of focusing on worldly events, he
suggested we use all that free time to connect to God.

How can denial and service be a gift we give ourselves? Well, it
takes 40 days to develop a habit and this type of exercise can be seen as an
opportunity. I know many people who use the Lenten sacrifice as a time to diet.
I can’t count the number of people who have shared with me that they give up
chocolate or sugar. Maybe that’s worked well for them. Perhaps every time they
have that craving, they find themselves more present to Christ and his
sacrifice. But, besides a restrictive diet, we need to take up the badge of
service, find something we can do for another. There are so many in such dire
straits right now. How can I be of more service than I already am? Maybe I need
to go through the house and give up a few coats and other items of clothing.
One of my dear friends is always reminding me that someone else could be using
the items I have left untouched for months and in some cases, years. Perhaps,
it’s a time for me to be a prayer warrior. How can I add more prayer to my daily
practice especially for those most in need? Maybe I can send a note or make a
call once or twice a week to friends I haven’t touched base with in a while? I
can pray for them, offer up a day for them, and send them a visible sign of my
love, like a note or a card, even an email might work. I’m sure you can think
of many other ways to give back.
 

And, what can I give up? What new habit can I develop over the
Lenten season that won’t simply reduce my waistline but will add to the quality
of my life, my life and hopefully the lives of all those I touch? I decided to
give up ingratitude. Ingratitude is defined in the dictionary as “forgetfulness
or poor return for kindness received.” A synonym is “thanklessness.”

I live a life full of abundant blessings. I am a very lucky woman.
I am loved by my family and have many wonderful friends. I need and want
nothing. I am beyond lucky and extremely grateful. I am safe, secure, and
healthy. But, every so often envy slips into my psyche. I’m admitting it. I can
still find myself listening to or watching others and wonder what I did wrong.
Why didn’t I make that choice; why didn’t I travel that path; why do their
lives appear so easy, so full? Sometimes it’s little things that I find myself
dwelling on and other times, it’s some major issue. But, that doesn’t serve me
or anyone else. Whether I give credit to God, to fate or to my own hard work
for the life I now live, being ungrateful is plain wrong. By giving up
ingratitude I found myself noticing when I undermine my own happiness and I
stop and let it go. Perhaps by letting go of ingratitude for 46 days, I’ll
develop a new habit. Maybe by the end of Lent, I will rise too, to a new
awareness, a new way of thinking about my life; a way that brings me and those
in my life, a sense of greater peace and joy.

I have accepted the challenges presented to me for this season and
have decided that with my “free” time, I will pray more and I will listen
harder. I believe that with these steps in practice, I  open myself to God’s grace and move forward
in whatever direction I am led. I’ve decided not to be in charge but am hoping
that by focusing on my faith, on my relationship with Christ, I will be led to
that place where it’s not up to me how I use my time, treasure and talent, but
up to God and that with the guidance of my Angels and Guides in those quiet
moments, I will be used as their instrument.

This is my Lenten practice.

Faith or Fear, You Choose

Affirmation:  I let go
of fear and anxiety.
The paper the technician handed me read, “We are pleased to inform you
that the results of your recent mammogram show no evidence of cancer.” I
had dodged another bullet.  I had escaped
death once again.  I could breathe a
little easier for another year.  It had
been over a decade since I was treated for cancer but somehow it didn’t matter
on the morning I had my appointment. 
It’s usually been a very early appointment.  I have an hour’s drive and I have trouble
getting out of the house.  I know
why.  I have the same trouble getting to
the dentist on time.  I was afraid.  I was nervous.  Mind you, I am not planning on getting cancer
again.  Of course, I wasn’t planning on
getting it the first time.  I know a lot
of people who carry around the worry of a cancer diagnosis, especially if
there’s a family history.  My elderly
aunt had breast cancer and my father died of a brain tumor at the age of 62 but
I took really good care of myself.  You
know, I ate right, I exercised and I monitored my thoughts.  I never dreamed I’d have breast cancer.  I was truly shocked when I was told the
diagnosis.
I have since discovered it’s not an unusual reaction.  Many many people are simply rolling along
when they receive this diagnosis.  The
truth is we should be less surprised to not receive some sort of health
challenge at some point in our lives rather than the other way around.  One man who is a patient at the Preston
Robert Tish Brain Tumor Center told a group of us that he had a headache and
surprisingly woke up from it in the hospital. 
He was a very robust man with an abundant amount of energy and a big
personality.  He heard them saying,
“You have a brain tumor, a glioblastoma.”  He laughed and said, “You’re talking to
the wrong person.  You’ve made a
mistake.” But, they hadn’t.
These diagnoses are like terrorist’s attacks.  One day you’re walking down the street and
BOOM, a bomb goes off.  There might have
been a warning sign but many times there is not. One of my physicians
graciously told me that the cancer wasn’t anything I did or didn’t do; it was a
“random act of violence.”  In
one way, that gave me a lot of comfort. 
I didn’t need to find blame either within or without but it meant that I
was vulnerable to the whims of the world and with that thought, I found I felt
unsafe.  It left me fearful.  I wondered what else was going on inside my
body that I was totally unaware of?  And,
I was afraid.
Fear can be a debilitating disease. 
It can rob us of our joy, of some of our happiest moments.  It can steal our whole lives from us if we
let it but how do we deal with it?  When
I was invited to join my daughter-in-law on a trip to Ecuador, I didn’t
hesitate to say yes but I want to confess I was afraid.  I have read many stories of people being
abducted in third world counties and taken off into the jungle, or worse and
being held for years and years.  I knew
this fear of being kidnapped was irrational but was it?  Maybe I simply wasn’t listening to my
spiritual guides who were telling me not to go? 
But, I wasn’t going to miss this opportunity, so my guides and angels
had better step up and protect me.  I was
also extra vigilant and extremely careful. 
As I sat on the steps of the Virgin de Panecillo at the top of Quito
looking out over the evening lights of the whole city, I cried.  I thought, “Fear might have kept me from
having this experience.  How horrible
that would have been.” It wasn’t the first time I shed tears on that trip
and it wasn’t the last.  It was an
amazing journey. 
So, on that early Friday morning when I was heading off for my yearly
mammogram, I recognized the visitor who had arrived with the ringing of my
alarm clock.  Fear was here. I recall the
first time I heard the phrase; Faith or fear. 
It was in a sermon at a church I was visiting.  It was one of those moments when I felt a
light go on.  I knew exactly what the
priest was talking about.  I had a
choice.  How was I going to live my life?  Well, I decided right then and there, I was
not going to have my life’s choices dictated by fear.  And, I have been deciding that every day,
ever since.  I have had to make it a
meditation.  There are days, like on that
early Friday morning of my appointment when I had to decide moment to moment to
stay centered and calm.  Deciding was the
easy part; making the choice, putting it into practice, well, that’s a whole
other story. Once again, I was faced with finding a way to live with Faith and
to let go of the fear.  That’s when I
created the affirmation:  “I let go
of fear and anxiety.”  It’s evolved
over the years.  I now not only focus on
the letting go of those emotions that don’t serve me; I now focus on
strengthening my Faith.  I have several
affirmations that I say to increase my sense of well-being; to make me believe
that no matter what is happening, I am alright because my Faith is strong and
helping me stay in a good place.
I am now officially a “cancer survivor.” You actually get to
claim that title whenever you want. 
There are no hard and fast rules. 
A few years back my breast oncologist approached me with the concept of
creating a Survivorship Clinic which women like myself, women who were out of
treatment for several years and appeared to be doing well, would visit for
their yearly appointment, instead of seeing him.  I agreed. 
My visit at Duke this Friday morning was to be in this clinic with a
physician’s assistant who specialized in breast cancer treatment.  It included an hour group session, the
mammogram and a full exam.  Well, I
really didn’t need a group session. 
There wasn’t really any more information I could gather.  I was fine. 
Right! 
There I sat with six other people, only three patients and a
nutritionist, a breast oncologist and the PA. 
The topics quickly turned to how to stay optimally healthy, what effect
a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment has on one’s long term health and what
our best choices might be.  It was a
delightful morning, informative and empowering. 
The other people in the group were very interesting.  The information they shared was extremely
helpful. I invited a dear friend to join me for the mammogram appointment.  We had a nice visit.  Actually, I had a really good time.  I was given that wonderful paper announcing
my cancer free breasts, I learned some new things, I had a wonderful exam and I
visited with a dear friend and met a few really interesting new people.
My daily affirmation to deal with the uncertainties of life focuses on
my faith in God.  One, I tell myself
that, “When I stay focused on the present, my life is peaceful.”  And, along with that I tell myself, daily,
sometimes moment to moment that, “Because of my relationship with my Lord
Jesus Christ, I can let go of fear and anxiety and fully trust in His loving
care for me.” 
I made it back from Ecuador without being kidnapped.  I made it through my yearly breast
appointment without a cancer diagnosis. 
I know I will experience other challenges in my life, things I may not
even be able to imagine but with my focus on Faith, by letting go of the fear,
I hope that whatever life brings, I will have at some point in the experience
tears of joy and be saying to myself, “Fear might have kept me from having
this experience.  How horrible that would
have been.”

Manifesting the New Year

Affirmation:  I am always manifesting; I manifest to my highest and best.
The beginning of a new year can be filled with mixed feelings and expectations.  Many years ago the cartoon For Better or For Worse had a New Year’s Day cartoon of Elizabeth, the young daughter, opening her new calendar and exclaiming “I can’t wait to put down all the wonderful things that will happen.”  If I were to closely examine my reaction to a new year it would not necessarily be filled with the expectation of delightful events.  I find I must be very aware of the feeling of dread that can present itself as I look forward to the future especially if I am dealing with post Christmas let-down.  It takes a conscientious effort to turn my thinking around and to prepare myself for the delights that I am sure are waiting for me.  Once again, I am faced with the choice of Faith or Fear.
I truly believe we manifest our own realities.  I am always manifesting and I want to manifest to my highest and best.  I don’t like to leave the quality of my life to chance.  There are always things I can be working on that will enrich my life.  One of my practices of many years is to take time at the beginning of the new year and to decide what’s important to me and what I’d like to see manifest itself.  I do this by looking at the different aspects of my life and seeing what I want to emphasize and concentrate on.

I divide my life into several categories.  Certainly, you can choose any that might work for you but mine are:  Spiritual, Physical, Mental, Family & Friends, Material, Community and Financial.  I set intentions and create affirmations for each section.   

Spiritual:  For example, one of my intentions is to meditate daily. I write:  I meditate once a day for at least 20 minutes.  Another Spiritual desire is to increase my faith so I write:  I pray daily and I attend church weekly.  I participate in my Small Christian Community and look for other  opportunities to participate in events that will increase my faith.
Physical:   My intention here is to be of optimal health.  What steps do I need to take that will lead to that state?  I write:  I fine tune my diet by eating clean at least 80% of the time.  I look for fun ways to exercise.  I do some form of exercise daily. 
Mental:  I know I am either green and growing or ripe and rotten.  I read a wonderful news article about a 93 year old man who recently learned to read and write.  He then went on to publish a book.  That’s my intention; to be learning as long as I’m alive.  So I write:  I look for opportunities that help me grow.  I am studying the fiddle, Spanish and doing a crossword a day.  I am open to all learning opportunities: travel, classes, lectures, documentaries, and new people and experience. 
Family & Friends:  When it comes to my Family and Friends category, I usually focus on what I’d like the most if they were considering me and try to create that intention for themselves.  I would like more of their time and attention.  So I write:  I carve out a regular time to spend with each of my loved ones and look for opportunities when we can share experiences. 
Material:  I include the Material category because I feel we live in a material world and it needs to be addressed.  In the past I’ve focused on living in a different house or perhaps making the house I live in, different, lighter, brighter, more comfortable.  This year I write:  I only keep the things I love and use and let go of the rest. 
Community:  Community is essential to everyone’s well being.  I write:  I volunteer my time, treasure and talent to help those who are within my power to be of help to.  I focus my talents on projects that I know make a positive difference in the lives of others.  I enjoy sharing my home with my friends and family and look for opportunities to do so.
Financial:  I attract financial prosperity.  I look for opportunities that increase our income and that decrease our expenses. 
 I don’t review them regularly.  I have found that there is great power in simply writing out my intentions and then letting them marinate.  I usually review last year’s at the beginning of the New Year.  I am always fascinated by how many of the intentions have come to fruition; fascinated and grateful that I took the time to work on manifesting the year ahead.  What do you want your New Year to manifest?  Claim some time, give it some thought and put it on paper.  Fill in your calendar now before the year starts.  Fill it in with all the things you want it to hold:  joy, love, hope, peace, great health, adventure.  It’s yours; it’s waiting for you to claim it and to manifest it.