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What Was I Thinking?

Affirmation:  I carefully choose my thoughts. 
 
This year’s 2013
Pink Ribbon Yoga Retreat has just ended. 
It was our 9th retreat.  You can
gather more information about it from the web site, www.PinkRibbonYoga.org or you can find us on
Facebook.  The retreat provides women
breast cancer survivors with support, coping skills, and relaxation.  It is designed to be both nurturing and
empowering.   What happens over four days
and three nights?  Miracles happen. 
 
 
This year 29
people attended the retreat. We always take an intention to guide our planning
and this year our intention for this year’s retreat was “On Wings of
Joy.”  We borrowed a thousand paper
cranes from the Duke Cancer Patient Support Program and hung them from the
rafts and Nancy Soho, one of our committee members, created mobiles for
everyone.  She hand folded 5 paper cranes
for each one and then added a hand cut card from which they hung.  Along with Irene Talton, our gifted
yoga-off-the-mat instructor, they crafted inspirational words on the top of
each mobile.
 
We have a very
specific format that the retreat follows. 
It’s proven to be extremely beneficial for creating a healing
environment for each individual and for the group as a whole.  Over the years we’ve discovered that if we
provide a single meaningful word for each person they are more comfortable
speaking in our opening circle.  This year
we used the words on the mobiles to initiate sharing.  We then left the mobiles hanging on the back
of the chairs and reused them for our closing circle.  I think only one person got the same word for
both circles and that was me.  It was
“healing.”
 
Healing is one of
the miracles that take place during these four days.  I know because I always come away feeling
healed.  I like to hope that it’s a
complete healing from all my ailments: mind, body and spirit but I don’t know
that for sure.  There certainly could be
some rebellious cells floating around inside, although I hope not.  I do know, however, that I come away feeling
rested, valued, calmer, centered, nurtured and empowered.  I know too that all those positive emotions
can lead me, my body to a place of better physical health and even if I am not
cured of all my ailments, I know I am healed. 
There is a difference and I know I am not alone.  I know it because over the last nine years
the women, who have participated in the retreat, have told me so.  It is true.
 
 
 
The very first
thing we do when the retreat starts is to provide an atmosphere of safety.  We encourage everyone to respect the
confidentiality of any sharing that takes place.  We ask that only one person speak at a time
and that everyone else simply listen.  We
ask that each person use the word “I”, not the third person
“you” or “we.”  We
let everyone know that sharing is optional and that silence is not only
accepted but valued.  Before the next
person begins speaking, the last person must declare that they are
“complete.” 

We tell everyone
that this is their time, all four days and three nights.  We have all sorts of wonderful offerings but
their first responsibly is to take care of themselves and so if they need to
take a walk or a nap or to just have some quiet time, then that’s what they
should do.  Of course, if they want to do
yoga on the beach, try creating a water color of spirit, participate in yoga
dance, eat ice cream with the group, try the meditation sessions or experience
laughing yoga, they are welcome to join in. 
One other thing that quickly becomes apparent is the lack of judgment
that permeates the event.  For at least a
short while no one has to hide whatever might cause one to be embarrassed in
the outside world.  With that, the women
can simply be.  There is no striving, no
pretending.  It’s liberating.  It’s another modality that promotes
healing.
 
One of our
traditions is to jump into the ocean after the early morning yoga.  There’s something very magical about floating
on the warm waves early in the day with a group of friends.  One morning I was quite tired and I thought
maybe I’d skip the swim and just head back to breakfast but I wore my swimsuit
just in case.  The yoga ended and several
ladies headed towards the water.  I
joined them.  As I floated over and
through the gentle waves, I couldn’t imagine what I had been thinking that
would have kept me from this amazing experience and then I realized, I often
find myself in really neat situations that I was initially hesitant to
join.  Sometimes they involve big steps,
like when I joined my daughter-in-law and traveled with her to Ecuador and
other times, they’re small steps, like jumping into the ocean.  Each time, however, I find myself wondering,
“What was I thinking?”
 
Perhaps, if we
paid close attention we’d discover that most of the time we’re not very clear
about what we really want or what will make us really happy or perhaps what our
best choice is.  An example would be when
we choose to have that second helping of something that tasted really good but
which is not good for us.  How often have
any of us done that and then shortly afterwards wondered, “What was I
thinking?”  It would be wonderful to
always be clear about our decisions, to always be mindful but it’s a practice,
a life-long practice.  We can only stay
alert and be aware.
 
 
After the retreat
is over I find myself asking that same question about having this idea of a
yoga-beach retreat for women breast cancer survivors, “What was I
thinking?”  What made me think it
would become a reality?  Did I believe
that it would turn into such a powerful, healing experience for so many
people?  Where would the money come from
so everyone could afford to attend? 
Where would we find a place to stay? 
Who would volunteer to be our teachers? 
How would we advertise?  There
were dozens of questions and challenges to making this a reality.  “What was I thinking?”  I was thinking this was a good idea and if I
moved forward and it didn’t happen, well at least I tried.  It’s better to try and fail than to never try
at all but it didn’t fail.  It
happened.  It happened and it has
provided comfort and healing, support and respite to more people than I had
ever imagined.  “What was I
thinking?”  I don’t really know what
I was thinking but I do know I’m really glad and actually very proud that I was
thinking at all. I’m thrilled that the retreat exists and that because of the
work of so many wonderful people, we achieved the creation of such an amazing,
awesome experience.  As of today it’s
been over a week since the retreat began and I am pleased to say I am still
floating on the “wings of joy.”

What Do You Live For?

Affirmation:
Every day I invite God into my life.
In Rediscover
Catholicism
, Matthew Kelly asks many interesting questions and he presents
many topics for contemplation.  One of
the questions is “What do you live for?” He tells the story of
Abraham Lincoln calling in a soldier and asking the soldier to deliver an
important message.  The soldier tells
Lincoln, “Sir, I would die for our cause.”  Lincoln says, “Son, I have thousands of
men who will die for our cause.  What I
need is one man who will live for it.” 
I love that story.  It made me
question myself.  What do I live for?  Where do I spend my time, talent and
treasure? 

Rediscover
Catholicism
is a
three hundred page book which is distributed for free.  I received it at my church in Cary N.C., St
Michael the Archangel.  I think we were
encouraged to give it to someone who has “fallen away” from the
church but I felt I could use something to reenergize my faith and so I brought
it home and promptly put it on my shelf. 
There it sat for several months along with a whole stack of other
“mean to read” books.  Do you
have any like that? 

One day a fairly
new friend and I were discussing the Church and she began to tell me about
Matthew Kelly and his book, The Dynamic Catholic.  She’s seems more sure of our Church than I
and I was interested in what she had to share and quite taken with her
enthusiasm for this author and his passion. 
I then realized his book was sitting right there with us.  It felt like I was being directed by Spirit,
by God, to read this book.  I began using
it as a prelude to my journaling in the morning, as I like to do with different
reading material.  My intention is to read
something inspirational at night, I have recently been focusing on the New
Testament, and something motivational in the morning.  For the last few weeks, I’ve been reading Rediscover
Catholicism
.

It’s very easy to
focus on the faults of the Catholic Church. 
It’s no different than focusing on the faults of the world, the government,
any organization, friends or family. 
It’s very easy to sink to the level of non constructive criticism.  It’s easier to go to a negative place than to
a positive one and the Church is a magnet for that criticism.  It has had many serious problems as an
organization, devastating behavior that cannot be justified. When I refer to
the Church, I am referring to the hierarchy. 
The patriarchal leaders who determine the philosophy and tenor of
Catholicism. Even with all its blemishes the Catholic faith has provided me with the
tools to help me deepen my faith and to grow in my relationship with God.  Matthew Kelly’s book has helped me, my Small Christian Community
study group, another study group called the Women of Grace and recently a few
new friends.

One of the
concepts presented in the book The Celestine Prophesy by James Redfield
is that there are no coincidences; everything that happens is
“supposed” to happen.  We are
always in exactly the place and time within which we are created to be.  The choice of what we do and how we choose to
perceive the situation, however, at that moment is completely ours.  One  of
my daily prayers is “Come Holy Spirit fill the heart of Your
faithful.  Enkindle in me the fire of
Your love.” It warms my soul to say that prayer.  It truly is the desire of my heart.  I want to live a Christ centered life of love
and forgiveness and service and when I say that prayer and invite God to fill
me with Divine Presence, I feel hopeful. 
“Ask and you shall receive, knock and it will be opened.”  In my quest to unite my will to the will of
God I have been drawn to activities and people who are guiding me, inspiring
me.  I once had a friend who always
seemed to be running into people, even strangers, who needed her help.  I asked her about her propensity towards this
mission and she told me she asked God everyday to send her people she could
help.  It seems so simple, doesn’t it, if
we can just remember to ask?  I’m a great
believer in answered prayer.

My faith is
growing.  My relationship with my God is
becoming stronger.  Thank heavens because
it makes my life richer and more peaceful. 
I find more and more opportunities to learn about my faith and to sink
deeper and deeper into its comfort. 
Looking back on the last year alone, I can see several invitations I’ve
said “yes” to which have led me to a more appreciative attitude
towards Catholicism.  The strongest
influence has been the newer friends who have entered my life and have chosen
to reach out to me and include me in their lives.  It’s been a tremendous joy, an honor and a
privilege to become their friend.  Each
presents their faith in a different but vibrant, loving way and I am inspired
by it.  Recently, one of the women said,
“I love my Church.”  I love my
Church!  It was wonderful to hear someone
say that.  I too am guilty of focusing on
the faults and not the beauty of my faith. 
“I love my Church.”  I’m
not there yet but perhaps with my daily prayer the Holy Spirit will lead me to
fall in love with it too.  I know I’ve
fallen in love with the men and women of my church who are in my life and who
with each encounter lead me into that rich, deep relationship with God I so
desperately desire. 

   

Why Be Vulnerable

Affirmation:  By going outside of my comfort zone I empower
myself.
When I first
moved to North Carolina in 1986 my young neighbor invited me to walk with
her.  I’d always been physically
active.  I skated as a child, both ice
and roller.  I climbed trees, jumped
rope, played ball and rode a bike to name just a few activities.  As a young adult I played tennis but I had
never exercised for the sake of exercising. 
This invitation was inviting me to try something new.  She also wanted me to walk with her three
mornings a week at 5 AM.  I love the
mornings and I’ve always risen at a fairly early hour but to get up when it was
still dark and to be dressed and out the door and walking the streets was for
me quite a challenge.  We were to walk
several miles and initially I was not physically prepared.  I needed to ice my shins after each walk
because of shin splints, sharp pains in the front of my calves.  But, after a couple of weeks, the shin
splints disappeared and I started to look forward to our chats.  After a short time, a few of the other
neighbors joined us and now we were not only exercising our bodies but building
our community.  I moved from that
neighborhood in 1990 but walking has become an essential part of my quest to be
optimally healthy. I do not, however, walk at 5:30 AM.  I now have the luxury of heading out after
the sun has risen. The decision to say “yes” to my young neighbor’s
invitation was a life-changing experience. 
It not only opened my world to the importance of exercise but it
empowered me by allowing myself to see what I could accomplish if I decided to
unite my mind and my body. 
I had stepped
outside of my comfort zone.  It may seem
like a small step but for me, it was a giant leap.  It was the beginning of a lifetime pursuit of
staying strong and healthy.  It certainly
wasn’t the first time I had been outside my comfort zone.  When I arrived here in NC I was already 40
years old.  I’d moved many times, had 3
children and had taught for several years but somehow this was different.  Accepting and meeting this challenge was life
changing.  Perhaps, I didn’t think I
could make such a commitment, but I did and once I allowed myself to be proud
of this feat, I found myself wondering what else I was capable of.  I guess, looking back on it, it was one of
the most empowering decisions of my life.     
Every day we are
faced with decisions, small and large, important and trivial but each decision
shapes our lives and shapes our future. 
Certainly, I can look back on my life and see how some choices enhanced
my life and I can see how if I had chosen differently how very different my
life would be today.  Right now I’m
reading The Time In Between by Duenas. 
It’s a marvelous example of how choice colors our life.  We are not only charged with making choices
that will enhance our lives; we are then charged with making a conscious choice
to mentally frame that choice in a positive light, to make sure that the
consequences of that decision enhances our lives.  It’s easy if it was a choice that easily led
to some perceived blessing but when the decision led to a struggle or perhaps
even a disaster, reframing it can prove to be extremely difficult but with
practice, it can be done even if it’s simply to use the experience as a lesson
which empowers us going forward.
The second focus
of Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly is vulnerability.  (The first focus was about shame and I wrote
about it in the blog, Shame on You!) When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable
we open ourselves up to making mistakes but we also open ourselves up to
opportunity and growth.  One must walk
the fine line between humility and foolishness if one is to embrace the quality
of vulnerability.  What Brene Brown is
talking about is the opportunity to live a full, rich life because we are not
afraid to try something that makes us uncomfortable, to try something at which
we might fail.  That behavior not only
takes us outside of our comfort zone but it encourages the virtue of humility. 
What would one
try if one wasn’t afraid to fail, if one was willing to be vulnerable?  It’s not only what one might learn but who
one might become.  I have some of the
most amazing friends.  People who are not
just willing to try something new but look for opportunities to do so.  My only concern is that sometimes they don’t
see what remarkable things they are doing. 
They don’t or won’t take credit for their awesome spirits.  Sure, there are historical accounts of people
whose humility changed the world, people
like Abraham Lincoln and Mahatma Gandhi.  I, however, love to look at those heroes who
are in my immediate life and relish their virtues.  There are so very many. 
There are the
writers who open up their lives to others. 
The painters who display their work. 
There are those who start their own businesses.  I have friends who have done mission trips to
all different parts of the world.  How
about those friends who begin a new career in their retirement years?  Some of the most remarkable women I’ve ever
met are the ones who attend the Pink Ribbon Yoga Retreat every year especially
the ones who come knowing no one and without a clue of where they are going or
what they’ll be doing.  I’m sure you can
think of many people in your life who step outside of their comfort zones.  They may not initially think they can but
that doesn’t stop them; they do it anyway. 
They know they might fail but they also know they might succeed.  It doesn’t matter one way or the other
because just by saying “yes”, simply by being willing to be
vulnerable, to be humble, their lives will be richer and more rewarding.

Yes, it was a
small step to agree to walk at 5 AM three mornings a week.  We need not take huge steps to initiate
change in our lives.  The little
“yeses” are the beginning which empowers us to one day take a giant
step and maybe not only change our world but The world. 

Shame On You!

Affirmation:  I release myself from shame.
“Shame on you!”  This phrase can sometimes be accompanied by an accuser wagging his or her index finger at you while they are saying it.  “Shame on you!”  Does anyone use that phrase anymore?  I hope not but whether it’s said or not, many people carry around a deep sense of shame even if they don’t understand its meaning.  My study group is in the process of reading Daring Greatly by Brene Brown and one of her main topics is shame.
Is shame different than guilt?  Can it possibly be a useful emotion, one that might help someone become healthier and more productive?  Could it possibly help someone at least become kind and compassionate?  No, I don’t believe it helps  
 in anyway.  In fact when I Googled it one of the phrases used to describe shame was an “unhealthy emotion.”  I think when someone is pointing their finger at you and saying, “Shame on you.” It’s no different than them cursing you and telling you to, “Go to Hell!”  There is no redeeming value in their condemnation. They are condemning you as a person; they are not condemning your behavior and that’s where the difference comes in between shame and guilt.  
Shame is when you feel like you are unworthy because you believe there is something inherently wrong with you; you are a bad person.  Guilt is when your behavior is faulty and because of it, because of your humanity, you’ve made a mistake, you’ve done something wrong.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t have to be someone other than ourselves pointing that finger.  Many of us are very adept at saying, “Shame on me!”  That too is not doing anything to help you create a better life.  One needs to fully comprehend the difference between believing they are inherently evil and that they have done an evil thing and can make amends and go onto change their behavior. 
I believe many people suffer from shame because of what they were told as a child by some authority figure, either a parent, teacher or some other misguided authority figure or even worse, something that was done to them as a child.  Those who make it to adulthood and don’t suffer from the malady of shame are either completely skewed or had some wonderful people in their lives who with their affirmations diffused those who attempted to harm them.They gave them the gift of discernment.  I’ve had many people tell me their religion made them feel worthless and shameful.  I can see how that might happen but at some point don’t you think you have to shuck off that mantle and decide what empowers you and what is hurting you, instead of blaming it on something in your past?  How is that done?
That’s why I started this site.  To give people the opportunity to think about their beliefs and whether or not those beliefs are enhancing their lives or diminishing their lives.  When discussing this specific topic with a friend she told me SHAME was an acronym for “should have already mastered everything.”  I don’t think she was talking about our hobbies, although I believe how we approach our hobbies is a reflection of how we feel about the more important aspects of our lives, like our faith and our relationships.  Perfection is the birthplace of shame.  We may have a belief system that has led us to a point where we expect so very much from ourselves.  There seems to be a fine line between expecting to do something perfectly and setting the bar so low that we never excel at anything.  If you follow this blog, you know that I have recently raised the bar on both my golf game and my fiddle playing.  There’s no way to keep score for fiddle improvement so since I’ve been practicing almost daily, I’ll give myself credit for improving.  Golf, however, is very different.  Each swing no matter how big or small, near or far counts equally.  Gauging my improvement or lack thereof is very easy.  

Soon after writing the Never Give Up blog, but after some additional practice and a lesson I headed out to play with “the big girls.”  What a lesson in life for me.  I was abysmal!  Notice the phrase carefully.  I didn’t write, “My game was abysmal.”  I fully felt like there was something inherently wrong with me.  When describing my experience to a dear friend and life-long golfer I was hoping for some great insight to dispel how embarrassed and actually ashamed I was by my performance.  In retrospect I am so grateful to have had this experience.  It was non-threatening, even trivial in some way but because I’ve been studying Daring Greatly, it gave me a great opportunity to see how I can point that finger of shame at myself and suffer that unhealthy emotion.
My friend and her husband said all the right things.  There they are, the people we all need in our lives to lift us up and affirm our personhood.  I wasn’t being silly.  “It was easy to beat ourselves up over our performances.”  They had had exactly the same experiences.  With their encouragement and a few more lessons from my coach and number one fan, my husband, Sandy, I took the lessons of golf and life that I had just learned and headed out to play once again.  I headed out with a whole new attitude.  I would do my very best and no matter what, I would have fun.  I would enjoy my time.  I would not beat myself up.  I felt differently heading out and I think that alone helped me play better.  A life lesson for me.  Do my best and choose to enjoy whatever I’m involved with.  And, when I’m shamed either by myself or another, take it to those who love me and let them help lift me back up to a place of light and joy.
Shame is a disease of the spirit, not the mind.  This is probably why religion has been so successful at using shame as a tool to control their flocks.  We don’t really need to be reminded of our sinful nature, most of us are very aware of our imperfections.  What we really need is encouragement and healing.  That too is available through most faiths.  Unfortunately, we must sift through the fire and brimstone to find it but it is there.  That’s where the healing is too.  It’s in the attention to spirit.  In fact, I firmly believe once we ask for healing, the Universe will gather all its forces to begin the process and will come to us in ways in which we never even dreamed.  
I am a great believer in the Holy Spirit.  Oh I am sure there are many many names given  the Holy Spirit by all those that believe there is a power greater than anything of which we have an inkling.  Give it any name you like.  It’s that life force that penetrates the very core of every living thing.  It’s available to all of us but most of us are simply too busy or too thick to notice it.  When we sit in silence and invite Divine Energy into our lives and our beings, miracles occur, healing occurs.  This is the antidote to shame.  We invite God into every cell of our beings.  We are part of the Divine.  It is our birthright to share in the holiness and glory of God.  Once we acknowledge our connection and our heritage to God’s Divine gifts, healing begins.