This should be a so called “no brainier” right? I mean, so many people have stopped sending them, right? It’s the GREEN thing to do? It’s politically correct? Its a time waster? It’s outdated? Uninspired? Expensive? Boring?
Yes….I have argued all those points and yet every year, after year I have carved out several hours to hand write, hand address and label about 75 to 100 holiday cards to family, friends, work colleagues, and more.
At one time, I made an event out of it. It was part of my holiday routine. Setting up my area, playing holiday music to “get me in the spirit of the season” and enjoying the process. As the years marched onward, it has truly become less fun and more of a chore. I don’t enjoy it anymore. Even the cards we receive have become less about sending us holiday wishes and more about people showing us where they have been all year….as though that’s a measure of their well wishes to us. Or sending snaps of kids we no longer know, recognize or have a connection to at all.
I can say all this with conviction because WE used to do the very SAME thing! That was until I went back to my holiday card roots and decided to no longer sends snaps of our vacations, son, house, decorations, cats, etc and go back to the tried and true, old-fashioned way of writing out the cards by hand with intention and care. You see the simple act of hand signing a card had become a thing of the past, replaced by pre-printed cards, pre printed return address labels or worse still, the dreaded preprinted address label that says to me “I have too little time, and too many people to send a card to and can’t be bothered with writing them out.” Ugh! Also, in the past 3 years or more the number of cards we receive back has dwindled lower and lower as more people have opted out of sending holiday greeting cards. I was a hold out but no more!
This is my year to say “done!” You see, I don’t enjoy it. It’s no longer fun. My back aches, my hand hurts and I am not even listening to music when I write them, but looking at the clock for it to all be over….or worse yet, procrastinate about it till it really was a chore and a bother.
Plus, let’s be perfectly honest here, over the years I have made sweeping changes to my social media life. I stopped using Facebook and more recently deleted Instagram. So, it only stands to reason that holiday cards would be that next big social step! Sure, there will be some people who will wonder where our card is this year. There will be those who will stop sending us one as they receive no card in return. There will be those who will be offended. Or assume it has some nefarious meaning when no card arrives from us. But despite that all, I am going to stand firm in my resolve to end what has become an unpleasant activity.
Holiday traditions can be so heart warming, but when they feel restrictive, inauthentic or lose their spontaneity and sense of fun, its time to end them.
I will however take this opportunity now to wish you all the very best of holiday seasons and may you find peace in those things that bring you pleasure and let go or simply let be of those things that no longer do. No one said everything has to be the same. Life is all about change. Nothing lasts forever…..nothing!
There is indeed and end to all beginnings. Birth. Death. We are surrounded by constant reminders of this all the time. Seasonal changes represent the cycle of life so effectively. We watch the leaves change color and drop away. The plants fall asleep or die, having an expiration date on their life cycle. Winter brings cold, snow, and ice that sometimes excite us with the beauty of it all and at other times, causes us to cry out in despair over yet another snow day stuck at home with the kids! Spring gives way to new growth, heavy winds and rain soaked ground that smells fresh, feral and clean. Summer lingers with the intensity of heat, the wetness of humidity, or the parched dryness caused by lack of rain.
Like it or hate it, we cannot deny change is inevitable and yes, death is a huge change, especially to those who have died. I don’t mean this to sound cruel, or lacking in heart but as much as we grieve or miss our loved ones, the biggest change that has occurred has happened to them, not us. And for many who are in the process of dying it is a time filled with fear, disbelief and uncertainty.
When my father and mother died within 6 months of one another a few years ago, the pain was almost unbearable. But, for me, helping them both to make that transition in a better frame of mind or a place of calm, was so important. I made it my mission to allow for “a good death.” Each parent’s journey toward death was completely different. Dad passed away in 24 hours after his emergency surgery from a burst aneurysm in his abdomen and was removed from life support. Mom lingered for 5 years with COPD, congestive heart failure and stage IV kidney disease. In the end, her failing body, not her mind, gave out.
Neither of them wanted to die. Dad knew the chances of his survival after the emergency surgery were grim, but he decided, while in excruciating pain, to take the chance. In his pain filled mind there was no other option for him. Mom, who declined slowly over the years, still fought death at the end, even saying to me after informing her of the fact she was dying, that she “did not feel like” she was dying. She felt fine. Makes me smile and think of Monty Python and the Holy Grail in the scene with the chant of “bring out your dead” routine, when the old man being carried out onto the death cart, jumps up and says ” I am not dead yet, I feel better!” However, in my mother’s case, her unawareness of death was probably due more to the morphine and her tenacity to live than anything else!
Each parents passing was a celebration of their living. We played music, laughed, sang, touched their faces, backs, heads, hands and feet, massaged limbs, kissed, held, comforted, loved and provided all manner of attention. We spoke words filled with compassion telling them how much they meant to each of us and that it was OK for them to move on. Death was awaiting them and it was a journey they were going to do, on their own, without any of us in attendance.
The preparation for death was much quicker for my father, but no less intensely loving. I recall being by his bedside when the hospital priest came to give Dad his last rites. This was made all the more moving, as I was all alone with him at the time. Long separated from the Catholic church, I felt awkward wth the words, but knew it would be meaningful to him. I was also struck by the irony of the situation. Dad was there at my inception, and I was there at his expiration. It was poignant.
I can honestly say, I learned so much about dying from their passing. And while I don’t know when, where or how I am to die, I am completely right in my conviction that I am going to die. So. In this journey of mine through life, knowing of this inevitable end makes it seem a bit less scary and uncertain. There is certainty. Death is inevitable.
I try to treat life with tender care and respect. Although, over the years of my living, I have not always been fair and loving to this body of mine. In fact, I have treated it poorly in my youth, at times, but I am no longer there, but here in life. And my focus and mission in life is to be here, now, for however long that might turn out to be.
Death is not an uncertainty. It is a given. And I trust in knowing, when that time comes for me to pass from this life into what ever awaits, I am ready for the adventure!
“Practice like your life depends on it.” I recall the very first time I read those words written by Jon Kabat-Zinn PhD and was scared! I mean, was this a threat or just a very stern warning?!? At the time, I was going through all the sturm und drang of peri-menopause and thyroid disruption. I was anxious, depressed, sleep deprived and a bit peevish about the fact that I had been practicing yoga and meditation for years by now, so “why me?!?!”
What I learned through my perseverance, determination and just plain old research, was that mindfulness was missing from my daily life. I was not making my life my practice, but simply expecting those few hours spent practicing weekly to handle it all. I was simply using meditation and yoga as more or less of a routine that I would turn toward when I needed it most, but I was not being as faithful to it as I needed to be in every day life.
Oh sure. There were LONG periods in my early 30’s to early 40’s when I devoted a ton of time to practice. But then, in my early 40’s we adopted a wonderful, beautiful 6 month old baby boy. Wow, was my life flipped upside down. I grabbed what time I could find, whenever able with practice and yoga. However, this time for self care and practice got to be less and less as time moved on. About 8 years later, I was feeling completely off kilter and unable to feel calm and balanced. Enter: peri or pre-menopause and all the ups and downs that go with this time. Not all women experience this, in fact, many women skip right over this time and find themselves in menopause without so much as a hiccup. Bravo for them! But “woe is me” to the rest of us! HAHA!
So, what I found through lots of research and exploration at the time, was that mindfulness: living my life in an aware and present way was missing. What was also missing was my ability to recognize that a meditation practice was not a part-time endeavor to grab when able, but a full-time process of bringing mindfulness into daily life AND practicing it formally with meditation. My pathway toward this recognition was the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program that I learned and lived after reading that wonderful, and life changing book by Jon called “Full Catastrophe Living.” This book explained all there was to know and more about this wonderful program he developed and launched at the University of Massachusetts Medical School over 35 years ago. I was literally, blown away with the fact that I was able to reignite my commitment to practice, learn to just be with the ups and downs of life in a more compassionate way, and make room for the fact that “into every life rain must fall” approach. This program also became my inspiration in my personal and professional life as well when I trained to be a teacher of mindfulness at the Center for Mindfulness at The University of Massachusetts Medical School.
Life is all about change. Change in our growth and bodies. Change in our homes and living conditions. Change in the environment and world around us at large. Change is a fact of life. Those who resist or are unprepared or caught off guard about this fact find things to be far more difficult to weather. Much as I did with my march toward menopause and the physical and emotional struggles I was faced with daily.
I know now or sense strongly, Jon was not making a threat or blasting out a dire warning when he stated “Practice like your life depends on it,” but was offering a loving, caring “call to action.” Living mindfulness and having a routine meditation practice impact our ability to ride out these inevitable changes with a kinder, gentler and more caring approach toward ourselves and life. My life does depend on my practice. Practice is my life, is another way I look at it. It is not a part-time, quick fix to problems. But a way of life that prepares me for this inevitable change as I move through life.
Change…its going to happen when you least expect it. Wether it comes in roaring like a lion or gently like a lamb, it happens. And I know that my practice cannot stop this change, or prevent it from occurring, but it can help me to weather my personal ups and downs with kindness and compassion and a gentle reminder that “this too shall pass” and if it doesn’t, I will practice like my life depends on it and just let it all “be.”
There is another quote of Jon’s I have since learned and love. “You cannot control the waves, but you can learn to surf.” That is how I live my life.
I made a huge decision, many years ago, to leave the traditional work world in pursuit of furthering my higher education. Fear and uncertainty plagued me about my decision, but what kept me going was the ability to just sense I was moving in the “right” direction.
It was NOT easy. It was not without bumps and derailments along the way. Making changes to alter life is filled with lots of road blocks, false starts and uncertainty. It is not a linear or straight line path to the finish. It is challenging. It does mean certain sacrifices have to be made. The biggest of which, for me, was giving up the identity by which I had lived my life and struggling through years of uncertainty about the person I was to become and the direction I was to follow.
Never easy, and if it had been, I am not sure I would have made the choices I made along the way. I have always been the kind of person who “learns the hard way” as some might say. I prefer to say that I learn from my mistakes and have learned to make more and more of them in order to grow/evolve into the person I am today!”
More importantly, I learned that there is no such thing as a “right or wrong” choice. They are simply choices. That was a super hard lesson for me to grasp, as it was ingrained in me from childhood by my parents and my parochial school education that there were only good choices or bad choices. I could CHOOSE to be good, or CHOOSE to be bad, but the choice was mine to make. I lived with the fear and anxiety that this type of narrow-minded thinking engendered. It definitely contributed to the panic attacks I experienced (see my About Me page) in my life when faced with the harsh reality of being in a career that no longer held promise for me.
I struggled to find my way. It was tough. Were it not for the support of family and my spouse, who was then my boyfriend, I am not sure how I would have managed. Through this entire process though, I learned to turn toward myself more often and listen with not just my heart, but my entire body. There were some harsh realities I had to face, people I needed to forgive to move forward, and places I had to find that nourished me in ways that went beyond money and career. It took months and years but I, as the saying goes, “kept on keeping on!”
So. Here I am today. Still learning and still growing and STILL making mistakes.
The biggest difference for me, was learning and continuing to learn, how to incorporate all aspects of mindfulness into my every day life. Taking more pauses. Listening more, and talking less. Being present to life in all its messy madness and not hiding behind a mask or facade. Allowing my authentic voice to come through and learning how to feel fear, insecurity, low self esteem, etc and “do it anyway!”
There is such profound wisdom that resides in all of us. Learning to give ourselves those quiet, reflective, and insightful moments keeps us going. No one ever said life was easy. It’s not. Choices need to be made all the time that impact the direction and focus of your life. Sometimes, along the way, you may need to find your own places to nourish yourself body, mind and spirit, just as I did and continue doing.
Mindful Presence Reiki is there for you when you need it. It is a chance to not “do” but simply “be.” No goals. No expectations. Bring yourself all the uncertainty and confusion about life. Be still. See where it leads and trust yourself to know what you need and when you need it.
Research tells us that taking time for ourselves, away from the routine of every day life is so important to body, mind and spirit. In fact, many companies have started to incorporate breaks into the work day for employees that allow time for some chair massage, meditation and naps. Yes! You heard right: naps!
In fact, the National Sleep Foundation, states “While naps do not necessarily make up for inadequate or poor quality nighttime sleep, a short nap of 20-30 minutes can help to improve mood, alertness and performance.” Short, restful naps, help to recharge our batteries and give a boost to our energy for the day.
Mindful Presence Reiki was specifically designed by me to enhance your ability to feel more rested, at ease and energized in your life. In fact, a typical 60 minute Mindful Presence Reiki session allows for 15 to 20 minutes of guided meditation to settle you in gently with mindfulness. After that, its your choice as to wether or not you stay awake, aware, and at ease or drift off to sleep for some much needed rest in the midst of the 24/7/365 lives we all live.
The session room is calm and peaceful and free of clutter. It has a restful and relaxing feeling. The Reiki treatment table is heavily padded, lined in thick, soft fleece and covered in scent-free, organically washed linens and blankets. The blankets are buttery soft and warm. You have two sizes of both knee bolsters and head pillows to choose from to add to you comfort. Instrumental music can be softly played in the back ground or you can choose to have the room be silent.
A wonderful addition to your complete relaxation, is your selection from a variety of high quality essential oils that can be mixed, blended, or left as a stand alone scent and diffused gently throughout the session. Scent is indeed so personal, and can help us to relax more deeply feeling refreshed and renewed! You can always choose to have your session be scent free as well…..in fact the room is devoid of scents unless the diffuser is turned on and essential oil added.
So……if you need break in the midst of YOUR work week, and could use some time to recharge your spirits, feel more uplifted, time to shut of the cell phone, and let your body unwind, PLEASE try Mindful Presence Reiki and discover for yourself what so many others have before you: It works!
PLEASE NOTE: I do not sell any essential oils or diffusers, but am happy to help you find some reputable sellers of organic essential oils or companies that are very careful, maintaining high standards in the production of their essential oils. I cannot tell you how many people have tried to sell me on “therapeutic grade” oils. In most cases this is simply a marketing term used to lure you into purchasing overpriced products. All essential oils are not created equal and if its being used in my Mindful Presence Reiki Treatment Room, it passes my tough standards as I use them at home as well.
Think of all the times you have acted mindlessly for a moment. Actions, once taken, that melt into regret later. Words sharply stated that can never be taken back, no matter how hard you wish it. Feelings that overwhelm and overtake your ability to stay focused and clear-headed. Thoughts that seem to make your every day actions seem like endless hours of mediocrity and despair.
Now, think of this, how many times do you internally speak kindly to yourself when you have made a mistake, no matter how “big” it may appear to you? How often do you think of what your intention is before you express an opinion that can hurt or make someone else feel terrible about themselves? How many times do you try to give a friend some words of comfort, and find yourself thinking of all the things you want to say to them, rather than just listening to them speak and not interrupt or make comments? I could go on, but I think you are getting the idea.
Truth hurts and looking at ourselves thru the lens of clarity rather then distortion, can be painful. In fact, I too have said many words and thought many things that I regretted afterward….things that might have been expressed out of anger, sadness, embarrassment, disappointment, grief, loneliness, etc that I can never take back. Sometimes, I have said things, that at the time seemed to be just what needed to be expressed or said, when in fact their was so little thought as to the impact those words would have on someone else. I think I am safe in saying most, if not all of us, have done the same thing at one time or another.
To understand mindfulness and its ability to bring our thoughts and actions into the present is to be aware of what we were doing in a way that causes no harm to ourselves and others. When we sit and stew for hours over some slight we feel was made to us, we fool ourselves into thinking we are helping ourselves to process. But, what we are in fact doing, is not allowing ourselves to move on, to move forward, to become unstuck from an endless cycle of “should of, could of, would of” that in many instances, just serves to make us feel worse.
Mindfulness matters because with out it, our actions become mindlessly driven and can cause not only others to feel terrible, but ourselves as well. Ellen Langer, PhD states that “Social psychologists argue that who we are at any one time depends mostly on the context in which we find ourselves. But who creates the context? The more mindful we are, the more we can create the contexts we are in. When we create the context, we are more likely to be authentic. Mindfulness lets us see things in a new light and believe in the possibility of change.”
I think this is an empowering statement that can open doors to our potential. If we all spent less time expecting everyone and everything to conform to our ideal and spent more time being mindfully aware of the fact that doing anything less leads to our own unhappiness, discord and dissatisfaction, we can free ourselves in ways that propel us forward through life.
It is not easy, and it takes practice. So, next time you feel the heady, overpowering rush of mindlessness upon you, choose to notice its intoxicating grip and choose to be aware of your feelings at play, explore what your intention might be, and how you can learn to be with those feelings and not react mindlessly. This, over time, will open doors to feeling more and more at ease with life and less disconnected to ourself and others.
The month of October is one I truly enjoy. The cool, crispness in the air, the scent of warm apples and cinnamon, the vibrant color that seems to explode overnight, and the simple fact that it is time for my annual mammogram.
OK, so you got me! I am not overly thrilled to have my mammogram done. Once you have had breast cancer, as have I, it does make the annual or semiannual check up a bit of a nail biter. But here is the thing, I go to a wonderful hospital in a town I love: Peterborough, to have it done each year now. For years before, I made the long trek to Boston, and before that to NYC to have my mammograms and check ups. The advantage to Sloan-Kettering in NYC was results were the same day. A wonderful thing for many, especially those among us who want this immediacy to help move on and do what needs to be done. Boston was not the same day, but they were very quick and efficient.
Peterborough is a small town in the heart of the Monadnock region of NH. Breathtakingly beautiful views as you drive here of mountains and autumn splendor all around. The town is very laid back and art/culture inspired. Wonderful restaurants, shops, museums, art galleries, cafes, and places to sit and just pause are everywhere here. It is a true gem and an place that happens to house my favorite bookstore on the planet: ToadStool!
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, 15 years ago, the first place I went for inspiration was the Toadstool Bookshop. I loved the aromas from the cafe there, that tuck in around you as you browse making you feel warm and safe. Even the books smell particularly delicious! (Yes. In case you are wondering, I do sometimes judge a book by its smell!)
I stood in the self help, inspiration and nature sections of this delightful bookstore and let my hand and heart draw me to the books, not my overthinking and overloaded brain. In the nature area I discovered a book called “Inner Gardening: Four Seasons of Cultivating the Soil and the Spirit” This book made my heart sing and still does to this day! Next, I moved more cautiously toward the section filled with books about breast cancer. I was much more cautious here, as I did not want to read stories of battles won and lost with cancer. You see, everyone’s journey is uniquely different. I wanted to find inspiration, and find it I did, in a little book called “Hope is Contagious: The Breast Cancer Survival Handbook by Margit Esser Porter who oddly enough, lives in Peterborough!
This book was my light thru the darkness and kept me smiling, and hopeful, through out my journey. When my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer years after me, I gifted the book to her, so it could lighten her journey as well. The book is so inspirational and I have passed it on to many others. In fact, I am not even sure if I have it anymore…..but, the hope it gave me rang loud and clear, and will never leave me. It might dim now and again, but its always there!
Breast Cancer Awareness month is mislabeled….it should be Breast Health Awareness Month. I don’t think it is a month to focus on cancer so much as the prevention and eradication of this disease. It is a time to tell ALL women to be proactive in your health care. Get mammograms and don’t be lulled into a false sense of security about your odds of being diagnosed. So many women I talk to think they have no risk since no one in their family had been diagnosed with breast cancer. But this is a misleading sense of security.
Here is a blurb about your risk factor from Breast Cancer.org: “Absolute risk also can be stated as a percentage. When we say that 1 in 8 women in the United States, or 12%, will develop breast cancer over the course of a lifetime, we are talking about absolute risk. On average, an individual woman has a 1-in-8 chance of developing breast cancer over an 80-year lifespan.”
Now, here is the part where SO many women still get very confused: If you have a history of breast cancer in the family your risk goes up considerably, …..but if you have no history, as I did too, you STILL are at risk……you are not risk free. Keep in mind, I ate healthy, kayaked, walked daily, practiced yoga and meditation, seldom drank, was non smoking and was a healthy weight and size…..and I was one of the eight women.
Let me repeat: having no history of breast cancer does not mean you are RISK FREE! Don’t make that mistake. My breast cancer was caught SO early I did not require radiation or chemotherapy. It was microscopic and DCIS. My decision to have a mastectomy was MY CHOICE and one I have never regretted to this day!
So, here is my take away this month to you all: do not put off those mammograms and be lulled into a false sense of security. Have one done. If your breasts are particularly painful and cystic, have one done. If you have large, dense breasts, have one done. And if you are putting it off out of fear, remember this: the EARLIER you catch it, the better your statistics are for treatment and recurrence.
Breast Health Awareness…..October.
Stress…..it’s part and parcel of all our lives. Sometimes it comes in roaring like a lion, demanding attention and immediate relief, and at other times, it builds up over time, slowly, until we are finally overcome with our reaction to it. And still, at other times, it ebbs and flows in such a way that we are able to ride it out, so to speak, with mindful attention, so that we do not get caught up and swept away in the storm.
Mindfulness is awareness of what is happening in the present moment without judgment. The judgment comes in when we get lost in the barrage of thoughts that seem to tumble rapidly, one on top of the other, in our minds causing us to misread, misinterpret and many times mistakenly arrive at judgments that are not helpful to us. The result can be adding more stress to our already overloaded day/weeks/months.
I often refer to this as “A to Z Thinking.” Let me give an example of how this works: If upon waking you discover your shoulder is aching and sore, and you felt great the night before, you might start to focus on the pain thinking what did I do? Is it my bed? Is it how I was sitting last night? Is it going to hurt all day? Will I be able to focus on anything else? What if it gets worse? What if my other shoulder starts to hurt? What will I do if I can’t move it? Should I have an Xray? Maybe I need an MRI? Who will I go to about this? Why does this always happen to me? I hate myself and my body! This really sucks! What if it is bone cancer? What am I going to do? I feel so lost. Maybe I will just call in sick.
Now this might seem like extreme example, but it is indeed what many of us do. We go from one thought to another to another in such rapid progression that we are unaware of the “thought train” our mind is traveling on! We go from waking with a sore shoulder to having cancer in sometimes, a very short span of time.
This way of thinking can indeed, catch us by surprise, and make us feel very stressed.
Now, let’s try the same scenario with mindful awareness: Yes, I can feel my shoulder is sore this AM although it did felt great last night. Maybe I slept in an odd position or perhaps it is from something else. I know I can get caught up in over thinking things like this when they happen. So let me just stop and get off the A to Z thinking train right here and right now. I will get up, take my shower, move around and just see what happens as the day goes on.
The biggest difference in the second example is the ability of the aware and present thinking mind to acknowledge the pain, not discount or over inflate it. Making a choice to not get lost in rumination and making a choice to recognize what simply is present with kind and compassionate self talk.
Meditation, which is what I like to tell people is the formal practice of mindfulness, helps us to catch that thought train more and more often so we don’t get so caught up in looking for blame outside ourselves, or making ourselves suffer more by this habituated pattern of thinking. It enables us to learn how to focus our attention so that we react less to life and learn how to instead, respond. Responding instead of reacting reduces stress, allows us to focus more and feel more at ease with ourselves and our life.
So, with meditation practice and patience, next time you catch yourself on that A to Z thought train, acknowledge it in a way that derails the thoughts. Doing so with kind, compassionate self-talk can be tremendously helpful toward reducing any added stress to your day/week/month/year.