Give Your Presence this Season

At this time of year, isn’t it hard to give our full attention to the present moment? Many of us jump ahead to our lengthy to-do lists. Worry, anxiety, and stress can consume us. There’s so, so much to be done!

If however, we can stay in the present, attentive to the moment in which we find ourselves, we will become a gift to those around us and a gift to ourselves.

This doesn’t come easily to me. Nope. Without confusing the holiday, I’m like a bunny that will hop, hop, hop, particularly when I’m stressed. I try to squeeze in as much as I can. There are plenty of us hopping right now, friends.

Let’s turn to an appropriate image for the season: the Christmas manger. This scene is an invitation. Animals gathered around the baby in wonder, awe, and adoration. They gave exquisite attention to what was right in front of them. Even the bunny!

Here’s what I’ve found to be helpful in my efforts to stay in the present moment:

  1. Pace: Go slower. Less hopping!
  2. Pause: Take time to rest and allow your soul to catch up…even for a few seconds in the midst of the busyness.
  3. Breathe: Get in touch with your breath. It is always there to center you in the now. Focus on three breaths right now.

These steps open a gracious space in our mind and heart to be present to others and ourselves.

December is a tender time for many, with happy and sad memories and loved ones who aren’t with us. Sorrow mixes with joy. We never know what lies beneath the surface of people’s lives. Just being present to others is a way we can give. Generous listening, saying “thank you,” looking someone in the eye, a warm smile, or a gentle touch can be just the gift that someone needs. Don’t underestimate the power of connection.

The gift of presence is sorely needed. Let’s slow our hopping. Be present. Be a present.

With love, M

people sitting beside table

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

 

 

 

What Kind of Season Do You Want? Set Your Intention!

Congrats, my friends for making it through Cyber Monday! Whew! What a whirlwind of a week!

Those gazillion emails that cluttered our mailboxes (and our minds!) seeking our urgent attention can serve a valuable purpose, other than saving us money. They remind us to be intentional about the season ahead. 

We can get swept up in chaos. Or not. It’s our choice. Our soul muscles help us to create the season we want.

What’s on your to-do list? Sift through the pressing “demands,” reflect on what’s truly important, and let that be your compass. Set your intention to guide you for a meaningful season.

Here’s my intention for today and the weeks ahead, God help me:

Be present. Pay attention. Share love. Cultivate joy.

 I plan to look at it in the morning to frame my day, as I make my to-do list. Then at the end of the day, I will look at it again with the eyes of gentleness, knowing things won’t go as I hope.

What is important for you? What would you like this season to look like? Take time to reflect and set an intention. It will be a gift to you and those you love.

postit scrabble to do todo

Photo by Breakingpic on Pexels.com

 

Make Way for Your Blessings

Right now, there are blessings circling over you, trying to find a place to land into your life. Yes, friends, goodness and love are trying to break into this very moment! Isn’t that good news?!

Consider these intriguing thoughts from an inspirational healer, teacher, and best-selling author:

“Most of us have been given many more blessings than we have received. We do not take time to be blessed or make the space for it. We may have filled our lives so full of other things that we have no room to receive our blessings.”

– Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen, My Grandfather’s Blessings

Dr. Remen goes on to paint this picture: imagine all of us being circled by blessings, like airplanes in a holding pattern at an airport. These blessings are stacked up, sometimes for years, with no place to land. They are waiting for a moment of our time and attention. Such a powerful image, right?

Last week I experienced a situation filled with emotional angst. Yet, within that struggle, I sensed a blessing circling overhead trying to land in the middle of the turmoil. Something good was trying to be noticed. The image was reassuring. It guided me.

Wanting new eyes to see this unknown blessing, I made time to reflect and pray. Help me to see the goodness in here. Shine light and love on the others involved. Give me a new perspective. If you are trying to send a blessing, help me receive it.

Sure enough, a few days later, some of the fog lifted, allowing me to see goodness at work. A blessing had landed into the center of this challenge! It wasn’t a large, clear runway, but it was an opening. I gained newfound insight, acceptance, and peace. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Is there a situation in your life where you need a blessing?  Be an air traffic controller and guide your blessings in! Create a landing strip- or at least an opening. Make time to look and listen. Open your heart to new possibilities, new perspectives. Ask for goodness and love to break through.

Blessings abound, even in the midst of the most challenging situations. Often it takes time, attention, and grace to find them. Stick with it, and you will discover blessings that impact you and those around you. Goodness and love are at work!

*** Note: I highly recommend Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen’s My Grandfather’s Blessings. It is a collection of inspirational stories that remind us of the power of connection, kindness, healing, and blessings. We just finished an enriching series at Well for the Journey called “Hidden Blessings” based on this book’s wisdom. Consider a workshop or series for your organization, business, or group of friends or colleagues.

Lessons from Laryngitis

Sometimes silence is all that we can offer and is exactly what is needed.

A recent bout of laryngitis became my teacher when a nasty cold landed in my throat, holding my voice captive. For several days, only squeaky, crackling utterances or raspy, strained whispers emerged from my mouth. It was not a bit sexy. When with others, I had to choose whether to use my frail voice or rest it and be silent.

Paying attention to my imposed silence, I realized that there is quite a lot of babble that comes out of my mouth daily.  Yes, sadly it’s true. By “babble,” I’m referring to unnecessary words that don’t enhance the situation—things that can be left unsaid. I don’t always need to contribute something to the conversation, even though I am a bubbly extrovert. It was a humbling experience in self-awareness. It’s so easy to add to the noise of this world.

An ancient saying out of the mystical tradition of Islam, known as Sufism, is wonderfully instructive, regardless of our health:

Before you speak, let your words pass through three gates:
Is it true?
Is it necessary?
Is it kind?”

When my voice box was ailing there were only a handful of times that it was truly necessary to speak. One was the day that my dear friend’s mother was dying. Becky’s mother had been in ICU for 10 days with pneumonia. When I got her text that the situation was grim and death was imminent, I knew I needed to talk with my friend, if I was able.

 Please let me be a conduit of solace, encouragement, and love, I silently prayed. With a deep breath, I called Becky’s cell phone and greeted her with gentle words that were somehow audible. But mostly I listened.

Real listening is immersed in silence and is a precious form of presence. Quiet tears flowed down my face. Before saying good-bye, I wanted to offer a prayer aloud over the phone, as that’s what we do for each other when one of us is facing a crisis. It was a mini-miracle that she was able to hear my prayer for her sweet mama and the family.

I’ve since recovered, and the only thing Becky remembers about our call was my presence, not my ailing, squeaky voice. “Were you really sick?” she asked. Amazing grace!

Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind? Can you imagine our world if we paused and allowed our words to pass through those three gates? What false, needless, and unkind words would remain unspoken?

Ahhhhhh, sweet, precious silence often serves others in ways that words cannot.

Calm in the Chaos

Water rained through the ceiling, causing a small lake on the kitchen floor.

The guest room toilet broke.

My car battery died.

A key workshop leader canceled due to illness.

Yikes!!! Chaos!!! All within 24 hours, JUST as I prepared to welcome, host, and lead 27 women for a spiritual renewal weekend in Cape May, New Jersey. The weekend theme was timely: “Balance for the Autumn Equinox Through Mind, Body, and Spirit.” Balance needed, please!

The most important thing about being a leader of people, families, and organizations, I’ve learned, is being inwardly prepared. If you can stay calm, you can respond thoughtfully rather than react erratically. Calm and chaos are both contagious. I wanted calm. Read on to discover tools for you to remain calm and balanced in the face of stress.

Back to the turmoil that threatened to overwhelm me.

Breathing in, I said these words: Beneath the chaos, there is a calm, loving center. Breathing out, I repeated them…again, again, again.

Gradually, I relaxed. It was going to be okay.

Going into the weekend, I had felt off my game. My foot was still painful from a nasty sprain a few weeks earlier, and I was wearing a clunky walking boot that slowed me down, especially as I navigated the many stairs. Let’s add that to the above list of stressors. With all there was to do, it was excruciating to move so slowly.

The forced slowness turned into a blessing, however. Needing to pace myself and take breaks, I spent more time in quiet meditation and prayer than is typical. I sought to tap into the loving, calm core that exists within me, and indeed, exists in each of us. I wrote these words in my journal: Beneath the chaos, there is a calm, loving center.

When the barrage of tiny disasters occurred, I felt bombarded. But at the same time, I remained calm and centered, and I sensed a loving presence sustaining me. It was quite remarkable! I was smiling and joyful too!

Every day, the chaos of unexpected events threatens to overwhelm us. It doesn’t need to win. We have choices.

Science reveals a practice that can bring us calm in the storm: the relaxation response. In his now-famous studies at Harvard Medical School in the early 1970s, Dr. Herbert Benson demonstrated that you can reduce stress throughout your body by breathing slowly and repeating a word, phrase, or prayer that gives you a sense of comfort. His landmark findings have been expanded and incorporated into medicine, business, psychotherapy, and thankfully, every day living. Practiced over time, this simple practice can produce healing of mind, body, and spirit. Check out Dr. Benson’s findings in his classic book, The Relaxation Response, or his more recent one, Relaxation Revolution, or do a five-minute exercise https://www.mass.gov/video/relaxation-response-dr-herbert-benson-teaches-you-the-basics

Through breathing slowly and centering on a key phrase, I was able to stay in the present moment, think clearly, and calmly navigate each challenge. A talented, compassionate leader replaced our ill colleague. Gerry, the handyman, swiftly repaired the plumbing. Jerry, the auto mechanic, replaced my car battery within the hour. The retreat went beautifully; women were renewed and uplifted. All was well!

Filled with gratitude, I wonder why I don’t use these tools all the time! Note to self.

When you struggle with unfortunate events overwhelming you, try some simple but powerful steps:

  1. Breathe slowly.
  2. Choose a word or phrase that is of comfort to you (Peace, Calm, God, om, All is well, etc.).
  3. Repeat it again and again.

And remember: Beneath the chaos, there is a calm, loving center.

 

 

If Your Body Could Talk

Message from my feet: “Please stay with us in the present moment!”

If your body could talk, what would it say to you today?

My feet are likely on a rant, but I prefer to think of it as more of a firm, loving wake up call.

     Girl, you walk too fast—slow down!

      We need you to pay attention instead of thinking about all of your ideas!

      We’ve been rolled and twisted a lot in our 58 years —be more careful!

      Please put us in shoes that support us – good, solid shoes because we aren’t as young and strong as we used to be!

      And please, please, please don’t put us in flimsy flip-flops anymore!

 My feet are healing from yet another fall that I took several days ago. Our family rented a lake house for the weekend to attend a big Clemson football game. It was a crisp morning and normally my freshest time, BUT while walking and appreciating the beautiful view, my flip-flop caught on a loose, broken patio stone. Down I went, rolling the right ankle and overextending the left foot. Ugh!!! Both feet began to swell instantly (they do operate in the present moment!) and I hobbled painfully back into the house. I prayed that none of the many tiny bones in my feet were broken.

Our feet are remarkable creations. Did you know that each foot has 26 bones, 33 joints, and more than 100 muscles, tendons, and ligaments? We should be thanking them every day for holding us upright!

Fortunately, x-rays and an MRI revealed that the bones and ligaments were intact, just badly sprained and swollen. I am now sporting a sturdy walking boot to support my left foot that took that the brunt of the fall. My feet are grateful to be tended to.

Our wounds offer us wisdom IF we choose to listen. As a Conscious Aging facilitator, you’d think that I’d pay better attention to my body’s aging, but I want to wish away the aging process as much as anyone else. And flip-flops are so fun and easy; they come in soooooo many styles!

But the flip side (haha!), flip-flops are a dangerous, poor choice of footwear. I know, such a bummer! According to the National Consumer Product Commission, there were over 27,000 flip-flop related emergency room visits in 2016. Their lack of support and protection can lead to injuries from falls, make the feet more prone to infection, and cause knee and hip problems, especially as we grow older. They literally cause us to flop! Maybe it’s time to thank our flip-flops for their service and slip into something better and fun.

Our bodies are valuable partners that house us while we are here on earth, but all too often we ignore their needs.

So I ask you again, what message does your body have for you today? Is there a body part that seems to be suffering from an ache or pain? Ask what it is trying to tell you. Try to listen by jotting down thoughts that come.

And please, think twice before putting on those flip-flops.

 

Falling Into Courage

I’ve had clumsy falls in my life, but this one was a doozy…and it would prove to be transformational.

It took a moment to gauge the results of my nosedive off of my too-high heels. I was lying facedown on the outside stairs of my apartment building, looking like I was kissing the concrete. Various parts of my body were crying out in pain—my ribs, my right arm, both knees, and my chin. An alarming puddle of blood was seeping onto the gray concrete beneath my face.

Get up! I told myself. C’mon girl, you’ve got to be at school in a few minutes!

Slowly, I stood up. My new lawyer-like outfit was no longer pristine. The navy suit was decent, but red droplets dotted my ivory blouse. A large tear ripped through my nylon stockings. My black too high-heeled pumps were scuffed.

Only moments earlier, I had been coaxing myself to stay calm while I was dressing for the event that I had dreaded for days, weeks, and months: my moot court argument. I almost avoided enrolling in law school due to fear of this rite of passage for first-year law students. Moot court is a mock appellate court case in which law students are paired up into teams and given an imaginary client. A key part of the assignment is oral argument —a persuasive oral presentation of one’s argument followed by intensive questioning by a panel of pretend judges. Moot court is the Socratic method on steroids, and I feared that I would be rendered speechless, stupid, and embarrassed.

With a hand cupped under my chin, I went back to my apartment. Blood droplets escaped through my fingers onto the carpet. I made a beeline for the bathroom, grabbed a handful of toilet paper and placed the wad over my chin, avoiding a look in the mirror so that I could stay focused.

Adrenaline was flowing. In the aftermath of the fall, I realized that my focus had shifted from fear to determination. You can do this. You’ve put too much into this. Your partner is counting on you.

Upon arriving at school, my partner greeted me with a look of horror. “What happened to you?”

I lifted my toilet paper bandage to reveal my gash. He was aghast. “I can see your bone! You’re going to need stitches. Let’s get you to the hospital!”

“No,” I replied firmly. “We are going to do this argument. I’ll go to the hospital afterward.”

Almost miraculously, my partner had medical supplies in his truck and a first aid background. He masterfully butterflied the wound shut with a special bandage, and then affixed a larger bandage that covered my chin from side to side.

Looking like the walking wounded, I faced the panel of judges with surprising focus, calm, and confidence that had emerged through the ordeal. Then I was off to the hospital for numerous stitches.

Sometimes it takes falling down on your face to discover inner resources you didn’t know you had. My moot court argument was an unusual, profound form of education. The judges were likely more impressed by my resilience and tenacity than my legal argument. Finding the courage to rise up after falling down was a key transformational moment, one that I would draw upon throughout my life when facing adversity.

If you look back over your life you, too, can discover key moments in which you learned that you had an inner strength that propelled you forward.