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.

 

A Precious Broken Heart, a Timer, and Joy

“A broken heart is precious indeed…The best thing is to set aside a certain period each day to pray with a broken heart and then to spend the rest of the day in joy.”

-Rabbi Nachman of Breslov

How can a broken heart be a precious thing? A broken heart seems like a disaster to be avoided. Many of us go to great lengths to avoid heartbreak. Yet it is an inevitable part of living and loving. To think that we can find joy while experiencing a broken heart is hard to wrap our heads around. But it is hopeful and merits consideration.

I have recently found myself in meaningful conversations with numerous people who are experiencing heartbreak due to the death of loved ones or the death of relationships, jobs, institutions, and ways of life. It makes my heart hurt, too. Life is filled with endings; death comes in all shapes and sizes. Grief and pain can often take us by surprise. But so can joy.

As a culture, we don’t deal well with emotional pain and brokenness. When we experience heartbreak of any kind, we often try to push the pain down below the surface in an effort to resist, ignore, and/or numb over it. Oh, there are so many ways that we try to ignore the pain- let us count the ways! In doing so, the pain can creep into all the nooks and crannies of life, weighing us down, creating anxiety, stress, and unease. Emotional pain impacts our minds, bodies, and spirits.

Rabbi Nachman suggests another approach. A few days ago I shared the quote above with a dear friend as we spoke about grief, and she told me a story. When her son first went to preschool, he would cling to her, crying unrelentingly, unwilling to be separated from his mother. (Perhaps that is one of our earliest heartbreaks- being separated from our mothers). Once the teacher was able to peel him off his mother’s leg, she led him over to a quiet corner of the classroom with a timer. She told him he could cry until the timer went off, but then he must join the rest of the class. That approach helped him navigate his separation and entry into the class. What a wise teacher!

Spiritual teachers tell us that a broken heart can help us to grow. We can become awakened, and it can help us blossom into the people we were meant to be. It is possible, but it doesn’t always happen. Perhaps that is why we are advised to pray with our broken hearts. When we ask a loving presence larger than our small self to come into our lives with goodness and healing, transformation occurs. Given time, attention, and grace, we can discover that Love is at work accompanying, guiding, and healing us in surprising ways. By honoring our broken heart as a treasured guest, we create the space and opportunity for joy. (For more about the profound nature of joy, see my previous blog of December).

Blessings and love to everyone who is experiencing a broken heart. We have all been there and we will be there again. May you know the precious nature of this time.

Honor the pain in your tender heart. Lean into the joy. Remember that you are loved.

With a hug,

M

OTHER INSPIRATIONS

From Elizabeth Lesser, Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us to Grow:

“A broken heart is not the same as sadness. Sadness occurs when the heart is stone cold and lifeless. On the contrary, there is an unbelievable amount of vitality in a broken heart.”

“How strange that the nature of life is change, yet the nature of human beings is to resist change. And how ironic that the difficult times we fear might ruin us are the very ones that can break us open and help us blossom into who we were meant to be.”

“The experience of change and transformation is never complete. Something bigger and brighter always calls to shine through us. We are continually challenged to change and grow, to break down and break through.”

We shake with joy, we shake with grief.

What a time they have, these two

housed as they are in the same body.

-Mary Oliver, Devotions

“I further encourage you not to be concerned about your form or style of prayer. Seek only honesty and truth, come to your best sense of desire, and just be there as you are, with God as God may be…If there is any ‘right’ way of praying, it is that most simple and yet elusive one: to simply be yourself…just be real.”

-Gerald May, The Awakened Heart

“Prayer connects heart, mind, and body to a generous Spirit that stands ready to move through any available opening, bestowing whatever goodness may be possible in any given situation.”

-Robert Corin Morris, Wrestling with Grace

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