Thoughts on December 22nd: The Top Ten Reasons I want the world to continue tomorrow

December 22nd: Whether it's the dawning of a new era or simply a new day, it is a chance to begin again, with even more gratitude and compassion.

Tomorrow morning a woman will stir from her sleep, sit up in her bed, touch her belly, and realize for the first time that there is a new life growing inside of her. And I want to be able to say to her, “You going to love like you never knew you were capable of loving.”

Tomorrow  morning child will leap up off the couch with a book in his hands and run to the kitchen where his mother is cooking breakfast and he will shout in joy, “Mama! Listen! I can read! I know how to read!” And I want to be able to say to him, “Congratulations! Now the whole world is open to you!”

Tomorrow someone will whisper to their beloved for the first time, “I love you,” and she will hear the answer echo in her ear and her heart. And I want to be able to say to them both, “Say it one hundred times a day. It never gets boring.”

Tomorrow someone will be sitting in a chair in their living room listening to the clock ticking on the mantle and she will realize that the grudge that she’s held in their heart has festered too long.  And she will pick up the phone and say, “Listen, I forgive you. And I am sorry if I hurt you.” And I want to be able to say to her, “Your healing has begun.”

Tomorrow, someone will sit at the bedside of their beloved parent and kiss their cold forehead and say goodbye for the last time. And I want to be able to say to him, “I have been through this and I want you to know that this is not the end; they will always be with you.”

Tomorrow, someone will wake in unbearable pain. And I want to be able to say to him, “You do not have to bear this alone.” 

Tomorrow a teacher will sit at his breakfast table in his pajamas and slippers on his first day of winter break. He will look out the window at the drifting snowflakes  and recall every child he has ever had the privilege to teach. And he will wipe a tear from his eye, knowing all that he has done for them.  And what he would do for them. And I want to be able to say to him, “You are a hero and I am so grateful for you.”

Tomorrow a soldier will lift a rifle to her shoulder and feel its heaviness in her hands, she will sigh, wondering if there is a better way.  And I want to be here to say to her, “I believe there is.” 

Tomorrow, someone will wake with a start, his heart pounding, his eyes ablaze and he will say to himself, “I know what I was brought to this earth to do!” And I want to be able to say to him, “Hurry! Go to it! We have been waiting for you!” 

Tomorrow, your alarm clock will wake you with the morning’s news, and you will hit the snooze button and ask, “Again?” and I want to be able to say to you, “Yes. Again. What an opportunity. What a blessing.  It’s a new day. Let’s begin again. Together.”

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Be Blessed: The next time you groan — stop and listen. You just may hear angels singing.

Joss, sitting up. A miracle in action.

It was still dark one morning last month, when Jennifer Dempsey was awakened by the sound of her infant daughter babbling away happily in her crib.  Rolling over, still half asleep, she checked her clock and  saw that it was only 5 a.m.  Like any overtired, sleep-deprived parent, who realizes that her precious (and necessary!) sleep was being cut short by a baby who can’t yet read the time, her first reaction was to groan at her groggy misfortune. Until the fog cleared and she realized that the sound she was hearing  from the next room was nothing short of miracle.  You see, not too long before, Jennifer had been told by doctors that Joss might never talk at all.

Joss was born in May 2011 to Jennifer and her husband Michael, after a healthy pregnancy and uncomplicated delivery. Joss’ first two months of life were perfectly normal and all seemed well until July when Joss began to have seizures.  Her little body would stiffen, curl up, and she would cry out in pain. The doctors who attended to Joss felt that the seizure-like activity was related to reflux she was experiencing.  She was treated mainly for gastro-intenstinal issues and for a while, the treatment appeared to work.  However, over the course of the year that would follow, the number and the intensity of Joss seizures increased rapidly and markedly. She began to fall behind developmentally, and at 11 months she was still not sitting up independently.

This past April, Joss had a terrible seizure episode. Jennifer brought her back to a neurologist — and they found through more intensive testing that Joss’ brain was malformed — the left side of her brain being much larger than the right, a condition that results in epilepsy. The seizures it appeared, were coming from the left hemisphere. As the seizure activity continued to increase it became clear to her doctors that without intervention, the seizure activity would move from her left to her right hemisphere, overtaking her brain function and making it likely that she would never walk or talk.

Her doctors recommended something that makes the mind reel. A surgery called a hemispherectormy in which the “bad” half of the brain is completely removed.

On May 31st, Jennifer wrote:

After consulting with Joscelyn’s doctors last week, we have made the unthinkable decision to go forward with the hemispherectomy. Sometime in June, our precious baby girl will check into the hospital and have half of her brain surgically removed . . . 

Ideally, once the procedure is done, her right hemisphere will (hopefully) take over many of the functions and responsibilities of the missing left half, allowing her to learn to walk, talk, read, write and even drive. Doctors do not expect and significant impairment of her cognitive function. Indeed, I’ve read many stories of other “hemi-kids” who have gone on to graduate high school and college and lead normal, happy lives.

And so on July 5th, at the age of 13 months, Joss underwent a radical and life-altering surgery. Doctors removed the left brain with the hopes that her right brain function would overtake the function that her left brain was designed to perform.  That she would be able to walk.  And to talk.

Two months later, Jennifer was woken in the wee morning hours by Joss’ babbling. And she almost groaned. And then she realized she was listening to music. Blessed, beautiful music. Like angels singing. Like one sweet angel singing. Only better. Because just a few months before, she wondered if that angel would ever sing.

Reading Jennifer’s post on Facebook about her early morning revelation, I was in tears thinking about how so many things that we groan about are, in fact, blessings of the highest order.  That sink that is constantly dripping? That’s because you have clean, running water (780 million people worldwide lack access to clean water; 3.4 million people die each year from water-borne illnesses). That drafty house that has lost value on the market? That means you have a home (it’s estimated that in America, approximately 1.6 million people are homeless). The job that is relentless? The friends you can’t keep up with? The children who roll their eyes and won’t pick up after themselves? Work! Income! Friends! Children!  Blessings by the oodles! Wow!

These blessings aren’t perfect, of course. Sinks leak. Houses lose value. Rooms are drafty. Jobs are exhausting. Friends can be demanding. Children can be ungrateful and disrespectful.  Of course, it’s all true.  And I’m not saying don’t ever groan. You’re going to groan. Or at least you’ll feel like it.

But I have a proposition. In the meditation practice we use in our home, we have something called a “mindfulness bell”.  It’s a simple bell we ring to remind ourselves to stop where we are, take three breaths, and experience the world anew, with fresh eyes and hearts.  The bell is like a friend that gently but persistently encourages us to see our world for the miracle that it truly is.

Anything can be a mindfulness bell.  A ringing phone. A doorbell.  A dripping faucet.  A draft through a window.  The petulant sigh of a teenager asked to pick their coat up off the floor.

Or a baby that babbles joyfully at 5 a.m.

Each of these sweet chimes is a call from the universe to wake up and re-experience the world as miraculous and our livea as abundant with blessings. So the next time you hear such a bell in your life, take three breaths. Calm your mind. And listen (listen, listen)  for the sound of angels singing.

**********************

For more on Joss’s journey, you can visit Jennifer’s blog here. 

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Saying Goodbye to Bingo: A Life Lesson in Letting Go of Life

I.   Our family had a special voice we used in order to talk on behalf of our dog, Bingo. “Bingo’s voice” was high pitched and raspy — a sort hybrid of whininess and spunk. A blend of his adorable neurosis mixed

Bingo with our daughter on a snowy morning a few years ago, doing what he did best: snuggling.

with his unstoppable joie de vivre. It turns out that (at least in our family’s imagination) Bingo mostly wanted to talk about cheese. Whatever the conversation, we imagined that Bingo always tried to steer it back to the topic of cheese.  Bingo had a special feeling for cheese. You could wrap about any pill or vitamin supplement in cheese and Bingo would eat it in one swift gulp. I never quite understood why Bingo liked cheese so much; frankly, I don’t know how he even tasted it: It seemed to barely graze his tastebuds before he swallowed it whole (then wait smiling and panting for what he hoped would be his next dose).

Bingo would call me by my family nickname: Missy (sometimes when my husband, Jamie talked for Bingo, I would have to remind “Bingo” not to get sassy with me.) Jamie and I had a running joke: if I said, “I love you, Bingo,” he would answer in his Bingo voice, “I love you, too, Cheese … I mean … I love you, too, Missy.”

Last night, we said goodbye to Bingo for the last time. My husband and I took him to the vet’s office and we held him and cried over him as the vet injected a strangely cheery-looking pink liquid into a vein in his front leg. As I held him, I watched as his tongue turned from pink to purple. I realized my tears were splashing on the vet’s arm. I leaned in and kissed my dog’s soft ear. “I love you, Bingo,” I whispered to him.

“I love you too, Missy,” a voice answered to my heart. Bingo’s voice.

II.    Many years ago, my father — who was a newspaper editor and weekly columnist — wrote a column about the death of our family’s dog, George. In the column, my dad talked about the photograph of the moment I first saw George when I was eleven years old (“Her 11-year-old face is a study in delight and surprise,” he mused) and how the two of us cried over him at the end of his life in the vet’s office when I was twenty-two. “George would have been 11 in a few days,” my father wrote, “my daughter’s age when the picture was taken, but now he was an old man and she is still at the start of life.” I remember that moment in my father’s arms in the vet’s office — how we held one another and cried. It was the first time I heard my father sob. I would hear him sob again a decade later when we stood together in the basement of a funeral home in Atlanta, when he was asked by a polite and compassionate funeral director to pick out a casket for my mother.

Nine years after my mother’s passing, I found myself sitting at my father’s bedside in ICU with my brother and my sister-in-law. My father was in a coma and his life was leaving his body. I held his hand and watched as his fingertips turned from pink to purple.

When my father released his last shuddering breath, my brother and sister-in-law and I fell into one another’s arms and sobbed. And though we all felt as though we were free falling in abyss of grief, we managed in our falling to lean into  one another. And we miraculously held one another up. That is just how love works.

III.    Last night before Jamie and I left the house with Bingo for the last time, we spoke with our children. We told them where we were going and why. We had prepared them for the possibility of this days ago, but the finality of the decision broke their hearts. And ours. We all cried together.

I told them they all had time to hug Bingo. To tell him goodbye. To share what was on their hearts. To let him know how much they loved him. How much they would miss him. To thank him for the joy he had given them. “Say what you need to say to him,” I told them, “I don’t want you to regret that you didn’t get the chance to really say goodbye.”

Just before Jamie and I left for the vets office, I had one more thing to say to my children, “You’re going to feel very sad when we leave. It’s okay to cry. You have to lean on one another. If one of you needs a hug, be sure to give it to them. Don’t go off in your separate rooms tonight looking for distractions. Don’t run away from your sadness.”

“Try to stick together, tonight,” Jamie added, “You’ll need each other.”

As Jamie and I drove home from the vet’s office, I realized that the instructions that we gave them for coping in our absence as we took Bingo to the vet’s office to be put down for his final sleep were the same instructions that I want them to remember when someday they have to say goodbye to us as we go to our final rest and as they cope with our worldly absence: Say what’s on your heart. Cry. Hold one another. Lean on one another. Stick together. You’ll need each other.

And so perhaps it is a good thing that our animals age so quickly. That they become old and tired in such a painfully short amount of time. They give us practice in letting go, in saying goodbye, in letting tears flow, and in expressing love. In collapsing into one another’s arms. In holding one another up. And in realizing that though bodies may age, decay, and pass from existence, Love itself never dies.

Thank you, Bingo, for everything. Even in your final moments of life, you taught us how to live.

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Be Compassionate: “I hope you have a hard life,too!” — an outburst overheard and understood

I honestly can’t say what the fight was about. I was only there to witness its conclusion. And just barely that.

When we are suffering, we long to know we are not alone -- and sometimes that can create suffering in others.

I was walking out of the drugstore yesterday with my  purchase in hand, smiling and feeling the sun and the fresh fall air on my skin, when I heard a car door slam loudly and an engine revving violently. I looked toward the noise and saw a blond haired woman standing next to her red pickup truck and a tan van next to her, backing swiftly out its parking space.

As the van sped away — its windows rolled up and it’s engine gunning —  the blond haired woman yelled in its direction, “I hope you have a hard life, too. Real soon!” As she spewed out her final words, her face was as red as her truck, overcome as she was with both with anger and exertion. But as she turned back toward her pickup, she shook her head and tucked a stray hair behind her ear, and I saw in her a deep sadness and an unbearable exhaustion.  Her shoulders slumped as she grasped the steering wheel and before she turned the key in the ignition, she heaved a deep sigh. Deflated, she looked like a small child: confused, defeated, ashamed. And utterly alone.

And then she drove away — but her words and their fierce insistence continued to ring in the now quiet parking lot.

“I hope you have a hard life, too. Real soon!”

As I myself pulled away from the parking lot, I couldn’t get those words (or the image of her rapid, yet dramatic transition from blustery fury to quiet defeat) out of my mind.

My first thought was one of judgment and disbelief: Why would you wish a hard life on another person? And why that odd and disturbing coda: the hope for it to happen “real soon”? Then it occurred to me that this woman was saying something more than her words expressed. I believe she was trying to say, “I wish you knew how hard my life is. And I wish you could come to understand that soon. Then you would understand me — and perhaps this wouldn’t have happened.” She was asking — begging in fact — for compassion.

We have all had this feeling at times. We wish others could feel our pain with us. And this is the true meaning of compassion. To co-feel the feelings of another. Not because we want others to pity us. But because we want deeply to be understood.

Mind you, I don’t think this woman was right to wish for what she wished for — the suffering of another human being. But in a strange way, what she deeply hoped for —  a basic human connection —  is vital.  It is not right to want others to suffer, but it is profoundly important that we feel deeply understood.

And it got me thinking that those people who want others to suffer are suffering deeply themselves. And they believe that they are suffering alone, but they don’t want to suffer alone. So they wish for — and very often create — suffering in others.

There is no doubt in my mind that the woman in the parking lot felt painfully alone. I saw it in her sadness. I saw it in her defeated slump. I saw it in her sigh. I saw it in the way she had to gather her energy just to close the door to her pickup truck before she herself sped away.

No one wants to be alone. And one of the ways we dispel loneliness is not just to share physical space, but to share emotional space: to co-feel feelings.

It’s very human to want others to co-feel our feelings. No matter what we are feeling, we have the desire for others to feel it as well. When we are in love, we wish everyone knew what it felt like to be in love. We write songs about it. We produce plays and movies about it. We compose music about it. When we are happy, we want others to be happy as well. We throw parties. We share delightful stories. We give generously. We want people to co-feel love and happiness with us.

Yet when it comes to suffering, this instinct to want others to co-feel becomes toxic. Dangerous. Even life-threatening. Everyone from history’s greatest villains to the guy who cuts you off then flips you off on the highway is suffering from the illusion that they are in a unique human predicament. And they want you and everyone else to get it. Literally, get it. 

The problem is this: when we cause other people to suffer so that we are not suffering alone, we don’t alleviate the problem of suffering. We compound it. Exponentially. It doesn’t take away our feelings of loneliness — it simply creates it in the other person.  And for some people, there may be some strange satisfaction in that. But there is no healing.

How different would our world be it be if we could really say what I believe the woman in the red pickup truck was trying to say: “I am having a hard time. A hard life. I am suffering. And lonely. And my words and actions are springing from that well of deep pain. I wish you could understand that. Feel for me. Feel with me.  So I could know that I am not alone. So I can stop suffering. So I can stop trying to making you suffer. Real soon.”

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Be Aware: Training Your “Puppy Mind”

A puppy can be trained to be a faithful and loving companion. So can your mind.

Practitioners of meditation often use the term “monkey mind” to describe the untrained mind: a mind that grasps wildly and randomly at whatever passes through its consciousness; a mind that seizes greedily at every passing thought; a mind unaware of itself and the dangers it may encounter.

Our Wesite Mix Puppy, Lucy: Ten pounds of cute. Five pounds of trouble.

I am a practitioner of meditation. I have had the experience of monkey mind, but frankly, not a whole lot of experience with monkeys themselves outside of zoos and National Geographic documentaries.

On the other hand, I do have some experience with another kind of wild life. Specifically, puppies, since I am currently the proud, delighted (and sometimes frustrated) owner of a little white puffball of love — a Westie/Spaniel mix named Lucy. I like to say that at her not-so-advanced age of four months, Lucy is ten pounds of cute and five pounds of trouble. It’s not a bad ratio really. The cute outweighs the trouble be two-to-one, so she is twice as adorable as she is naughty. As a consequence, we forgive her for her trespasses. A lot.

My experience with Lucy has led me to change the term “monkey mind” to “puppy mind”.

Here are a few of the many ways that Lucy’s not-always-so-adorable behavior exemplifies an untrained, unconscious mind:

  • Lucy will run after anything that moves. It doesn’t matter what it is — dust bunny, bug, the cat, her owners’ footsteps — if it moves, it’s worth chasing. “Puppy mind” will do the same. Any thought is worth following, no matter how random or unimportant. If it fleets through your consciousness, you go after it as if it matters. Some thoughts are worth following. Others not. Following a bug will lead you into a dark corner and may even leave you with a nasty sting. Following your beloved master will lead you to pats, water, and food (love, refreshment, and nourishment!) It’s important to know the difference between a random pest and your beloved.
  • Lucy will try to eat anything, regardless of whether it nourishes or hurts her.  I honestly do keep the house picked up. But with four children in the house, things are bound to hit the floor. And it only takes a millisecond for Lucy to find them. Here are some things I have pulled out of Lucy’s mouth in the past couple of weeks: A spool of thread. A sewing needle (Yikes!). A crystal pendant. A nickel. Another nickel.  In fact, things that are bad for her are somehow instinctively more appealing than the food placed lovingly in her bowl: she’ll boycott her food and at the same time, happily pull the stuffing out of her her bed. “Puppy mind” also can not distinguish between thoughts that are nourishing and thoughts that can cause serious damage. Just like Lucy, if it’s within easy reach, we’ll chew on it. Doesn’t matter if it’s replenishing or dangerous. So we may boycott the deeply nourishing thought, “Wow! Life is a miracle and I am so grateful to be a part of it,” but we can chew on, “My boss is such an a**shole,” all day long. Go figure.
  • When Lucy is in pain, she will take it out on whatever is in range. Poor thing is teething. And when she hurts she will chew on anything. The couch. The coffee table. A sock. A shoe. Our twelve-year-old dachsund’s tail (which never goes well for her!) And yes, sometimes even her toys. A puppy mind in pain will try to relieve its suffering by lashing out at whatever is in closest range. It experiences pain and blames whatever is in view and will often attempt to inflict pain as a way of relieving itself of its pain. There are healthy ways of dealing with pain (chew toys) and unhealthy ways of dealing with pain (taking the stuffing out of the bed that is meant to provide you comfort and rest or sinking your teeth into another dog who is likely to snap back). Pain is bound to occur in our lives. It is part of our being human. But if we are wise, we will learn that there are healthy outlets for pain — and outlets for pain that will destroy your sources of comfort and deepen the experience of pain. It’s important to know the difference in your life.
  • But most importantly, Lucy is learning. Lucy is learning some important commands, namely: “Drop it!”, “Leave it!” and “GRRRRRRRR!” When she picks up something she shouldn’t we tell her to drop it. When she looks like she is even thinking about picking up something she shouldn’t we tell her to leave it. And when she crosses a boundary with her dachsund brother, he gives her a warning growl so she’ll know that if she persists, pain is on its way. Those of us with “puppy mind” (and that would be all of us!) can learn the same. If we start to gnaw on an unsavory thought we can tell ourselves “Drop it!” If we are tempted to ingest feelings that are hazardous to our mental and emotional health, we can tell ourselves, “Leave it.” And when life bares its teeth and gives us a little warning growl, back off before you find yourself in a world of suffering. If little Lucy can learn, by golly, so can you!

Train your “puppy mind” with love and patience. Have confidence that it can be your dear and beloved companion. Give it a pat.  A scratch behind the ears.  A yummy treat.  And a rousing cheer of Who’s a good puppy?!”

And may your life be twice as lovable as it is trouble.

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Be Choosy: Thoughts are Like Music. Listen to the Stuff You Like.

A wise person once said to me that listening to negative thoughts all day is like having the world’s largest CD collection (or I guess nowadays we would say “The world’s largest iTunes library) and all day choosing to listen to the music you hate the most. The music that depresses you. The music that sets your teeth on edge. The music that makes it impossible for you to relax. Music that makes you cover your ears and shout “Somebody, please turn this terrible noise off!”

Well, guess what, friends? You can. Simple as that. Just as you would flip to the next song on your playlist, you can change your thinking. It’s your brain, is it not?

So let’s say you are listening to the playlist labeled “I’ll Never Amount to Anything”, featuring such hits as:

  • Nothing I Do Ever Works
  • No One Ever Gives Me a Chance
  • Other People Have More Advantages Than Me 

and the ever-popular I’m a Complete Failure and Nothing Ever Changes in My Life.

Ugh. Who wants to listen to that garbage? Seriously. Ditch those tracks. They’re badly produced and you definitely can’t dance to them.

Instead, try the playlist called “Every Moment is a New Opportunity for Me”. Take a deep cleansing breath and thrill to the sounds of:

  • My Eyes and Heart are Wide Open
  • The World Speaks in the Language of Potential
  • I am Alive with Gratitude
  • I Have the Capacity to Create Wonders
  • I am Surrounded and Upheld by Love

Given the choice (and you do have the choice) could it be any clearer? A person who listens to the first playlist is going to be in a state of emotional paralysis. They’ll feel resentful, defeated, disempowered, bitter. Yes, these feelings generate thoughts, but isn’t it also true that thoughts keep us mired in negative feelings — tie us to them, anchor us in them?  Now imagine what a person listening to the second playlist is going to feel: Hopeful. Open. Creative. A person who has these feelings sees paths opening everywhere — paths that begin in gratitude and branch off into joyful productivity.

Your thoughts are like your theme music. Your soundtrack. Choose your thoughts wisely. Listen to the tracks that inspire you to dance your way into the world. Turn off the noise and pump up the awesome jams.

Let’s get this party started.

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Be The Answer: Alec’s Story (or “The only answer to a prayer I ever needed”)

I’ve been an educator most of my adult life.  Over the years I’ve seen many children whose small and innocent lives were consumed with anger and depression — traumatized by violence, deprivation, and untenable circumstances. But, there was one boy who was by far the saddest, angriest child I had ever met. And there was one other important distinction that made his case more compelling than any of the others I had encountered:  He was my son.

My son, Alec, when we met him in Kazakhstan at the age of almost 4

When Alec came home with us in 2001, he had already spent the first three and a half years of his life in an orphanage. What’s more, his medical report indicated that in the first year of his life, he had been hospitalized ten times for pneumonia and other upper respiratory infections.  His early life was a long tale of separation, fear, pain.  It’s not that his caregivers weren’t excellent. They were. It’s one of the reasons we chose to adopt from Kazakhstan. But his early life was so difficult and traumatic. How could a child so small overcome such huge emotional obstacles as suffering, loneliness, and distrust?

I was already an experienced mother when we adopted Alec (and his brother Askar) from Kazakhstan. My husband and I already had two biological daughters, ages 5 and 1. I also had a Master’s Degree in Education, specializing in early childhood development. I thought I knew what I was doing. To the world I seemed an expert in the field of parenting. But Alec made me question everything I knew and what value any of it held when parenting a hurt child. When he first came home, he was throwing 10-12 biting-hitting-kicking-pinching-screaming tantrums a day. Tantrums that required me to ignore my other three children until the storms of his unmanageable emotions had passed. I was — as you can well imagine — a complete wreck.

But it wasn’t the tantrums that caused me the greatest grief. It was that this child — who had been separated from his biological mother at birth by socio-economic circumstances beyond his and her control; and then separated again by his caregivers at the orphanage by illness — appeared not to know how to love or trust. The tantrums I could handle.  Exhausting as they were, they had a starting and a stopping point. But loving a child who did not know how to be loved — that was a pain that followed me around day after day. Haunting me. Pouring love onto Alec was like pouring water into a cup that was turned upside-down.  It appeared to fall away into nothingness.  And every day I felt my own heart was emptying, drying up, and breaking.

On one particularly difficult day, I was driving in my car, returning home at dinnertime from a last minute dash to the grocery store.  At least that is what I told myself.  My husband came home from work and I told him I had to run out to the store. In truth, I just wanted to be alone in the peace and quiet of my car.  I was worn to the bone and I felt in the pit of my stomach a certain dread in coming back to my own home. Home was hard.  I felt inept at the job that was supposed be — and had previously felt — intuitive.  I felt ashamed of myself for not wanting to be at home where my family waited for me. I was wrapped in knots of guilt, fear, and failure.

As I headed slowly west on the road for home, the sun began setting.  The sun a bright orange orb surrounded by an impossibly brilliant, pink glow, draped in the blue of the day that was ending.

The inside of my car was bathed with the pinkish orange light of the sun’s rays and I burst into tears and opened my heart in prayer. “Dear God,” I begged, “Open my son’s heart. Teach him to love and to receive love. Help him experience wholeness and happiness. Help him God. Heal him.”

And then I heard an answer. The answer. The only answer to a prayer I had ever heard directly. The only answer to a prayer I would ever need:

That is why I sent you.  You are the answer to everything you’ve prayed for.

And suddenly it felt as if the light that filled my car had filled my heart. Everything was aglow. Peaceful. Clear. As if it had all been settled once and for all.

And then an image appeared to me. A young man with close-cropped black hair. He was wearing a dress shirt with a crisp collar. I thought I saw the sweet blue of the upper vault of the sunset-sky draped peacefully around him. His tanned face was stretched in a broad, warm smile. There was something so genuine about this young man. He was laughing with such ease. Standing with such self-assurance and confidence. He radiated kindness and compassion. I recognized him immediately. This was Alec. My son. Loving. And beloved. Healed and whole.  I wiped away my tears and drove home with a profound sense of purpose.

If I told you that everything changed that evening, I would be lying. There would be many more tantrums. Many more attempts at pouring water into that overturned cup. But I had an answer to my prayer. And I had my Divine marching orders: I was sent to turn that cup over. So that night I walked into my home that evening filled with hope. Knowing that I was the channel for the love, the healing, the wholeness, and the happiness he needed to become the young man I envisioned. I did not do it alone. There were family members. Neighbors. Friends. Healers.  People who were wise and kind and loving and patient. We were a community of faith answering a call to love and heal.  And then at the center there was Alec, who it turned out had the strength and the courage of thousands and a love in his heart that was beautiful and pure, simply waiting to be born.

Alec in his sky blue tie at 8th grade graduation

Last month, Alec graduated from the private school he had been attending since he was ten years old.  In preparation for the evening, his sister, his brother and I took him  shopping for clothing for graduation night. Alec chose a dress shirt with a crisp, white collar. His little sister picked a tie off the rack and held it up for him to see. It was the sweet blue of the upper vault of the sunset sky.  “I like this one for you, Alec,” she said thoughtfully, handing to him with love and admiration,  “I think the color suits you.” He smiled at her and took it from her hand and draped it around his neck, “What do you think, Mom?” he asked. I just nodded and gave him thumbs-up.  I couldn’t find the words to tell him that I had already seen him in that tie — and yes, it suited him beautifully. Perfectly.

A week later, Alec delivered his speech to a crowd of over one-hundred students, their teachers, and their parents. He talked about his gratitude for the support he had received and the friendships he had made.  He talked about the fact that he had grown to become a leader. He talked about his confidence that he could accomplish anything he set his mind to.

A friend snapped this photo of me at Alec's graduation.

And I of course sat and cried like a baby. Because as everyone in that audience saw a tall, handsome, self assured, happy, kind young man — I saw another boy, too.  A little boy — angry, hurt, and at sea in an ocean of emotions that he was ill-equipped to navigate on his own. I saw a river of Divine Light connecting these two boys.  And I knew that they were one in the same — and had been from the very beginning. One within the other, waiting to reveal himself to the world.

I cried because I knew my prayer had truly been answered.  And I thanked God for the blessing of being the answer to that prayer.

. . . .

Dedicated to my son. My hero. With love. If every person on earth had your courage to journey to love and embrace it as you have, this world would be a very different place.

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Enlightenment of the Middle Ages: Spiritual Lessons I Have Learned in Midlife

I will be forty-eight this summer. Which means if I live to be one-hundred (which is an actual goal) I am squarely and undeniably smack dab in the middle of my life.

Midlife is a spiritual adventure -- and I LOVE IT!

Middle age has its petty annoyances. It also has its perks.  I may not be able to see the dosage information on the side of a Motrin bottle, but I can see my fellow travelers with compassion. I may have gained weight in my midsection, but I feel lighter in my heart. I may not remember where I put my keys, but I remember that I was put on this earth to love. I may not be able to connect a name with a face, but I can connect a face with a soul.

In short: What I lose in collagen, I gain in wisdom. Which – when it comes right down to it – is not a bad tradeoff. Not at all.

There are spiritual lessons that mid-life offers: cosmic jokes which, if turned the right way and examined in proper light, can become cosmic ah-ha’s.  Here are a handful spiritual lessons I have learned in (and from) middle age:

Take time to find the right words: Words are sneaky little critters. Trying to find the right word in my middle aged brain can be like like trying to find my cat when it’s time to go to the vet: they dash out of reach just when I need them. Sometimes, I actually have to close my eyes to visualize what I am trying to say before I say it. The other day I told my son he “viewed the world incisively”. The word I was looking for, in retrospect, was “observant”. I actually like the former version better than the latter. An added benefit is that I am teaching other people to be patient while they wait for me to say what I need to say. So in a way, I am teaching people to be kinder without even trying. Bonus.

People are not watching you as closely as you think:  I can no longer tell when I need to pluck my eyebrows. When I stand face to face with my reflection in the morning, my eyebrows look perfectly fine. If I look in a magnifying mirror, it’s another story: I can see lots of little,  stray eyebrow hairs that my bare eyes overlooked.  I used to be pretty scrupulous about plucking out those little buggers as soon as they showed up. Keeping up appearances, you know? Now I walk around for days, even weeks, before I realize they are even there. And guess what? Nobody says a darned thing. Nobody notices.  And if they do, they don’t say anything. Which shows one of two things: 1) that they don’t notice and never really have or 2) they noticed, but they don’t think it’s worth mentioning (I mean, honestly, if someone stands up to deliver the eulogy at my funeral 53 years from now and says, “Great gal, but wow, did she ever need to pluck those stray eyebrow hairs,” I think that would be more a reflection on them than me, don’t you think?.

Don’t lean away from your pain: About a year ago, I injured the outside of my knee. It’s not worth going into. Let’s just say that my heart aspired to act as if I was twenty years old and my body said, “Yeah, right.” So I shied away from the pain. And it got worse. And my knee got weaker. Sometimes it would just slip on me. It was really scary, actually. So I started climbing stairs one at a time. With my opposite leg. Then I finally got wise enough to take myself back to the gym. My trainer also happens to be a chiropractor. He watched my movement carefully and this is what he told me. Every time I squatted down, I subconsciously turned my knee in and away from the pain. And every time I did that, I was reinjuring it. The solution? Consciously point my knee outward, effectively in the direction of the thing I feared. And six weeks later? Strong knee, pain free. Wisdom: acquired. If we avoid pain, it will follow us, weaken us, even hobble us. If we face it with courage and the intention to heal, we will be strengthened. Simple as that.

Happiness is right where your glasses are: Sometimes I stalk around the house trying to find my reading glasses. And I accuse everyone in my house of having moved them. Thoughtless, reckless people who don’t care a bit about me, I think as I open and close drawers and cabinets, Inconsiderate, self-centered wretches . . . And then I look in the mirror. Doh! There they are! My glasses: Right on top of my head. I’ve been walking around with them the whole time, but I have been so focused on finding the culprit who took them, that I didn’t have the sense to realize that I have been in possession of them the whole time. Happiness is just like that. ‘Nuff said.

Your wrinkles are going to tell a story about you, one way or another: Look, you can buy all the creams and scrubs and emulsions and serums you want. And they might help some. I’m not knocking a valiant effort to battle those fine lines. But there is going to come a time that you just can’t fight them. WRINKLES HAPPEN. So what are you going to pick, frown lines or laugh lines? I have a couple of lines between my eyebrows that belie how much I worried in my twenties and thirties. And frankly at this point I’d have to inject Botox into them to make them go away. So now I have a choice: are my lines going to tell the world how much I fretted or how much I smiled? I’m choosing laugh lines. Because I can’t choose not to wrinkle, but how I wrinkle is my choice.

When inspiration hits, don’t walk. RUN!:  Okay, before I start: TMI alert! When I was younger, and I felt the need to pee, I could figure in a good extra half hour or more of activity before I had to find a toilet. Not so, nowadays. From the moment that first sensation hits, I have about five minutes to get the nearest restroom, tops! If I wait much longer, well … let’s just say I’ll regret it.  Nothing is quite so important as paying attention to that signal.  Whatever else I am doing can certainly wait. I have found that the same is true for inspiration. When a creative impulse hits, I make a run for it. It’s telling me something is very important that I need to attend to. NOW! Whatever else I am doing can certainly wait.  Because if f I don’t follow that instinctive feeling, and follow it quickly, well … let’s just say I don’t want to . . . um . . . you know . . . lose it.  I’ll regret it.

Ah, yes. And one more thing . . . 

Screw going downhill. Seriously. You were born to ascend!:  I am a Buddhist meditator. I understand these truths the Buddha taught about being human: This body I inhabit is of the nature to experience pain, to get sick, to age, and to die. Yes, yes, yes, yes. And all the same, that does not mean I have to give myself over to any of it; which is to say I do not need to court pain, illness, or death. Though I age every moment, and began to die the moment I was born (it’s true) how I live is MY CHOICE.  I am committed to strength of body, mind, and spirit. And so, I meditate. I pray. I learn. I study. I read. I make it a point to experience wonder and amazement every single day. And, by golly, I work out harder than I did when I was a youngster. At least relatively speaking.

I was born to die.  Yes. This I know. And I was born to draw closer to my Source, moment by moment.  Of this I am absolutely sure. I am on a journey of ascent — and at middle-life I am half way there.  And from where I stand, the view is awesome! 

————–

What has the aging process taught you?

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How To Be Relaxed: Making the Most of Your Time

Do you ever have the feeling that you are racing against time? That you have too much to do and too little time to do it? It’s a common problem and its results can be devastating, leaving us with feelings of exhaustion, disappointment, bitterness, and anger. How do you overcome the feeling that time is your eternal nemesis?

Fortunately there is an answer. And that answer is the subject of this week’s “Spiritual Reframe”:

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How To Be Courageous: Understanding Fear

Last week, a member of the “Your To Be List” Facebook Community asked a question regarding fear. Her fears were not unusual: health, aging, and finances — I think many of us can relate. In fact, I think we can understand that any single one of these fears can be consuming. Taken altogether, they can completely steal away the possibility of joy, strength and gratitude in our lives. Fears can prevent us from truly living.

In this week’s spiritual reframe, I ask that you understand fear in a new way and that you treat it not with force, but with compassion.  I hope this answer helps you to better understand your fear and facilitates a release from fear’s unkind grip on your life.

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