Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Mysteries of the Universe

Mysteries, Yes

Truly, we live with mysteries too marvelous to be understood.
How can grass be nourishing in the mouths of lambs.
How rivers and stones are forever in allegiance with gravity
while we ourselves dream of rising.
How two hands touch and the bonds will never be broken.
How people come from delight or the scars of damage,
to the comfort of a poem.
Let me keep my distance, always, from those
who think they have the answers.
Let me keep company always with those who say,
"Look!" and laugh in astonishment, and bow their heads.

Mary Oliver

A couple weeks ago I awoke from a sound sleep. I went to the kitchen for water, leaned on the sink and looked up into the night sky. The moon was waning but still low and full, offering a warm glow on the counter despite the light from the street. Slightly lower and to the left of the moon, my eyes were drawn to a piercing bright light. I was mesmerized, it was shining, strong and brighter than any other star in the sky. I went back to bed, my husband who was awakened by me asked if everything was ok, I explained about the brilliant star that caught my attention.  Groggily, he asked about its location and as he rolled over he said, "must be Jupiter, it's visible to the naked eye this month."  As I lay awake, unable to sleep again I thought about the size of Earth compared to Jupiter. Usually, when I look into the night sky the mystery of the unknown Universe overwhelms me and I realize how small we really are. Now, as I remembered the brilliance of Jupiter's glow, I realized how close and connected we really are.

"We are all connected...to each other biologically, to the earth chemically, to the rest of the Earth atomically. Not only are we in the universe, the universe is in us." 
Neil Degrasse Tyson

I'm not a stranger to looking up into the sky, wondering what's out there. I've been doing it my whole life. For the last couple years, noticing the changing phases of the moon kept me focused, gently encouraging me to stay on my path. I'm drawn to the consistency of its shifts, the constancy of the moon orbiting earth, finding comfort in the lunar cycle. The gravitational pull of the moon and the sun makes the water in the oceans swell, causing a continual daily change of high and low tide. The beach is a place of true solace for me, watching the waves roll in and roll out creates a natural church unbound by walls. During the day there is a wonderful feeling of sun soaked warmth on my skin, swimming or wading in the salt water, and soft ocean breezes. This awake, alive, warm, yang energy of the day is balanced by the peaceful, calming, slower yin energy of evening. I love the beach when the sun starts to set, and the moon starts to rise. Eventide, the blue hour, twilight, dusk, mark the end of the day. There is a color transformation, a dynamic instinctual shift, and a transition in physical sensation as our bodies wind down towards rest. Knowing about the invisible associations of the sun, moon and ocean is another example of how close and connected we really are to the larger universe around us. It helps me to feel one with our beautiful world, to hold space here, living, and being a part of the mystery that surrounds us.

There is a wonderful animated movie I've watched many times with my Dad and my children. I think of it often as it holds a memory of when we were all together. 'La Luna' is a story of purpose, determination, cooperation and responsibility. I love the idea that there can be caretakers of the moon, sweepers of stars, and dreamers of dreams. This movie is a reminder that helps me stay close to my Dad now that he is gone. The moon is a symbol for me, a gorgeous glowing globe in the night sky that anchors me into security. It is always there shining, listening, consoling and comforting. Every night I can look up at the moon, talk to my Dad, and send my wishes out into the universe.

As Joni Mitchell writes, "we are stardust, we are golden, we are billion year old carbon..." I feel it in my bones, this close knit symbiosis. These are the relative connections I think of when I'm struggling. Life is full of challenges, decisions, and obstacles. Finding ways around those obstructions gracefully is a difficult navigation. But, like water moves fluidly, flowing in and around, above, below and sometimes through, there are many paths toward the other side. That sound of an ocean wave pulling in and pulling out mimics the sound of our breath. A beautiful soothing connection that we can carry with us everywhere we go.

If we can see things in the universe that we don't normally see, like the planets visible to the naked eye during the changing seasons on earth, and if we can't see things that we know exist, like the dark side of the moon or new moon phase, how can we rule out the vast possibilities of the universe that haven't been discovered yet? There is so much more to know, to wonder about, and to open our minds in an effort to understand. These objects in space held up by invisible energies, and their constant movements, orbits, and shifts are incredible examples of hope and potential opportunity. I find joy in the curiosity of it all, the sharing of the experience of a full moon, the constellations, a shooting star with my young sons. I want to instill a protective reverence for our planet and awe in its abundance.

"If you will stay close to nature, to its simplicity, to the small things hardly noticeable, those things can unexpectedly become great and immeasurable." 
Rainer Maria Rilke

For the last couple weeks, I've been following the exciting events in the night sky. The three brightest objects are the sun, moon and Venus, which is sometimes referred to as 'the morning star'. As we look toward May, Mars will shine brighter than Jupiter, which is normally the fourth brightest object in the sky.  Later on in the month, Saturn will also be visible as night falls. Our solar system is a magical dance of celestial bodies that light up the sky. The constant movement of the planets, the hidden darkness of the universe, and its unknown secrets open an awareness that our galaxy is not so far far away. It is an infinite appreciation of faith, strength, love, connection, and knowledge. How lucky we are to live on Earth, look up and see the beauty of the universe, the promise of possibility.

As Stephen Hawking said, "Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don't just give up."


This post is dedicated to my husband, Mark. Thanks for helping me see things I don't understand more clearly, and for having the patience to keep our mystery of love. 
Happy Birthday

Resources
www.space.com
This is a great website with a lot of information, click on the Skywatching link for what's visible in the night sky, and the Science & Astronomy link for the moon phases.
www.solarsystem.nasa.gov
This website is a vast source of information from basic to advanced knowledge.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Compassion Rising



"Nothing can dim the LIGHT that shines from within." Maya Angelou

February is the month of love, and on the wings of last month's post, '2018 Prayer for PEACE and LOVE', my gift to you is a visualization of LOVE in our world, how it expands and creates more LOVE.

Love exists within us. Love for ourselves, love for others, and love within our universe. 

Find a comfortable seat, or lie down. Close your eyes, relax the muscles in your face, and begin to notice your breath. Inhale followed by exhale. Find an even rhythm to your breath without force, allow the breath to move through you effortlessly. Imagine an infinite, boundless energy of love gathering in the center of your heart. In your minds eye, envision an emerald green sphere glistening, glowing, and reflecting other colors around it. Place this illuminated sphere over your heart, and take in all its healing love. Imagine this expansive energy surrounding you, holding you, supporting you, soak in its comforting warmth. When you are ready to release it, shining heart light from the inside out, begin to send positive, loving energy into the universe. Imagine the radiant light extending like the brightest rays of the sun towards people you know, and then towards people you don't know. If it feels appropriate, send this energy towards people you dislike or don't agree with. Seal in this intention of love and peace with a deep breath. Inhale followed by exhale, and let it be felt by us all. 


This image has been my daily meditation, connecting all living beings into a circle of hope and healing, my prayer of peace and love for 2018.

Self care and self love practices have not come easy for me. It has taken me 41 years to accept and forgive who I was, love who I am, and find joy in who I am becoming. Everyday unfolds differently, and my outlook on life is not always positive.

If you experience unhappiness in mind and body, a general dis-satisfaction with how situations in your life have turned out, or are currently unraveling, you are not alone. I feel this often. We are a vulnerable species in a challenging world. There is sadness, heartbreak, violence, hate, and unimaginable events occurring everyday. I have no answers, and sometimes no words for solace or support. As a nurse, I have observed and attempted to alleviate pain and suffering. As a daughter, sister, friend, wife, and mother, I have experienced pain, loss and suffering. 

What does it feel like to be a source of light in a world in which darkness seems to proliferate?

Our culture here in the United States, gives sympathy (I feel bad for you) in times of loss or sadness. Typically, with a card, or with flowers. We express our empathy (I feel bad with you) in times of difficulty with a hug, or a visit that offers space to listen and support. Compassion (I want to take part in alleviating your discomfort) is an amazing and powerful tool, it is a great connector. It allows us to open a door to understanding, acceptance, and more fulfilling relationships. It also promotes self care and self love. How can you give anything when your own energy is depleted? There are many ways to actively pursue compassionate acts, through charity and volunteer work, meal sharing for those in need, child care, or elder care, an open ended option of availability and time. These three pillars of care are ways to ease suffering, they fill our hearts with gratitude, magnifying our ability to love, live and thrive.

In the Theravada tradition of Buddhist philosophy, there are four noble truths. For the purposes of this post, I'll keep things simple and direct, these are the four noble truths defined. The first one is known as dukkha, it is the validation that suffering exists. For me, this acknowledgment allows it to be real and shared. The second one is samudaya, there is a cause of suffering. Certain causes of suffering are obvious in life, but others not so much. The third is nirodha, there is an end to suffering. Breaking it down, you can think of smaller sufferings, like headaches, short term illnesses (infection or a virus) before opening into the larger view of suffering. These noble truths are presented in a way that can hopefully bring a greater understanding to your conscious life. The fourth one is manga, the path leading to the cessation of suffering. Finding that path can be difficult. It is also possible to become stuck in between these abstract theories.

I think of these four noble truths as different roads to take in life. Guided by various choices, perceptions, and the concept of impermanence, everything is temporary. Change exists in our lives, and nothing stays the same. It may not seem like that when you are enduring a hardship, but change happens moment to moment, sensation to sensation, and breath by breath. The fourth noble truth, manga: the path leading to the cessation of suffering is navigated by the Noble Eightfold Path. The steps are Right Understanding, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration. Simply stated, the Noble Eightfold Path is divided into three themes. Good moral conduct (understanding, thought, and speech), meditation and mental development (action, livelihood, and effort), and wisdom (mindfulness and concentration).

Gaining insight to the four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path is a lifetime of learning. Here is an easy daily coping tool to begin walking this path of awareness.

The moment your mind wakes up in the morning, open your eyes, stretch your arms and legs, and take a deep breath. While still warm and safe in your bed, place your hands over your heart, and think of three thoughts of gratitude, seal each of them in with a complete breath, inhale followed by exhale.

Finding ways to grow compassion for ourselves and others is needed now more than ever. I hope these small offerings have opened your hearts and minds towards a greater appreciation of self care, self love, and self compassion, and how its positive contribution can affect all living beings.




"True love is the recognition of another in yourself."
Eckhart Tolle

Monday, January 1, 2018

2018 Prayer for PEACE & LOVE

"The soul of the soul of the Universe is love." Rumi

2018 Prayer for PEACE & LOVE

Peace exists within us. Love exists within us. My hope is that more people will dedicate their energy, time, passion and pursuits towards finding their truth. It is our power. Seeking your truth is about discovering who you are, what makes you happy, healthy, and joyful. Authenticity exists in each and every one of us. If joy is the greatest marker of our success, living our truth is the path towards that greatness. Living your truth is the opposite of living a lie, or faking your way through life. As Mary Oliver says in her beautiful poem; "Tell me, what is is you plan to do with your one precious life?"

Be real. 
Be here. 
Be now.

Together, we rise up with LOVE. Together, we rise up with kindness. Together, we rise with compassion. Together, we rise up with patience. Together, we rise up with forgiveness. Together, we rise up with PEACE. Erase the invisible walls, the real walls and the potential walls that close off communication and understanding. 

Peace for all living beings on Earth.

"and the world will be as one..." John Lennon

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Darkest Night

"Morning Star, O cheering sight! Ere thou cam'st, how dark earth's night! Morning Star, O cheering sight! Ere thou cam'st how dark earth's night!" Johannes Scheffler (1657)


The winter solstice is a quiet celebration in our home. It is a cherished moment of time spent together as a family with limited external distractions. Also known as the hibernal solstice, an astronomical phenomenon marking the day with the shortest period of daylight, and the longest night of the year. The return of the light and the flower that blooms in winter are powerful symbols of the winter solstice, the moment when darkness begins to recede and the days gradually lengthen with the promise of spring. It is a day and night to honor the importance of deep rest before the reawakening of nature.

With the larger holiday of thanksgiving past, and the extended Christmas traditions just a week away, we have one dark night to honor our treasured gifts of health, happiness and home. It is on purpose that we not use any electricity, except for the heating of our meal on the gas stove. No lights are switched on, no television, and no computer screens are turned on. Usually, we spend the day in nature, going for a hike, exploring or seeking out new experiences. This year, the winter solstice falls on a weekday, so our morning time will be separate due to school and work. We will reconnect in the afternoon, and settle into the comfort of our home. As part of our daily routines, we have been enjoying time breathing, holding hands, and anchoring our minds into the present moment. It is a good way to bring balance to the start of the day, and a grounding energy toward the end of the day.

Coming Home

Our arrival to home is a series of prioritized events, we hang up coats, backpacks, take off our shoes, wash hands, and eat a snack. We complete homework, and have free time to play. Snuggling, squirming and silliness eventually settle in, and in an effort to distract from battles, pestering, and "I'm bored" statements, I gently lay out my yoga mat, and start a slow movement practice. In my experience, if I start a yoga flow in the middle of the most popular room in the house, there is always a little face ready to meet my gaze and practice with me. Eventually, they both find their way under my legs and on my yoga mat. Breathing and moving together directs all attention to the present moment. Child pose with a little one sitting on your lower hips, and gently pressing down is a welcome release after any stressful day.

Breathe

Sun salutations warm up the body, make space for the breath, lengthen and extend the spine, and bring a hopeful flow of energy into our home. Imagining new yoga poses with funny names, brings a lively animated expression to this constant evolving practice of yoga. Once we are loosened up, partner poses are a powerful way to connect the focus of our minds and the strength of our bodies, working together towards a common goal.

Being Here Now

In the few hours of light left before the evening falls, we sit at the table, play cards, connect over a board game, gather art supplies to paint, draw, or write, and be together in a creative space. In our home, we usually listen to music, but on this day of consciously conserving electricity, we can make music. Singing songs, clapping rhythms with our hands or on a drum, strumming chords on the guitar, holding a space where everyone feels free and happy. In these short winter days, taking the time to express ourselves through music, pictures, play, poems, or stories is a symbol of slowing down, making memories, finding stillness as a family, holding on to one another a little bit longer.

As the sun begins to set on the darkest night of the year, we light our best candles in all shapes and sizes, and enjoy the shadows the light flickers on the walls. The quiet and the dark are more pronounced, and everything seems to move at a slower pace as the stillness floats in.

Together

Supper is a simple meal of homemade soup and bread, prepared ahead of time, and we dine by candlelight. While talking around the table, each one of us attains much deserved attention, sharing thoughts, experiences and reflections from the day. In an effort to maintain respect in listening, and kindness in our words, we pass a small object around, taking turns speaking. Our object is a small pig with a movable head, arms and legs. We pass the pig around, and many animal jokes are made, as the conversation shifts, it always comes back around to heckling our cute mobile pig.

"What does the pig say to the cow?" "oink, moo, oink, moo, oink, moo!"

After dinner everyone picks out a book, and we read the stories aloud. We sip on honey tea as the hour gets later, and the night begins to shine. Eventually, pajamas are on, teeth are brushed, and little boys are tucked into their warm and cozy beds. Sleep finds its way into tired bodies, and the soft, rhythmic sounds of their breathing bring a deep sense of peace and rest into our home.

With Peace and Light

This is our sacred holiday of love, our special ritual of simplicity and sincerity. In the midst of festive chaos, we appreciate the subtler changes of the seasons. The Solstice marks a time of remembrance, a moment of pause, silence and inner reflection. Spending quality quiet time together rejoicing in the shortest day and one long, dark night solidifies our bond as a family. Acknowledging our truest and most humble possessions, the gratitude goes deep. We are never alone, we can navigate the turbulent times of darkness with hope and humility, knowing help and support are close by. Adequate rest and healthy sleep rekindles our hearts and minds. When we wake up in the morning and the sun shines through our windows, it is a reminder that no matter how dark a night may be, the light will always return.

However you and your loved ones celebrate this last month of the year, I hope it is filled with moments of quiet stillness, peace, comfort, and joy.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Transience (Past, Present & Future)



"I am a passenger, and I ride and I ride. I ride through the city's backside. I see the stars come out of the sky. Yeah, they're bright in a hollow sky. You know it looks so good tonight."


Life is transient. Moments, feelings, experiences, sensations, even awakened awareness is transient. We live in a world where there are distractions that take us away from the present moment we are breathing in. When we look towards nature, especially the seasons of change, we can see the tangible quality of the leaves turning from green, to red, to gold. The falling of the pine needles and acorns, the wilt and decay of the once blossomed flowers. It is a pattern of nature, one to believe in, trust in its return to life.

As the weather patterns churn and change, leaving us in various states of loss or unrest. It is an energy that is so strong, so harsh it can't be denied. Quiet observance, sitting, reflecting, sending support with thoughts, and powering up the fortitude of the breath are tools I use to settle, ground, and bring the scattered pieces back together again.

In an effort to focus more on a clear and present state of mind, there is the breath. With the breath, there is an opportunity to seek new moments in life. Inhale into the present, exhale out the past. The slight pause between inhale and exhale is the state of wonder, the unknown future, without holding on to any expectations, breathe in again into the present moment, exhale out the past. This subtle dissection of the breath can help keep you centered, and assist in the redirection towards the task at hand.

Find a comfortable position, sitting, or lying down. Uplift the spine and support it with a wall or the back of a chair if sitting. Lying down, release the spine along a soft mat or cushion, where the weight of your body is dispersed evenly. Bring your awareness to the breath. Feel the natural flow of inhale followed by exhale. Notice the parts of the body that expand, inflate and fill up as you breathe in through both nostrils. Inhale into the present moment. Now is now. Feel the energy circulate and exhale slowly through both nostrils. The naval sinks down towards the spine as the breath floats up along the spine. Enjoy the warming breath on the upper lip pass out of your body, letting go of what you do not need. The past is gone. Each moment brings a new sensation, a new emotion, a new awareness. Just be here and breathe.

Natural flow of breath transitions into a more focused 3 part breath. As you inhale, the upper chest, rib cage, belly lift and inflate. As you exhale, the active contraction of belly to spine occurs, as the breath flows up and out of the nostrils. As you relax and gain rhythm to your breath, ocean sounding breath, adds an audible layer, a subtle internal vibration enhanced by the inhale and exhale of your breath. Just as the constant tide pulls in and out against the shore, watch the ebb and flow of your mind. Anchor your thoughts by pulling the breath in through both nostrils. Feel the upper chest lift, middle back and rib cage expand, and the low back and belly wide and full of breath. Hold the breath for 1-2 seconds, and then release the breath, pulling navel to spine. As you exhale slowly and completely, gently constrict or close off the back of the throat and redirect the breath up and out through the nostrils. Feel the warmth of the breath on your upper lip. Pause and repeat the process for however long it feels comfortable. 

All we have, all we are, all we need is here, inside the rise and fall of our breath. We are all children of the universe, we are blessed with human gifts of imagination, conscience, self-awareness, and willpower. They are fully present inside each of us. Support these beautiful gifts in all ways possible, help yourself, help each other. In this world of complete transience, we are the the traveler, the voyager, the wanderer, the rider, the passenger floating in the wind.

"We'll be the passenger, we'll ride through the city tonight. See the city's ripped backsides. We'll see the bright and hollow sky. We'll see the stars that shine so bright. The sky was made for us tonight."


Passenger lyrics written by Iggy Pop

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Finding Balance

"There is eternal summer in a grateful heart."
Celia Thaxter


Summer is here, the Earth is in bloom. Hot, sunny days are balanced by cloudy, cooler days, and just like the shifting of seasons, there is transition of darkness into light. As visitors upon this Earth, all living beings are a part of nature. Influenced by changing conditions, we move through cycles, and are made up of native elements. Our bodies are a microcosm of the earth, full of rhythms, transitions, adaptation, and vibrant energies.

The season of summer reminds us that everything alive is made up of energy, which is the capacity or power to do work. Energy can exist in a variety of different forms, such as electrical, mechanical, manual, thermal, or nuclear, and can be transferred from one form to another. Active or passive, a balance exists in the nature of energy.

Understanding the nature of external energy is the first step in opening up to the internal energy that exists within each of us. There are ways to find balance in the mind, and in the body. In yogic philosophy, energy is broken up into feminine and masculine energies, known as Shiva and Shakti. Shiva is pure consciousness, Purusha. A primal masculine activating power pulled from the symbol of the sun. Shakti is the maternal provider of nourishing Prakriti. A comforting feminine principle of nature, symbolized by the changing phases of the moon. When these two energies unite, action, movement, and creation arise. This connection provides a pathway toward pure consciousness. Combining loving care, protection, vitality, clarity and knowledge.

In Taoism, the yin/yang symbol illustrates this essential balance that exists inside each of us. Qualities of these energies intermingle to create a balanced whole. The feminine yin energy connects us with the left side of the body. A darker, slower moving, passive, internal energy. The masculine yang energy connects us with the right side of the body. A lighter, faster-moving, active, external energy.

There are many layers of our inner and outer world. What is happening around us in our daily schedules or routines, universally and globally impacts our inner world. Practicing the art of silent observation, reflection and surrender can help us to adapt and survive the spontaneous qualities the external layers of our world throw at us. I like to relate these energies to actions that can stimulate the sympathetic response and the parasympathetic responses of the brain. Life is a constant balance, and we are intuitively searching moment to moment to find this balance within the mind and body. It is a safe, natural way to cope with the external world around us. Finding creative ways to bring an effort and an ease into our daily lives is a wonderful utilization of accessing the energies that already exist inside of us. Finding what is unique and preferred is the interesting part of the journey. Enjoy the guided breath described below, known as alternate nostril breathing. After 10-20 cycles of this breath, your mind will feel calmer, and your body more relaxed, creating a harmonious state of peace and balance.


"Breathe in deeply to bring your mind home to your body."
Thich Nhat Hanh
Connect to Breath

Alternate nostril breath is a transformative breathing technique that brings a sense of peace and calm into the mind and body. Breathing in and out of each nostril independently, allows the feminine and masculine energies to move into balance.

Find a comfortable seat or lie down. Begin to relax your body, and breathe. Close your eyes. Noticing the inhale followed by the exhale is the first stage of finding balance. Slowly inhale through both nostrils, feel the ease of pulling the breath all the way into the body, fill up, and then with control exhale completely, allowing the breath to flow up the spine and out through both nostrils. Feel the warming breath on your upper lip. Pause. Hold the breath out of the body, and when ready, choose to breathe in again. Inhale slowly through both nostrils, fill up, and with control exhale completely. Take time to enjoy a couple more cycles of natural flow of breath. Inhale followed by exhale. Readjust your seat or body if lying down, make any adjustments to align your spine and relax. Rest your left hand down, and bring your right hand toward your face. Place the first two fingers on your forehead and press gently there. Close your eyes, returning to natural flow of breath, inhale followed by exhale, draw your awareness to the center of your forehead. Honor the sacred center of trust, intuition and inner wisdom that lies within each of us. Pause, linger in this place of breath and being. When ready exhale completely, and place your thumb over your right nostril. Slowly inhale through your left nostril. Take the time to fill your body up with breath, then place the first, second or both fingers over the left nostril and exhale through your right nostril. Notice the length of time it takes to fully release your breath, pause, then inhale through your right nostril. Close off your right nostril with your thumb, lift the fingers off your left nostril and exhale completely through your left nostril. Inhale through the left nostril, close left and exhale right. Inhale through the right nostril, close right and exhale left. Inhale through the left nostril, close left and exhale right. Inhale through the right nostril, close right and exhale left. Continue for a total of 10-20 cycles. When you feel ready, exhale slowly through your left nostril. Release your hand back down, realign your seat and spine. With focus and control, inhale slowly through both nostrils, feel the ease of the breath pull into the body. Enjoy the inflation of breath, hold for 1-2 seconds, and then exhale the breath through both nostrils. Return your breath to a natural awareness of inhale followed by exhale. Open your eyes, notice the state of your mind and body.


"What you think you become. What you feel you attract. What  you imagine you create."
Buddha

Connect to our bodies and minds.

Daily Meditation can enhance your focus and concentration, bringing more space into your life. Be gentle with yourself. There is always room to grow. Loving kindness meditation is a form of metta meditation, a connection to love. Set simple intentions, tangible goals, and be a positive support to others. Send healing energy to those people and places who need it the most. One minute, five minutes, ten minutes, or more, carve out a small pocket of time to just sit or lie down. Close your eyes, connect to your breath, one inhale and exhale at a time. 


Connect to the Earth

Enjoy the warmth of the sun on your skin. Lie down in a garden, or the grass, and feel the soft Earth beneath you. Settle down into gravity, and sink into the arms of the Earth. Simply enjoy the beauty that surrounds you. Look, listen, feel, touch, and taste all the experiences. Eat foods that are locally grown, and in season. The five senses are our superpowers. Nourishing our bodies and minds with rest, healthy food, clean water, and exercise intensifies them. Create beauty around you. Plant and grow your own garden. Find ways to mend the damage done to our Earth. Reuse and recycle resources. Collect rainwater in a barrel for outside watering. Hang clean laundry on a line, and let the sun dry it instead. Bring your own bags to the market when shopping. Light a candle instead of using electricity. 

Being present without an agenda, provide time and space to listen, stay patient, peaceful, and open to connections that may otherwise be invisible to some. Enjoy a leisurely walk or a hike in nature. Go for a swim, or take a long bike ride. Notice the changing phases of the Moon, the Earth's seasons, and honor Mother Nature's oceans, lakes, mountains, and forests. 


"If your compassion doesn't include yourself, it is incomplete."
Buddha

Finding balance within ourselves acknowledges the importance of who we are. When we feel validated, there is more patient space to offer to others. We need to love, support, and strengthen ourselves, so we can then love, support, and strengthen those who need our nurturing, our care, and our attention. To empower and accept each other is crucial to our survival. Surrendering to the magic of our divine feminine and masculine energies, creates a universal peace.

We must believe that it is possible to share knowledge, to provide health care, to improve the safety and sanitary conditions of children and families globally, to protect our planetary resources, ~ such as food, water, air, soil, energy, and connecting to the goodness that all living beings require and deserve to thrive.

I have not been drawn to write. The transient, temporary seasons have served as an inspiration, a reminder of the inevitable constancy of change. Exposed, vulnerable, raw, my words are hanging on an extended branch for all to see, but only few to read. I accept that. I persevere. Writing provides an open space for me to let go of what no longer serves me. This blog is a gentle offering, subtle suggestions that have softened my resistance, and helped me to adapt to change. I hope they can help others too.

"When words are both true and kind they can change the world."
Buddha


"To write is to seek the truth behind one's inner chatter and then to put it out there. It is to believe we can improve upon the silence. It is to have faith in the power of words to provoke us, connect us, heal us. It is to have faith, period." 
Katrina Kenison




This post is dedicated to all those who are in the changing seasons of joy and blessings or heartache and loss, we are all in this together.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Green Smoothie

"When diet is wrong, medicine is of no use. When diet is correct, medicine is of no need."
Ayurvedic Proverb



Here is my green smoothie recipe for increased energy and vitality! A great way to boost your metabolism, and help shift your body from winter into spring. This is a basic recipe tested and tasted, it works well with creative options (protein powders, collagen, spirulina) added in for a nutrition boost. If you want a sweeter version, a spoonful of raw honey or pure maple syrup will do the trick. So try it, experiment with your ingredients, and share your results!




For best results use a high power machine for breaking up raw vegetables and fruit fibers.

You will need:

1 washed organic green apple, a ripe pear or both! (cut up with skin on)

1/2 ripe avocado and/or 1 spoonful of *coconut oil

2 washed organic celery ribs (sliced to fit in your blender)

1/2 frozen banana (pre-peeled, cut up and frozen into chunks for easy use)

1 whole organic orange, clementine or lemon (ends cut off, freshly squeezed with a few slices of rind)

1 small washed organic carrot (cut up with skin on)

1 thumb-size piece of raw ginger (peeled and roughly cut-up)

moderate handful of organic washed baby spinach leaves or *super greens

1- 1 1/2 cups *coconut water, *aloe vera juice or cold spring water

Puree all ingredients and enjoy! Best if consumed in the morning.




*Benefits:

Green apples and pears are full of fiber! They promote cardiovascular, digestive and respiratory health. Best stored in refrigerator or cool environment.

Celery is an excellent source of antioxidants, beneficial enzymes, vitamins and minerals. Celery lowers inflammation assisting in balanced cholesterol and blood pressure levels. A wonderful digestive aid, reducing bloating, protecting the liver and decreasing ulcers. It has amazing anti-microbial and chemo protective compounds called polyacetylenes that help reduce toxicity, and fight against cancer cell formation.

Bananas are instant energy, full of natural sugars (sucrose, fructose and glucose), amino acids (tryptophan boosting serotonin levels), iron, potassium, magnesium, and are high in soluble fiber.
The ripened dark patches on banana skin produces a substance called TNF (tumor necrosis factor) which has the ability to combat abnormal cells, promotes higher immunity enhancement and chemo protective qualities.

Avocado are high in heart healthy monounsaturated fats, promotes eye health and brain function, improving nutrient absorption. They are full of fiber, potassium and vitamin C.

Coconut oil is a natural saturated fat, that increases healthy (HDL) cholesterol levels in the body. Coconut oil contains medium chain fatty acids that are metabolized efficiently creating energy, boosting brain, cardiac, kidney and immune function. It is an anti-inflammatory, chemo protective oil that helps skin glow, prevents gum disease and tooth decay.

Citrus fruits are powerhouses with too many benefits to list here, but some amazing qualities enhance your brain, heart, kidneys, skin, bones, digestive and immune systems. The citrus peels contain 5-10 times more vitamins and nutrients than the fruit itself, so if you are using the rinds, buy organic and wash the fruit thoroughly. Citrus fruits are a solid source of fiber, folate, antioxidants, phytonutrients (biologically active compounds found in plants), and Vitamin C assisting in the absorption of iron.

Carrots are full of vitamins A, K, folate, B6 and minerals of manganese, potassium, copper and iron. They help balance blood sugar levels, assist in healthy heart and eyesight function, and boosts digestive and immune systems.

Ginger is a wonderful anti inflammatory digestive aid. It is a chemo protective, immune boosting and pain sensory inhibitor root spice. Best consumed raw, sliced or grated.

Super greens are kale, spinach, collards, beet and turnip greens, red and green romaine, swiss chard, arugula, parsley, and many more. They are full of vitamins A, C, E and K, anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-inflammatory. You really can't get enough of these nutrient dense greens filled with immune boosting power and cellular regenerators. Super greens can be eaten in their natural state (green leafy vegetables, broccoli), or in a compressed green powder, easing their way into smoothies. I personally like to promote the lesser processed foods, this smoothie tastes great with fresh green leafy super greens. Check your local health food store and explore the different options.

Coconut water has so many health benefits. It's an excellent anti-inflammatory, rehydration drink, full of electrolytes, amino acids and trace minerals boosting energy and balancing blood sugar levels. Coconut water contains cytokinins, the plant version of human cytokines. This hormone like substance enhances the reproductive, growth and development, skin repair, cellular healing, homeostatic regulation, blood clotting and immune systems of the body!

Aloe Vera juice is a rich source of hydrating antioxidants, cell growth stimulators, pain inhibitor properties, and essential nutrients. It's a powerhouse of calcium, sodium, iron, potassium, manganese,  zinc, folic acid, Vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, C, E and amino acids.



Sunday, February 5, 2017

Super Bowl 2017

"No act of kindness no matter how small is ever wasted." Aesop


Friday morning. Spirit day. Sean says, "Mom! Where's my Patriots shirt?" Finding it in the bottom of the drawer, he put it on and the sleeves ended two inches above his wrist. "Mom, can I please wear it anyway?" Heading into school with a shirt too small for his growing body, we talked about getting a new Patriots shirt to wear on Sunday. After drop off, William and I visited my Mom for breakfast, then we started our list of errands. Four stores later, we discovered all Patriots gear for kids SOLD OUT!  I was becoming weary, and William was losing patience with me. Our last ditch effort to one more stop closer to home brought us to a small sports gear shop in Woburn. We walked in and saw lots of Patriots accessories, but again Patriots shirts sold out. All that was left were the expensive Super Bowl 2017 Jerseys at $75 a shirt! We talked with the young store clerk about the upcoming game, thinking it was just the three of us in the store, I heard another voice say, "Excuse me, but would you buy the jersey if I paid for half?" I peered around the large football display and saw an old man sitting on a bench trying on shoes. His bright blue eyes twinkled from under his tweed scally cap, his large belly shaking as he smiled, and asked me again, "I'm an old man with nothing but time and money, please let me donate half of the money for your son to have a jersey to wear on Sunday." I looked over at the store clerk, who was beaming from ear to ear, of course my eyes started to well up.

I walked over to the kind man, as he proceeded to open his wallet, and hand over $40 cash to the store clerk. Denying such a beautiful gesture would have been a sin. I squeaked out a "thank you", and the tears kept rolling. "Why are you crying?" asked the old man. I took a deep breath to compose myself, and started explaining how this is the first Super Bowl without my Dad, and how he would have bought my son a Patriots jersey already in anticipation of Sunday's game. I sat down on the bench next to this sweet old man, I gave him a hug, we exchanged warm introductions and talked more. He asked me about my Dad, his name, and how he came to pass away. It was easy to tell him what happened, and the similarities between this stranger and my Dad became quite palpable. My Dad was a giving man, he was all about my boys. He was also a businessman, and would frequently offer up deals and transactions with me. We had such a genuine exchange of understanding and connection, turning the conversation slowly into a more up-lifting one, "My name is Paul", he said. "I'm a retired dentist from Woburn. I have 8 children and too many grand children to keep up with. What is life without small happinesses in your day? Let me give you this gift in honor of your Dad. A little present from Phil in Heaven."

20 minutes passed before I made it up to the counter to complete the purchase of the Patriots jersey for my son. The store clerk commented on how Paul came in the store all the time, and was a great guy. The clerk proceeded to give me his employee discount, and knocked off another $10 from the jersey! Thanking him too, I ended up paying $20 for a Super Bowl 2017 Tom Brady jersey for my lucky 8 year old son.

William gave Paul a high-five, and he received one more hug from me. I left the store with a full heart, a renewed sense of hope for humanity, and the realization that Earth Angels do exist, we just have to stay open to finding them.

Go Patriots!


"The heart that gives, gathers." Tao Te Ching


"It's not the strength of the body that counts, but the strength of spirit." J.R.R Tolkien


"All you need is LOVE is all you need." Lennon & McCartney

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Yoga for Everyone


"True yoga is not about the shape of your body, but the shape of your life. Yoga is not to be performed; yoga is to be lived. Yoga doesn't care about what you have been; yoga cares about the person you are becoming. Yoga is designed for a vast and profound purpose, and for it to be truly called yoga its essence must be embodied. "  A. Palkhivala



Yoga is a movement based therapy that offers benefits of stress reduction, increased strength, balance, and flexibility. The sanskrit word, "yoga" is defined as "to yoke", "draw together", or "unite". Yoga combines and coordinates breath with movement. There are many different types of yoga to explore, finding a specific style of yoga that suits your needs is personal preference. Take the time to read the details of a specific class, arrive early to meet the teacher, and ask questions as yoga classes can vary in levels. A beginner class is gentle on the body, and can offer specific instruction for alignment and safety. A basic flow class is low impact, informative and energizing. Intermediate or vigorous can be challenging, postures build upon each other to strengthen and balance the body. Many teachers and studios offer private yoga classes to help you get started. Yoga is for everyone. It can be done anywhere, anytime. It's non-competitive in nature, fluid and creative, a gentle yoga flow is adaptable for all bodies and all levels.  A competent teacher offers adjustments, variations and modifications. Yoga harnesses the power of your breath, elevating and empowering your potential, strength, and confidence.


Yoga helps to create the mind, body, breath connection. 


The mind can be a complicated, layered and chaotic place to be. Time travel is alive and well in the mind as we move from the past, present, and future within our thoughts. We all have responsibilities in our lives to fulfill, and the lists of things to remember and accomplish can get long. With an awake mind we can begin to concentrate, focus more clearly and bring space and balance into a busy mind. Mindfulness is the active awareness of what is happening to us and in us moment to moment. It is an access point to which we can begin to explore the interior landscape of ourselves without judgment. Utilizing the breath as an anchor, we can gently begin to stay present with all aspects of the breath. We are always in transition. Change is constant, our bodies teach us this everyday.


The breath is essential to life. 


Learning to breathe consciously can help restore balance in the mind and body. Some benefits observed are reduced feelings of stress, anxiety and depression, blood pressure stabilization, increased energy levels and relaxation. Our breathing is influenced by our thoughts, and our thoughts can be influenced by our breath. Physiologically, the autonomic nervous system is responsible for regulating the body's unconscious actions. The stress response triggers the sympathetic nervous system which prepares your body for perceived danger, rapid, shallow breathing, increased heart rate and blood pressure. This is commonly referred to as the "fight or flight" response. When you consciously breathe deeply, slowly, and with awareness, the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as "rest and digest" is activated. This can help bring a sense of confidence, control and calm into the mind which assists in slowing down the breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure.


"Yoga allows you to rediscover a sense of wholeness in your life, where you do not feel like you are constantly trying to fit broken pieces together." B.K.S Iyengar


An attentive yoga practice has been my focus over the last 12 years. My yoga flow offers a slower integration into the postures, emphasis on mindful breathing, an awakened state of observation, and space between transitions to listen to the body. Deliberate movements coordinated with breath gently increase circulation within the body, add fluidity to the joints, provide strength, balance, and mobility in the extremities and spine.

As we become more connected to what is happening while moving and breathing, physical sensation is explored. Engaging and experiencing slower movement is about learning how to stay in the present moment, to let superfluous thoughts go, and start to craft non-judgmental emotions towards ourselves, to find contentment, healing and well being in mind and body.  Just as every experience has the potential to teach us, moving the body slowly with purpose, while keeping the mind awakened to the breath builds a greater whole body awareness.

~Addendum~

On January 12, 2017, I had the privilege to host a workshop introducing and discussing the benefits of yoga for a group of people looking to develop and maintain a healthier lifestyle. The information I have written for this blog post was the foundation for the presentation, but an instinctive need to embody the experience of yoga persisted. At the heart of the discussion and the practice was the breath, as it continues to be the spark, the greatest connection of mind and body. Perhaps it was the auspicious nature of the full moon that evening that allowed such an open, honest flow of conversation and insights. I would like to take this opportunity to further explore some of the amazing questions that were asked that evening. Expanding on the concept of creating an imaginary tool box filled with unique ways of coping with the ordinary stress of life, and assisting in the process of positive lifestyle change.

1. What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a term used to describe a more attentive way of being. Staying focused on the present moment, staying aware of one task at a time, consciously noticing, watching, and observing what is happening to us and in us without judgment or reaction. There are so many distractions in today's society, the immediate access of information can be a blessing and a curse. Mindfulness helps to break down what is important moment to moment. What can wait? What can be deleted from our "to do" list? What is necessary in this moment? Subtle questions to ask to keep us on track, a reminder of what our goal or goals may be. Synergistically, the term Mindfulness works easily with meditation. Meditation is a quiet practice of sitting or lying down where the focus is to go inside and explore the layers of the mind, the sensations of the body, and the inflation and deflation of the breath. During my yoga training at the Kripalu Center of Yoga and Health, I was taught the Practice of Being Present, which included 5 principles to help stay on track. "BRFWA" is an acronym for Breathe ~ Relax ~ Feel ~ Watch ~ Allow, a simple technique for being present with our moment to moment experience.

The Practice of Being Present

Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health

2. How does yoga help me to stay healthy?

As described above, yoga is an exercise that guides the body to move in conjunction with the breath. Moving the body burns calories, improves circulation, builds strength, balance and assists in the process of becoming more flexible. Stretching muscles, tendons, ligaments and massaging inner organs are the key intentions of a yoga practice. Breathing in and out with awareness, and moving the physical body helps to keep the mind focused on the present moment. In life we must have balance. Most of us have to work, and that work is different for everyone. Sitting, standing, lifting, or driving, work can offer many hazards to the body. Making healthy choices on meals that bring us energy may or may not be that easily accessible due to time or financial constraints. Practicing yoga or any exercise can help keep us healthy by increasing our heart, and working out the body in different ways than our profession or job position allows. The practice of yoga can help us make better choices about what will truly nourish and benefit the mental and physical body. A yoga practice helps to gently guide how we can listen to our bodies. We are encouraged to find our "edge", a place where your body feels challenged. Yoga is an active effort of awareness on many levels, and yet it is also about being easeful, finding the passive nature of the here and now. Being guided by comfort and breath, we rest when needed. Yoga teaches discipline, with a regular practice of showing up on your mat, and showing up for yourself. Yoga opens space for kindness and gratitude that what you are doing is enough in this moment. At the end of a class, thankfulness and appreciation is a closing intention. Try your first free yoga class with me! 
3. What does connecting to the breath mean?

In a normal busy day we breathe quick and shallow, it becomes automatic. The breath is a necessity of life, the body knows this, and helps us out by doing it for us. When we take the time to regain control and focus over our breath we bring back a powerful tool to help rebalance our mind and body. Connecting to breath means noticing, watching, becoming aware of how it feels to breathe deeper, causing an expansion of the upper chest and rib cage and fullness into the lower abdomen. Filling up our lungs with breath increases the availability of oxygen to our bodies, actively exhaling, releasing the breath from the body, helps to create a sense of calm and peace in mind and body. Dr. Herbert Benson of the MGH Mind Body Institute wrote a book in 1975 called, 'The Relaxation Response.' His research, studies, and published articles discuss the body's response to stress. The findings discuss how the relaxation response alleviates symptoms of anxiety, and also affects factors such as heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen consumption, and brain activity. The body interacts with the breath at a specific point in the breathing cycle, the exhale. The moment the breath is completely out of the body is the exhale. This conscious pause has a great effect on our ability to learn new information, to take control, and to refocus. Acknowledging the breath, and its subtle changes, helps to change the way we think, opening up possibilities of behavior modification.

It was a pleasure and a humbling experience to engage such a wonderful group of people. I look forward to the next workshop on March 14, 2017!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Full Moon 40

"Pay attention. Be astonished. And tell about it. We're soaked in distractions. The world didn't have to be beautiful. We can and should think about that beauty and be grateful." Mary Oliver


Last Saturday, my mother and sister took me out for an early birthday dinner. Driving into Boston in the late afternoon, stuck in traffic, we chatted with ease, jumping around to different topics without worrying about making sense of any of it. I was happy to be together with my family, and they made me feel special by carving out time to remember my birthday. After discussing why we always forget to get in the HOV lane, I asked "Where we were going?" My sister laughed and said, "It's a surprise!"

Moving at a snail's pace, I gazed out the car window and saw myself staring back at me. I haven't been looking forward to turning 40. I'm not in any mood to be contemplative, no mood to think, no mood to feel, needless to say, this blog post has been a challenge. These days I am moving from task to task. I've been playing out the repetitive motions of daily life, filling it up with the details of getting things done. Crossing off lists, and quickly making new ones, which doesn't leave much time for having fun or making social plans. Most days I feel like I'm treading hard to keep my head above water, and other days I feel like I've been hit by a tidal wave. I'm pretty good at hiding my emotions, but not to my immediate family. My mother insists I am doing too much, and I know she is right. As I'm writing this now, I realize that I have been staying busy on purpose. I want the distraction, to tire my mind and my body out so sleep will come. For the last part of this year, change has been so harsh, so finite, and so shocking. My Dad's fast illness, and passing left us all in a state of distress. If I call my sister, she answers by asking, "Is everything okay?" immediately jumping to worst case scenario conclusions. We are both living out of fear. Fear, a word that has different meanings for everyone. Fear of loss, fear of change, fear of exile. Fear takes on so many forms, and sneaks into your life and sleep. The news is a constant living nightmare, the world at unrest, injustice, endless and senseless violence is overwhelming. I know I am not alone, darkness is balanced by the light. Mostly, I've been taking care of my health and my body, but my mind is anxious. Any actions that cease my worried mind are welcome, and I do seek them out. Being with my boys is the best, they are filled with so much positive, present, palpable energy I can't help but keep my full attention on them. Exercise and yoga helps, but my husband's calm, confident strength carries me. He helps me to see how the burdens of everyday life can turn into blessings. Recently, my clothes dryer broke, and I've been driving to my Mom's house every couple days to do loads of laundry. At the kitchen table of my childhood, I sit across from my mother. She listens, I listen. She justifies my worries, validates my concerns, renews me with her experiences, and I begin to understand how reaching out to others softens sadness and suffering. Life is precious, fragile, and grief is stifling, confining and energy depleting.  It's these small moments of time and togetherness with my family, that offer the most healing.


"The moon is a loyal companion. It never leaves. It's always there, watching, steadfast, knowing us in our light and dark moments, changing forever just as we do. Every day it's a different version of itself. Sometimes weak and wan, sometimes strong and full of light. The moon understands what it means to be human. Uncertain. Alone. Cratered by imperfections."
Tahereh Mafi


Our car turned into the archway of the Boston Harbor Hotel. The warm orange glow of the low setting sun erased from our view. We parked easily, and walked along the wharf.  My Mom and sister moved quickly through the cold winds that blew over the water. I lingered to look at the bright moon that was rising fast. This year my birthday falls on the full moon, and I am trying to maintain my faith in humanity in a world full of uncertainty. Even in my daily life, I seek out the moon as it changes, and observe its phases in a state of wonder. It's a constant I find comfort in, so I made an early birthday wish on the gorgeous supermoon. A wish for peace, love, happiness and hope.

We found the only open door into the hotel, and peered around at the lavish details of dignified nautical interiors, and warmed our hands before checking our coats. Fresh greenery, red poinsettias, and festive ornaments decorated a large Christmas tree in the center of the lobby. People were talking closely in cozy sitting areas as we walked towards the restaurant. As my family confirmed our reservation, I locked eyes with my sister, all at once I knew she had done something. I can get caught up in the details of my life, this dinner with my family was on my calendar. I wasn't prepared for a big social event, and I was pretty sure they knew I didn't like surprises.

The next couple moments played out like a slow motion movie scene. I was truly surprised by old friends and new friends who had taken time out of their busy before Christmas weekend to celebrate me. Tears and pink champagne flowed, personalized pots of tea were steeping, cakes and sandwiches were served, and rose petals decorated the table. My friends and family surrounded me like shining jewels of a treasure I spent my whole life mining for. The friends you choose, and the friends that stay with you, are a reflection of your true self. These women are genuine, caring, salt of the earth angels. Friends that you can visit after a long time has passed and the conversation picks up easily right where it left off. Friends you can call day or night when you need help during tough times, or just to hear a reassuring voice. Friends that save music, books, magazines, and clothes for you because they know what you like to hear, to read, and what your style is. Friends that pop over just to give you a hug because they were in the area. Friends that buy tickets to a concert knowing you would change whatever plans you may have to go. Friends that send two pieces of a chocolate hazelnut torte home with your husband clearly stating they are for you, and you only. These are my people, my tribe, my community of love and support. I am the lucky one. We all enjoyed a late afternoon tea, and I couldn't stop smiling. I knew I would see everyone soon so there were no long goodbyes, but on the way out my sister whispered to me, "You know Dad would be really proud of you and all that you do."


"Surround yourself with people that reflect who you want to be and how you want to feel, energies are contagious."
Rachel Wolchin


Today is my 40th birthday. I feel good, comfortable in my skin. I know who I am, what I want, what I need, and have the courage to pursue my dreams. To not celebrate gratitude, kindness and generosity is a sin. So, I am rejoicing my life, my health, my family, my friends, my work, my passions. 

Every day is a gift, and I welcome a future unknown.


Saturday, September 10, 2016

Healing Gardens


"Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace." May Sarton


The summer, like all seasons, people, and living things has passed. We are heading into the brisk winds, and golden hours of fall which marks another time of change, the constant state of all things. Really every moment brings something new, it's up to us to see it, embrace it, and accept it.

With new seasons comes new blessings of gratitude. I really wanted a garden this year, but last spring brought another plan for me. I am now enjoying the bounty of garden tomatoes, green tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans, sweet peas, zucchini, summer squash, broccoli, peppers, and rhubarb. The sweet remembrance of rosemary, the cooling bite of mint, the cleansing quality of sage, the gentle calm of lavender, and the adventure of wild thyme. Honoring the gardens of family and friends, and acknowledging that sometimes leaning on others is necessary. Life is about sharing, receiving, and giving. I feel blessed to have stolen a few moments in the summer sun, and lingered in these beautiful gardens. We truly reaped more than what was sowed. 

Thank you

"Why try to explain miracles to your kids when you can just have them plant a garden." Robert Brault





"To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrows." Audrey Hepburn




This post dedicated to all those who have showered us with love, attention, support, and smiles. 

Friday, July 1, 2016

The Force

"The Force is strong in these two."

"There are moments which mark your life. Moments when you realize nothing will be the same and time is divided into two parts- before this and after this." Lauren Kate

It's been three months of swift change, an April 1st joke that wasn't a joke. My Dad was diagnosed with end stage renal cancer, and he survived for 74 days post diagnosis. As I come away from an intense family experience of taking care of him at home, I feel depleted and saddened by his loss. My mother and sister stepped up to the hospice challenge like professional sports players.  It was what my Dad wanted, to be comfortable, to be home, to be surrounded by those he loved, to have closure with his family.  In a weird way, it was a gift to have these last couple months with him, he was aware of everything, and wise words flowed from him like he was a sage waiting for this moment to share deep and important mysteries learned in one lifetime. To say I loved my Dad completely almost doesn't do our relationship justice. My Dad taught me to be strong, independent, to pursue education fiercely, to be kind, to love, and to be happy. A family man to the core, the best Dad I could ask for, adventures around every corner, music, laughter, joy, and the most amazing Papa to my boys. So, while going through the transitions of change, losing my Dad, my friend, my co-grandparent, I am now faced with my first summer without him.

"To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived - that is to have succeeded." 
Ralph Waldo Emerson

My boys are 7 and 4, their whole lives revolve around family. They know love through the support of family and friends. My husband is a man with quiet, compassionate strength, who stood by me like the magnificent redwoods we traveled to visit on our honeymoon. Over the last 74 days, I drove to my parents house and helped my mother care for my father. All our efforts focused on his comfort, we cleaned, cooked, washed everything, assisted my Dad to shave, shower, and get dressed. The best days were when we could get him outside, he felt the springtime breeze on his face, and he enjoyed special time with my boys. The importance of showing my children the reality, and inevitability of death wasn't something I thought about, but exposing them to a dying man who was their hero didn't faze them. Hugs, kisses and snuggles abounded, and it was exactly what we all needed. Children have a way of staying right in the present moment, and that's where we should be.

"Change is the only constant in life." Heraclitus

My Dad believed in the right to die. Long conversations with his oncologist revealed that if my Dad couldn't live the life he wanted to live, why would he want to prolong an illness that isn't curable? He posed textbook ethical questions to us, and to his doctors. We talked about maintaining dignity, and respect for the human body. He endured 3 weeks of palliative radiation to help alleviate some pain, as the cancer spread to his bones and his spine. My Dad had some serious courage; having the strength to face the inevitable without fear. To seek comfort with quality of life as the goal is what drove his decision to not pursue chemotherapy. I believe my Dad confronted his diagnosis with bravery and honor. Of course there were moments of doubt and fear that crept in, and I rallied my inner reserves to have the most difficult discussions of my life with my Dad. I helped calm his anxiety with deep breathing, and we talked extensively about meditation, finding peace, and letting go. One day we used the imagery of a caterpillar going inside its chrysalis to wait patiently for the metamorphosis to occur.

"Goodbyes are only for those who love with their eyes. Because for those who love with heart and soul there is no such thing as separation." Rumi

When someone you love dies, they still live on in your heart and mind. The memory won't let go, and the ache that sustains never really goes away. Everyday, my younger son asks where Papa is. Why can't we see him anymore? Where did he go?  We talk about Heaven and how it is all around us, in the sky, the sun, the moon, in the earth, the trees, plants and flowers, in the air, and the water. It seems natural to discuss the tangible qualities of our beautiful planet that surround our senses. My older son says Papa is in the wind that rustles through the leaves, the grass that tickles our feet, the warmth of the sun that we feel on our skin, the repetitive sound of the rain, or the constancy of ocean waves rolling in and rolling out. Our church, our sanctuary, is in nature, and we feel it everyday.

My grief is ongoing, I try not to dwell on the loss, but focus on remembering all I have because of my Dad. I think a lot about my Mom, and how she faces her future after 45 years of marriage to one man who is now gone. Smile, live, love, that is what he would want us to do. I gather my strength, my perseverance, my love, and push on.

"Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those who transform into the Force. Mourn them do not. Miss them do not. Attachment leads to jealousy. The shadow of greed, that is." Master Yoda

There are moments of solace and refuge that come in the sweet faces of my boys. Their ability to understand the tragic and complicated events of life continue to impress me. Their faith in what they know is true, consoles my heart. My children are huge 'Star Wars' fans, they believe in the Force. Both boys play out detailed scenes of Han Solo and Chewbacca flying the Millennium Falcon, battling the Empire in their quest of freedom to the galaxy. Yoda, Luke Skywalker, and Obi-Wan Kenobi are the Jedi Knights they strive to be. One night in April we were reading our bedtime stories, and 'The Legendary Yoda', was part of the book stack that always seems too big to get through before bed.  In the fictional series 'Star Wars', Yoda was defender of the galaxy, Master of the Force, and the greatest Jedi who has ever lived. He was 900 years old when he passed away.  Below is a summary taken from the book we read that night, written by Catherine Saunders.

The "Force" surrounds all living things. This powerful energy has a light side and a dark side. The light side is used for good; expressed as love, kindness, caring, compassion, empathy, and joy. The dark side is used for evil; expressed as hate, sadness, jealousy, regret, fear, anger, and confusion. Those who live the light side of the "Force" are respected by those who value peace, justice, and freedom, and feared by those who use the dark side of the "Force". When living beings of the light side of the "Force" pass on, the wisdom and knowledge of the "Force" shows that death is simply a part of nature, and not to be feared because death is not the end. They live on through all light users of the "Force" and surround us always. These powers are strong and the spirit becomes one with the "Force".