Stepping Into Mindfulness

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I don’t know about you but when I decided to start practicing mindfulness, I thought that I had already taken my first steps towards living mindfully and had a good foundation to build upon. For the past two years I had already begun adding in meditation and intuitive exercises, working from gratitude, trying to act from love and compassion for others and for myself. A good start but it didn’t really touch on the essence of living mindfully and in the present moment. Unlike other goals I had set for myself, this one will be very different. You see, living mindfully doesn’t bring you to an end point. There is no achieving it and mastering it and then moving on to your next life goal. Being mindful is truly a way of life forever. Let me ‘splain.
 
In the past two weeks I have begun taking UMASS’s Mindfulness-Based-Stress-Reduction (MBSR) Introductory Course online with people from all over the world. So, you think to yourself, what can you learn about yourself in two weeks of mindfulness classes? A lot it turns out. A lot about yourself and most of it surprising.
 
Firstly, patience. I thought this was one of my virtues. As a teacher and parent, I rarely lose my patience. I can explain using new examples, wait for attention, deal with disruptive behavior and generally I don’t get impatient. I also am more of a go-with-the-flow kinda person. But this class has shown me that when it comes to just slowing down and focusing on THIS moment, is NOT easy for me. Oh, how the perfectionist in me yearns to rush to mastering and achieving the goal! Sadly for me, mindfulness isn’t about getting anywhere, it’s about accepting the moment you are in. Making peace with the moment you are in whether it is joyful, stressful, sad, or painful. When we are asked to do the 40-minute body scan where we lie on the floor and for 40 minutes check in with our body literally from head-to-toe, I inwardly am squirming for most of those forty minutes. I have found this in practicing yoga too. When we are moving from pose to pose or holding a pose which is uncomfortable, I have to breathe through it and just give in to the moment. I guess mindfulness is about acknowledging your present situation and not avoiding it, feeling it and acknowledging it completely.
How often do we avoid going to the pain in our bodies or in our souls? When something is unpleasant, I have found myself wanting to move as quickly beyond it as possible. This was a recent realization for me when dealing with my stroke which I had 18 months ago. I just realized as I started this class that I had never given myself time to heal. I had rushed from the hospital to immediately trying to go back to work, to continue with my family and home responsibilities, my workouts and my nutrition plan, my social life, every aspect of my life without taking any time to let myself just recover. It’s been 18 months and I hadn’t taken the time to heal. I hadn’t wanted to face what had happened and how it had affected my life, nor did I want to have my family and friends have to deal with worry over me or added responsibilities because I couldn’t contribute to our lives and needs like I had before the stroke. This realization all came spontaneously with the first week of my MBSR course, unexpectedly. It was a difficult day when I had this realization but I know it was for my best. I am not one to avoid a challenge or a difficult situation in most aspects of my life and now I am going to face my health – which in general, is very good despite the stroke – and my physical and emotional needs honestly with patience and with love.
That brings me to the second aspect of mindfulness, non-judgement – which I had begun to live out in my life. But sad to say, judging is very ingrained in me. I tend to compare myself to others – judging how well I am doing compared to them or judging others’ choices as wrong or right, judging myself through the eyes of a perfectionist. None of these actions served me well, none of them improved my life, none of them made me a better person. To live my life without judging others or myself is a constant challenge and once you start on the path of living non-judgmentally you become aware of how much judging you are actually doing throughout your day. In addition, recognizing your discomfort, your positive and negative emotions should be done without judging yourself for having them whether positive or negative. Just being with your emotions without judging them leaves me a little at a loss at first. What am I supposed to do with them if I can’t judge them?
In our class we are asked to just listen to our partners and not offer any advice, to always speak from the first person and not make general statements like “When people are stressed at work, they tend to get overwhelmed.” Instead we need to phrase our observations always from our viewpoint, “When I get stressed out at work….” We have to own our present state and allow the same for the others without trying to make it better, make it easier. We share our thoughts and experiences and let them just rest in the space of our breakout room without disturbing them or trying to alter them. It is a completely new way of speaking with another person, which I have never experienced before. I guess, in a way, it is uncomfortable for me as a listener to hear another person in discomfort or joy and not want to lessen their pain or relate to their experience, like giving advice to try to help them out of it or sharing their joy by relating it to something I had experienced. The dynamics in the conversation completely change. But it also sends the message that you are safe and able to share your feelings and present state without negative consequences. You can share your experiences and feelings and own them without trying to move past them or without acknowledgement. In the end, you cannot deal with your emotional needs unless you can acknowledge them first. How can I truly heal from my stroke if I don’t acknowledge the effects it is having both physically and emotionally? I can’t. Well, I couldn’t until I had my a-ha moment and allowed myself to acknowledge that I needed to heal and to give myself the love and compassion to start that healing.
 
So, what are you avoiding acknowledging in your life? How can you offer yourself healing in this moment? It doesn’t have to be with illness or sadness, it could be joy or peace. Whatever it is, acknowledge it. Be with it. Allow it to reside in your life fully. That is what it means to be present.

Fear and All That Comes With It

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I woke up two nights ago writing in my head. This has always happened throughout my life but I never acted on it and the words left me by the time the morning came around. This time, I asked to please be allowed to remember and recreate this text that I will write now.  My middle-of-the-night writing was all about fear, in general and in its most common forms.  Fear is a part of all of our lives. But how aware are we of its workings in our lives?

I have in certain ways always recognized that living my life dictated by fear was NOT the choice I wanted to make. I wanted to make decisions based on what was best for myself and not be swayed by fear. I remember shortly after 9-11, we found some really amazing deals on flights to Germany. My extended family all live in Germany and I spent long summers visiting with them as a child, so I get homesick when I haven’t been there, seen them and reconnected with my second homeland in a while. So, what to do? Everyone was afraid of traveling, the federal government was issuing travel warnings and the horror of the fate of those 9-11 flights loomed large over everyone’s travel plans. We chose to fly with our one-year old despite everyone’s warnings and voicing of their fears of traveling. We had a wonderful vacation and no issues traveling such a long distance. I have never regretted it.

This is not to say that I don’t let fear guide my life consciously and unconsciously. I do have phobias – like heights, spiders, seeing my children near water sends my heart to pounding, stairs freak me out. I try my hardest to confront fears when they appear in my life by realizing that its my imagination that is creating these fears. In a way, these kinds of phobias are easiest to handle. Because you are so aware of them. Your body’s reaction and the very prominent and unavoidable obsessive thoughts behind them are hard to ignore.

I guess its the fears, which are those quietly sleeping and whispering in the background of my life, that have so influenced my life and the ones I want to think through in this post. Those fears about judgement, failure, being alone, misunderstood, vulnerable. You see I am coming out of my cocoon. As I told a friend the other day, last year was all about being cocooned and protected so I could heal and grow into the renewed person that I am now. This year is all about coming out of my cocoon, taking the time to let my wings dry and to look around and get a feel for the new world around me and also my new Self in it. So, while being wrapped so warmly in my cozy, safe cocoon, I was able to look at my life, see how far I had come, and realize how I wanted to fly in this world now.  I can fly higher the more of these weighty fears I can let go of.

Looking back, before entering my cocoon to heal, I realize that I let those subtle fears dictate my life. In a way they imprisoned me because I didn’t allow myself to even realize that I was meant to be a butterfly. Everyone loves butterflies, admires their beauty and vulnerability, the magic of their very existence and how they come to be. Just looking at this comparison makes me feel uncomfortable because we are taught not to see ourselves as grand, or beautiful, or magical. We are conditioned to believe that it’s conceited and honestly, I believe it makes others feel less if you present yourself to the world as something so precious and special. Yet, I believe that we are ALL butterflies and to speak the truth is never wrong, nor does my self-love take away from the love for anyone else. There is enough love to go around in the world. Does anyone believe that love is limited? That there is only so much love in the world and once that’s used up, the rest of us will have to do without. It’s a ridiculous thought. But how often do I still react negatively, when others talk about themselves with confidence or praise their children, celebrate their successes or their happiness. As if by doing so, they are disregarding my wonderful kids or family, my accomplishments or happinesses. I am still struggling with this but recognize that my reaction is based on my old beliefs and completely irrational. Slowly my new way of looking out at the world is taking over. So now I do sometimes still react this way, but quickly realize that other people’s success cannot take away from mine, other people’s gloriousness  does not mean I am less than them. So fear of lack is slowly being replaced by a knowing of my own worth.

Fear of judgement is another fear that governed my previous life. How would the world around me react if I chose to spend my life dedicated to the mystical, to the spiritual, to Love? I still have not fully come out on this score. I haven’t shared this blog with my family, for instance, or on my personal facebook page. I am still protecting myself from that very personal judgement. Glennon Doyle once wrote about coming out as a spiritual person and said your family is often the last you do this with. Because those roles as daughter or sister are so ingrained in us. They are so wrapped around us that we easily fall back into our old selves quickly when placed in our family environment. We and our family have a pattern of expectations, definitions of each other that are difficult to shift and redefine. Maybe, if you are like I am, you have kept the most intimate and softest part of yourself hidden from your family. It was/is easier for myself to just be who they have defined me as, than open myself up to judgement or criticism, by showing them what has been going on beneath the surface all my life. That my love of the mystical, like astrology or supernatural, mysticism or spirits, has always been a large part of who I am. That I honor Jesus as a healer, mystic and son of God, just as much as I do Buddha and Mohammed as religious mystics who came to teach us of and about our shared divinity and connection to God. Ugh, even just writing that last sentence, I am cringing and wanting to erase the references to God, because of how I think others will judge that and possibly criticize it or misrepresent it. But it stays, because these are my beliefs and they shape who I am. They simply are. I cannot control how others will judge them, nor in a way is it even my business. I need to be true to myself. That is our job in life after all and from that all else comes – finding our path and love of Self and other. So fear of judgement is slowly being replaced by self-truth.

Fear of failure lurks everywhere which isn’t surprising for a perfectionist. That’s what drives a perfectionist after all. Because we define failure as not doing something – a project, cleaning our house, being a mom – without error and without omitting anything. Putting perfectionism that way,  I think shows me how ridiculous it really is to aim at being perfect, of being everything to everyone. It’s exhausting and so unrealistic. NO ONE CAN ACHIEVE THAT! I never once completed something, as a perfectionist, and felt I had done it well. Because of that, I never was truly able to celebrate any accomplishment, because in my eyes it wasn’t really complete. My role as wife, my motherhood, my home, my thoughts, my dissertation, my reading of books. Nothing in my mind was ever done the way I wanted it to be. Failures in every single endeavor because I could have done all of these things, and more, so much better. It’s perfectly ridiculous, perhaps that’s the only thing I did well – be ridiculous in my expectations as a perfectionist. So, I have “failed” in everything I have done for most of my life and yet I am still standing. Ha! That, my friends, was just an a-ha moment for myself. I have failed in all of these things, yet I am still ok and I have truly accomplished so much. Just as all of you have. I am taking a new approach now. I am moving forward in life and expecting, even anticipating failure, because in my failures I have so many opportunities and by having failures I know I am really living my life by experiencing new things and testing boundaries. So fear of failure is slowly being replaced by my embracing my humanity.

This fear of judgement led to another fear which drove much of my life. The fear of being isolated, alone, unloved. If people judged me as weak or silly or sensitive or emotional, then they wouldn’t respect or love me. So I strove to live my life meeting their expectations, mirroring their beliefs and attitudes. If I mirrored them, then how could they ostracize me or criticize me? But in the end, my true Self couldn’t hide. I knew I didn’t fit in. I was spending way too much energy mirroring instead of exploring and honoring who I was. And, let’s face it, I didn’t do mirroring very well. I just couldn’t be cut throat, or so ego-based that I emphasized my accomplishments as better than anyone else’s, or place my beliefs and opinions as truth and all others’ as wrong. When I look back at my old career, that’s what was the most difficult to do, even though it was expected and required to do this in order to remain in that career. Truthfully, I never succeeded in doing it. It stressed me out so much that I should have realized that it just was so opposed to who I am. I realize now that I am not afraid of being ostracized any longer. I am secure in my family and circle of friends, in my Self and in what I am stepping out into the world to do. I just am choosing to go into the world now and not apologize or rationalize for others my choice and my beliefs. Again, that is not my business. Everyone chooses for themselves how they want to engage with the world and the best thing I can do for myself and for the world, is to just be true to my core beliefs based on Love. Really it’s just my belief that Love is all the world needs and that I need to work on bringing my Self and my actions into the world from this perspective.  I have faith now that I will never be alone, that those people who belong in my life will be there or come to me. I have faith now that what I put out in the world is what will be given to me in return. I don’t need much more than that. Faith, trust, and Love. Faith, trust, and Love. Faith, trust, and Love.

In the end, all we need is …

Self-Love

Self-Truth

Self-Worth

OUR SELVES

Optimistic but Still Honest?

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DISCLAIMER: I wrote this yesterday, which was a difficult day for me in some respects but also had so many blessings. I am choosing not to edit the post because I do think that honesty serves best the message I felt I was meant to get from yesterday and my reflecting on it through this post.

Today was a challenging day in several ways with disturbing dreams, exhaustion, headaches and an overwhelming feeling of frustration and feeling down-hearted. Not a typical day for me, but there it is. I actually cried in front of my kids, which I try not to do because I don’t want to alarm them.  I do realize that showing vulnerabilities in front of your children is important because only in that way can they see that they are not alone in their sad days and that it is okay to feel down. I think most people don’t realize that I am still dealing with post-stroke issues, since my symptoms aren’t apparent in my everyday interactions with others. That’s probably why I’ve started to get questions from family and friends, like “So, what are you going to do now (for work)?” But my daily life is slow and requires a lot of down time still. I can do some work, blogging for instance, but this is maybe at most 1 hour of my day. The rest of my day is about taking care of home and family and downtime. Usually, before the stroke, in addition to work which was hectic, I liked to read. I read for hours each day, rarely watching tv. Now, I read 10 pages and I immediately need to sleep, usually two hours, which was okay for the first 12 months, but it’s 18 months now and I am soooo ready to move on and get back to life and work.

To say that after 1.5 years it is beginning to frustrate me is an understatement. What saves me from falling completely into a perpetual woe-is-me state is the fact that I am an optimist, which thankfully brings me to what I really wanted to share with you today.  You see when you start reading spiritual books or listening to spiritual podcasts and videos, you find that the primary focus is always on the positive – the joy of the journey, the amazing blessing it is to have a life here on Earth, the power we all possess to create our own lives. The message often comes through that you need to shift your thoughts to focusing on the positive, which I completely agree with and try to live out each day. One of the primary message is how you need to be careful of your thoughts because they manifest things in your life. Thoughts are very powerful things. The messages that run through your mind and the words you speak are powerful. I have been told by a spiritual mentors, both in my life and in books & videos, to not think those thoughts, to cancel them out, to replace them with positive thoughts. By repeating that I have a headache or I feel tired, I am only perpetuating that state in my life. I need to not state those things at all; only to talk with affirmations like, “I am perfect and vital health;” or “I have abundance of health and energy;” or “My body knows exactly what I need and provides it for me easily and effortlessly.” So, I tell people when they ask me, “How are you?”  I say “I’m fine.” or “Good.” When really my head is pounding and has been for days or I can’t put two sentences together on paper because my brain doesn’t allow me to focus on that right now. I’ve spent the past few afternoons wrapped in a blanket on the couch watching the Food Network because anything more taxing is beyond me to follow, and I can’t watch anything with fast movement because my eyes can’t track the movement without me getting dizzy. So I am wondering where does honesty fall into spirituality or optimism? Am I really supposed to continually and only be talking in positive affirmations to myself and others, when my life has moments where positivity is not what I am feeling. If I am not sharing how I feel with those close to me, am I missing out on building a support system for myself? If they don’t understand or know what I am going through, how can our interactions and conversations be real? Am I being my authentic self, if I share only the positive side of me and suppress any negative thoughts or feelings I have?

In the past 18 months I have been very patient and willingly because I realize that I am on a new journey one that requires me to learn how to live differently, to let go of old beliefs systems, to heal my soul, so that I can go out into the world and take the path I was meant to take. I needed quiet and peace and time to do this and still do. All this I know, yet, I am human and have moments of frustration and impatience. It is not easy to let go of all you have known or used to define who you were to the world and yourself. I do have complete faith that all is well and is as it should be, even if I don’t see the whys or the future hows. I have believed this since the very first day after my stroke diagnosis. I have never been afraid until today.  I most certainly DO NOT live in this poor-me state most of the time but I am done keeping the truth from my family, friends and myself about how I feel, and feeling badly that I feel poorly on certain days. This cycle needs to end. I am starting to feel that I need to learn to feel what I am feeling, to acknowledge it, to work through it. It is only making it harder for myself, judging my feelings as wrong or lacking in faith or positivity, I am living a human life and THAT is most definitely not all sunshine and roses. It is fraught with interactions with people both positive and negative, events out of my control, emotions that can be uncomfortable or overwhelming, as well as glorious and beautiful. Experiences only have meaning in contrast to other experiences. Would we know what joy was if we never experienced heartache? Life is a journey after all and how would you know that you are moving and growing, if you only experienced joy without challenges? Challenges always include some aspect which is perceived as negative. It is how we approach the challenge and deal with it that is most important. The first step is recognizing it as a challenge and then moving through it and coming out of it better and stronger because of it.

Maybe what lies beyond this frustration during these months is a future where there is joy in being able to fully devote myself to my creativity and my passion without driving myself into the ground. Maybe I need to learn how to relax and just be before I can throw myself whole-heartedly into my work again. It feels to me like this is the answer to the Why of everything I have experienced these past months.  Feeling frustrated is maybe just my old self rebelling against this new Me who has to have time to just think, to just be, to just be with Me. I guess, maybe for most, if not all of my life, I have been ignoring Me and Me just won’t stand for it any more. So it’s okay for me to be honest about not feeling well. I am not going to make the circumstances worse by acknowledging this.  I am not creating these health issues by acknowledging that they are challenging, rather I am able to work through them only by seeing them, talking about them, letting them come to the surface and still saying in faith “All is well.”

So here it is: I am an honest optimist. You might just get the run down of my day if you ask after my well-being. The key is to letting it out, being with how you are feeling in the moment, and then working to focus again all the wonderful and blessed and good things I have in my life. After all I am a whole person, not just a perfect optimist living a perfect life. So the next time you feel badly about a negative emotion or thought, or about having a down day, be kind to yourself. Acknowledge to yourself and others that this is how you are feeling, don’t beat yourself up about it; and know that you are enough and you are most definitely allowed to have down days and down emotions, the key is to bring yourself back to a place of balance and not to stay in that down state. Remember there are always two sides to a situation and you have a choice, always, to how you react to your life. So let’s be honestly optimistic and allow for those moments of contrast to bring meaning to our lives and selves. They are part of us and central to our journey through life.

Honestly and optimistically yours always,

Christine

 

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Finding the Spiritual in the Everyday

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My mom used to talk to herself when she washed dishes. I would watch her from the family room as she stood by the sink looking out over the backyard and having such serious conversations with an imaginary other. They usually felt like she was defending herself or arguing her point. She was probably replaying conversations from earlier when she felt like she hadn’t been heard or able to express herself fully. I would watch her gesture or tilt her head to the side as she spoke her quiet but intense words. She may have done these silent, one-sided conversations when she did other chores but I remember these dishwashing sessions most vividly. It seems to me that when you are doing chores like dishes, or dusting, or vacuuming, weeding or shoveling snow, you spend more time in touch with the thoughts running through your head. The repetitive motions and familiar actions of washing dish after dish or pulling weed after weed, gives you the freedom to think while your hands are busy. There is something meditative and devotional about these repetitive actions. It allows you to fall into your thoughts, get in touch with your soul and your feelings and work through them, like my mother would at the sink each day.

The monastic life embraces this devotional aspect of doing daily chores as well. This is true of many religions from Buddhism to Christianity. The repetitiveness of the monastic day includes regular times for prayer and devotion interspersed with times for taking care of their monastery and each other. Each day monks and nuns spend time tending their monastery, their gardens, and cleaning, cooking and baking for their fellow brethren. It truly is done out of spiritual devotion, not only out of daily necessity. For Buddhists this is partly done during a 20-minute period, called soji, directly after meditation where each monk is given some chore to do until the bell rings to end the 20 minutes. It is not about completing the chore, it is more about bringing the meditative practice “off the cushion” and including it in everyday life. By not expecting a perfect completion of the chore, monks are asked to simply focus on the action itself.  It becomes simply about the act of sweeping or washing, It also should be done without preference for any one chore. It frees them then to just do a chore without expectations (completion or non-completion, enjoyment or non-enjoyment). They are in the moment simply and quietly doing.

Part of the Benedictine Rule, dictates that a monk’s daily life revolves around prayer but this is not limited only to time strictly designated as for meditation or prayers. It also extends into their daily chores. Chores are done in quiet and often in solitude allowing them to devote their thoughts to communion with God and their soul. Chores allow them to “seek God in humility and obedience.”

I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that I often found my mother working through her problems while she worked in the house taking care of our home and family. All of us have these daily chores in common but often we see them as things to get over with so we can go on to more meaningful or fun activities. I, myself, often find myself frustrated that I need to take time to load the dishwasher or sweep the floors, (my least favorite chore is cleaning things you use to clean, like vacuums or the inside of the dishwasher, but that rant I will save for another blog). I would so much rather sit on the patio in the summer and read a little, or talk with my kids, or spend time with my husband, or write, yet thinking of chores in the monastic way shows me that they are moments throughout the day when I can show love of my home, my family and myself by caring for them and also building in some time to just be with my thoughts and release things that may be weighing heavily on me or just try to connect with something deep inside. So, perhaps the next time we are folding laundry or shoveling the driveway, we can pause and take some time to be in the moment with ourselves and take advantage of what that chore is gifting us that day.

What the Buddhists Can Teach Us About Household Chores )

(Daily Life for Benedictines )

#MeToo – But Not How You Might Think

#Metoo

Well, 2018 has rolled around and as I listen to the news the #MeToo movement is not going away. In fact, it is taking shape as a human rights movement. Actors in Hollywood are taking the lead, meeting in private and organizing to battle the social consciousness which has fostered and nurtured this alarming environment, which enabled and accepted such abusive behavior.  Objectifying people, oppressing them, harassing them, preying on them, physically abusing and assaulting them, and all habitually for decades, centuries, millenia. Most of us are not likely truly shocked by these revelations. We’ve all heard of the director’s couch or watched Mad Men or read history. Yet, the severity, the years-long acceptance of this horrific behavior add details to this public knowledge of the director’s couch which finally highlight to us the criminality and twisted abuse behind it which still exists in the 21st century. When the news first broke of the Harvey Weinstein accusations and the impossibly unthinkable rapes and physical harassment of these women, it left me shocked and appalled. I support and admire whole-heartedly those women who have come forward but initially just believed that it was an isolated incident. But then… more and more men were accused. Kevin Spacey. Al Franken, Mario Batali. Matt Lauer. And more.

Now this has become something we need to pay attention to. Now we see people being accused in the tech industry, in the arts, in politics, in the food industry, in business, in factories, in the beauty industry, not only the Hollywood director’s are guilty of such heinous acts. It seems to permeate our society, across workplaces and across social classes. I was most shocked by Matt Lauer because his depravity lurked behind the man I had watched for years on the morning news. I recently watched a video on Youtube where he, according to the title of the clip, salaciously asked Anne Hathaway about a photo taken up her skirt days earlier at the premier of Les Misérables. In light of today’s revelations, the various headlines called out Matt Lauer’s comments as sexist, “icky,” “sleezy.” I watched and found myself not so offended. Maybe he was just having fun and being perhaps a little too familiar? Put this in the context of his sexual harassment and abuse of power over years, and now it gave me pause.

My reaction made me think about how I too have been complicit in my acceptance of the “boys will be boys” attitude which I think lies beneath the social acceptance and lack of any significant action or consequences for these men as their stories were unearthed over the years. Not only, do these accusations call out these acts and call for their final rectification and the end of such abusive behavior, but it also calls out to all of us to think about what we accept as “normal” behavior. We need to check ourselves each time we accept sexist comments, sexist jokes, judgements about such everyday things like clothing, even discrepancies in how men and women are charged for hygiene items, our expectations for “normal” behavior for men and women, or devaluations of behaviors attributed to genders like sensitivity or emotionality versus rationality and stoicism. Not only do these criminals come from all walks of life, as do their victims, but so does our allowance of their existence in our society. I believe, we need to become over sensitive to these behaviors and these social norms which created a society which has allowed people in power to victimize and prey upon those in their control using gender and sex as their weapon. Only through a hypersensitivity will we truly become aware of how far it reaches in our personal, work, and public lives. We need to weed out all of its sources in our society’s beliefs and our own gender identities before we can truly rebuild a world in which these power-based atrocities and harmful and degrading gender beliefs no longer exist.

I believe that life works like a pendulum. Unfortunately, we only act when the pendulum swings to its outermost point, where it cannot tolerate any more forward movement in that direction and needs to shift its course, retrace its steps, and counter balance itself by swinging in completely the opposite direction. We have reached that ultimate point where the pendulum of sexual harassment has become so extreme, we can no longer allow it to continue. We must act to bring us back to some sort of equilibrium. We, as a society, must recognize this necessity and work to bring it to fruition and if it means we are overly sensitive to such behavior, so be it. I have already heard, in the media and even in my own family, that this is becoming a witch hunt, but let the women and men come forward and make their accusations. We will see when the dust settles who is guilty based on proof and evidence and who has been falsely accused. Perhaps this is harsh but so are these crimes. Their depravity and their widespread existence at such a magnitude demands we act.

So, #MeToo. I too have been complicit in the proliferation of this behavior. I said nothing and quietly allowed jokes about women, stereotypes of men and women to color my own words. I accepted boys will be boys, even when I saw behavior that made me uncomfortable, like Matt Lauer’s comments to Anne Hathaway, but I wrote those uncomfortable feelings off as my being overly sensitive. I grew up being told and believing that women were inferior emotionally and intellectually. It was a struggle to break these beliefs. Only in my 40s did I begin to embrace my femininity, my empathetic nature, my sensitivity. I allow myself a freedom to express my emotions, or at least I am starting to. My opinions are not weakened because I shed a tear in sympathy or anger, in fact I am stronger for it because I allow myself to open my heart to others. Exposing your heart is no act of cowardice. Like everything this reclaiming my emotional self and my feminine self is an ongoing process. But here in face of these heinous realities pervasive in our world, I choose to fully embrace my ability to empathize with others, to feel outrage against accepted behavior, to go with my intuition. When something feels wrong, I will take note and speak up and act. My voice is just as strong and valuable and potent as the next person’s, and I choose to speak out and call out those who are helping to keep this system of abusive power and physical harassment in place – even if it is myself that I need to call out and hold accountable.

Simplicity

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I read about Surrender today and immediately wondered, “Do I need to surrender when it comes to food and nutrition?”  The answer to my question was “Yes.” Food and fitness are two things I am really working on balancing in my life right now. This comes back to mindfulness and mindfulness can be so challenging. Sigh.

I am a healthy person. I eat relatively “clean.” I like to cook and try to use organic and fresh, whole food. I workout regularly and absolutely love my workouts, even if I only go 2-3 times per week now. But I worked hard the past 5 years to follow a strict clean-eating diet that allowed me to reach a fitness level I had never reached in my entire life. I eliminated dairy, high fat foods, caffeine, gluten, salt. I was happy doing this because the old me loved being in control. I believed whole-heartedly in rules and guidelines. They were the roadmap to perfection. Being the perfectionist, I dove head first into this lifestyle. Now, after my stroke, I am working my way towards finding a path towards health and nutrition that is my own. I am setting my own goals for fitness, body shape, food choices. This is NOT an easy thing to do. Behaviors and beliefs ingrained over a lifetime do not change overnight. Learning how to stop and listen to your body – listen to what your body, not your emotions or your noisy negative talk is saying. Learning that there is no such thing as perfection. Embracing freedom. Being in the present moment when it comes to eating. Mindful eating is listening to your body’s subtle cues, like when you are truly hungry, what foods agree with you, knowing when you are full or thirsty. Wow! And that’s just the physiological part of mindfulness, so much also lies behind our emotions when it comes to eating. Most, if not all of it, comes from others – judgements, comparisons, rules, diets, regimens. Stripping that away is a process and a practice grounded on mindfulness.

Anything you hold on to too tightly is something you need to look at more closely. I held on to this idea of being über healthy and fit. What emotions are behind that? It comes from fear. For me, this “food fear” found its core really with my desire to be perfect which, of course, all ties back to other people’s judgements. I wanted to be seen as perfect by others and to live up to their and society’s idea of perfection. So in this I find fear of judgement and the fear of losing something – youth, recognition, love, admiration. I could go on and on. What it really comes down to is the fear of not being enough. It also is a way of avoiding where you are in the moment because you are always striving for that some day, that goal of being 100% fit and lean because you aren’t that yet. If you are constantly looking ahead to a moment which never comes because, let’s face it, that perfection never comes for any of us what are you really doing? You’re avoiding and not acknowledging or honoring who you are right now. So, ask yourself, what’s behind this moment that is driving me to live for a something which will never come. Unhappiness in the present you, the present life, the present health or the present body. Gaining the washboard abs, or for that matter, the luxury car, the designer handbag, the promotion at work, the 4-bedroom, 3000 ft² house will not satisfy you either.

So, I need to let go of my hold on food and fitness and all these future “must haves” and just be present in each moment with who I am and with my emotions leaving judgements and comparisons behind. I am finding that living mindfully can be oh so uncomfortable but it also allows you to be truly in touch with the real you. We avoid and shy away so often from the uncomfortableness of being vulnerable or imperfect or just plain human. So, step by step this year I will be pealing away the layers and one big layer is this new freedom with food and body image. In doing so, I will release some of these attachments I have formed to food and fitness and release some of that suffering Buddha talks of when we are too attached to anything. So I am bringing myself back to simplicity of just being me. I am surrendering to the Universe other people’s expectations, future worries, self-judgements.

The Flow

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I have been wondering about words, names, and labels over the past few months how we associate meaning with words, the act of naming and “un-naming”, my emotional responses and uses of word (power words, reclaiming of derogatory labels), and the religious significance the Word and “I am.” I am sure other related topics will come to me in my readings, viewings and thoughts because I seem to have this heightened sensitivity to this topic right now. This is the first of my musings and seems to be a good place to start because it relates so clearly to the beginning of my spiritual re-awakening.

In the years leading up to 2016 I had talked to people close to me about my feeling that I needed to find a spiritual home. I was searching for somewhere I could sit with like-minded souls and feed my spirit. Attending church was something I considered and I looked into various local churches and talked to friends, who loved their congregations, but never could bring myself to attend services at any of these churches. Being raised outside of religion, I have a decided disinclination for standard organized religion and have adopted a more universal, personal spirituality that is inclusive of all beliefs that rest on love and compassion. Around this same time, a center opened up in my town and a good friend highly recommended the teacher whose center this was. It is called Faith in Angels. “Ugh, angels of all things!” was my first thought! (Sorry, Jenn! :) Despite some misgivings, I decided that this was worth looking into and I signed up for an Angels class which began that January and ran through May.

Now, you may think and react like I did to the word angels. My first judgment was one of discrediting the class as hokey, flaky and woowoo, but I was also drawn to the concept of speaking about and learning about spirituality in a more holistic and non-denominational place. I found that although we talked about angels, usually associated strongly with Catholicism, we also talked about Ascended Masters from all faiths including Buddhism, Native American, Jewish, Muslim, or Christian. So, I did have some misgivings, but I put them aside. My motto from the beginning was “Have an open mind, Christine.” It can be challenging to let go of associations with words/labels/names, especially if you aren’t even aware you have them or if they are so ingrained in you it is difficult to see past them or even to be aware of them. So by even using the word “angels” certain people will react very positively while others will immediately have a strong negative reaction or write it off as just plain crazy. This is true for myself. I was raised by an atheist and agnostic. So religion and religious beliefs were always viewed as illogical and unrealistic because they could never be proven tangibly and, worse, were needed by those who were weak and couldn’t face and live in reality. How can you place your faith in a God who doesn’t tangibly exist? Instead of God, I was raised to believe you need to focus on the world around you; only hard work brings success, not God and not faith in God. Faith to my parents was something passive and illogical, and, therefore, not respected. (Yet, I spent all of my adult life studying Christian mysticism and spiritualism both personally and professionally. Go figure.)

So, now I chose to enter a class based on the belief that angels are real and they communicate constantly with us. While taking the class, I start to wonder about the meanings I have associated with angels. Can I set these associations aside and just be completely open to the possibility that they could be false?  What I have come to realize is this class labeled as “angel communication” can easily also be regarded by others as positive thoughts and impulses, your intuition, which tell us to just try out for that sports team or go on that dream vacation or achieve that work promotion or reach out to that person in need or forgive someone a wrong. We shouldn’t deny ourselves these impulses simply because someone labels them as angels’ work. In the end what they are called isn’t significant, but their impact on our lives when we do listen to these messages is VERY important and even life-changing. I decided early on that I needed to shift my focus away from the word “angel” and think of all the positive benefits that came from listening to and beginning to follow through on these impulses! It’s the process of acknowledging  these positive messages and following through on them, of taking action upon them that is the true crux of living life authentically. Not about how we attribute their origin to angels or the subconscious, God or synaptic impulses. By labeling them in this way, we deny the essence of how they benefit us of how they truly are the center of our identity. We are only distracting ourselves from what is really important and that is being in touch and listening to that little voice which guides us to believe in ourselves and to dare to live the life we dream of in every little detail. I learned that those positive, repetitive thoughts are really the ones I need to stop and listen to. I need to hear my soul speaking to me. (I’ll talk about those overwhelming negative thoughts that reside in our consciousness too in another post, but for now let’s just focus on what builds us up and leave what wants to take us down for another blog.)

So, from here forward, let’s just try to be open-minded to anything that will lead us down a path of positivity and love. Angels and angel communication was not something I was keen on approaching, using or even writing or speaking about at the beginning of my journey, but how amazingly my life has changed in those 18 months since I made that simple decision to be open to possibilities! Those positive thoughts and impulses are allowing me to live according to who I truly am and with each action taken by following one of these thoughts more light shines into my life. I feel more connected with my own power and my own confidence. I don’t ask as much for others’ approval or permission. I know what is right for me more and more often.  So come with me and, even if for one day, allow yourself to lift some of your preconceptions about that inner voice or your (angels’) messages and just listen. Maybe you’ll like what you hear, then take it from there. See where your soul and the flow of life will take you.

Letting Go of Fear

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I meditated today and Jesus, Mary and Joseph came to me. This was completely unexpected. I don’t know much about Joseph and, in fact, didn’t realize during the meditation who he was in relation to Jesus and Mary. Just goes to show you how unChristian I was raised.  Still his presence was significant in the meditation because he was the only one who spoke to me though I knew that the other two were there. He talked to me and told me to leave fear behind. He also told me that he was the flock. 

After I told Rob about what I had experienced he told me that Joseph was Mary’s husband. That’s when I looked up what I quickly could on Joseph. The Catholic Saint’s website describes him as Mary’s husband and Jesus’ father. But when I read about his story and saw it as he may have experienced it, his message of letting go of fear made sense. He began his relationship with Mary driven by fear of retribution if the community realized she was a single, unwed mother, which might well be stoning her to death. So, he married her with the plans to send her off to have her baby after the marriage so she could have the baby safely. When the angel came to him to tell him of Jesus’ immaculate conception. The angel urges him “not to be afraid.” He does what the angel tells him and takes Mary as wife and raises Jesus as his son. Then he is driven to move to Egypt. He does so again fearing for the life of his small family. The angel tells him of their imminent danger and he leaves immediately and settles in Egypt. Joseph likely died before Jesus was crucified.

Joseph throughout his adult life feared what catastrophes life may bring, what could befall his family. Mary’s stoning, Jesus’ murder as a small child, leaving all he knew behind to move them to Egypt to keep them safe from harm all were moments of fear and worry for him. Yet, he followed his heart and kept his faith and trust in God and the messages and guidance of the angels. This allowed him not only to avoid the things he feared but also to live life content and happy filled with love.

Joseph spoke to me today because the day before I had met with my spiritual mentor, Jenn, and we had talked about how an irrational fear had been cropping up for me as I do my morning affirmation asking God and Jesus to walk my path before me that I may follow in their footsteps. I also ask to do God’s work here on Earth and to serve His higher purpose. Each time I say this my mind automatically goes to suffering. I associate suffering both bodily and in life as part of this service. I feel that this is tied to many past lives which was confirmed both by my mentor and also by a meditation I had with Jesus. He told me that his path was not my path. We each walk our own. He showed me a past life where I was a zealot (he gave me this word) and believed in scourging and purging my body and also martyring myself in my service of the Lord. So today, Joseph comes to me and shows me that he too walked a path where he followed God and Jesus and was always kept safe by God and the angels. 

The idea of Joseph as the flock ties together with his being the Saint of the Universal Church but also as the protector of the Church just as he protected Mary and Jesus. He was a man who followed his heart, kept his faith and trusted in God. Just as we all are asked to do in our lives as part of the flock of God. This is why he told me that he would 

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walk beside me as I walked my path following in Jesus’ footsteps. Just as he walked beside the young Jesus and kept him safe from harm and gave him love and nurtured him, so too does he nurture us. An invocation to Saint Joseph includes; “Oh, Saint Joseph, whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the throne of God, I place in you all my interests and desires.” (emphasis mine) Ha! Or an even better use of this invocation used in early 16th century; “Whoever shall read this prayer or hear it, or keep it about themselves, shall never die a sudden death or be drowned, nor shall poison take effect on them; neither shall they fall into the hands of the enemy, or shall be burned in any fire or shall be overpowered in any battle. Say for nine mornings in a row for anything you may desire. It has never been known to fail.” My fears all deal with terrible suffering of devoting my life and purpose to God, then Saint Joseph comes to me and I find these protective powers associated with him. Finally, demons dread him! lol I rest my case.

[ One last side note that I have added to my WORD notes. Joseph is the name giver. He gave Jesus his name. ]

My First Blog Post

Last July 31 I woke up in the middle of the night knowing that something was terribly wrong. Feeling extremely nauseous and dizzy, I only remember hearing a voice tell me “Everything’s going to be all right” just as I opened my eyes. It is that message that has kept me calm and patient as I have worked on steadily healing my mind and body. That night I had a stroke. Well, actually two strokes. But this blog isn’t about my physical recovery, which luckily has been relatively easy to manage and is still a work in progress, this blog is about how grateful and lucky I feel to have had this stroke and how it has shifted my life in so many amazing and wonderfully blessed ways. Ways I want to share with you.

Eight months post-July 31st and I am feeling more in touch with my true Self each day, more in touch with my soul and what my Self truly wants out of life. During this past year, I have found a mentor and many teachers along the way to help begin opening up my world to a new understanding and new way of approaching living my life with more hope and faith. One of my teachers told me that my purpose in this lifetime was just to be happy. I thought, “Well, aren’t I lucky!” How easy can that be? Actually, I am finding it one of the most challenging concepts to live out. Figuring out what makes me happy is a work in progress. Part of being happy is being at peace and finding joy in each moment. Each day I strive to affirm my gratitude for the life I have and for the many gifts I have been given in this lifetime. But I am human, I do have an ego driving me at times to choices that do not necessarily feed my joy. Now, I explore what the motivations are behind these various forces that are driving me to my choices. Am I doing these things or walking this path because of my own desires or am I walking this path because of familial expectations, social pressures, expected gender roles, fear of judgment, …? There are so many forces which can motivate you to action. Deciding which ones are true to your Self and truly bring you joy and offer you opportunities to grow and create can be extremely challenging and painful to honestly determine. The stroke was truly a gift. It freed me to truly relax, go with the flow, and have faith that if I take a leap of faith something or someone will be there to lift me up and give me a solid perch to rest and grow. There are always choices in life and I choose now to make mine consciously and without fear. Being happy and living a life of joy demand that you are brutally honest with yourself, that you are true to only yourself, you live your life according to your dreams and no one else’s. Faith and hope guide me along the way. This blog is one of my first leaps of faith with many more to come this year. As I walk this path, I hope to meet some of you along the way. We can walk our paths side by side and wish each other strength and happiness as we find our dharmas. This is my wish for this blog and for you and I.