breathe in, breathe out

Today is this rare occasion when I find myself home alone. It’s a scorcher of a day! Still, I decide to sit outside, a stack of books next to me on the table, phone put away, a glass of iced coffee. I pick up the first book, Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh. I haven’t read this in a while and given how I’ve been feeling lately, I need the reminder. First chapter … Breathe! You Are Alive and within the first few pages the reminder for Conscious Breathing.

Breathe In, Breathe Out, Breathe In, Breathe Out, Breathe In, Breathe Out!

“Recognize your in-breath as an in-breath and your out-breath as an out-breath. This technique can help you keep your mind on your breath. As you practice, your breath will become peaceful and gentle, and your mind and body will also become peaceful and gentle. This is not a difficult exercise. In just a few minutes you can realize the fruit of meditation.” ~ Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hahn

I begin to practice and soon I become very still. My senses open up to the world around me. I can hear the light breeze, the leaves flattering and a myriad birds chatting away. A motorcycle revving up far away, the sound of a passing car, the indistinct voices of people next door. The sound of my breath and the dog panting next to me. I offer her some water.

There are bees humming, ants hurrying along, a hummingbird visits the salvia.

I feel the heat on my skin, and I become aware of my ever present thoughts, crashing through my mind, violating every speed limit known to man. I become aware of the constant busyness in my mind and my body.

Do I ever stop thinking about what I need to do next? I wonder. It seems there’s an ongoing to-do list clicking away, at all times. My mind is jumping from one thing to the next and its speed is affecting my breathing. My body following suit is in constant motion, up and down, up and down, always something demanding my attention, always something to do.

Breathe In, Breathe Out!

How did it come to this? Have I always been this way?  Have I been conditioned, was I born this way, or both?

There’s sadness bubbling up. I stay with it and watch it turn into happiness. I am alive! This day is brimming with life. Everything is breathing with me. I sit, watching everything coming and going, breathing in, breathing out.

Eventually, it gets too hot and I need to get up, drink some water. I decide to write about this moment, mostly for me, because I want to remember. Why is it so easy to forget that what I need the most is time to myself? I need this time when all I do is breathe in, breathe out and watch the world breathe with me.

Today is a good day. I sat with myself and got quiet. Eventually, the house will fill up again, life happens every moment and I hope I can take this feeling with me into tomorrow.

As Thay writes, “Just breathing and smiling can make us very happy, because when we breathe consciously we recover ourselves completely and encounter life in the present moment.”

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fluent

FLUENT

I would love to live
Like a river flows,
Carried by the surprise
Of its own unfolding.

~ John O’Donohue from Conamara Blues

That’s my life right there, in seventeen glorious words, strung together the John O’Donohue way.

The image of the river, flowing, contained by its banks that may or may not hold, carrying on, receiving, reflecting, flooding and even drying up at times, being an integral part of an ever changing landscape, isn’t that right there how we live our lives?

When it comes to it, this lifetime has been flowing from one surprise to the next with barely enough time to catch my breath in between.

Today is a special day, a milestone anniversary kind of day. I find myself looking back and reflecting on how I arrived to this very moment.

I don’t remember every single detail and happening. Memories are playful things. Some are stubborn and refuse to give up the space they occupy. Others are gliding through and occasionally stop by to say hello. And, there are memories that, like chameleons, adjust and evolve as time passes. They show me that how I view a past event really depends on who I am in this moment and how far I’ve come in my personal evolution. What looked real and even painful thirty years ago is softened by life experience and an altered point of view thirty years later.

Today’s anniversary is a solid life event, the kind that changes one’s trajectory yet, for as solid as this event is, there’s nothing predictable about the way it has unfolded.  It’s no wonder that when I came across John O’Donohue’s poem, it took my breath away.

What’s next, I wonder. What kind of surprise awaits around the bend?

I’m curious, what feelings and thoughts does this poem invoke for you?

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life lessons from muir woods

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In July, our girls were off to Europe for two weeks to visit their best friends so, Neal and I, decided to visit California. It’s been a long time dream to visit San Fransisco and Muir Woods. After three days in San Fransisco, we headed out to Muir Woods and Napa Valley.

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I knew Muir Woods was going to be a magical and sacred place to be in. What I didn’t expect was the deep silence and stillness that descended upon us as we entered the forest. I don’t think I can find the words to communicate what it feels like to walk among 1000 year old trees that can be as tall as 350ft. Humbled doesn’t begin to describe it.

As we began our hike, we stumbled upon a small group of people listening to a park ranger explaining about the redwoods. We stopped to listen and that’s when I learned about the life secrets that have allowed redwoods to live up to 2000 years.

  • A large redwood tree needs 500 gallons of water each day. Sounds like a lot? Well, it is and the trees get their water from the rain and fog which is prevalent in the area.
  • The root system of the redwood tree is surprisingly shallow – no deeper than 6-12 feet – but the major roots can typically spread 50 to 80 feet. One of the ways the trees are able to remain upright is by growing close together with other redwood trees and interlocking root systems.
  • Their bark which can be 6-12 inches thick contains tannin which provides protection against fire, insects, fungus, and diseases. There is no insect that can kill a redwood.
  • One of the keys to the survival of the redwood is its regenerative abilities. When a redwood is damaged or injured, it develops a lumpy outgrowth at its base. Saplings may sprout from these burls.
  • Fallen redwood logs serve as nurseries for the growth of new trees.
  • Most of the height of a redwood tree is gained during the first 100 years. The mature redwoods tend to lose their lower limbs. This creates a canopy which is characteristic of the redwood forest. These canopies provide support for a variety of creatures and prevent loss of moisture.

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The more I listened the more I could see timeless messages for well being and growth emerging. It appears that what works for redwoods can definitely work for us.

  • Finding the environment that supports us and thriving in it – Every gardener knows that certain plants thrive in certain conditions. We too need to find the environment that supports our growth and development. Feeling stunted and held back? Let’s take a look around. Is our environment supporting what we’re trying to do and who we’re trying to be?
  • Developing a strong community we can lean on – We’re not meant to be alone and do it all by ourselves. Finding our tribe and learning to give and receive makes us stronger and resilient.
  • Giving back – As a member of a strong community we need to do our part. What are our special gifts? What makes us valuable members of a community? Sharing our strengths and wisdom, becoming a mentor, and seeking opportunities to help and give back; that’s what it’s all about.
  • Hydrating – Health and well being are priorities. A strong body will allow us to do what we want. Drink lots of water throughout the day and eat healthy, nutritional food.
  • Standing Tall – To maintain our perspective we need to stand tall and look at a situation from above. We can’t let challenges and daily irritations bring us down. Stand tall at the center of your life and take the view in. How does your world look from above?
  • Protecting ourselves; developing “thick skin” – Our heart may be in the right place but this will not always protect us. Do not fall victim to your sensitivities. Develop strong boundaries and keep saboteurs away. Being kind, generous, and open doesn’t mean that all is welcome through the doors. Use discrimination. Choose wisely.
  • Regenerating often – Things will not always work out the way they were intended. Stuff happens. We may feel weakened, hurt, demotivated. Let’s give ourselves the chance to regenerate often. Let’s use our resources, inner and outer, to heal and strengthen.

Now . . . Tell us! What rings true to you? Which one of the life secrets of the redwoods are you ready to adopt? What are your thoughts on the subject?

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morning meditations

Early morning and I heard rain was coming. The peonies are in full bloom and already weighed down. They’re going to get damaged by the rain so I’d better cut some and bring them in the house. Off I go, clippers in hands when I see a ladybug sitting on one of the young, unopened peony blooms.

Change of plans. Running to get camera. What a treat!

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I begin to notice the magical activity taking place in the garden early in the morning. The bees are working hard already. Nepeta and the roses seem to be their destination of choice.

 

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The Tradescantia is sparkling.

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The evening primrose shines among the blue Nepeta and the pink peonies and roses.

 

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It all started with the idea of bringing some blooms in the house. It’s now evolving into a walking meditation; a gift and a reminder to tune in and pay close attention. That’s how beauty reveals itself to us.

And, yes, I do bring some peonies in. I arrange them in a vase and make myself a cup of tea. I sit on the porch to enjoy . . . while I still can.

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a time for me

Waking up on the first morning of our vacation, I was greeted by the view of the sunrise over the harbor. Mary Oliver’s words came to mind:

“Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who made the morning and
spread it over the fields . . .Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.”

I sat for meditation as the sun traveled up the horizon, its warmth increasing, coming through the open window. After meditation, Neal and I head to the bakery; a ritual we repeat every time we visit. We wake up early, go to the Old Post Office Bagel Shop, grab a cup of coffee and head to the beach for a long walk.


There are very few people on the beach this early in the morning. Some faces are familiar – having crossed paths with them before – most are friendly; we smile and wish each other a good morning as we walk by. Older people appear to be more inclined to making eye contact and smiling. Sometimes, we cross paths with someone who’s lost in thought, lips tight, looking away, removed. We all bring our stories with us.

Today, we meet a young man from Chicago. His dog decides to adopt us and walks with us, so he too joins us for a while.  He shares that he visits every summer with his family. His wife’s mother has been coming here since 1948.

I wonder how the island looked back in 1948. Change happens slowly here. There is a warm familiarity to this place; it reminds me of a lovingly used old chair; the most comfortable and welcoming one in a home. You can count on it receiving you in a warm, uncomplicated manner, time and again. Every time you sit on it, it feels just right. That’s how I feel when I’m here; like I’ve never left. Over the years and through many life changes, I’ve learned to treasure this feeling.

 

 

Maybe that’s why I come back. There are no expectations or pressure for me to be anything other than who I choose to be in the moment.

There’s no history and no emotional barb wires here. There’s the watery expanse, sunrise and sunset, friendly strangers on the beach, the hours succeeding one another, leisurely. I can be as quiet as I please and observe my mental patterns.

Gone are the days of jam packing my vacation with things to do and places to visit. These days, I’m content watching the world go by, preferably as I listen to the waves and feel the warm sun on my skin.

My sixteen year old daughter will have none of that. She thinks I’m quiet and boring. How can I possibly avoid making plans and wish to enjoy time alone? Why on earth do I wake up at the crack of dawn to go to the beach and why, oh why, don’t I want to be there when the crowds descend? I have tried to answer her questions but I think it’s wiser to stop trying. She’ll have to find her own answers when she’s ready.

These days, it’s quiet time alone I crave the most. As I walk along this quiet stretch of beach, it’s my own inner voice that takes front seat. I want to hear what this woman has to say to me. There isn’t much time for her usually.

My attention is constantly drawn outside of myself. For now, I’m grateful for being a stranger among strangers. No one expects anything from me. I choose to believe that, the smiles my fellow travelers and I exchange this morning, are smiles of recognition and welcoming. We share the same secret.

“Isn’t this divine? Just us and the sea doing her thing. Enjoy!”

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twas the evening before halloween

The snow began falling early afternoon, on the Saturday before Halloween, and by early evening, we had lost electricity. On Sunday morning we woke up to an altered landscape. We took a ride to town in search of hot tea or coffee and as we drove through town we couldn’t believe our eyes. There were trees split in half, spread on snow covered lawns. The roads, side walks, and open spaces were covered with broken branches and fallen trees.

The snow came unexpectedly and hit hard, before the weather had turned cold and the trees had the chance to prepare for winter. The weight of the wet, heavy snow proved too much to bear and the trees fell.

The big crab apple tree in our front yard had bowed all the way to the ground by our front door. The magnolia that the girls and Neal had planted for me, as a Mother’s Day present, was lying broken by the stream in the back yard. The sturdy branch on which the girls’ tire swing has been hanging for the last ten years, broke right above the joint that the rope was tied.

Sometimes change hits hard and all we can do is go with it. It’s been only a little over two months since Irene hit and we find ourselves coping with similar conditions, much colder temperatures and a tougher recovery.

I’m writing this, sitting at our local Starbucks, on Halloween. My daughters are at a friend’s house for the evening, where there’s power, warmth and comfort. My husband and I chose to stay home. I made chicken soup on our grill outside and toasted some bread to have with it. We came to Starbucks to have hot chocolate, charge our phones and computers and to write. There are many people around me that are here for the same reasons. We look at each other and smile with a sense of common understanding. People bond over circumstances like this.

I can’t help but reflect on the process of change and transition. Change happens, sometimes gradually, slowly, over a period of time and other times suddenly, powerfully and undeniably. Sometimes we see it coming and often we initiate it. When it finally arrives, we embark on the journey of transition the best we can.

When change strikes out of the blue though or it catches us unprepared, the impact can be quite dramatic. How well we go through transition depends greatly on our level of preparation and mental attitude.

Whether we like it or not, we wished for it or not, change will test us. It will test our faith, our resolve and our resourcefulness. It will test the beliefs we hold dear and the rules we live by. It will force us to question everything we take for granted. The transition that follows change, is a journey of personal transformation; an initiation process into a different state of being.

As I look at the broken, fallen trees I wonder . . . will they recover? Will they bounce back to their original shape? How will the once familiar landscape of our town look like, come spring? I really don’t know. I have no way of knowing how nature will proceed or how the trees will respond to this transformation. All I can do is wait for nature to take its course.

I’m sad to see the once familiar lying broken. I’m worried about the future, but my responsibility is to focus on what demands my attention in the present moment. Everything slows down when something this drastic happens. We’re forced to pay close attention to details we may have previously taken for granted and be truly mindful.

Change is not meant to break us – although it may feel like it at times. It’s meant to polish our perception and powers of attention. Step by step, it leads us through the dark tunnel of uncertainty and insecurity and all the way to the other side, a side we never thought existed.

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stargazing

On the fourth day, after Irene struck, we got our power back. It was a moment of celebration and relief mixed in with survivor’s guilt. We finally had access to the news and were able to see the images of devastation Irene had inflicted. I couldn’t get them out of my head.

As the surge of excitement subsided, I realized how tired I was. Yet, things had to be taken care of. The refrigerator, for once, needed to be purged and scrubbed. The floors needed to be vacuumed and the laundry sorted. I made a pot of Earl Grey tea and sat on my favorite chair on the deck to enjoy it. A hot cup of tea! Heavenly!

I took a few deep breaths and looked around. The pots of herbs and flowers on the deck had somehow survived Irene’s wrath. They were battered but not destroyed. The hummingbirds were zooming around me, trying to let me know that it was time for them to feed and, somehow, I was in their way.

The rain that fell over the weekend was strong and relentless.  I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed such a rainfall. The winds were strong. Yet, here are these pots of basil, parsley, nasturtiums and salvia. They’re still standing and blooming, maybe not brand new and glorious, but proud survivors.

As I reflected back to the four days without power, I realized how time seemed to move slower than ever. Unplugged from all technology and forced to live in the moment, I was made to pay close attention to everything that I was doing, without taking anything for granted. Using water, eating, trying to maintain a certain order in our environment, reading under a candle, being with my family or sitting quietly . . . nothing was routine anymore.

Every little thing was to be examined, paid attention to and observed carefully. In other words, I had to be mindful on how I moved, utilized my resources and related to other people.

In the early hours of Monday morning I woke up and looked out my bedroom window. 80% of our town had no power and it was really dark outside. I was astonished at the number of stars I could see. Standing there all alone, in the dark, looking up in the middle of the night reminded me of the wonder I used to feel as a child.

One of my daughters was awake too, so I asked her to come outside with me. We wrapped ourselves in blankets and stood in the middle of the yard, stargazing. The expression on her face, the deep breath she took when she looked up . . . that moment was a gift.

The next evening, all four of us drove to an open field and lied down looking at the stars and trying to name the constellations.

There is always work to be done and yes, this is a crazy world we live in, filled with uncertainty and rapid change. Maybe that’s why we need to look up as often as possible, connect to all that’s great and powerful and allow our spirit to be restored.

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