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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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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on driftwood and other finds

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It’s been raining today on the island. I went for my morning walk a little later than usual. The girls had asked us to wake them up so they could go for a run while Neal and I took our walk. Not the best idea, in retrospect. I found myself getting pulled into a long conversation about the day. As expected, the girls are less than excited about the prospect of a rainy day.

I find myself going down a familiar path; trying to make them happy and help them discover the gift of a rainy day; not the easiest task with two sixteen year olds.

I feel my mood changing and I stop on my tracks. It doesn’t have to be this way today. The girls are old enough to be alone and find their way through this morning. This is their big chance to practice that independence they’ve been talking about lately.

Today, I’m making a different choice and decide to go my way.

When I’m on this island, every moment is a precious moment. I put my raincoat on and head for the beach. Not many people here today. The water is rough and soon my shoes and pants are wet. Fine by me. One less thing to worry about. Off with the shoes. I usually walk barefoot anyway.

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I spot a large piece of driftwood taken by the waves from the shore. Of all the finds on a beach, I think I like driftwood the best. As I watch the waves pushing it here and there, I’m reminded of Tolkien’s words . . . “Not all who wander are lost.” This piece of driftwood seems to be left at the whim of the sea and waves yet, one day. it will find its corner of beach to rest, transformed, smooth, whitewashed, and light. People will walk by and look at it with wonder. “How beautiful,” they’ll say. “Look at the intricacies of its bark, it feels so smooth!”

Having being battered by the sea, the piece of driftwood will finally claim its place on a stretch of sand and bear witness to those who come by.

This beach will never look the way it looks today. The transformative power of water and shifting sand won’t allow it. Each moment is unique. That’s its nature.

My footprints are erased as soon as I make them. Each step a new step. I’m walking on the edge, where the waves meet the sand. As the landscape changes, I’m given the choice to walk on higher ground and avoid getting wet. As in life, I can decide when to engage with what comes my way. Sometimes, I don’t have a choice but more often than not, I do. Sometimes, it’s OK to avoid getting wet, if you can.

The rain becomes stronger and I pull my hood over my head. It falls low on my face and I can’t see ahead as well. I focus on what’s right in front of me. One step at a time, waves in and out, rocks and sand, seaweed and a few broken shells. Rocks of all sizes everywhere. I lift my head to look ahead. It all looks so different than yesterday morning; clad in grey mist and falling rain.

On my way back, I take a few moments to sit on a large piece of driftwood and just be. A young couple comes by. They stop to take some pictures and soon they’re on their way. I dry my feet as best I can, shake the sand of my wet shoes and head for the bakery. Time for a hot cup of coffee and a chocolate croissant. I may go visit the library. It looks really inviting today and I love the sign by the entrance.

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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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endings and new beginnings

Last night, we took down our Christmas tree. We tend to leave our tree up as long as we can. There’s something about the glow of twinkling lights that warm up a room and make everything feel cozy and safe.

When we put the tree up, the girls, Neal and I work together. We always do. It’s our family ritual. We put Christmas music on, string the lights and debate on whether to use fairy lights – my personal favorite – or colorful ones – the girls’ and Neal’s favorites. It’s a battle I loose every year. The girls find fairy lights boring.

Once the lights are strung, we begin to unwrap the ornaments. Each comes with a story which is told in many variations every year. It’s amazing how much history and emotion an item can carry.

Finally, once the ornaments are up, we place our favorite angel on top of the tree, and flip the switch. We step back, giddy and proud of our handy work and pause to take it all in. We make hot chocolate and bring out cookies, we sit around our tree and bask in its glow. Let the festivities begin.

When the time comes to bring closure on yet another holiday season, we all drag our feet. We debate as to when the tree should come down and take our sweet time. The tree lights are turned on first thing in the morning. The four of us have breakfast, then off they go and as the daylight takes hold, I flip the switch and go on with my day. In the afternoon, the girls come back from school, they walk into the living room and go straight for the switch.

Yesterday, I noticed that our tree was looking sad. The time had come to let go. I brought the boxes up and started taking down the ornaments. I handled each ornament carefully, dusting it, wrapping it and putting it away. I left the lights for the girls to do. I knew they’d want to be part of this ritual. Plus, I don’t want to hear – one more time – how controlling they think I am:-)

All was quiet in the house and I found myself retracing my steps through time, remembering holidays past, people I haven’t seen in a while, my childhood, the first years of my marriage, my last Christmas in Greece and my first holidays as a newcomer in this country.

The other day, while organizing some photo albums, my daughter looked at some pictures as if for the first time. She then turned to me and said . . . “Wow, you and dad have lived for quite some time. You guys are strange but it’s been quite a life!” Need I say more?

The holiday season – the celebration of lights – has ended, snow has began to fall and it’s really cold. We’ve entered the darkness of winter, transitioning into the next stage. I don’t know how cold this winter is going to be or how much snow will or will not fall. I have no idea what challenges lie ahead or what waits for me at the end of this cold, dark period.

The tree is off to the compost pile, the lights are put away and the ornaments are safely tucked in, until next year. Friends are coming to dinner tonight and I have to get ready. The cat is sleeping – what else is new? I have my fuzzy socks on and a hot cup of coffee next to me. I lit a candle while writing this because I love seeing its glow even in the daylight.

Thank you for being here. Stay warm. ♥

 

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connecting the dots

“You have to be able to be happy in your own company” he says. He appears to be in his seventies and he’s sitting with a younger woman. We’re at the mall where I brought my daughters and a friend of theirs for shopping. I’m not interested in shopping but I don’t want to drive home and back again. I decide to stay, have a cup of coffee, watch the world go by and maybe write.

As I sit down and make myself comfortable I can’t help but listen to his words. Maybe I hear them because they hold meaning for me. I know people who are terrified of being alone. Solitude is a curse for them. “You have to be able to be happy in your own company!” Some people get that, don’t they? To be able to tune out the noise of the world and the distractions that come our way. To embrace silence and become comfortable with solitude. A gift!

Distractions beckon. People have become hypnotized by speed. We have turned into an ADD society. Our attention moves from one thing to another and refuses to linger. Images and messages are coming our way faster and faster. We think and communicate in soundbites. Meanwhile we profess to crave deep, meaningful relationships and connections. Well, it takes longer than a few milliseconds to create deep, meaningful connections and nurture fulfilling relationships.

I’ve grown to like my own company. I welcome solitude. I like to observe human nature, starting with myself. The intricacies of our relationship to self, the way we talk to ourselves, the choice of words, the feelings that follow thoughts. How easy it is to fool ourselves into believing one thing as we do another.

We think and talk in cliches. We revel in other people’s wise words but do not allow the essence of the words to penetrate the surface. We buy into the personality ethic and forget to look for the truth.

My daughter held my face in her hands, this morning, examining it closely. She noticed my lines and then came up with suggestions about “taking some years off.” “This is the 21st century,” she said. “Does it bother you not looking young anymore?” “It doesn’t bother me,” I answered. “I accept it. This is who I am today. I’m not twenty anymore and I like it.” She shook her head. How is that possible?

We are confusing ourselves to no end. We want to freeze time and look young –  forever. We want to speed time when we don’t like something. We want to stretch time because 24 hours in a day are never enough. Yet time is time. It keeps flowing, unconcerned, detached, unaware of our little dramas. We can’t grasp, alter, hasten or slow time. Time is the great equalizer. It just is.

There is one thing we can control and that’s our relationship to time. It’s like any other relationship. The more we try to control, shape, avoid, or manipulate, the more elusive the object of our obsession becomes.

We can choose what to do with the time we have. We can choose to let go of the illusion of control. We can make different choices and we can accept what is. We can stop yelling at the weather and see what we can do with what is given to us. That would be a good first step to nurturing a healthy, mutually supportive relationship, don’t you think?

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of gardens and wood fairies

I grew up watching my grandfather growing roses, tending grapes and fruit trees. In the summer, he would wake me up early in the morning so we could pick figs from the trees in our back yard for breakfast. Around noon, after the day’s chores were done, the children would lie down, under the shade of one of the fig trees, to rest, while our mothers would sit nearby and gossip or knit – seeking respite from the heat. Often, they would tell us stories about wood fairies and how they could steal the mind of the unfortunate mortals sleeping under their favorite trees.

My childhood wasn’t easy but there was magic in the air. It was that magic that sustained me; the deep connection to the land and the myths and vibrations of old.

The days I spent trailing my grandfather, as he tended his garden, have fueled my love for all things blooming. Lately, these memories have been circling my mind; strumming at my heart chords. It’s been a long time and an ocean between the child lying under the grand fig tree, dreaming of wood fairies, and the woman I am today.

My grandfather died when I was fifteen. That’s how old my daughters are now. The fig trees, the grape arbor and the rose garden are long gone. These days, I tend my own garden and although New England isn’t very friendly to fig trees, the magic still holds. The garden takes hold of me; I dream of it in the winter and, come spring, it’s the first place I go to, tea cup in hand. It keeps me connected and grounded; dirty fingernails and all.

I began fancying myself as a gardener in my late twenties. My initial efforts failed miserably. Secretly, I was happy that grandfather wasn’t around witnessing his apprentice making a mess of things. I kept trying and failing and each time I learned something more.

I learned about soil and light and native plants. I learned about timing and letting go. I learned to collaborate. A garden exists in spirit form and manifests through the gardener, in due time. It’s always a work in process and transformation, based on nature’s cycles and rhythm. With each passing season, I’m watching my sense of perfectionism softening its grip. I’ve learned to be happy with my lot. Other people’s gardens can serve as inspiration but, in the end, my garden and I have our own things going and it suits us fine.

Our moods are interconnected. Sometimes I like things simpler than others. As I change and transform, so does my garden. There are certain things that don’t change; my love for fragrant blooms, herbs and roses. I learned what plants invite hummingbirds in my yard. I recognize the sounds they make and I know when to be still and watch them.

The other day, I started doing some fall clean up. I’m still hesitating cutting back the shasta daisies and the peonies. Their dry stalks are reminders of the glory of spring and high summer. I’m not ready to let go . . . just yet. The basil is gone but I brought some parsley and mint inside for the winter.

The garden is preparing for darker, colder days ahead and so am I. Each season comes bearing gifts but I have spring in my mind. Soon, I’ll start dreaming again.

 

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what does chocolate have to do with it?

Here I am at Marty’s in Washington Depot, a cup of hot coffee and a morning glory muffin next to me. It’s raining pretty heavily, puddles of water already forming on the sidewalk. There’s the steady hum of the fans above, the chatter of a handful of people ordering coffee and joking with the owner, light jazz coming through the speakers.

On my way here, I drove by the post office to mail a letter and decided to circle back by the Middle School, on my way to Washington. The school is in session and the streets were quiet. I drove by slowly, looking at the school when, suddenly, it hit me.

My daughters are in High School now. Gone are the days when I used to drive by the Middle School, thinking of them, wondering what class they were in and sending them smiles. OR, when I’d walk in the building for committee meetings or to help with this and that. I used to see them in the corridors, on their way to class and they’d smile or stop to say hello but . . . no PDA . . . please! There was a host of middle schoolers watching, after all:-)

As all this went through my mind at the speed of lighting, I felt tears coming up. It was the first time, I let the tears come, since the girls started High School.

August was a whirlwind. We survived Irene and the four-day power shortage, went away for a four-day vacation and came back to . . . more rain! The floods that ensued caused the first school closing of the season All that while trying to adjust to a new schedule, a whole new set of demands and expectations, preparing for a workshop I was giving and trying to orchestrate home repairs and renovations. No wonder! There has been no time to stop and reflect.

This is how I tend to be and I suspect that’s how it is for many of you;  at the moment of a crisis or transition, I tend to brace and dive in. I do what I have to do, putting one foot in front of the other and making sure everyone is taken care of. Then, eventually, the “storm” passes, the initial impact is softened and the craziness becomes a distant memory. I find myself alone and quiet, settled into the new rhythm and ready to be with myself.

It’s at that point that whatever emotions were kept at bay, so I could function, often come to the surface; demanding to be dealt with. So, today, I finally felt the impact of having my daughters, my babies no-more, entering a new phase. I often joke that with twins, there is no dress rehearsal. No previous experience to fall back to.

Our relationship is strong and loving, yet things have also changed. For, as much as they love and respect me, they’re establishing boundaries and flexing their muscles. As a constant presence in their life, I’m here to rebel against and run to, often, at the same time. Confusing, to say the least . . . for all of us.

I have to constantly try and recall what it meant to be fifteen . . . while reminding myself that they’re not me! Their temperaments and individual traits may remind me of myself or my husband but they’re not us. They’re unique individuals.

So, here I am today, my coffee cup empty and my muffin indulged:-) I’ll have  brownies for them when I get home. They’ll be really happy after a long day at school and field hockey practice. They’ll give me a big smile and a hug before they grab the bag from my hands. For a brief moment they’ll regress back to being two kids with chocolate all over their mouths and a huge grin of utter satisfaction.

Don’t you love chocolate?

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being at home

“The beach is truly home, its broad expanse of sand as welcoming as a mother’s open arms. This landscape, which extends as far as the eye can see, always reminds me of possibility. It is here I can listen to my inner voice, shed inhibitions, move to the rhythms of the waves, and ask the universe unanswerable questions.” ~ Joan Anderson from “A Walk on the Beach”

Having been born in a small country that’s surrounded by water, I spent much of my time, as a child and young adult, by the sea. I deeply appreciate Joan Anderson’s words.

The beach is truly home for me, especially in the early morning or early evening hours; when the tide is coming in or going out and the light is gentle. The crowds have retreated or not arrived yet, and only a few people are around, breathing in and out with the waves and enjoying the peace. My soul mates – of sort.

I recently returned from a four day stay in Block Island, RI. This time we stayed at a B&B near the center of town so we didn’t take our car with us. Block Island is small and walker / biker friendly. Having to walk everywhere, made me see things, I wouldn’t have observed otherwise, and gain a deeper sense of the place.

Our walks to town / beach and back became walking meditation. All I had to do was put one foot in front of the other, breathe and let my senses open up to the environment. The salty air, the cool breeze, the sound of the wind through the tall grass on the edge of the salt water pond, the smell of beach roses, the seagulls calling, bikers, walkers, children and a feeling of peace, of letting go and letting be.

The bed was near the window overlooking the fields. The cool, salty breeze would come through the window all night. I found myself waking up at 6 am to bird song and the morning light changing the view in front of my eyes. All I wanted was to get up and go. Neal and I would get up, put warm clothes on and off to the beach we went.

The tide was still low, the sand wet and cool. The sandpipers were hard at work already, chasing the waves, going back and forth with the rhythm of the tide, digging in the wet sand for their breakfast. They went in groups and moved in perfect harmony.

There were only a handful of people walking. Some would smile and say hello, others not. I got the feeling that we were all there to experience this moment, in our own way and let each other be. How refreshing.

Soon after the first day, I felt time stretching and slowing down. Waking up early and starting with my day, walking everywhere and being open to all details, made every moment more vivid, lively and important. My spirit was being restored and my energy and inspiration recharged.

One windy afternoon, we went kayaking on the saltwater pond. On our way out, we had to paddle against the wind. We were the only ones there. All was quiet and peaceful. Paddling against the wind required more effort but as we turned, the wind was at our back, bringing us ashore, gently.

Everything in life seems to be part of a cycle. In and out, back and forth, up and down, darkness and light. Sometimes we paddle against the wind, doing the best we can, resting here and there or struggling to stay afloat.

Eventually we arrive at our destination, turn our backs to the wind, and it’s smooth sailing from that point on. We’re brought back to shore, safe, and filled with a sense of achievement and exhilaration, our stamina restored. We learned something more about ourselves during the journey and pretty soon we’re ready to go at it again.

It’s all based on rhythm, our breath in and out, the tides, day and night, and the seasons. A garden sprouts and blooms, then withers and dies. It goes underground only to return glorious and more beautiful than ever in the spring. The cycle of birth, death and rebirth. Then, there’s the space in between, where we can rest and recharge. I guess, that’s what these four days were for me. The space in between!

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