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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rising waters


The gates are now open.
But how? When? You ask,
who wants to know?
Who is doing the asking?
The heart wants to feel
the rising of the waters,
rushing through the gates,
sparing nothing.

Where are the waters taking me
I don’t know.
The swelling of something
long awaited for –
a deep longing.
It has no name or shape,
this wave of anticipation.

Do not let the flood waters
scare you into hiding.
Do not think.
Breathe!
Through the rising waters,
this wave of your so-called life
gaining strength;
gearing up.

Breathe!

Copyright ⓒ 2011 Yota Schneider – the art of pausing / Photo by Yota Schneider

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along came a stranger

This time my “teacher” happened to be a middle aged woman in a dark suit and the loudest gum chewing style I’ve ever encountered.

You’re probably already thinking: “What is she talking about?”

Have you noticed how we come across certain people, in the course of a day or a lifetime, who seem to enter the stage for the mere reason of pointing out something we need to pay attention to? It’s not meant to be a pleasant interaction and often, neither we nor that person may be aware of what exactly happened, at that precise moment. It’s not until later, if and when we’ve had the chance to contemplate and reflect upon what happened, that we may have an aha moment.

Well, that’s the kind of experience I’ve had the other day, when I decided to go shopping for tea and honey.

She and I entered the store together and soon after that we met at the tea and coffee aisle. I was looking at the various teas, trying to decide, when the crackling sound gum makes when somebody chews with their mouth open, made me turn. It was like nails on the blackboard. My whole body contracted at the sound. Did I mention that chewing gum this way, in public, is a pet peeve of mine? I guess gum chewing etiquette was drilled into me early on and it’s here to stay.

Here I was, standing there with this total stranger next to me chewing gum and my “back went up.” How is it possible to have this strong  a reaction about something so trivial? My mood had changed within seconds.

I picked up a couple of teas and left as quickly as I could. I walked around the store picking a few other things. And then, the whole thing got really interesting. Everywhere I went, this woman followed me – chewing away! I just couldn’t escape her!

I headed to the register, paid for the few things I had, and left the store. As I drove back home, I reflected upon this random experience that caused such intense reaction on my part.

  • What had just happened?
  • Where did this strong reaction come from?
  • Do I really think I’m above annoyance over the little things?
  • How often does my mood get affected by trivial stuff? Is it worth it?
  • How often do I run away from that which annoys me? What would happen if I stuck with it?
  • How often do I run away from an unpleasant experience and why?
  • Who decides whether I stay or go? Is it reason, emotion or both?

Some of the questions are easier to answer and others will evolve over time. The truth is . . . I’m not above annoyance over trivial stuff. Yes, I try to be mindful and I’ve been practicing for a long time. This allows me to be present to what happened but it doesn’t mean I got it all figured out. On the contrary! I’m becoming more and more aware of the fact that my work never ends. It just becomes more interesting!

What is your experience and what are you learning about yourself?

Blessings!

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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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always i

Who is this person,
timid and fearful,
at your mercy,
self-correcting, no matter the cost.
Living in doubt
questioning, searching,
unsure and silent?
It is I!

Who is this person,,
strong willed and sharp witted
quick thinking,
two steps ahead,
solid and unforgiving,
black and white
and never grey?
It is I!

Who is this person,
soft and loving,
feeling deeply,
knowing,
sensing the depths of another,
speaking words of wisdom,
walking the circle,
seeking, searching,
hearing the spirits’ call,
walking,
tracing the path
that many took before her,
walking, feeling, seeing, hearing,
sensing the call?
It is I!

It is always I!
Dancing on soft ground,
playing,
laughing, crying,
warm and cold,
soft and harsh,
sweet and bitter,
loving and withholding.

It is I!
Always I!

Copyright ⓒ 2011 Yota Schneider – the art of pausing / Photo Arbre Réflexologie © Stef in BA – Fotolia.com

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the yellow raincoat

The girls were sitting on the bench, waiting for their turn to join their team on the field. It was a rainy, chilly afternoon. “There is my mom,” one of them said. “Where?” the other asked. “Do you see this woman in the yellow raincoat? My mom is right next to her!” the first one answered. The girl looked to that direction and put her face in her hands “Oh, no,” she whispered. “What’s up?” the first one asked. “That’s my mom in the yellow raincoat. I don’t know what’s gotten into her with this neon yellow raincoat.”

During breakfast, my daughter shared this conversation with me. The woman in the yellow raincoat was, as many of you may have guessed . . . me! My daughter doesn’t approve of my yellow raincoat. This is not the first time she’s made a comment about it either.

I turned to her, smiling, and said “I love this raincoat! Anyway, you can always see me when I’m there, watching you playing. You can’t miss me!” She made a vague gesture and dismissed me.  Got to go!

I was left wondering. How did I transition from the adored mother this kid couldn’t get enough of, to this crazy old woman in a yellow raincoat who should mind her place? When I ask her this question, she pretty much gives me this answer: “Mom, you know how much I love you but I’m fifteen, can’t you see? I can’t help it!”

I know she can’t, but I’m not giving my yellow raincoat up. You see, I can’t help it either. I think it’s important that we both give each other space to be who we are. At this point of my life, I know who I am and I understand that she’s still exploring who she wants to be.

Being fifteen is all about fitting in and conforming to some kind of social maze. On the other hand, being fifty is about taking the journey back to the origin of self. It’s about shedding the layers of identity piled on over the years, and setting our wild selves free.

Exchanges like this one, make me reflect back and contemplate how easy it is to loose ourselves in our effort to please others and feel accepted and endorsed by them. I want to be loved, respected and admired by my daughter but I don’t want to be someone other than who I am. It’s been a long journey to claiming self-hood. There’s no going back.

I learned early in life, that friendship and love, are often used by people to extract a heavy price. How many times, especially women, morph to fit who they are with, be it family, friend or lover? Is this what love and friendship are supposed to be? Certainly not.

I was born to parents who expected perfection, albeit their version of it, and demanded obedience. They were strict and unyielding. I worked hard to satisfy and please people who weren’t meant to be satisfied.

I became really good at reading people’s moods and adapting accordingly. I became self-reliant at an early age. What I couldn’t get at home, I looked for in books, nature, and the wise mentors that seemed to always be there for me. I was blessed in that way. Life kept ushering me forward and I learned, at times the hard way, the importance of self-awareness and self-acceptance.

It’s true, when people say that our children become our teachers. We, as parents, are here to love, protect, and guide and they’re here to help us take the journey back and untie the knots that keep us bound. And, that’s what love is, isn’t it?

What are your learning about yourself these days?

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with me always

Being here
looking back
the distance traveled.
You moved me forward
often dragging my feet through mud
up, up the mountain side
sun beating down
other times walking, running
moving along
cool grass under my feet
a pleasant breeze on my face
The weather didn’t matter
my mood, my resistance, my blindness
nothing mattered.
You moved me forward
installing clarity where there was none
transmitting inspiration on arid soil
polishing my understanding
enriching my experience.
Step by step
there is a lesson in all
we meet on the path.
Chance? You smile.
This is a gift, fear not.
Open it!
I know the way
I’m here, now and always
you can’t see me and you get tired
you cry and despair often
your thoughts and emotions
cloud your recognition.
Fear not! I know the way
I’m with you
always present
always moving you forward
through rain and fair weather
With you always!Copyright ⓒ 2011 Yota Schneider – the art of pausing / Photo credit Yota Schneider

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this day

I’m grateful for sitting practice. Breathing the sound of the bell, in and out, following it deeper and deeper. I found myself expanding, becoming one with the sound. For a moment, there were no boundaries, only the sound . . . expanding, vibrating through space, and I with it.

I’m grateful for the morning fog that gave way to sunny skies, for my daughter’s loving words, the smile on my client’s face, hot tea and toast, birthday celebrations, good friends, nourishing food and the beauty that surrounds me.

 

I’m grateful for the rose bush in my yard that’s gone on a blooming spree. “I’m still here, look at me, touch my blooms, enjoy the fragrance and remember . . . I’ll be back.” The viburnum is filled with red pods, eagerly providing for the birds before the darkness and cold of winter. The wisdom of nature; nothing ever goes to waste and for everything there’s a purpose.

As I walked toward my car, I looked down and saw that the garden had been busy trying new things. A sculpture of moss, twig, a fallen bloom and wayward leaves. Left undisturbed for days, they made this stone their canvas. Nature being playful and oh-so creative! I’m reminded of how, we too, when given space, we can create all kinds of beauty out of the raw material of our lives.

Earlier in the morning, these words found me . . . “Nothing is worth more than this day” by Goethe. No wonder . . .

In gratitude!

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what’s cooking?

Did I ever mention that cooking is something I truly enjoy? Believe it or not, it’s one of the activities that keep me grounded and give me a great sense of satisfaction. The only exception is, when I entertain.

I’m still working on letting go, accepting what is and surrendering to the process when I take care of other people. I have this unhealthy habit of taking too much responsibility for other people’s experience. Call it control, a constant effort to look good, a heightened sense of perfectionism, or all of the above. Whatever it is, I’ve been watching it for years and I’m happy to report . . . there is progress in the making.

I didn’t use to enjoy cooking. Either way, I was pretty terrible at it. Once I started experimenting though, I discovered that one of the reasons I didn’t enjoy cooking was because I’m not that great at following recipes.

I’ve played by other people’s rules all my life. Do I really need to do the same while cooking? That’s what happens when you try to be “good” most of your young life. You reach adulthood and, one day, you realize that today is, as good a day as any, to rebel.

It didn’t help that my mother, who was a great cook, often took a critical stance at my first attempts in cooking. I figured, if she doesn’t like what I make, then, I don’t have to cook. And, I didn’t – which, of course, brought about a whole other wave of criticism. Oh, well. Being the old fashioned Greek lady that my mother was, she must have had nightmares of her daughter ending up a spinster. Who would ever marry anyone who was a lousy cook?

And so it went, until I got married to a guy who loved to cook and eat. Not only that, but he was vegetarian. What do you mean vegetarian? I never loved to eat red meat but, no self-respected Greek of my time was a vegetarian or had ever heard what a vegetarian is. And, here I am, marrying one. That ought to be fun . . . and so it’s been fun for the past 27 years.

For those of you who have seen “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” let me tell you. When we went to see it, we almost got kicked out of the theatre, that’s how loud we were. We laughed to no end. It was deja vu! The memory of my mother’s reaction, to learning that her son-in-law was a vegetarian, was classic.

Today, 27 years and approximately 19,000 meals later, I can honestly say that cooking has become an activity I enjoy. I’ve even found cookbooks I love using as inspiration. I follow recipes, now and then, although there are very few recipes I don’t alter. I love that I can be creative, experiment and have something yummy and nutritious to share in the end.

For me, keeping it simple and authentic is the way to go. Who needs too much intervention when all this fresh stuff is here for our enjoyment? I love fresh herbs and vegetables; the more flavor and fragrance, the better.
I’ve also decided that, cooking, more than baking, suits my style. If I’m going to have dessert, it better be divine and that’s what, the French Bakery in our town, is for.

I’ve found that being myself is all I can do these days and the people around me agree. I think I’ve found my tribe . . . but more on the subject of “tribes” later.

Stay tuned. . .

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