winter meditation

winter meditation

As we started walking, in silence, gentle rain falling, soft ice crunching underneath our feet, my eyes rested on the lake across the path. The surface was like glass, fog hovering and mixing with everything, adding a sense of mystery to the landscape, the bare trees reflecting on the surface of the water, their reflection still and silent mixed with mist and grey.

We continued walking along the lake shore and slowly we ascended towards a meadow where birds houses stood on poles. The ground was muddy and icy at places. Grateful for my new winter boots, I did not try to avoid the muddy puddles or the icy patches. I felt like a child, sloshing through the mud, care free and adventurous.

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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.

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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 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, 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?

waiting to be inspired

It’s been four years, ten months, and six days since my last entry. I could ask, ‘Where did time go?” but there’s no need to. I know exactly where time went and what happened. I can still feel the effects of the events that transpired during this time.

There were profound losses; first my father, mother and twin sister, then my mentor and, most recently, my childhood friend.

There were milestones; the girls leaving for college and Neal deciding when to retire. I found myself unable to do anything other than chop wood, carry water … good old Van the man has nothing on me. I suspended my coaching practice and got a part-time job. I needed a break. Badly.

The girls have officially entered their senior year in college. They’re pretty much in control of their lives. Neal is two years away from retirement and I catch myself thinking and dreaming about all sorts of things.

I’m reflecting on the ways these last five years have altered me. There are days when I’m not sure of who I am.  Often, I have this certainty that I’m on my way to becoming the person I couldn’t even dream of being  ten, twenty, thirty years ago.

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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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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 precious. 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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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. Read more

same lesson . . . time and again

Twelve years ago, when I was trying to decide which direction to take my coaching practice in, the message that kept coming to me was . . . “Keep it simple!”

Over the years and through many trials, when I’d find myself plagued with doubt, I’d remember and set myself straight.

When in doubt, keep it simple!

About two weeks ago, I facilitated a retreat for nine women at my home. It was lovely and profound. As I was preparing for the retreat, I decided to create small card bookmarks with words and phrases printed on them. The retreat participants picked randomly and used the messages they received for contemplation. Everyone seemed to receive the perfect message.

At the end of the day and as I was cleaning up, I noticed there were two bookmarks left on a table. Since I hadn’t picked a message for me, I took them and placed them on my altar, in the kitchen.

They were . . . “Keep it simple!” and “There are no wrong turns!” I took a deep breath as I was confronted with the synchronicity and the realization that even though I facilitated the retreat, I was a participant too and there was a lesson for me to contemplate.

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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; being able to tune out the noise of the world and the distractions that come their way.

Distractions beckon. People have become hypnotized by speed. We have turned into an ADD society. Our attention moves from one thing to the next 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.

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?

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 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 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 loudly 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 next to this total stranger who was 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 an unpleasant experience and why?
  • What would happen if I stuck with it?
  • 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!