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 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?

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 and I deeply 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 and they are 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. Some of you can resonate with this, I’m sure.

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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

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. ♥

 

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

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!

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.

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

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?