Doing Nothing Isn’t Easy


Meditation never came easy for me. Sitting cross-legged, back straight, hands on my knees, eyes closed, saying ‘ahm’ repeatedly feels awkward. On the other hand, I began practicing yoga – on and off – when living in Alaska six years ago. Walking or snowshoeing when 50 below isn’t fun especially with CFS/ME and fibromyalgia. Yoga dvds work for my life style.

A wandering mind always proved frustrating when I tried meditating in the past.  Instead of calming, I grew impatient sitting there.  My mind runs six thousand thoughts a minute when trying to sleep, read, or any other idle moments.  I couldn’t push aside thoughts while meditating.

In addition to yoga, I use deep breathing in hopes of lowing blood pressure before the nurse wraps the sleeve around my arm, reduce some anxiety before participating in unpleasant situations, and occasionally even in hopes of falling asleep.  The last exercise rarely works.

What I did not know is that the beginning and end of many routines I practice in yoga include several minutes of lying or sitting still and focusing on the breath actually is meditation in its simplest form. Reading Kabat-Zinn’s book, Wherever You Go, There You Are, I learned  lying on my back with eyes closed and bringing attention to breathing is meditation.  Also, a wandering mind is totally normal and a-okay!  I either read or heard in a podcast on meditation that thinking of thoughts is a wave that flows in and out during the process of meditation.

If a critical piece of mindfulness is daily meditation, I need practice and patience or my journey ends before getting started.

I try remembering daily that I need a few minutes but have yet to make it routine. Usually, it seems that I forget until I’m lying in bed wishing I could sleep.  Sometimes, I close my door at work and try while sitting at my desk or after I feed the dogs and before making dinner.  I glance at the clock before closing my eyes and breathe.  Inevitably, thoughts take over.  I continue breathing and remember thoughts are simply ‘a wave’.  But they feel more like a rip tide pulling me away from my intent and the next thing I know, my eyes are open and two or on a good day, five minutes have passed.

Today, while hubby was napping, laundry was washing, and dinner was progressing I lay down on my bed.  The thoughts continued to roll ashore as I inhaled then I tried letting go with each exhale.  Inhale, and a new thought drifted in, exhale and I let it go.  When opening my eyes, 25 minutes had passed!

I felt calm and ready to get back to house duties.  I start a new job in a couple of weeks and start about an hour later.  Meditation could be a mindful way to start my day.

My Journey Towards Mindfulness


Listening to my dogs and husband’s breathing while they slept the other night reminded me that taking slow deep breaths relaxes me and eases anxiety. Stress and letting go are constant battles in my brain.  The former can aggravate chronic and mental illness and pain.  I practice yoga and other exercises that are gentle on my body  (though, admittedly, not lately) and learned some time ago the value of deep breathing.  Not the most disciplined person, I find myself needing more – a tangible, realistic way of letting go of circumstances that are toxic to my brain.

Jon Kabat-Zinn

Watching Anderson Cooper on a 60 Minutes report on mindfulness, my curiosity piqued when Cooper said research of the practice showed positive results for sufferers of chronic illness.   Jon Kabat-Zinn founded the Stress Reduction and Relaxing Program (later renamed the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1979.  While he studied Buddhism, Kabat-Zinn prefers taking a scientific approach to mindfulness and apparently, it works.  American Mindfulness Research was created in 2013 to support empirical and conceptual data as well as develop best practices.

According to the website: www.mindful.org: “Mindfulness is the innate ability we have to be present, composed, and to pause before we overreact to the challenges of our busy lives.”

I’m intrigued that practicing mindfulness can improve physical, as well as, mental health.  The practice may also improve eating habits and insomnia.  Through research and practice, I hope I can better manage stressful situations – especially those that I cannot change – and improve my health.  Never before disciplined with daily meditation, I recently started listening to a podcast offering free mindful meditations (Mindful Meditations) before sleep.  I think I’m ready to take the next step and practice mindfulness in my daily life.

In addition to the websites mentioned above, I’m reading two books by Jon Kabat-Zinn:

Mindfulness for Beginners 
Wherever You Go, There You Are  

I welcome comments from readers who practice mindfulness and anyone who wants to join me on my journey.

A Season of Joy


My family is Jewish and when I was young, we played with the dreidel , received small gifts each of the eight nights as well as Chanukah gelt (Yiddish term for money) in the form of gold foiled chocolates.  We also lit the candles on the menorah  each night. as a remembrance of the rededication of the Holy Temple when the Maccabean Jews reclaimed the Temple in Jerusalem in a revolt against the  Syrian-Greeks in the second century b.c  The miracle of the Jewish holiday, Chanukah, was that only one oil lamp with enough oil for one day was found when cleaning the Temple. The lamp stayed lit for 8 days and we honor this miracle each year by lighting the menorah at 8 days at sunset with the number of candles reminding us of the 8 day miracle.

As a child, my family lived in a community where the majority of friends and neighbors were Christian, we also hung a sock on the mantel so Chanukah Charlie would visit us on Christmas eve.  No tree, though – that was too much.  As an adult, I never felt terribly connected to the holidays – though the vacation days were always a welcome gift.

Now, I need a balance of time during the interlude of holiday break.  Most years, we celebrate Thanksgiving with my family and Christmas with my husband’s family.  Circumstances and low energy kept us from spending the long turkey weekend with my family this year.  But it was wonderful having just my husband and I together with our own family dinner.

We'll be sitting on the porch this week watching the grass grow - if the sun comes out.
We’ll be sitting on the porch this week watching the grass grow – if the sun comes out.

This weekend I planned to join my husband and travel to his mom’s where the family of all ages will celebrate. For reasons that I won’t  mentioned, I am now staying home and enjoying my dogs and my house.  My mom and brother are flying in next week so I will finally spend some quality time with them.

Hooch waits for that cricket to jump
Hooch waits for that cricket to jump

I was single until 50 and always enjoyed my solitude.  This weekend, I am going to make the very best of ‘me’ time.  I’m going to stay up late, sleep in, cook, and piddle around the house. The anger that festered the last couple of days subsided and I’m mindful of how blessed I am to have loved ones supporting and respecting my needs.

Maybe I’ll have a miracle of my own and find my menorah that seems to have disappeared after one too many moves.

There will be lots of this at our house this weekend!
There will be lots of this at our house this weekend!

Regardless of faith, interest, and circumstances – whether surrounded by loved ones or relaxing alone – appreciate yourself, take time to reflect on all the wonders of life.

One Year Later


My life changed dramatically in the past year. I began working full-time, my husband and I bought a house on 5 acres, and I needed to find a new health team. I put my blog on the back burner because it was an obligation that I could not add to my busy plate. But I’ve missed the process of writing and sharing. It is a project that gives me purpose. While sometimes a painful and challenging process, clicking submit always satisfies.

I am not sure where my writings will lead this time around. Reading past postings, I realized that there was too much about my health challenges. How boring is that?! My original intention was writing as a motivator, educator and counselor but it sounded more like a whiner. I do not feel pity for myself so why would I write like I was seeking consolation from others?

This time around, perhaps Erato, the poetry muse, will bless me with inspiration more often. Perhaps my camera lens will document some of the remarkable landscape, creatures, and loved ones that surround my life. All I know for certain is that I want to nudge my creative self.

I continue to manage life with chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyletis (we have to find a new name for this disease!) and fibromyalgia. Postings will continue to be influenced by my chronic illness, as it is a component of my life. But now I plan on sharing experiences from my exploration of ways that enhance my life – increasing joy and giving purpose in life.

I hope you join me on my new adventures.

Be Inspired – Nelson Mandela


Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” — Nelson Mandela

I watched with detached interest as Mandela walked from prisoner to prime minister of S. Africa in 1990.  One might think that growing up with parents active in the 1960’s civil right movement, that I would be captivated by the events but S. Africa was far away and I was busy with my graduate studies in social work.

An amazing story of Mandela's life.  One of the better written autobiographies.
An amazing story of Mandela’s life. One of the better written autobiographies.

It was several years later when I read Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, that I became enamored by the man whose broad beautiful and joyful smile belied a challenging life and brilliant mind.  I counsel and write about overcoming obstacles and how challenges are vehicles that strength us and teach us.    Nelson Mandela was one of those rare people who lived with grace, forgiveness, inner strength, and an incredible understanding of the human nature.  He also struck me as a leader and hero who accepted his role ending apartheid but never let his ego get the better of him.  Maybe this was partly due to the tragedies he endured throughout his long life.  He just seemed so darn approachable and the interactions with people seen on television seemed more than just for the sake of a 10 second news byte.

I believe we can all learn from Mandela.  He was a lawyer, civil rights activist, prisoner, world leader, peacemaker, and AIDS activist.  He was a husband, father, and grandfather.

He did not wallow in self-pity nor did he try to capitalize on his suffering. Rather than looking back, he looked forward in his work in overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles with quiet charm and an engaging smile.

Nelson Mandela was an imperfect human with faults.  His wife said he had a temper and when he was angry – look out.  His daughter honestly shares her frustration and sorrow growing up without a father and while she visited him while in prison, she was sad that he was not home with her and frustrated that she could never be touched by her father on these visits and when released from prison, she still rarely saw her father as he led South Africa through the new anti-apartheid rule.  I think this is what I admire most about the man.

Mandela understood that bringing people together through sports would lead to post-apartheid peace
Mandela understood that bringing people together through sports would lead to post-apartheid peace

“Man’s goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished.” — Nelson Mandela

I challenge myself and all readers to consider how we can live a bit more like Mandela in the coming year.  Instead of allowing obstacles overcome us, let’s overcome obstacles with patience and creativity.  Instead of blaming others, let’s find the good in others and forgive.  And perhaps most importantly, let’s smile through it all.

Be Inspired by Mandela

Find Joy in the Little Things


If you don’t know it by now, I’m a dog lover, most specifically, a lab lover.   While they play a big role in keeping me moving despite suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and fibromyalgia, their silly playful antics are reminders to have fun and not take life’s challenges too seriously.

It doesn't get much better than tug of stick in a muddy puddle!
It doesn’t get much better than tug of stick in a muddy puddle!

I don’t think there is a soul in Texas complaining about the recent rains we’ve enjoyed but the change in pressure and humidity can wreak havoc on those of us managing chronic pain and illness.  I walk my labs in our pasture daily and the milder weather

Where'd it go?
Where’d it go?

brings out the puppy in our puppies.  Seeing all three of them running through standing water, crouching into play mode then chasing, wrestling, and splashing each other is hysterical.  Running down the dirt path, brown droplets falling from their bellies remind me that those muddy paws and drenched coats will be inside our house momentarily.  But seeing them panting happily, running up to me when I call and gleefully shaking the water off them and on to me is priceless.

Tag your it!!
Tag your it!!

They are a reminder that having fun is what life is all about and worrying about a little wet dirty water and mud in the house is not a tragedy.

 

Yeah, life is good.

 

Come on, dad, throw it throw it throw it!
Come on, dad, throw it throw it throw it!

Frankly, Scarlett, You’re Remarkable


I finished reading Gone With the Wind recently.   While I’ve seen the film several times and never tire of Clark Gable’s suave Rhett Butler or Vivien Leigh’s seemingly flighty yet head strong Scarlett, I never took the time to read the tome.  Perhaps the size of the book was so daunting that I never thought I’d get through it.   Living in the south now as well as my kindle made it less intimidating and I confess that I was sorry the story ended.

Not surprisingly, the movie depicts a very small part of Margaret Mitchell’s saga despite its length.  Elements including Scarlett’s other children and that the role the Ku Klux Klan played on her second husband’s death are just two examples that the movie dropped.  What struck me most, however, was Scarlett’s development from shallow, detestable teen to reluctant savior of her family and Tara and, I dare to say, a feminist.

gone-with-the-wind-fullScarlett is one of the most interesting and transformed characters in literature.  Born a southern belle with nothing to worry about but beaus and her Ashley, Scarlett soon departs from her tranquil plantation life to Atlanta where the war soon intrudes on her pleasant life.  In short order, Scarlett’s world falls apart and she begrudgingly becomes a midwife, caretaker, and very successful business woman.

Scarlett’s survivor instinct and carefully calculated  actions are admirable and perhaps give a hint about how it was the women’s ingenuity that rebuilt the fallen south after the civil war.  Scarlett survives the most difficult unforeseen obstacles yet rarely finds a problem impossible to solve.   The only time Scarlett said, “I can’t” was when forced  to play midwife for Ashley’s wife, Melanie.  Marriage, murder, buying saw mills, were all motivated by the red dirt of Tara, her family plantation. Facing one tragedy after another, Scarlett planned (some may say calculated) whatever action necessary to accomplish her goal:  the saving and rebuilding of Tara.  The downsides of a plan did not concern Scarlett.  “I won’t think of that now.  I’ll think of it later,” was how she dealt with the inevitable fallout from some of her actions.  Some viewed her as nothing more than a gold digger by marrying for money but Scarlett was more complex and intelligent than that.  Yes, Scarlett’s character is selfish and devious but she was not completely without compassion.  She was a farmer willing to get her hands dirty, a business woman and the owner of saw mills. Her need for Tara’s success was more important than weak human emotions.  And her refusal to feel hunger again drove her as it drove so many others who survived poverty and tragedy.

Despite war and famine, Scarlett knows that tomorrow is another day.
Despite war and famine, Scarlett knows that tomorrow is another day.

Change is hard but events happen beyond our control.  War, economics, loss of a loved one some times force us to alter our lives and we must adjust accordingly.  It’s risky. It’s unknown. It’s just plain

scarlett and rhettscary.   But when tough times hit, what is the alternative but to survive?   I don’t recommend following Scarlett’s path of insensitivity, cruelty, and deception.  Though by the end of the story, we learn that Scarlett’s eyes are finally open and, too late, realizes that Ashley was a weak man,  Melanie had an inner strength and fortitude comparable to her own, and admitted that Rhett Butler was the only man for her.

Was Scarlett able to win Rhett back? It seems unlikely considering her atrocious behavior and his famous departing line, “I don’t give a damn.”  But then again, Scarlett succeeded in every goal she set her mind to and I want to believe in happily ever after.

“After all, tomorrow is another day.”

Well said, Scarlett.