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.

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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.

The River


I see life as a river, born of the earth, merely a small trickling brook. As it leaves its point of origin, the stream quickly grows and expands

A babbling brook meets gravity
A babbling brook meets gravity
Drops of water can quickly grow into a river
Drops of water can quickly grow into a river

into a river. Throughout its life, forces, such as geography and climate, aid the river’s development.  It flows and grows, full of endless possibilities.  The water’s boundaries expand and branch off, exploring other options.  Occasionally, obstacles appear, hindering  movement. But a river must keep moving towards its destination so it flows over and around rocks, dislodging logs, pushing difficulties aside.  At times, drought may zap its strength and hurricanes may overwhelm.  But a river persists.

Winding through life, tributaries meet the river and it builds strength and quickens, sometimes losing control.  It churns and swells, frustrated, angry with the overwhelming obstacles.   But it has only one direction to move, forward, and obliterates any impediments.  It weaves around boulders, pushes aside hindrances. Thankfully, the tantrum never last long.  Eventually the river returns to normalcy, again ebbing and flowing through life. There is nothing a river cannot overcome.

Picture 011

Throughout our life, we grow, push boundaries, face and overcome challenges.  We make goals, develop plans of action, and, like a river, move forward. Even when we feel overwhelmed and seemingly insurmountable obstacles block our path, we somehow push through.  Our goals are achieved, perhaps not as anticipated, but better, more satisfying.  And that gives us the confidence to keep moving forward with new goals, new dreams.         
The river in San Antonio appears calm and at peace.
The river in San Antonio appears calm and at peace.

The Well


Life’s challenges keep trying to knock me down these days.  I think that I’ve finally hit rock bottom and can start climbing up and out of the well of despair. Crawling and scratching, I try maintaining a positive attitude.  I try to remember “This too shall pass, good things will come around again” and “I know some day I will appreciate and learn from these challenges.”  But I lose grip and slip deeper into the cold dark chasm.water well

.  After a morning in bed, I can no longer stand it.  Years of practice forcing myself out of bed despite the pains, nausea, and other chronic symptoms keep me from wallowing and asking, “Why me?”  My dear mother offers suggestions and wants to make it all better.  But I know I need to find my own way.

The Guard Dogs of Despair
The Guard Dogs of Despair

Devoted black labs stand guard nearby and play a role in my recovery.  They carefully  lick the salty tears that overflow from my eyes and, Luna especially, keep a wary brown eye until they are confident that I’m okay.  Even my dear husband gets me moving again.  I can’t bear his attempts to jump-start my motivation with suggestions of taking the dogs for a swim or going for a drive.   My morose refusals start to gnaw at my conscience, “He’s worried and wants his wife back.”

Thank heavens for the support system, the unconditional love and concern.

So, once again, I look up from the bottom of the well and a shaft of light beckons.  Step by step, one hand over the other, I begin climbing the wall of the cold, damp well.  My nails may break, my fingers may bloody and I may get knocked down again.  But one day, I’ll climb out, seal the well, and life can again be full joy and purpose.

An Unlikely Role Model


Several years ago,  I was sickened and disgusted as most dog lovers and decent human beings when I read about NFL football player, Michael Vick running a dog fighting ring. I don’t even tolerate my own dogs growling at each other so I cheered when Vick went to jail, jeered when he returned to the NFL, and rejected his claims of rehabilitation and having greater appreciation of dogs and other animal welfare.

Yesterday, I read that Vick repaid his $20 million in debt and for the first time thought, “Good for him.”  He didn’t file for  bankruptcy, negotiating, or running away, Vick manned up. Vick earns a hefty $3.5 million this year for playing football, not to mention a likely fortune with Nike.

But why do I care? Once again, I found myself fighting battles.  A chronic fatigue syndrome/fibro flare caused by a virus, stress, or over activity reared its ugly head and knocked me down. Finances went from bad to worse. Not working steadily for the past four years depleted my savings.  My husband is an Agriculture teacher and let’s just say that educators are not highly valued in Texas. Recently, we have received some assistance from a generous donor which has helped us tremendously. Until moving to the Lone Star State, I have worked and supported myself since college. I was independent and a hard worker. But  some called me  enabled for accepting assistance or just plain lazy.  As chronic sufferers would surely agree, try living in our body for just one week!

But  My admiration for Vick returning the money he owed and fighting to win a spot back as top quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles served as a reminder for me. I too have struggled and overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges at times in my life. Things have not always turned out as I planned and goals were unsuccessful. But I accepted defeat, learned, and moved on.  I am resilient!

I took a break from writing this summer to try and give my mind some rest.  I’ve been scattered, confused, and shooting in the dark.  In other words, I was not planning, I was just doing.  I knew what I wanted to do but stress, fear, anxiety, and defeatism kept me from effectively thinking, organizing and doing.

This is the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, and as a Jew this is the time of year for change to occur. More so than January 1st so future blogs will very likely describe my journey towards the next phase of my life.

“Losing a battle or losing everything we thought we possessed will bring us moments of sadness. But when those moments pass, we will discover the hidden strength that exists in each of us, a strength that will surprise us and increase our self-respect.

We will look around and say to ourselves: ‘I survived.’ And we will be cheered by our words.”

The above quote is from Manuscript Found in Accra by Paul Coelho, which I am currently reading. Coelho is author of the remarkable book The Alchemist. In the Manuscript, Coelho talks a lot about defeat, experience, and love.  Many of Coelho’s writings resonate with me. Anticipate more quotes in future postings.

I survived many obstacles in my life single, alone, and independently. I am now married to a loving, caring, and supportive husband. I have some incredibly loving, supportive, and loyal family members. The moment of sadness has passed for me. I survived and I know my life will continue to be full of hope and joy.

Even Zoe sees a new day is dawning
Even Zoe sees a new day is dawning

Live, Life, Love Living Life


I’m having a rough flare this week and today I feel especially weak.  I slept 11 hours last night and then went back to bed this morning and slept another two hours.   And I’m feeling happy about livin’ life today.   Typically, when suffering through flares, lack of sleep typically accompanies pain and exhaustion.  But I slept.  I really slept.  This calls for celebration – or maybe just another nap.

While most of us with chronic illness may not think much about the little things missing from our daily lives – like fewer symptoms during a flare – but I think being appreciative is important.  Gratitude can turn a lousy attitude into a more optimistic one and a depressed mood into a happier one.

Recently, I started keeping a gratitude journal.  Never very good at maintaining a personal journal or diary, I wasn’t certain of my success in keeping this journal either though I like the idea.  Journalists write in their gratitude journal nightly listing three things that they are grateful for the past day.   While I don’t write in the journal every night, I write most nights before bed.  I like the brevity and the discipline of finding gems of positive moments in every day.  Surprisingly, it’s not very hard even on the most trying days.   And I find it very satisfying.  I went online and explored how I could make my journal better.  Below are some tips on keeping successful gratitude journals from The Greater Good website:

  • Don’t just go through the motions. Research by psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky and others suggests that journaling is more effective if you first make the conscious decision to become happier and more grateful. “Motivation to become happier plays a role in the efficacy of journaling,” says Emmons.
  • Go for depth over breadth. Elaborating in detail about a particular thing for which you’re grateful carries more benefits than a superficial list of many things.
  • Get personal. Focusing on people to whom you are grateful has more of an impact than focusing on things for which you are grateful.
  • Try subtraction, not just addition. One effective way of stimulating gratitude is to reflect on what your life would be like without certain blessings, rather than just tallying up all those good things.
  • Savor surprises. Try to record events that were unexpected or surprising, as these tend to elicit stronger levels of gratitude.
  • Don’t overdo it. Writing occasionally (once or twice per week) is more beneficial than daily journaling. In fact, one study by Lyubomirsky and her colleagues found that people who wrote in their gratitude journals once a week for six weeks reported boosts in happiness afterward; people who wrote three times per week didn’t. “We adapt to positive events quickly, especially if we constantly focus on them,” says Emmons. “It seems counterintuitive, but it is how the mind works.”

For more information on keeping a gratitude journal go to the following link:  http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/tips_for_keeping_a_gratitude_journal

I think I earned another nap.

Live more joyfully despite chronic illness.  

Contact me at laurawebb@lbwebbcoach.com and let’s schedule time to chat!

The Self-Assessment


I am back!! Forgive me, committed and new readers, for not writing in a while.  Recovery from surgery was slower than I anticipated though Dr. P reminded me that it may take time for my new medication to tackle the illness that took over my body.   Six weeks later, I can tell you that I am gaining energy and mental clarity more each day.

The Web of Life
The Web of Life

It’s truly remarkable.  I wake up at 6:30 each morning now after sleeping seven hours.  I enjoy coffee and ponder how I should spend my day.  I don’t plan my day around my level of pain and the density of my brain fog.  I look forward to the daily stroll in the pasture, watching the dogs run, sniff, and pester Amigo.  I stroke Amigo’s nose when he takes a break from this grass and greets me.

Last week, I started substitute teaching again.  Last year, I tried to help out in the school where my husband teaches but was too exhausted after one day.  While I don’t regret leaving my career as a school counselor for coaching, I do miss interacting with kids.  I know many of the students and substituting is a great way to fill my need of teen time.  This weekend is prom and one of my spousal duties includes being my husband’s date for the evening.  I  look forward to going this year and dancing with my date.

I review my  Web of Life and consider areas that need addressing and strengthening. I

Amigo takes a break from grazing to check out the scenery.
Amigo takes a break from grazing to check out the scenery.

look at my web differently now.  Health takes on a different meaning, for I no longer assess which part of my body requires greatest attention.   I also look at personal development with fresh eyes and open mind.  I spend more time exploring my spirituality.  Joy & fun plans are now made without fear of cancellation due to illness.

I go to bed without fear of tossing and turning.  I started writing a gratitude journal and document three things that I am grateful for each day.  I indulge in new dreams and strive to shed old burdens.

I know the phantom inside me exists and while it sleeps soundly now, I realize it may awaken again.  But I relish each pain-free day and look at life with a new sense of purpose.

Live more joyfully despite chronic illness.  

Contact me at laurawebb@lbwebbcoach.com and let’s schedule time to chat!