Archive for August, 2011

Becoming alive to daily life

Friday, August 26th, 2011

Life conspires to keep me from reflecting more deeply on who I am and what I have to offer to the world, or so it seems. Whether it’s completing forms for health care expense reimbursement, taking my car in for service or dealing with a failed Internet connection, I find my days slipping away from me. Kierkegaard called it “tranquilization by the trivial.” I become numb to my own inner aliveness.

Yet these daily life tasks are necessary and can be fulfilling. I try praying. During my morning ritual of showering and brushing my teeth, I imagine sending cleansing energy to all the people in the world who subsist in tents, shacks and homeless shelters. I try mindfulness. In folding the laundry I notice the fresh smell, soft textures and colors of the fabrics. I try gratitude. In reflection, I acknowledge how much my life has been gifted with health insurance, transportation, and a nice place to live.

All of this helps. Approaching humble tasks with a peaceful heart changes the energy of my immediate surroundings and affects positively my relationships with others. Yet I feel there’s more–more to discover about how I uniquely can serve a greater purpose. Is it writing? Teaching? Spiritual companioning?

If you’re on this same journey, I’d love to hear from you. How do you instill meaning into daily life? How do you continue your search for your true self and your role in the world?

Join us on this blog and share with others.


Pause to say ‘thank you’

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

On a recent visit, my daughter-in-law Saraswati followed a long-standing Hindu tradition of welcoming the day by recognizing the contribution of the Sun. She filled a pitcher with water and added the spice tumeric. Once outdoors, she poured the water on the lawn and recited a ritual verse praising the light and warmth the Sun provides.

She reminded me of the importance of setting a tone for each day. Will I look around me in gratitude and consider how all of nature and its inhabitants work together for my well-being? Or will I be too consumed with the pressures of my to-do list to pause and say “thank you”?

Many spiritual traditions laud the merits of pausing during the day and
becoming centered once again. A friend of mine uses doorways to remind her of this practice. Every time she passes through one, she says a small prayer. I rely upon deep breathing to bring me back to the present moment and all its riches.

Such daily rituals can help us let go of the pressures and stresses of life as we become more mindful of our capacity to simply be. For this moment, I inhale concern about the future and exhale appreciation for having everything I need right now to be at peace.

Do you have a spiritual practice that keeps you grounded and grateful?

A Poem for Your True Self

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

I don’t often write poetry, but a couple of years ago, a poem so needed to be born that it wriggled right out of me and onto my computer. I came across it recently and realized that it says exactly what I want to say to myself and to you about letting go of what we no longer need: our fear. So, here it is, with hopes it will speak to the voice in you that is ready to let go of everything you’re not. Like the upcoming fall colors, that true self is just waiting to burst forth in all its glory.

You have always been who you are
Even when you thought you were hiding from the world.
Even when you thought you were invisible,
Covered up your light,
Made funny faces,
Pretended to be dumb and mute,
Ran like you were headed for the circus,
Lied and cried and stomped your feet
Like a two-year-old,
You have always been the eternal You.

So the question is this:
Do you want to keep hiding,
Turning your head and going to the movies?
Or do you want to put the weapons down,
Gather up the world in your shawl with
Welcomes and coos of acceptance?

It is so easy to be you.
It is the easiest thing you could do.
Just stop fighting,
Stop resisting,
Stop delaying and doing card tricks, and
Begin by saying, “I am.”

—Debra Landwehr Engle


Probe the gift in your loss

Saturday, August 13th, 2011

Letting go of someone or something requires grieving, accepting that life will not be the same. Yet in the letting go, a gift is offered as well.

The gift may be in the way someone you loved accepted and modeled death. The gift may be in the end of pain or in the space created for healing. The gift may be in the way you open up to new possibilities or act upon accumulated wisdom.

Often we acknowledge loss only when it’s major and dramatic. Yet we experience loss daily in many small ways. After visiting my nieces and grand nephews at a family reunion in Texas, I got on a plane and flew home, knowing I wouldn’t see them for another year. Accompanying the sadness was gratitude for the love that flows through my family.

With State Fair time here, I anticipate the loss of summer with its carefree activities. The gift? Good memories of times spent with friends, leisurely mornings on the patio with coffee and the newspaper, and walks around the lake.

At a meeting this morning of my writing group, I held the new baby of one of the members. Little Elaine, three weeks old, nestled in my arms and made adorable squeaks, peeps and grumbles. In giving her back to her father, I felt my heart quiver. Never a mother myself, I experienced wistfulness. What is the gift? That’s something for me to reflect on.

As Deb and I continue this series of blogs on the experience of letting go, we’d love to hear from you about the losses–big and small–that have been part of your life!






Savoring the positive

Thursday, August 11th, 2011

Wall Street stock plunges. Rancorous politics. Famine in the Sudan. High unemployment. We can’t run away from our problems; they need our attention. But, personally, I need a break.

Of late, I’ve found myself unusually pessimistic–even about things that normally wouldn’t concern me. Free-floating anxiety. Mild paranoia. Over-thinking. What’s going on?

Thoughts do matter. If we allow life events, even painful ones, to lead to suffering, our brains are literally rewired. The good news is that we can reverse this pattern, not by suppressing the negative, but by internalizing the positive.

This is the message of “Buddha’s Brain: the practical neuroscience of happiness, love & wisdom” by Rick Hanson, Ph.D. Dr. Hanson describes brain function in detail while offering easy-to-follow steps for creating more happiness in your life.

1.”Turn positive facts into positive experiences.” If you see something beautiful, admirable or happy, stop to notice it. Bring your full awareness to it. Let it affect you.

2.  ”Savor the experience.” Stay with your experience for 5, 10, even 20 seconds. Focus on your emotions and body sensations. Pay attention to the rewarding aspects of this experience.

3.  ”Imagine or feel that the experience is entering deeply into your mind and body.” Relax and absorb the emotions, sensations and thoughts of the experience.

On my morning walk around Grey’s lake today, I resolved to follow Dr. Hanson’s suggestions. Lingering at trees I had admired but strolled by so many times, I recognized the species–cottonwoods. Towering trees with large canopies, they frame the lake dramatically. The bark is rough and stone grey. The leaves are triangular in shape.

Studying these trees took me back to childhood, when my sister Susie and I would sit on our front porch during thunderstorms and watch the cottonwoods across the street. Swaying and bending, they appeared capable of falling and landing at our feet–or even on our heads. We had no fear, though, simply love for these larger than life friends.

Taking in this experience today, I feel better already. I’m going to continue this practice–and in the meantime, turn off the TV, scan the newspaper more quickly, and ignore financial reports on my IRA.

Losing a neighbor

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011

My neighbor Pat will likely die within days. An elegant willowy woman in her nineties, she survived a hip replacement last year together with months of therapy. Her daughter calls her a “woman of steel,” determined to wrench out of life every bit of joy and wisdom.

While we weren’t close, we were neighborly–a blessing you can’t always count on when you move into a new place. We invited her and a mutual friend in her late 80′s to dinner one night. She in turn invited us back, introducing us to her friends–bridge partners, social acquaintances, and lovers of fine china, sterling tableware, fresh flowers and food fit for such a gathering of ladies.

Pat walked our hallway–we were at one end and she was at the other–for exercise. “Don’t be surprised if you see me outside your door,” she chuckled one day. “I’m just out for a stroll.”

Often I would see her in the lobby, dressed as you might for a fancy luncheon. Sometimes that’s where she was headed. At other times, she was going to her children’s for dinner. Her always beautiful appearance prompted me to reflect on my own aging. Will I be this engaged in life at her age? I hope so.

Pat’s passing will be a loss. The hallway and the apartment at the other end will be empty of her warmth, strength and aliveness. For a time, I’ll focus on that. Eventually, I’ll move on, grateful for the model she provided of graceful living–and dying.


Listening to Your Inner Wisdom

Friday, August 5th, 2011

Despite my best intentions, my flowerbeds are overrun with weeds again this year. The pink and purple petunias are barely visible, and the barberry bush I transplanted this spring is completely hidden. They remind me that, no matter how strong my vision for a weed-free bed might have been a few months ago, creating that vision requires vigilance and regular practice, just like any change in our inner garden.

You may feel like your life is overrun with weeds if…

  • you feel too busy
  • you’re stressed out
  • you feel burdened with too many possessions or commitments
  • you’re bored
  • your life purpose is unclear
  • you can’t find meaning in daily activities

If any of those describe how you’re feeling, take time to listen to your own inner wisdom with the help of this visualization:

1. Find a place where you won’t be disturbed for about 15 minutes. Turn off the phone. Sit in a comfortable chair or stretch out on the floor or bed. Take a few deep breaths and feel them move through your body, releasing any tension you may be holding.

2. When you feel relaxed, envision a wise and kind person who cares about you. It may be a trusted friend or relative, a religious figure, a compassionate man or woman. It can even be something from nature—an old oak tree, for instance, a favorite animal or Mother Earth herself.

3. Sit with this being for a minute or two and allow love to envelop both of you in a warm, glowing circle. If a question comes to mind, ask it of your advisor. Wait for an answer. Your answer may come in the form of words, an emotion, a sense of peace, or some other sensation. Continue your conversation for as long as it feels helpful.

4. Thank your inner advisor and know that you can return to this place any time you need guidance.

5. Come back to the room gradually and take a few deep breaths, then journal about your experience. With practice, these visits with your inner wisdom can help you gain the clarity you need to restore balance to your inner garden.




From Clutter to Clarity

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

This week I’ve been cleaning my office, which is in the lower level of our home. It’s a perennial project, as the words “Clean office” are constantly on my To Do list. This time, though, I’m taking it seriously, because my inner wisdom is telling me there are new projects and life changes on the way. I need to clear out the clutter so they can arrive without having to squeeze through the door, only to find there’s nowhere to sit.

I’m not just shoving books aside and carrying piles from one end of the room to the other, pretending to clean. This is the real deal: I’ve discarded enough paper and old files to fill up a jumbo trash container. If I’m brave enough, I may even throw out an autumn flower arrangement that was once spectacular but now is brittle and faded. Can I remember the fun Bob and I had making the arrangement without the flowers taking up space in a corner of my office? Yes, I tell myself, I think I can.

While it’s still summer according to the calendar, this time of uncluttering is a fall-like activity. Autumn is nature’s time of letting go—a stage of the cycle that’s just as important as planting seeds and watching them grow. As women, we’re used to saying goodbye. It happens in the mundane tasks of everyday life: tossing out the casserole no-one ate or bagging up outdated clothing for Goodwill. And it happens in the poignant and profound events: nudging children into their next grade at school or saying good bye to parents who have reached the fall of their life.

But sometimes we also hold on too long, whether it’s to clutter we no longer need or beliefs that no longer serve us well. Frequently in my office I feel like I’m sitting in a nest of my own making, as though all the files and stacks are twigs and bits of grass I’ve woven together into a place that make me feel safe, even if it’s chaotic. My clutter keeps me disorganized both mentally and spiritually. Surrounded by 20 projects in my nest, I can’t focus on one and bring it to completion, which robs me of the clarity I need to move forward.

A few years ago at one of our monthly dinners, an Inner Gardener made a statement I’ll never forget. She works in a male-dominated industry, so she’s witnessed plenty of oppression and prejudice toward women. She could have bought it, fought it or ignored it, but instead she got focused and looked inside herself. She realized that changing the pattern needed to start with her. And so, she said, “I decided I wouldn’t contribute to the oppression of women…and that meant no longer beating myself up emotionally.” She let go of the clutter, got clear and welcomed a new belief and a new pattern to walk in the door.

That’s what letting go is all about—gaining clarity and creating space. So I will continue to sort through those endless old slips of paper in my office, each bearing a thought that I just know seemed profound when I wrote it. Changes are coming, and I want to prepare room for them to sit and stay a while.

Diane and I are thinking about what we’re letting go of. We’d love to hear your stories!