In any given day, I experience the highs and lows of being a mother of four children. The lows come in the form of heartache, worry and fear and the highs are felt in the happiness I feel as I witness my kids experience the joys of life. The highs are also generated from just appreciating them exactly as they are. I know when I am worrying about them, and I do from time to time, I am not loving them. Worry and Love cannot exist in the same space at the same time. When I am worrying, I am not trusting in their journey. I am not giving them the benefit of the doubt. I want to fix them. But they are not broken and I know that. Deep inside, I know that. My higher self knows that. My gut knows that. However, I am not always seeing the world from this wise, elevated place. When the lens I see my children with is clouded by fear, my thoughts go to the worst case scenario. I become critical of them and myself. But, here is the good news! Through my mindfulness practice, I can stop myself….stop the runaway train of doom-and-gloom thoughts, stop myself before I open my big fat mouth and say something I don’t want to say, stop myself before I start lecturing, nagging, and projecting. Sometimes, I can stop myself. And sometimes, I am aware I should stop myself, but I don’t. I am a work in progress, after all. And so is every other parent. We are never going to arrive at some high place where we wipe the dust off and say, “We’re done, now THAT was easy.” Hell, no! This parenting thing is damn hard, and amazingly wonderful, and pushes us to become the best selves we can be. And even when we are doing our best, we are going to question ourselves if we could have done better. And that is our cue to be kind to ourselves, to be our own best friend, to give ourselves a freaking break. And that process of leaning into our own anguish with kindness is what builds our resilience to wake up the next morning and drag our tired butt out of bed and do it again. My intention today is to stay neutral about any outcomes for my kids. Hope and fear both exist in the future and are attached to a certain outcome. “I hope my kid gets into a top college” is just the inverse of “I am afraid that my kid won’t get into a top college”. Instead, we can stay where our feet are and empower our kids to do the same. In the present moment, our best selves have the opportunity to emerge. There is such freedom in focusing on the present moment and doing our best work and letting go of any attachment to a certain outcome. Today, I salute all my fellow parents in your quest to be your best self. I wish you less worry and more joy and freedom. And so that I practice what I teach, I wish the same for myself!
(This is the first post in the series of “Things I want to tell my kids before I die”.)
As 2017 comes to an end, I have been doing some reflection. I am taking an inventory of my life: what is good, what no longer serves me, and what I can improve upon. I noticed during this holiday season how earnestly people want to be right when they express their viewpoint. I can relate. I was and at times can still be that person who HAS to be right. We have a country divided by differing viewpoints. The same thing happens in families. We suffer because other people are not agreeing with us. We suffer because others are not complying with our wishes. Some of us even lash out because of these differences. We make harsh judgments. We say things that are unkind. This creates tension and hurt feelings. What I love about New Year’s Day is the blank canvas it represents. What are we going to create in 2018? Do we truly want to be happy or do we want to be right? As we head into this year, here are three intentions I will carry with me to ensure it is a HAPPY one.
- CHOOSE KIND: This is indeed my biggest intention for the year. Last week I said good-bye to a beloved cousin who passed away before old age had a chance to set in. He was 63 years old. His sister spoke these words during his eulogy and I intend to keep these words with me always: “Life is short, and we do not have much time to gladden the hearts of those who make the journey with us. So… be swift to love, and make haste to be kind.” This says it all!
- BEING IN A STATE OF ALLOWING: I intend to be in a state of allowing, allowing others to have their own opinions and to have their own journeys. I will allow others to carve their own path. When I disagree with someone, we can agree to disagree. We can accept each other’s differing viewpoints without diminishing either person. Allowing is the opposite of resistance and control. Allowing and accepting others as they are, creates ease and flow. It creates an atmosphere of freedom as opposed to restriction and limitation. I intend to allow myself to be free to be me. I intend to allow you to be free to be you.
- STAY IN ALIGNMENT WITH MY BEST SELF: We all have our moments that our best self shows up, moments of charitable acts, and compassion for others, kind words, selfless giving, and true bravery. We all also have our moments that we are not aligned with our best self, moments that we would rather forget. These are moments of judgment, anger, hatred and cowardice. I intend to have more moments where my best self shows up in 2018. How will I do that? By making myself a priority….by eating right, getting enough sleep, practicing mindfulness and self-compassion, meditating, exercising, and reflecting. Making oneself a priority is paramount to being aligned with our best self. Putting ourselves first should not be confused with self-centeredness. This is especially important for women to acknowledge since most of us are conditioned to place ourselves last on the list of priorities. It was my biggest hindrance for decades. But, no more! Today, I give myself permission to take care of myself first and KNOW that everyone is better off when I do just that.
I am keeping it simple here for 2018…only three intentions to frame my days with. Will I succeed? Sometimes I will. Sometimes I won’t. I am not a saint after all. When I fail, I will forgive myself and set the intention again. We always have an opportunity to begin anew. HAPPY New Year everyone! Wishing you all alignment with your best selves in this upcoming year. The world is counting on it!
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One Last Thing….if you enjoyed this post, sign up for monthly newsletters and join the community of people who want to make positive changes in the world starting with themselves. https://westchestercenterformindfulnessandwellbeing.com
I am feeling sad tonight as someone I love is not well. Life is oh so precious. Additionally, I have always struggled during the holidays. Here’s the good news, I know how to give myself an attitude adjustment. I wrote the following piece 5 years ago to help adjust my attitude for the holiday season. It is still relevant today. I updated it for 2017. Hope you enjoy! And hope it helps some other fellow grinches out there.
What is it we want during the Holiday Season? Is it a shiny diamond ring, a cashmere sweater or is it Peace on Earth? There is no right or wrong answer but for many of us, the holidays are a disappointment, a burden, and/or a reminder of our losses. They stress us out! I, for one, have not liked the holidays for most of my life. I certainly have never embraced them. Where was my resistance? What was I thinking? I was thinking things like “Where am I going to get the money to buy everyone a decent present? How am I EVER going to find the time to get all my shopping, decorating, baking and still work, cook, do laundry, etc. Ugghhh! I can’t stand those people who bake their cookies, send out the perfect Christmas card, and manage to have their house all decked out; it makes me feel so inadequate. I can’t wait until January!” With this kind of thinking going on, who could enjoy the holidays? So I asked myself the following question: “Do I want my whole life to go by and look back and realize that I never enjoyed the holidays?” The answer was a resounding “NO!” So, how can I stop resisting this time of year and accept it and just maybe, even enjoy it? I took decisive action and decided to look for the positive aspects of the Holiday Season. It is certainly within my power to change my conditioned way of looking at the holidays. Instead of reciting the “12 days of Christmas”, I am reciting the “12 Affirmations for the Holidays” to help me get in a TRUE holiday spirit. Here goes:
- I love being with my family. I am so glad that the holidays “force” us to take time out to be with each other.
- I have placed too much importance in the past on the gifts I buy others. I rarely remember the gifts I receive from year to year but always remember how people made me feel. I can be an “uplifter” for others that cross my path. I can make that the gift that I give and I can give that freely.
- I love tradition. It makes me happy to trim the tree with the ornaments that bear my children’s names and the year they were born. I love to take my doll size Santa Clauses down from the attic and plug them in. I smile when I pull out my children’s stockings every year and hang them by the fireplace.
- I intend to shop locally and do a little each day. I love supporting my local businesses. It makes me feel good.
- I can look for people who are not as well off as I am and do something for them this holiday season. Service is the best form of self-forgetting.
- I believe my happiness is from within. I concentrate on the inner-knowing that I am worthy without having to have the best gift, the best party, or the best decorations.
- I intend to be mindful during this holiday season, taking time to meet old friends, take pictures, sit in front of the fire, and drive slowly at night to take in the beautifully decorated houses in my neighborhood.
- I love miracles: Santa’s workshop, enough oil to last 8 nights, a child being born. I will look for miracles every day this season and I KNOW I will find them.
- I love having both the Menorah and the Christmas tree being lit in my house. I love variety. I embrace the differences, and know that this kind of embracing brings PEACE on Earth!
- The highlight of this Holiday season is sure to be any time spent with my four children. I pray for all mothers and fathers that they may be reunited with their children who are far away, especially our soldiers overseas.
- I am alive and well this holiday season. Not everyone made it through 2017 and so far, as of this first night of Hanukkah, I am still walking this earth. What more needs to be said?
- And when I am unable to feel the joy of the above 11 items, I will know: “This too shall pass!”
Happy Holidays and Peace on Earth!
Happy Thanksgiving to all my family and friends! I find holidays, birthdays and anniversaries to be a time to reflect on where we are and where we are going. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. There are no presents to buy, just delicious food to bring to a table with people who hopefully you enjoy sharing meals with. I love sitting in circles and sharing stories and this is the holiday that we do just that. Today there are 28 people whom I will be sharing a meal with. Yes, my blessings are abundant, but if you saw me yesterday, you would not get that picture. I was caught up in STRESS, standing on lines getting pies, sitting in traffic as I went from place to place making purchases, and lost in my to-do list and projections. It was my daughter’s birthday and I was planning her favorite dinner. In the midst of the rushing around, there was a miscommunication with a loved one. Oh, and there was a CAT scan on the schedule. The stress was not because I had pies to buy or a birthday to celebrate or the miscommunication or the CAT scan. The stress was about the stories I was telling myself. I got caught up in an old tape that I was not good enough, I am not listened to, that I do not matter, that I get no respect. Those stories alternated with worry. I love Thanksgiving but I hate Thanksgiving Eve. There is lots of drinking and drunk driving on Thanksgiving Eve and my grown children are out and about. I worry about that. I worried that the CAT scan might show something that should not be there. And, for God’s sake I have a teenager in the house now. I was losing my innocent baby girl. The feeling I had was that I was a direct hit for a category 5 hurricane. Well, can you blame me? I have raised three children already and I know about the storms that accompany adolescence. Why should this fourth child be different? Teenagers are nightmares. Right? Ha! Finally, when I felt bad enough, I stopped. I literally stopped. I took some deep breaths. I observed my negative thinking and I told myself that they were all lies. BIG. FAT. LIES. Here was the truth: My house was clean. Desserts were bought. Everyone was safe. I am in good health. My daughter who turned 13 was still my darling daughter. Her birthday cake was baking in the oven. Miscommunications happen. We are human, after all. My older daughter was on the train coming home for Thanksgiving. Ahhh, COMING HOME, that is what Thanksgiving is about. But first I needed to COME HOME to center within. It all starts from that place. I strayed from center yesterday. I am human. Today, my intention is to bring my centered self to the Thanksgiving dinner.
For all of you that read this page, wishing you a very peaceful Thanksgiving. When it gets too hot in the kitchen, step aside, take a few breaths and notice the stories you are telling yourself and begin again. And for those of you that are not sharing a meal with others, wishing you a peaceful Thanksgiving. Hope you are your own best friend and you enjoy the company you keep in the quiet hours.
Today, I am grateful for my health, my husband and children, my family, my friends, and my work. I am grateful for my ability to shift gears in the storms. I am grateful for teenagers, especially mine, who show me what creativity, vitality and gaining independence looks like. I am especially grateful to my dad who taught me “When it is too hot in the kitchen, GET OUT!”
I am still soaking in the wisdom of the conference I attended this week “Mindfulness in America”. I have studied mindfulness, I practice it daily and I teach it whenever I get a chance. I couldn’t wait to hear from the experts in the field. I am thrilled that this powerful practice is becoming more commonplace in the western world. My concern about the “mindfulness movement” is the potential for it to be reduced to a sound bite for a t-shirt. It is so much more than a buzzword. Mindfulness, when not diluted, is about freedom from suffering, transmuting pain into resilience, and being fully present for our lives. As Anderson Cooper stated, “Mindfulness may not help me live longer, but it will help me live more fully in my life”. Mindfulness is about creating space for more possibilities, not being an expert but approaching everything as a beginner, even if you are a so-called expert. Mindfulness is about curiosity. Mindfulness is about connecting to the observer that is in all of us, the greater part of us. We are more than just our thoughts. There is that part of us that is the observer of our thoughts. Getting in touch with that Observer is like experiencing the depth of the ocean underneath the waves. That is where the peace can be found. If I don’t take time to connect with the deeper part of ME, I cannot be my best self.
The biggest obstacle to meditating for most people is the time it takes. Taking the time to meditate is a radical act of love. Do you have 15 minutes to sit and meditate? Our society places a huge emphasis on physical fitness. What about mental fitness? The biggest time thief for many of us is the time we spend lost on our devices. My intention is to start taking back my time that I spend in the wasteland of the internet. What if we shaved off 15 minutes of social media time to meditate. And for those that find sitting on a cushion is unfathomable, I invite you to practice mindfulness walking, eating and doing almost any other task. If you would like more information on practicing mindfulness, go to my website and sign up for the monthly newsletters. There you will find free downloadable meditations and mindfulness practices. https://westchestercenterformindfulnessandwellbeing.com.
I loved playing truth or dare when I was younger. Today it still carries a thrill and a promise. Here is the Truth of the day: We can change our future by changing our relationship to the present. Here is the Dare: I dare you join the “Mindfulness Movement”and see for yourself the results of incorporating mindfulness in your own life.
Wishing you harmony in all areas of your life!
Forgiveness is a topic that has shown up a lot in the past couple of weeks. I listened to a mother who lost her son during 9/11. She spoke about the importance of forgiveness and yet, reserved the right not to forgive the terrorist organization as they showed no remorse for what they did. I listened to a holocaust survivor talk about how she forgave the Nazis and that it helped her live a more peaceful life. She went on to share that there are many fellow survivors who are angry at her for publicly forgiving the Nazis for their wrongdoing.
Forgiving is not the same as condoning. We think we are punishing others when we don’t forgive. The only people we are punishing is ourselves when we don’t forgive others for the wrongdoing that caused us harm. It is the act of holding onto our past hurts that cause us to continually re-live them. What we resist persists. The person who harmed us goes about their life with remorse, or not. Our lack of forgiveness affects us, not them. Bitterness is a terrible thing to live with. We can hold people accountable for their wrongdoing at the same time we forgive them.
What happens then if the person we need to forgive is ourselves? I work with parents, especially mothers, who beat themselves up for messing up on-the-job. If the kid gets a bad grade, we parents ask ourselves where we went wrong. Worse yet, if our child is using drugs or depressed, we blame ourselves. We think we must have done something desperately wrong to have that outcome. I know. I am a mother of four. I, myself, have wished I would have been wiser, more evolved, handled situations differently, been more skilled, over and over and over again. At the root of all this beating myself up is shame. Shame is rooted in the belief that I am not good enough.
So, if shame is the obstacle to self-forgiveness, what is the solution? The first thing to do is to see the story that we are not good enough as just that…a story. Acceptance of ourselves as the flawed humans we are is paramount to having any peace. Next, I have incorporated the idea presented by Brene Brown, author of Rising Strong, that everyone is doing the best they can given the conditions they were brought up in and the resources or limitations they have. Many of us instantly protest this idea, claiming that people are not doing the best they can. Whether that is true or not, imagine how much less you would suffer if you adopted this belief as well. Try it out for a day. See what it feels like to give yourself and others the benefit of the doubt.
If I am still having a hard time forgiving myself or others, I practice lovingkindness meditation. This is a process that really opens your heart with compassion for others. For free monthly meditations, click the link below and sign up for monthly newsletters. https://westchestercenterformindfulnessandwellbeing.com September’s newsletter featured the lovingkindness meditation. I encourage everyone to do this meditation every day for a couple of weeks and see what happens. When we practice lovingkindness we are actually re-wiring our brain and opening our hearts.
May you be happy. May you be well. May you abide in peace. May you feel safe and secure. May you feel loved and cared for. (And May I feel all those things as well!)
I wasn’t planning on writing today. But I also wasn’t planning on being so melancholy. It just happened. The day started out great. My daughter gave a piece of art to my husband that she has been working on for 2 months. We enjoyed a nice morning together. But, naturally, I started reflecting on my own father, who left this earth 14 months ago. I miss him terribly. To be honest, Father’s day wasn’t an easy day when he was alive. They didn’t make Hallmark cards for the kind of dad I had. He was not an easy man to live with but he always had our back. He was scary at times but the world was less scary with him in it. To give you an idea of what I mean by this, picture Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino in the scene “Get off my lawn”. Everyone who saw that movie in particular, said how much Clint Eastwood reminded them of my dad. Yup, that is as close a depiction as you are going to get, minus the gun. My father was a complicated man: he was a hero in his job as a firefighter, he was a star as a basketball player when he was young, and he was a larger-than-life person in many ways. When we needed a new bathroom in our house, no contractors were hired. My father demolished the old bathroom and put in a new one. When we needed a new roof, he put on a new roof, with the help of his brother. My father did everything in a big way. He smoked A LOT of cigarettes, he drank A LOT of alcohol, he LOVED US A LOT and we knew it, and he screamed really loud and the neighbors all knew that. He defied death several times; he smoked for over 60 years, fought fires in the Bronx when the Bronx was burning, and he survived prostate cancer, laryngeal cancer and alcoholism. What was an early stage lung cancer going to do to him? He would have the lobe of his lung out and be back to driving us all crazy in no time….so we thought. But 9 days after the surgery, my father died of complications. Not only did his large presence leave a huge void for all of us, it also changed my awareness of my own mortality, in both good and bad ways. I say things that I may have left unsaid before. I wake up and acknowledge that I have another day on this beautiful earth. I am more hyper vigilant about various physical symptoms that arise….a little too aware of my own impermanence. The other change that happened since my father died was the realization that when our loved one dies, we remember the good more than we remember the bad and that even the so-called “bad” aspects are embraced after death. My sisters and I have many hilarious stories about his “Clint Eastwood” moments. It is the contrast of life that is so magnificent. I am remembering to welcome all the emotions that show up as well. Rumi describes this beautifully in his poem “The Guest House” (see below). Today, I welcomed gratitude for the two fathers of my children and for the father I had. I welcomed sadness and gave myself space for reflection. For all those out there without fathers, missing their fathers, estranged from fathers, or hating their fathers, I sent loving-kindness. For all those blessed with fathers in their life who show up and do the best they can, enjoy the moments!
The Guest House by Rumi
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honourably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.