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Time For A Reality Check

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There are books that I take out and re-read every few years. I have found that as I get older, my experiences shift my understanding of how the world works, and that often gives me a new perspective on something I thought I already had a handle on.  Often something in a book I’ve already read will suddenly jump out at me as if I had never seen it before, or take on a whole new meaning. Such is the case with the book: “Yoga And The Quest For The True Self,” by Stephen Cope.

For those of you who may not know, Stephen Cope is the Director of the Kripalu Institute For Extraordinary Living, and Senior Scholar in Residence at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Lenox, Massachusetts. He left a promising psychotherapy practice to go on what was intended to be year’s sabbatical after the end of a long-standing personal relationship, at a time when, in his 40’s, he, like many other people at this stage of life – having achieved the career goals, the house, the lifestyle – start to ask the questions: Is this it? Is this all there is? If it is, why do I feel like there’s something missing? His sabbatical turned out to become a completely new life for him, and a mission to teach others what he had learned.

As I was reading through the book, a conversation between the author and a woman attending a weekend retreat jumped off the page and captured my attention. It wasn’t as if I hadn’t seen it when I’d read the book before, or that I didn’t understand or agree with what she was saying, quite the contrary. It stated, in no uncertain terms, the realizations and changes that have taken place in my own life:

“Just being in my body makes me happy. I don’t have to do anything or prove anything. What freedom!”

What freedom indeed! I have come to appreciate all of my senses and the workings of my body much more deeply because they allow me to experience the world around me, the real world around me, with a depth and clarity I did not have for most of my adult life. That I had them as a child, as we all did, somehow got lost in the process of growing up and spending our days trying to “be” someone, or to “prove” something. Those beliefs reside in the realm of fiction. There is a relief and a profound freedom in being ordinary, in not having to earn our worth through accomplishments as defined by others. When we honor our own voice and our own take on what is real, happiness becomes our natural state.

This week our writing assignment on the Home Page is going to give us a chance to use our senses as tools in creating our authentic lives. As always, have fun with it and remember to always, always, keep writing.

Peace and blessings.

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Confessions Of A Rainy Day Writer

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I have a confession to make. For all of my constant chatter about writing every day, even if it’s only for 10 or 20 minutes, there comes a time when planting myself in my chair even for that long can be a real challenge. That time is now … Summer! Who could possibly want to chain themselves to a desk and rack their brains when the sun is shining, the sky is blue, the birds are singing their hearts out, and the air is calling to you in that sensuous, addictive voice that says: Come out and play! Come out and breathe. The trees and the walking paths are waiting for you.” Now that I’m struggling to get down to some serious writing, a.k.a. a fiction novel, the challenge has reached Olympian proportions! If it weren’t for rainy days, nothing but a few pages in my journal would get done, if that. As long as the spirits of summer keep calling me, my notebooks and computer screen stays blank … until it rains. Then I have no problem staying in, staying dry, and staying productive.

Here’s the thing: just because you’re not sitting with a screen or a notebook in your hand, it doesn’t mean you’re still not creating. I’ve known many times, as any writer can tell you, when I’ve seen something on one of my walks, or just sitting outside on a park bench, that sparks a hint of recognition, that takes root as a thought, that grows into an idea, that ends up in one of my books or blog posts. Take for example, yesterday. Yesterday it was a perfectly beautiful day. It was warm but not oppressive, low humidity, an enchanting breeze, with big, fluffy clouds sailing overhead. I was sitting outside my apartment complex on a bench under a tree waiting for the mailman who I had spied coming down the block from my perch on the third floor. As I sat there, I inhaled the feeling of the sun, the breeze, the warmth, and the life of the neighborhood going on with its life around me. There was the #35 bus heading west – the bus driver honked and waved. The “chicken man” from the sandwich shop across the street had his grill going, sending the smell of barbecued chicken all over the street. The lady with the two tiny, white dogs was holding onto their leashes for dear life as they ran excitedly after a squirrel … and all of this, all of it, will end up in a draft of a chapter of my book later today – because today, it’s raining. Yesterday was research. Today is application.

A writing teacher told me a long time ago that even when we’re not clutching a pen or hitting keys on a keyboard, we’re still writing. We are collecting data via all of our senses. The touch of something silky, the sound of a child’s laughter, and, yes, even the feel of rain on our faces, or the smell of chicken cooking, is food for our creative juices. It’s the stuff of life and, if we’re honest about creating an authentic life by using our creativity, then how we process the goings on of the world around us has to be included in the building. Writers are always writing even when we look like we’re taking a walk, or watching puppies scamper, or waiting on a bench for the mailman. It’s all part of the process.

This week our writing assignment on the Home Page will give you an opportunity to be a reporter of your own life. This is one I shouldn’t have to tell you to have fun with – the fun is already built-in – but I will remind you to always, always, keep writing. Peace and blessings!

 

Life Lessons From Out Of The Blue

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Much has been written over the last few years about regions around the world called Blue Zones. Blue Zones are places where the number of people living long and healthy lives, many up to 100 years old and above, are higher than average. Everything about the lifestyles of these centenarians has been researched and the findings can help us as we commit to creating our authentic lives.

It goes without saying that diet and exercise were high on the list of things that set these folks apart from the rest of us. They all ate what was available locally, much of it grown and harvested with their own hands. This means that they only ate and grew what was indigenous to the area. They also prepared all their own meals … the only “fast food” was a cup of locally grown and brewed coffee from the local coffee shop. Alcohol was taken in moderation and mostly, also, locally brewed or pressed.

Exercise also played a huge role in their lives. People didn’t need an alarm clock. They rose with the sun and went to bed when it went down. Their bodies were in sync with the natural rhythms of the earth and the seasons. They were not afraid of hard work, and put in a full day in the fields, at their jobs, or in their homes.

Everyone that was interviewed said that an important element of the day was when the family all gathered around the table for the evening meal, multi-generations all living in the same house. That time was sacred. No one ate sitting in front of a TV, or with an electronic device in their hand. Their only communication was with each other, sharing their day and being in gratitude to be together.

These concepts are well worth taking note of, but there were two others that I think speak to us the most as we go about creating a life that speaks to us. These two concepts were: a sense of purpose, and community. Each one of them greeted the new day with a sense of purpose. They all had something that called them to be out in the world serving a purpose, whether it was to earn a living, work in the fields, keep house, cook meals, assist with child-rearing, or even doing the laundry. They considered it a gift to be able to stay fit and healthy for the betterment of themselves and their families. They were also nourished by their sense of community. There was no such things in their vocabulary as loneliness or isolation. Not only did they spend regular time together with their peers, but also with different age groups. One group of grandmothers in Okinawa were in charge of entertaining and assisting with little ones in schools and day care centers. Young and old learned from each other.

Reading about these beautiful people, listening to their testimonies and watching the documentaries about their lives has been very inspirational for me. It not only reminded me of the elders in my own Italian-American family, but reminded me that more often than not, it is the simple, down-to-earth things that have the most positive effect on our lives. As actress Lauren Bacall was fond of saying: “ I figure if I have my health, can pay the rent, and I have my friends, I call it content.” I call it a beautiful, authentic life.

This week over on the Home Page, our writing assignment is going to challenge you to think like a centenarian! As always, have fun with this and remember to always keep writing. Peace and blessings!

Leaving It On The Page

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The best writing advice I ever got was from the brilliant author and creator of “The Artists’ Way,” Julia Cameron. Speaking on the subject of the value of Morning Pages, three handwritten pages of free-thought flow writing as a tool for creativity, she said that once you’ve let it all out and freed your mind you should, and I quote: “Leave it on the page.” 

There is some kind of creative magic that happens when your pour out your heart on the page and the words stare back at you. It is as if they have found a safe place to fall and can happily live there forever. That means that once you close your journal or notebook, you are relieved of the burden of carrying around your grievances, concerns, anger, and limiting beliefs. Just imagine how that might feel! You might find yourself letting out a big sigh, or finding a smile starting to spread across your face. You might feel lighter in body and spirit. Most of all, you just might find that with your mind emptied of all that negative chatter, inspiration finally has a way in and your creative juices start to flow. It’s hard to focus on building something positive when negative emotions and beliefs keep putting cracks in your foundation.

I have come to trust this idea of leaving it on the page completely after seeing the effect it has had on my life. I have often gone way beyond the suggested three pages if I was really on a rant! Once I had squeezed every drop of negativity out of me, when there was not one tiny bit left, I felt emotionally and spiritually free, kind of like putting down a heavy boulder I didn’t even know I was carrying. I have been known to shout out “YES!”, or even start singing! No question, leaving it on the page is the best medicine in the world for blocked creativity.

As you may have guessed, our writing assignment on the Home Page is going to ask you to get it all out and leave it on the page, so be prepared for an emotional house-cleaning. I don’t know if I should tell you to have fun with it, but I will tell you that this is one shining example where it pays to always, always, keep writing. Peace and blessings.

 

At Home In Our Inner Mansions

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Earlier in the week on my blog “Flower Bear’s Garden-Growing A Life,” I wrote about a trip I took with my 8-year-old grandson, Stanley, to the Roberson Museum and Science Center in Binghamton, NY. As well as touring the museum and taking in all the exciting and educational displays, we also took a tour of the Roberson Mansion next door, and it was there that I had an epiphany.

The Roberson Mansion was built by Alonzo and Margaret Roberson in 1904 and was quite spectacular and advanced for its time. It had indoor plumbing, a dumb-waiter, central heat, an elevator, and an intercom system. At the time of his death in 1934, Alonzo provided that, on the death of his wife, the home would become an educational center for the community, which it did in 1954.

We did not tour all of the rooms as not all of them are open to the public, but we did manage to see some of the most interesting and undeniably beautiful rooms including the master bedroom, dinning room, sitting rooms and parlor, the ballroom, and, my favorite, the library. My grandson was amazed: “People lived here? Didn’t they get lost? It’s HUGE!” I, on the other hand, was deeply touched as, in each room I entered, I could almost feel the presence of the family who made this their home. It was as if they were inviting us in, standing beside us as we moved from room to room, turning our attention to points of interest or personal keepsakes. Each room had a different feeling, as if each were designed for a specific purpose beyond the usual (as in a bedroom for sleeping, a dinning room for eating, etc). It was in the library, however, that I was most moved. Surrounded by magnificent bookcases and furniture, with beautiful, hand crafted books on every subject you could imagine, I could feel the hours that people had spent here reading, learning, writing and dreaming. As a writer and avid reader, what other room could have, or would have, elicited such a feeling within me?

In our lives, we have within us an inner mansion, containing the rooms that house the different areas of our lives: emotional, material, physical, spiritual. Each of these rooms is there to help us feel safe as we navigate through these realms. Some days we will spend more time in one or the other. Other days we may need to stay in one longer, perhaps all day, until we feel safe and secure enough to come out and move throughout the rest of our life. What’s important is that we stay until we are truly ready to go before we take on another room. It’s like trying to clean the whole house at once instead of going room by room until the dust is gone and the windows shine, letting in the light. Whatever we need to work on to feel at home in our own lives, and make them as brilliant and authentic as the Roberson home was when it was built, and continues to be today, we can work on one step, one moment, one room at a time. Attention to details, just like in building a home, will make all the difference.

This week over on the Home Page, our writing assignment is going to ask us to take a peek into our own inner mansions and see where we may need to do a little remodeling. As always, have fun with it and remember to always keep writing.

Peace and blessings.

P.S. If you want to check out my Flower Bear’s Garden Blog (and experience the natural world through the eyes of an 8-year-old), you can check it out here: http://www.flowerbearsgarden.blogspot.com.

Listening to the Experts

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Wisdom tells me I am nothing. Love tells me I am everything. And between the two my life flows.”


― Nisargadatta Maharaj

 

In this age of self-help gurus and transformational teachers, it may be overwhelming at times to know who to listen to. We are told repeatedly to: “find your passion,” or, “find your purpose,” until our purpose thus becomes trying to find our purpose.

 

After spending years reading all the books, going to the workshops, and listening to podcasts until I thought my ears would bleed, I stopped one day to just sit quietly in meditation, hoping the stillness and silence would wipe out the cacophony of words and advice, when I heard, quite distinctly, Louise Hay’s voice saying: “I follow my inner ding.”  I remembered the first time I’d heard her say that. It was while watching the video version of her book: “You Can Heal Your Life.” She described her “inner ding” as that little twinge in the pit of your stomach that tells you you’re on the right path.

 

Not too long after that I was watching one of Wayne Dyer’s PBS specials when he shared the quote from Nisargadatta Marahaj that I used above. That was when it all clicked for me, when all the pieces fell into place:

Listen to love.”

Asking ourselves “what would love do?” will always lead us in the right direction regardless of whether other people agree with your choice or not. They are free to listen to their own hearts, and follow their own paths. When you are in the process of creating your own authentic life, you can’t get better, or more authentic, advice than to follow your own heart.

 

Twenty-six years ago I made the decision to uproot my entire life and move to a new home in another state with only what would fit in my car. My family and friends thought I was crazy, and my co-workers just shook their heads and advised against giving up a perfectly good job to head into the unknown with no new job waiting for me on the other end. What was actually waiting for me on the other end was freedom, authenticity, happiness, abundant creativity, and that feeling you get when you know you are finally home. I followed my inner ding, and it lead me to joy.

 

This week’s writing assignment is all about following our inner ding, whether you have done so in the past, or are contemplating doing it in the future. As always, have fun with this and remember to just keep writing.

 

Peace and blessings.

The Face In The Mirror

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I returned to college in my 30’s and enjoyed every minute of it. Having already “sowed my wild oats,” so to speak, I was there to learn, experience and grow. One of the classes that I enjoyed the most was a multi-discipline class on Women and Media. It combined the disciplines of English, Cultural Anthropology, and Economics. Sitting in a class with a roomful of 20-somethings, I felt like the wise, old, experienced  woman of the bunch, but even I was floored by some of the things that I learned.

One class that even had me, old feminist that I am, sitting up and paying attention was when the professor brought up a magazine cover on the screen showing a beautiful “young” woman, with perfect hair, make-up and smile. The professor went on to say:

While that is the idea of what a woman is supposed to look like, the truth is that no one looks like that … including her. Look closely at her skin. What do you see? Or, more to the point, what do you Not see? She has no pores! Her face has been touched up to appear flawless, but what it actually shows is that her face, her skin, can’t breathe. She is no more real than Santa Claus.”

I don’t think I had ever actually looked that closely at the faces on the magazine covers except to admire or criticize their hair or clothes. Sure, I had marched in the streets back in the 70’s for equal rights for women and considered myself above all that stuff, but I was as guilty as every other woman who looked in a mirror and was unhappy with what they saw because they based their findings on what the culture called “beautiful.”

This idea goes way beyond just how we look. It goes to who we believe ourselves to be and whether or not we are happy being that person. When you look in the mirror, is the person looking back at you someone you like, that you enjoy spending time with? Is this person someone whom you respect, trust and admire? Is this person an authentic representation of your life? Especially as we get older, these questions become even more important than whether we want to look like Helen Mirren in our 70’s. We can have looks to die for, but if the person behind all the makeup, face-lift and hairdressers isn’t someone we want to spend all of our time with, than they might as well look like someone from a Tim Burton movie.

The person in the mirror should be the real deal, the beautiful, honest, creative, authentic spirit that wakes up every morning filled with joy at the opportunity to experience another new day. That’s the person you want to hang out with, not some carbon copy from a magazine cover (and that includes all the ads inside the magazine as well). Why be willing to accept crumbs, when you can feast on the whole meal, as coach and author Cheryl Richardson is fond of saying.

This week, our writing assignment on the Home Page will ask you to explore when and if you’ve been lead to believe that you didn’t measure up and how you did (or could) move beyond that to authenticity. As always, have fun exploring this and, remember, to always keep writing.

Peace and blessings.

Uniquely One Of A Kind

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When they made you, they broke the mold!”  Whenever I did something that reduced my mother to shaking her head in wonder, that’s what she would say. I was the “different” one in the family, not exactly the black sheep, but not exactly Snow White either.

My older sister, older by only two years, was more like a decade behind me. While she dressed like Sandra Dee, I dressed like Ringo Star. While she went to dances, or hung out in her girlfriends’ bedrooms doing each others’ hair and nails, I told my mom I was sleeping over at a friends and snuck out to rock concerts in refurbished airplane hangers (hey, Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels were HOT!).

Years later when I returned to college in my 30’s, juggling work, home, kids and school, I took part in a demonstration along with some of my professors (most of whom were my age anyway) to force our college administrators to divest the school’s investments in South Africa, this while apartheid was the hot social movement of the moment and Nelson Mandela was still in prison. My mother was appalled! “What if they throw you out of school? Can’t you just hold off until you graduate? When are you going to grow up?” 

I am, unapologetically, uniquely one of a kind … and so are you. If you are reading this, you are the one in your family that was always a bit “different.” You are the one that was sure a mix-up had been made at the hospital and that you went home with the wrong parents, regardless of the fact that you look and sound just like your mother! You are also a member of that very select group of individuals who are the change agents, the ones who question the system, demand answers, and refuse to abandon your beliefs. That is what drives you to create an authentic life. That is what compels you to challenge the cultural beliefs about getting older and demand to be seen as who and what you are, and who and what you can become. Age is just a number. Authenticity is the new norm.

How are you unique? What is it that sets you apart from the crowd? What makes you the different one in your family, and how has that served you? If you guessed that this is the basis of our writing assignment on the Home Page this week, you are absolutely correct. I shouldn’t have to tell you to have fun with this one … this should be a celebration of you in all your unique and quirky glory! I will, however, remind you that you should always, always, keep writing!

Peace and blessings.

 

Wishing and Hoping

 

I seem to be on a poetry kick lately. Either that, or the Universe has a reason why it keeps placing these tidbits of poetry where I’ll stumble over them on the way to something else. This one is by Nikki Giovanni and comes from her poem, “Age:”

“In youth our ignorance gives us courage.

With age our courage gives us hope.

With hope we learn that man is more

than the sum of what he does.

We also are what we wish we did,

and age teaches us

that even that doesn’t matter. “

When I talk to people about creating an authentic Third Age, I find that, more often than not, their biggest regret is not for what they did, but for what they wish they had done. While, as the poet tells us, we are more than what we do and what we don’t do, and that even that doesn’t matter, it is also true that authenticity means being true to who we are, including those parts of us that yearn for self-expression. It can take the form of dabbling in the arts, like painting and writing, or traveling, or even hang-gliding. Whatever it is, it’s not about having done it, but having experienced what it represents to us, be it freedom, creativity, or even God (I can well imagine feeling extremely close to God when hanging up in the air with nothing holding you up but a giant kite).

My own journey to creating an authentic life began when I came to realize that I wanted to write even if I never made a dime, and that writing was as much a part of who I was as breathing. Once I made that discovery, my writing took on a whole new life and direction – it became a genuine reflection of who I really am. I also forgave myself for all those years that I either didn’t write, or wrote to fit someone else’s idea of what writing should be, a.k.a. critics. Once I started writing for that one woman out there who looked like me, thought like me, and was the same age, my life started to become authentic. Sure, I still sometimes slip back into the “what will people think” mode, but now I realize it much more quickly and pull myself back into this sacred, precious, present moment and live for it, write for it, and create for it. For me, that is what truly matters.

Something tells me that you, brilliant writing students that you are, already know where we’re going with this week’s writing assignment on the Home Page. As always, have loads of fun with it and, always, keep writing.

Peace and blessings.

A Different Perspective On Fame

This week I’m handing over the lesson to the wonderfully gifted poet, Naomi Shihab Nye, who has a better understanding of the nature of fame than anyone I know:

Famous

The river is famous to the fish.

The loud voice is famous to silence,

which knew it would inherit the earth

before anybody said so.

The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds

watching him from the bird house.

The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.

The idea you carry close to your bosom

is famous to your bosom.

The boot is famous to the earth,

more famous than the dress shoe,

which is famous only to floors.

The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it,

and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.

I want to be famous to shuffling men

who smile while crossing the streets,

sticky children in grocery lines,

famous as the one who smiles back.

I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,

or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,

but because it never forgot who it could be.

Who can you be? Our writing assignment on the Home Page this week is going to ask us to find out just who we can be, and what we can be famous for. As always, have fun with it, and remember to just keep writing.

Peace and blessings.