THE FAMILY ALBUM: Grandma Donna’s Christmases

I grew up on the opposite corner from my grandparents in Elwood, Indiana, and spent a tremendous amount of time with my mother’s parents, Grandma Donna and Grandpa Leroy, who still had sons, ten and twelve years older than me, at home.

It was still a noisy busy house with teenagers coming in and out, the sound of pool table balls clanking together, the huge St. Bernard named Clyde, friends and neighbors pouring in for visits, and a lot of activity in the kitchen. I loved my daily weekday outings with Grandpa Leroy where he always introduced me as, “The Boss,” but I especially loved my time in the kitchen with Grandma Donna where she kept me busy helping but I am sure, just staying out of her way as she moved about in her gally shaped kitchen that stretched the length of the house.

The best part for me was listening to Grandma’s stories about our family’s history. I don’t recall whether I asked for those lessons, or whether she repeated them to keep me occupied, taking a pause, now and then as she concentrated on a recipe’s requirements.

I remember helping her with the dough for the bland Christmas cookies, colored in green and a red that dissolved into more of a pink, and a slight hint of almond extract to give them a boost in taste. I don’t recall them being sweet or sugary, but somewhat dry and crunchy. Grandma Donna made tons of them as gifts in merrily designed boxes or tins, and always kept enough for us to last throughout the holiday season.

I loved Grandma Donna’s cooking and baked goods, but those cookies, at least for me, seemed to be lacking in taste bud exhilaration. As I got older and would stay up late on Saturday nights to watch old black and white movies with Grandma or work on music arrangements while she played solitaire, we’d fix tea or hot chocolate, dipping those cookies in the sweetness. That was about the only way I could choke them down.

Grandma always had the candy dishes filled throughout the house and I especially loved the kind as shown in the photo.

One Christmas Eve, Grandma Donna and my younger brother, Destin, who was seven years old, were doing some last-minute preparations before the following day’s family gathering. Grandma said, “We need to still fill up the stockings at least one more year because Dama Jo (our younger cousin) still believes in Santa Claus.” My brother’s jaw dropped. He still believed.

I admittedly do not enjoy expending the energy on holiday preparations and tend to simply let it all happen with no “bah humbugs.” However, I do love the memories associated with my grandmother during this lovely time of year.

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THE FAMILY ALBUM: Round Young Virgil

When I was young, I was very confused about the role my great-grandfather, Grandpa Virgil, played in the Nativity Story.

I would go up to my grandmother’s nativity set, which I adored, and point out the main cast: “there’s Mother Mary, there’s Baby Jesus, and there’s Grandpa Virgil,” pointing to a tall shepherd (teen) with red hair; Grandpa Virgil had been a redhead.

Finally, when they heard me singing “Silent Night,” they discovered I was singing, “round young Virgil, Mother and Child.”

It made perfect sense to me but the adults had to connect all the dots.

Now, there was also one of the magi or kings who carried a bag of green pebbles. To me, at age four, they looked like the “heavenly peas” also mentioned at the end of “Silent Night.”

I could not imagine why the newborn would sleep in a bag of peas but I was still trying to figure out why Grandpa Virgil was so popular with Mother Mary and Baby Jesus.

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IN THE SPOTLIGHT: “For Stevie… by your pupils you’ll be taught”

The past few days I have been listening to interviews with Stephen Sondheim, loving his advice, his graciousness, his encouragement, and his passion.

Lyricist and librettist, Oscar Hammerstein II, second only to my direct mentor, Joshua Logan, is one of my musical theatre heroes. Mr. Hammerstein was both a surrogate father and musical theatre mentor to Stephen Sondheim and I do cherish that relationship.

The personal and professional bond between the pair continued until Hammerstein passed away at 65 in August of 1960.

In July 1960, while at his final birthday party, Hammerstein presented photographs of himself to the family, which of course included Sondheim.  Sondheim requested that Mr. Hammerstein autograph his picture — “it was like asking your father for an autograph,” Sondheim said.

The warm crooked smile spread across Sondheim’s face as he recounted the moment, several decades later in an interview. “Oscar hesitated and then inscribed it, ‘smiling the whole while, like the cat who ate the cream,’ It read, “For Stevie, my friend and teacher.”

Mr. Hammerstein had co-written THE KING AND I with Richard Rodgers and the reference to “teacher” came from the song lyrics, “Getting to Know You,” – “By your pupils you’ll be taught.”

A few years ago, Sondheim was asked what he would say to Hammerstein if the two had one more chance to talk.  In hushed tones, Sondheim replied, “I would ask him, are you proud of me?”

Last night I came upon this video and interview from 1980 in Oxford, England.

In one particular section, a question from an audience member about “educating the audience” resonated with me, and I decided to transcribe it so I could read it and, of course, share it.

TRANSCRIPTION:

Educating the audience…

“This thing about educating audiences, which was a phrase used earlier… I don’t think you can educate an audience: you can only open up the supermarket so they can taste more fruits and vegetables. All you can do is expose more work. That is… I don’t know the solution to that. That’s why I wish everyone could go to the theatre. I wish everyone could afford to. But, incidentally, it’s not just the money. It’s the two other mediums: it’s movies and television… I mean, we are moving into a more and more passive world in that sense. People want to sit back and just let it wash over them.

Nowadays, the seats that are hardest to sell are the balcony seats. Why? Because everybody’s used to sitting in front of a very large screen or a television set and they all want to be in the fourth-row center, ninth-row center, or twelfth-row center. They’re not interested in leaning forward. And, secondly, they don’t have to lean forward because the sound is just going “bahng, bahng” all the time. So, it becomes more passive. They don’t have to act in the play.

One of the problems, for example, in theatre is amplification. And it’s not just the teeny sound. But, as Hal Prince pointed out to me… when he and I first went to the theatre and we could only afford seats way upstairs, we had to lean forward and listen very hard to the actors cause there was no amplification in musicals, as well as plays, and as a result, we got into the play. If you have to lean forward and listen very hard…

I was talking about one of the pieces, I was talking to the class today about one of the pieces where the actors were upstage and I was worried that the impact of the number might not be as great. At the same time, the audience had to listen very carefully so it made them more involved. The more the audience has to work, the better the chance they have of getting into the fantasy of whatever the story is being told. And unfortunately, with the result of, as a result, I think partly, movies and of various mass media, but particularly movies and television, audiences are lazy, and they’re not working as hard. And that doesn’t have to do with the fact the intellectual content has to be greater, they’re just not getting into the fantasy as quickly or as thoroughly as I wish they were. So, I don’t know how you educate an audience except to keep putting on shows and that becomes more and more difficult because fewer and fewer are going to be put on as they become more and more expensive. And as the theatre-going habit leads the audience…

In the United States, the average age of the audience is frightening to me. The younger generation is not going because they’re into other art forms such as records… I can tell you right now the major form of entertainment in the United States is dining out. Restaurants is the main form of entertainment in the United States, at the moment, for the older generation, and some of the Yuppies, so to speak, that generation that use to go to the theatre.

“Forgive me”

And, then there was this collection of love from those who knew or had come in contact with Mr. Sondheim.

A

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MAKE IT A GREAT DAY: Avoiding Holiday Stress

This is not my writing. It is from a wonderful website, DailyOM.

Much of the tension we feel during the holidays is a direct result of our own expectations.

For many people, the advent of autumn heralds the start of a stressful holiday season. From November to January, we feel pressured to be wonderful hosts, entertain scores of loved ones, and remain calm amid chaos. Yet much of the tension we feel during the holidays is a direct result of our own expectations. In our efforts to please others and to craft the ultimate celebration, we overextend ourselves and miss out on the spirit of the season. This year, consider transforming your approach to your celebrations. Instead of striving for perfection, endeavor to enjoy the treats that only come once a year, the company of family and friends, and the little unexpected occurrences that make each holiday unique. Before you begin your whirlwind of seasonal preparations, ask yourself what aspects of each holiday are most important to you and what holiday-related goals you hope to achieve this year.

As the holiday season draws nearer, resolving to give up your dreams of perfection can help you avoid anxiety. If you strive to have a good holiday, you can take charge of arrangements without feeling that your loved ones’ happiness is resting on your shoulders. Try to remember that you are unique, which means that your holiday experience need not conform to that of your parents, your neighbors, or the simulated families you see in the media. Understand that you cannot please everyone. After all, what the people you care about likely want most during the holiday season is your time and attention. Allow yourself to decline invitations without guilt and to serve store-bought foods rather than homemade dishes if it means you get more time to relax in the company of friends and family.  

If stress strikes, remember that holidays encompass but a few days out of each year. Enjoying those few days is often a matter of identifying your motives and shifting gears if necessary. Ask yourself whether your quest for perfection is a matter of impressing others or gathering the people you care about around you in celebration. A year from now, you’ll have only a handful of vivid memories to look back on. If you take a realistic and heartfelt view of the holidays, you’ll be sure to remember them fondly.

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MAKE IT A GREAT DAY: A Self-Healing Day

This is not my writing. It is from a great website, DailyOM.

A beautiful gift to yourself, is a day of healing and nourishing just for you.

Human beings carry within themselves the seed of healing. Our choices affect us more than we realize, and it is because of this that we tend to place responsibility for our wellness in the hands of others. As beneficial as regular visits to a healer can be, we have the power to heal ourselves at will. When we dedicate a day to the pursuit of wellness, we can relax and renew ourselves in a nourishing and comfortable environment. A sincere desire to open ourselves to the highest realities of our physical and spiritual selves is the key to self-healing so that healing energy can flow into us unimpeded.

A self-healing day should address the vital needs of the self as a whole while directing healing energy where it is needed most. Solitude is an important part of the process as is the ability to take refuge in a space that is both beautiful and peaceful. Start your healing day by setting the intention that you are dedicating this time to healing yourself. Flowers, candlelight, incense, and music can guide our focus toward a more tranquil state. For a more intense session, try listening to music through headphones since tuning out can help you tune in. It is up to us to decide what we need to do to cultivate wellness in our lives. For some, it may be time spent in reflection. Others will turn to calming activities that help them remember their purpose, such as journal writing, being in nature, or studying. Our healing may even take a more direct form as we use color, sound, or crystals to balance and ground ourselves.  

Ultimately, your wholesome intentions transform what might otherwise be a simple day of rest into a day of healing. Grant yourself permission to relax and savor the stillness. If you attune yourself to the calm around you, worldly distractions will be minimized and the unadulterated flow of your consciousness will reestablish itself in the forefront of your mind. The needs of the body, the heart, and the soul will then be revealed to you, empowering you to tap into the essential healing energy of the universe. The mechanism you use to channel this energy will be dependent on your shifting requirements, so each day of healing you enjoy will be unique. All will replenish you, however, allowing you to recreate yourself in a perfect image of health.

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MAKE IT A GREAT DAY: Letting Go of Perfection

This is not my writing. It’s from the wonderful website DailyOM.

Life becomes much more interesting once we let go of our quest for perfection and aspire for imperfection instead.

It is good to remember that one of our goals in life is to not be perfect. We often lose track of this aspiration. When we make mistakes, we think that we are failing or not measuring up. But if life is about experimenting, experiencing, and learning, then to be imperfect is a prerequisite. Life becomes much more interesting once we let go of our quest for perfection and aspire for imperfection instead.

This doesn’t mean that we don’t strive to be our best. We simply accept that there is no such thing as perfection — especially in life. All living things are in a ceaseless state of movement. Even as you read this, your hair is growing, your cells are dying and being reborn, and your blood is moving through your veins. Your life changes more than it stays the same. Perfection may happen in a moment, but it will not last because it is an impermanent state. Trying to hold on to perfection or forcing it to happen causes frustration and unhappiness.  

In spite of this, many of us are in the habit of trying to be perfect. One way to nudge ourselves out of this tendency is to look at our lives and notice that no one is judging us to see whether or not we are perfect. Sometimes, perfectionism is a holdover from our childhood — an ideal we inherited from a demanding parent. We are adults now, and we can choose to let go of the need to perform for someone else’s approval. Similarly, we can choose to experience the universe as a loving place where we are free to be imperfect. Once we realize this, we can begin to take ourselves less seriously and have more fun. Imperfection is inherent to being human. By embracing your imperfections, you embrace life.

Life becomes much more interesting once we let go of our quest for perfection and aspire for imperfection instead.

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MY DAY: A different kind of “hug”

This is not a post for sympathy but one to educate and encourage.

I love hugs.

I always have.

Since I was born into a demonstrative family filled with tons of huggers it was pretty unavoidable to not become a hugger.

For over ten years, I have experienced a different kind of “hugging” and it is something unfamiliar to many folks who are not as acquainted with multiple sclerosis (MS).

When I was in my mid-40s I began noticing occasional tightening, constrictive feelings around and throughout my chest. I was always in a series of diabetic studies with Wells Institute of Health and Wellness and had a weekly, bi-monthly, or monthly physical exam which often included EKGs and other cardio-vascular testing. My heart was strong and healthy, and my blood pressure was always excellent, often a surprise considering I was a single dad with adopted and foster sons creating a world of levels of excitement and chaos.

I remember sitting in the new auditorium at Centerville High School during a dance concert when one of my first episodes occurred. I struggled with deciding whether to leave the auditorium to call 911 or wait it out. The tightness around the chest and shoulders eventually subsided and I mentioned it to my doctor the following day. Everything with my tests checked out with a thumbs up from the doctor.

In the past several years, I’ve noticed at least one constriction episode every couple of months. With the string of family deaths, it seemed natural that stress was simply an irritant. With my MS diagnosis, if the “hugs” were discussed, I completely missed that topic.

This summer, as a family friend, whose husband recently passed away with a more severe level of MS, and I were chatting, she casually inquired if I had experienced “hugs.” Ummm… she knows me so she should know I am a hugger. She chuckled and proceeded to educate me about “MS hugs.”

The definition via WebMD (I like the layman’s terminology):

Multiple sclerosis affects the way nerves send messages.

The tightness, pain, or whatever you’re feeling results from spasms in small muscles between your ribs.

The doctor will call these intercostal muscles.

They hold your rib cage together and help it expand when you move, bend, or breathe.

If these muscles have spasms, you feel painful, tightening pressure.

The ‘MS hug’ is a symptom of MS that feels like an uncomfortable, sometimes painful feeling of tightness or pressure, usually around your stomach or chest.

The pain or tightness can stretch all around the chest or stomach, or it can be just on one side.

The MS hug can feel different from one person to another.

MS hugs can be brought about by stress, fatigue, or illness.

These hugs are not nearly as enjoyable as hugs shared with another but it’s now a part of life with which I must contend.

Life goes on and each day often tugs along a few surprises, new or returned, some appreciated and some a bit aggravating when it interferes with life. Writing and research can easily be accomplished from my bedroom; some days, however, it’s just a struggle to sit up to write or read. And that’s okay. I’m encouraged to rest more which gives me plenty of time to love on The Quartet which always gives me so many reasons to laugh and smile.

This MS physical chart is how I typically look at life: realistically and with great humor and lots of hope!

My MS seems to mostly affect everything from the groin to toes. My former years of dance training has been invaluable in helping me find new ways to use my legs and feet.

Family friends are understanding when I cannot go through with plans. It’s not that I don’t want to spend time with them, it’s that my body’s impulsive schedule simply cannot abide by my own, much-wanted and needed social schedule.

“We can do this another time,” they say.

And, we do.

Last night I was to have dinner and attend a musical with Mama Kay, my next door adopted mama. I begged off dinner and with that, she sensed I was not feeling my best and stood firm in addressing me honestly about how I was really feeling. I finally admitted it was too much to attend the show.

And, the world worked its magic this morning.

The show’s director wanted me to see “our stars” that we share and made sure I have a ticket for tonight. Immediately after, a parent of one of my seniors texted to offer rides to and from the school.

When life throws lemons… make lemonade. Yes. That’s one of the components in the recipe for readjusting one’s life as required by nature’s requirements.

Sometimes, it’s okay to prop up Charlie Brown’s type of Christmas tree at the most visible window in your home to be seen by all who pass by. But, there’s nothing l sad or pathetic about that tree when we can still decorate the hell out of it!

Life is brilliant… it’s beautiful!

We ride at Dawn!

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MY DAY: Charlie Brown, Carillon Brewery, Calvary Cemetery angels, Carillon Park festival

A busy, fun-filled day!

At Noon, Thursday, I was on the Sinclair Community College campus to see a former student in A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS. Before returning to Kettering, I stopped to visit my bonus-sister, Jenny.

My return home was heralded by The Quartet who joined me in a 45-minute nap before their feeding.

At 4:00 PM, I was out the door to join my other bonus-sister, Laura, for a delicious dinner at Carillon Brewery.

By 5:15 PM, we were parking at the crest of Calvary Cemetery to take a tour of the cemetery’s “Angel Night,” showcasing a number of beautifully sculpted angels, illuminated on this beautiful night.

At 6:15 PM, we were entering Carillon Park for the wonderful holiday festival. We even climbed the 120 steps to the top of the clock tower!

Laura and I had a blast and the day was perfect for an early December day!

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MAKE IT A GREAT DAY: Dancing for the snail

11:15 AM, Thursday, I departed the bus at Sinclair Community College to watch a former student portray Charlie Brown in A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS at the noon hour.

As I approached Building 7 to head to the cafeteria below, I saw a woman just ahead, dancing all around under a tree, elevated over something I could not yet see. Once I was closer, I saw she had arranged a grouping of leaves. Thinking it was more of a ritual, I kept my eyes focused on the event.

She looked up and she excitedly asked, “do you work with cameras?”

Ironically, I didn’t even have my Sony camera with me.

“I love photography.”

“Oh! If you’ve got a minute, please come see this! I’m so excited and there’s no one to share it with.”

I entered the tiny grove and re-examined the leaf arrangement.

“I was arranging this pile of leaves for my art class… (she was slightly overcome) and… and… look – right here!” She stopped down to point to a small snail that had crawled upon the leaf in the center of her design. “Isn’t this magnificent?”

I reveled in the moment, too. I know just how exciting a moment such as hers can be.

I asked permission to take a photo and she was surprised as she thrillingly gave me permission.

“You see, this is your arrangement. Your moment. It’s only right that I beg your permission.”

“Of course!”

I took my photo.

She pulled up her mask and asked if she might give me a hug.

Absolute joy. Two strangers caught within a moment of art, tangled in the beauty and surprise of nature, celebrating unexpected joy in a moment.

We hugged.

I bid her a good day. She blew me a kiss and wished me a merry Christmas.

After a few steps, I turned to look over my shoulder to see her kneeling, her camera poised to capture her lovely moment.

Well, I don’t know about you but that made it a great day for me!

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MY DAY: Time with loved ones

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MAKE IT A GREAT DAY: Showing direction = Courtesy

I had a few items that were not delivered by Instacart, Tuesday afternoon, so I grabbed No. 17 for the half-mile trip to Town & Country to visit Trader Joe’s and Kroger.

I would rather clean public restrooms than step foot inside Kroger, or most other stores. Today was a reminder of why I loathe shopping and manuevering amid the hoards of humanity in such situations.

STAY TO THE RIGHT

As a child, “stay to the right” was pounded into my brain. Mother oft reminded me with a story of how critical staying to the right was when walking up the stairs or through the hallways at Wendell L. Willkie High School that would later become Elwood Junior High School before I arrived on that particular campus. At our 1894-built Washington Elementary School with the wide GONE WITH THE WINDesque marble staircase that split off at the main landing was my first experience of staying to the right.

I stressed this to my sons and on our hikes through the various local hiking trails they often heard my “to the right” as we approached oncoming fellow hikers.

Today’s Kroger visit was frustrating and several times, exasperating. Applying “stay to the right” was completely nowhere in the process for most folk’s shopping adventures. I did note that those around my age, and older, followed this practice. Perhaps “staying to the right” is a generational practice.

The practice of “goodwill toward fellow man,” I am convinced, is not a part of the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday preparation. The day before a holiday I do expect busyness; I do not expect, nor accept sheer rudeness. When needing to pass in front of someone studying items from across the aisle, I was raised to say, “pardon/excuse me.” Several times, this morning, each of my “pardon me” was met with huffs or grumbles. How sad.

The parking lot was not much better.

As I stood waiting for the crosswalk to clear of cars where some obviously under 50er folks used the safety space to load their groceries when a car was driven to the curb, a gentleman pushing a short-cart hit a drain and he partially fell over the flipped cart. Fortunately, the man was not injured, just embarrassed. The driver of a car directly in front of me was trying to get around one of the cars being loaded with groceries just as the gentleman’s cart mishap occurred. The 20-something-year-old lady threw up her arms and shouted, “this is fucking great!” She then placed her elbow on her window sill, forcing her head against her clenched fist. After a few seconds of waiting, she turned her head and caught me staring at her, shaking my head. I could see her physical demeanor melt into an embarrassed fold.

While fellow shoppers hurried to assist the man, the lady loading her groceries left her cart right there at the curb, got in, and her husband tapped on his horn to clear those assisting the man so he could get through.

The hatefulness I observed during the moment kicked me in the gut.

I have read comments of others on various social media posts claiming these behaviors began with the past quarantine. Oh, no! These behaviors have been around us for a long time. I do believe too much is blamed on the quarantine to escape personal responsibility and abandon appropriate behavior.

Be kind.

Stay to the right.

Use your damned turn signals.

And let’s get the world back on track so that we no longer need masks because I hate not sharing my smile, another strong instruction by Mother, with others.

Make it a great day!

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THE FAMILY ALBUM: Return visits

In September 1971, my paternal great grandfather, Virgil Barmes, died.

A year, or so, later, I went with my grandparents up to the smorgasbord in Decatur, Indiana, The Back 40.

As we were dining, my grandmother gave out a slight gasp and covered her mouth with her hand.

“Leroy, look over there in the corner.”

Grandpa Leroy and I both looked in the direction of Grandma’s attention. There sat an elderly white haired gentleman who looked identical to Grandpa Virgil. It was too uncanny a resemblance and we were all quite shocked.

The three of us leaned in for a quiet discussion and seconds later, when we turned our gaze back to the gentleman, he was gone. The table where he was eating was cleared.

That memory stayed with all of us for many years. Forty-nine years later, it’s still very real to me.

Several years ago, approximately twelve years after Grandpa Leroy’s death, I was in the Kroger produce section when I caught my breath at the sight of my Grandpa Leroy. The face and entire body was identical to my grandfather.

I had my phone in hand to read my shopping needs and grabbed a photo of him after he’d turned around. Even the tuft of white hair on the back of the gentleman’s head was identical to Grandpa Leroy.

What is more, the gentleman was wearing a jacket identical to one my grandfather owned that Mother gave to me. He was also wearing slacks similar to those Grandpa Leroy wore.

As I maneuvered my cart through some customers in order to get to the other side to take a shot of his face, I discovered he was gone.

The moment reminded me so much of the other moment at The Back 40 so many years ago.

When I showed the photo to Mother, she gasped with, “Oh, my God! That looks like Dad.” We both agreed, that maybe… it probably was.

And, yes, I definitely believe seeing my great grandfather and grandfather were both visits… I love those visits!

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THE FAMILY ALBUM: Uncle fun

I was so blessed with a number of uncles and still cherish all the memories.

My mothers younger brother, Ronald, was 12 years old when I was born. He lived with my grandparents just around the corner on the opposite end of the block from where I grew up. We spent a good deal of time together and I was probably the only three or four year old who was well schooled in the record albums of The Smothers Brothers, Bill Cosby, And much to my mother’s dismay, George Carlin.

There were a number of photos of the two of us taken in those old photo booths at the mall. This photo was from 1965.

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MAKE IT A GREAT DAY: Worth The Time

This is not my writing. This is from the wonderful site, DailyOM.

It is when our lives are full and busy that we need our daily meditation to help center us for the day.

Ironically, when we get busy, the first thing that tends to get cut back is our meditation practice. We have less time and a lot on our plates, so it makes sense that this happens, but in the end it doesn’t really help us. Most of us know from experience that we function much better when we give ourselves time each day to sit in silence. And the more we have to do, the more we need that solitary, quiet time for the day ahead. As a result, while it may sound counterintuitive, it is during busy times that we most need to spend more time in meditation rather than less. By being quiet and listening to the universe, we will be given what we need to get through our day. 

Expanding our morning meditation by just 10 minutes can make a big difference, as can the addition of short meditations into our daily schedule. The truth is, no matter how busy we are, unless we are in the midst of a crisis we always have five or 10 minutes to spare. The key is convincing ourselves that spending that time in meditation is the most fruitful choice. We could be getting our dishes done or heading into work earlier instead, so it’s important that we come to value the importance of meditation in the context of all the other things competing for attention in our lives. All we have to do to discover whether it works to meditate more when we are busy is to try it. 

We can start by creating more time in the morning, either by getting up earlier or by preparing breakfast the night before and using the extra time for meditation. We can also add short meditation breaks into our schedule, from five minutes before or after lunch to a meditation at night before we go to sleep. When we come from a place of centered calm, we are more effective in handling our busy schedules and more able to keep it all in perspective. If more time in meditation means less time feeling anxious, panicky, and overwhelmed, then it’s certainly worth the extra time. 

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MAKE IT A GREAT DAY: Knowing Better Now

This is not my writing. This is from the wonderful site, DailyOM.

Our past can read like a document on what not to do, but we have the present and our future to make a change.

When we look back at the past, knowing what we know now, we often find it difficult to understand how we made the mistakes we made. This is because once we learn new information, it is nearly impossible to reenter the headspace we were in before we learned that information. And so we look back at parents who spanked their kids, for example, and wonder how they could have thought that was a good idea. Similarly, our personal pasts are full of mistakes we can’t believe we made. We did things then that we would never do now, and this is precisely because we have information now that we didn’t have, or weren’t able to access, then. 

From ideas about how to raise children to how to treat the environment, our collective human past sometimes reads like a document on what not to do. In many ways, this is exactly as it should be. We learn from living and having experiences. It is from these past actions that we garnered the information that guides us to live differently now. Just so, in our personal lives, we probably had to have a few unsuccessful relationships or jobs, learning about our negative tendencies through them, in order to gain the wisdom we have now. 

In order to live more peacefully with the past, it helps to remember that once we know better, we tend to do better. Prior to knowing, we generally do our best, and while it’s true that from the perspective of the present, our best doesn’t always seem good enough, we can at least give our past selves the benefit of the doubt. We did our best with what knowledge we had. Beyond this, we serve the greater good most effectively by not dwelling on the past, instead reigning our energy and knowledge into our present actions. It is here, in this moment, that we create our reality and ourselves anew, with our current knowledge and information. 

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MAKE IT A GREAT DAY: Thoughts

This is not my writing. This is from the wonderful site, DailyOM.

During the day, we can monitor our thoughts to see if we’re investing our energy where it is useful.

Our thoughts are powerful forces in the creation of our experience of life. You may be able to recall a time when frustration that was based on a misunderstanding completely evaporated when your understanding changed. This is because our interpretation defines our experience, and it can change in an instant. Our only true reality is the present moment, so rather than merely accepting that life is happening to us, we can harness the power of our thoughts to actively create a positive reality. For example, we can choose to appreciate beauty around us rather than focusing on traffic or look for admirable qualities in the people we deal with rather than focusing on the negative. By choosing how to interpret and define each moment with your thoughts, you truly create your reality. 

Throughout the day, we can monitor our thoughts to catch ourselves in the middle of investing our energy elsewhere — such as into belief in limitations — and instead pull our focus back to the infinite possibilities of the present. Taking a deep breath will help us center our thoughts on being in our bodies right now. Regular meditation allows us to gain mastery over our minds so that we can still our thoughts to focus on the pureness of being. If we mentally dwell on the past or the future, we may miss the experience of living in the present moment. Setting and visualizing goals is wonderful, but we can bring our thoughts into our current experience by taking steps to create them now. 

Our minds are powerful tools that we can harness to create our reality. Through them we move the unformed energy of the universe into form, which gives us direction for our words and actions. Each thought is like a stone dropped into a lake, sending ripples out into our world to affect all they touch. We can choose our focus and how we invest our energy, which gives us the power to design our lives to be whatever we choose in each and every moment. 

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MAKE IT A GREAT DAY: Showing Up For Life

This is from the wonderful site, DailyOM.

If you show up for yourself in your life, the universe will show up for you.

The way we walk into a room says a lot about the way we live our lives. When we walk into a room curious about what’s happening, willing to engage, and perceiving ourselves as an active participant with something to offer, then we have really shown up to the party. When we walk into a room with our eyes down, or nervously smiling, we are holding ourselves back for one reason or another. We may be hurting inside and in need of healing, or we may lack the confidence required to really be present in the room. Still, just noticing that we’re not really showing up, and having a vision of what it will look and feel like when we do, can give us the inspiration we need to recover ourselves. 

Even if we are suffering, we can show up to that experience ready to fully engage in it and learn what it has to offer. When we show up for our life, we are actively participating in being a happy person, achieving our goals, and generally living the life our soul really wants. If we need healing, we begin the process of seeking out those who can help us heal. If we need experience, we find the places and opportunities that can give us the experience we need in order to do the work we want to do in the world. Whatever we need, we look for it, and when we find it, we engage in the process of letting ourselves have it. When we do this kind of work, we become lively, confident, and passionate individuals.

There is almost nothing better in the world than the feeling of showing up for our own lives. When we can do this, we become people that are more alive and who have the ability to make things happen in our lives and the lives of the people around us. We walk through the world with the knowledge that we have a lot to offer and the desire to share it. 

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MAKE IT A GREAT DAY: Coming Back to Center in a Relationship

This is from the wonderful site, DailyOM.

In a long-term relationship, it is often necessary to get back to basics and come back to center with each other.

Anyone in a long-term relationship knows that the dance of intimacy involves coming together and moving apart. Early in a relationship, intense periods of closeness are important in order to establish the ground of a new union. Just as a sapling needs a lot more attention than a full-grown tree, budding relationships demand time and attention if they are to fully take root. Once they become more established, the individuals in the union begin to turn their attention outward again, to the other parts of their lives that matter, such as work, family, and friendships. This is natural and healthy. Yet, if a long-term relationship is to last, turning towards one another recurrently, with the same curiosity, attention, and nurturance of earlier times, is essential. 

In a busy and demanding world full of obligations and opportunities, we sometimes lose track of our primary relationships, thinking they will tend to themselves. We may have the best intentions when we think about how nice it would be to surprise our partner with a gift or establish a weekly date night. Yet somehow, life gets in the way. We may think that our love is strong enough to survive without attention. Yet even mature trees need water and care if they are to thrive. 

One of the best ways to nourish a relationship is through communication. If you feel that a distance has grown between you and your partner, you may be able to bridge the gap by sharing how you feel. Do your best to avoid blame and regret. Focus instead on the positive, which is the fact that you want to grow closer together. Sometimes, just acknowledging that there is distance between you has the effect of bringing the relationship into balance. In other cases, more intense effort and attention may be required. You may want to set aside time to talk and come up with solutions together. Remember to have compassion for each other. You’re in the same boat together and trying to maintain the right balance of space and togetherness to keep your relationship healthy and thriving. Express faith and confidence in each other, and enjoy the slow dance of intimacy that can resume between the two of you. 

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MAKE IT A GREAT DAY: Purpose

This is from the wonderful site, DailyOM.

Most humans are not born consciously knowing what their purpose is. It must be found through exploration.

Most living things belong to a particular soul group and are born knowing their purpose in life. An animal will spend its day foraging for food, taking care of itself and its young, and creating a home. No one tells an animal to do this, yet it instinctively knows how. Humans, for the most part, are not born consciously knowing what their purpose is.

Purpose gives our life meaning. When you discover your purpose, you can live your life with intention and make choices that serve your objective for why you are here on the planet. Finding your purpose is not always easy. You must embrace life wholeheartedly, explore many different pathways, and allow yourself to grow. Your purpose is as unique as you are and will evolve as you move through life. You don’t need anyone’s permission to fulfill your purpose, and no one can tell you what that purpose is. Finding and fulfilling your purpose can be a lifelong endeavor. To figure out what your purpose is, ask yourself what drives you — not what forces you out of bed in the morning, but what makes you glad to be alive. Make a list of activities that you wish you were involved in or think about a career path that you would love to embark upon. These are the endeavors that can help you fulfill your purpose and bring you the most satisfaction.

Picture yourself working on projects that don’t interest you or fulfill your purpose, yet they help satisfy your basic survival needs. Imagine how living this way each day would make you feel. Next, picture yourself devoting your time to projects that spark your imagination, inspire, excite, and satisfy you. More often than not, these activities are some of the ways that you can fulfill your life purpose. Time spent on these endeavors will never feel like a waste. Live your life with purpose, and you will feel significant and capable because every action you take and each choice you make will have meaning to it.

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MAKE IT A GREAT DAY: Giving Away Power

This is not my writing. This is from the wonderful site, DailyOM.

We can avoid giving away our power on a daily basis by listening to our own voice of knowing.

In many ways, we are taught from the time we are children to give away our power to others. When we were told to kiss and hug relatives or friends of the family when we didn’t want to, for example, we were learning to override our inner sense of knowing and our right to determine for ourselves what we want to do. This repression continued, most likely, in many experiences at school and in situations at work. At this point, we may not even know how to hold on to our power, because giving it away is so automatic and ingrained. 

To some degree, giving our energy to other people is simply part of the social contract, and we feel that we have to do it in order to survive. It is possible to exchange energy in a way that preserves our inner integrity and stability. This begins in a small way: by listening to the voice that continues to let us know what we want, no matter how many times we override its messages. 

Other examples of how we give away our power are buying into trends, letting other people always make decisions for us, not voting, and not voicing an opinion when an inappropriate joke is made. But with not giving our power away we must also be aware of the opposite side, which is standing in our power but being aggressive. Being aggressive is a form of fear, and the remedy is to let our inner balance come back into play.

As we build a relationship with our power, and follow it, we begin to see that we don’t always have to do what we’re being asked to do by others, and we don’t have to jump on every trend. All we have to do is have the confidence to listen to our own voice and let it guide us as we make our own decisions in life and remember the necessity for balance.

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MAKE IT A GREAT DAY: Everyone Has a Story

This is not my writing; it’s from the wonderful site, DailyOM.

Every person on this planet has a story to tell, something that makes them unique, adding to the whole.

It’s easy to forget sometimes that everyone has a story to tell if we take the time to listen. We are so accustomed to hearing the stories of people in the news that we sometimes lose track of the fact that the random stranger on the bus also has a fascinating story about where they came from and how they got to be where they are. The sheer variety of paths taken in this world, from farmers to CEOs to homeless people to world travelers, is indicative of how much we can learn from each individual. Sometimes the shy, quiet person at work has the most amazing life story and the biggest dreams, it is up to us to take the time to find out. 

Some people travel a path of wealth and privilege, while others struggle with only themselves to rely on, and both have great stories to tell. Each person learns lessons, makes choices, and develops a unique perspective, which only they can claim and share. Even two people who have had very similar lives will have slightly different experiences, leading them to a different point of view, so each person remains a treasure trove waiting to be explored. When we take the time to ask questions and listen, we find that every person has a fascinating story to tell and an utterly unique perspective from which to tell it. 

Bearing this in mind, we have the opportunity to approach the world around us in a new way. There is never any reason to be bored at a party, or on the bus, or in a conversation with a stranger. When we retain the spark of curiosity and the warmth required to open someone up, we always have in front of us the makings of a great story. All we have to do is ask. 

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MAKE IT A GREAT DAY: Removing Obstructions

This is not my writing; it’s from the wonderful site, DailyOM.

When we remove obstructions in our path, our light can more easily come forth.

There are times when we may not feel at our best and brightest. At those times we can take a look at what we might do to let our inner light shine to the fullest. Because we are physical, mental and spiritual beings, we need to determine where our spiritual light is being filtered or blocked. We can work from the outside inward, knowing that we are the only ones with the power to dim our lights, and as we clear away the layers we can get out of our own way to feel the warmth of our own light shining again. 

As vehicles for our mind and spirit, our bodies require proper maintenance. Caring for ourselves is like polishing — helping to clear away the accumulation of physical debris that keeps us from operating at our fullest capacity. A simple shift in our thoughts can positively affect our mental state, moving from complaints to gratitude and applying the powerful light of love to any shadowy thoughts. A change of scenery can allow us to see the world in new ways too.

Once we are free of our restrictions, we can become still and connect to the power at the center of our being. It is always there for us, but when we forget to connect, or siphon our power in too many directions, we cannot make the most of our energy. Starting from the inside out may direct us to take the right steps for our journeys back to the light, but sometimes it can be difficult to find the stillness if our bodies and minds are in the way. As we practice steps to keep our energy flowing freely and without obstruction, we shine our light brightly, illuminating our own paths and making the world around us glow as well.

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MAKE IT A GREAT DAY: Taking on the Energy of Others

This is not my writing; it’s from the wonderful site, DailyOM.

To protect ourselves from taking on any negative energy from people or situations, we can learn to shield.

There are times when you may find that being around certain individuals or groups of people leaves you with feelings of discomfort. It may be that spending time with a particular friend feels draining or that dealing with a specific coworker exhausts you. Being around toxic or angry people is also draining. And you may even find that being surrounded by a crowd of people lowers your energy levels rather than perks you up. This is not that unusual. Each of us radiates energy and is capable of being influenced by the energy of other people. It is important to learn how to shield yourself, so you don’t unknowingly take on someone else’s energy. While some people know how to instinctively protect themselves from being adversely affected by energy, most of us need to discover and practice the technique that works best.

There are a number of ways to avoid being affected by people’s energy. Shielding is one preventative technique you can use. Center yourself and envision being enveloped in a cocoon of loving and protective light. This protective layer should allow you to consciously regulate the energy around you. The intent to shield oneself is all you need for this technique to work. You can even create a trigger word to assist you in quickly creating a shield. Say this word each time you create a new shield, until the word and the shield become automatically associated in your mind. If you run into a person whose energy you find draining, you may want to cleanse your own energy field after your encounter. Sage, cold showers, singing, mineral water baths, spending time in nature, and a simple break to recharge are all ways to accomplish this. 

While it is important to know how to shield yourself from energy, there are those energies that you may not want to shut out. The energy of laughter from a newborn baby, the feeling of joy radiating from someone in love, and the frequency of calm emanating from an enlightened teacher are just some of the energies coming from others that you may want to have around you.

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MAKE IT A GREAT DAY: Sitting with Our Sadness

DailyOM: This is not my writing but a copy from the site, DailyOM.

Sitting with our sadness takes the courage to believe that we can bear the pain and we will come out the other side.

The last thing most of us want to hear or think about when we are dealing with profound feelings of sadness is that deep learning can be found in this place. In the midst of our pain, we often feel picked on by life, or overwhelmed by the enormity of some loss, or simply too exhausted to try and examine the situation. We may feel far too disappointed and angry to look for anything resembling a bright side to our suffering. Still, somewhere in our hearts, we know that we will eventually emerge from the depths into the light of greater awareness. Remembering this truth, no matter how elusive it seems, can help. 

The other thing we often would rather not hear when we are dealing with intense sadness is that the only way out of it is through it. Sitting with our sadness takes the courage to believe that we can bear the pain and the faith that we will come out the other side. With courage, we can allow ourselves to cycle through the grieving process with full inner permission to experience it. This is a powerful teaching that sadness has to offer us — the ability to surrender and the acceptance of change go hand in hand. 

Another teaching of sadness is compassion for others who are in pain, because it is only in feeling our own pain that we can really understand and allow for someone else’s. Sadness is something we all go through, and we all learn from it and are deepened by its presence in our lives. While our own individual experiences of sadness carry with them unique lessons, the implications of what we learn are universal. The wisdom we gain from going through the process of feeling loss, heartbreak, or deep disappointment gives us access to the heart of humanity. 

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MAKE IT A GREAT DAY: Communication

DailyOM: This is not my writing but a copy from the site, DailyOM.

Expressing ourselves honestly in any relationship is essential to our well-being.

When we are in a relationship where we feel listened to and understood, we count ourselves lucky because we know how rare that experience is. We reserve our most intimate selves for the people who, along with us, cocreate an open space where we feel free to express ourselves and listen without judgment. These relationships, which thrive on open communication, can mean the difference between existential loneliness and a deep sense of belonging. We all long to feel heard, understood, and loved, and clear communication makes this possible. 

Sometimes problems arise in the process of expressing how we feel, but it is always worth it to do the work. Even in our less intimate relationships, expressing ourselves honestly is essential to our sense of well-being. Whether at home with family or in the outside world, successful communication requires some forethought; otherwise we risk blundering through our relationships like the proverbial bull in a china shop. However, too much forethought can stifle us or cause us to pad our words so extremely that we end up saying nothing at all or confusing the matter further. The good news is that there are many methods that can come to our rescue, from meditation to visualization to journaling. 

If the person we need to communicate with is open to sitting in meditation together for a set period of time before speaking, this can be invaluable. When we are calm and centered, we can count on ourselves to speak and respond truthfully. We can also meditate on our own time and then practice what we need to say. A visualization in which we sit with the person and lovingly exchange a few words can also be a great precedent to an actual conversation. If writing comes easily, we can write out what we need to say; it may take several drafts, but we will eventually find the words. The key is to find ways to center ourselves so that we communicate meaningfully, lovingly, and wisely. In this way, we honor our companions and create relationships in which there is a genuine sense of understanding and respect. 

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