Thursday, October 30, 2008
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
One of the topics we covered today over our minestrone soup was living an authentic life. Not just talking the talk, but also walking the walk. For a long time I've been passionate about the environment and sustainable living, but this fall I've had more time to explore these subjects and do research online (thank you vesting time!) to learn more. I feel like I've barely scratched the surface with what I know, but I'm motivated to do all I can to live a simple, environmentally friendly, sustainable life.
The first steps I've taken have coincidentally been beneficial because of the worsening economy: decreased consumerism, making do with what we have and thinking of alternative ways to produce/obtain what I need. I've been cooking and baking things from scratch since we got married, but who says that all things purchased have to be new? Second hand shops and swapping used items with those who no longer need them is a great way to "repurpose" items. That way something unneeded doesn't end up in a landfill and will find a new use.
This holiday season, because of our financial status, we are going to be very low key. I'd much rather receive a meaningful, homemade gift that came from someone's heart, than something purchased just for the sake of it. Some of my very favorite gifts have been hand made: a sweater my mom made me or a painting from a friend. Hopefully the people on my gift list will feel similarly. For me, part of the pleasure of giving something is enjoying the process of making it; one of the reasons I enjoy giving quilts so much!
The past 3-4 years I've had a very difficult time getting into the "spirit" of Christmas because the consumerism and what the holiday has come to stand for is at odds with my beliefs and the things that are important to me- living simply and appreciating what we have. I'm hoping this year that something good will come out of the recession and our financial situation and that I'll be able to enjoy the holiday more than in recent years.
Over coffee and dessert A and I talked about getting together with a few friends for 4 consecutive weeks and making hand made gifts for people. We both loved the idea, which incorporates the things I believe in: togetherness with friends, sharing creativity, and putting a little bit of ourselves into the gifts we make. Holiday presents that keep us present.
Friday, October 24, 2008
The fact that we (ok, J) made a wonderful meal out of what we already had got me to thinking: this is something that is very easy to do. In the past, we've thought nothing of running out to the store to pick up a few extra ingredients to make a meal, or get a special dessert at Trader Joe's. Since gas prices have skyrocketed, we've been trying to do one or two big shops a week and if we need something additional, such as milk, we'll walk to the store to get it. When you to walk, it really makes you think: "do I truly need this, or is it just something I want?" Oftentimes, it's the latter.
All those little trips to the store for extras add up, $8 here or $10 there, in addition to the gas, on things we didn't really need. So, last night when we found out Jill and W would be joining us, we talked about picking up a few extra things for the meal.... but then we paused a moment and thought: "wait a sec, the meal will be fine without those extra ingredients." How accustomed we are to purchasing things for pleasure, not necessity.
If we can apply this to our food shopping, what else can we apply it to? Anything and everything we purchase! I've read that before any major purchase its good to use the 30 day rule, in which when you want to buy something, you should wait a month and then see if you still feel the same way about the item. I know if I employed this rule, after the month had passed, I'd probably have forgotten all about what I wanted to buy!
I know it probably sounds crazy, but I do believe this recession has many good aspects to it, as evidenced by the example above. It's really making us think about how we spend our money, what is important and the difference between need and want. Even though times are difficult for us right now, and surely they are much more difficult for those who have less than we do, I think its important for us to be grateful for what we have; to look at the way we live and what is important to us. I think that given some time a more frugal way of living is going to come naturally to us and hopefully it will get us away from consumerism and the emptiness that brings. I hope that then we will be able to say we are living a more authentic and satisfying life. Happy Friday!
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
The essence of the heart chakra is love- spiritual love, not the clingy, "i need you", attached sort of love. Love for all living things-- including ourselves! Sometimes that is the most difficult love of all. Unconditional love. We did some heart opening postures and by the end of the class I was feeling so centered, so grounded, and almost had a glimpse of that universal, unconditional love for everyone and everything.
One of the subjects associated with this chakra is forgiveness. Tricky subject, forgiveness. I know I've always associated forgiveness with being able to forget something that happened. According to yogic teachings, it's not about forgetting, which sometimes feels like you are condoning a "wrong" that was done to you. It's about understanding that each person does the best they can with what they are dealing with at any given time. Most often, when someone doesn't give us what we need, or hurts us, it's because they are in pain themselves, or lacking in something, or afraid.
Of course there are always exceptions, but in most cases, others don't intend to hurt us. It just happens that we are not on the same path at that particular point in time. We may need more than they are able to give; or perhaps because of something they are dealing with in their own internal makeup, they are unable to provide what we need. It doesn't make them a bad person or even wrong; it helps to be aware that they have their own issues.
This realization can lead to more compassion for others. Compassion and forgiveness go hand in hand; when we realize that it's not just about us, it becomes much easier to forgive actions that we perceive as "wrongs" against us. Perhaps the person who just cut us off in traffic is late to pick up her children and is worried about them - a position we have probably all been in at one time or another. When we remember how we felt in that situation it's easy to forgive the person. "Sure, go ahead of me, I know just how you feel, your kids are your focus, not driver etiquette!" Certainly, we'd all say that if we knew the person's situation!
Today I'm going to work on unconditional love and forgiveness - seeing things from other people's perspectives instead of just my own - and hopefully this will make me a more grounded and peaceful person.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Sunday, October 19, 2008
It was wonderful to see W, as always, and our visit reminded me of how much I enjoy his company. Sure, every mother loves their child - I'm no exception - but I also truly enjoy him as a person and having conversations with him. I'm so proud that he's adjusted well to school, no doubt one of the most difficult transitions in life, that he has a nice group of friends and is doing well in his classes.
It has been the biggest joy and privilege of my life to be a parent. When I look back now, I think "how young we were!" when W was born. I can't claim to have been a perfect parent, though I have done my very best to be a good mother and role model. I think W has inherited the best qualities from both of us (thank you genetic roulette wheel!): J's solid, calm, rational demeanor and my sensitivity, empathy and interest in other people. W is really a joy to spend time with: funny, attentive and interested in a variety of topics.
It's amazing to think how quickly the past 18 years has gone by and there will always be a funny feeling to the house now; someone is missing. But the trade off is that W has grown into a fine young man, one who can stand on his own two feet and is able to handle whatever comes his way. I'm proud he's turned into such a wonderful person- what more could a parent ask for?
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
My Tuesday evening yoga class is held in a room with a wall of windows on one side, which overlook a lovely garden filled with trees, shrubs, inviting benches and winding paths. Five weeks ago when the class started the sun was shining brightly even as the class ended. Last night it was nearly dark as we were packing up our things. Between the time we lay down in Savasana and when we sat up again, the sun had gone down. During the final moments of the class the teacher asked us to sit and look upon the garden: notice the fall colors of red, orange and yellow, the fading light, and the way nature is preparing for the change of seasons. Only she didn't use the word change; she used the word transformation.
I really love fall, it is truly my favorite of all the seasons here in New England. The weather is at its best: consistently nice temperatures, unlike spring with its raw, chilly winds, up and down temps and rain. We've had a stretch of weather that has been gorgeous for the past couple weeks: 60-70 degrees and sunny, surrounded by the amazing colors of the fall trees. The one drawback to fall is knowing what comes next: the long winter, being stuck indoors and the short days. Seasonal Affective Disorder, anyone? For some reason, knowing this is approaching has always been a damper on fall for me.
Last night, as I sat at the end of yoga class looking upon the vibrant colors of fall, it occurred to me that if I would just enjoy the moment, each hour, each day and not be thinking about what is to come, I'd like fall much better. Its impossible to prevent the change of fall to winter, its a process that must happen each year, just like the changing color of the trees.
I was struck by the word transformation; it has a much more positive connotation for me than the word change. In my mind, transformation is more of a process, not just a singular event, something being different. Each year the trees put on their brilliant show, the gardens die back, the leaves drop and winter comes. Is this change? Yes, but its also transformation, part of a process that must happen in order for spring to come. Instead of fighting the change and dreading the winter, letting it spoil my enjoyment of fall, I need to change my outlook. Clearly, mother nature isn't going to alter her course because I don't like winter! So it's up to me: Stop thinking about what is going to happen in the future and enjoy the nice day in the present!
I was reminded of the Serenity Prayer, something I learned 25 years ago in Sunday school: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change, the strength to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.
We can't stop the changing of the seasons, but maybe a different outlook, seeing it as a transformation, part of the process will help with the acceptance part.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Another quote that reminds me to accept things as they are, we are the ones that give the labels "good" or "bad". Things happen as they will and it is not for us to judge, but only to accept the things that we cannot change.
This isn't to say that we must lie passively in the road and take whatever comes our way; only that there are things we can't alter, such as which branches will grow short or which will grow long. We need to be able to discern those things from the ones we can do something about and let everything else go. Acceptance.
Monday, October 13, 2008
Today I'm looking forward to my morning walk with J, working on my current quilting project and a visit from my parents. It's going to be another beautiful fall day, warm and sunny and I plan to enjoy every moment. Here's to trying to stay mindful today!
Sunday, October 12, 2008
Saturday, October 11, 2008
Here is little Gracie at 4 1/2 weeks old, I went to visit her last night and got some updated photos. The kittens are all out of their nest now, exploring the room and starting to play, much steadier on their feet. At this point Gracie is the smallest of the bunch, curious and very playful. She seems more interested in exploring her surroundings than cuddling or being held. I could have watched her and her litter-mates all night, they are so adorable! Towards the end of my visit they all curled up in their bed, one big jumble of feet, tails and fur and went to sleep. A couple of them were purring, but it was difficult to tell who because they were all so intertwined.
I've never adopted a kitten before, it's a lot of fun to know the actual "birthday" and age as well as being able to watch her grow from a tiny baby. My other 3 cats were adopted as adults, ages 1-3, which is wonderful because adults are harder to place (seeing the kittens I understand why!). My first cat I rescued as a baby from the mean streets of Chinatown in Boston at 1am after working an evening shift, she was a mere 5 weeks old and on her own at that point. She was feral and never truly liked being touched or cuddled and unfortunately kept her wild side all of her short life. Because of her wildness, the vet was never able to properly examine her, even though she was declawed and medicated prior to checkups. She died a young cat, at 4 years old, we were never sure of the reason, but the vet suspected a bad heart. She was a beautiful calico cat, but not an ideal pet by any stretch of the imagination, so my experience with kittens is quite limited. This is a totally different scenario, seeing Gracie with her litter mates and mom and watching her grow, then taking her home when she is old enough to leave.
My quote for today is simple, and I really don't have anything to add, so I'll end with it here:
The world is ruled by letting things take their course. - LaoTzu
Friday, October 10, 2008
I've come to enjoy looking through my books in the morning and finding a quote that jumps out at me. Today I have Love Letters to the Universe open. Unlike Think Positive Thoughts Every Day, this book is filled with many amazing quotes, some so abstract I have difficulty understanding them. Whereas Think Positive is more smarmy-sweet, this book contains thought provoking quotations that reflect on the miracle of life and the creation of the universe. I have a million little sticky notes marking pages that have interesting thoughts on them. Contained in its pages are the likes of Rilke, Einstein, Rumi, Nabokov, Deepak Chopra, Camus and a smattering of quotes from the Tao Te Ching, Bagavad Gita and other sacred texts to name just a few. Clearly, this book belongs nowhere near the bathroom!
Thich Nhat Hanh's quote jumped out at me today because it reminds me of how often we expect the extraordinary from ourselves, when actually it is the simplest things that are miraculous. Imagine being able to stay in the present moment for an entire day! Even five minutes is a challenge, never mind an hour. Being able to live in the present continually is just about as likely for me as being able to walk on water. Yet, when I'm able to do it for few moments, or during a yoga class it is an amazing thing. The past and future, things our minds tend to dwell on much of the time, fall away and we are left with the here, the now, the present moment. All that wasted energy that we spend worrying, planning, ruminating can be spent on paying attention to what is going on at the time- whether it be a conversation, observing the beauty of a flower or appreciating the way the sunlight falls at this time of year. How many details we miss because our minds are so busy elsewhere!!
Mindfulness is helpful also for dealing with crisis. When a situation seems completely overwhelming and you have no idea where to begin or think you can't handle something returning to your breathing and focusing on the now is a great way to maintain control. Many things that are thrown at us in life are so difficult, but taking them one step or breath at a time can whittle them down into something we can manage. Isn't that one of the tenets of the 12-step program? One Day at a Time. How about making that an even smaller piece to bite off and chew on? One Breath at a Time.
A week or so ago I said I didn't intend to start each blog out with a quote. When I created this blog I had no idea where I was going with it but it seems to me for the time being that this is the direction I'm going to take. I enjoy starting the day off with a quote and trying to set an intention for the day. Remembering the words of Thich Nhat Hanh will be my goal for today. Rather than expecting a miracle from myself, I need to realize that the biggest miracle is to live in the present, something that is within my grasp, within every one's grasp.
This one's for you Tina!
Thursday, October 9, 2008
It is impossible to turn on the television, pick up a newspaper or have a conversation with anyone these days without the country's economic crisis taking center stage. It's impossible to escape and I think that everyone is feeling very uneasy about their financial situation at the moment. Everything costs more: food, fuel, and especially heating oil as we approach the winter here in the northeast. Paychecks haven't kept up with the rapid rise in inflation, and now on top of the increase in the cost of living, we have the threat of failing banks. Wall Street is a rollercoaster and everyday people who have invested their retirement savings are losing huge sums of money. We're lucky that we're still 20+ years away from retirement- the economy goes up and down and hopefully this trend will work itself out within the next several years. But what about those who don't have that kind of time, and have lost their nest egg?
I hate to say this, but maybe in some ways this crash will be good for our country. Certainly not in the short term, and I do feel for the people who are impacted today by the volatility. But perhaps in the long run this will be a good thing. We are a country of wasters- anyone who has ever traveled outside the United States has seen this. Gas prices rising here? Well they've been higher in Europe for many years. They have had to adapt, you don't see the huge SUVs that so many people here drive. They have been using alternative forms of energy such as wind and solar much longer, its not uncommon to see a wind farm on the horizon or a store selling solar panels for the homeowner. We need to be better about seeking alternative fuels and being more proactive about conservation. I think the economy is going to force us into it, even if our consciences haven't.
Perhaps, also, this crash will be a sort of levelling of the playing field as well. I know that not just the Wall St. bigwigs are being affected, probably the CEOs of the banks and corporations that are being bailed out will never have to worry about how they are going to pay for their oil bill, or decide which is more important: groceries or their medication. But hopefully it will slim down the margain between the haves and the have-nots and force us to look at our spending habits and what is meaningful to us.
J and I have lived frugally for so many years. When we read the tips that are now appearing online, in magazines and newspapers on how to save costs we just shake our heads and say "we already do all that!" We have become masters at conservation and frugality. Can we trim a bit more from our budget? Of course, there is always room for improvement, but over the years we have learned to be very responsible financially- due in large part to my being disabled and not working. Now that J is between jobs we need to be even more cautious. But maybe in proportion we aren't as badly off because everyone else is struggling now as well.
This brings me back to my original quote: that happiness is not in things, but in ourselves. I'm hoping that this difficult economic time will help us, as a country, get away from the consumerism and "he who dies with the most toys wins" mentality and more in touch with our spiritual side. Things can't make you happy. Can they make life more comfortable? You bet! But if you do a bit of soul-searching and make a list of priorities and what is important to you in life, I'll wager that it is the simple things that top the list: family, friends, a crisp, sunny fall day, apple pie baking in the oven. Yes, we need money to pay our bills and put food on the table, but true happiness comes from within, from us doing the things we love and that give us a sense of wholeness. Once our basic needs have been met, everything else is icing on the cake. Here's to the simple life!
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
Saturday, October 4, 2008
What's cuter than a kitten? How about five????
My friend Joyce is fostering a stray mom cat who gave birth to a litter of 5 kittens. They're 3 1/2 weeks old now and absolutely adorable, just starting to totter around on wobbly legs. I'm going to be bringing the gray and white one home in 4 weeks, when she's old enough. Meet Gracie, the latest addition to our family!
This is probably the worst time imaginable to be taking in a kitten; there are numerous expenses associated with a new pet- shots, neutering and checkups. We're also going to visit J's family for Thanksgiving, which, by my estimation will probably be just a week after we bring Gracie home. I hate the thought of her being alone for 4 days so soon after moving in with us, but hopefully she won't be too traumatized by it.
I realize that this is pretty cliche.... only child goes off to college and empty-nester mom adopts a new kitten. Well, so what if it is a cliche? Is it anything to be ashamed of? Its true I miss Wilson, but I'm not pining away for him or anything... I've had plenty to keep me busy since he left home. And he's been home almost once a week, for goodness sake! The timing seems to make sense: I have more freedom with W not at home, we lost Benji back in March, and Charlotte (bless her heart!) is 17 and I'm not sure how much longer she'll be with us. Plus, I just really like cats.
I'm not sure how Gomer will react to Gracie, I'm hoping that because she's a kitten he'll be a bit curious and not threatened by her. I don't expect them to be buddies like he and Benji were, but hopefully there won't be any fights. Unless Gracie goes up into my bedroom I doubt Charlotte will even know she's here, as she mostly just sleeps her days away in comfort on my bed. She's happy enough and doesn't seem to need to do more than eat, sleep and use the litterbox. Her interest in what goes on in the rest of the house is nil at this point so hopefully Gracie won't be a problem.
So soon we'll be back up to 3 cats, who knows for how long, but I plan to thoroughly enjoy the time I have with them. If only pets lived as long as we do!
Friday, October 3, 2008
I don't intend to start off each blog entry with a quote but for the past couple days I've been looking through a book called Think Positive Thoughts Every Day. Its one of those "bathroom books" with quotes and poems that are supposed to help you live a happier life. I came across it while at Borders, shortly after S's husband was fired from his job and admitted to rehab; it seemed like a perfect thing to send her to help her get through a very difficult time. It was on the bargain table, only $4 or so, so I figured I'd get one for myself as well so we could read it together. Much of it is so sickly-sweet, sunshine-up-your-butt, smarmy that its all I can do not to gag- but there are some quotes I like as evidenced by the past couple blogs I've written.
A big part of the way we react to situations depends upon our outlook at the moment. A bad mood can make the driver that cuts you off in traffic seem inherently evil, when in fact the person is just trying to change lanes and the spot in front of you happened to be the place he chose to do it. Nothing personal. But its easy when you are seeing things in a negative light to take it personally and feel like he did it just to spite you and get ahead of you. The bastard!
When you're in a more peaceful mood or having a better day its so much easier to let it slide off your back. Maybe there's a great song on the radio, or you're looking forward to something later in the day- hey, so someone cuts you off... no biggie! Its amazing how the way we are feeling can color a situation.
I guess that brings me back to the original Shakespeare quote: nothing in life is really good or bad, but its our outlook, attitude and views on it that makes it seem that way to us. Its all in our perception!
Sure, there are some events in which its nearly impossible to find any good- hurricane Katrina or the Tsunami in Indonesia come to mind. Natural disasters of huge proportions. Nature is indifferent, weather happens and its part of the natural order of things in the universe. Its so difficult to look at it from the human perspective and not see it as negative... the suffering, lives, homes, businesses lost...but in reality its just part of the way things work. Nothing personal.
There is a story, for the life of me I can't remember where I read it......... there was a wise man in a Chinese village who refused to judge events. Villagers would come to him with situations and ask him what he thought... "maybe its good, maybe its bad, maybe its neither" was his reply.
A farmer was busy with his crops in the field when his only son broke his leg and was unable to help with the harvest. The farmer went to the wise man and bemoaned his fate. The sage gave his usual reply, which frustrated the farmer - until several days later when the army came through the village and took all the able bodied young men to fight in a war. Because of his son's broken leg, he was spared. So out of a "bad" situation came a "good" outcome. Did that make the broken leg a good thing?
There is nothing that is good or bad, but thinking makes it so.
Thursday, October 2, 2008
What a simple saying, but not that easy to do! I wanted to start today with the three things I am looking forward to. I'm up early to do my treatments before a 7am yoga class that I've been attending for the past few weeks. Its not as spiritual and meditative as the class I take on Tuesdays with M, but it is an amazing way to start out the day. The second thing I'm looking forward to is going to the dentist; that probably sounds crazy, but I love having my teeth feel so fresh and clean. I'm a bit nervous about my cracked tooth (maybe they won't notice???) since we have no dental insurance at the moment, but hopefully I can put off any major work until J has a job. The third thing I'm looking forward to today is having my in-laws visit overnight. One night is perfect! Enough time to catch up and see one another but not enough to get on each other's nerves. W is also coming home to see them, it will be great to have him home for a couple nights.
Its easy to look around and see people who are better off, who don't have to deal with the same struggles and burdens, and their lives might even seem enviable. There's also another side to the coin, we are so much better off than most, we have so much: a home, our health, a family and friends who love us, enough food on the table... the list could go on infinitely.
So, back to the quote from Confucius that I started out with- my intention for the day is to live in harmony with the world be at ease and full of joy.
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
At the end of the day I'd like to reflect on three things that I'm thankful for. We really are so blessed, though that sounds trite and corny, but compared to so many other cultures and countries, we have SO much. I think much of the time we are on auto pilot, too busy to think about what we have and notice what is around us. Work consumes us, we are always rushing from one task to the next, trying to fit everything in... mindfulness is about slowing down, enjoying the process and living in the moment.
Today I had a luxurious haircut with my stylist, whom I adore. He makes me laugh but is also quite serious at times and we can discuss just about anything under the sun. He has a lot of self-awareness. I also had a wonderful visit with an old friend, whom I've known for 20+ years. We had coffee and talked about our families, mutual friends and how nice it is to have such a long history together. It was great to see him and we made a vow to get together for dinner with our spouses soon. In about a half an hour a friend is coming by with a peony that her mom has divided... apparently, its been in the family for a long time and is quite a special one. I'm honored not only to have her friendship, but now to have a reminder of her in my garden! I can think of many more things that I'm thankful for today, but those were the first to come to mind. How lucky to have so many things to be grateful for!