EIGHT NOTIONS FOR THE NEW YEAR

I don’t know where the days are going. I wake up and it’s Christmas. Again. Now we’re on the brink of another New Year. You live long enough and the days start to blend and blur and you feel as if you’re trapped in the movie Groundhog Day.

But a New Year makes us pause. For better or worse, it is the flashing yellow light in our lives, reminding us to slow down and reflect on what we’ve done the past year and what we’d like to accomplish in the coming year.

I detest the word “resolutions” because so many of us “resolve” and fail and it becomes another reason to beat up on ourselves, something many of us are already too good at.

Instead, I like the word  “notion.” The dictionary defines it as “an idea about doing something.” So, here are eight notions for the New Year of 2016 with the hope they gently invite us forward and inward.

***********

1. LIFE IS HARD.  Accept that fact. Life is also good. Accept that, too. Know that both are part of the heroine’s and hero’s journey (with deference to mythologist Joseph Campbell). Life for me was hard in many ways in 2015, helping care for dad. But it was also good, in seeing his face  light up when I came into the room; in laughing with a friend because of a stupid joke until I couldn’t breathe and snot ran down my nose; in scratching the belly of a little doggie who lives in the present and only wants to play, play, play.

New-Years-Resolutions-for-Marketing-Your-Business-780x6622. LOSING WEIGHT. Forget it. It’s everyone’s New Year’s resolution. I’m still wearing what writer Anne Lamott calls my “forgiving” pants and after this past week of Christmas feasting, the pants will have to be especially forgiving. Instead, I choose to be healthy and will make each day the start of doing that, not just January 1. This also helps: Thousands of people in our world go hungry every night, even children in our own country. No, my eating less or more healthful doesn’t help them, but it reminds  me that I do have enough to sustain myself so I need to be thankful. And yes, if I can donate  to a cause that helps hunger or volunteer at a food pantry or soup kitchen, I’ll do that.

3. HEALTH. See number two. Yes, there have been some minor issues this past year and they make me more aware that as I age I want to  maintain good health so I can go about the work — whatever that is (see number four below) — I’ve been given to do here on Planet Earth. So I’ll be more mindful of what I put into this body, which truly is some kind of genius-amazing-Divine-self-repairing gift when you think about it. Exercise? Yes. Whether it’s a brief walk or yoga.

4. LIFE PURPOSE. What the heck is it anyway? It seems that I’ve been focusing on thislife purpose particular notion for many years. Here’s what I believe — it’s always evolving. There may never be a “ta-da” moment but perhaps a series of small steps, like bread crumbs, that not only lead the way to “whatever” it is I am called to be and do here, but ARE the way. I know. Sounds all spiritual and stuff,  but the truth is, perhaps life purpose is as simple as loving a partner or spouse or child, cooking a good meal, delighting in a sunrise or sunset, or splashing in ocean waves. Perhaps being human is purpose enough. Because, refer to number one, life is hard. But it’s also good.

5. GRATITUDE. I’ve worked a lot on this over the years. I really learned it in earnest after dad had the stroke. I don’t like what happened to dad not one bit, but when I can be thankful to a Divine creator for giving me this opportunity to serve and love, for a chance for my soul and heart to swell and grow, well, that’s a lot to be grateful for. I’ve heard and read about many people who were deeply thankful after a critical, painful experience. They say it was life changing and without it, they would not have become the people they were  meant to be.

6. LAUGHTER. Truth time here. People who are highly spiritual laugh a lot. I may be sunk with this one. I need a lot more laughter in my life. A Yiddish proverb says: “What soap is to the body, laughter is to the soul.” My soul may be in need of some bubbly suds right now. But there’s also a time and a season for every purpose under the heavens, and it’s been sad watching dad decline. Hopefully, some day, laughter will return in waves. Or, perhaps I need to spend more time with my friend, the one who tells the stupid jokes. See number one again.

7. KINDNESS. I wanted  to say BE LOVING at this point. But sometimes it’s hard kindness2to be loving. Pure, sacrificial love can demand too much of us on any given day.  We get grouchy in traffic or at the supermarket or at the person in the same  room with us. So, I’m going to continue to try to be kind in the smallest of ways. Like asking the turnpike toll booth person the other day if she was ready for Christmas and what kind of day she was having. That kind of thing. She beamed. It made her happy and me, too.

8. BEING. Ah. Here’s the crux of it. Being in the present moment and allowing and accepting all that is, as it is. Phew. This is hefty on my life’s plate and way too much for simply one New Year. I am always learning — how to be human, how to be spiritual. How to be. Period. It’s a lifelong process for me. And that’s a good thing. We are always growing and evolving and we are in good company with each other along this life’s journey. So, if we don’t begin any of the above on January 1st, fear not. Each moment is as the first. We can begin now.

Still, if we are wise, we  learn from the past. So I reflected on 2015. Sad, sad, sad. And as often as my heart sank, hearing about wars, terrorists, refugees and our lack of  love for each other — my heart also rose in joy at seeing the goodness around me, in those who are indeed loving, themselves and others.

gratitude-1Those who are helping and feeding the hungry and homeless; those working for peace and justice; those struggling and praying to bring light into the darkness. Those who are simply being good and decent people, at home, at work, in their daily lives.

I hope I can share some of these “stories for the journey” this coming year.

And my deepest wish for 2016 is that we are blessed with peace in our hearts and in our world. I believe that this “notion” is entirely possible. If we work at it.  Together.

 

Thank you — from my heart!

Dear friends,

To those of you who have been journeying with me through the stories of this life and many lives — I want to take this blog post to say a heartfelt THANK YOU.

healing energy handsSince I started this blog in June, I have written 32 posts. I hope some of them have been helpful, inspiring or healing. I hope some have made you ponder, reflect or smile.

Perhaps some have made you cry.

When a writer can touch the human heart — the collective heart of humanity — this is a gift beyond measure.

So, as we draw toward the end of 2015 I want to THANK YOU again for taking time to read my blog, to share your comments and thoughts.

My intention in starting this blog was that we share this journey together. For it is only together that we find our way home — the home of our authentic selves and the home within, where I believe the Divine lives, breathes and has presence and being.

I am going to take a respite during the holidays. I believe we find grace and creativity in the spaces between the words, the rests and pauses between the notes. So I am allowing some fallow space to see where and how I might continue to serve this blog and you, as I am led, as the Divine Beloved leads.

I hope to return in the New Year with more Stories for the Journey.

I am humbled and privileged by the daily stories I hear and see in my life: those struggling with poverty and illness; those rejoicing in the birth of a child; those caught in uncertainty as to what’s next in life; and those who have just lost loved ones and will struggle through this holiday season.

HANDSTOUCHINGS-33_000As I said before, we share this collective journey — and story — together. I hope this blog offers, not answers, but hope. But even more important, I pray that we can offer that hope to one another each and every day.

May this Christmas and holiday season be filled with deep peace, healing and joy, for you and your loved ones.

From my heart to yours, as always, with much love and deep gratitude!

******

(The link below is to one of my favorite traditional songs,  “For the Beauty of the Earth,” especially this stanza:

For the joy of human love, brother, sister, parent, child, friends on earth and friends above, for all gentle thoughts and mild … Lord of all to thee we raise, this our hymn of grateful praise.)

With thanks to TheNCrew Eli Eli.

 

The courage of gratitude

“If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.” ~ Meister Eckhart

*********

One day you wake up and you think — this is it. This is my one and only life.

I don’t know what causes that to happen. It may be as traumatic as the death of a spouse or a diagnosis of cancer. Or it may be something as simple as the unexpected ache in your back or knees, reminding you that you are aging and nothing lasts forever, especially your body.

Whatever the cause, the thought is startling, like your breath snatched from your lungs in a stiff, cold wind.

You may have dallied with the thought of the time left you on this planet, but chances are you lost it in the deadlines of life. Or in denial. But then there it is. Persistent. Defining. And the realization sinks in and chills your soul.

brevity of lifeMost of us pull the covers over our head and tell it to go away. We don’t want to look at our own finiteness. We don’t want to have to ask the hard questions. Besides, who has the time to lead the “examined” life?

Isn’t it bad enough that we have to wake early each morning and face rush hour traffic, a sink full of dirty dishes, a desk piled with work and bills, that we have to listen to news filled with murders, wars and terrorist attacks.

Who has time to contemplate his or her “one and only life?” This is it. The bills. The job. The extra 20 pounds.

Still, the nagging thought persists. We want our lives to count for something. So what do we do with this realization when it pricks us? Or do we need to do anything at all?

Perhaps we first need to see it as a gift. We can take this realization of our limited nature and celebrate it. This gift of awareness, if we have the courage to truly look at it, has much to tell us about how we choose to spend the rest of our lives. It is the “wake up call” prodding us to “do the thing we think we cannot do” as Eleanor Roosevelt said.

But exactly what is that thing? Is it writing our best-selling novel? Climbing a high mountain? Working with the poor in India? Some may do those things. But chances are, most of us will do none of them. We will get up each morning, wash, brush our teeth, eat breakfast, get the children off to school, go to work. Over and over and over again.

So if this is our one and only life, and this is it — the mundane and routine — how can this possibly be a gift?

appreciation-can-change-your-lifeThrough choice. It is the lens through which we view those hum-drum moments of our lives, either blurring them with dislike and boredom or clarifying them with appreciation and love. But it takes courage.

Choosing to take our lives and celebrate the little moments is not for the faint hearted. For who among us wants to appreciate driving in rush hour traffic on a rainy Monday morning? Or who wants to be grateful for sitting through another boring business meeting?

None of us, I imagine. But I believe it is possible. It takes practice to adopt a different mind set and to see life in a “new” way. It takes appreciation and gratitude. And acceptance. Believe me, these are no easy tasks.

And they begin with simple steps. Perhaps thankfulness for a job when so many today are unemployed. Gratefulness for children when many are unable to have children. A safe home when so many people today are displaced from their countries. Appreciation for legs and feet when many are in wheelchairs.

Pollyana-ish? Perhaps. But there’s nothing wrong with being a Pollyana. It is in choosing to take the ordinary of life and transforming it with love and gratitude that we transform and elevate the average into the awesome, the banal into bliss. The little moments count, whether it’s stuck in line at the bank or grocery store, or sitting with a loved one on the front porch on a summer night, watching the fireflies dance in twilight.

In her poem The Summer Day poet Mary Oliver dares us to savor our lives and not take a minute of it for granted. In her walk through a meadow and her encounter with a grasshopper, she sees the fleeting nature of life and accepts the goodness of all that is given her in that moment.

She questions if she shouldn’t be doing something else on that summer’s day, but then asks, what else should she be doing except kneeling down into the tall grass and savoring the day.

mary oliver tell meAt the end of her poem she challenges the core of our being with this question:

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

In my own life, I’m still answering that question. I believe my writing is part of it. But perhaps there’s more. I don’t know yet. What I do know is that when I open my heart in gratitude to all that is before me in a day, the burdens of life are lightened. I even discover pockets of joy.

But some days, I falter. I’m always learning. As I said before, gratitude for all that is given us is not for the faint hearted. But if we are not thankful for each and every second of our lives — what then? Tell me. What then?

 

Waiting

Waiting is never easy. Especially this time of year. But it can be a gift, if we allow it.

*******

The schoolyard felt vast, a desolate ocean of concrete, as I sat there, waiting. A five-year-old, I clutched my Cinderella lunch pail to my chest as I saw buses leave, parents pick up their children. And my insides churned. Where was dad?

As he pulled up in that 1950s station wagon, I jumped in the front seat and fretted in sing-song style, “I waited and I waited but you never came.”

Dad told me in later years he raced and rushed from his job so he could get there in time to pick me up after kindergarten. But sometimes, his work delayed him or traffic was heavy — and he was late. And while I waited, alone, I was filled with an overwhelming loneliness and anxiety.

Of course I healed from that experience and as an adult, it became a private joke between dad and me, especially if I was running late for some event with him and he would say, “I waited and I waited ….”

bigstock-Woman-Silhouette-Waiting-For-S-5824100I share this story because it seems we are always a people of waiting. And yet, we often see it as an inconvenience. Let’s face it. Waiting is not popular, especially today. Stuck in heavy traffic, at the airport for a delayed flight, at a doctor’s office, waiting for the cable repairman. You name it, and we wail and bemoan all this “wasted time” when we could have been doing something else.

The truth is, waiting is not lost time, but valuable if we choose to make it so. Waiting can be rich, inviting us to live in the present moment and to trust in the process of life — to surrender our timetable to the agenda of a Higher Power. In other words, when we are forced to wait, we are no longer in control. The Divine is.

But waiting is not all drudgery. It can often be filled with hope. And promise. In the Old Testament, the Israelites waited 40 years in the desert to reach the Promised Land. Mary waited for the birth of the Christ. The Buddha sat under a tree, waiting for enlightenment.

In this way, waiting is not passive — but active. Spiritual writer Henri Nouwen puts it this way:

“Active waiting means to be fully present to the moment, in the conviction that something is happening. A waiting person is a patient person … impatient people are always expecting the real thing to happen somewhere else and therefore want to go somewhere else. The moment is empty. But patient people dare to stay where they are. Patient living means to actively live in the present — and wait there.”

Without this period of waiting, whatever wants to be “birthed” cannot be fully formed. Some examples that come to mind are the chrysalis of the butterfly. A child in a mother’s womb. A work of art or book in process. In Pilgrim at Tinker Creek writer Annie Dillard quotes poet Michael Goldman:

“When the muse comes she doesn’t tell you to write. She says, ‘Get up for a minute. I’ve something to show you. Stand here.”

advent-candle11If we were not to “stand here” and wait to see what is being shown us — to cut short any of our waiting time — we thwart whatever wants to take form and shape. Right now, in many Christian traditions, we are in the Advent season, a time designated to wait for the birth of the Christ. And yet, I find it sad and ironic that our society rushes ahead. Hurries to decorate. To play holiday songs on the radio. To buy gifts. In essence, we do not take the time necessary to prepare in stillness and to listen for what waits to be birthed within us.

When we patiently wait, however, we are gifted and graced. One of my favorite authors, Sue Monk Kidd, writes:

“When the time is right, the cocooned soul begins to emerge. Waiting turns golden. Newness unfurls. It is a time of pure unmitigated wonder.”

I have to admit that I’m still not good at waiting. But I’m getting better. I have come to understand that the things of God don’t come suddenly. Often, the Divine is more of a mid-wife than a rescuer, one who patiently guides us through the process to new life.

And yes, like many of you, I wait. For many things. But I also know, as Jungian analyst James Hillman wrote, that “our soul is the patient part of us.” So I try to listen to my soul more often, to sit with it in silence. But this time, unlike the little girl, I know I’m not alone. The Divine is always with me and within me.

With this inner knowing, with this sense of presence, I trust. In stillness. In anticipation. Waiting.