WEEKLY STRETCH 8-3-17 ~ On August

Ah, August. I have a conflicting relationship with this month.

As I mentioned, August is my birthday month. My awkward relationship with August began in childhood, specifically once I started school. You see, August comes before September, and September means SCHOOL! And there is my birthday, smack dab in the middle of August, two weeks before the beginning of SCHOOL!

Most kids dream of their birthdays. Am I right? And like most kids, I dreamt about mine, in living color. Cake, ribbons, wrapped surprises, games, all kinds of fun. And yet, the specter of SCHOOL was always breathing down my neck in the form of some hideous monster who would show up to ruin it and scare the bejeezes out of me and everyone else. I’d wake up in tears and disappointment. In my waking life I’d think, “Oh boy, my birthday is coming!”, feel a quick sense of excitement and delight at the prospect only to have those feelings diminished the second I would compute the timing and what would inevitably come right after. It didn’t help that some of my birthday gifts might include school-oriented things like fall clothing, a bookbag, or a new pencil case. Such a mixed bag for a kid to manage.

As an adult, I developed what one might call “unrealistic expectations” around my birthday. I think on some level I had hoped that adulthood would negate the conflicting emotions since school was no longer an issue. The end of August was only the end of Summer (bad enough actually, but not as bad as SCHOOL), and I love the fall season so it was not so bad. Subconsciously (maybe not so “sub”) I expected the day to be extra special somehow. And sometimes it was. But most times it was average or less. I often felt let down and sad. It just never measured up to what I had hoped it would be. My birthday continued to be a mixed bag emotionally.

I love being a student and eventually – you guessed it – went back to SCHOOL!! And guess what – that old anxiety returned and I would measure the month of August (and my birthday) against the impending beginning of my school year and eventually my child’s. No matter what I did, I couldn’t separate my birthday from what would arrive shortly thereafter.

As I’ve grown older and more mature I’ve worked at my relationship with August. I am a proud Leo woman, and I’ve educated myself about what that means. I have made peace with the placement of my birthday on the calendar and celebrate the radiance, color, and light that August brings. I pay close attention to the beauty of it and get myself to the beach as often as I can to enjoy the warmer ocean waters and the golden sunlight that is unique to the month. School is a constant in my life. I am always taking classes, teaching something, supporting my family who are teachers and/or students, and I’ve come to embrace the onset of the school year. I see it as a beginning rather than an ending – or at least that is my intention.

I’ve also taken the time to look up the definition of the word august. Here is what I found: respected and impressive. Synonyms: distinguished, respected, eminent, venerable, hallowed, illustrious, prestigious, renowned, celebrated, honored, acclaimed, esteemed, exalted; great, important, lofty, noble; imposing, impressive, awe-inspiring, stately, grand, dignified.

OK, maybe not dignified, but I’ll take the rest and add in some of my favorite Leo traits: kind, sunny, passionate, creative, generous and loyal. We’ll just leave it there.

My birthday became an even more poignant day on August 16, 2012. My father died on that day. He fell into a coma and was in grave condition on August 13. I think I knew then that he would die on my birthday. There is something about that fact that was comforting then, and continues to be. It seems to have some sort of cosmic significance, though for the life of me I haven’t been able to figure it out. I only know that on that day I feel great reverence and peace, along with genuine sadness at the loss of my beloved father and hero.

The day my father died my daughter made me promise that I wouldn’t spend my birthdays grieving. I don’t, but I find that the day has taken on a different energy. I no longer have lofty expectations and anxiety around it. It’s now a day for me to reflect. I think of my Dad and that day five years ago. I also think about how grateful I am to be here on the planet and celebrate life. I enjoy time with my family, but it’s not a requirement. I’m also fine with passing the day alone, doing something I love. This year I plan to take myself to the beach.

My Grandpa Louie used to tell me, “Never be too happy or too sad”. I wasn’t quite sure what he meant by that when I heard it as a young child. But, his words stayed with me and as an adult I finally get it. My birthday is a great metaphor for that advice. It’s a wonderful day of celebration and gratitude – for the magic of birth and the gift of my life. Happy. Juxtaposed with all that happiness and joy is the opposite – my childhood dread of school, the sadness at the end of summer, and the inevitability of loss and death. Sad.

So, with Grandpa Louie’s advice in mind, my birthday is “never too happy or too sad”. I’m OK with the mixed bag. It means I get to have it all. I like that.

STRETCH: Take time to think about where you may have “unrealistic expectations”. Can you imagine removing them? Can you imagine how much more at peace you will be when you do?

WEEKLY STRETCH – 7-28-17 ~ Attitude Shift


(I just love this photo and thought it a good one to post to welcome my birthday month, August.)

We are going to be moving again. I have mentioned that the woman who owns the house we live in will be selling it in the Spring, which means we are about to start sifting through our stuff again. We moved into this house two years ago January. It’s been a great transitional place for us to land and recharge. We took this time to heal and reflect on where we’ve been and envision where to go next. We’ve found a wonderful place not far from here and are excited about the prospect of living there.

What has been hovering in my consciousness is a double-edged sword of dread around the hard physical and emotional work of cleaning out, letting go, packing and unpacking juxtaposed with the wonderful feeling of lightness that comes with shedding excess, the prospect of living space that suits our lifestyle, and starting over with a sense of the fresh and new.

Chatting with my cousin Lana the other day I shared my conflicting feelings with her. She told me that she absolutely loves moving. I looked at her like she had two heads and asked her why. I loved her enthusiastic response. She shared how much she loves the idea of handling all of her “stuff” again. She loves touching things that are around her home that she ordinarily would take for granted. She enjoys taking time to remember where she was when this thing or that thing was purchased or received. She enjoys having time to hold these memories and feelings in her consciousness. For her it’s a gift, an opportunity, a great pleasure – to reflect on her life and the events and circumstances that brought these things into her life and the people and places associated with them. As she described her perspective on moving I noticed a peaceful faraway look in her eyes and could feel how sincere she was. I sort of shook my head and wondered what I might be missing.

So, I’ve taken Lana’s point of view to heart. I’ve decided to make the effort to shift my attitude about the upcoming move. I admit that this requires a good deal of consciousness since I am aware that my thoughts and responses thus far have been reinforced – by me. Up to now I’ve allowed myself to perpetuate the idea that moving is going to be a drudge, a bummer, a pain in the ass, (I could go on but that’s not really helpful). Instead I’m adopting Lana’s take on the whole thing, looking at my belongings with new eyes, and approaching the move with an embrace rather than “talk to the hand” resistance. I’m looking around my home assessing my stuff; thinking about what stays and what goes, what we should sell or give away, what is a treasure and what is no longer of service to us but could be of value to someone else. I’m realistic enough to know that some of these decisions may be difficult, especially when handling things that belonged to my parents or that I’ve been saving as memorabilia but only look at when I’m moving it from one place to another. Some of the boxes we have stored can be likened to Pandora’s, filled with things I haven’t seen for ages that, uncovered once again, suddenly becoming seductive valuables that I can’t imagine parting with but have no real meaning or value in my life now, or that bring up times and places I may want to leave behind. I’m preparing for those – steeling my resolve to make choices to finally let these things go.

The best part, and the most fun, is envisioning the space that will be made for the “new”. Clearing away the debris and residue of our life will give us the latitude and spaciousness to allow new things to come in that will enliven and beautify our new digs. I’m already “acting as if” when I browse magazines or stores that have furniture and décor that I’d like to purchase for us. I’m putting things on Pinterest, clipping pictures, taking snapshots, and choosing wall colors to help envision our new surroundings.

I’m so grateful to Lana for sharing her take on moving and giving me another way to approach it. Like so many things in our lives, it’s a day by day shift that I now welcome since I know the other side will be provide lightness and newness that will refresh our life and lead us to what is next.

More to come.

STRETCH: Look at your material things, things you treasure. Think about how they came into your life and remember – remember the time, the place, the people – remember the feelings and emotions – the season and the reason. Take a little time to appreciate it all.

WEEKLY STRETCH – 7-20-17 ~ For The Gamblers

My Dad was a major risk-taker. He was an amazingly positive glass half-full guy. In fact, despite a very difficult childhood and a tremendous amount of disappointment during his lifetime, my Dad almost always saw the glass overflowing. He was one whose attitude was, “you don’t know until you try”, and he tried. He tired so many different things, took risks, rolled the dice and held his breath to see what he could accomplish. My Dad didn’t go to college, though I’m convinced if he had gone to law school he’d have made one hell of a lawyer. Instead, upon graduation from high school, he enlisted in the Army with the intention of making a career of the military. After following him around the world for eight years of their young marriage Mom wasn’t terribly happy with that idea, so he left army life as a Captain and found his way into the lumber business. Without going into detail, he had a variety of ups and downs, maybe more downs than ups. But he persevered in every way, and never wavered in his devotion to making a living for his family. He loved a challenge and didn’t shy away from coloring outside the lines when it came to trying new things in spite of my Mom’s conservative and fearful worldview. While in truth he was what we would call a workaholic, he was my greatest hero and one of my greatest teachers. I adored him – always will.

There is a scene in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” where Indie must take a step into a seeming abyss to recover the Holy Grail and save his father’s life. An ancient story says that there is a bridge to the portal that will lead to the grail, but Indy can’t see it. At a critical time, he must make a choice to take the step and trust that the bridge will be there or allow his father to die. He chooses to take the step and lo and behold, the bridge was there all the time, only hidden from view. He recovers the grail and saves his father and they live happily ever after.

My Dad exemplified for me what it meant to take that step into the seeming abyss especially when the time came to make some of the most difficult choices of my life. Divorce, work life, single-parenting, relationships, and navigating life in general were all influenced by my father’s example of trusting that the bridge would be there. Not to say that I haven’t fallen, scraped my knees and elbows and needed to recover my equilibrium. But more times than not, taking that risky step has brought me to my life now, which is pretty wonderful.

My brother, Hal, is a bass player and singer and the other night, while attending a function where the band was performing, he sang an old song that was very special to both of us. It was particularly significant to us when the song was released back in 1974. We were both going through some painful growth at the time and the song had significant meaning for us then. Whenever I hear him sing it – and he sings it really well (no bias of course) – I cry. Listening to it last week inspired this posting. I realized, through the tears welling in my eyes, that it’s about my Dad and me and Hal and all that we have risked to bring us forward in our lives. In that moment, I felt the strong presence of my Dad telling us, “You did good, kids”.

To all of you risk-takers reading this, here are the beautiful words Dan Fogelberg wrote all those years ago that continue to remind me that there’s a place for me and all of us. If you don’t know this song, I encourage you to check it out on YouTube. Have some tissues ready.

There’s a Place in the World for a Gambler – Dan Fogelberg

There’s a place in the world
For a gambler
There’s a burden that only
He can bear
There’s a place in the world
For a gambler,
And he sees
Oh, yes he sees
And he sees
Oh, yes he sees
There’s a song in the heart
Of a woman
That only the truest of loves
Can release.
There’s a song in the heart
Of a woman.
Set it free
Oh, set it free
Set it free
Oh, set it free
Set it free
Oh, set it free.
There’s a light in the depths
Of your darkness
There’s a calm at the eye
Of every storm.
There’s a light in the depths
Of your darkness.
Let is shine
Oh, let it shine
Let is shine
Oh, let it shine
Let is shine
Oh, let it shine.
Let it Shine

STRETCH: Think about when you have taken a risk, or stepped out of your comfort zone and the growth that resulted. There’s a place for you and for the song you want to sing. Take another step.

WEEKLY STRETCH 6-29-17 ~ FEAR OF FLYING

More travel coming tomorrow. I feel so lucky to be traveling more than ever, though this will be the last trip for a while.

Once upon a time, not so long ago, I was terrified of flying. My fear (like so many of our fears) was irrational and out of control. And yet, I desperately wanted to travel and see parts of the country and the world I had only dreamed about. I was being called to visit Sedona and I needed to face the fear unless we were going to drive the many days it would take to get there and back. I love the idea of a driving tour of America but when vacation days and funds are limited, flying is the way to go. Honestly, I don’t know how or why this fear developed. I had flown to Europe, the Caribbean, California, Columbus, and several other places earlier in my life. Fears are often nonsensical, and this one was the Queen of Nonsense. Somehow it became paralyzing and I knew I needed to conquer it.

Luckily, we have a very close friend who is a pilot. Michael knew of my fear and often tried to explain the science oF aerodynamics, trying to quell my anxiety with facts. His mantra at the end of his science lessons was, “it can’t NOT fly”. I listened attentively each time; grateful for his patience and desire to help and doing my best to take the facts in and let the fear go. I wanted to go to Sedona, dammit. In true Infinite Possibilities fashion, we took a step in the direction of our dreams and planned a trip to Arizona. One way or the other I was going to get on an airplane and fly west. Also, true to the Infinite Possibilities philosophy, I remembered that I have flown before, it was fine, I survived and even enjoyed the experience.

Michael proposed to take me up in a small plane. His theory was that after that flight a commercial airplane would feel like flying in my easy chair. I trust Michael completely and decided – fearfully I will add – that I would just do it. OK, picture this: A beautiful sunny day, a small airport in Princeton, New Jersey, an airplane that barely fit three people crammed in like sardines, me in back with my “cans” on shaking uncontrollably. We took off with me screeching and wondering if this was the day I would die. As we climbed higher I was certain that I’d left my brain and my stomach back on the ground. I was grabbing at the side of the plane as if it could save me! Pretty laughable now, but instinct said, “hold onto something”. That’s when I realized that the sky was just beyond the wall I was using to keep me safe-probably about 2 inches away from my trembling hand. Yikes! What was I thinking? Mike kept telling me it was OK, to keep breathing, feel myself in my seat and trust him. He, of course, was in his heaven since flying is his greatest joy. So, I got hold of my breath and slowly began to calm down. Long story short, after the initial trauma I began to relax and look out on the beauty before me. Michael calmly explained the effect of heat from the ground on the plane, how high we were, what we could see ahead and below and when I caught sight of the Jersey shore in the distance and got into the groove and rhythm of flying I started to love it. We landed and took off twice that day and the fear became more of a thrill. By the time I got home I was elated and filled with enthusiasm for our trip to Arizona. I felt like Rocky climbing the steps of the art museum. I had done it! And in a tiny airplane of all things.

Fast forward to our trip to Arizona, sitting on an airplane burgeoning with jet fuel and energy to burn it, the fear is at its peak, knuckles white as bone, breathing labored, eyes wide and “what the hell am I doing here?” blaring in my head – my husband petting my hand trying to reassure me. I was hyper-focused on everything. “What’s that noise?”, “Why are they doing that?”, “Where’s that life preserver?” (no water this trip, but I needed to know!). Poor Bob! And then the inevitable revving of the engines, only to get us rolling toward the runway! Every step was another step to freedom from the fear, but every step was sheer terror. We finally took off, my head exploding and my lips uttering every prayer I knew with very bank, every change in altitude as we climbed, every sound, every movement. What got me through it? “It can’t NOT fly!”. I heard Mike’s voice telling me that despite its huge size, loaded with luggage and passengers, it can’t not fly. And so, it flew with me and who knows how many others inside, and we arrived safely at Phoenix Sky Harbor airport four hours later. (I will spare you the landing drama, but you can imagine.)

Many flights later I can say that I still get some butterflies when the engines rev up, and there’s some anxiety when we start our approach to land. I have my little flying rituals. I always kiss my hand and pat the plane when I enter, with a tiny prayer of protection in my mind. I always fly with my sacred mala around my neck and fondle the beads and crystal as we take off and land. But all in all, I love to fly. I claim the window seat so I can watch everything happen. I look forward to that thrill feeling; you know, the one when you can feel the build of energy just before the plane starts to move forward toward take-off. There’s an amazing rush of excitement and expectation that can be addictive. And it means I’m going somewhere cool, somewhere I want to be, exploring the planet and living life a little differently for a bit. Michael was right, and I remind myself of the mantra he taught me from time to time when I feel a little uneasy up there.

The story is about facing yet another fear. It’s about saying “yes” and taking steps toward dreams and desires. It’s about making choices and taking chances. It’s about flying as high as possible and getting where we want to go. There are so many more places I want to go – geographically, internally, emotionally, spiritually and in so many other ways. When I get scared I use this airplane story to remind myself, as Dr. Seuss says, “Oh the places you will go.” I just need to say yes and take that step.

STRETCH: How high can you fly? Can you take one step toward a dream or desire you are holding? You are like that airplane – you can’t NOT fly. Try it. One step.

PS I will always be grateful to Mike Jackson for his skill, his patience and his love. I owe you Mikey.

WEEKLY STRETCH – 6-26-17 ~ The Gift of Sabbath Time

The following was written on Saturday night, just before heading up to bed.

It’s been one of those rare days. No obligations. No plans. No appointments. No urgency to get anything done. A perfect June day of sunshine, low humidity, and gentle breezes. I can’t remember the last time I felt this sort of spaciousness for an entire day. Early this morning we had a wild and crazy storm that seems to have cleared away an array of toxins in the environment and left us with this beautiful clear day to stand in Creation and enjoy it.

My husband and I spent the early part of the day running a few errands after dropping Sophie at the groomer. We lollygagged (is that a real word) around the neighborhood getting a few odds and ends done and came home to decide how we would spend the rest of the gift of the day ahead. We desperately needed this sort of day. Bob loves his job, but it is mentally and physically taxing and his days are exhausting. After the winter we had, with my health problems and Bob caring for me, and the active life we lead, we desperately needed some time to just be home, doing what we do, without running hither and yon. Today was the day and the Universe provided us a doozy.

Don’t get me wrong – we love our life. We have great jobs, a multitude of interests, spectacular friends and family, and so many wonderful ways to spend our free time. Today, though, we had the spaciousness to be still. We did things we rarely do. Bob wanted to go to our pool. In the two and a half years we’ve lived here we’ve visited our pool exactly twice. I wanted to stay back, sit on our deck, read and nap. Another very rare occurrence. So that’s exactly what we did. After reading my book and snoozing awhile, I created a wonderful summer dinner for us. Bob came home from his pool time and as the sun hung low in the sky we sat on our deck, sipped our wine and ate our yummy summer dinner. We talked and dreamed and planned. We listened to our favorite music – Pat Matheny, Earth Wind and Fire, Eric Clapton, Steely Dan, Jackson Browne and rehearsal recordings from the bands Bob’s been playing music with the last few years. We relaxed. We celebrated. It was Sabbath.

Wayne Muller is one of the authors whose wisdom has informed much of our lives since we began our ministry sixteen years ago. In his book, Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives, Muller says, “Like a path through the forest, Sabbath creates a marker for ourselves so, if we are lost, we can find our way back to our center.” Today we gave ourselves the gift of Sabbath Rest. In Judaism we wish each other, “Shabbat Shalom”, which translates as “Sabbath Peace”. Sabbath is considered Judaism’s most sacred day. It’s the one day we can put down all our work, our responsibilities, our concerns – and just rest. It’s not an easy practice to maintain in our busy lives. But it is a wonderful concept to consider and great gift to give ourselves. Today I was reminded how much I love Sabbath time and how important it is to integrate into our week. Sabbath time can be as simple as a designated time to share a meal with loved ones each week, or a weekly walk in the woods or along the beach. It can be designated time to sit in contemplation or time set aside for self-care. The key to taking Sabbath time is to make it habit and take the time to rest and replenish our stores of physical and spiritual energy. It is a time to make space for peace.

I am so grateful for the blessing of today’s Sabbath. It’s been a day of rest and renewal after what seems like a very, very long stretch of time. I am mindful of how much this time is needed in our lives and will make it a point to bring it back as a true weekly ritual in whatever way works for us.
I leave you with another quote from Muller’s book.

“If busyness can become a kind of violence, we do not have to stretch our perception very far to see that Sabbath time – effortless, nourishing rest – can invite a healing of this violence. When we consecrate a time to listen to the still, small voices, we remember the root of inner wisdom that makes work fruitful. We remember from where we are most deeply nourished, and see more clearly the shape and texture of the people and things before us.”

STRETCH: Sabbath is gift you give yourself. Create Sabbath time in your week. It can be a morning, a few hours, an evening or a whole day. Give yourself the gift of Sabbath. You deserve it.

Postcript: I had a perfectly wonderful, restful, restorative night of sleep for the first time in weeks. Sabbath time works on many levels.