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Archive for the ‘Year Of Conscious Living’ Category


karmaAs I sat moaning in the chair I figured it was karma that took me down, that “what comes around goes around” thing that threatens people with payback for behaving unbecomingly.

Id recently boasted to a sick friend that I never get sick.  Then whammo the hammer fell.  Sick?  Me?  It had been years!  But there was no mistaking the progressive worsening of my breathing, a deep guttural cough that ripped apart my ribs and sternum and my foggy head that wouldn’t allow me to concentrate to read or enjoy anything on TV.  I couldn’t even sit still for long before breaking into coughing spasms.  And lying down to sleep? Forget about that; I couldn’t even fall asleep at night let alone catch a few daytime zzzzs.  Maybe the steroid was the culprit that pumped me with too much energy to relax and doze off.  Between that pill, the steroid nose spray and the doxycycline I was supposed to feel better in a couple of days.  So much for the doctor’s promise.  Instead I got worse and the upper respiratory distress went deeper and turned into bronchitis that called for a stronger antibiotic.

justicescales.jpegFor the last two weeks of April I wondered if I’d ever feel like me again.  Was I destined to fight for breath, cough my ribs apart and sound like a croaking frog when I tried to talk?  Would I ever fall asleep again?  While I wandered around the house and yard feeling sorry for myself and caught an hour or so of TV at night before retiring to my bed to sit the night away — I realized the following ….

  1. Breathing is not over-rated.  That silly comment has always been my stand by retort to my husband each time he reminded me that 5 cats and 1 dog are enough animals for 1 household.  That his asthma, though controlled and manageable, is not a pleasant experience in the pollen capitol of the country here in E. TN.  He’s used to not breathing easily.  I’m not.  And this experience is enough to make me consider relocating to a better ventilated part of the country.
  2. I’ve always taken my good health for granted.  Now in my late 50s it’s rare for me to be under the weather.  I’ve had a couple of health scares in my life, but just a couple.  OK, maybe a few and when they occur they’re doozies.  I don’t tend to get something simple, instead it’s things with weird symptoms, one series of which prompted a trip to the Mayo Clinic to discover it was cat scratch fever.  And then there was a surreal episode of transient global amnesia which lasted probably 12 hours when my short-term memory took a vacation, leaving me no idea what day it was or what any of my calendar notations meant.  Doctors still don’t know what caused it or whether it will ever happen again.
  3. My discipline comes from outside.  Who knew that my habit of snacking in the evenings in front of the TV was easily controlled by the dictates of an antibiotic that required an empty stomach for a final night-time dose.  Never mind that I’ve been trying to stop that pesky snacking for years.  Now, suddenly, because I wasn’t allowed to, I didn’t.  What’s wrong with my personal self-discipline?!
  4. I’m a bad patient.  Because I’m so rarely sick (notice I didn’t say never?) I don’t do sick well, especially if I can’t do something productive with time in the house.  Can’t read, watch TV, don’t want to eat or cook and can’t even sleep.  Yech.  Just wandering around and moaning was my activity of choice, that and feeling sorry for myself.  When I’m well I subscribe to the Buddhist notion that suffering can be avoided by accepting that life is filled with peaks and valleys and there will always be bad times as part of the human condition.  But somehow when I was sick, I chose to suffer.   At least I was able to observe that, right?
  5. Bug bites can be bad.  Who knew?  Working in the garden is fraught with potential disaster – fire ants, spiders, ticks, bee stings are all conspiring to make yard beautification dangerous.  A couple of years ago a thorn prick on my arm turned into a staph infection, again requiring antibiotics.  This year something jabbed my thigh and caused an allergic reaction.  I still don’t know what got me, though we’ve pretty much ruled out most things, leaving a spider bite as the highest probability.

AprilShell1So I’ve certainly lived April and the beautiful, calming curves of the conch shell signifying another month lived belies the turmoil in my life this month.  I suppose they can’t all be good.  And I have come out the other end, well again.  For that I’m extremely grateful.  On to May …

How was your April?

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mtn-snow-pano2March came in like a lion and left like a bear.  It’s cold here!  The local weather guy says it’s the coldest March in 60 years.  No kidding!  Even though I have only been here for 17 of those years it’s usually flowering by now and serving up bike riding days.  Instead we’re living life inside a snow globe and the flowers are shivering.  I’ve broken out the bike a couple of times only and I’m itching to get back in shape and shed these pesky 5 pounds I’ve added over the winter.  Fat be gone!  I’ve had to cancel 2 hiking trips to the Smokies.  Enough!

Here’s to the beginning of April!

I’m writing this blog at the tail end of the month, on my mother’s birthday.  MomIf she was alive she’d be 88 today but instead she died before the age of 70.  It was such a long time ago that my nephew barely remembers her except to know that he was a little boy and that he loved the time they spent together.

It’s fitting that I write this now since the bulk of March has been spent thinking about jewelry and she loved it as much as I do.  MarchShell2She also loved the beach and the ocean so the shell that comes out of the bowl, signifying another month lived,  also makes me think of my mother.  During one of my visits to the beach as a young 20 something, I bought a decorative bottle and scooped sand into it along with some shell fragments to offer as her souvenir when I returned home.  She loved it and displayed that treasure on the window sill of the den where she spent hours staring out at the woods through the jalousied windows surrounding the room.  Eventually we had to throw it away after many years of accumulating either mold or mildew inside.  But it pained her to do it.

MomYoungWhen she died I inherited a lot of her jewelry, mostly bracelets, all of which she wore together on both wrists.  Every time she bought something new she chose an arm and added it to the collection.  “They’re too hard to put on and take off,” she’d say, “so once they’re on they’re on.”  I seem to have inherited her jewelry gene only I don’t wear everything at once and I take them off each day.

My mother would have lusted for the opal I bought a few months ago and I thought about her the whole time I mulled over how I wanted it set into a piece of jewelry. EthiopianOpal1 It’s among the most beautiful stones I’ve ever seen, and having worked for a jewelry shopping network I’ve seen many.  It doesn’t resemble the opal I had years ago as a kid.  That had a blue-green hue to it with plenty of fire within.   My father got it for me when I couldn’t tear myself away from the display case  where it was showcased.  I wore it constantly, carefully tucking it away each night.  Evidently somebody else noticed it too and ransacked my room to find it.  Out of the four bedroom flat I shared with three other friends, my room was the most torn apart and my ring was among the very few things stolen that day.  It ripped my heart open and I haven’t owned a “real” one since.  Believe me, I looked for just the perfect stone – for years.  But the ones I loved I couldn’t afford and the rest were a milky white with barely a hint of fire.

OpalNecklaceThen I discovered the Ethiopian opal.  Actually I didn’t “discover” discover it, just picked up my jaw from my chest when I saw them displayed on air on Jewelry Television.  They look like solidified gel with a raging fire inside.  Rather mystical, actually, the way they look so fluid and appear to be lit from within.  Because they’re so light you can get a sizable stone with a relatively low carat weight.

As serendipity goes, a meeting inside Jewelry Television brought me face to face with a display case littered with one glorious opal after an other.  My friend pulled a chunky round one out for me to admire – and that was Kismet.  I was hooked and could not part with that stone.  So I didn’t.

I knew immediately it had to become a ring though that’s not wise to do.  Opals are soft and can easily crack if they’re banged on something in the offhanded way we tend to use our hands and forget to pay attention.  But this stone had to be placed in jewelry I could see and pendants are on display for others.  I wanted it simple and in a humble setting that placed this fiery beauty center stage.

A gold bezel setting would complement the fire within and a simple silver shank with a dark patina would give the two toned metal look that I prefer.  OpalFront

OpalSide

I’m in love.

And I believe my mother would be too.MomFullLength

That was the bulk of March for me, a month memorably lived.

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FebShell1Another month has gone by and now six months have passed since I started this year-long conscious living project.  The shell that comes out of my bowl of 12, signifying a month lived, is dangerous looking and prickly.  The little sea animal that used to live inside did its best to stave off predators.  Any one bold enough to try to snack on this creature risked injury in the process.  I guess it’s sort of like life in that you never know what each day will bring.  It could bring joy, sorrow or danger.  It’s filled with risk of varying degrees.  One day you’re healthy — and the next, maybe you’re not.  Of that I’m acutely aware.  A little farther down you’ll read why.

FebShell2This month though, more than the others, has come and gone with little hindsight awareness of how I spent my time.  I know I enjoyed each day and meditated at the start of most.  There was time spent at the horse rescue, with my hospice patient and her husband, celebrating my husband’s birthday, exercising, reading and other assorted mundane activities of daily living.  And I spent quite a bit of time with my dear friend who’s living each one of her days with a keen awareness of the cancer in her body and wondering what that will ultimately mean.  Talk about awareness of life!

Mostly what I feel these days is appreciation for my health, my life and everything in it.  Turns out that my age has something to do with that.  Research shows that wisdom and a sense of well-being grows as we age, with the middle-aged brain reaching its peak potential in those areas.  In fact that research shows us 50 somethings to be happier in this decade than others.  You can find out details in Barbara Strauch’s breezy read called “The Secret Life Of the Grown-Up Brain”   She covers health and medicine for the New York Times and has written other books on health related subjects.  You can hear a lecture from her here.

It’s soothing to know that as we age our brains respond less to negative stimuli and, according to Strauch’s book, lean towards accentuating the positive as an almost automatic reflex.  I like that.

Barbara Allen

Barbara Allen

I saw it in action in early February while attending a lecture by Barbara Allen who, at age 71, recently completed more than 2100 miles of the Appalachian Trail.  Alone with a 30 pound back pack.  She told us that her friends tried to dissuade her from the solo hike by pointing out all the potential dangers for an, ahem, older lady hiking alone.  She told them, and us, that she’d rather die doing something she loved than be paralyzed by fear and alone in her house.  That’s quite a case of accentuating the positive, wouldn’t you say?

You can read a story about her here.

And see some photos from her six month adventure here.

She was a captivating woman who inspires me to continue hiking, though I doubt I’ll ever do a solo expedition like that.  I’ll continue to succumb to my paranoia about being eaten by wild animals and attacked by scary people.

But I do live my life my way albeit on a less grand scale.  Even before I started this awareness project I’ve known that after a finite amount of time my experience as a human being will be over.  And the older I get the faster the time seems to fly.  Instead of my whole life looming ahead of me like in my 20s, now I hope to get 25 or 30 healthy, vibrant years under my belt before whatever’s next comes next.

What I know today, different from a few years ago, is that making a connection with life, many forms of life, is what draws meaning for me now.

So long February.  May March continue to bring health, happiness and a peaceful brain.

And you?  How did you spend February?

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JanShell1This month’s shell is pristine enough to be sold in a beach souvenir shop instead of where I found it, lying among other scattered shell fragments on a beach somewhere in Florida.  Shelling is a favorite past-time for tourists in Florida, for locals too I think.  It’s what I seem to do when walking the beach with my eyes glued to the sand to avoid stepping on sharp things.  I can’t help but pick up pretty shells to later put in one of the decorative bowls in my house.

FullBowlShellsThis one came from a specific bowl that I filled with 12 shells, each one signifying one month of life.  My intention is to stay aware of each month so I can appreciate the relationship of time and my life.  With this one gone, there are eight months left to this particular year.  When looked at that way, it becomes rather glaring that my days of life continue to tick away.  My how a year goes by quickly.  And what do I do with that time?

 January, was occupied by friends, mostly, and if not being with them then thinking about them.  Maybe that’s because of the underlying thread of death and dying that confronted me this month.  Of course there was my ongoing hospice work, but also a very dear man I know dropped dead suddenly, and a different very important friend is facing health challenges that threaten her longevity.  During times of losing someone or potentially losing someone the importance of relationships take center stage.  Or rather, threatening times make you realize how important relationships really are.  When facing death people don’t wish they’d worked harder or longer hours.  They tend to lament the amount of time spent with people they love.  So I’m taking time with good friends while I still live in blissful ignorance of my eventual demise.

Marilyn&MeFor starters there was Marilyn, a friend who dates back to early childhood.  Was I five when we first played together?  She lived two houses down from us and her family was my second family.  I showed up every Christmas morning, as early as my mother would allow, sometimes in my pjs to catch everyone opening their presents.  There was always one for me and later I’d asked if I could stay for dinner.  Never knew about proper etiquette back then.  Actually, I practically lived at Marilyn’s house – spent several school day afternoons each week there, summer vacations at the beach with her family (mine never took vacations), family picnics, many family dinners and countless overnights whispering the nights away together.  Her house was my escape hatch when family wars in mine became overbearing.  Now Marilyn says we’re better than sisters.  I have to agree, and it started … 50 years ago?  Oy vey!

rainbow01Marilyn is facing a serious health challenge now; it might be the fight of her life – for her life.  She lives in Florida and though I’m in Tennessee the distance is not keeping us from our necessary friendship.  She needs me and I need her; I’ve always needed her.  And we’ll get through this together, one way or another.  The first week of this month was spent at her house just when we received her mind numbing diagnosis.  Serendipity?

And then I came home to a text message from a former colleague and friend with the news about Jerry, how his wife discovered him the next morning and surmised he died in his sleep.  59 years old.  Friends, family and colleagues were stupefied by the news.  Say what?  Really?  How the hell … ?  And now Facebook is littered with photos of him and memories galore.  His wife, shell shocked.  And yet – what a way to go, huh?  One day you’re here living your life – and he lived his with gusto – and the next day it’s all over.  No pain, no suffering, no dreadful diagnosis that makes you evaluate your life.  If I got to choose, I’d make sure I enjoyed the living while the living was good – then checked out, Jerry’s way.

Well I do get to choose – at least the first half of the equation.  I do have the power to enjoy my life, love my friends and family and live with no regrets.  And so far – I’m right on target…

best_friends_sketch_by_0ouo0-d45uu73Which brings me to Judie.  She and I worked together many years ago in Pittsburgh during our radio days.  She was a reporter I was a producer and we were tight friends.  35 years later we still are – though we’ve lived separately in a few different cities since then.  Still do – she in California, me in Tennessee.  But when we catch up it’s as though our last conversation was yesterday.  Thanks to Facebook we stay in touch and just had one of our catch up phone calls the other day.  We talked about needing to get together soon and play because … you just never know, now do you?

I have a couple very dear friends here at home that I haven’t seen in a while – they moved recently and have become caught  up in their lives like I have in mine.  But that’s not a good excuse especially since we now live five minutes apart.

OK then – February will bring time together with them.

What have you done with your life in January?

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DecemberShell1December’s shell looks like it could have been plucked from Lido Beach on Longboat Key, FL where I spent my last days of December.  Riddled with pin-sized holes, this shell was in its early stages of becoming one with the sandy beach but on a different piece of Florida’s coast, probably Venice where I visited a couple of winters ago.  Beaches are where I get my best thinking done while staring into the rushing waves of the ocean and breathing its salty air.  I love walking a beach; it’s usually where I become most aware of how wonderful my life is and how fortunate I am.

This particular weekend I was in town to attend a close friend’s daughter’s wedding.  This friend has been in my life for decades – as a suite-mate in college and then together as young professionals Marianne&Me2sharing an apartment to begin our early adult lives away from the safety of a college dorm.  We’ve stayed in touch since with some years offering more sporadic attention than others.  Sharing this special celebration with her and her family marked the end of December and another month lived.  It was the perfect way to kiss the month goodbye.

My month opened in NYC with my husband to attend Broadway shows, one of our greatest joys in life.  Sitting close to the stage and being swept up in its theatrics makes my heart swell to almost bursting levels.  We try to get there once a year, usually during Thanksgiving week when we head north to visit family. cropped-once-program-cover_sm.png All we do is feast on theater, taking in as much as we can in just 4 days.  We’re stuffed by the time we head for home and happy for the gorging.  Now that my life is no longer consumed by work I have the great luxury of nurturing my loves.

SunGlowIt’s dizzying to recognize how much and how little can be accomplished within a 24 hour period.  Is accomplishment, though, a valid gauge of a day’s value?  I could give a laundry list of much that happened this month between the two trips – challenges that plagued me, friends I spent time with, movies I saw, stories and books I’ve read or am reading, sorrows and joys I’ve experienced and current events that have angered me.  They all indicate hours and days within a month that I’ll never get back.  So they have been lived and experienced.  In some cases though, time was spent mindlessly and when I became aware it was a week later with minimal recollection of what happened.  Maybe it’s simply the mundaneness of life that should be considered special.

My driving work years were consumed by pop culture and current events for entertainment development.  Time was devoured by my jobs and I invested no effort in developing a personal life and other areas of interest.  Those years were thrilling, stimulating and exhausting and while caught up in that whirlwind it was unfathomable that there could be any other kind of life that could offer as much personal reward.

beach3Walking the beach and recognizing the joy it conjured made me realize how rich life can actually be and how broad its potential.  Instead of this life’s chapter concentrating on growing “the next big thing” why not allow it to nurture all the things I love, the elements I forfeited during those laser focus years.  Over the past three years that list has grown quite robust:  books, theater, music, hikes, mountains, beaches, biking, friends, family, animals, volunteer work, discussion groups, movies, food, woods, travel.  To engage in life doesn’t mean I have to accomplish something, it could mean relishing the magic of being human and all that entails.

What a wonderful opening thought for 2013.  Though December can be a heavy, dark month I feel lighter with that thought.  Happy New Year to me.  And to you!

It’s the forest through the trees.

 

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Nov.Shell1Another month lived and another beautiful shell taken from the bowl of a YEAR OF CONSCIOUS LIVING.  Its earthy colors and rippled exterior offer metaphor for life’s daily changes with its peaks and valleys of experiences.

It’s now mid December and I’m forcing myself to make this entry.  That sort of sums up how untuned in I’ve been this month. Days fly by before I recognize that I’m supposed to be paying attention.  And then I realize how often I just exist without making note of the daily hours.  As November started ticking down to its close I’ve wondered how I’ll journal its happenings.

XmasMantleSure, I did a lot and could include a roster of activities.  This is a busy month for everybody as most hustle to get ready for Thanksgiving and start the burden of Christmas shopping.   And “burden” is the operative word especially since everyone buys what they want all year and I have no ideas for anything special.

This month was very much about doing and very little about being and observing.  Plus, as a non sequitur, I’ve been eating a lot – which is apropos for the season.  (Looking forward to January when I can stop allowing myself to be enticed.  Talk about anticipating my life away!)

It does happen, though, when the passage of time takes center stage and I tune into more than five decades of life now behind me.

ReunionTake, for instance, my 40th year high school reunion.  40th YEAR!  Conveniently scheduled around Thanksgiving, about 140 of us (and some spouses, not mine) met up at a hometown country club and danced the night away. But much of the time was spent marveling over the 40 years that had passed and how much living took place in that time…marriages, divorces, children, grandchildren, travel, career choices, progress and set backs, health and deaths.  Multiply that list by 140 people and recognize how, at this time and place, we are touching each other’s lives once again and remembering the roles we played with each other as teenagers.  In all likelihood there won’t be another 40 years to reminisce about.  Now that’s a rude awakening!

911Memorial1And then there’s the 911 Memorial.  Talk about being abruptly awakened!  The truth about life is that one-minute you’re here and the next you’re not.  Imagine the mundane morning that greeted each of the fallen victims.  Life is always unpredictable and often tragic.  There’s another reason to be aware of each day and appreciate it.

Juxtaposed against that was Broadway, my favorite place to be.  As a kid my only dream was to star in Broadway musicals where I could sing and dance my heart out.  After many childhood cast rejections (a cruel reality in my life) I finally decided to find other dreams.  But the fire I feel while experiencing the best that American theater offers is still as strong today as ever.  And BroadwayCurtainI have to sit really close so I can be swept into the world created by a multitude of artists.  I live and breathe with the performers on stage.  And once in town, we gorge on theater, fitting in as many shows and plays as we can in just a few days.  This year it was 5 in 4 days.  Yay!  (I reviewed them on this blog site so check them out!)

It blew my mind that it had been two years since our last stage orgy and I can’t tell you what I’d done in those two years.  And I realize I won’t get that time back.  But I can say that experiencing theater is when I feel most alive, provided I’m within the first 10 rows.   The exhilaration and thrill of live theater brings me to tears, and I’m driven to scream out after a particularly moving song or dance number – when the emotion oozes out of the performer and wrings him dry.  Attend ONCE to experience that transformation during Steve Kazee’s or Cristin Milioti’s numbers.  Wow! 

And touch Chad Kimball’s soul in MEMPHIS during his gut stirring rendition of “Memphis Lives In Me.”

In re-living parts of November on paper I am aware of the fleeting moments of life, articulated well by Silas House in his New York Times piece The Art of Being Still.  A writer, he was given a piece of advice that drives his daily life:  “discover something new every day.”  Thank you for that.  It’s always possible to do.

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As I substituted my Capri pants and tank tops for long jeans and sweaters, I realized that October is a month about transitions, especially here in East Tennessee where we’re most fortunate to experience four distinct seasons.  Fall here is exquisite and lasts longer than the hiccup it takes for our northern neighbors to go from hot to cold.  Here the leaves tease us before bursting forth in splendor.  The days surprise us with their fickleness between hot and warm before adding cool into the mix of “guess what you’re getting today?”  And now that it’s my job to pay attention to what this month offered my life, I’ve realized how this season created transitions of all kinds that define the rhythm of life.  October means I take one more shell out of my bowl of 12 that bids farewell to another month of my life.  Amazing how they’re flying by.  The older I get the faster they fly.  Hmmm, didn’t my  mother always tell me that?

Let’s start with the colors because our landscape of forested mountains and meandering rivers invite tourists from around the country to leaf peep with us.  I often marveled to my hiking partner, Jo, that “we live here!”  After calling ETN home for 16 years I’m still breath taken by the kind of scenery most people vacation to see.

Autumn in the Smoky Mountain National Park should be considered among the natural wonders of the world.  Each Thursday in October Jo and I drove an hour to reach a trailhead for our 7 plus mile hike.  The most talented landscapers in the world would be challenged to match the natural magnificence we experienced each week.

The streams, wildflowers, forest and waterfalls offered the kinds of pictures that inspire great painters.  It’s awe inspiring to recognize that no human put this landscape together, other than to clear out debris blocking trails.  In fact, cascading falls are so impressive that a tourist was rumored to ask a ranger when the water gets turned off.  Surely something so impressive couldn’t have just appeared!

Paying attention put me in touch with the awe-inspiring power of nature and the recognition that we are of it too.  Like the natural landscape, humans go through changes when we allow our bodies to dance with the season.  So do animals.

Horses at the Rescue started growing their winter coats.  Their turnout shifts changed from staying in to escape the daytime heat to going outside and loving up the chill.  Horses become quite playful when temperatures drop below 50 as though their sleeping pills wore off, freeing them to kick up their hooves in glee!

My 11-year old dog Pogo came alive too.  He had a resurgence of energy on his morning walks, running up and down hillsides as though his joints no longer ached.  Nine years ago he was the canine version of the Energizer Bunny, running all day only to finally collapse into sleep.  Crisp fall mornings allowed me to experience this joyful pup again.

I also found that my interest in heading to a favorite greenway with my bike seemed to wane, even on the warm days.  Instead, my walks grew longer and my yoga classes more frequent.  Beverages changed from ice water to hot decaf, and for lunch, soup replaced a sandwich.  I traded my sandals for shoes and socks and pulled my jackets out of their hiding places for those chilly mornings.

Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners have long recognized body changes with the seasons.  So do yoga practitioners.  I’ve found that by paying attention, I’ve felt those transitions too.

What did October bring you?

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