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Posts Tagged ‘personal growth’


 

yoga exercise abstract

     Meditation, in all its various colors, has hit the mainstream.   It used to be just the hippies and alternative people who flocked to a room somewhere back in the 60s and 70s to learn transcendental meditation. I was one of them. My friend was one of the “alternatives” and invited me to a session that he was attending. Sounded interesting. I was given a mantra and taught how to relax my mind and silently repeat that mantra over and over again. When my mind wandered, gently bring it back to that nonsensical word and continue to silently and effortless repeat it. We were taught to practice that for 20 minutes twice a day. I did, and have been for years. Now it’s 30 minutes once a day about 5 times a week. During my college years I lapsed and had intermittent on/off periods during my high driving career years. But for a number of years now it’s been a regular practice, not “TM” but rather insight meditation has taken its place. That practice has made a major impact on my patience level, sense of peace and contentedness, clarity of thought and abiding sense of internal joy. Medical research now proves the physical and mental benefits of an ongoing meditation and mindfulness practice. Dozens of articles have been written about it and books extolling its benefits include its step-by-step process. But few have the emotional impact and first person case study that prominent neurosurgeon Dr. James R. Doty’s has in his memoir Into The Magic Shop: A Neurosurgeon’s Quest to Discover the Mysteries of the Brain and the Secrets of the Heart. Wow is the superlative that comes to mind.

     Dr. Doty is now a professor of Neurosurgery at Stanford University. But, as he tells it, it’s a fluke that he actually attended college at all, not to mention become a successful and prominent neurosurgeon. He doesn’t use the word fluke he calls it magic and weaves a compelling tale of being a young boy and meeting a woman in a magic shop who seduced him by promising the ultimate magic trick that would change his life. He was to spend his 12 weeks of summer vacation with her learning the trick. And if he practiced the trick, even at home, he could have anything he wants in life. That would be truly amazing since he came from a very poor family with a drunken father who couldn’t keep a job and bedridden, clinically depressed mother who had to continually pack up the family and move when they got evicted from apartment after apartment for not paying the rent.

     The trick, as Dr. Doty relays, was learning to meditate and then manifest his dreams. With regular practice and a deep, sincere desire for those goals to materialize along with visualization and the trust that they would – his life could change. Would change. This book tells that story of how his dreams came to pass. Along the way he shares the step-by-step process that this woman, Ruth, taught him. His abiding hope is that others will learn the way too.

It’s a profound read that is hard to put down.

 

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housebegoniasI sit here on my deck amidst dense trees and window boxes lush with flowering red begonias. The wind is blowing gently and there’s a faint rustle in the air. Life is good here in the woods. I’ve missed you.

Gone is the endless hustle bustle of the city. The traffic racing past, cyclers, skate boarders, runners, horns blowing, sirens shrieking – whew! The sounds of nature once again fill my psche and renew my soul. I’ve become a country girl. 20 years of living like this has changed my constitution, literally. Everything inside me has slowed down. I can once again hear myself think, sense my intuition and feel joy. I’m not racing anymore.housewoods

Some people thrive on the hectic and energetic lifestyle of a city. I used to. Back in the day when I lived in Pittsburgh I longed for a more active environment. When asked if I liked living there I’d say I don’t intend to die there. I was after more action. And later in Chicago I got it. Though we didn’t live in the city I was there every day and many evenings after work. I loved Chicago. It was rich in all categories: sports, theater, food, shopping and entertainment.

woodsneighborhood1Moving to Knoxville, TN was a culture shock – for years. But we bought the right house in a perfect neighborhood and it’s been home for 20 years now. And I’ve come to realize that it’s the woods that my body craves. It’s very much alive in different ways than the city. There are birds that sing and insects that talk and squirrels that bark if you get too close. woodsneighborhood3And the rain sounds delicious, rather than bothersome. I’m home here, and though I truly love Boston, I’m not home there anymore. I used to be. I used to get off a plane, smell the salty air and smile from ear to ear. I still love that city and the whole of New England.woodsneighborhood2

But one thing I now know for sure. Though I don’t have to always live in Knoxville, I do need to live within nature. It’s become who I am. Ahhhh…. I’m home.

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bostonBikesIt’s hard to believe we used to live here in Boston. Oh, the scenery is, mostly, the same (though construction sites are always changing) and everyone is as active as I remember – from college on up it seems that everyone bikes, runs, skateboards, rollerblades, rides Segways, strolls, & walks dogs and babies. Everywhere. And the traffic is still crazy busy, especially where we’re located, on The Charles River at the Mass Avenue bridge into Cambridge. Our living room and dining room windows offer sweeping views of the river and Cambridge beyond. That’s the same. roofview

The trees on the Esplanade are bigger and more lush and the Pru and Hancock Tower beyond are as grand as ever. BostonBikes2PruThe energy is electric and that’s infectious. But my sensibility and stimulation electrodes are on overload. We’ve been gone long enough for my innards to have slo—w—e–d down. I feel like a country girl taking on the big city again. I’m in ramp up mode, slowly adjusting to city sounds instead of chirping birds, crickets, and wildlife noises. My brain is speeding back up, but until my batteries recharge my nerves are on edge. And my soul screams for woods and solitude. And yet I love Boston as much as I ever had. It just takes some getting used to.

MadisonBostonOur cat Madison has surprised me. She’s been on an adventure since we left home, staying in three different places before settling into this fourth and last abode until the end of summer. Our shy and reserved beauty has been car riding very well and has been adjusting quickly everywhere she’s taken. She shows no signs of stress and does very little hiding. She eats, sleeps and finds her litter with no hesitation as though she’s enjoying this unique trip without her feline sisters and brothers. Maybe she feels like the chosen one. Who knows?

BellaRiver1It’s Bella, the dog who has to learn the most. Here there are city rules to abide by. No more meandering on or off leash, no more wandering up to every person and dog to say hi or to provoke into play. Lots of new sounds – honking horns, trucks and cars whizzing past, people dashing by, lights to stop at—whoa “where am I?” her expression seems to say. But I’m proud of her progress. Each day breeds more familiarity with the unexpected. Even our daily walks on the Esplanade are finding her (periodically) off leash and obeying commands. We’re both becoming more comfortable in the “new wild” together and we’re both enjoying our morning ritual more. She’s teaching me patience, never my strong suit. And I’m teaching her discipline, never her strength. And we’re falling in love again here on Mars.

Our latest challenge is the 6am pee and poo time. At home in Knoxville we have pet throughs and a fenced yard for her to accomplish her business without my help. Here we have to board an elevator down 5 floors, out the front door and walk a block (or 3) to the nearest large patch of green. 6am! She wants to casually experience all smells and sights along the way. I want to get the job done and go home. I just rolled out of bed without coffee, after-all! Lately she’s been picky about WHICH patch of green is suitable! I have to convince her that this early piece of business IS business. Get it done and leave! We’re arguing about that. Grrrrrr! My next strategy is to try training treats for a quick potty time. Yeah, that’s the ticket! Wish me luck. I’d like this event to be a non-negotiable.

More to come as I rediscover Boston.

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Tybee Marsh

Tybee Marsh

Getting out of town was the transition I needed into retirement, again. I’d been out for five years, accepted a job again for almost two – and now I’m “really” retiring, at least from earning a living. There are many things I want to devote time to.  But it’s always been hard for me to separate from my last job because of the effort I devote to it. It’s always consumed me, occupying most of my thoughts and energy. I’ve never been one who could do a 9-6 and consider work finished; it’s always come home with me. Leaving the area was the physical and emotional separation I knew had to be done.

BusSo we dug our motor home out of hibernation, Mr. Bus “he’s” called, and got him ready for a relatively short jaunt to Tybee Island, off the coast of Savannah, the charming historic southern town about 7-1/2 hours from home.

Tybeemarsh3Tybee has the wildness I love – vegetation is rampant and most of the island is uninhabited by people, but lush with marshland and meandering rivers throughout. And, of course, the Atlantic Ocean kisses the shores. Here zoning prohibits high-rise anything – hotels, apartment buildings, condo developments, retail establishments. Three stories high are all that’s allowed and it’s that low-density commercialism that makes the island so attractive. Homes are eclectic ranging from small ramshackle dwellings to modern and expensive abodes overlooking the ocean or the marshes and lived in by residents of equal diversity.

TybeePaintedHouse1

 

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TybeePorch        On morning walks with my vivacious Bella dog we discover secret “private” gardens that we explore (sshhh) and meet colorful people who live in happy, bright houses eager to swap backgrounds. As one older hippy tells me, many Tybee residents are retired professors and artists – or as he puts it

misfits who move to the island of misfits.” My kind of place!

We wander past Nancy’s house, a modest cottage in need of some TLC with impressive gardens. Tall plants of every kind populate containers peppered throughout her side yard of maybe half an acre. In the back are two greenhouses where she’s busy potting new plants. She’s been working on her yard for years, she tells me, as she names each plant she points out. Some are dripping with flowers while others tower overhead with large leaves – all plants shaded by enormous live oaks throughout. As we tour the garden she apologizes for sweating, explaining that her “prissy” sister-in-law would be mortified by the way she looks.  She loves kissing Bella and announces that her 19-year-old cat had just died, and, though the island is crawling with cats, she went to the shelter to find a new one to adopt. She invites us back later for an iced tea.

TybeePaintedHouse6Later, we wave to an older woman sitting in her moo moo sipping a beverage on the front porch of her charming purple house perched in the middle of an island of grass separating two roads. I explain to her that her house is our landmark for getting on the correct path to the campground. She’s used to that since many people driving by know her, evidently, well known home.

It is on our regular jaunt on a path through the park where we meet Jim, a man of 86 who lives in the nursing home around the corner. He was tooling through the park on his motorized scooter as he does everyday. One leg is amputated at the knee, the other leg is swollen and bruised, a byproduct of circulation problems he tells me. The twinkle in his eye tells of his joy for living – even in a nursing home. I’m curious about that life. I tell him that my father also lives in a nursing home – a beautiful, well appointed one that he hates.   He says that enjoying life was a conscious decision he made a few years ago after caring for his infirmed wife for a long time. When she died and his health declined he knew he needed to move somewhere that could take care of him. So he chose this facility on Tybee which is not as nice as my father’s yet he says it’s fine.

He moved in “with a chip on his northern shoulder” until he had an epiphany lying in bed one morning. He decided he didn’t want to be angry anymore, dissatisfied anymore, instead he wanted to enjoy the rest of his life.

 

So he decided to. And that’s when his life changed. He’s the president of his “block” and on the residents’ advocacy committee and friendly with his aides and nurses. He loves them and they love him. He talks to other disgruntled residents about how easy it is to change one’s attitude and then life can become joyful again. It requires accepting this stage of life and choosing to make the most of it. And voila, life changes. He says many residents ignore him. I wish Jim could talk to my father; maybe my father would ignore him too. I guess sometimes people don’t know how to change their attitudes.

BusDrivingTomorrow morning we head for home after a week here on Tybee. We’ve looked at houses here, for fun, to see if there’s something we would fall in love with. I have. So far, my husband hasn’t. He tells me it’s just a fantasy for me, that I’d be bored here after a while. Maybe he’s right. Maybe he’s not. I know I’d love to be friends with the eclectic people I’ve met.

On to more retirement living ….

 

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It started most recently at our Thanksgiving gathering of 22 members of my husband’s clan and celebrating the 33rd birthday of one niece, the 2nd pregnancy of our niece-in-law and cajoling my 93-year-old father-in-law out of a recent bad dream. There was that nagging sense that time is flying by. That we are now the age of our parents when they hosted these family get-togethers, back when our nieces and nephews were the infants and toddlers.

Back then my father-in-law played the invisible stair game with those little ones as the rest of us went looking for the “missing” kiddos, searching the house and carefully stepping over giggling youngsters on our mission to find them on the 2nd floor. Today they’re grown and invent games for their babies at this holiday gathering while we “oldsters” prepare dinner. Whew!

Left to my own internal clock I’m in my late 30’s with a healthy body and exuberance for living and no children to mark the passage of time. I’ve discovered yoga, hiking, biking and healthy eating and, so far, my body hasn’t betrayed me. My 60th birthday left me scratching my head and thinking about time. That more of it is behind me than ahead. When did that happen?

We’re now entering 2015. Friends and siblings are grandparents! GRANDPARENTS? My dearest childhood friend died from cancer last year. A woman in my jewelry class just suffered a massive heart attack that ended her life. She was 66. Other close friends are experiencing serious health challenges. Three of our pets are senior citizens. My father is 91 with health issues.

These are things that weren’t part of my world in my 20s, 30s and 40s. Life had so many years ahead. I was ensconced in a vibrant pulse of daily tasks with no thoughts about the beginning of the end.

Is a changing perspective part of the aging process?

Today I’m called ma’am everywhere. Ads no longer target me, neither do TV shows. Everyone at work is younger. My idea of social media is Facebook. Have no idea about the myriad other ways younger folks communicate. Evidently not much happens face to face anymore. And my silver hair is no longer novel. Now it’s expected!

And guess what? I don’t care. I DON’T CARE!  Now life is so much richer with understanding how precious each day is. Everyday I wake up and feel good is a day to celebrate and appreciate. Friends are more important. Work is much less important. I don’t have a yearning to acquire and strive to greater things. My testiness threshold is greater, I’m more easily satisfied and I’ve discovered how hobbies foster creative growth.

I’m joyful, content and at peace – most days. And I know I’m gonna die at some point. And that’s why each day, with its inherent challenges, is to be appreciated and lived without regret. It’s a miraculous gift to live this human life. That fills me with awe.

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Pogo

Pogo is thrilled to be back in our neighborhood to explore his old haunts, no longer tethered to a leash.  It’s not necessary at home;  the woods are familiar territory since the days he eked out a life before choosing me as mom.  For a month the little guy was lost, or abandoned, and became quite successful at rooting out small furry ground creatures and bugs.  He considers the wooded neighborhood his backyard and leads the way on our walks announcing every car, person and animal before they barely come within view.  He’s fiercely loyal and protective of me and our bond runs deeper than any other relationship I have.

Not Bow - but looks as beautiful as she was

It’s always been that way with animals and me.  When I was nine my best friend was the collie around the corner, Bow.  She’d wait for me on her front yard and then together we’d crawl into our fort among the bushes and tell each other secrets about our day, some of which made me cry.  I’m convinced she understood my tears, her chin resting on my knee cooing her soft soothing sounds of compassion while she stared sadly into my eyes.  I always felt better afterward.

My life is filled with stories of serendipity involving animals; most of my pets have happened into our family over the years, rarely invited but always welcomed.  I need them for soul survival.  Never had kids.  Must have animals.  Right now we have five cats and Pogo, my first-ever dog.  Somehow this 25 pound feist terrier didn’t cause the typical allergic reactions that plague Rick around dogs and horses.  Go figure; just one more example of serendipity.   Lucky Pogo and very, very lucky me.  We’re inseparable.

There are a lot of life’s lessons to be gleaned from animals if you’re quiet, observant and receptive.  They’re much more authentic than people, in fact, they have no capacity to be otherwise.  They have a smaller pre-frontal cortex, the brain part that allow us to reason and plan.  They don’t manipulate or have ulterior motives.  They teach unconditional love.  Their emotions, pure and concentrated, ooze out of their being – love, fear, anger, hurt, sadness, joy, loneliness – you just look into their eyes to immediately understand their feelings.

Beautiful Madison, our Persian cat

Rudy & Pumpernickel

Pogo & Willey

Scooter

There are few animals I don’t instantly feel attracted to.  They have an uncanny ability to open my heart wide, drawing me into conversation while the owners stand outside our circle disconnected from our secular communion.  The animal and I become immediate friends.  Humans don’t have the same effect on me.  They’re usually armored with defenses, allowing the approved facade to engage in superficial conversation that rarely leads to any true knowledge of one another.  But animals – the more open you are, the more honest and love filled they become.

Horse and Rider

Horse and Rider (Photo credit: Istvan)

I recently read a book by neurosurgeon and horse trainer Dr. Alan Hamilton called “Zen Mind Zen Horse:  The Science and Spirituality of Working With Horses.”  He too recognizes the spiritual magic transpiring between human and animal once you let down your defenses, open to your vulnerability and invite the connection.  Dr. Hamilton harnesses the energy or chi emanating between trainer and horse to non-verbally communicate instructions for the horse to follow.  And this guy’s a scientist.

James Cameron created Avatars to become divine examples of their human counterparts.  Animals serve as my avatars.  Life’s answers can be found during quiet meditation, interaction with nature and communion with animals.  That’s where my joy is born.

And yours?

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A comment by Annie Liebowitz has really gained a foot hold in my psyche, naming the amorphous ramblings in my brain about what might be next for me.  She has a new photography book out called “Pilgrimage” and she was recently interviewed about it by Dominique Browning in the Times.  She wrote it to “save myself,” she told Browning, “to remind myself of what I like to do, what I can do.”

She was looking for a way to nurture her creativity in a new raw, rather primal testament to where she stands in her life now – and she photographed objects instead of people.

For some reason the thought of Annie Liebowitz experiencing a creative crisis is anathema to me.  She’s certainly among the most well-known photographers of this era, amassing a healthy livelihood along the way.  And yet she reached a point in her life where she questioned, what’s next?

Her talent is photography; more importantly, she’s able to communicate a mood, attitude of a subject that transcends the page and penetrates our soul.

What is this nebulous noun, talent, and how is it recognized and, ultimately, grown?  According to Liebowitz it can disappear.  “It needs to be nurtured, taken care of.”  And that’s why she’s forging experimental terrain with her “Pilgrimage” subject matter.

Winfrey on the first national broadcast of The...

Image via Wikipedia

Oprah’s talent is communication and empathy.

Steve Jobs shows off iPhone 4 at the 2010 Worl...

Image via Wikipedia

Steve Jobs married intuition with innovation to realize his blazing talent.

Thomas Friedman, American journalist, columnis...

Image via Wikipedia

Thomas Friedman blends the gift of writing with insight and intellect to manifest his talent.

What about the rest of us?  How do we grow our talent, help it to blossom and bear fruit?

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