Thursday, May 29, 2014

Turn Off the Autopilot~ Practice Mindfulness

Turn Off the Autopilot~ Practice Mindfulness

Yesterday evening my yoga class celebrated mindfulness and shutting off our autopilot. It never fails to amaze me how I so often hear what I need to hear when I make the effort to attend a class at Dharma Studio in Winchester, Virginia, my local yoga studio.

I was reminded that we humans often perform certain acts out of habit, without thought of being in the present.  Yoga teaches us to live and breathe in the present, but even during a practice, I know that I succumb to autopilot at times.  Last evening I was reminded that being mindful and experiencing each breathe and asana in the present helps to avoid injury and to enhance the joys of life, celebrate what our bodies can do, and develop the ability to find peace in just being.  Part of the practice involved consciously moving differently from how we would ordinarily move into an asana or pose. It was hard work. Initially, being mindful and making conscious change can be challenging.

Last night’s class was a gentle reminder that I have the ability to change my attitudes and my focus. Life is precious and time passes in seeming instances. In my past I devoted too many years to worry, despair, negativity, obsessing about the past and fearing the future.  I’ve made amazing strides towards living my life in the present – accepting that while I can’t change the past I can celebrate that each experience has lead me to the person that I am today. I no longer fear the future because I’ve come to accept that I cannot control it. Whatever will be will be. But I can make positive choices in the present, be mindful of my actions, my surroundings, my mind and body, and not just cruise through my days on autopilot, letting time pass without consciously experiencing each moment.

So I encourage each of you to spend some time practicing mindfulness.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day ~More than Just the Beginning of Summer

Memorial Day ~More than Just the Beginning of Summer 

For many Americans, the Memorial Day weekend is just a three day weekend that begins the summer holiday season with treks to the beach, cookouts, the Indy 500 and NASCAR races.  But the holiday began as Decoration Day, a commemoration of those who fought and died on both sides in the American Civil War.  To honor their sacrifices family members, veterans groups and volunteers decorated the graves of fallen soldiers with flowers or flags.

Decoration Day morphed into Memorial Day after World War II, but did not become an official federal holiday until 1968. Yet I remember the Memorial Day commemorations of my childhood. There would be parades in the small towns across the country with veterans marching in their old uniforms, to remind us of the costs of war. Politicians gave speeches at military cemeteries. Families took flowers to decorate the graves of all loved ones.  Visiting the cemetery was at least an annual ritual. We went as a family and read the epitaphs on the tombstones of recently lost loved ones, long departed family members which bestowed upon us a sense of connection with the past, and strangers long dead from another century that instilled in us an appreciation of and connection to local history, the reminder that a lifetime is limited and to be celebrated in the present. Cemeteries were awash in the colors of spring.  

It seems that today parents try to shield their children from death, funerals, memorial services, and cemetery visits. But that keeps young people from learning to accept that death is part of life or from giving them a peaceful place to just be, remember, and contemplate lost loved ones.

Recapture the spirit of Memorial Day. Read about its origins. Honor a veteran. Visit the grave of an ancestor. Donate to Rolling Thunder® or watch the annual Ride for Freedom (this year is the 27th) of more than 500,000 bikers who ride to Washington, D.C. every Memorial Day to raise awareness of MIAs and POWs. It is a moving and powerful testament.

It is great to celebrate a long weekend, enjoy the races and cookouts and the beach. However, we have a duty as citizens of our republic to remember the reason for the holiday. It is the gratitude to those who gave us our freedoms that we hold so dear.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Thoughts for Recent Graduates

Thoughts for Recent Graduates

Looking back over the years since I was graduated from my university and thinking of my nephew and his friends who are entering the workforce this summer, I have the following thoughts to share in no particular order:

1)            The first job you get may not be a big deal, but it could open doors;
2)            You have to pay your dues;
3)            Start saving in your 401K immediately; I wish I had;
4)            Investigate any opportunity; I made a career in an industry and position for which I had no knowledge, prior interest or education; insurance has been very good to me;
5)            Travel the USA; travel the world; experience life to the fullest;
6)            Don’t get tied down by marriage and kids too young;
7)            Celebrate the moments, the little things, your family; it matters;
8)            Try new things;
9)            Learn to cook; it is relaxing and always means love;
10)         Only buy what you love;
11)         If you don’t love it, give it away; donate it to charity;
12)         Practice yoga and meditation; it is good for the mind, body and soul;
13)         Don’t loan money to friends or family unless you mean it to be a gift;
14)         Do NOT offer unsolicited advice; it always ends badly;
15)         Do not offer solicited advice it always ends badly;
16)         Accept people for who they are; you can’t change them and if you try they will resent you;
17)         Accept life on life’s terms;
18)         Laugh;
19)         Accept that dust bunnies are ok; life is too short to worry about a spotless home;
20)         Read books;
21)         Turn off the TV;
22)         Go to a music festival and listen to something different;
23)         Embrace change;
24)         If opportunity knocks, open the door;
25)         Do not stay in a job you hate for the money;
26)         The years pass quickly, savor every moment;
27)         Ride rollercoasters;
28)         Take a hot air balloon ride;
29)         Drive a convertible;
30)         Accept invitations even if you aren’t excited; you might meet somebody or have an experience that you will love;
31)         Take chances;
32)         If somebody doesn’t like you – so what?
33)         Don’t wear the same hairstyle, clothes, shoes, make-up for more than a year; change is inevitable and good!
34)         Show your loved ones that you love them; call or write or email or Skype regularly;
35)         If you have a significant other that doesn’t like your friend and family, it is probably the significant other that is f%@##$ed up. Really, it is.
36)         If your significant other is an asshole sometimes, he/she probably is an asshole all the time; accept it and dump them;
37)         Money can buy property, jewelry, a luxury car, designer clothes, and status symbols, but it cannot buy peace, serenity and contentment. I’ve had it all and misery is misery. Although it is preferable to be miserable with money;
38)         When you are young and carefree, live in the City;
39)         Don’t stay in a bad relationship out of fear or loneliness; there are far worse things than being alone;
40)         It is okay to shop alone, go to movies alone, travel alone, celebrate time alone; alone does not mean lonely;
41)         Learn to say “no”; it is not only okay, it is liberating;
42)         Use the good dishes. Crystal, and towels everyday;
43)         Live each day as if it were your last;
44)         Stop and smell the honeysuckle, taste the freshness of a homegrown tomato with salt and a bit of balsamic vinegar, touch the softness of cashmere, celebrate the sights of a sunrise from your window,  listen to the sounds of summer raindrops on the roof, and savor the memories of yesterday.
45)         Save an abandoned animal;
46)         Practice random acts of kindness – open a door, let somebody in front of you in traffic, pay for the person behind you at Starbucks, give a beggar a dollar;

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Enjoying An Afternoon of Solitude

Enjoying An Afternoon of Solitude

Most people after first meeting me conclude that I am an extrovert. And I am a social animal that enjoys being with positively focused people. But I also crave solitude and revel in being alone, a oneness with nature, a good book or magazine, and absolute quiet.

More often than not when I am home by myself (and the cats- Samson Baloney and Biscuit/Biscotti) I exist with nothing but the ambient sounds that surround me – no radio, no television, no white noise machine – just the humming of the electric appliances and the songs of the birds and insects or the pitter-patter of cats racing up and down the stairs. Something about the silence brings me peace.

Yesterday afternoon I carried my solitude into the world at large: a donation to the Salvation Army, lunch with my book at Panera Bread, and a leisurely drive on 522 South through Front Royal, Virginia to Rappahannock Winery to pick up our Wine Club shipments. While at the winery, I ordered a glass of Old World Red, carried it out to the deck that looks over the vineyard, and absorbed the feel of the sun. The winery was crowded with a tour bus full of tasters, but they didn’t infringe upon my peace. Ultimately, it was an afternoon of pure bliss.

I am filled with gratitude that I have evolved to a place in which I can exist as a whole person, feeling entirely contented, within my own skin. Now, if only we can add a view of the Mississippi River or an ocean all will be perfect!