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Patterns and Positivity

Like a savory pot of autumn soup, there have been many hearty ingredients tossed into a meanginful lesson about behavior patterns and self awareness this week:

  • Scott Hamilton’s inspirational video about his recent diagnosis of a 3rd brain tumor and how setting the “tone” for himself and his family fuels positivity and courage for all.
  • A web seminar with Pema Chodron about breaking our habitual patterns by enthusiastically choosing a fresh alternative.
  • A well written article on Curbing Self-Defeating Habits by Dawa Tarchin Phillips (mindful.org)  replacing “trying to change” with “committing to change.”

Two things really grabbed my attention — Patterns  and the Power of Positivity.

For some time, I have been focused more on my “patterns” when I get stuck in negative thinking or familiar bad habits.  It surprised me to discover that there were similarities in my emotions or behaviors even when the stressful situations were quite different.

I can be diligent all day about healthy food, exercise, drinking water and then blow it all in a few mindless moments on a salty bag of chips because I’m unhappy about something.  What is that all about?   I can be having a great day with family members and then suddenly feel criticized and snap in self defense.  What is really going on?

I was curious enough to dig little deeper and start paying attention to situations that “hook” me.  Pema Chodrun provided the framework when she cited  some of the reasons we get hooked — irritation, disapproval, resentment, inadequacy (just to name a few).   She says when we feel this way, we harden and freeze in an effort to protect ourselves from the fear of feeling pain.  Many people “numb out” with drugs, alcohol, watching TV, or stomping out the door.  We set off a chain reaction of habitual patterns that only make matters worse.

We self soothe or shut down and suddenly we just bought our ticket on the habitual pattern merry go round —  Feel bad, numb out or check out, feel worse.

A few minutes after consuming the enormous bag of salty chips, I start chastising myself for that poor choice.  Not only am I still unhappy about whatever set me off in the first place, but now I feel chunky, bloated and I’ve sabotaged my entire day of healthy living.  My little inner critic just won’t stop berating me.

Same goes for snapping at my family member who had my best interests at heart and is now feeling alienated by my defensive remarks and sulky disposition.

The worst of my habitual patterns is getting triggered by someone and ruminating about our history.  I’ll replay a distressing scenario in my mind for hours or days….and all that comes of it is that I have absolutely wasted being fully present in the current moments.  Often these are really good moments — playtime with my granddaughter, a trail ride on my bike on a beautiful fall day, or practicing golf.   There’s nothing worse than inviting a Debbie Downer along on a fun outing….yet when I ruminate, that is exactly what happens.

Pema Chodrun urges us to “wake up” to these patterns so we can really see where it is that we are closing down.  We are all seeking relief from our anxieties, hurts and stresses but our habitual behavioral patterns aren’t working.   She offers these three difficult (yet very productive) practices:

  • Acknowledge that you are “hooked”
  • Do something different than you usually do!  Chose a fresh alternative and do it enthusiastically!
  • Make it a way of life

Admittedly, I’ve been practicing mindfulness for quite a while and these principles are not new to me but what really got my attention was that powerful word — Enthusiastically!

It really resonated with me because it conjured up hopeful, energetic and happy images.  When I am enthusiastic about something, my energy level rises in such a good way and my commitment also deepens.  It sets an entirely different tone to the situation.  Talk about a positive approach to jumping off that habitual pattern merry go round.

I’m not saying that I’ll be eagerly awaiting to be triggered so I can practice it.  However, it does make me feel more in control because of this refreshing new plan and being committed to it.  That’s another big distinction.   There’s a natural power surge that comes when you say to yourself, “I am committed!”   It’s got so much more positive energy  than muttering  “I’ll try”.

What’s been fascinating about studying my “patterns” is that I can now readily identify several distinctive triggers that hit me hard.  Mine have a lot to do with respect and trust.    When you become more knowledgeable about your own triggers, you often gain wisdom and understanding about other people.  Hopefully that evolves into greater compassion and empathy when dealing with conflicts.  You may not react the same way as another person, but “walking a mile in their shoes” can help you find some common ground.

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I’m reminded of something else that Pema Chodron shares — Where there is resistance, there is valuable information.

 

Sometimes we just get in our own way and push away what we really want the most.

 

 

 

In Dawa’s article about curbing self-defeating habits,  she points out how much of our own personal suffering comes as a result of self-centered thinking and suggests taking a fresh look at a problem or situation as a whole, without personal attachment.

An exercise that she suggests is to imagine that a friend is going through the crisis, not yourself.  Taking the strong emotional attachment out of the equation, enables you to problem solve from a caring, altruistic and unbiased perspective.

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Scott Hamilton reminds us that what is important in life is getting up after we fall and setting a positive tone.   Every time pick ourselves up after a fall,  we get stronger for the next event that comes along.  Scott says that is life.  Things are bound to happen and how you approach them sets the stage for success.

“it doesn’t matter what the challenge is -athletics, business, romance, health, academics, the arts- the rule for getting up is the same. you just get up!”
― Scott Hamilton, The Great Eight: How to Be Happy

“The only disability in life is a bad attitude.” – Scott Hamilton

The goal of getting out of our deep rut of non-productive patterns is to enrich our quality of life and improve our relationships.   It is well worth the effort and you will begin to feel empowered when you make progress in escorting bad habits to the door!

 

Resources:

YouTube – The Freedom to Choose Something Different by Pema Chodron

Facebook – Scott Hamilton

Mindful.org – How to Curb Self-Defeating Habits by Dawa Tarchin Phillips, June 15, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ahead of his time….

October has arrived with crispness in the air, rich autumn colors glowing in the sunrise, and an air of reflection for me.  Fourteen years ago, my beloved husband passed away very suddenly on October 9th.  I like to honor his memory by reflecting on our shared memories.  Skip Davis was ahead of his time — a mindful man with a deep appreciation for a joyful life.

Skip was generous with his heart and his wisdom.  He was kind and compassionate.  He would often say to us “Everyone has a story” — his gentle way of reminding us not to judge others.  He would take the time to ask questions and actively listen for the answers when he met someone.  He had a natural curiosity about people.  He wanted to get the backstory on a person so he could better understand them and their behaviors, attitudes and opinions.   He was mindful long before it became mainstream.

It was his innate interest in people that made him such a highly respected leader in the corporate financial world.   Even before Myers-Briggs was introduced in the workplace, Skip would take the time to get to know his employees and make a sound assessment as to where they would find the most success and be the happiest in the careers.  His attitude was “if you love your job and are given the right environment in which to excel, you will.” He was known to move employees from a technical job to a sales job and watch them flourish.  Skip had a gift for recognizing potential and talents in people that even they did not realize they possessed.  He’d take it one step further and ensure that they got the education, mentors and support system to be successful.   When someone he mentored got a big promotion, he was genuinely happy for them and proud.  He was not jealous of their success, but rather felt a strong sense of accomplishment in his contribution to their career advancement.

He conducted himself in the same caring manner at home with family and friends.  I’ve never known another person as empathic and compassionate as Skip.   It was almost as if he could walk in your shoes and feel your emotions just as you did.   He earned your trust quickly.  A man of high integrity, he never made a promise he couldn’t keep and he would go out of his way to demonstrate his love.  Even when he was angered, he kept his cool and found a gentle way to navigate a tense situation.  One of my favorite Skip quotes is this one:  “If you want someone’s attention, just whisper.”

Think about that for a few moments.  Rather than raising your voice and shouting a defensive remark that sparks a combative dialogue…….take a breath and lower your voice, calmly state your feelings and perspective.  When someone whispers, we instinctively lean forward to hear them fully and we do tend to actually “listen” rather than prepare a quick retort.  Calm is a powerful state of being.

Skip also used to say “the future belongs to those who prepare for it”.  He wasn’t one to “wing” it when it came to work, travel or at home projects.  He’d do his research, brainstorm with others (especially experts in their fields), review and rehearse — and always have a backup plan if something should go awry.

Little did I realize at that time that Skip was really giving me and others these mindfulness tools:

  • Don’t judge others.  Take the time to understand them.
  • Your words and your actions should match.  Have integrity.
  • Stay centered and calm.  Compromise is often the best option in conflict resolution.
  • Being prepared reduces anxiety and builds self-confidence.

Skip had a zest for life that was hard to contain — just ask anyone who knew him! He’d enter a room and the lights got brighter, the energy ramped up! He was always looking for the positives — in people, in circumstances, in life.

Perhaps the greatest attribute that Skip possessed was resiliency.  Skip experienced a lot of life’s adversities including the sudden loss of his mother in a tragic car accident, a brain aneurism requiring life-threatening surgery, serving in the CIA during the drug wars in Latin and South America, and a long career in international banking during the era of frequent mergers and acquisitions accompanied by massive job losses.

The greatest testament of his resiliency came on 9-11-2001.  We were at the Biltmore in Phoenix, Arizona, for an annual international banking conference.  Skip was a keynote speaker for several seminars being offered throughout the week and his sales team was in full force garner new business.  Banks from all over the globe were represented with hundreds of employees in attendance.

In the early morning of September 11th, we were awakened by a phone call in our room.  Skip’s colleague frantically told us to turn on the TV and remarked that “Amy won’t be flying home today.”  We were in shock as we watched the second plane hit the Twin Towers.

You can imagine the chaos that unfolded as all those conference attendees, the Biltmore employees and other hotel guests began to assimilate what was happening in our country. Phone lines were jammed as everyone reached out in a panicked effort to connect to loved ones across the globe, terrified as more attacks were reported.

I witnessed my husband recognizing the elements unfolding,  remaining calm yet taking action.

While other team leaders scrambled and called quick meetings in their hotel rooms to devise big schemes to hire private planes to escort their own teams back to their homes, Skip was pragmatic.

Skip knew that no one was going to be flying anywhere.  He called the local rental car agencies and reserved as many vehicles as possible.   He determined that a majority of attendees could drive across the country to their families.  It was in fact the only option they really had.  He also made multiple hotel reservations across the country, estimating travel times for major cities across the U. S.   He determined that it would take 3 days driving 800 miles a day to get home on the East Coast.  ( I should point out that this was long before iPhones, Siri and accessible GPS.)

Skip went to Biltmore management and arranged for large screen TV’s to be brought into the largest conference rooms so that attendees could gather together to watch the ongoing news coverage.

He and his team were scheduled to host a private dinner party at the Heard Museum that evening.   Instead, Skip arranged for the caterer to prepare additional food and bring it all to the  Biltmore where he provided dinner for all the conference attendees.

In the midst of all the shock, fear and helplessness, Skip remained calm and comforting to others.  He encouraged people to be together, to offer support and compassion to each other.  He gave a lot of hugs, looked people directly in their eyes and offered his soft, calming words of comfort and concern.

What resonated so deeply with me as I watched Skip’s resiliency was how he genuinely cared for all others.  His personal resiliency was contagious and a few others followed his example.  I believe that many of us found courage we didn’t know we had because of his leadership.

The definition of resiliency is the ability to bounce back quickly from adversity.  Skip took resiliency to a new level.  He not only personally recovered quickly, he reached out and offered support to others immediately.  He shared by example.

Each year at this time, I reflect on how blessed I was to have been married to such an incredible man.  Although our time together was much too short, the gifts he gave to me and our family stay with us forever.   The best way I can honor Skip is to continue to grow in my mindfulness practice and to emulate his approach to life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jamaica

March 2016

What could be better than a fun girlfriend getaway to a tropical paradise?  Why, adding golf to the mix of course!

My three Pennsylvania friends were more than happy to escape the snow, ice and cold of the Northeast and head to warm, sun-drenched Montego Bay, Jamaica.  The treat for me was the rare chance to spend quality time with three fun women I haven’t seen in a very long time.

 

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Shelby, Bonnie, Diane and Amy

Diane, Shelby, Bonnie and I spent four fun-filled days together, playing two rounds of golf at Cinnamon Hill and one at White Witch.   We weren’t sure the caddies really helped our games, but we were sure they had side bets on us each day.  Each of us reveled in each others “shots of the day” and we weren’t too shy about celebrating them!  There was an abundance of laughter throughout our rounds, shaking off bad shots in a hurry and delighting in each other’s company and comraderie.

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Signature Hole Par 3 on White Witch Golf Course

I’d been to Rose Hall, Montego Bay, about six years ago with twenty women from Lancaster Country Club on our annual Women’s Winter Getaway. I had a lot of notable memories from that trip and the friendships that were forged over golf, poolside chats, and late night drinks. Since my golf game has improved since then, I was also eager to take on the White Witch course one more time. I recalled that it was incredibly beautiful with many elevation changes.  It didn’t disappoint!  Shelby and I had our best rounds of the week on that course.

One of the most pleasurable parts of a girls golf trip is the leisurely poolside lunches sipping frosty cocktails, reliving the golf round (possibly embellishing it), soaking up the sun, the breeze and friendship.

Afternoons were spent relaxing on lounge chairs facing the ocean, solving the world’s problems and sharing stories of family and our fantastic grandchildren.

One night was utter chaos when a spontaneous thunderstorm forced the outdoor Jamaican fiesta indoors.  Who knew that Chex Mix and cocktails would have to hold us over for hours while we waited for dry seats and dinner?  As often happens, the best times often come from interrupted plans.  We made some new friends at the bar that evening!

Each evening as we made our way back to our rooms, Diane and I would pass the energetic Jamaican entertainers and it was like a siren call to me!  I can’t resist a dance floor and rocking tropical music.  Most of the time my dance partners were small children whose parents were too shy to join them — hey, someone has to be in the initiator…or is it instigator?  Those talented Jamaican women dancers taught me a few new moves.  I’ve got to remember that dancing like that is one of the most fun forms of exercise on the planet!

The days flew by much too fast but the memories of our good times and friendship will last forever.

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White Witch Clubhouse, Rose Hall, Jamaica

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Choose Your Own Adventure…

 

When my sons were pre-teens, there was a series of books entitled “Choose your Own Adventure.”  The basic story line was laid down and then the reader would get to choose one of several options that finished the story.  Each option provided a remarkably different ending to the basic story.

It’s dawned on me lately that life is very much like those books — and it is our choices that determine how our life story evolves.

 

Celebrities give us dramatic examples of life choices and the resulting impacts on their careers and the lives of others.  Tiger Woods comes to mind.   Most recently, Ryan Lochte’s fabricated story that unnecessarily tainted the Rio Olympics in many ways. It’s not just about Tiger and Ryan — how many innocent others were affected by their poor choices?

 

 

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Very recently I’ve had some thought-provoking conversations with friends about matters that tug at our heartstrings — Strained family relationships, estrangements, coping with destructive behaviors of others, and serious health issues.   A lot of choices were made over the years and the results were not so positive. How might these lives be different had better choices been made?

 

Consider the divorced dad that doesn’t make his young child a priority.  He is a no show on his visitation days, misses soccer games, birthdays and graduations.  Then later in his life, when his child is grown, starting a career, getting married and having babies, dad has a “wake up” call and decides he wants to insert himself back into his child’s life.  It’s pretty likely that his child doesn’t want any part of it.  What drove dad’s decision to be absent in his child’s life?  Resentment against mom?  Too busy with work or social life?

Can he contrast what his relationship with his child might look and feel like if he had made other decisions — and made his child a priority?   Would they be sharing funny stories about their adventurous good times together with that sweet little toddler nestled in his now grown child’s lap?

 

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There is often the regret that we realize too late — we fail to make the time to stay in touch with a beloved family member or friend and then are crushed when we learn that they have suddenly passed away.  Were we really “so busy” that we couldn’t make the time for a quick phone call on a regular basis?  What about a surprise visit for a birthday or holiday…or better yet, no occasion at all!  How might our lives actually been enriched by the time spent with that family member or friend?

 

 

Take some time to reflect on your own life history and look at the choices you’ve made that may have gone sideways.  How were you feeling when you made those decisions?  Did you get the result you wanted?  Were you letting your emotions be in charge?

Ask yourself this one BIG question — how would that event in my life story be written had I made a better choice?

We can all fall prey to our conditioned responses when conflicts arise.   This is where mindfulness can make a significant difference and it take serious commitment on your part.  You have to stop in your tracks and take inventory about what is really going on.

Are you getting defensive because you feel attacked?  Is it really something you did…or is the other person having a really bad time and deflecting it to you?  If you did screw up, was it intentional and purposefully mean?  If it was a mistake, did you own it and apologize?  What is your “go to” response — slam the door and walk out, yell louder, or blame someone else?

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For over a year, I have been practicing mindfulness in my daily life and even after a year of committed effort, I find myself really struggling sometimes to not give in to old non-productive responses.  It takes every ounce of my willpower to breathe deeply and acknowledge my feelings and at the same time, strip them of the power to control my actions.

Trust me when I tell you that gathering up the willpower to stop that steaming locomotive of emotions is no easy feat.  Deep breathing really helps — its the best gift you can give your body when pressure is mounting.  Why do you think they teach it as a basic skill for getting through labor and delivery?

Did you ever notice how things escalate in the midst of conflict?  Voices get louder, body language becomes more pronounced and words fly faster than the speed of light.  Very often, we jump into our conditioned patterns without a moment’s hesitation.

Simply slowing down when I’m face to face with confrontation gives me a sense of control.   It’s a new practice for me and it becomes a strong reminder to be mindful.

I’ve recently discovered that if I turn my typical reactions away from thinking about me, and my feelings, I’m gaining valuable insight into what the other person is feeling and needing, how they process and what their values are.

Most importantly, it gives me a lot of clarity about my choices in resolving the situation. Admittedly it doesn’t mean that the solutions are easy or fast.   But I am convinced that I’m beginning to make better choices and wiser decisions.

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We can’t change the past, but we can learn from it.

We can make amends.

We can make different choices and get better results.

We can be role models for others, especially our children and grandchildren.

Life is short….make the most of your personal adventure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Study in Contrasts

Have you ever taken a photo of a project “before” and then another “after” all your hard work and marveled at the striking difference.  Several years ago, I resurrected a neglected, overgrown perennial bed and turned it into an lush, inviting shade garden of broad-leafed hostas, frothy ferns and majestic jack-in-the-pulpits.  Looking at the “before” and “after” photos was a huge reward for my arduous weeks of digging in the dirt.

It’s been just a little over a year since my serious commitment to mindfulness and I found myself wanting to contrast how I live my life today versus how I was living it before.  On the surface, I was very aware of feeling much better physically and emotionally, but I was curious about deeper self-awareness.

What an eye opener!  I took a look at my day-to-day life in “before” and “after frames — and what I discovered was a huge contrast with many enriching benefits.

By nature, I’m a pretty positive and upbeat gal.  What has become a noticeable enhancement to looking on the bright side, is daily appreciation of the many blessings in my life.  It can be something as simple as watching the sunrise hearing only the sounds of nature, or it can be as complex as a deep, emotional conversation with a family member.  Being really conscious of so many grateful goodies in my daily life and being appreciative of them truly makes a positive impact on my ongoing happiness.

Life doesn’t always go the way we planned, or run as smoothly as we wish.  Taking time to be appreciative is like taking a multi-vitamin for life — it fortifies us when things go off track.

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One of my core attributes has been patience but as I shared in a prior blog, that can be both a blessing and a curse.  In the past, patience was often just a coping skill — a mask for stuffing my feelings because I was just too tired to fight the same old battles.  The trouble with stuffing is that sooner or later, the lid comes flying off usually at the worst possible time.

Today I am intimately curious about my “patience” and asking myself a lot of questions to better identify what I’m truly feeling.  There are 3 valuable mindfulness tools I’m implementing  in this self-awareness process.

  •  Pausing – which is simply taking some time before taking action.
  • body scan  enables me to read the cues my body is sending in a given situation.  Is my tummy upset?  Are my arms crossed tightly across my body?  Is my blood boiling?  Once I’ve identified the physical clues,  I can use the 3rd tool.
  •  Labeling my emotions.  I can say “that is anger”, “that’s fear”, “that’s mistrust”. Labeling enables me to recognize the feeling and at the same time, avoid immediately reacting to it.

Now comes the really BIG step in this process — speaking up!  Yep, that was always hard for me to do in the past.  The path of least resistance was to let things slide.  What I have discovered about that slippery slope is that I wasn’t being true to what mattered most to me.

I’m still a firm believer in being respectful and maintaining dignity when expressing my perspective, boundaries and feelings with others.  The difference is huge —  I no longer sugar-coat it.  It is simple, honest and direct.

We all have different filters and triggers that are bound to clash on occasion.  Taking time to check in with yourself and react in a calm, honest manner shows deep respect for yourself and for others.

 

Thanks to mindfulness, I have added intention to my daily life.  What is so key about intention is it really helps to keep my mind and attention focused so I fully enjoy my activities and time with others.  It’s like making a promise that my wandering mind won’t distract me from the moment at hand.

For example, when heading off to a round of golf with friends, I set the intention of giving my best effort to each shot, to being supportive and enjoyable for my friends and to appreciate the beauty of the course.  If I find my mind wandering (reflecting on the past or pondering a problem), I remind myself of my stated intention and return to the present moment.  I’m playing more consistently now, enjoying the rounds of golf even more than before and I’ve developed stronger friendships.   My appreciation for the opportunity to play on such beautiful courses, to be physically able to do so and to make new friends has multiplied.

 

I’ve been more aware of setting an intention for day-to-day interactions too and admittedly this has been a bigger challenge than I expected.  When talking on the phone with a friend or family member, I set the intention to really listen and ask questions in order to learn more.  This means that I had to give up my habit of multi-tasking.  No more folding laundry or watering plants while chatting on the phone.  It’s been a real eye opener to realize that I was only half paying attention in the past and was missing a lot of really good information!

Distractions can rob us of some of life’s most precious gifts.  Setting an intention is making a pact with yourself to stay in the present moment and soak up all the experiences that moment offers.  

After taking the time to reflect on the transformation that mindfulness has brought to my life over this past year, one word repeatedly comes to mind — contrast.

 The definition of contrast is the state of being strikingly different from something else; to be different especially in a way that is very obvious.

The way I experience life, the ways in which I examine my truest feelings, the way I respond to my emotions have all been enhanced by mindfulness.  I am calmer, happier and healthier.  I am making better life decisions.

The best analogy that I can offer is this.  I once took an art class and was taught to train my eyes to see the landscape in 3D. It took quite a while to accomplish this skill. I remember driving home from work one autumn evening and being awestruck by what I was seeing.  It was as if I was wearing 3D glasses in an IMAX theater.  The rich vibrant colors of fall foliage  literally appeared to be dancing for me.  There was movement, depth and intensity in that landscape.

That is how I feel about being mindful in my daily life.  The contrast in the “before”and “after” is strikingly different in the most positively profound way.

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Magical Maui

January 2016 – Wailea, Maui

My friend, Diane was visiting me in not-so-sunny Florida in late January.  We’d hoped her escape from snowy Pennsylvania would be a lot balmier and involve more rounds of golf but Mother Nature had other plans.  Daydreaming of sun-drenched days, we donned our rain gear and headed to Winter Park for some shopping.

Diane was busy trying on some fun clothes when my phone rang.  I knew that ring tone by heart — it was my daughter.  Imagine my surprise when she asked me if I’d like to go to Maui.  “Of course I would,” I replied immediately.  She laughed and said you better pack quick — because we are leaving in 2 days!

It just so happened that Diane was flying out of Orlando two days later – just a few hours before my Maui flight was scheduled to depart, so the timing was perfect!   We shared some good laughs about the benefits of enthusiastically saying “YES” when opportunity calls.

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Lucky me!  In two days, after two flights, I would be transported from a damp, dreary January on the East Coast to a warm tropical paradise in Maui.  Best of all, my sweet 4 month old granddaughter would be there too.

My daughter, Brelana and her husband, Ted picked me up at the airport and I exchanged  my luggage for cuddly baby Charlotte.  It was late and both Charlotte and I were ready for a sound night of sleep.  It was much too dark for me to appreciate the view that was awaiting me at sunrise.

 

Nestled in a snowy white bed of soft sheets and fluffy pillows, I was awakened by a new dawn rising over the ocean in Maui.  The waves were crashing on the beach, chattering birds welcomed a new day, and the rich aroma of fresh brewed Kona coffee drifted into my room.  If this was a dream, please don’t wake me!

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Don’t you just love that brief moment of confusion when you wake up and you are not sure where you are?    Don’t you love it even more when you realize you are somewhere amazing?

Any time I can be near an ocean is a slice of heaven.  Sharing that with my family and a granddaughter is icing on the cake.

Early morning walks on the beach, splashing in the pool with Charlotte, chatting with other vacationers, and exploring the island together makes for some priceless moments.

Always up for a new challenge, I agreed to try stand up paddle board after some playful cajoling from Brelana.  I was laughing to myself as I thought, here’s Ted, a professional football player, teaching his 64 year old mother-in-law how to do stand up paddle board.  Trust me, I was anything but graceful in my first few attempt and fell off multiple times.

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A few more tips from Ted plus a healthy dose of determination and I finally got it!    What a thrilling experience to be out on that board alone, soaking in the sights of Lanai on the horizon along with other paddle boarders and sailboats.  The highlight for me was watching mother whales and their babies skimming the ocean’s surface.  It was so peaceful to be floating along, unobtrusively watching their interactions with each other.

When I turned the board around to head back to shore, what I saw took my breath away! Rising before was the stunning vista of lush green mountains, bright colorful flowers, puffy white clouds mingled with deep dark rain-laden ones and a rich blue sky.

Stand up paddle board is now added to my growing list of activities I love!  For a brief moment I even thought about giving up golf for paddle board.

 

It was such a treat to watch baby Charlotte being introduced to the ocean, to sand and new tiny friends.    She also enjoyed the pool and especially the big water fountain in the center.

 

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Charlotte was a big fan of my room overlooking the ocean with the rhythmic sounds of waves crashing on the beach lulling her to sleep.  Her parents thought I was making a sacrifice while they went to dinner.  Little did they know, I was basking in the joy of watching my granddaughter peacefully sleeping — one of life’s treasures.

 

Exploring the island was a big highlight —  breakfast at a popular local spot by the ocean, Ho’okipa Beach to watch the board and wind surfers, then onto the Lavender farm and the Surfing Goat Dairy.  We enjoyed sampling the fresh goat cheeses while the newborn billy goats frolicked nearby.   One little guy stole Brelana’s heart — he was still wet from birth and working on stabilizing his wobbly legs.

We shared a few dinners together at MonkeyPod – a fun restaurant featuring delectable fresh catches. Makes my mouth water just to recall the fantastic fresh fish and savory sides we devoured. Did I mention that I had my first mai tai there? Trust me, it wasn’t my last:)

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It’s always a special treat for me to play golf with my son-in-law and we enjoyed another fun round at the Wailea Blue Golf Course.  Anyone who knows me, is well aware that I am passionate about golf.  Just say the word, I will be out of my bathing suit and into golf attire in less than 5 minutes!  Any time you can enjoy a round of golf while gazing at an ocean, is an especially incredible experience.  Ted and I saw beautiful cardinals, lots of flora, some crazy squirrels and we both had some birdies on that scorecard!

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Thanks for the Memories…

Unknown   A box of old photos, some faded letters and a sterling silver teapot swaddled in bubblewrap arrived on the doorstep.  There was a handwritten note with little pink hearts nestled in the tissue paper.

That personal note recalled memories brought to life by this box of treasures.  Reading the note conjured the images of a little blonde-haired girl laughing as she tore the wrapping paper off a Christmas present, of a smiling couple cutting a tiered cake while music, laugher and conversation drifted in the background.  Poignantly, the heartfelt note conveyed some lasting, loving experiences shared with a husband who passed away much too soon.

Fourteen years had slipped by since he died.  Teenagers were now married adults with children of their own.  Family and friends were now retired, had moved, dealt with health issues, or also passed away.   In the blink of an eye, 14 years of life happened.

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Recently, my daughter and I had been sifting through moving boxes in a hot, humid garage sorting out what to keep, what to donate and what to discard.  Suddenly we both broke into tears and laughter as we gazed at old photos and touched treasured keepsakes.  Memories of vacations, holidays, adventures and milestones came to life as we both warmly shared our fondest experiences.

It was as if the entire garage had been turned into a live stage and dozens of life’s vignettes were being acted out right before our eyes.  We laughed till tears ran down our cheeks.  We rolled our eyes at bad hairdo’s and our fashion faux pas.  We grew silent in personal reflection as we read his postcards and letters to us.

Our memories were more alive than ever.  Suddenly it was like the 14 years had vanished and we were reliving the highlight clips of our lives.

A fascinating observation about memories is how each of us has a different perspective, poignant moment or touchpoint that resonates with us.  The memory is enhanced by each of us adding our personal details.

It becomes richer in color, more alive and subsequently, a more vivid memory.

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We carefully boxed up some  photos, letters, and the silver and shipped them to his sister.   I could envision her surprise and rush of memories as she unpacked the treasures.

What I had not anticipated was the gift I would receive in return — a lengthy note back to me chock full of her own beautiful memories of her brother and her grandmother.  Some of these stories were new to me and others I’d forgotten.  Now I could watch a movie in my head of another young girl with bouncing curls on a New York shopping spree with her doting grandmother many decades ago.

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I’ve learned a few noteworthy things from my recent trip down memory lane.

  • Memories are best when shared.
  • Memories are inspirational and often serve as reminders of what is most important in our busy lives.  Make time for your loved ones.
  • Each of us has a filter through which we process an experience.  Be mindful of other’s filters and appreciative of their perspective.
  • Most importantly, memories can remind us just how much we were and are loved.

 

 

Inspired by BreatheShelleyGirl and her post ” I love you. Have a cookie.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Decluttering House and Mind

Many of you may be familiar with Marie Kondo’s books which guide us to declutter our home enabling us to simplify and organize our living spaces once and for all.  She offers this simple question to help us purge — “Does this item spark joy?”

I’ve recently had a big garage sale in preparation for my upcoming move and I found it pretty easy to part with items I have been dragging around for years by honestly answering that one question.  Admittedly, there was a strong sentimental attachment to some items like my wedding china which has been moved  5 times over the past 18 years and were used maybe a dozen times.  It was stored in padded covers in closed cabinets.  The china didn’t spark joy — the memories of how Skip loved to shop for it is what really sparked my joy!

Those memories take up no space and do not have to be carefully transported once again to yet another dark closet.  My kids didn’t want the china and neither did my closest friends.  Seeing the joy that it brought to a woman who yearned for good china all her life and who entertains her large family quite often made parting it with it all the easier.

What has happily surprised me is that I feel happier, lighter and freer now that I have parted with a lot of “stuff” and am enjoying a minimalist approach to my living space.  My reward for accomplishing this daunting task was a huge bouquet of freshly cut, fragrant flowers.

Being completely candid, it is probably easier for me than most to pare down like this.  After all, I foresee myself living in a small apartment and traveling often over the next 5 years or more.  So from a practical standpoint, it just makes sense to simplify my possessions.

Now picture me sitting in my uncluttered space and asking myself one more very serious question.  If I can declutter my home and part with possessions that are not sparking joy, could I also declutter my mind and part with well-worn habits that are not serving me well?

When I start to ruminate or recall a painful memory, could I stop myself and ask — is this helping me live in the present moment enjoying a peaceful, joy-filled life?

When I procrastinate on dealing with a challenging person or situation, is it really helping me move forward or is it keeping me in quicksand?

Recognizing that old habits and conditioned responses are cluttering my mind and eating up a lot of real estate in that busy brain of mine, it was time for personal clean up.

Mindfulness has been the key in helping me move on from a failed relationship over this past year.    It’s many benefits include improved physical health, stronger family relationships, deepened personal friendships and greater enjoyment of my activities and projects.

So I laughed at myself and acknowledged that there’s still more work to be done.

A yoga instructor once wisely pointed out that we improve physically and spiritually through small increments over long periods of practice.  One day we realize that we can do that backward bend much farther than we once did, but it did not happen overnight.  It happened over months — with lots of committed practice.

The same is true with mindfulness.  We can effect some pretty remarkable changes in our lives by rewiring our brains through awareness and mindfulness practice.

The common thread boils down to intention.

When purging my house and personal possessions, my intention was to eliminate material things I didn’t need or want anymore.  There was tangible evidence that I was accomplishing the goal because my house was uncluttered.

The challenge with a mindful intention is that my busy mind wanders far and wide throughout the day.  It is all too easy to get caught in an old familiar loop of thinking and feeling and the next thing you know, I have eaten half a bag of salty potato chips instead of the healthy carrot sticks so meticulously prepped in the morning!  Worse yet, I wasn’t even hungry – just bored or upset.

Striving to utilize Marie Kondo’s sparking joy theory, I’m paying more attention to my thoughts and actions as part of my daily intention.

All my hopes and aspirations, my values, principles and my character reside in my brain and in my heart.  It’s also where all those priceless, precious memories are stored.

Housecleaning my mind frees up valuable space so there is expansive room to invite new experiences and positive, mindful living into my present and future life.

It’s going to take a lot of practice and I’m betting I’ll get a lot of chances throughout each  day to work on it:)

 

 

 

 

 

Intuition

I got a healthy dose of inspiration about intuition this morning thanks to a video from Brendon Buchard, one of the world’s top personal development trainers.  I’d been doing a lot of journaling lately about hindsight and what I have learned about myself and the choices I’ve made over the years, looking for clues to help me make better decisions in the future.

Oddly enough, I was thinking a lot about intuition and how I used to feel like I was pretty tuned into my own years ago, but that somehow I had stuffed it away and forgot that intuition is a valuable life resource.

While mindlessly sifting through some social media, Brendon’s video popped up and I opted to play it.  Wow — I thought he was talking directly to me!  “Hey, Amy — want to reconnect with your intuition?  Let me give you some insight.”  (Well, at least that ‘s what I heard)

Brendon shared how to distinguish intuition from fear. Intuition operates on 4 planes:

  • Trust
  • Social intelligence
  • Positive growth
  • Tied to your faith or values and beliefs

I listened to his video several times and I encourage you to do the same if you find this to be insightful and helpful in your own life. (brendon.com)

Then I did the hard work of looking at my past to observe where I ignored my intuition.  I was curious as to why I turned a blind eye to such a valuable resource.  What I discovered was mind-blowing and I am so excited that I get to tap into my intuition going forward with a sharpened awareness of what is most important to me.  I’ve got to believe that I will now consistently make good, informed decisions.

Trust

Brendon gives very good, every day examples for each of the four planes.  He encourages us to distinguish between a simple thought and strong vibe.   You might be talking to someone and ask yourself — “Do I trust this person? Am I getting a negative vibe?”

I decided that I better start the “trust” question with myself — Do I trust myself to make a good assessment — of people, of decisions, of choices?    All the work I have been doing on mindfulness over this past year has really helped me to create a short, meaningful list of my values.  I can call these up anytime and ask myself — am I being true to my values as I make this decision or observation?

I know myself well enough to know that I have a lot of empathy for others and most always give others the benefit of the doubt.  I also have tremendous patience and and that can be a blessing and a curse.  I am a natural born caregiver. Too many times in the past, I have trusted that someone will rise to the occasion, or meet my expectations if I just give them a chance.   I often ignored my intuition or did not take the time to learn more about a person so that I could make a wise decision. I was too busy rescuing.  As a result, I made poor hiring decisions, acquired negative and needy friends or life partners who did not share my core values.

Social Intelligence

This plane really grabbed my attention.  While I am very good at personal relationships and maintaining diverse friendships over many years and miles, I failed to recognize a problem that was thwarting my happiness.  I was plagued with codependency.

Codependent relationships are a type of dysfunctional helping relationship where one person supports or enables another person’s addiction, poor mental health, immaturity, irresponsibility or under-achievement.

The “aha” moment for me was recognizing that all this time I thought I was being a good caregiver and running around rescuing people in the hopes that they’d get happy and productive, I was tolerating behaviors that were in direct conflict with my core values!

Not surprisingly, this ties right back into the first plane — Trust.  Trusting myself to invite people who genuinely want to be on the path of self improvement and are willing to do the work must be the first filter.  Paying attention to my intuition when it is literally screaming at me –“Why are you accepting this draining, disrespectful behavior?”

I intend to blog more about codependency at another time but for now I will just say that my childhood had a lot to do with those tendencies.  As with any experience, one can extract both good and bad skills and habits.  I am a pretty decent and balanced person in spite of childhood family dysfunction since I was motivated to be quite different from my parents.  On the other hand, I also became the ultimate caregiver and did not acquire the necessary filters to respect my own boundaries.

So, I have some homework to do now — how exciting!  I need to take my social intelligence to a whole new level.  I want to become a much better assessor of character as I invite new people into my life.  Oh, and I am resigning my position as caregiver:)

Positive Growth

I’ve had a few setbacks in my life that ultimately ended up being a launching pad for a growth spurt.  Perhaps this is one area of my life where my intuition served me well.

After being diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer at age 40 and successfully beating it, I got very involved with a variety of cancer research and awareness organizations, volunteering my time to raise funds and inspire others through motivational speaking.   While I knew I was giving to others in a positive way, I may not have been aware of the impact my courage and strength was having on my three children (ages 5, 15 and 16 at the time).

Then at age 50, I was suddenly widowed.  I lost my best friend and the love of my life.  It took a while to find a silver lining in this devastating loss.  I finally decided that I needed to help others in order to fill the huge hole in my heart.  I quit my 25 year career in financial services and opened my own business – a lingerie and breast care boutique.  It had been a long time dream of mine to create a beautiful shopping environment for women who had faced breast surgeries that was feminine, compassionate, dignified and emotionally uplifting.  My daughter and I poured heart and soul into Annabella’s in Paoli, PA.  We accomplished all of the goals we set for ourselves and then some.  As I reflect back on being an inspired entrepreneur, I never made a lot of money — I made a difference.  That’s my personal definition of success.

In his video, Brendon says that this 3rd plane of intuition – Personal Growth – should make you feel excited, energized, connected!  Just hearing the enthusiasm in his voice as he encourages us to listen to that intuition, gets the blood pumping!  I literally wanted to dance around the room with joy as I thought about this next chapter of my life!

I’m having a growth spurt!  It’s a time to change, a second chance!

And then Brendon offers words of wisdom.  While your intuition may be spot on about Positive Growth, your decision making may not be right.  He cautions us to explore and pay attention.  Decision making decides how to implement a new goal.     Ask yourself this question he says:  “What is my next right action of integrity?”

I loved that — integrity really resonates with me.  It ties right back into my core values of treating myself and others with trust and respect.

Brendon shares that “intuition operates best after effort than before”.  That’s pretty powerful stuff.  He suggests that you take small steps toward a larger goal.  Along the way, stop and ask yourself and your intuition how it feels.  If you are still feeling inspired, excited and energized, you are on the right path!

Judging by the enthusiasm I have for this blog post right now, I’d have to say that my recent, carefully planned decisions are confirming I am on the right path.

Tied to Your Faith or Values/Beliefs

Over this past year of mindfulness and mediation, I have often had to ask myself if I was really being my best self.  What did I need from my environment, my racing thoughts, my family and friends to be my best self?

Trusting your intuition and paying attention to how your body feels, how you are reacting to others and to life’s events, being honest about bad habits — these are all guideposts for living your life in balance with your core values and beliefs.

Brendon says if you realize that you are just not being that good for those around you, pay attention to your intuition and see if you are genuinely connected with your values and beliefs. If not, tell yourself “I am better than this.”

He offers that we need to rise through the difficulties of the day and be a role model for others.  Pay attention to how we treat people.

A close examination of myself a year ago revealed to me that my environment was full of drama, negativity and conflict.  As a result I was resentful  because I was emotionally drained, publicly embarrassed and deeply hurt by unnecessary family disharmony.  My core values of trust, respect and positivity were not being supported.  No wonder I was sad, tired and physically strained.  That certainly was not my best self.

Heeding my intuition, it was time to leave and and give myself a peaceful, predictable and happy living environment.  That was a big first decision.  Next I had to stop kidding myself and dig deep into self-awareness and self-improvement.  Mindfulness and meditation played a big part in this process.  It was not a quick fix by any stretch of the imagination.   In fact, it was like yoga — small, incremental improvements over time.  Then one day, I realized that I was definitely moving in the right direction and actually making significant progress.  I was rewiring my brain and learning new skills and habits to rid myself of old habitual responses.

Six months into my transition, it suddenly dawned on me that the whole codependency thing was still with me.   While I had made a lot of positive life changes and was returning to my normal, happy positive, energetic self I was still tethered to this “caregiver” role. I’ll confess that it took a lot of effort to sort out the pieces of myself and come to terms with a big distinction between being a compassionate, empathic person and the person that blindly jumps into rescue mode before assessing the situation.

Today, I take every opportunity that I can to test myself and my intuition to ensure that my hard work is sinking in.  If I get a knot in my stomach or a red flag flapping in a 40 mile an hour wind, I smile and invite intuition to sit down with me and explore.

I am grateful that I watched Brendon’s video this morning because it reinforces my commitment to self improvement and this new chapter of my life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ready, Set, Go — I’m a Blogger!

I’m just getting started in building my blog about all the changes I’m currently making in my life.  The past year has been full of self awareness, mindfulness and redefining my purpose and my dreams.  It’s my hope to share insights, some hearty laughs, and a little wisdom along the way.

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Mindfulness will be the cornerstone of my foundation as I reshape my life and I’ll be sharing ideas of how to incorporate mindfulness into our busy, every day lives.  It will come as no surprise that often means getting our faces out of our phones:)

 

Finding meaning and purpose in retirement will be another aspect to my blog.  I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what I’m doing each day that makes me feel like I’m contributing in a positive way to my family, my friends and the world in general.  Conversations with friends and folks I meet while traveling have really sparked my interest in exploring this topic more deeply.

Creative writing is something I have enjoyed all my life and I am working to accomplish two goals with this hobby  The first goal is to write children’s stories that incorporate mindfulness into the message. My hope is that we can teach children to deal with their emotions in a healthy way, to be kind and respectful to others, and to be resourceful in problem solving.  I’ve wanted to write children’s stories since my boys were little and I have had a few false starts along the way.  It is my adorable granddaughters that have really inspired me to get make this happen!  This goal also ties into finding meaning and purpose in retirement so that gets me even more motivated.

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My second goal is to write whimsical stories about funny everyday experiences that often happen to us when we least expect it.  Erma Bombeck was always my inspiration for my amusing anecdotes, so I am hoping to do her some justice and spread a little humor along the way.

 

 

When I originally decided to launch a blog, it was intended as a way for my friends and family to keep track of all my adventures as I am about to relocate once again.  Now I have a much more definitive purpose to my life and my blog.   I want to extend a hearty thank you to my daughter and son-in-law and to my many friends who listened to my ideas, who encouraged me and gave me food for thought and inspired me to keep going…and growing.