Listening from the Heart

ear of heart

Recall a time when you felt heard, when your deepest thoughts and feelings were held reverently by another. Think of a time when you listened with all your heart and held a safe space for another to share openly. What was that like for you and the other person?

Listening is an art, something that can be learned, refined and practiced. A large part of my coaching training was about listening – not only recognizing and busting the habit of listening to another through a filter of my own “stuff”, but learning to hear what is said through the filter of faith, the heart.

I am reminded of the power of listening from faith. During a weekend retreat in November, participants shared how deeply moved they were by a powerful listening exercise. The group of 30 was paired for sharing periodically throughout the weekend. Sharing was timed for two minutes.  Comments like “Wow, I realize how hard it is for me to listen without interrupting, nodding or making comments as my partner shared.”  And “It felt great to be able to share for a specific amount of time and know that my partner would simply listen.” And even more “I realize how I don’t really listen anymore; I’m too busy with my own thoughts, getting annoyed or wanting approval, rehearsing what I’m going to say next.”

My intention for this year is to be conscious of the practice and gift of listening from my heart. I’ve been listening to the silence in the winter woods, breathing in the stillness; listening to my clients, consciously connecting to what is said and what is not said; listening to my husband, focusing intently as he describes a work project; listening to my son, feeling his concern about going back to college; listening to a friend, sharing her excitement of an upcoming vacation; listening to the voice inside my head that is sometimes obnoxious and judgmental, other times compassionate and loving; listening to the whisper of my heart’s desire and honoring that voice. Listening from the heart means that I am willing to be open, present and compassionate, even when I notice I’m not really listening!

Listening from the heart can be painful at times.  As my son tries to explain what’s going on for him, I want to gloss over his feelings, jump right in and fix things. Wanting to fix it for him is old habit that still pops up.  When I’m courageous enough listen with my heart to whatever he’s sharing, he feels better.  There’s an old proverb that states: A problem shared is a problem halved. Sometimes that’s all I have to do, just listen.

When I listen with my heart, instead of in “fix-it” mode, I can see life through another’s eyes, hear with their ears and experience their pain or joy. Listen to what is said and what is not said. This kind of empathic listening, staying curious, accepting and silent until a response is desired or needed, if it is at all, allows the other person to share at the deepest level. No right or wrong, no good or bad, simply a flow of love, willingness and understanding. Listening from the heart to experience what it feels like to be in another’s shoes.

In To Kill a Mockingbird Atticus Finch says: If you just learn a single trick, Scout, you`ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.

Maybe all it takes is listening from the heart. Imagine — gentle people, peaceful world.

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Because I BELIEVE I Can

bootI gave up hiking for the better part of two years. Not because I wanted to, but because my body wouldn’t let me. There was no “believing” that could overcome the reality of the near impossibility, yes — even if my life depended on it — of hiking. For many months, walking 400 feet to the mailbox and back was my biggest effort of the day, and I only managed that because I BELIEVED that I could and that it would be good for me to challenge myself.

Since I’ve been regaining my strength and challenging myself more and more each week, I have had to adjust my choices and be realistic. I’m unlikely to climb a mountain if I can’t go farther than the mailbox and back.  I make slow and steady progress as I keep in my awareness the importance of attitude. If I’m in a bad mood, whiny, think I can’t — I absolutely can’t. I won’t. I’ll resist and complain and not even try. My old shadow beliefs* that I’m not good enough surface and if I don’t recognize what’s happening, sabotage is the result.

Sunday, on a beautiful hike back in my favorite stomping grounds in the Adirondack Mountains, I wondered if I had taken on too much with the decision to “do” this hike that I had “done” twice before and always found challenging. However the pull of the reward of getting to the top and the encouragement of my husband won me over. As I usually do, I decided at the trail head how long I thought it would take to get to the top, based on distance, past experience, trail guides, etc. I play a game with myself, “believing” it will take “this much time”, usually over-estimating, so I can be pleasantly surprised at the top.

As we walked, I thought about how far I had come, to challenge myself with this particular hike, not really knowing if I could be successful. I was a little worried that I might not make it.

And then something happened, I allowed a “shift” to occur, a shift from “maybe it’s too much”, to “maybe I can”, to “I believe I can”, to “I know I can”. A smile crossed my face as I knew that in that brief moment everything changed. It didn’t matter if I didn’t make it, I believed in myself again, even if it mean turning around.

On Monday, when I shared this experience with a support group that I facilitate, one of the wise women asked me if I have regained the strength I once had and I shook my head NO. I’ve been sitting with that question and my response ever since. Somewhere along this journey I believed that I would never regain the strength I once had. Now I’ve decided that when I believe in myself I am always at my personal best. Now the answer to that question, Judy, is YES.

*thank you Debbie Ford for helping me understand that my unconscious “shadow” beliefs rule what is possible for me and further that by shifting them, a world of possibility is mine. Suggested reading: “The Secret of the Shadow” by Debbie Ford.

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In Awe of Farmers & Farmer’s Markets

Kilpatrick kids at marketI moved to the country from the NYC suburbs when I was 24. Although my mother was an avid flower and vegetable gardener and we enjoyed her bountiful harvest, I never really appreciated how food got from the farm to my table. Moving to the country opened my eyes. In rural central NY most of the farms in the mid 1970s were small, family owned dairies. As agribusiness grew and milk prices dropped, these small family farms struggled and many went out of business. Though I’m not an expert on what really happened, I noticed that farms that had diversified, had enough land to grow and sell grains and hay, seemed to stay in business.

The opportunity to move to Cherry Valley arrived in the form of a “job” as a property caretaker for an old sheep farm owned by the poet Allen Ginsberg. He named the property “The Committee on Poetry” in the exodus of city to country that occurred in the late 60s and early 70s. After a few years he went back to his city life but held on to the place. My experience there was remarkable. Spoiled suburban girl living “off the grid”, no electricity, for three years. The “farming” I did there with my co-caretaker and boyfriend was random and interesting. Boyfriend grew up on his family dairy farm and had just returned from driving a “combine” [tractor] for the annual massive wheat harvest from the Midwest to Manitoba. He was no stranger to hard work. Though we weren’t technically farming, there was no getting away from the fields and small barns that called to us to farm. Within a few months we had a massive garden with more produce than we could ever use. We had chickens for eggs and I learned how to milk a goat. Twice a day. EVERY day. We cut hay and loaded it by pitch fork [no baler] into the loft of the barn for Winter supply for the goats. We offered free veggies to our friends and neighbors.  I traded goats milk, eggs and homemade bread for Yoga classes. It was quite a time and thus began my awe of small, independent farmers. Hard work and you have to love it!

I had a vegetable garden nearly every year from then until my most recent move to a community that has the most remarkable farmer’s market imaginable. I decided that I had grown enough zucchini and made enough zucchini bread and relish for a lifetime. Now I would let the experts do the growing and I simply purchase and cook! I have no regrets, because I am IN LOVE with the Saratoga Farmer’s Market.

I am in awe of the young people who have taken to sustainable agriculture. They are well educated, determined and hardworking. In our surrounding farms they work together with older farmers, sharing knowledge, expertise, equipment, resources. They are always smiling and helpful at the market. Their passion shows in the beautiful produce and farm products they sell.

This Saturday I filled in at market for a vendor. Chrissey of The Joy of the Journey Farm needed some help so that she could be be a vendor at another event, so I volunteered and spent the morning with farmers! Before market opened, everyone running about saying “hello” to their market friends and colleagues, laughing, sharing stories, helping each other, visiting before the bell went off at 9 AM, when the customers began to shop. Rick, the beekeeper stopped off to see Chrissey and visited with me for a bit. Arnold, the Saturday market manager [and market vendor] toured to make sure everyone had everything they needed and stopped by to welcome me to market. Andy helped me set up.  By the time the bell rang I was filled with a sense of belonging, if only for one day, to this loving, supportive community of farmers. Wow, in awe again!

I can’t imagine my life now without the market. The food is extraordinary. We love supporting the local economy and sustainable agriculture. The passion I sense from our farmers is contagious. I leave the market smiling and delighted with my purchase.

I see a connection, in my own peculiar way, to farming on this sustainable scale and personal transformation. Life needs to be “like this” in order to be sustainable. The determination, hard work, acceptance of “what is”, surrender to loss, choice, regrouping, moving forward, passion, love…. Well, I think it’s better said by Wendell Berry, Bringing it to the Table: Writings on Farming and Food:

“Why do farmers farm, given their economic adversities on top of the many frustrations and difficulties normal to farming? And always the answer is: “Love. They must do it for love.” Farmers farm for the love of farming. They love to watch and nurture the growth of plants. They love to live in the presence of animals. They love to work outdoors. They love the weather, maybe even when it is making them miserable. They love to live where they work and to work where they live. If the scale of their farming is small enough, they like to work in the company of their children and with the help of their children. They love the measure of independence that farm life can still provide. I have an idea that a lot of farmers have gone to a lot of trouble merely to be self-employed to live at least a part of their lives without a boss.”

Find your passion. Find and live a life you love if you don’t have it now. Transform your life so that it reflects all the qualities that you desire. Now that’s living.

— Photo above is at Saratoga Farmer’s Market — vendors Kilpatrick Family Farm

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Marketing Box [Trap]

Marketing Box, OllieThose of you who receive my Constant Contact newsletter know that I recently UNsubscribed to a bunch of newsletters and invited my readers to do the same. As “simple” as I believe my life to be, now that my son is grown and nearly launched into adulthood, care-giving for my parents long over, a move to a new home half the size of our old farmhouse, a career, exercise regimen and community that I enjoy, I “simply” don’t have time to read everything that lands in my in box! AND I’m the one who put them there. I still do it. I sign up for free calls for the amazing marketers who “guarantee” a six figure salary within three months if you just purchase their program and put in place their marketing plan. The pressure is overwhelming. Part of me DOES want to BE THAT. However a bigger part of me says NO WAY! I’m not making the marketing strategies of others WRONG, believe me, I know it works for them. I’m just not making it RIGHT for me. I am breaking OUT of the box [trap] of making myself WRONG for NOT using their methods. Why? Because the motivation to sign up almost every single time is birthed out of fear, followed by the feeling that I AM IN A BOX [trap].

I need to be me. All I want to use Facebook for is to post silly pictures of my cat, flowers, me, my friends, and stay in touch with my friends. I am incredibly rude and mostly don’t respond to event invites on FB because I am overwhelmed with them. I have a Facebook fan page that I’ve never launched because it feels fake to me. It’s not that I created a page that doesn’t represent me as a coach, it does. However, after creating it and procrastinating the launch I finally realized I don’t want to market through Facebook. End of story.

When I REALLY look at my coaching practice, workshops and teleclasses, I am thrilled, provided I don’t fall into the BOX [trap] of comparing myself to others. When I REALLY look with loving eyes, I see clearly that the universe provides me with exactly what I need, even if it doesn’t always look like what I THINK I need. When I say I WANT and NEED more, I have to ask myself if that’s really true. It is only true when I compare myself to others and hear the marketing goodies of those amazing people who have turned their businesses into huge moneymakers mostly by marketing to ME when I fear I must be doing something WRONG.

Breaking out of the BOX [trap] is an ongoing task. Just this morning I signed up for two free marketing calls that are geared to give me just what I need to sign up for more. I signed up out of FEAR that I would miss something, fear that I’m not doing things right, fear that someone else will get the edge, fear I’ll be left behind.

As I sit with whether I will be on these calls that will force me back into the BOX [trap] of another’s design, I will continue to “market” myself in a way that is in integrity with who I am and the clients I most want to attract to my practice. No right, no wrong, just ME.

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Good Deeds

XanderThis little critter came into my life for four astonishing days. Last Thursday I nearly ran over her on my way to town. She was sunning himself on a chilly morning and I thought she was a plop of horse poop and avoided it. When I realized it was a kitten, I got out and approached, only to have her scurry into the brush. When I told my son the story, he said “catch her!” I determined I just might do that.

I couldn’t stop thinking about this kitty, alone, cold, lost perhaps. The next day I threw a cat carrier into the back of my car as I headed to town and there she was. Just at the edge of the brush where she had run the day before. This time I was very cautious. I distracted the kitten with one hand and reached around to grab her with the other. She was hissing, we were both frightened, but me, being bigger and all, managed to get her into the carrier, back home, quarantined in the bathroom with food, a litter box, water and a couple places to sleep. I shook hard from the adrenaline of capturing what should have been someone’s pet, but was clearly feral.

I called my vet right away on Friday, but there were no appointments available until Monday. So we had three days to get acquainted and perhaps start the taming process in the bathroom prison. I read articles, watched videos and wondered what the hell I was thinking when I picked “Millie” up. I hadn’t really planned on having a taming project for August and my mind reeled, even though I knew there was a possibility she could be sick, carrying one or more diseases all too common in feral cats.

Sunday I had the distinct pleasure of spending the morning in Urgent Care for the tiny little cat scratch I received during the “capture”. Fees paid, prescription filled, I went home and spent a quiet day reflecting on the many unexpected consequences of doing a “good deed” and recalled the quote, “No good deed goes unpunished.” Little did I know that this was only part of the “punishment”.

Monday was long as I waited for 3:00 to arrive. I distracted myself with my commitments as a mentor to training coaches, taking a walk, picking blueberries, making lists, answering emails from clients, paying bills. My heart was heavy with anticipation and dread. Whatever the outcome of our appointment, I had fallen in love with this vulnerable little critter and I had no idea what lay ahead.

A flurry of activity the moment we arrived. Three, no four, staff members went into the room with our little spitfire, tiny kitten. It’s not a girl! It’s a boy! Worms, fleas, ticks, CHECK! Blood work for leukemia and AIDS, CHECK! Suddenly everyone was quiet and I was called in to talk to Dr. Lori and one of her staff. Newly named Xander [for Alexander Road where he was found] was sick. Very sick. This beautiful, sweet cat, who should have been born into a home, not in the woods, could not go home with me. I burst into tears. Dr. Lori hugged we twice. We talked. I looked at his beautiful face again and again and finally said goodbye.

I came home and continued to cry as I took apart the crate loaned to me by a friend which would be his transitional home as he got acquainted with us. I bleached the bathroom that had been his little holding cell and threw away everything he had contact with so that my kitties won’t get sick.

I cried some more as I plopped into my husband’s favorite comfy chair. My cat, Ollie, came bounding across the room into my lap and purred to comfort me. This is unusual for him. He is shy of “lap sitting” because he, too, had been a feral kitten before tamed with tough love at a kindly veterinary clinic. He generally lies “near” me, but not “on” me. I took great comfort in this, that he knew I was hurting and wanted to help.

I fell into a deep sleep early, only to awaken at 3 AM with a compelling need to work “some” of my pain out. This whole experience felt so “unfair”. Unfair that this kitten and his litter mates didn’t have a chance of survival in the wild. If even one survived, what would be its fate? Bringing more homeless, sick, feral kitties into the world? In my research I read that if every single person, including babies, in this country adopted from shelters, each would need 7 cats or dogs to care for them all. That doesn’t include breeders, dog and cat “mills” and certainly doesn’t include the feral cats that populate our cities and countryside.

I wondered if I didn’t have cats at home if I could have, would have, brought him home and tamed him and nursed him. Perhaps he’d have gotten well. I shift my thoughts.  I know it’s time to accept it, feel it some more and let go.

I reflected again on the quote “No good deed goes unpunished.” A wry expression I’ve understood in only one way — that people who give begrudgingly will always look for the bad that comes out of it for them personally. Like my boo-boo finger infection. NO, it didn’t apply! Because I had given from my heart. It really was OK.  And then it hit me.

In doing a good deed we give from our hearts. When we open our hearts to anyone, any “passion”, any critter, any thing, we are allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, to let love in as we give love. We can never be vulnerable without the risk that we’ll be hurt. We can never, ever love without loss. Today, tomorrow, next week, 30 years — someday we will experience loss from that love. In that pain lies the “punishment” for our good deed.

Yet life is meant to be filled with love, giving and receiving. I was meant to have this experience, even if I don’t completely and may never completely understand it. I know there is something deep and rich that this little critter brought into my life and I’ve only begun to scratch the surface, as the scratch he left me with and my wounded heart continue to heal.

Good night. Good morning. Perhaps just one more hour of sleep before another day filled with love and light.

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[No Longer] Sleepless in Saratoga

Max and Ollie kitchen 2012-06-28_19-15-19_701For women and the men who love us: This blog is not intended as medical advice, simply sharing my experience. Please talk to your health care provider about your concerns.

I’ve struggled with insomnia over the last 8 years. When comparing notes with women “my age”, it seems more common than bunions! Research suggests that there is nothing all that abnormal about insomnia, which is a good thing, I guess. Yet that information doesn’t lessen the impact of not getting enough sleep! Brain fog, the need for naps, crankiness, tears, craziness and outright hostility has been my unwanted response to sleep deprivation.

At first I just figured I was under a lot of stress. Granted, I was.  Raising my teenaged son with all the struggles that involves, having just lost both my parents in a span of 15 months, dealing with “estate” issues, recently married, considering a BIG move to another community — seemed like all the perfect ingredients to contribute to sleepless nights. A normal night for me might look like falling into bed exhausted at 10 PM, a coma like sleep, only to awaken at 2:00 and stay awake until 4:30, finally falling back to sleep and having trouble crawling out of bed at 6:00. Horrible. I suffered, took naps when I could. Tried Valerian root at the suggestion of my doctor, which was awful for me. I felt hung over the next day. I tried curtailing the internet at night, limiting my appointments with clients to earlier in the evening, avoiding heated conversations with my son… all to no avail. I was sleepless.

My husband and I moved four years ago. More stress. My son was horrified that I would move a whole hour away. I was riddled with guilt and questioning my choice. Settling into a new community and new routine had its challenges, insomnia continued. I figured there was nothing I could do.

Then I contacted a holistically minded nurse practitioner recommended to me by a friend. We talked about natural hormone replacement therapy for some other “issues” I was having. She tested hormone levels and since it was appropriate for me [given personal and family health history] she prescribed a compounded prescription to use topically. The first night I slept like a baby. I was astonished and delighted. I never suspected that the progesterone that was no longer adequately supplied naturally by my body was the cause of my sleeplessness. I was at peace.

Fast forward a couple years… in treatment for Hepatitis C, I took Interferon injections for nine months. Though the most common side effect is depression with this drug, I had a less common reaction, I was MANIC! Insomnia returned like gang busters, despite having blood counts so low, transfusion was suggested. I finished treatment over a year ago, but the mania, in the form of sleeplessness, has been relentless. I tried meditation, soothing music, EFT [Tapping], moving to the guest room, reading and finally an occasional sleeping pill. The most I could experience was a night or two of “good” sleep in a week. I felt awful, miserable, teary, angry, depressed and ready to snap.

Until last month.

I saw my nurse practitioner again, who recommended long-acting melatonin,  available over-the-counter at my compounding pharmacy. Although I still wake up during the night, I fall back to sleep easily most of the time. In addition, she made a few more adjustments in my bio-identical HRT and I feel so wonderful in contrast that I hardly recognize the woman I was a few short weeks ago.

The intention of this blog is not to suggest my specific remedy. It may not be appropriate for you. It is intended to encourage you to talk to your health care provider about your most personal health needs. Even if you’ve convinced yourself that you just need to “live with it”, whatever “it” is. It is quite possible your belief may not be true. There may very well be a solution for your “problem”. Do your own research and then talk to your provider as an informed health care consumer. If you don’t get satisfaction, find another health care provider. Ask your friends for recommendations, check with your health insurance company, search until you find someone who is in alignment and shares your highest vision for your health.

I’ve said it before and will say it again, you know yourself better than anyone. Be your own health care advocate. You are a consumer of health care, stand in your power and find what serves you.

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Healing Body Image

watching the varsity gameAs I made my way around the block this morning, I passed a young woman who was running — red top, pink shorts, orange shoes. Totally cool. I wondered if she was running to train for a sport she plays in school or running to stay fit or running to keep the pounds off or running because she loves it or ???

In a flash I was back in the summer of 6th grade. I saw myself riding my bike for hours in the circles of our dead end driveway turn-around. Riding for even more hours up and down our road, especially the big hill, which I always had to walk. I recall living on tuna fish, lettuce, Alba skimmed milk, Fresca and artificially sweetened kool-aid.

You see, I was chubby. And I was terrified.  I was leaving my safe, secure elementary school and being thrown in with students from five other elementary schools in our town’s junior high school. I wanted to grow up and be a junior-high-schooler, even though I cried to leave my elementary school. At least there kids and teachers there knew me. What was I facing? I could NOT be chubby for another second. I starved myself that summer. No one talked about eating disorders in 1963. I was just “dieting”.  My mother approved and did her best to keep me supplied in my “diet” food of choice.

I wanted to fit in. I sure didn’t fit into my family. On my mother’s side, the side that mattered, I was from a long line of svelte northern Italians. OK, my grandmother was a large woman, but she didn’t count.  My cousins, mother, aunts, uncles, brother, sister and grandfather were all on the thin side. How did this happen to me?

Just before I began 7th grade, my dad took a Polaroid of me. I wish I could find it. My sister ran across it several years ago when we were going through family “artifacts” and showed it to me. I was in a brand new dress, holding one of our cats, newly grown out pixie to my shoulders in the flip of fashion. She remarked, “oh, you look so beautiful and happy in this picture!” I looked at it and gasped. I saw a scared little girl, terrified that she would be judged by her classmates. I recalled the feeling of just wanting to hide, but I knew I could never hide if I was chubby, everyone would notice me. So I opted for being invisible.

There was another side to this. I wanted something more than being invisible, which hoped would still be an option if all else failed. More than anything, I wanted to belong in my new school. Practically svelte me joined clubs, made new friends, tried out and became a cheerleader [the only thing remotely like a sport before Title 9], went back to dance class and did my best to look smart and pretty. All the while doing my best to hide my chubby, dumb self.

My heart aches for the girl I was and all the girls who have measured [and still do measure] their self-worth on how they look and what others think of them. It’s taken me years to heal the shadow of my self-image in my family.  My quantum leap happened when I discovered Debbie Ford’s book, The Dark Side of The Light Chasers. I decided to study with her and become a coach so that I could help others learn that their story and their “shadow” have gifts beyond measure. I learned to I love the little girl inside me and the woman I’ve become, in all my shapes and re-creations.  Healing is an ongoing journey. I delight in the twists and turns and new discoveries every day.

I thought back to the girl I saw this morning. I hope that she is encouraged to be healthy, to be herself, and find joy in her activities, whatever she chooses. It is this that I have discovered and claimed… many, many decades later.

[pictured above — me watching a basketball game at Ossining High School in 1966-7.]

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Nourishing the Soul

water lilyI’ve come to think about “taking care of myself” with different language lately. Sometimes “taking care of myself” feels like an onerous task. Exercising. Eating right. Getting enough sleep. Knowing what stresses me and figuring out what to do about it.

It’s all “good” and necessary, because I do prefer to collaborate with the universe with as much impact as I can make to stay healthy while I have the gift of being on the planet. At the same it can also be tedious. Lacks spontaneity. Boring. Ho-hum.

Where’s the joy and wonder?

Suddenly, in the blink of both eyes and a whisper in my ear, my language changed. With that my perspective and beliefs about “taking care” changed. Instead I see that everything I do either nourishes my soul, is neutral or drains my soul. Of course then I pondered what I believe about my “soul”.  Today, my soul is that part of me that does not live in words or deeds, rather absorbs and is affected by what I take in with my senses — the ones I can name and the ones I cannot.

Today, nourishing my soul looks like seeing the first water lily open on our small pond. The sounds of a wood thrush during my walk. The silence I allowed for just a few minutes this afternoon. Yesterday, nourishing my soul felt like dancing and sweating down to my socks. And the smell and taste of fresh sweet cherries. Sunday, nourishing my soul looked like seeing Modern Nature: Georgia O’Keeffe and Lake George exhibition at The Hyde

My soul is filled up with wonder, joy and awe. I feel like I am truly “taking care” of all my parts, my body and my soul, all because I shifted my perspective.

The wonder of nourishing my soul is that I have no expectation that one thing or another will necessarily make this happen. The feeling that I have “nourished my soul” can come without warning. It is not like accomplishing that bit of exercise or having an entire day of healthy eating.  I don’t expect it. I may not have planned it. I am open to it. I do allow it and receive it. It isn’t quite joy, but it can lead to joy. It arrives with a sense of wonder. I am filled up and overflowing with love.

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Liberating Lilacs [or the kindness of neighbors]

purple-lilac-flowersI’ve been known to “liberate” flowers and plants from abandoned properties.It feels so satisfying to give abandoned flora a good home.

Several weeks ago,  I ran into my neighbor Jim while taking a walk. I pointed out the beautiful lilacs growing across the road midway between our two houses. I shared with him the “secret” of how to liberate sprouts from lilacs. He got very excited and later that day came to my house with two white lilac sprigs liberated [with permission] from his son’s yard.

This, of course, was not enough for me. It merely whetted my appetite for more. The farm house across the way where the purple lilacs are growing is all but abandoned. Rachel, who was born in the house and lived there her whole life, has been gone nearly 10 years. There is quite a story about Rachel, how she lived all those years without electricity and stayed at the farm to raise sheep and blueberries long after her parents were gone. I convinced myself that Rachel would want me to have some of her lilacs. There was no one home to appreciate them anymore. Her nephew, who inherited the place, rarely came and the lawn looked like a hay field. Besides, we live on 18 acres of what was part of Rachel’s farm, so I was simply moving some of them to another location. They would look so lovely in our yard; I was sure she would be pleased.

I liberated one sprig a week or so ago and placed it in the middle of the two Jim had given me. Then I set about deciding where to put more. This morning I set on digging three holes and running to Agway for more compost. I was ready. I could almost smell the lilacs blooming under my bedroom window in a year or two. I grabbed my special “liberating” shovel, bucket and work gloves. I said an incantation to keep the deer ticks from jumping on me and set off. With my butt to the road, I found the perfect spot to dig. I heard a car slow down and figured it was Jim ready to tease me. Imagine my embarrassment and surprise when the owner of the property, Rachel’s dear nephew, pulled up! He rarely visits and, besides, what were the chances he’d come at Noon on a Wednesday? YIKES! I thought I was sweating BEFORE he arrived, now I was drenched with “I’m so embarrassed” sweat!

Earl parked in the hay-lawn and got out of the car with a big smile on his face. I walked up and shook his hand, called him by name and said, “OK, you caught me, I’m stealing your lilacs! I’d have asked, but you weren’t here, so now that you’re here….” He laughed and told me it was quite all right. He had taken some home to his place and that, yes, Rachel would want me to have them. He set about his work, hooking up a new brush cutter to the 1950s Ford Tractor; the one that Rachel had used for the farm and even drove to town for whatever she needed. [Rachel never did drive a car]

I set about liberation. I was going to take three sprouts but settled on one big one, mostly because I had been caught. I brought Rachel’s lilac home and got it planted and watered quickly. Didn’t even wilt. Then I went into my pantry and found the last jar of Peach Jam that I made last year. I quickly slapped on a label with PEACH and 2012 and headed down the driveway and over to Rachel’s [Earl’s] place. Earl stopped the tractor and accepted my gift. I said, “Kindness deserves kindness in return” and handed him the jar of jam. I believe we’d still be chatting if I hadn’t excused myself. He told me about being born in the house, more about Rachel, more about how he loved the place. We were both happy.

I am immensely grateful for our kind and generous neighbors. And I need to confess right here on my blog. In the eyes of many this was WRONG, WRONG, WRONG! In my eyes, too. Otherwise why be embarrassed when I was nailed? Anyway, this is one of the reasons why I have a blog, to admit to my imperfect self, my human nature that sometimes creates trouble, chaos and drama and sometimes creates better neighbors.  I’m not afraid to ask, be vulnerable, hear NO, be silly, be daring, be forthcoming, be human.  I sometimes make peculiar decisions and rationalize them in strange ways. And sometimes this leads me to getting to know my neighbors better and have an opportunity to return their kindness.

Oh my, now that I’ve been jam for lilacs, I wonder if there is another jar of jam tucked away for Jim?

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reformerIt’s a Pilates Reformer. Looks like a torture device, I know. Last week, I went back to Pilates after too long a break. This happened through a series of events that I believe were a conspiracy by the universe for me to “get” that I needed to “stretch” and not just physically.

I injured my heel and was told to skip dance class and heel impact for two weeks. That news was far worse torture than the machine pictured above. My husband reminded me to look at this as an opportunity to shake things up. My workouts have gotten same old/same old.  He remarked that I was in the best shape of my life, strongest, when I took Pilates with Melissa 2-3 times a week. Problem is, Melissa’s nearest class is a bit more than an hour away. Clearly time to stop mourning the loss of this wonderful instructor [who is still a dear friend] and move on. I live in the “health mecca” of Upstate NY, Saratoga Springs! [When you drive into town the sign says HEALTH, HISTORY, HORSES – no joke, health is first and it’s everywhere.] No excuses, with my husband’s nudge I got on-line and went to a highly recommended studio, Reform, A True Pilates Studio. Just as I was about to complain that it’s too expensive, the classes are not convenient, I just can’t see how I can swing it, an email arrived from my friend Jen offering me a FREE [yes FREE] one hour private Pilates session. How could I possibly refuse? Proof that the universe conspiring in my favor.

Last Monday, my first session, I told my instructor, Cindy, about my bum heel. We did some mat work and then she put me on the Reformer. I had used one before, so already knew its capacity to help me “stretch” beyond, beyond.  She kept checking in with me, making sure I was OK. I experienced an almost instantaneous “cure” of my heel pain when she had me hyper-flex my feet, in Pilates stance. My left calf went crazy with cramping, but I decided to breathe through it because somehow it felt restorative. I walked out with almost no pain and a renewed commitment to Pilates. By the time I ended my second session with Amy, almost exclusively on the Reformer, I was RE-hooked on Pilates. I have no pain, I’m back to my dance class and taking long walks [in my new sneakers].

Why share all this? It’s not that I believe that Pilates is “right” for everyone, even though it’s “right” for me. What I do believe is that each of us can find exactly the “right” form of moving, strengthening and, yes, stretching.

And that moving, strengthening and stretching isn’t just physical. For me it was a clear indicator of what’s been happening on a emotional and spiritual level. I’ve been pain. For more than a year I have been tied up, constricted, without even knowing it. I’d start to feel better, physically, emotionally, spiritually, and then crash. I believe I needed to have this physical breakthrough.  I had to experience pain in my physical body and then a release of pain in order for me to “get it” on other levels. Though I’ve had a few helpful sessions with my chiropractor and a phenomenal release and balancing with my Biodynamic Cranio-Sacral therapist, Wendy, for some reason I needed to consciously participate in the stretch.

As I accepted exactly where I found myself , I determined I could make new choices. Walking into any new situation was uncomfortable, stretching, but by showing up as my vulnerable, authentic self, I experienced profound change.

A couple days after my first session, I attended a networking meeting and participated in a visioning session that caused me to cry because I had no clue what it meant. I felt deeply humbled and ready for a big shift, a big stretch. At the end of the meeting, I found myself spontaneously signing up for a 10-week class studying Entering the Castle by Caroline Myss with a group of 10 people I’ve never met before. Stretch.

I had been surrendering, as in giving up. I allowed myself to be in that place of constriction without being conscious of the impact. I don’t make it wrong. I guess I needed it for a while. Everything in the universe expands and contracts. One can’t exist without the other. But now it was time. Now surrendering from a place of acceptance and humility, knowing I still don’t know and trusting that not knowing is perfect. I believe that it’s time for me to stretch beyond the horizon I saw in my vision and trust that there are no accidents. I am being guided. I will continue to listen to my body, the whispers of the universe and the wisdom of my inner healer.

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