Family Photos: The Last True Connection

“Don’t touch the photos,” my father says for the umpteenth time. But I can’t help myself. We are at the Family Reunion and spread in front of me are hundreds of black and white photos of my family. There’s my gorgeous grandma Lila, who I’d sit with in the kitchen for hours as she cooked; my grandpa Reed, who would parade me around the neighborhood whenever I came to visit;  Uncle Shep, who made the best pancakes EVER; uncle Joe; great grandma Nancy; and many others.

I want to touch the photographs because seeing their faces makes my heart swell with love, my head spin with fond memories. These are the people who cared for me, protected me, scolded me for my own good, and hugged me when I needed it. These are the people who in some way are responsible for who I am today. With care, these photos will be gazed at by generations to come. Their identities may become less poignant, but their smiles and fashions–I love how the women wore dresses or skirts; hats and heels in most of the photos!–and youthful exuberance can be forever preserved in these 3×5 windows to the past.

Which makes me start thinking about the thousands of photos I’ve taken with a digital device in the last decade or so. Many of these images reside somewhere on a flash drive, or old computer or phone or in the ever-elusive cloud. Truth be told, however, I likely will never see the digital photos of my 40th birthday in Jamaica; or my younger brother’s wedding; or my nieces’ graduation again. Unlike the photos spread around my father’s hotel room waiting to be organized into photo albums you can actually hold in your hands, these visual memories are lost somewhere in the digital void. We think they will always be there, but is that really so?

In fact, the countless and random images of the digital world somehow just don’t seem to have as much value. I oftentimes spend moments of boredom going through my photo galleries deleting images that no longer have any appeal. Unlike the days when every shot had to count because film was limited–especially if you were shooting with an instant Polaroid! All of the photos of my two-year old great-nephew, save his nursery school pictures, are digital. Are we robbing him of the opportunity to look back years from now and laugh at his toddler antics (and ridiculous cuteness)?

This leaves me with a feeling of impermanence. In our technological quests for instant gratification, we lose that greater sense of longevity, connection, and in some cases integrity. Even beyond photos, our ability and effort to bond with one another is whittling down to texting and social media. And there is only so much bonding that can be done through a touchscreen or keyboard. I admit, I’m a texter and I have a social media persona that looks pretty damn good in pixels, but save my family and life-long friends, does anyone really get to know me anymore? But then again that level of detachment is safe and controllable and admitting this makes me a little sad. Maybe I should take a selfie to capture and edit this moment…

 

 

 

Dumping for Joy

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Surrender to what is. Let go of what was. Have Faith in what will be. –Sonia Riccotti

Sometimes it’s hard to let go. We are conditioned to believe that our “stuff” (or people) makes us who we are, regardless of how heavy it (they) becomes. We bear the weight thinking that without it we’ll experience even more acute suffering and unbearable (or is it embarrassing?) feelings of loss. We are afraid of what other people will think.

In the last year, I’ve let go of a lot: A condo in the ‘burbs’; most of the furnishings that filled that condo; closets full of clothes and shoes I hadn’t worn in years; trinkets and knickknacks that I’d long outgrown, even forgotten. Some things I released with ease, some went with some kicking and screaming because of my ego’s attachment.

I had this “ideal” of what a woman of my 40something years–48 to be exact– was supposed to have. This “ideal” was shaped by society, the media, peer pressure, my middle class upbringing, and a desire to fill a void I couldn’t define. These things defined me. Without them I would somehow be less than, maybe even a failure.

But life has a way of teaching us the lessons we need the most and returning us to our truest nature. A layoff from a job I loved and that had allowed me to travel the world, followed by several years of feast or famine survival as a writer, made lightening my load a necessity. I was mortified, depressed, and resistant. I clung. I made desperate decisions. I drank. My ability to express myself honestly and creatively vanished. I questioned a Lord who could put me in such an uncomfortable position–ME!

I also spent a lot of time on the yoga mat, running miles and hiking. These were the places I felt whole and at peace. These were places that required only the bare essentials–breath and water. These were the places I got to know myself all over again.

I am a gypsy, a free spirit. I am happiest when I have the freedom and means to travel and my mind is uncluttered and creatively active. I appreciate space to call my own, but it doesn’t have to be more than I need (yup, I might join the tiny house movement if I’m destined to remain a free agent). I don’t need three flat screens with 150 plus channels. I don’t need every kitchen gadget known to man and 30 pairs of shoes. Acknowledging this, I stopped being mad at my Higher Power and asked for FAITH that a life I love could be rebuilt.

And now there is space for it. Soon I’ll be packing my car with my remaining belongings and moving to a new city (why not?). With less overhead (and flight privileges;-) I’ll travel to beautiful beaches when I need the calming effect of the ocean, the rejuvenation of the sun’s rays on my skin. I’ll write. I am practically jumping for joy…

*Those of you who have been following this blog since I started it in 2008 know that it’s been over a year since I’ve posted. I made 11 unfinished attempts. The flow just wasn’t there. I’ve missed this opportunity to share openly from the heart about the middle years. I hope you are still out there living a fantastic life that you love! if not, know that nothing is permanent, the light always shines through.

Texts, Love, Rock-n-Roll

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In this technological age, if you are single and want to increase the possibility of meeting a potential friend, date, life partner, it seems that internet dating is the new disco. Particularly if you are of a certain age where dressing and primping after 10 pm, standing in line for club entry/a drink/the bathroom, and getting molested on the dance floor isn’t really how you want to find a mate.

Online dating gives the mid-life dater endless access to eligible singles. There are dating sites where you can share your entire personal history online–eHarmony’s profile questionnaire has a total of 400 personal questions; or more on-the-fly applications like Tinder where you can be up and matchmaking by simply importing your Facebook profile. Of course, internet dating has its pitfalls like eDaters who post decades-old photos and the fact that it can be really time consuming since you can cruise the scene 24/7. It can also be psychosocially revealing.

Everybody’s doing it…According to StatistisBrain.com, there are 54,250,000 single folks in the US alone; 41,250,000 have tried online dating. You can do it for “free ninety-nine” as my niece likes to say, or pay upwards of $7.99 a month for premium services. On average, searching singles are spending about $240 annually on internet dating. And yes, people actually do make real connections online. In fact, my best buddy recently married a wonderful man from London who she met on okcupid.com.

For me, internet dating is a social buffet. You select your dish or dishes. Try them to whatever degree you are so inspired– messaging through the dating site, texting, chatting, or meeting face-to-face. If you like the flavor, you go back for more. If this turns into a mutual trend then, as a gesture of satisfaction like rubbing your belly, you hide your profile (I caution against deleting profiles too soon though because–keeping it real–like $7.99 buffets, there is something just a tiny bit slimy about some of the online entrées).

Rick, Al and Mike

As for my psychosocial discovery, it seems there are three kinds of guys looking for love online. There’s Relationship Rick, Infatuated Al, and Megabyte Mike. Relationship Rick is usually a really nice guy, from a really nice family, who really wants to be in a relationship. He’s oftentimes divorced and has taken the time to reflect on his contribution to his failed marriage. He not only wants a relationship, but he’s QRM–quality relationship material (consistent, communicative…) He spent a lot of time crafting his profile and its pretty much all true. He’ll be ready to shut down his account and settle down by the second date…

Infatuated Al is another story. This is the dude who selectively engages and is usually quite charming and intelligent. He’s often above-average in the looks department, or has a sense of style, a little swag that makes him oddly alluring. He’s smoothly aggressive. He seems to mirror your likes and dislikes and he showers you with compliments and assurance of his interest. He’s an extremely accommodating date and a good kisser. And just as things are heating up (if they haven’t already)–Poof! He’s gone. Presumably on to the next one, or locked up, or recruited into the witness protection plan. You just never know with Al.

Megabyte Mike is in it strictly for SEO–sex engagement optimization. Mike eagerly engages with anyone who responds to his profile. And somehow, pretty early on in the engagement, he starts talking about sex or the size of his penis. He wants you to send him provocative pictures and will return the favor (so déclassé). He wants to meet badly and will offer to do so at any hour of the day or night–preferably at your place. He probably has an excel spreadsheet where he lists the women he’s met online and had sex with. He’s painfully obvious so he’s easy to avoid.

The deal is that dating is hit or miss no matter how you approach it. Or at what age. Internet dating has made coupling possible at the click of a keystroke. Temper the experience with a bit of pragmatism, patience, common sense, and yes, compassion and a solid soul connection just might compute.

Blooming in the Valley

Hiking is one of my refuge activities when I need grounding. I can spend all day on the trail, winding among the trees, stopping to watch the light dance as it filters through the leaves, listening to small creatures scurrying away from the quake of my footfall. Sometimes it gets to be a meditation–especially when the terrain varies and I have to narrow my attention to where I place my feet, what I can grab onto if the ground slips beneath me.

Some of the best hiking trails (north GA mountains, northern California) I’ve experienced have taken me in and out of valleys. Some valleys are slight and the descent is almost imperceptible. Others require major shifts in movement and weight distribution; diagonal motion too keep from pitching forward or tumbling backwards. When you reach the floor of those deeper valleys you can feel the earth enveloping you, pulling you to walk within its shadows and get grounded, but with the promise that it is only temporary as ascent beckons.

Such are the valleys of life. Some shallow; some deep crevices of darkness. Sometimes there’s a well-worn, almost amicable trail that takes you in and out of it and you realize you’ve been in a rut. Other times it’s a sideways and slippery effort that takes digging deep to resist the pull of the valley floor because the ego has tuned its myopic vision on the way things appear. But even with the shady view, there’s something to discover in the valley. Flora and fauna that scurries and blooms in the shadows is no less significant than what blossoms and bathes in the light. It only seems less appealing because it is usually in the valley where we are forced to take a good look at ourselves and figure out what’s true and what’s not; where we have strayed from compassion and love for ourself and others.

Sometimes, the only place to heal and grow is in the valley. The path is narrow in the valley and the nights are longer. But do we not become more prayerful, aggressive seekers of freedom and truth when we are confined–heart constricted– and in darkness– (third) eye(s) closed? Isn’t our natural inclination to climb, rise, and bear witness to the vast greatness of the human experience? Philosophers, poets, shrinks and Spiritual guides will tell you that we are not meant to suffer, but through suffering we oftentimes get to the truest parts of ourselves.

And glorious is the view from the crest of the valley (Valley of Flowers in India)! When either direction you look in fuels hope–whether back down the trail that led you out of the valley, or forward along the open, light-drenched path ahead. Yes, there is something to be gained in the valley that is beautiful and completing; cleansing and replenishing.

Om Bhyurum Nama

My Life is in Harmony with Cosmic Law

Chakra Monkeys

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I’ve been doing some Chakra work lately. A good thing, too, since a few of my Chakras, or energy centers, were like that one drawer (or closet) everyone has somewhere in their home that accumulates those miscellaneous objects like rubber band balls, Ikea wrenches, old keys, take-out menus, safety pins, ink pens, hotel room sewing kits.  Some stuff you need; a lot of it you don’t. But you store it away, because well, there’s a place to put it that seems almost magnetically receptive.

All seven of our Chakra’s have magnetic power. Through the years they can collect clutter and become clogged with old hurts, warped perceptions, misguided beliefs, fear, perceived failures, self-doubt, insecurity, panic. When that happens, we begin to convince ourselves that we are Separate from the infinite power of the Universe. We get shaky, flakey, and nothing seems to go quite right. We suffer and stagnate. Depression creeps in. There is no Mojo.

I blogged about renewing my dedication to meditation a few weeks ago so I was excited when I received an invitation to participate in the “Finding Your Flow” 21-Day Meditation experience offered by Oprah&Deepak. I completed the experience today and WOW! has it been enlightening. The dynamic duo of self-help provided a daily opportunity to cleanse and reignite a single Chakra starting with the root Chakra. There are seven Chakras and each corresponds to specific emotional and Spiritual issues.

My first (root), second (solar plexus), and sixth (third eye) Chakras needed some serious degunking. It seemed my efforts to create a life that I love were being thwarted at every turn and there was no end in sight. I doubted myself and began questioning whether I was even deserving. If it wasn’t my finances, it was my relationships (and I’m a really easy-going sister when I’m listening to the right voices). I’d run fast and furious in one direction, hit a snag, and become immobilized. I wasn’t dreaming and visualizing. I was playing super small.

Through meditation, I’d already found myself growing more centered, calmer, trusting of the Universe. But when my meditations became focused–visually and mentally– on my Chakras and the energy that flowed through each, my clarity became turbo-charged as well as my ability to stay focused on the only things that are real–Love and Light. It takes a calm mind, body, and Spirit to work from a place of Light and Love to identify and attract our deepest desires. Blocked Chakras are like windows painted black.

Now, I had to take a long ride with the Lord where I actually let him drive before I could even become still enough to remember the connection between our internal energies and our external experience. There was some fasting, cleansing, and releasing I had to do along the way, too. All of this set the stage for me to go deeper and really see the brilliant light of each Chakra shining within me, offering me the safety, support and awareness that I thought I’d lost hold of.

The energy of the Universe Supports and Protects me.

Yes it does. During my Chakra cleaning, a lot of things began flowing. My energy level increased. I woke up grateful, not dreadful. I was directed back to an opportunity to invest in myself for long-term financial success (doing what I love)–an opportunity that I had been contemplating taking advantage of for the last two years, but seemed out of reach due to the cost. And there were some Spiritually precious moments like the day I was focusing on my Heart Chakra and ended up spending a blissful hour quietly holding my weeks old great nephew in my arms while his mother dashed to class to take a final exam. Moment after moment as his warm, trusting little body nestled against mine, I felt like my heart was going to burst. I wept. I laughed. But most of all I just felt like there was nothing, NOTHING! in the world that couldn’t be conquered by staying present to Love in it’s truest form and the bounty of compassion it provides.

Om Maha.

What is it that you want? Are your Chakras clear enough for you to receive it?

Balancing Acts

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I’ve recently been having success with standing on my hands while on the yoga mat. It’s exhilarating. Nailing just the right push-off; catching the perfect alignment of upper and lower body; relaxing the head; locking the arms–it all comes together in syncopated movement that effortlessly transitions into complete stillness; balance. When it does, it’s like floating on the sea of tranquility. Of course getting there has been a wall-banging, self-doubting, fellow-yogi endangering, fight with faith and detachment.

Conversely, my nine-month old nephew is learning to walk. This is a real act of balance, too, but we forget. It’s adorably comical to see him pull himself up, or better yet, get up on his own two feet unaided. You can see him start to get a little anxious when he keeps landing on his bottom, but without encouragement he tries again–determination sparkling in his eyes. And when he finally does get the balancing act together, he beams, takes a few steps, gets overcome with excitement, starts boogying, and…Ka Plop! 

And therein lies the difference between loosing balance and making an ass landing at forty-something years and zero years. My nephew finds the Ka Plop! clap and grin worthy while I’m prone to make it indicative of some kind of personal failure or flaw. My nephew gets right back up (or crawls away and becomes deeply enamored with a red plastic cup) while I’m compelled to intellectualize, internalize, strategize, analyze, review, rewind, recriminate, repeat. My method prolongs the state of imbalance (because that’s what I’m focusing on) while his immediately frees him up to get back on his feet again free of the past and open to new things. 

Clearly, the quest for balance is constant. Whether it be balance in love, work, play, standing on our own two feet or hands, we all want to be aligned with our tranquil, upright selves. Yet as we get older the material world convinces our ego that this is best achieved through plotting, planning, charting, targeting, to-do listing–controlling to the umpteenth degree. And sometimes this works. There just isn’t a lot of grinning and clapping. 

My nephew has reminded me that the trick to finding balance is to be easy, grin, get lost in the moment. I mean you still have to work at it, but like one of my favorite yoga teachers says frequently, “work is prayer.” And prayer fuels faith. When every attempt seems to be thwarted, step back. Let go. And yes, let God. Whenever I do this, amazing things happen. It literally turns my world upside down. Yeah, man.

Om How We Forget

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Isn’t it funny how we fall out of practicing things that are really good for us? A lot of that is probably happening now as many people lose the passion they initially had for their New Year’s Resolutions to get fit. We are naturally resistant to change and most times don’t allow ourselves enough time to form something new into a habit. That’s the relationship I’ve had with meditation for the last 20 or so years.

The 1960’s bestselling book “Psycho-Cybernetics” identified 21 days as the time necessary to make or break a habit. That’s really no time at all, but again, we resist. So, after being in a state of resistance for longer than I’d like to admit, I’ve rediscovered meditation. I know I have achieved meditative states in yoga, on long runs or hiking through the forest, but I’ve been remiss in approaching the practice deliberately. By this I mean taking time out to sit, or lie down, to consciously improve the clarity of and promote the calmness of my mind.

Some slight upheaval and an exasperating relationship (which there have been very few of in my life, so when they show up it’s like, EXTRA…) left me in need of some meditation. I didn’t know it until a friend sent me a link to www.getsomeheadspace.com and I realized what I had been missing. I love this site! It’s an inviting way to get back into meditation or explore it for the first time. Try it for free for 10, 10 minute session that you can do anywhere you have an internet connection.

meditationThere is nothing mysterious about meditation. It’s housekeeping for the mind. I’m always surprised at how many thoughts clutter my mind, the succession in which they flow, or how doggedly I’ll stick to a thought that causes mental anguish. I’m also surprised at how many thoughts serve no purpose or are based on distorted perceptions, the past, or the future. That’s interesting when you consider that The Law of Attraction is activated by thought. So pretty much whatever your life looks like is a direct result of your thoughts.

While it’s ideal to sit quietly with eyes closed to meditate, I’m adopting ways to wring out my mind even while I’m doing other things like driving, or folding clothes. A simple technique I learned from the site mentioned above is counting breaths: Inhale one, exhale two. Inhale three, exhale four…When you get to ten, start all over. I took it a step further for those times when it’s clear that my mind is intent on holding a sidebar while I try and count breaths. For more focus, I do a gradient count: Inhale one, exhale two. Inhale one, exhale two. Inhale three, exhale four. Inhale one, exhale two. Inhale three, exhale four. Inhale five, exhale six. Basically, I add two breaths each cycle until I get to ten. Then I do it in reverse. For me, this works really well in keeping mind A and (under)mind B in check. Admittedly, it’s possible to be just a tiny bit psychotic when you make it past 40, but a little meditation will send a lot of crazy packing.

Sturdily Sliding into 100

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Nana still enjoys a cocktail!

Nana still enjoys a cocktail!

I am constantly amazed by my 96-year-old grandmother. In fact, she sometimes puts me to shame. And she is undeniably, the strongest woman I know.

I asked her recently, “Nana, what keeps you going?”

She replied: “You have to get going to keep going.” Simple truth.

Everyday by 10 a.m. my grandmother is up, dressed, face powdered, lips and cheeks rouged. She has a light breakfast, then attends to whatever she has planned for the day. Mondays, it’s going through weekend mail and replying to correspondences. Wednesdays, she heads to a prayer meeting, then the senior center to play Scrabble, which she is an expert at (she once schooled me that qi was an alternate spelling for chi the Chinese word for energy). The other days of the week she entertains the many friends that come to visit her, calls her friends around the world, and keeps up with her soaps.

And, yes, much to our objection, she still drives when nobody is handy to chauffeur her.

Occasionally, she will have a moment when the years are evident in her voice or her stride. Usually, it’s after learning that another longtime friend has passed, or has become ill, or it’s the anniversary of my grandfather’s death (who provides well for her even post mortem), or even more heartbreaking, the anniversary of the death of one of her children. She has buried them all.

“Nana, you don’t ever get depressed or just tired of it all?” I ask.

“Of course, I do. But what am I going to do? Quit? You just push through.”

But Nana does more than push through. She is constantly extending herself for others. She recently hosted a luncheon for about 20 women who sat with her during the day when she fractured her hip and was semi-immobile. “I just wanted to say thank you,” she said to me as I polished the silver and washed the fine china she insisted on using for the affair. Me, I would have splurged on Chinette–which probably sums up the generational difference.

Just the other day, Nana packed up her suitcases and headed up to DC for my aunt’s 75th birthday party. In March, she’s planning to treat as well as accompany my nieces to a week in Orlando for Spring Break. Yeah, she can still hang.

It makes me wonder if maybe women were just made sturdier back when. My friends and I regularly commiserate over the challenges of being 40-something–whether it’s relationships, careers, the state of world affairs, or our bank accounts. We lament that we’re  “tired” or “can’t get motivated” or “depressed.” We relish days when we can stay in pjs and do nothing in seclusion.

One of my longtime friends has a theory. She says that we are the fallout generation of the Women’s Movement. That in the push for equality and self-sufficiency, we lost some of our natural ability to manage our emotions which relates directly to our energy level and resiliency. And because many of us are single and childless, we have a lot of undirected energy and too much time alone. Hhhmmmm.

All I know for sure is that I have an amazing grandmother who sometimes makes me question my emotional compass. But she also offers unconditional support and shows me the way whenever I need it. I watch her. I listen to her. I serve her as often as I can. And maybe one day I’ll push through with the same dignity and composure and stop using paper plates when I entertain.

I’d love to hear about the older women in your life who you love and admire!

Hope: Life’s Natural Botox

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hope

hope (Photo credit: Nature Pictures by ForestWander)

With the recent passing of another birthday, I’m feeling recharged and refocused. Yes, there was some fallout over ANOTHER YEAR PASSING, but nothing that couldn’t be handled by spending a small grip on anti-aging serums and eye creams, a little time with my therapist, and shedding some sweat and a few tears for those who were lost along the way. It really is a Blessing to see another year healthy, with money in the bank, and some semblance of sanity remaining.

One of my former coworkers wrote something quite lovely on FB about getting older: “Many of us are scared of aging, but I am finding it a beautiful part of my life. I would not turn the clock back, or change a thing. Sure I will look In the mirror at times and wonder where my youth is going, but I think of how relaxed with life i am now . Which i certainly wasn’t in my 20’s and 30’s and god I love it.. Don’t get me wrong I miss the youthful face, but I enjoy my knowledge of life more..”

I love this written by a man who is aging exceptionally well. Even so, all of us of a certain age can’t help but notice how the years begin to leave their mark. But when you think about it, those signs of aging are a reflection of the life you’ve lived and are living. With that in mind I can’t seem to muster any regret over laugh lines from too many face-cracking guffaws with friends and family; or the hint of crow’s feet from squinting through too many beautifully bright and sunny days.

So, with super hero courage I’m kicking off this personal new year with a bid for the Best Job Around the World. Travel matchmaker Jauntaroo.com is looking for a Chief World Explorer which entails international travel, writing, discovering, adventuring, photographing, immersing, helping…all things that make my Spirit do the Happy Dance. The pay ain’t too shabby either. Pleeeeezzzzzz LIKE my vid submission to boost my chances and gain some good Karma:

http://www.bestjobaroundtheworld.com/submissions/view/10546

Okay, a shameless plug, but the prospect of landing such an opportunity excites the hell out of me. Excitement feels good. Excitement fuels Hope. Excitement creates a landscape for dreams to unfold. It’s easy during these middle years to get stuck in the routine that has become comfortable, or necessary for survival, and to simply give up on the dreams of youth. To me, that’s really what getting old is all about. It’s the numbing of possibility and that, my friends, is more uncomfortable to bear than a few visible signs of aging.