The Thing About Miracles


My word for the year has been “miracles.”  As such, I’ve invited all kinds of miracles into my life, some intended and some not.  It has been fun and exciting to watch them unfold and then document them afterwards.

One thing I’ve learned is that you can’t make them happen.  You also can’t predict how they will work out.  In fact, some miracles are actually preceded by sacrifice and loss.

I learned to meditate this year in order to help my insomnia and anxiety.  But the road to relaxation has not always been an easy one.  Mainly because mindfulness is easier said than done.  I’ve had to let go of a lot of old behaviors that trigger worry and doubt.  I’ve had to look my fears in the face and learn to embrace them like old friends.

But if you’re open to change, transformation is inevitable.  And when you get your wings and another chance in life, the experience becomes truly miraculous.

“Each of us must confront our own fears, must come face to face with them. How we handle our fears will determine where we go with the rest of our lives. To experience adventure or to be limited by the fear of it.”
–Judy Blume

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
–Eleanor Roosevelt

“I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship.”
–Louisa May Alcott

“I believe in pink. I believe that laughing is the best calorie burner. I believe in kissing, kissing a lot. I believe in being strong when everything seems to be going wrong. I believe that happy girls are the prettiest girls. I believe that tomorrow is another day and I believe in miracles.” –Audrey Hepburn

“Out of difficulties grow miracles.” –Jean de la Bruyere

 

 

 

 

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Chaos and Courage


Yokohama

Hi my dear readers,

Sorry to have been away so long.  It’s been a crazy, busy, challenging year.  A roller coaster ride if you will.  I just returned from a trip to Japan.  My sixth visit.  I never imagined ten years ago that I would be saying that!  But my life has changed in amazing, unexpected, and positive ways by embracing this new life of adventure that comes along with marrying someone who is a different background than mine.  I wouldn’t change it for anything.

At the close of this year 2016, there is a lot to think about.  Big changes for this country and the world.  What can we do about it but embrace it?  Dive into the unknown and hope things continue to progress and change for the better.  Continue to stand up and fight for the things we believe in.  Hope in our future.  If there is one constant in life, it’s change.  We can expect it just like taxes.  And when we begin to ride the tide of it, we see some amazing sights and begin to transform in unimaginable ways.

It is hard to let go of all the things we hold dear.  The safe and familiar.  For me, flying halfway across the world, living in a time zone completely opposite of ours, is always an adjustment.  Japan in some ways is the complete polar opposite of the U.S.  Their culture is polite, quiet, and small compared to our freestyle lifestyle, chatter, and super-sizing.  But sometimes there’s a beauty in living a life different from your own.  Like the city mouse and country mouse switching places for a day.  You see the world through new eyes.  You find out the way you always do things is not “The Way” but simply the way you always do things.  You learn to adapt and find new things to treasure.  You also better appreciate the familiarities of home.

On this particular trip, I embraced both flying alone and getting around Yokohama for three days by myself while my husband finished up his business trip.  With the jet lag, feeling under the weather, and not knowing the language very well, I wasn’t sure if I could manage.  But I took up the challenge anyway, even knowing how directionally challenged I am.  I managed to ride the subway a few times, explore the city, shop, and eat out at restaurants.  Sometimes not being able to talk was a welcome blessing.  A quiet I don’t often experience at home.  Other times, especially because I’m a Gemini and love to talk, not being able to communicate was frustrating, lonely, and even a little terrifying.  But luckily, it’s very safe to walk around Japan alone as a foreigner.  And if you’re lost or confused, someone will undoubtedly come to your rescue and try to help, even without knowing much English.  As it turns out, I found many ways to connect with others.  Laugher being one of the best universally shared experiences.

So I challenge each of you dear readers to end the year by stepping out of your comfort zone.  Don’t wait until 2017.  Do it now.  Take that first step toward your dream.  Meet someone new.  Go somewhere foreign.  Experience a different culture.  Learn a new language.  Talk to someone of a different background or faith and really get to know them.  And if things become awkward at any moment, don’t walk away, embrace the moment, and simply LAUGH.  Imagine the kind of world we would live in, if we all laughed just a little bit more.  Feared a little less.  Life is chaos, but we can all join in the dance.

“We live in a rainbow of chaos.”- Paul Cezanne

The Art of Acceptance

Greetings all and happy fall, unofficially.  I’m still celebrating the end of summer myself, but with the appearance of the full harvest moon, one can’t help but start to prepare for autumn.

With the changing seasons afoot, I’ve decided it’s the perfect time to talk about a powerful little word called acceptance.  We have to accept all kinds of things every day as part of life.  We accept going to school and work.  We accept paying bills and taxes.  And late at night in the quiet of our beds we even accept that death will come for us some day.  Actually, that last one is tricky.  Do we really accept it or do we spend our time avoiding it and pretending it isn’t going to happen?

A couple of months ago I started a meditation practice.  More on the specifics of that in a later post!  One of the cornerstones of mindfulness besides staying in the present moment, breathing deeply, and sitting in silence, is the idea of acceptance for all that is.  Now don’t freak out!  Luckily, it doesn’t mean accepting your current situation forever.  But it does mean surrendering to the moment and accepting it just as it is.  For me, that sometimes means accepting that I didn’t sleep well the night before and have a long day ahead of me.

To be honest, I couldn’t wrap my head around this concept at first.  What do you mean accept it?  That sounds like giving up.  That sounds like accepting hurt and pain and doing nothing about it.  On the contrary, it’s the opposite.  When we accept our current situation, we’re guaranteed to feel empowered.  We put ourselves back in the driver seat of our lives.  We allow our feelings of pain to take a passenger seat on the journey, but we do not let them drive.  Essentially, we may experience pain, but we don’t have to suffer.  And that’s a big difference.

“[Acceptance] simply means that you are acknowledging reality,” said psychotherapist Sheri Van Dijk, MSW, RSW in an article on radical acceptance published in Spirituality & Health. “You are acknowledging what happened or what’s currently happening. Because fighting reality only intensifies our emotional reaction,” she said.

And there’s more.  When you take the time to accept something, you gain the power to transform its energy.  Think of yourself as an alchemist, if you will 😉  It may not happen today or tomorrow, but your situation will change, guaranteed.  In fact, I bet if you think back, you can come up with some examples from your life.

I’ve been a runner for most of my life, but recently I had to accept that maybe my running days were over.  I’ve been experiencing heel pain, even when I walk, so running was quickly out of the question.  I started swimming instead, but still missed running.  Then I went to see a foot doctor.  I fully expected the worst and even worried about needing surgery, but as it turned out, I have over-developed calves, from running, and needed to work on specific stretches for my heel as well as exercises to help strengthen my other leg muscles.  Then the real surprise.  I was told I could still run.  After I had already given it up.  Just as I was beginning to enjoy my new activity of swimming.  Say what?  In the aftermath, I’ve decided to go for balance, running less and incorporating other enjoyable forms of exercise.  But the lesson is clear.  Things do change.  Often for the better.  But first you have to accept the way they are.

And I know what you’re thinking.  What about when they don’t change?  I came across a great quote recently by Lucille Ball.

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

This resonated with me and I hope it also sparks something in you.

If you’re still grappling with the concept and need something more tangible, try this exercise:

Step 1: Imagine your pain in detail.  Give it a color.  Rank it on a scale from 1-10.  Does it have hard or soft edges?  Where does it reside in the body?  Is it flat or is it 3-D?

Step 2: Focus on your body now.  Start with your toes.  Wiggle them.  Relax your feet.  Move through each part of your body, slowly relaxing it, all the way up to your head.  Release your thoughts and even let your brain relax.  Breathe in and let go.

Step 3: Close your eyes and breathe deeply.  Focus on the present moment.  Imagine your heart is open, filled with empty space.  Imagine only the space.  Then imagine your pain AND the space.  Keep this up.

Step 4: After an increment of time, say 10 min. or more, wiggle your fingers and toes, and then open your eyes.  Now think about your pain again.  Imagine its color, size, intensity, etc.  Has your pain changed?  Does it feel different?  Even if it feels the same, how has your relationship to the pain changed?

Wait another hour and check in with your pain again.  You might be surprised how different you feel!

If you’re interested in more, check out an audio version of a specific dissolving pain exercise here.

Acceptance isn’t easy.  It takes time.  It’s an evolutionary process.  But when we begin to make space in our lives for acceptance, we open a doorway for all kinds of miracles to shine through.

 

 

 

 

 

Meditation: Find Your Power Source

Allie Spring, Missouri in the Ozarks

I’ve been away this summer, spending a lot of time by the water.  No surprise, right, with these balmy temperatures.  Water has a natural calming effect on the body.  Maybe it’s the sound it makes.  Or the fact that the human body is made up of mostly water, and so we connect with it as a life-giving source.  It’s almost impossible not to feel a little zen watching the waves roll in and out in rhythmic harmony.  Even swimming feels like a meditative act, especially when you surrender to the water and allow yourself to float along on the surface.

If you’ve ever had a chance to visit a natural spring, you’ll find the added benefit of soaking up the extra minerals in its depths.  The water is cold, but takes on a mysterious and beautiful bluish-green hue.  The plants beneath its surface are bursting with life and flow along with the current.

But why talk about this?  Because I think water is one of the perfect spots to meditate.  While out for a jog, I often stop at the creek near my house to meditate.  I feel a strong sense of connection there.

Water isn’t the only place where you can feel the healing energy of the earth.  The desert is another favorite of mine.  My husband and I have taken 3 trips to the Southwest and something keeps drawing us back.  Could it be the vibrant color contrasts between the red rock, the blue sky, and the green plants?  Or could it be the twisted trees swirling with energy?  Or just the vast amount of empty space that clears the mind and gives it a rest.

I urge you to find your own power source.  That place that makes you feel all chilled out and totally at peace.  A place where you can reconnect with the earth, with your life path, and especially yourself.  You might not even need to travel very far to find it.  Maybe it’s that weeping willow tree in your backyard, whose branches softly sway in the breeze.  Maybe it’s an outdoor garden, your favorite rosebush, or even a statue carved by an artist out of stone.  Stones have existed even longer than trees and will outlive all of us.

Go there, find your stillness, watch your breath, melt into the empty space that surrounds and connects all of us.  Plug into your natural power source, and let it all go…


Turn Your Routines into Rituals

Happy Summer!  I’ve been away for a while, partly do to injuring my left wrist while paddle boarding Memorial weekend.  But I’m back, and here to talk to you about how you can turn your everyday routines (boring!) into amazing life-changing rituals.

I saw the above quote while on a recent trip to New York City.  You see random stuff like this posted all over the city, and you can never really be sure if it’s advertising, artwork, or just a random rant.  But this one struck both my husband and I so much that we had to take a photo.

We all have daily routines: washing dishes, doing laundry, answering emails, taking the dog for a walk, driving to work.  We do these things over and over every single day, and mostly it just feels like a big waste of time or at the very least a nuisance.  But can we make these trivial, monotonous moments meaningful?  The answer is YES.

Some of my creative rituals include:

  • putting on my blue polka-dot robe to get ready to write
  • listening to Joss Stone’s “Clean Water” while cleaning up my art space to get in the mood to paint
  • giving my lucky Petoskey stone a squeeze before I send out a submission
  • thinking about my characters or plot problems while exercising or washing the dishes

Performing these rituals help me take on the creative tasks day in and day out.  They motivate me to do the work.

I also have rituals before I go to bed to get ready for sleep.  I drink a cup of tea and do gentle yoga or meditate with a special mantra.  Sometimes I take a bath and mull over the day, before letting it all go.  Then I count my thoughts until they disappear.  Just by engaging in this ritual, my  body knows it’s time to unwind.

Other useful rituals I do that you might enjoy:

  • call a friend for social time while taking a walk and listen more than you talk
  • focus on the world around you and experience it with all five senses
  • meditate on different quantities of empty space while staying in the present moment, a technique known as open focus, which allows your brain a break

Rituals add excitement and meaning to your every day.  They feel more like preparation.

So go get ready already!  Because your next big adventure could be right around the corner.

 

 

 

Paying It Forward with Birthday Acts of Kindness

Greetings,  Dear Readers!  For my birthday this year, I decided to do something special.  Instead of simply focusing on me, I decided to do something nice for others.  I read about this concept of “birthday acts of kindness” on a blog called ScaleSimple last year and couldn’t wait to try it out myself.

After purchasing two bouquets of flowers and ten lottery tickets, I headed to the park.  And oh what a beautiful day it was!  A bit hot, but who is complaining when you live in Michigan.  We’ll take what we can get 😉  My good friend agreed to meet me for the inaugural event.  We set off immediately, with only an hour to spare, since she was on her lunch break from work.

I immediately realized we had no plan, so I just jumped right in and started handing random people either a flower or a ticket.  Often we chose flowers for ladies and lotto tickets for guys, but not always.  We quickly got in the groove, often telling people it was their lucky day as we handed them a ticket or wishing them a nice day with a flower.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, as the blogger mentioned getting mixed responses from people.  But truly, about 90% of people were very happy to receive the free gift 🙂  Only a few turned down the offer, mostly because they were in a hurry or had their hands full.  One guy was actually allergic to flowers, but very apologetic.  We even visited a retirement home briefly, which seemed to brighten the mood there.  A mother and her young daughter accepted the flowers like a treasure.

Before we knew it, we’d passed everything out, and by then, we were in such a groove that we wished we had even more to share!  I’d love to do this again and extend it even further.

If you’d like to try your own service project, here are some possible acts of kindness:

  • pass out flowers
  • give away lotto tickets
  • recycle
  • donate old clothing and other used items
  • pay for people’s parking meters
  • pay for someone’s coffee or lunch at the drive-thru
  • pick up litter in the area (We did a bit of that at the end!)

The list goes on and on!  I can’t speak for everyone, but for me, giving to others and seeing their happy faces was the best gift I could give myself on my birthday 🙂

“You may be only one person in this world, but to one person at one time, you are the world.” –Anonymous

 

The Reality of Realizing a Dream

As I mentioned in a previous post, I went to Italy last fall.  It was a monumental trip in so many ways.  Venice was our last stop, and of course, I couldn’t go home without riding the gondola.  Sure, it’s hokey and touristy, not to mention expensive.  BUT it’s also the quintessential Italian experience.  Right?

More importantly, it was all part of the dream I had of one day going to Italy.  It was the equivalent of crossing the finish line in a race.

But what does it mean to actually accomplish a dream?  Is it all that it’s cracked up to be or do you sometimes get to that point and think: hmm, ok, well that was cool, what’s next?  I think that’s why everyone says it’s so important to be in the present moment and enjoy the journey.  That way, when you reach that actual moment of realization, acclaim, success, you don’t deflate.

Allow me to take you on my journey to realizing a lifelong dream and show you what I discovered in the process.

My husband and I decided a morning ride would be just as romantic and quaint as an evening ride, especially since it costs twice as much to ride after dark–and forget about being serenaded, that’s a whole extra charge.  Our hotel recommended a trip around Rialto Bridge and told us we might have to haggle for a fair price.  We found a dock with gondoliers advertising, but decided to check around, since their ride seemed a little short for the price.  But as it turned out, other spots were even busier and no less reasonable in price or time length.  We headed back to our original spot only to watch the gondoliers receive a telephone call and dash away.  What now?

We entered a busy square and found a super tall–I mean gargantuan–male gondolier waving his big hands around and calling out his services.  Well, I knew right away, this was our guy.  He had a friendly face and despite a small concern as to whether he would fit under all the bridges, he seemed the most likely candidate for the job.  I imagined he could steer us anywhere with those hands.  Of course, as soon as we chose him, another couple swooped in like a couple of pigeons, not exactly to steal our guy, but rather to try to get in on the action by sharing a boat and saving some cash.  This is common procedure and even recommended in guidebooks, but I was NOT having it that day.  I mean, this was my shining moment of glory.  I was not planning to share it with a couple of strangers.  Plus there’s only one love seat.  How do you have a romantic moment with other tourists?  Anyway, I waved them away, and the gondolier didn’t seem to mind, so off we went!  But I did feel a little sorry for the couple we left behind, who actually seemed pretty normal and well-intentioned.

Getting into the boat was a feat in and of itself.  And then getting situated.  The gondolier wanted us on certain sides to maintain the balance, but all we could think was: What about our photo ops?  If you know my husband, you know there will be many of those, they need to be just right, and they cannot be dictated by the needs of the person steering the boat even if he’s just trying to do his job and keep us from capsizing or crashing 😉  Well, we got it squared away.  As I say, we had THEE GONDOLIER who was willing to do whatever it took to make us happy and get paid.  So we’re bouncing around trying to pose ourselves and feeling quite antsy and truthfully not really enjoying the moment or noticing much of the scenery except in terms of what would make a great shot.  We reach the Grand Canal, the place to see and be seen, and truly wear ourselves out with photos.

But FINALLY, we settled down, relaxed, and absorbed the sights and sounds of our surroundings.  We cuddled, politely kissed, sailed under bridges, cruised down secluded passageways, listened as our guy chatted about history and architecture while we admired the ambience, and savored every delicious minute.  And even still, it was over too soon.  But again, our gondolier did not rest until he got a few final perfect shots of us in the boat, per our request.

So how did I feel after stepping out of the gondola?  Elated, exhausted, perplexed, complete, and secretly a little bit disappointed although I couldn’t pinpoint exactly why.  I’m certain I built up the expectation in my head to a staggering degree that could never quite measure up to any experience in real-time.  But to be fair, I only had romantic, Hollywood movies as a model.  Anything would pale in comparison 😉

So was I totally 100 percent gratified afterwards?  No.  But was it still worth it?  Yes.  And here is why.

Riding in the gondola was a symbolic part of my journey and I couldn’t really consider the trip complete without having experienced this moment. I think for me, it was about honoring the occasion.  It was THE EVENT to mark the rite of passage.  To say I came, I saw, I did everything there was to do in Italy including the gondola ride.  I could then go home feeling certain that I’d accomplished my lifelong dream to go to Italy and discover my roots.

So am I saying don’t bother going after a big dream in case it doesn’t live up to your every expectation?  Of course not.  Go after your dream with confidence!  After all, my trip to Italy as a whole was everything I hoped it would be and more.  But when you reach the TOP, if the view isn’t quite what you expected, no big deal.  It’s the getting there that’s the real prize.  You might even find that the very thing that had been thrashing around, unsettled, in your heart, becomes still.  And whatever comes next, because there will certainly be new mountains to climb, you can hold this moment of accomplishment in your mind as a testament that dreams really do come true.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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