Mindful Moments Challenge

"Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans."~ John Lennon

snowflake-cookies.jpg On the eve of a new year, it seems especially timely to reflect and consider the wild ride we are on together called life.  Mindfulness teaches us that it is the moments, sometimes hidden within the busyness, that give our life richness and meaning. Often we project into the future, as in "when (fill in the blank) happens, then I will be happy", and new year's resolutions can push us toward this way of future thinking by negating the present moment.  Consider making 2014 a year of mindful moments, continuing to have overarching goals, but also honoring the present moment by noticing it as it unfolds; and not observing your life in the rear view mirror or as a mirage on the distant horizon.

As a way of embracing this rather radical idea of mindfulness, I invite you to join me during the month of January in a Mindful Moments Challenge: Let's work together and help each other in learning to slow down to the speed of life in the new year. Beginning tomorrow, January 1,  I encourage you to join me in capturing a mindful moment in a word, poem, photograph, drawing, description, etc. Let your imagination take flight! You can post your mindful moments in the comment section of this blog.  I hope it will serve as inspiration and will be interesting to see what others notice and share. Remember to look for those small, seemingly inconsequential moments that are really the essence of our life.

Happy new year and may this year bring many mindful moments your way,

Musings on Life, Death and Springtime

This is the season when the ground swells with new life, trees burst forth with magnificent blossoms and the earth seems to come alive once more.  I am struck by this dichotomy more acutely than usual this year: As I breathe in the sweet fragrances of April, I am also preparing for a journey to Arizona to help my mother prepare for the burial of my stepfather.  The yin and yang of life -- birth and death, always teetering in some sort of cosmic balance.  

I often wonder; would the spring be less exciting and glorious if we never had winter?  Do we somehow need the reminder of life's fragility and impermanence to treasure the innate beauty of the present moment?  

And so, as the musing continues, I am filled with gratitude for the wake-up call I receive each spring when I am renewed with awe and wonder.

Get A Life: A Commencement Address by Anna Quindlen

I have just returned from my youngest daughter's college commencement ceremony. As you can imagine, I am overflowing with pride and joy for Jen as she enters this new phase in her life.  I also recalled my own undergraduate commencement over three decades ago.  I have absolutely no recollection of who the speaker was or what wonderful words of wisdom he/she imparted to us freshly minted college grads embarking on our adult lives in 1979. Their words fell on deaf ears, I was too interested in hurrying on to the next step in my plan and moving into adulthood.  Perhaps that is why I enjoy reading exceptional commencement addresses now -- to read the words of inspiration through a different life lens; one with a bit less impatience and perhaps a bit more perspective on the joys and sorrows of being human.  I am not sure what my 21 year old self would have thought of Anna Quindlen's commencement address to Villanova graduates in 2000, but I hope she would have been even half as inspired as I am now.

"I have no specialized field of interest or expertise, which puts me at a disadvantage, talking to you today. I'm a novelist. My work is human nature. Real life is all I know. Don't ever confuse the two, your life and your work. The second is only part of the first.
Don't ever forget what a friend once wrote Senator Paul Tsongas when the senator decided not to run for reelection because he'd been diagnosed with cancer: "No man ever said on his deathbed I wish I had spent more time in the office." Don't ever forget the words my father sent me on a postcard last year: "If you win the rat race, you're still a rat." Or what John Lennon wrote before he was gunned down in the driveway of the Dakota: "Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans."
You walk out of here this afternoon with only one thing that no one else has. There will be hundreds of people out there with your same degree; there will be thousands of people doing what you want to do for a living. But you will be the only person alive who has sole custody of your life. Your particular life. Your entire life. Not just your life at a desk, or your life on a bus, or in a car, or at the computer. Not just the life of your minds, but the life of your heart. Not just your bank account, but your soul.
People don't talk about the soul very much anymore. It's so much easier to write a resume than to craft a spirit. But a resume is a cold comfort on a winter night, or when you're sad, or broke, or lonely, or when you've gotten back the test results and they're not so good.
Here is my resume: I am a good mother to three children. I have tried never to let my profession stand in the way of being a good parent. I no longer consider myself the center of the universe. I show up. I listen, I try to laugh. I am a good friend to my husband. I have tried to make marriage vows mean what they say. I show up. I listen. I try to laugh. I am a good friend to my friends, and they to me. Without them, there would be nothing to say to you today, because I would be a cardboard cutout. But call them on the phone, and I meet them for lunch. I show up. I listen. I try to laugh.
I would be rotten, or at best mediocre at my job, if those other things were not true. You cannot be really first rate at your work if your work is all you are.
So here is what I wanted to tell you today:
Get a life. A real life, not a manic pursuit of the next promotion, the bigger paycheck, the larger house. Do you think you'd care so very much about those things if you blew an aneurysm one afternoon, or found a lump in your breast? Get a life in which you notice the smell of salt water pushing itself on a breeze over Seaside Heights, a life in which you stop and watch how a red-tailed hawk circles over the water gap or the way a baby scowls with concentration when she tries to pick up a cheerio with her thumb and first finger.
Get a life in which you are not alone. Find people you love, and who love you. And remember that love is not leisure, it is work. Each time you look at your diploma, remember that you are still a student, still learning how to best treasure your connection to others. Pick up the phone. Send an e-mail. Write a letter. Kiss your Mom. Hug your Dad. Get a life in which you are generous.
Look around at the azaleas in the suburban neighborhood where you grew up; look at a full moon hanging silver in a black, black sky on a cold night.
And realize that life is the best thing ever, and that you have no business taking it for granted. Care so deeply about its goodness that you want to spread it around. Once in a while take money you would have spent on beers and give it to charity. Work in a soup kitchen. Be a big brother or sister.
All of you want to do well. But if you do not do good, too, then doing well will never be enough. It is so easy to waste our lives: our days, our hours, our minutes. It is so easy to take for granted the color of the azaleas, the sheen of the limestone on Fifth Avenue, the color of our kid's eyes, the way the melody in a symphony rises and falls and disappears and rises again. It is so easy to exist instead of live. I learned to live many years ago.
Something really, really bad happened to me, something that changed my life in ways that, if I had my druthers, it would never have been changed at all. And what I learned from it is what, today, seems to be the hardest lesson of all. I learned to love the journey, not the destination. I learned that it is not a dress rehearsal, and that today is the only guarantee you get. I learned to look at all the good in the world and to try to give some of it back because I believed in it completely and utterly. And I tried to do that, in part, by telling others what I had learned. By telling them this:
Consider the lilies of the field. Look at the fuzz on a baby's ear. Read in the backyard with the sun on your face. Learn to be happy. And think of life as a terminal illness because if you do you will live it with joy and passion, as it ought to be lived.
Well, you can learn all those things, out there, if you get a life, a full life, a professional life, yes, but another life, too, a life of love and laughs and a connection to other human beings. Just keep your eyes and ears open. Here you could learn in the classroom. There the classroom is everywhere. The exam comes at the very end. No man ever said on his deathbed I wish I had spent more time at the office. I found one of my best teachers on the boardwalk at Coney Island maybe 15 years ago. It was December, and I was doing a story about how the homeless survive in the winter months.
He and I sat on the edge of the wooden supports, dangling our feet over the side, and he told me about his schedule; panhandling the boulevard when the summer crowds were gone, sleeping in a church when the temperature went below freezing, hiding from the police amidst the Tilt a Whirl and the Cyclone and some of the other seasonal rides. But he told me that most of the time he stayed on the boardwalk, facing the water, just the way we were sitting now even when it got cold and he had to wear his newspapers after he read them.
And I asked him why. Why didn't he go to one of the shelters? Why didn't he check himself into the hospital for detox? And he just stared out at the ocean and said, "Look at the view, young lady. Look at the view."
And every day, in some little way, I try to do what he said. I try to look at the view. And that's the last thing I have to tell you today, words of wisdom from a man with not a dime in his pocket, no place to go, nowhere to be. Look at the view. You'll never be disappointed." ~ Anna Quindlen (2000 Villanova Commencement Address)

Wisdom Where You Least Expect It

I don't know about you, but I am beginning to feel myself being pushed, jostled and dragged along with the frenzied masses this holiday season.  Try as I might to step back, take a breath and be mindful, I am amazed at the cacophony of  "shoulds" and "to-do's" that seem to continuously play in my mind at this time of year.

So there I was today, at the post office, picking up mailing boxes for the presents that "should" have gone out on Monday but were still sitting in my car on Friday, when I reached into the pocket of my coat to pull out my car keys and noticed the keys were caught on a sewn-in tag in the pocket.  The coat is not a new,  it is one that I have worn each winter for the past two years, so I was surprised to find that there was a tag in this pocket, and even more surprised to look down and read the words on the tag...

Hmm, simple and direct words of wisdom, and all I really need to remember on this journey we call life..."Stay Warm. Keep Dry."  I smiled for the rest of the day at the wisdom that has quietly resided in my pocket for two years without me noticing...a wonderful reminder for me to be open to finding gifts where I least expect them, even in familiar places.

The Familiar Becomes the Unfamiliar and the Unfamiliar Becomes the Familiar

We have been closing up the family cottage for the winter this week.  The familiar now somehow unfamiliar or perhaps is it the unfamiliar now somehow familiar?  The sounds of summer have receded; replaced by the sounds of autumn; the sounds of silence.  But it is more than sounds that make the familiar unfamiliar...it is all the senses converging that creates this new place within the familiar space.  The lake now quiet and smooth as glass, pine cones dropping from tall pines nudged off their branches by industrious squirrels, leaves turning to crimson and gold and fluttering downward on the breeze, the air somehow different.  Perhaps it is the pungent scent of mulching leaves, the mist that remains on the surface of the lake late into the morning, the blackness of the earth, or the hint of smoke from a fireplace that reminds me that nothing remains the same, that we are always in flux...even in the most familiar of surroundings.  Season to season, year to year, the familiar becomes the unfamiliar and the unfamiliar becomes the familiar.