November 25, 2009

The Healing Power of Connecting with Others

As you gather with your families and friends this week some of you will look forward to a beautiful treat while others will see it as an event that adds more stress to an already stressful life. We could love the idea of meeting our loved ones, while the reality of it could mean we are annoyed at seeing some of the same old issues crop up that we wish would just go away.

For all of us, no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in during this holiday week, we can use the experiences for gaining wisdom. I realize that wisdom is not everyone's goal. But if you're like me, it trumps just about everything else. I like to use life circumstances as opportunities to expand my own well of wisdom. Gatherings of many people are good sources of these "circumstances."

Let's talk about an approach to maintain a calm, neutral disposition so you can experience these holidays with less stress and more fun.

Real human contact, face to face relationships, have the ability to keep us in balance. We need to be with others and feel a sense of belonging. Knowing this, you can use your time with the people you'll be with this week to help you feel good.

Stress levels in our society have increased partly because people are isolated from one another. Families and friends live at a distance while electronic devices, computers, and cell phones offer the illusion of connecting us with humanity.

With this in mind, invite others to be with you and accept invitations of others. Allow yourself to come together with real, warm human beings. Even if you head into a situation that triggers annoyances and other uncomfortable emotions, you can use this time with others to heal on many levels.

Your energetic body gets balanced by the shared energy of a group. Where you have deficiencies or excesses in your energy field, the group energy helps bring them into balance. I believe this is one reason the "tribe" was and still is important. It gives a sense of security in part because it helps balance one's energy.

You can use your gatherings with others to benefit you in many ways. Of course, though most of us won't want to admit it, when we have emotional upsets around family and friends it's all about our own inner world, and has nothing to do with that pesky sister-in-law.

This provides each of us with a golden opportunity to grow in wisdom. Did you ever see the wise old sage getting upset because Aunt Jane said or did something out of line? No, because the sage would remain aware of his or her own energy and be non-reactive. The wise old sage has the courage to allow Aunt Jane to be who she is without putting judgment on it.

Becoming the Wise Sage

There is one clear step toward becoming a wise sage yourself, and that is learning to manage your reactivity to the things other people do and say.

We must accept, once and for all, that we are not responsible for how another person behaves, thinks, or expresses. This is true even if their behavior is directed at us. Everything another person thinks or believes has to do with them and only them. Not you. Even if they blame you. It's not you. You are only responsible for how you think and behave and express.

Since the normal person is quite reactionary in their relationships with others, we can see how the wise sage stands apart. The sage has no reason to react. The sage remains neutral.

If you want to practice your own sagehood this holiday week, then here is a way to practice. No matter what happens or what anyone says, simply notice your automatic reflex to defend yourself.

Notice it, notice it, notice it, don't act on it. Tune your attention to your breathing, to the temperature of the air outside, to the smells in the room, to the cute dog or cat, to the earrings grandma is wearing, anything to keep yourself neutral. And tell yourself this, "It is not my job to fix this. I am here to expand my wisdom and enjoy myself."

You'll find many interesting patterns of your own if you do nothing more than pay attention to your automatic reactions to what others say or do. Make it fun without making yourself wrong. Let me know how it works out! In the meantime, I get to work a few hours today and then head into the kitchen to create some new dishes.

Blessings and Thanks for your willingness to be on a wisdom journey along with me.

November 11, 2009

Rami, Frisbee, Bird, Ocean, Joy

Fortuitous Encounters

Rami has been my constant companion for the past 2 ½ years. He’s my loyal friend and confidant, never far from my thoughts. Enthusiastic, brave, a connoisseur of life, he loves sports, especially Frisbee. One recent Saturday morning we walked the beautiful curve of California coastline called Carmel Beach. I would throw the Frisbee. Rami would run, leap, or dive for it. We meandered and played this way, making our way in misty grey fog toward pristine Pebble Beach before others had picked up their first morning coffee.

On our return, we noticed a young man walking onto the beach, professional looking camera in hand, presumably to shoot a remarkable scene where a large shaft of sunlight illumined the links at Pebble Beach. But instead of walking past Rami and me, he kneeled on the sand and took what appeared to be shots of my guy playing Frisbee.

Rami and I continued along, me throwing, him running and leaping, when the young man sidled over and showed me one of the images he’d taken. Amazing! Rami in a forward balletic arch, suspended in mid-air, Frisbee not yet in his mouth, but soon to be. Immediately I thought, “Let’s take more!” but our cameraman was already on it. “One of my favorite subjects to photograph is dogs,” he said. My boy seemed to know he was on stage and ran, leaped, dove, swam, and in general, showed off. Instructed to sit, stay, run into the light in just a certain way, jump, catch the Frisbee, Rami glorified the fun of being alive.

Occasional glimpses at some of the photos our cameraman took made me realize this was no ordinary photographer. Perhaps he knew what he was doing – maybe even an artist, but why was he taking photos of us? What was his gig? Because by now, I want these photos. Was he going to keep them? Would he show them all to me? So, I asked him. “How can I get copies of these?”

“I’ll send them to you,” he said. “By the way, my name is John Hudson. I’m a professional photographer and artist. I love dogs. I’m traveling all over the west by motorcycle raising money for Homes for Our Troops. If you’d like to contribute, you can go onto my website and read all about it. I’ve raised $1700 so far and met some wonderful people along the way. I feel really good about helping our veterans get what they need when they return home.”

By now, many people and more dogs had joined us on the beach. The fog had lifted, the sun was higher in the sky, Rami showed little sign of slowing down, but John and I were ready to depart. He said he was keeping a blog about his travels and we could see his professional photo gallery at I gave him my email address and said I’d look forward to seeing the series he took of Rami. As he left he said, “Remember, John Hudson Photography. That’s my website!”

I was so inspired by John’s artistry and his good nature, I went straight back and looked up I learned it is a national non-profit organization established in 2004 that builds specially adapted homes for severely injured veterans. I donated a small sum, feeling good for being able to help out, even in a miniscule way. Then, I awaited my photos by email from John. It wasn’t long before these sensational photos of Rami came through, many of which had been touched up with an artist’s eye to make them multi-toned or to eliminate background distractions.

I passed along this story to my friend Gina, keeper of a gorgeous Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, and she said, “Why do I never come across professional photographers when I’m out with DaVinci?” I didn’t know the answer, but Rami and I, we got lucky. We met a sincere person with talent and style, received priceless photos, and got a great bonus gift too – that of one person meeting another at random and sharing joy. Thanks John, from our hearts to yours. We wish you a safe journey.

November 3, 2009

Turning 80 - It Looks Like a Good Thing

Just when I think there isn’t anything new going on, I get to awaken to a fresh perspective. I spent last weekend with a group of 80-somethings. Well, not the entire weekend, but a good portion of it. My mother-in-law, Sue, turned 80 and we surprised her Friday night with a party attended by a group of about 50 people. “Amazing an 80-year-old has so many friends!" I heard someone quip. Most of the attendees were indeed her friends, the others were family and her sons’ friends who she knew since they were in grade school.

I got to meet many of  Sue’s friends, a couple of whom had difficulty navigating the few stairs leading up to the party venue, but all of whom were as mentally spry and fun-loving as teenagers. Dollie, one of Sue’s Stanford friends, lives in San Francisco and was hip, fashionable, and smart. “You know what I did last April when I turned 80 to avoid a surprise event like this?” she asked me. “I ran off to Egypt.” Egypt? At 80? Later, I told a friend, “I wasn’t aware of the prejudice I’ve had. I bought into the assumption that we all get decrepit and senile, presumably around age 75.”

But Sue, Dollie, and the others taught me otherwise. Wise and loving, sparkling eyes standing out in wrinkled, knowing skin, I learned some things from my elders this weekend. I learned that life can be fun and interesting and engaging well beyond middle age. Maybe more fun than it is right now. That friendships can last forever. I learned that it isn’t unusual for an 80-year-old woman to be beautiful, stylish, engaging, smart, interesting, funny, and in-the-know. And I had been concerned about entering my mid-40s.

On Saturday night we hosted a smaller dinner party at our house in Sue’s honor. Guests included her 84-year-old sister Claire, here from Geneva nimbly traveling the States visiting friends and family, and 80-year-old Trudy, another one of Sue’s best friends. Nothing about these women was any different than the rest of us except they are calm, patient, and wise. Nothing got past them, either. There is something reassuring about being with these capable, aged women. If they haven’t seen it all, they’ve at least heard about it. As the evening wound down, I was sad to see them go, Claire promising we’d meet again soon.

Many times I’ve considered writing about honoring our elders, because it is something our society doesn’t do. Instead, we ignore them, toss them aside; they are the invisible ones in our worship-the-youth culture. Is this practice we have of valuing youth over wisdom enlightened? We need our elders to teach us, to fill the great void of depth and meaning our culture faces, to be our stability just as they are in indigenous cultures. When will we let them?

I had the great good fortune this past weekend of spending time with folks who grew up during the Great Depression, lived through World War II, educated themselves, then experienced decades of interesting events and change while keeping hopeful and engaged in life. If only I could see them on a regular basis, perhaps I’d never think that there isn’t anything different going on in life. No, Dollie would have Egyptian adventures to tell while knowing the best plays and museum exhibits in the city, Sue would know why Stanford beat Cal and why Obama has to send a few more troops to Afghanistan, Claire would demonstrate how at 84 one can keep her mind as spry as a college student, and Trudy would exemplify how to remain calm through anything while preparing crab (“do you have a hammer?”) for a friend’s birthday dinner.