Featured post

Redefining Beauty

What physical qualities deem a person beautiful? Beauty is rumored to be subjective; but is it really, with the ubiquitous bombardment of ads in modern America?  No longer limited to billboards or magazines, insidious marketing schemes remain notoriously lopsided when it comes to women, race, age, and weight.  Although marketing trends have pivoted towards multi-ethnicity, they remain sluggish in most mainstream magazines and online advertisements. Next time you are in the grocery store thumb through a Family Circle or Yoga Journal or randomly peruse various publications. Thin women, regardless of race, continue to dominate photoshoots while obesity trends for children continue to rise.  How then, does all of this impact the way, we as women and girls, view beauty?

How often is a woman touted as beautiful because she is witty, intelligent, or incredibly wise?  .  If we are going to attempt to level the playing field in terms of defining beauty through a more multiplicity, we need to stop homogenizing.  The 1950’s should be behind us. America is an ideal country, to expose female beauty in all of its rawest forms setting up fertile ground for focusing on character development rather than trying to shoehorn femininity into a societal trend.

I recently watched an interesting short, A Conversation with Black Women on Race, which had a common thread strewn into each discussion; that of not being seen and/or not being seen as beautiful.  As I listened I was reminded of a graduate research paper I wrote: The Lack of Black Heroes in Children’s Literature, which I wrote twenty years ago.  Not much has changed. I was also reminded of a time, when I lived on the east coast as a teenager and worked part-time at a women’s clothing shop—I was the only Caucasian employee.  I recall my self-hatred for the lack of pigment in my skin; I thought how beautiful the African American and Latina women were that I worked with.  It occurred to me later, that surroundings have a powerful impact on perception.  Unfortunately, the adage that “beauty is only skin deep” is not the display most women, especially women of color, see.

For the record, I am not suggesting we obliterate the beauty industry (nobody is taking my Maybeline mascara from me); what I am purposing is that we expand our focus and in particular when it comes to women.  Men, can be pudgy, bald, grey, idiotic and still be splashed across front pages or heralded ad nauseam.

Women bear the stigma that kindness or brilliance is secondary to physical beauty.  Looks matter.  According to a recent study at Zhejiang University in China “lookism creates inequalities comparable to those created by racism, sexism, and background.”  The article reiterated, what innately most of us have known, that physically beautiful people get away with bad behavior and vice versa are able to finagle their wants and needs more easily.  This would not be as prevalent if marketing priorities were not as aligned with the façade of beauty.

In these turbulent uncertain times, what if we revered peacemaking attributes that may help to reverse the world’s inequities?  If women of all color, shapes, and ages were displayed from the rafters of every social media and advertising, would this impact a women’s vision of herself.? If we create a culture in America, where women are brought to wisdom’s table not merely to look at or objectify, but rather to contribute to conflict resolution, since as far as I can see, men have botched the job on a fairly consistent basis.  Give females the respect and laude to make real effective change.  Take the attention off the faces and bodies of women and put them at the tables discussing, national and international security.

Without consciousness we circumvent the fact that women, historically, have been the pursuers of peace, yet they continue to remain virtually invisible at the international roundtables.  I believe that one reason is young girls, from a young age, are taught to focus on outer appearance rather than exploring their inner strengths of knowledge and insight.  Again, not that wanting to “look pretty” is a terrible character flaw, but the pervasive obsession with outer beauty has mushroomed into a cloud of Pink.  Women, deserve equal expectation that their bra or butt size is not paramount to their prowess.  We don’t ask men what their penis size is and then if too small disqualify their merit.

Women, let’s begin to recognize that lasting beauty does come from deep within and if fostered, can be an influential force to resolutions around the globe.  Let’s together, spend less time and finances on the fraudulent business of beauty and more on finding our commonality and inner strengths.

 

 

 

 

 

The Old Man and the Rain

The old man puffed his cigar spitting out the tip as he stared at the solid veil of rain he had been waiting for.   “California,” he muttered to himself half disgusted and partly relieved. “Took long enough,” he sighed.  The entire damn state had been in a drought barring the occasional pockets of showers that fell February past.  They did little to raise the depleted reservoirs and dusty stream beds.  A musky smell of moist dirt rose to comfort him as he shuffled to sit on the re-strung ladder back rocker.  Its dilapidated legs moaning like an old dog as he settled into the seat.  Back and forth the squeaking rocker swayed as the old man lifted his eyes to scan the sky and ground, alternating between the two.   Swirls of gray exhaled cigar smoke snaked around his face filling the porch. The porch suffered from withered paint peels that hung like shavings off a carving stick.  Patches of stained wood speckled the floor slats while the shingled walls of the two-bedroom house sagged from neglect.  Colby had bought the, now jalopy looking, home, forty years prior when it stood tall like a soldier saluting his country’s flag.  He’d survived the granddaddy of wars, WWII, lived to forget about it, marry his sweetheart, and even raise a brood of kids in this house

     “I reckon this will help.”  Colby said aloud as if the rain would reply back. He rocked and pondered in a way that people do when their days are no longer filled with urgency. Two weeks ago, he received a letter from his youngest daughter that said she’d be passing through.  Said she wanted to stop in for a visit and could he put her up for a few nights?   He hadn’t heard a word from the girl in over a year. She’d been deployed to Iraq picking up where her old man had left off.  He tried to prevent her from joining the Army but Grace Anne was stubborn; about as stubborn as he was and never would heed the old man’s advice. Colby’s stomach clenched inward like a fist as he thought about her arrival.  He tried, as best he could, to gussy up the place but money had whittled away once he could no longer clutch a hammer.  Arthritis had crept in cursing him with aching  joints that stiffened like steel. And his pension was barely visible; being a war Vet paid next to nothing. 

     Colby weathered his life challenges, those unforeseen and unwanted events with his dog Jess a mutt of seventeen years.  Jess half hound, half unknown and stone deaf, hobbled out to watch the descending droplets with the old man.  He lay down with a familiar moan at Colby’s feet staring at the steady downpour.  He had wandered on to the property as a pup two days after Colby’s wife, Nora, passed away.  Her death remained a mystery to him, a cancer of some sort that stole her away like his buddy blown to bits by the Germans.  It was a vague death, like strolling through a dream, waking and realizing it was real.

     “I know boy, this isn’t your favorite weather.” Colby said patting the dog on its head.  Jess responded with a slow motion roll like a large sea lion stuck in the sand

     “She should be here sometime soon, I suspect.  Leave it to the youngest one to run off, she’s the closest thing to a son I have.” Colby spoke to the dog as if they were two brothers or friends, sitting on bar stools drinking beer.

     Grace Anne was the youngest of five girls.  Colby’s other daughters were scattered in states far from California.  Although Colby denied it, she was his favorite, As he rocked back and forth, he roamed through the years they had canoed and fished on Lake Havasu together.  Grace Anne had come along as a surprise seven years after the youngest daughter, Claire, was born.  Nora used to call her the “miracle menopause baby.”

     “You remember that time she caught herself a thirty pounder– big mouth bass?”  Colby chuckled while the rain bounced off the railings and the sopped wooden steps.  “Wonder if she’d take a trip with me back to Havasu?”   Colby puffed his cigar then brought it in front of his face to examine the remains.      “I haven’t been fishin for years.  Don’t know if I can still hold a rod, oh hell, I can.”

     Colby had not been around as much for the older girls—work took him away and he often felt a gnawing that left him guilty. 

     A car drove down the pebbled driveway next door and a young woman with a bag of groceries got out.

     “Nice weather we’re having.”  She shouted to Colby from under her black umbrella.

     “Much needed, not sure how nice.  You need some help Maria?”  Colby shouted back.

     “No sir, I have it.  I’ll stop by maybe later.”  Maria said.

     “That’s okay, my daughter…” Colby didn’t finish as the woman had already scrambled out of the rain.  He heard the slamming of Maria’s wooden door echo over the pines.

      Maria had been his neighbor for three years.  She had moved from Mexico to work in a distant relative’s restaurant, one of the sworn secrets designated for locals.  She’d come by occasionally to chat or share a cup of coffee.  Maria was well acquainted with Colby’s loneliness, she had left her own family in Santa Rosita, the small town in Mexico she had lived most of her life.  She would drift effortlessly into the old news or story that was most current in Colby’s mind; nodding her head to assure him she was listening.   

     “Maybe Maria can make us a batch of her cornbread.”  He said as he resumed rocking on the faded chair.  The dog groaned again and rolled over.

     “Kacie’d like that I bet.”

     Colby wasn’t sure how long he’d been rocking, waiting for time to march across his porch, when the sound of wet tires drew in from the distance.  He didn’t recognize the car and immediately felt a surge of excitement sting his skin.  This must be my daughter; he thought and stubbed out the last of the cigar.  He patted the front of his brown sweater and sat up tall with anticipation. The rain had retreated to a steady drizzle, but the sky remained dark and laden with heavy clouds.  He had squinted struggling to see the driver.

     “Well, this is it Jess, our Kace has come to pay us a visit.”  Colby tapped the dog in an effort to rouse him from a long session of snoring.  He looked up and rolled forward with all the effort an old dog could muster.  He sniffed the air and crooned a pathetic, out of tune howl.

     “That a boy.”

     A woman in a full-dress military uniform hunched under an umbrella stomped her boots into the muddy ground.  The driver, a thirty something man tall with a gaunt body type got out of the car whispering something to the woman. They exchanged glances as they walked towards the porch.  Colby reckoned they were there to let him know Kacie was on her way—a little later than expected.

The rain grew heavy again as if a switch had been turned on.

     “Sir, we are looking for Mr. Matthers.”  The woman said while the rain pelted the porch roof.

     “I am he.”  The old man said standing proud as if he were receiving an award.

     “Mr. Mathers, your daughter Kacie, sir she will be coming home as a hero.”  She saved the lives of…her voice drifted off into the drumming of droplets—unwavering, hypnotic—the rain, drowning out the words. 

Norman

        “He’s fine, Raymond, really—we’ll have the homecare nurse take a peek once a week—but otherwise, he’s absolutely ready to go.”  Sharon, the discharge planner at Apple Valley rehabilitation center in Napa California declared.  She was a veteran well versed in letting folks go—the steward of parade waves as another shriveled elder clung to their walker shuffling out of the door.     

      “But he only has two cans of ensure and one cola a day.”  Ray protested.  “He lives alone, can’t cook, can’t hear, can barely see–and I don’t have the time or money to take care of him.  He needs fulltime supervision.”  Raymond sighed, envisioning Norman’s dilapidated home.  Norman had not cleaned the place since his first turn of the key back in 1952.    

      “Well, I’m sure the homecare nurse can send out a dietician.  There’s simply nothing more we can do for him here—he’s graduated—you know how Medicare is. We wouldn’t want to burden Norman with a huge bill.”  Sharon snorted, squinting her eyes as if the sun were shining into her lifeless grey office.  She winced a half smile and glanced at her newly polished nails—she had just had a manicure the night before.  Sharon kept a strict schedule dividing her day into sessions of texting, shopping online for plus size dresses and eating tootsie rolls she stashed in the dull beige file cabinet sandwiched between her desk and the wall.  She hated most people, especially those that were desperate and in need of social services.  They annoyed her.      

          “Okay.  I can be there by eleven to pick him up.”  Ray whispered.  He felt nauseated by the thought of Norman coming home.  He’d have to cut his workday in half, drive an hour to Apple Valley, and once again gather Norman’s walker, catheter, glasses, hearing aids and teeth.  Then there would be hours of sorting out pills and settling in the 85 year old man who had no family, other than him—a grandson of the man who hired Norman nearly fifty years ago.      

     Norman was an only child and his mother died when he was five—no cause of death was ever determined.  His father, a hollow nomad who was chronically unemployed dragged Norman around like a blanket feeling inadequate for the last time–he shot himself in the face and left Norman alone by the age of fifteen.  For the next two years Norman drifted from one stale job to the next, he left school behind like a pair of pants he’d outgrown and at seventeen he joined the army.  It was war time—WWII had ended but the Korean War was well underway and Norman all one hundred and twenty-three pounds, found himself donning weapons he had no inkling to fire.  But it was the first time since he could remember that he knew when his next meal would come and where he would lie his head—he was no longer alone. Two years later, the war ended and once again Norman dropped back into the role of a drifter.  When the plane bobbled down the runway in San Francisco, Norman wondered if he could find work in Napa California.  Napa was a place his buddy Charlie had talked about returning to; his family owned a ranch there. (Napa in those days was made of ranches and farms—wine making had remained tucked in corners of Sonoma county, no one back then thought much about it.)   

     Charlie was shattered into fragments from a grenade–his remains scattered like sawdust– Norman never got to say good-bye; there was nothing left except a shard of steel from Charlie’s rifle that was sent home with a medal of honor.  Norman decided he’d go and find that ranch, maybe Charlie’s folks could use him for something—he had just turned twenty-one.  Norman sat on the porch of the slipshod house sagging as if it had survived hundreds of years on the corner of Willow Street and First street east.  Napa being an agricultural community was riddled with manure and the scent of hay blowing from one ranch to the next.  It permeated the air like darkness in a film noir.   Norman lingered on the paint peeled porch for three days getting up only to drink, eat, or use the outhouse.  It was a blazing one hundred- and three-degree day– the sun was busy scorching the mud into dust– when a rusty old ford rattled up the driveway.    

     “Boy, you been a setting there for near a week—what do ya want,” Seth the owner of the property asked as he slammed the truck door shut.  Seth owned the house but no longer lived there.  He had rented it out to a couple who had left for the gold country several months prior.    

      “I’s lookin for Charlie’s people.  We was in Korea– soldiers together—he told me…” Norman said looking down at the dust on his shoes as if he were reading a script.    

          “Charlie Rizzo?”  Seth interrupted.    

          “Yes sir.”  Norman raised his eyes slightly but remained in a servile like stance.  Flies buzzed around the porch posts eavesdropping on the conversation.    

          “Hell– that was a terrible thing, terrible thing.  Look son, those folks left east—couldn’t handle bein around– once word came of Charlie’s death.  He was their only son.  Know anything about machines?”    

          “A bit, yes sir.”    

          “Well come on then.  I need a mechanic bad.  What you don’t know I’ll teach ya.”   

     And that was how Norman came to work for Raymond’s grandfather, Seth McGrath.  Now, sixty years later and still alone—Norman had no one to look after him, other than Ray.  He had worked hard for Seth to the point he’d transformed into a sought after master mechanic.  The entire valley was familiar with Norm’s know how with motors. But age robbed him of his eyesight and returned to steal what little dexterity he had left in his fingers.  Norman, at age 82, tossed his tools in his truck and brought them home  where they have rested ever since—inside the living room mainly–like antiques to be admired. Seth had helped Norman buy the stout cape-cod style home in 1952 when prices were reasonable and life made sense, hell he rarely latched the front door back then.  Norman had an innate fear that someone would come take the house from him—the bank—the government—someone.  He imagined they’d sneak off with it like a bandit on a midnight run.  It was the first place Norman could refer to as home—the kind of home some folks grow up in and bring grandbabies back to.  He paid it off in twenty-five years, three months, and one day and by age fifty-three it was his.  When the homecare nurse, Kim called to say she’d be at Norman’s house around 2pm, Ray told her he’d try to make it there as well, but he couldn’t guarantee.      

          “Just knock and go on in it’s open—he’ll be sitting in his chair and probably won’t hear the door,” Ray explained.      

          “No problem.”  Kim assured him she had plenty of patients that for various reasons were unable to amble to the door.  Kim was fairly new to homecare but always enjoyed the elders.  She had worked in hospitals for most of her fifteen years as a nurse–when babies came along  her desire for a flexible schedule made visiting nursing the perfect alternative.   And besides, Kim adored older folks, their stories were like reading a history book.   

     “Oh, and one other thing; he’ll act as if he is eating– but he’s not.  He has two cans of ensures and one cola a day.”      

          “That’s it?”    

          “That’s it.” 

     When Kim got to the house just as Ray had predicted, Norman was sitting in his deteriorated recliner sipping a glass of cola.  She knocked and rang the doorbell, but the only response was a feeble voice squeaking through the door, “No thank-you.”  Kim hesitated and then gently opened the door.

          “Hi Norman, my name is Kim–I’m…”    

          “Who er ya?”  Norman squinted as he spoke.  His voice sounding as if he was in the middle of gargling.    

          “Kim—a nurse.  I am here to check on you Norman make sure you’re doing alright.  You were just released from the hospital yesterday, right?”     

          “Oh sure, yes.  I’m fine though—just have a cough that’s all.  I’m home now.  Just tell them folks you saw me and I’m fine.”  Norman said as he heaved a dry cackle his chest and ribs quaivering.  The house was in utter ruins littered with boxes and tools and broken lamps.  There was a small creek like walkway that ran through the mayhem of mix matched rubbish that was strewn about.  A bag of unopened cleaning materials lay on a rocking chair that was missing an arm and a fifty year collection of dust.  To the left stood a scratched silver tv tray with bottles of pills, a urinal, a urinary catheter bag, and two clean socks—white ones.  The dingy walls were lined with medals Norman had accrued in Korea.  Beside the medals hung model planes and a shelf of model cars Norman had constructed long ago.  They sat as witnesses to his youth—it was as if they could speak– as if they had insight and could explain to a person on the life Norman had never had. Norman sat with enormous glasses sinking into the crest of his cheeks causing little shelf like indents.  He had sprouts of white hair jutting up the middle of his scalp and several wisps that were slicked back above his ears—ears that were practically the size of his face.  His eyes were a sparkling green but underneath were dark patches like thunder

 heads under a clear sky.  He was a frail 138 pounds of sagging skin draped over a five-foot eleven frame.  He wore threadbare mechanic pants and clipped to his pocket was his catheter.  Norman suffered from prostate problems and could no longer urinate on his own.  The skilled nursing facility had showed him once how to empty the catheter and crowned him an expert.    

     “Are these the pills you take Norman?”  Kim asked putting on a pair of gloves.  There was a peculiar stench that permeated the house, and she didn’t want to take the chance of bringing home any weird infection to her children. 

          “Whatya say?”      

          “Are these your medications?”  Kim shouted this time.      

          “I suppose so.  Haven’t taken any though.  I’ll get to em later.”    

          “Not a one?”    

          “One what—you gotta speak up miss.”    

          “You haven’t taken any of your pills at all?”   Kim yelled into his left ear.    

          “Naw—too tired.  This cough is keeping me up all night.”      

          “Okay, well—I’m gonna put them in your medicine box—this one here.”  Kim held up a pink plastic pill organizer.

          “Ray usually fills that damn thing.”  Norman sputtered in between fits of coughing.    

          “You coughing anything up Norman?”    

          “Naw.  It’s fine just a nuasence.”         

     Just at that moment an old jalopy pulled into the driveway and a man about Norman’s age, 85, hobbled to the door using a wooden cane.  He sauntered through the front door without knocking and shoved his cane in front of him like a rutter, maneuvering through the piles of stuff.    

     “Here ya go Norm—got ya some cough medicine.   I’ll just set it here on the tray.   How you makin it?”   The man asked.  He was slightly hunched but had remnants of a strong muscular build.  His shoulders were square, and his hands were massive, confident—a working man not afraid of a hard handshake.    

     “Fine just fine.”    

     “Can you be sure he takes this miss—I gotta go?”  The man said to Kim.    

      “Sure—do you help him with…?”    

      “I help as much as I can but ya know he don’t listen—he’s too sick to be living here alone.  Damn shame—never had no family—he’s a war vet—no reason he should be left alone like this,” the man said with his back facing Norman.  He turned back around and gave Norman a spry handshake good-bye and a pat on the back.  

     “You be nice to this pretty nurse—I’ll see ya in the morning Norm.”     

     “Okay.”  Norman said lifting his right hand two inches above his thigh before another coughing episode had him gasping.      

     Kim was feeling uneasy about the cough and the general condition that Norman was in.  It sickened her that an old war veteran would be refused services—Raymond had explained that because Norman was never injured in the war, he received very little in the way of finances.      

          “I need to take your vital signs Norman.” Kim explained.    

          “My what?”    

          “Your temperature, blood pressure, pulse.”    

          “They’re all fine but go ahead if that’s yer job.” Kim reached into her bag and pulled out her thermometer and plopped it under Norman’s tongue.

     She had begun to suspect that Norman had pneumonia.         

          “Norman, you have a fever of 102.2.  I need to call 911.”  Kim said feeling her throat constrict.  She felt eminent signs of anxiety brewing.        

          “No.  I just got home damn it—I don’t want to go back to that place.”   Norman said as he set his head back on the chair as if it weighed a hundred pounds.  Small beads of sweat spread across his forehead.  

          “I’m tired, Kim that’s all…just tired.  Don’t make me go back there.”  Norman said softly closing his eyes.    

          “I’ll call Ray, Norman, okay?”    

          “Yea, call Ray—he’ll know what to do.”   Norman said. His pale complexion looking as if he was half dead already. Kim noticed a growing tremor in his hands and feet.  She felt pinned in as if she had to choose between jumping off a bridge or dodging oncoming traffic.  She had to decide whether to respect the old man’s wishes—or toss her nursing license in jeopardy for not doing anything for a sick patient.  She phoned Ray and dialed 911.    

          “Norman is there someone I can call at the Vets place you go?”  Kim asked hoping she could try to speak to a case worker and explain the desperate situation Norman was in; maybe there was an alternative to him living alone.  But there was only one recording after another—she left a message and sat down beside Norman on a shredded brown ottoman.    

          “Norman, listen the ambulance is going to be here—I am sorry but you’re really sick.  They won’t take you to the last place you were at—that was a rehabilitation place.  They’ll take you to the hospital–the Napa Regency Hospital—it’s a good place.  You’ll be home again in no time after a few antibiotics I bet.”    

          “Ray can take care of me here—if I gotta go he’ll take me.”

     At that moment Ray pulled up with the ambulance and fire department practically attached to his bumper.  Ray burst into the house and began spewing.    

          “Look Norman, you gotta get better—grandpa wants you to visit—can’t do that until you’re well right?”  Ray said patting Norman on the shoulder.  “Seth is nearin a hundred he can’t get around so good—so he’s countin on you.”    

          “I suppose—but can’t you just bring me up ere if need be?”

     Four EMT’s pushed open the front door and began questioning Kim.  They took Norman’s heart rate which had raced into the 130 zone and worked quickly to move boxes around in order to wheel the gurney in.      

     “Look fellas I appreciate you but Ray here–he can get me up ere. Can’t ya son?”   Norman wheezed in between fits of coughing.    

    “Mr. Brooks, once we’ve been notified, we are obligated to take you…”

     “I can refuse,” Norman gasped out.    

      “I’ll ride with you Norm—I can fetch my car later—I’ll call the wife,” Ray interrupted.  “Take it easy, it’ll be fine.”      

     While the EMT’s took down information Ray explained to Kim that he was the closest thing to family Norman had.  He and his wife on many occasions spent weeks cleaning and rearranging the house—but it always disintegrated back into disarray within days.      

     “He’s been depressed since not being able to work,” Ray spoke to Kim in a hushed voice.  “Work and this house is everything to him—it’s all he has.”    

     “Who will take care of it when he’s gone?”  She asked.    

     “He left it to me and my wife—we’ll honor it for him.”

     Norman was secured on the gurney—strapped down and covered in blankets.  Kim bid him good-bye and wished him well.  She reassured him with words and a touch to his hands that he’d be home again soon—a false hope perhaps but none the less sincere.    

      “Ray you don’t gotta ride with me—I’ll just see you up ere at that place later, I’m fine.”  Norman said in a voice that sounded muffled as if echoing over a vast canyon.    

          “I’ll be right behind you Norm.  You hang in.” 

          As the ambulance sped away, Raymond and Kim chatted about the injustice of it all—a man worked hard all his life and then in his time of need no-one there to help him.  He’d run out of benefits and existed on next to nothing. The government didn’t care—he was useless now—couldn’t fight any more wars, couldn’t pay any more taxes. Only thing he could do was collect the pittance owed to him—his money really—money paid into a system not equipped for retirement.

     It was a few days later when Kim received a call from Raymond.  Norman had died—it was pneumonia just as Kim had predicted.  One thing good about his death—it was the first time Norman did not have to go it alone. Ray and his wife were with him—one on each hand.  As Norman passed he had someone there to say good-bye to. It was a few weeks later that Kim received another call from Raymond.  It was discovered that Norman’s house had been a historic one. After records were recovered and read through–they revealed that Norman’s home was the first house that the infamous wine maker, Tomas Zamoroni had built long ago.  Zamoroni was the first to build a winery in Napa—and created the stage for all those that followed.  Norman’s house was pronounced a landmark—no one could ever buy it, tear it down, or destroy it any way.  It would stand as a legacy and Norman would finally have the overdue company he longed for.            

Living Without Fear At Any Age

Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less. Marie Curie

Marie Curie, the twice honored Nobel Peace Prize winner lived a life dedicated to research and exploration during a time when women were expected to be mothers and wives. Although you don’t have to be research scientists to break through fear-based thinking, you can learn to implement practices that will quiet your mind chatter. Keeping your mind active, agile, and inquisitive, is but one of the techniques to toss past fear aside. The spectrum of life is an infinity edge, it continues into the beyond. There is no magical age where mindfulness and learning are no longer needed. Living beyond fear is possible, at any age. Here are a few practices to help.

Be yourself, give up trying to impress others with your accomplishments or material acquisitions. You will feel empowered and less like a traitor (to your inner being) when you live true to you. Follow your passions, your desires not those of your parents, your partner, or your employer. People’s opinions about your character, your actions, your decisions are all colored through their lens, their perspective, not yours. No one has lived your life, or experiences but you. Your response to experiences is also uniquely yours. Think about how your interpretation of a childhood memory may be vastly different from a sibling. When you are not authentic, you are an easy prey for fear. It takes a lot of energy to keep up a façade. When you practice being yourself all that worry about being discovered drops away, and you have more freedom to explore and grow.

Easier said than done you say, not really. Slowing down and being present, gives you time to listen from within, to wander through the inner workings of your heart and spirit. When you pursue a practice of being present, it becomes as necessary and important as brushing your teeth. The whole mindful movement is about slowing down your pace. It is about listening, and really experiencing life. While strolling through a gorgeous rose pedaled park, rather than worrying about your “to do” list take in the scent of the pine trees, observe the translucent sunlight as it streams down the leaves of a maple tree. When you create presence and space for inner reflection, you close the door on fear. When you close the door on fear, you make room for positive thoughts and ways of thinking, you make time to listen to the moment.

Confront your fear, shake hands with it, stare it down remembering most fear is not based on reality, but rather imagination. See fear as if it’s a thought bubble or a balloon that you stick a pin in, and it disappears. The human mind strings together past data and tries to predict your future based on past information. Practice choosing to let negative thoughts go, visualize them literally leaving your body. Practice making a conscious choice to redirect your awareness to empowering, encouraging thoughts. You are the boss, not your thoughts you hold the reins that direct your thinking patterns. Although we cannot control the constant mind chatter, we can choose to not attach to the negative, to not spin a story that has not even taken place. Let all the “what ifs” dissolve. Remind yourself of your accomplishments, the big and the small. Finishing elementary school, riding a bike, graduating or learning a skill, surviving a breakup. There are countless things you have learned; challenges you have overcome. Give yourself credit highlight your strengths not your weaknesses reminding yourself that you are capable of growth of change of empowerment. When you turn your attention to the positive, fear is overshadowed.

Listen to your body, when you need to rest, take a break. Exercise and nourish your body with healthy food choices. Our bodies and minds are entangled, they need each other. A happy healthy body is better equipped to let go of nagging doubt, to combat fear with rational thinking, to stay grounded in the present. Practice routines that restore your mind, that keep it healthy, use breathing and meditation if only for a few minutes a day to help restore harmony and balance to both the mind and body that they can get along and work together.

Visualize while you breathe and let go of negativity, resentment, skepticism. Close your eyes, begin to bring awareness to your breath, the rise and fall of your chest. Feel the ground underneath you, acknowledge its support. Visualize the crown of your head reaching towards the sky, your spine growing long, your shoulders relaxed. Repeat a mantra, or simply say to yourself “there is no where I need to be, there is nothing I need to do” give yourself permission to relax. Find inspirational quotes that motivate you to remain still, to be silent, to listen from within. Two of my favorites are from Mahatma Gandhi, “I have much to do today, I must meditate twice as long.” “Everyone who wills can hear the inner voice. It is within everyone.”

Think of meditation or reading inspirational work as nourishment for your spirit. Like the mind and body, your spirit, your essence also needs support. And like the mind and body, if you continually ignore your inner self, it can grow weary and weak and an easy prey to predators such as fear and doubt. Whether you read philosophical or spiritual work, expand and explore readings that can improve your quality of living, your quality of thinking.

Feeling fearful can be habitual, an ingrained behavior from past trauma, that like any habit can be broken, no matter what age or phase you are at in life. Start small, perhaps repeat the phrase, “Today, I am going to focus on positive words.” Make a commitment to not give into dread or negative thinking one day or one hour at a time. Refuse to spin stories. State your intention aloud, it helps reinforce behavior. Replace your fear with gratitude. Practicing gratitude helps empower you. Anthony Robbins, the well-known motivational speaker says,” When you are grateful, fear disappears, and abundance appears.”

Keep reinventing yourself, welcome change with an open and inquisitive mind. Whether you are twenty-two or ninety-two, you can learn to live a life less dominated by fear. You can accomplish a new skill, new healthy habits, age only limits you, if you let it. Keep in mind that fear isn’t going anywhere, it is a natural part of the human experience, but learning the skills and mindset to respond differently to fear, is at your fingertips, you just have to practice!

Developing Perspective During a Crisis

cropped-kids.jpg

We laugh to survive. Then, with joy we thrive

                                                                   Mary Anne Radmacher

 

For many of us, having to limit ourselves by working from home, forgoing favorite bars and restaurants, and having children underfoot for weeks on end, sounds and feels like a nightmare. Wanting a perspective, I asked my mother, who was a child in the days of polio quarantines (as well as scarlet fever, rubella, mumps and measles), what her experience was like. My mother quipped, “We all got through it. But my poor mother, she was stuck in the house with three girls for six weeks! We didn’t have television, computers, or cell phones, so we used our imaginations.” She told me stories of how the grocer would deliver food and leave it on the front steps. “People worked together we did what we had to do. People were kinder.”

Thinking about my own fears over the current coronavirus, it hit me that I could use this time to gain perspective on the past, while honing my survival skills to traverse the sea of isolation knowing this will end, and life will once again flourish. My father, who is unafraid of covid-19, said “this will run its course, but in the mean-time people have to keep their sense of humor.” Getting perspective on the recent inconveniences, reminds me, like all things in life, this too is temporary. Let’s open our eyes to the silver linings.

This could be an opportunity to build on family time, to communicate face to face more (as long as you don’t kill each other!). You could use this time to teach your kids empathy for others. Have them write a letter or draw a picture to their grandparents or relatives that live far away. For the older children, have them write a report or research about polio, scarlet fever, or rubella or maybe have them write a play or short story about what it was like to live back in the 1930’s or 40’s. Write poems and read them aloud, or play a storytelling game, one person starts the story, then pass it on to the next person, until the last person wraps it up creating one gigantic whopper of a tail.

Aside from the work they brought home from school, you could get creative on home projects. If you have the space, have them build a makeshift fort in the backyard, or plant seeds in dixie cups (use the seeds of apples or oranges). Give them daily chores teaching them the value of pitching in. Most children want to feel useful, now is a perfect time to let them. They could fold laundry (so what if it’s not perfect), set and clean up the dinner table, clean out the closet that hasn’t seen the light of day for years.

You can also use this time to remember universal vulnerabilities, and to help those you can. Call your parents or loved ones on a regular basis. Check in with them more than normal, it helps allay fears. The comforting sound of a voice reassures those who are isolated to feel connected, that they are not alone. Be sensitive to others, offer your extras to those in need, let go of little luxuries you can do without. Offer to donate those things you never or rarely use but they may help out a family in need. Turn the tides on those panicky feelings that may arise during this crisis. Get out of your own head and ask how can I help?

Keep moving, even when you’re stuck. Move the furniture, throw on some tunes, and dance. Exercise keeps the feel-good endorphins flowing. Go online and take a yoga or Pilates class. If you have kids, keep them moving too, get innovative do homemade boot camp (kids love this!). Make moving part of your daily routine. If you have a spiritual practice, fold that into the family mix; chant or pray together, read aloud inspirational messages. How you respond to crises imprints on your children. If you stay calm and thoughtful, it is lot easier for them to cope. Be honest though, share your fears and frustrations with older children, talk about how you as a family are going to deal with it. Children, like adults, feel more secure when there’s a plan in place.

Be grateful for your friends and family. Think about bygone days when a loved one moved or went to war and you never knew if you’d see them again. Reflect on those who are under the siege of war, and now must deal with coronavirus or those in refugee camps already under horrific conditions. I am not suggesting that we look at the sufferings of others to compare, I am suggesting that we put things in perspective. You may not be able to get your nails filled, your eyebrows groomed our get to your favorite yoga studio, but you still have free will. No one can take that from you, its inherent a birthright.

Today is St. Patrick’s Day, usually a day of festivities but under the circumstances we’ll celebrate in the confines of our homes. Throw on something green, play some good ole fashion Celtic music, sing aloud, dance a jig and remember that once upon a time, the Irish in America were scorned, isolated, refused. But their perseverance, rose above the prejudices, and changed the course of their history. Perspectives are powerful reminders. I want to try and remember my parents’ reflections on their much worse experiences with quarantines, and know that we can all get through this challenge with a bit of kindness and a healthy sense of humor.

 

Relishing the Gifts of Winter

branches cold conifers environment

Days are shorter the bears and bats are hibernating, and the cooler temperatures keep us indoors a bit more. Winter is nature’s time to rest and renew before the bustle of spring arrives. For humans, winter offers a magical opportunity to travel inward, to find comfort in slowing down, recuperating, and listening to our inner stillness. Whether gazing at the crackle of a fireplace or snuggling under the warmth of blanket curled up reading a delicious book, Winter provides a plethora of gifts we can learn to relish.

Winter invites me to reup by meditation practice, especially after skimping on it during the holidays. There’s a tranquility, reserved energy during this season that makes it easier to close my eyes, breathe, and let go. Winter calls for hunkering down, it provides time to stop running in every direction, to stay put and relish time with myself and others. It helps me get indoor things done that when the weather is nicer, I don’t want to deal with.

I used to chastise myself for feeling lazier during the winter, needing more sleep, but I have learned to embrace the seasonal cycles, realizing that winter is a retreat if I let it be, from the chaos of busier seasons. It is fitting that it comes right after the autumn harvests and is followed by the flurry of spring.

While on a walk last week, I tried cultivating an awareness of winter’s beauty. The trees although bare, are magnificent with their dark branches juxtaposed against a blue or gray or white sky. I appreciate winter’s quietness; the soft powdery look of snow, or the gentle patter of rain against the window, long shadows draped over a lawn or field. Because of the cooler drier air, winter sunsets are considered the most spectacular with their vibrant hues of orange, reds, and coral that linger over swaths of clouds. It is literally a scientific fact that in the winter months because of improved air quality and colder temperatures, the colors of a sunset are more vibrant than any other time of the year. Since dusk lasts longer in winter, the alluring sunsets linger much longer before darkness settles in.

If you are a person who is light sensitive and tend to get a bit down during the winter, try spending more time outside during sunrise and sunsets. Use light in your house, open curtains, bundle up and go for a brisk walk notice the crisp air on your skin. If you live in places where it snows a lot and being outside is difficult, exercise indoors, set up your winter routine, be sure to still move it helps deal with the blues, if you are prone to them. Sometimes I will play music and dance or practice yoga or Pilates. Also, invite friends over for a game night, or dive into your passions. Use the winter months to create, paint, write, sculpt, finish an indoor project you’ve been wanting to complete. Winter gives us permission to be alone, to indulge in those solo practices and passions that fulfill us.

Winter can also be a wonderful time to enjoy different activities, skiing or snowboarding or ice-skating. If you are like me and don’t have the cash flow (or penchant) for winter sports, snowshoe or cross-country ski or simply spend a day sledding with your kids. It is incredibly rejuvenating to spend time in the snow or cold outdoors, then come inside for a warm cup of tea or cocoa.

For me, winter is the perfect time to catch up on my reading. I love going to the library and finding gems that I haven’t read yet or buying new books to get lost in. It feels natural to cozy up to a good book when the weather is brewing up a winter storm, while the barren landscape is resting, I yearn to read. Winter also is my teatime.  I drink a lot of different tea in the winter, exploring different flavors and medicinal remedies like elderberry to boost my immune system or dandelion to detox.

The gifts of winter are unique, like an understated beauty that at first you may miss. If I have listened to winters advice to slow down, I am ready and excited for the spring when it’s time to pick up the pace again. But for now, I’ll enjoy those gorgeous sunsets, the cozy fireplace reading, and the chance to step off life’s merry-go-round for a bit.

 

Lighten Up with Laughter

CAM00364

“A smile is a curve that sets everything straight.”

I have no idea who said the above quote but it makes me smile when I read it. It is simple and dead on. Think back to a day, a week, a month that felt as though you had been trudging uphill in mud up to your waist. Your perception of those difficult times is usually caused from the lack of a good guffaw. Infusing laughter into your daily routine will not only lighten your mood, and your load, it will also improve the trajectory of your life.

Take a moment to think about how you feel at work, at school, in the gym, after you’ve had a chuckle or two with someone compared to being in a room full of grumpy, stressed, snappy people. Anger erupts easier when your sense of humor is boxed in the garage somewhere, or when you or those around you are taking things a little too serious. When you get lopsided and weighed down from over thinking or from feeling frustrated, a dose of laughter can quite literally make a bad mood disappear.

When you laugh, scientific research has proven that your brain releases a feel good endorphin; it is also a powerful pain reliever. Physiologically, you feel happier because of these potent chemicals, and when you feel happier you are able to have more compassion, you become more forgiving. Let’s face it, who can be funny or lighthearted when you don’t feel well? Learning to laugh more (some of us have to develop our sense of humor, you know who you are) is physically and mentally healthy for you.

When you are happier, (this is a relative term meaning not feeling angry or resentful, instead feeling positive upbeat), it is accompanied by a sense of freedom that allows you  to gather your mettle to be confident to make changes or decisions that will benefit your future. Having a laugh, helps you balance out the day’s drudgery it is a pressure release valve that you have control over. When you laugh more, you have less heartache, less negativity, less emotional and physical pain.

Bolstering your sense of humor does not mean you aren’t a serious person, it simply means that you are able to mine out the nugget of lightness that is in almost all situations. Naturally there are tragic events that leave us deeply troubled or sadden, but when the immediacy of those moments pass, laughter can help you heal and recover.  Nurturing humor is not demeaning or being irreverent, I am not talking about the person who laughs at everything and never takes anything to heart. I am referring to the capacity to let go and allow yourself to smile, to release your pain, your anger, your frustration and swap it out for a laugh with a friend.

Laughter helps develop relationships, it is communal and takes on a life of it’s own. We all have a friend who is hilarious or know someone who can have you literally holding your sides from laughing too hard. Think about how much better you feel when you’ve spent time laughing with another person rather than gossiping or begrudging others. Laugher stays with you long after the joke has faded.  Humor strengthens friendships, marriages, partnerships. It allows people to be themselves. Cracking a few jokes or sharing funny stories can help you escape cycles of self pity, or being in a chronic bad mood. It also stimulates your creativity.

Sprinkle some laughter into your yoga routine, when you run or cycle, let go of the tight fisted need to be overly disciplined with yourself and others. You can still accomplish goals and overcome challenges, and with a bit of laughter in the mix, you will probably be a lot happier and easier to be around.

Give yourself the gift of laughter, let your guard down, start your day with a smile, chuckle at your good fortunes (there are many once you start looking for them), and watch as your mental and physical well being blossoms.

Unplugging

Reflections

123_1_2

The unrelenting cacophony of cars, and computers, of deadlines, of people demanding and complaining had me listless, frazzled, kaput. At work the screen staring back at me cackled knowing that the online work I was doing had me in a chokehold. Enough. I decided that the phone and the computer had strangled enough energy out of me. My imagination was dangling in Pluto, my connection to my husband in the garage buried under boxes labeled Christmas, and summers end had creeped up without us ever getting away; it was time to unplug!
I planned an escape, to find some rest in the arms of nature. I felt desperate to drink in her quiet solace and spiritual sustenance. That kind of oasis doesn’t exist in the city of Sacramento, where we currently live, where there is rarely a reprieve from leaf blowers, stereos, and traffic noise. I needed time to hear…

View original post 557 more words

Unplugging

123_1_2

The unrelenting cacophony of cars, and computers, of deadlines, of people demanding and complaining had me listless, frazzled, kaput. At work the screen staring back at me cackled knowing that the online work I was doing had me in a chokehold. Enough. I decided that the phone and the computer had strangled enough energy out of me. My imagination was dangling in Pluto, my connection to my husband in the garage buried under boxes labeled Christmas, and summers end had creeped up without us ever getting away; it was time to unplug!
I planned an escape, to find some rest in the arms of nature. I felt desperate to drink in her quiet solace and spiritual sustenance. That kind of oasis doesn’t exist in the city of Sacramento, where we currently live, where there is rarely a reprieve from leaf blowers, stereos, and traffic noise. I needed time to hear the wind rustle the summer leaves, to be lulled by the singing of a nearby bird, I/We needed less people, more silence. The Inverness coast around the corner from Tamales bay was the perfect spot…there was no internet, no cell coverage, no stampede of automobiles.
For the first time this summer, I set my cellphone and computer down and didn’t look at it for two days, and guess what, the world didn’t fall apart, there were no urgent emails demanding my immediate attention, no one died or moved away. I began to realize how much time I have spent scrolling my phone or emails when I could have unplugged, read a book, wrote (yes that is done on a computer) but if I don’t get caught up in ‘research” I can stay focused and present.
Getting away and unplugging reminded me of the impermanence of life. That looking into my husbands eyes, spending time watching the waves crash on the sand, witnessing the changing hues of color in the sky as the sun set is all temporary. If I don’t practice presence in those moments, they are gone. I will have deprived myself of magnificent beauty that quiets and soothes the spirit.
Choosing to disconnect for the weekend not only settled my frayed nerves, it rejuvenated my relationship with my husband, my partner, my friend. Day to day conversations often lose out to checking Facebook posts or answering emails or texts while good ole conversation pouts patiently in the backseat. Unplugging gave us a chance to rediscover ourselves and each other. I read my husband new poems I had written, he showed me photos of the ocean tides and clouds he had captured, we collaborated, laughed, and listened with deeper intent.
Embracing nature and welcoming silence and tuning into the natural sounds allowed my consciousness to reawaken. I was able to stumble back to that quiet place within. Emotions (which often show up like an unwanted guests) get tangled up with daily demands, shutting out technology for a bit helps me sort them out put things back in perspective. Most of the time we are inundated with stimuli which distracts us. Being able to stare at the ocean or sit under the shade of a tree calmed my spirit made me less reactive, nature gives me room to breathe to think.
Unplugging gives you the opportunity to play, to be unanchored, to explore ways of being. I did yoga on the sand without a mat, my husband and I walked together as our goofy dog Trevor leaped for joy in chasing the ball. We looked at shapes of clouds and imagined what it was like to sail around the world. We took it all in, I didn’t take any photos, I wanted simply to be present to sear the memory so that when I returned, I could escape back to that serenity that Mother Nature graciously gave me. All I had to do was listen.
That Monday, back in the bustle my husband said he felt less stressed even in traffic, which is not usual for him. I recommend everyone, take the time to escape to unplug and to reconnect with nature, with yourself, and with those you love. Make it a priority, pull the plug on your machines, and just be, no agenda except to breathe.