Gingerbread Cookie (Yum) Lesson

It’s the time of year for holiday baking! For a few years I skipped it completely. My friends and family moaned a little, but we used whatever money I was going to spend making cookies and sending cards towards charity. This year I decided to make somecookies. Only a batch of each to keep it all super low key. Also, as long as a nice large tray of cookies would be dropped off at the domestic violence shelter where I often make donations– it would still be for charity.

Yesterday while making Gingerbread men I experienced a little of a spiritual quest, where the words of many who’ve walked before me sunk even deeper.

Monday I made the Gingerbread dough and popped it in the fridge until I was ready to roll it out at a later time. Yesterday I worked from home, and following my lunch walk; I decided to pull out the dough so it was be perfectly soft when I logged off for the day. The cold air outside left me craving the warm smell of cookies in my home.

When it was time to roll, the consistency was just perfect (ever wondered where that phrase came from anyway? “Time to roll”). I preheated the oven and set to work making tiny little people with a brand new cookie cutter I purchased from Zabars on Sunday morning (for an unbelievable price by-the way). They were coming out seamlessly!

I knew I was going to freeze most of them so I didn’t want to frost them. Instead I opted to make 3 little indentations with an appetizer fork on their bellies for buttons as well as on their feet to mimic a little cuff. For the eyes I used the back of a lobster pick. I decided against a mouth, nose or cuffs for the arms. It was a bit too much, as this year I’m keeping it simple.

As I decorated the first batch I couldn’t help but notice how different each cookie already looked. I attempted to make them all the same, but the place in the dough where I cut and the ever so slight differences in the eyes, buttons & cuffs made each and every beautiful little Gingerbread person unique in it’s own way.

I popped the first two trays in the oven and set to work on the second two trays. It was immediately apparent that the dough was already slightly warmer and a bit more difficult to cut. However, making the indentations was easier.

The first batch came out and I loaded the second one in. I let the first two trays cool for a minute before beginning to carefully remove them with a spatula for the cooling rack.

These cute little confections puffed up in the oven and began to sink back down as I started to lift them. As with many cookies (especially complicated cut outs) a few broke a little arm or leg in the process, some had less deep button indentations, some just cooked a little more than others depending on their place in the oven and how thick the dough was. Despite my attempt to make them uniform; nature, chemistry, and my own artistic abilities made each ever so slightly dissimilar to one another.

Some had gotten so puffed that they combined with a neighboring cookies. I had to carefully cut them apart so I didn’t break either in the process. For some it was difficult to distinguish which overlap belonged to which cookie.

This is where my mind went the to aforementioned short spiritual quest.

Like people and animals, these little cookies were all distinct. Where does one person really begin and another end? Those cookies that stuck together came from the same batch. Where they overlapped it was hard to tell who was who, as they are made from the same stuff. And does it matter other than to the eye that they are separate? It’s all just cookies that will taste more or less the same.

Then I thought… What if somehow these Gingerbread cookies became conscious? Would they form a society and create a hierarchy of “better” or “worse” cookies based on cut, color, consistency, button deepness, etc? How crazy would that be? Not too long before that they were just ingredients in the store, then my fridge, then in a ball together… Why would they create a structure in which some have dominance or perceived superiority over another?

What if they split off into groups and started hating on one another? Hating on one another so much so that they began destroying one another as they saw fit to their own Gingerbread beliefs. Wouldn’t that be kind of crazy? Wouldn’t that defeat the purpose of making the cookies in the first place? Why would they fight over differences rather than celebrating how each is unique?

Why do we think we are any different from Gingerbread people?

Carl Sagan’s quote sort of describes how I was feeling at the moment:

“The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of star stuff”.

Alan Watts famously said:

“Look, here is a tree in the garden and every summer is produces apples, and we call it an apple tree because the tree “apples.” That’s what it does. Alright, now here is a solar system inside a galaxy, and one of the peculiarities of this solar system is that at least on the planet earth, the thing peoples! In just the same way that an apple tree apples!”

The Alan Watts quote might be a little more confusing, but I listened to a Podcast one day that expounded upon this quote. Watts said something to the effect of imagine a few million years ago some advanced aliens were roaming around the universe and hap-chanced upon planet earth. They may have took a look at our planet and said ‘eh it’s nothing but a pile of rocks’. A few million years later the same alien race came by the earth again and noticed us humans walking around. This time they said ‘Hey look – this rock peopled.

 

We are all from the same stuff. To some extent as humans, like the Gingerbread men; we are from the same batch of mixed ingredients that were provided by the earth, solar system, Milky Way, and universe. Deep down we are all the same. It’s only nature, some chemistry, and the artistic work of our creator that makes us ever so slightly different in appearance and thought. We were created for the same purpose and should only celebrate what makes us so uniquely beautifully different.

Lessons from the Gingerbread People

One of my cookies-

Hygee (Hoo Guh) & How I Plan to Embrace Winter this Year

I never heard this word until last week. I was starting to plan for the holidays and feeling really festive and excited, until my heart sunk thinking about January and the rest of the winter.
I REALLY don’t like the winter. But it’s an inevitable part of life. If I’ve learned anything this year that is positively impacting my life, it is to enjoy the moment, whatever it is; as this too shall pass. Alan Watts wrote a book called “This is It”. Meaning, as we are waiting for life to start or get better we are actually wasting it- because the whole thing; the good, the bad, the ugly… the joys, sweat & tears… and even traffic is “IT”.
I hardly noticed the winter until the year I was pregnant with Gabby. She was due in June and around February I really started nesting. I had a paper calendar on the wall at the time (who didn’t in 1999?) and on the last day of February I excitedly turned the page and saw the beautiful spring picture for March. My heart filled with joy. I was so excited and ready for spring. I went to bed happily anticipating the coming months. But when I woke up it was still freezing, dark and wet. Weeks later it was still freezing, dark and wet. That same year as the days turned darker and colder in October I realized I am one the thousands I have been hearing in the background who dislike what feels like the never ending season of winter.
20 years later and I’m still a hater. I want that to change, or at least to accept it the way I can smile and catch myself from feeling grumpy during traffic. This is a totally new concept for me to accept even a yucky present moment [most of the time anyway] and tell myself that this is really it! This is life. There is nothing else and even this could be kind of enjoyable when I realize I’m alive and experiencing what exists in the spectrum of living experiences.
So I went to my best ally that I turn to for answers (Google of course) and asked “How to enjoy winter?
Almost every search response turned up this word “Hygee” pronounced “Hoo Guh” (I personally like the way I was pronouncing it in my mind better, but that is neither here nor there). Apparently it’s a Danish word that loosely translates to coziness. The Danish are the well known as the happiest culture in the world, but also have one of the more harsh winters with a population of human settlers. What is their secret?
One can look on their own, I’m not going to go bonkers writing it all out- but the general concept is to embrace it, do all things inside that you’ve been putting off, make time for friends no matter the weather and to indulge in winter foods, clothes and warm beverages. Embracing it means hunkering down and getting cozy. Lots of candles, soft light, and blankets. Also, going outside every day for a bit no matter how dark or cold. Not only is the fresh air and movement of walking a benefit, but the contrast back into the cozy home makes it all the more sweeter.
As I raked leaves at both of our homes this week, covered the stubborn little spring bulbs I recently planted that were poking up, and started to put away the outdoor summer items; I felt a sense of connection the earth and dare I say even slight excitement toward this season for this first time ever.
Being prepared and doubling down on making my home cozier than ever felt right. I ordered non-holiday candles for my windows that I plan to not move until the sun starts to set at an earlier hour next year. I purchased those battery operated string lights for little places in the home near the potted plants I brought in from the outside for the winter for extra light & cheer. I hope to have a fire almost every evening (mental note: need to have the hubby show me how first), so I ordered a ton of firewood just for the occasion. AND I put it in the porch right outside the front door so it stays dry and seasoned… and it is close enough to not groan about having to trek anywhere else around the outside to get it.
What else?
I’m making a list of movies I’ve always wanted to see. Creating a pile of books to keep in living room that I want to read this winter. I am putting together exciting crockpot, dessert and soup recipes to try. I have a list of electronic things I never get to that I want to cross off my mental to do list forever.
I also made a list of things to do on weeknights and weekends that aren’t that exciting to do in the warm months because the draw to be outside is so much greater. Some of those things are to use the sauna we have in the basement, cross country ski (we have a trail within .2 miles from our front door), put together puzzles we bought & never touched, paint, write, color, knit, take online classes to get all CEUs or just learn about somethings I always want to know more about, go to plays and musicals at local theaters, visit museums, try new coffee shops…
Just writing it all out again makes me feel like the whole winter might not be enough time for all these great activities! Could it be that I can enjoy these months? I hope so!
It still might not shake out to actually be enjoyable, but it absolutely won’t be enjoyable if I don’t realize all the cool ways I could embrace and make the most of it. Fingers crossed.
If you are of the many like me who dreads these months and found an idea or two here to make it more bearable – then this was worth the time to write and share.
Here is to embracing it all, because after all, this it it.
~Esterina

 

My wood pile on the porch. This was taken only yesterday after moving a half cord of wood myself and then making a large tarp to keep it all warm & dry. I put kindling in flower pots. Today the scene is full of snow!
Now a day later.
Welcome Winter

How I’m Choosing Who to Vote For

This past weekend Daren & I went to Harvard for Freshman Family weekend and attended the Keynote address: “The Polarization of America: Can We Bridge the Divide?” with IOP Fellow and former Congressman from Nevada, The Hon. Joseph J. Heck.

I didn’t know the name, but found the talk to be something I can really chew on. Before anyone starts to look Heck up, and bash or celebrate any move he ever made; Heck is Republican and obviously putting his neck on the line by speaking in a highly liberal environment – not only for the parents last weekend, but through many lectures for students during the year.

I don’t like to discuss politics and often do not speak freely as to which party I’m more aligned with, but I’m not a Republican. Most of the audience was not either. However, the talk was wonderful and touched on many reasons why the political divide is kind of inevitable but not impossible to overcome.

One part of it really hit home for me and is something I plan to always consider as well as one can. That is the gumption of a candidate. Heck didn’t even use the word gumption, but at times and once during the Q&A he said something to the affect of considering individuals who can stick to their morals well enough to say No to power.

We need to generally hear an individual’s viewpoint on important issues whether it’s equal rights, gun control, the right to choose, immigration, etc. However, even more so it is important to consider whether or not the individual has the ability to work with others (even others on the other side) to come up with solutions that find common ground, andto have the gumption not to flip in order to please power, keep friends, take money, or even just to wrap up a session and go home.

Candidates need to have an answer on hot topics, but it doesn’t mean they are so ridiculous about it that they will no longer adhere to common sense. Party lines and rigid yes/no answers on issues make it nearly impossible to be seen or understood as something in between. Additionally, few topics are so black or white. The topics and national problems that are on the table took years to get to. They just cannot disappear overnight. It’s tricky stuff.

Take gun rights for example. Me personally – I don’t “believe” in guns. When I hear a candidate is a ‘gun person’ I look to their opponent. But in reality a candidate has to answer yes or no if they believe in ‘gun rights’, and that doesn’t answer a whole lot unless you really hear from them or look into their background.

But what does gun rights really mean? A part of me understands the other side. Just because I mightnot have one, I’m not sure I should or even want to have the right to tell someone else what they can or cannot have. If we outlawed them tomorrow what would that solve? People will still have and use them, likely often as much as they do now. We don’t have the money or man power to go into everyone’s homes to remove them. People are not going to turn them in because they are illegal. Drugs, prostitution, child porn and human trafficking are illegal but that doesn’t stop those who want to do these things from doing them. How can anyone tell a 19-year old minority single mother living in a shady neighborhood that she needs to give up her legally owned gun that makes her feel safe so she can shiver and be anxious walking down the block when she had previously felt safe, secure and that she had some power over her life? She wouldn’t be voting on my side even though she has a very rational point.

What I would love for our politicians to do is look for common ground and not give in to nonsense that power & bullying will try to instill. They need gumption to do that.

I have not a single statistic in front of me but would be willing to bet that most people in either party do not want to see one more mass shooting- like EVER. Guns are a part of the issue – of course. But does any majority really, really believe in the right to have a semi-automatic gun or weapons of mass destruction as part of no constitutional restrictions? Are any liberals really trying to take away any and all power to bear arms? Maybe some people fall into these categories, but again – I’d be willing to bet it’s a small percentage. Those persons in that small percent are not the individuals I would like to elect to pass our laws. The individuals I would like to represent my vote would have common sense and not give in to power or bullying of a smaller percent.

How can a healthy minded, willing Democrat work with a healthy minded, willing Republican to come up with potential solutions about how to prevent what we all want to prevent? We have to be willing to compromise, understand one another’s view and create a solution with them that works for all. There are many issues I don’t agree with 100% but understand the other side. It’s not easy and/or black and white.

This is where we the people come in. We do our due diligence and look for the truth in the people we have the power to elect. We understand and look past silly time limits during debates, simple colors to show which party the candidate is aligned with, and the one-liners on all these hundreds (and I mean HUNDREDS) of political signs all over the place.

My first reaction to what I just wrote if I wasn’t writing it would be some defense about “Who has time for this?” But I need to even question my own silly gut reaction. Because if not this, then what actually matters? Isn’t this our right? Our ancestors fought hard for this power and we take it for granted, bemoaning that we don’t have time and just hope, wish and pray that the right people will be elected. Or we just vote down the party line and ignore the alarm signal that someone might not be looking out for the majority or have common sense.

So get involved! Even if it’s too late – at least do a quick google search before voting tomorrow. But do vote. And vote for someone with GUMPTION and common sense. We have the power. Only when you believe you don’t you actually don’t.

On Navigating with Love

There are some experiences in life that seem almost magical or other worldly as they happen. Sometimes it is when you meet someone and you get a sense of ‘deja vu’ or a flash of unexplained feelings. Or when you hear or read something that just seems to strike some sort a cord within you about its unexplainable truth.
One of the dozen or so times this happened to me is when I had first read that the soul is the connection to divine (God, nature or whatever you chose to call all that is). I was so moved by this simple statement. The truth of it was so obvious to me at the moment, that it sparked one of those other worldly flash feelings. The article discussed how the soul doesn’t dish out advice like our loud, animal mind brains do. But if you ignore or quiet the monkey brain and ask your soul for advice, the right answer is always there waiting to be heard. 
Wow. Yes. 
I knew that somewhere but didn’t realize it until then. A few hours later after mulling it over I posted something on Facebook about it- a short quote I made up as my own interpretation of this. It had very few “likes”. Guess my Facebook tribe didn’t get it. 
Not long after I heard a podcast about the moral compass. The speaker explained how we experience negative emotions (depression, hopelessness, anxiety, etc) when we aren’t living according to our moral compass.
Right- that makes sense too! And in my own interpretation I understood that moral compass connection to be through the soul which is connected to all that is. When we can’t hear or follow that sound advice and live against it, we feel unhappy.
Then, not long after I started to better understand the deeper meaning of the yoga I was attracted to. The focused attention of breath and movement quieted the monkey mind. Meditation and quieting the mind is a ticket to really hearing sound moral advice from my soul- that without question always knows the right and loving way to be in this world.
I feel so inspired to write this morning because when I opened my email amongst the midst of things was the start of a sentence that caught my eye strong enough for me to open it. It read “God does what God is: Love. God does not love you if and when you change. God loves you so that you can change!”The email was a few paragraphs long. It is a daily mediation that I signed up for from the Franciscan priest Richard Rohr who wrote a book I recently finished called Falling Upward. 
The email this morning brought the message of the soul and compass home for me. The email referenced one of the famous lines of the Bible where man is created in the likeness and image of God (the divine, nature, whatever you connect to spiritually). That likeness is LOVE.
One paragraph states “Love is who you are. When you don’t live according to love, you are outside of being. You’re basically not real or true to yourself. When you love, you are acting according to your deepest being, your deepest truth. You are operating according to your dignity.
Love… Love it. To me that says it all.
Maybe, just maybe… the allegory of the apple and ensuing suffering was having doubt about pure love. Not living by the advice of the soul. Not having faith in all that is. 
The soul knows. Perhaps we should listen a bit closer. It’s always there- the good angel on our shoulder, NOT jumping up and down loudly like a child with a pitch fork such as the little fiery red guy on the other shoulder. Maybe listening to it really is a key away from fear & suffering.
Hey… it’s worth a try! 

On Fear and Suffering

“Man suffers most through his fears of suffering”. —Etty Hillesum

I am beginning to understand how important it is to accept fear, suffering, and the unknown as a part of life. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it really is part of being human and our existence. Once we begin accept fear, suffering, and the unknown as natural and ordinary; we can experience a more balanced outlook on the way things are. Once that balanced outlook is realized; we still have fears, bad days and down days – they just seem to have less power and debilitating effects on us.

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In a blog I wrote a few weeks ago “On the Fluctuating Gunas ”, bad things happening to our around us, doesn’t mean something is wrong with us. It’s just part of the flow of life.

What is even more astounding is that as humans we have the capability to truly accept the entire flow of what life is. In our most enlightened form it’s possible to not be affected at all. From a Christian biblical perspective – symbolically, the lesson of Jesus on the cross is to help free us from suffering through demonstrating that at even the WORST, we have nothing to be afraid of if we chose to embrace what is.

Acceptance = Non-Suffering

We can’t fight what life throws at us. It’s fruitless. We will lose by fighting and trying to avoid it every time. It’s a law of nature, but it doesn’t mean that we should lie back and be pushed around by life. In the same way we cannot win by swimming against the tide or sailing against the wind. We have to use nature’s forces intelligently to still navigate where we would like to go using what is there at the time and not just wishing the tide away.

What’s worse is that wishing the tide away means not enjoying life as it is happening. We waste time that would otherwise be enjoyable by being scared of the unknown, thinking things are supposed flow easily – then being miserable when they don’t.

Will Smith even quoted the version of the below phrase in a great YouTube video I watched not too long ago. This is the abridged >2 min version, but the point is well taken. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eSIo4JMzcbM

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FDR said it best years ago. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”.

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Years ago I read the book “Who Moved My Cheese”. It was cute enough. I was in my 20’s and it was my first exposure to hearing about accepting change. One of my favorite lines is quoted below. I remember it gave me chills because there actually would have been quite a bit I would be doing if I weren’t afraid.

On the Harvest and our Minds

Always do your best. What you plant now you will harvest later. 

Og Mandino

In the yoga classes I’ve taught this past week, the theme I have been focusing on is “The Harvest”. The chosen reason is the time of the year here in the Northern Hemisphere, especially where we live in New England. The purpose of this theme however is not about the crops we need to harvest before the first frost (which was last night), but all ‘seeds’ and ‘harvests’ for the future.

Not sure what it has to do with yoga? If you are still with me, please allow me to explain.

A seed is just a seed all by itself. A lettuce seed alone has nothing but the potential to become lettuce. If I plant lettuce seeds in the ground in the month of April (appropriate for our Connecticut hardiness zone), there is a decent chance it will grow lettuce. But if I plant a cucumber seed in April, it will absolutely not grow into lettuce, and there is a slim chance will grow at all. Cucumber seeds can only thrive after the last frost. Hence, it would be best to plant them in mid-May for any hope of having a cucumber in August.

So far I have a seed, dirt, and weather that will hypothetically allow me to harvest cucumbers. Seeds, dirt and weather are not that insanely different from the potential we have as humans to manifest goals or create the type of life we desire. In churches and other spiritual communities and texts we will often hear the phrase “As above, so below”.

What does that mean? It means the physical world is not all that different from the mental and spiritual worlds. Even though we can’t see those other worlds, the laws of nature are consistent.

Like seeds, our thoughts are just thoughts alone. The properties of a thought will only bring forth that thought. If I’d like to lose 10 pounds, it’s only a thought or wish until I do something with it. Additionally, wishing it will not yield me a promotion or the improvement of a relationship that I’d like to enhance… obviously. With me so far?

Next that thought is planted or ‘sown’ in my mind. The mind is not so dissimilar to the soil that we plant our seeds in. The thought that I would like to lose 10 lbs in a mind racing with anxiety, wrought with depression, or full with a stressed out ‘To Do’ list will only go into a abyss of other competing and negative thoughts. Similar to how planting a cucumber seed in sand, in the snow, or even in April; the mind’s condition would not be right to help a positive thought manifest into the raw potential it has.

This is where yoga comes in.

Yoga is not soley about moving around in different poses (or asanas). Yoga means to ‘yoke’. This sacred Sanskrit term is used to signify the connections between spirit, mind and body. Whether we are moving through poses, meditating, chanting, doing breath work, etc; what we are really doing is creating a connection of our physical body to our mind and spirit; creating a sense of equilibrium between all three – which are really one beautifully operating unit. It’s difficult to have anxiety when the mind, body and spirit are yoked in meditation or savasana (that last pose in most yoga classes where you actually enjoy laying around doing nothing for a few minutes).

When we are in balance, the mind is clear. When we sow thoughts in a clear mind, it is akin to planting seeds in proper conditions. When the mind is not clear, thoughts will still grow in murky conditions. These conditions often generate unwanted outcomes. For example anxious thoughts will thrive and create even more anxiety in a busy mind. The mind is constantly creating whether we get involved with what is put in or not. Analogous to how weeds will grow without involvement.

Yoga helps clear the mind through pointed focus and awareness. Focusing on breathing while mindfully moving from posture to posture in an average American yoga class (which is what comes to the minds of most when they picture yoga) helps us to stay in the present moment and pay less attention the wandering mind. When we are on the mat and feeling the slight shifts and sensations of our bodies, we are connecting our physical body with our inner selves. While sitting in a posture for a short while, if the body is relaxed and the mind wanders; it becomes very clear what is in there as thoughts arise.

A beautiful characteristic of yoga is that the habits we build on the mat will begin to stay with us off the mat.

A remarkable trait about thoughts is that you can change them.

If we don’t like what is coming up, we don’t have to actually keep thinking them. With a little practice of strengthening the mind, we are able to notice thoughts that aren’t aligned with the life we want and modify them.

Ignoring or changing unwanted thoughts and clearing our minds creates the proper soil and weather conditions to grow an aspired thought into reality. This will give us the boost to perform the last and third step of harvesting what we would like.  That last step is the physical work.

If we plant cucumber seeds in mid-May and walked away… maybe we will have some cucumbers, but not likely. Chances increase if we ensure the seeds are properly watered, have the right amount of sun, and weeds are kept at bay – at least initially. As the season progresses and cucumber buddings begin to grow and get stronger, we still need to keep an eye on them; but weeds and unexacting sun and water levels are less likely to halt the progression of physical cucumbers.

We have to do the work. Once new habits are built and ingrained into our neuropath ways and routines, less focus needs to be put on sustaining the desired result. Keeping 10lbs off is easy with good habits because we essentially reap what we sow. Physically and mentally. If you don’t have a crop harvest right now, it only because you didn’t plant seeds and nurture them in the spring.

The laws of nature as we know it work the same in the mind/spirit world.

Yoga helps us to create the harvest (albeit “life”) we want by cultivating a healthy mind-body-spirit connection. The take home – mind your thoughts, as they can and will create the life and harvest you have.

NAMASTE

Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds that you plant

Robert Louis Stevenson

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On Why I Love Teleworking

Teleworking really isn’t for everyone. There are so many people that I talk to who tell me they could never do it. If you even think it’s not for you, it’s not. However if it’s something you have the opportunity to do and are considering, allow me to share why it works for me and how I feel it is beneficial to our workplaces. I now have a full year under the belt of at least one day a week. A few months ago I moved to two days, And most recently since my office has been under construction all my work time has been at home.

For starters I can sleep in much later. When you eliminate the commute time, parking & walking an additional quarter of a mile to my office, and the time I was spending before work to shower, dress and primp for the day- I am able to sleep in over an hour longer than I was before. I could stand to sleep in even longer, but I get up to enjoy a leisurely cup of coffee, a healthy non-rushed breakfast, and a short meditation session before I log in for the day. My morning routine is so much more pleasant, I no longer feel tired all the time, or dread getting up.

Next, I’m unbelievably comfortable for a variety of reasons. The most striking is in the attire I can wear. When I dress after waking up, I put in comfy workout clothes so I can go for a lunch run later in the day. Also my desk, chair and surrounding workspace at home is completely suited to my height, likings and taste. I can control the temperature of the room. Throughout the day my cats and dog come to visit, hang around and sleep on or near me. Their presence reminds me I’m home if I briefly get swept away in workplace politics. Not to mention that looking at them and petting them just seems to soothe my soul.

I move around much more. My chair swirls and doesn’t have weird side bars that give my legs bruises when I curl up in my chair as I type away. I’ll take stretch brakes and do some reinvigorating yoga poses that I wouldn’t dream of doing at the office. When I get up to make cups of warm herbal tea throughout the day, instead of walking across the room to the microwave like I do at work, I walk down a flight of stairs and don’t feel grossed out by the water supply or my surroundings. But my favorite is that I use my lunch break to run. I used to use that same break to walk at work. This required changing my shoes, never being appropriately dressed for the weather, and worrying about getting too warm. Now I can perspire as much as I’d like without worry.

I am so much more focused and productive. I’m not distracted by idle chatter or sharing my own nonsensical stories. There are no crazy alarms going off, constant overhead announcements, or loud trash barrels rolling by as I try to converse over the phone. I don’t see or hear the dings and distractions of other people’s computers, desk phones and cell phones. I don’t overhear anyone else’s personal or professional conversations. Two job roles back I worked for 7 years in a corridor that had a one person, non gender specific restroom right down the hall from my desk and around the corner from the transportation department where the drivers would pop in and out all day to use the facilities. The noise of a flushing toilet and horrendous smell would permeate my senses all day. One of my favorite funny memories from that job was when my then boss who had an adjacent office to mine said “Not only do we have to put up with a bunch of sh!t, but it actually has to smell like it too”.

Along the lines of focus, I pay attention during conference calls like I never had before. Unless I have a part to play in a conference call meeting, at work I find it nearly impossible to pay attention. I’m in front of my computer and always multitasking. Now I use conference call times to walk around the house and do some mindless work. I’ll sometimes sweep, start dinner, grab the mail, or do some other random things. Because I’m physically moving while mentally listening and not trying to do two mental activities at once, I am paying far more attention than I ever had on calls before. I’ll often unmute my phone and pipe in or stop to take notes in my email. That is something I hardly ever did at my desk.

It’s overall healthier too. I am in touch with what is going outside weather wise because I have windows. Many spaces I have worked in over the years have had no windows or access to the outside. Sometimes on a sunny day I will take my laptop out to the deck and actually feel the sun on my skin. The air quality at home isn’t ‘iffy’. I’m eating better too. At the office if I forgot my lunch or decided I am not in the mood to eat what I brought, I would stand on a long cafeteria line and purchase something overpriced and not quite as good for me as the things I have at home.

At the end of the day I log off and hop into the shower. I’m dried and ready for the evening before I would have even been on I-91 sitting in traffic and feeling extremely agitated.

Monetary savings in food, gas and clothing. Comfort. Healthier atmosphere and food. More sleep. More time. All good stuff huh?

Enough about me, this can reap great benefits for employers as well.

For starters there is likely less unexpected or short term notice time off. Snow days are just as productive and not to mention safer on both ends. If an employee doesn’t feel well but slugs into the office, other employees get sick, then they get their children sick. Then the children need to be stay home, be picked up from school or not be allowed in daycare, which is more time off for others. An employee without a telework agreement who opts to stay home will cost the organization a full day of work. An employee with one who opts to work suck from home loses the organization very little. Additionally, a doctor appointment in the middle of the day before telework for either my children or myself used to mean a whole morning or afternoon off. Usually the afternoon because trying to find a parking space by 8am where I work is like trying to find a needle in a haystack.

Speaking of parking and space, allowing employees to telework creates both! Office space in many organizations is at a premium. Even having everyone telework 1 day a week [staggered] would free up 20% of office and parking space.

There is overall less wasted time through the day. Lines at the coffee shop, lines in the cafeteria, waiting for elevators, looking for an open bathroom, being in a queue just to warm up food in the microwave, that 3rd Wednesday if each month where the computers reboot for what seems like infinity… just to name a few. Not to mention a lot of time chit chatting and socializing. Yes, there are times the remote connection kicks me off; but the overall time sucks favor the employer with all the other time wasters that happen in the office.

Safety is always an issue. When I was the strategic planner for VA Connecticut, one couldn’t imagine the number of complaints that would come in every week about air quality, requests for asbestos checks, mold checks, ripped carpets that folks trip over, furniture with sharp edges, etc. When it rains or snows someone was always bound to fall- meaning a visit to employee health, days off, workers comp… all kinds of stuff no employer really wants.

Employees are happier when they aren’t rushed, eating well, sleeping more, saving money, moving around, and feeling like their employer is doing something mutually beneficial for both of them. How can you go wrong?

Well… many things can go wrong. That could be a whole other blog. It may be comforting however to know there are some strong, sound advice, policies and guidelines out there. My organization for example has trainings required by both the employee and supervisor before beginning. Additionally clear expectations are required to be written up, and it comes with the caveat that either party can terminate it at any time. Why not swipe some of these best practices from a person or whole organization that does it well? There are hundreds of articles on the web and in HR journals around the world about why it’s a win-win for all to adopt it, and nearly none on how terrible it has gone.

For now if you are thinking about using an existing policy or implementing one in the workplace, these are some of the reasons I would humbly advocate for it on both ends. I am sure I’m missing many more benefits! Please don’t hesitate to pipe in or comment if you know of any. Horror stories are welcome too!

One of my “co workers”
View from my desk

On the Fluctuating Gunas (The What???)

Today I woke up anxious. Physically I had a slight tightness in my chest. My heart felt like it was a little heavy, but the worst was my breath. I couldn’t help but sigh every few moments. Obviously releasing some kind of tension. I felt slightly lost. Not sure where my life is going. Not but an hour later I was laughing and feeling like wherever my life is going it doesn’t matter and I’ll get there as I need to.

These are the “Gunas”. Fluctuations that are normal in the universe. They are everywhere. In the weather, in our moods. It’s a universal law. What goes up must come down. What swings one way will swing the other.

The Gunas are a term I learned in yoga teacher training and were often discussed. It’s now a part of my regular vocabulary and thought process. We don’t stay in one mood forever. Nothing stays in its state forever. We are supposed to feel good and bad. It should be expected that good things as well as bad things will happen. Fighting it is what leads to suffering. In Buddhism a key tenant is that any attachment causes suffering. Even attachment to feeling one way (like happy), being attached to an outcome you want, or any objects/feelings/desires/etc. The Hindu tradition (yoga’s roots) describes the same concept but in a different way.

From Yogapedia: https://www.yogapedia.com

A guna is an attribute of nature, according to Hindu philosophy. In Hinduism, there are three gunas that have always existed in the world in both all living and non-living things:

• Tamas (darkness, destructive, death)

• Rajas (energy, passion, birth)

• Sattva (goodness, purity, light)

Here in our Western world we are not taught to think in this way. We seem to feel that if something goes wrong or we don’t feel well (mentally, physically or spiritually), that something is wrong with us. Imagine we were taught that both elation and depression are normal and to be expected? Neither will stay. Both are an experience of being alive. The more we attach to any experience (the good or the bad ones), the more we will ‘suffer’. Suffering really meaning anything from disappointment to despair.

I’m signed up for daily emails from Richard Rohr. He is a Franciscan priest that wrote many books on spirituality. I recently finished “Falling Upward” which was amazing! Much of it was about how we need to fall in order to learn and grow. How opposite things are complementary and part of life. I will paste a quote from the Tuesday mediation.

“If we are going to talk about light, then we must also talk about darkness, because they only have meaning in relation to one another. All things on earth are a mixture of darkness and light, and it is not good to pretend that they are totally separate!”

Understanding the Gunas is one of the many ways I am learning to accept life as it is. When I remember them when I’m feeling down I almost embrace it as the full experience of life. Not always, but more & more often.

They have helped me- and if you have read this and are willing to try, perhaps that can help you or a loved one too!

Peace & Namste

On “Her Story”

Last Thursday I was at our second home in Branford turning it over for our Friday renters, and doing some well needed yard work on the one non-rainy day in the forecast. I craved a short lunch break from the hot sun, so I decided to head down to the local watering hole for a hearty sandwich. While I was waiting, the news was on every TV. Something about a case and the name Kavanaugh. 

I am one of those people that does not watch or listen to the news. When something important happens I always seem to find out in some other form as I did last Thursday. Not knowing what everyone was glued to, I whipped out my phone to google the latest news. In about 2 minutes I was caught up to the current moment after Ford testified. 

Today I am in Hollywood, FL where my mom lived before she passed 12 years ago. I’m visiting with my aunt, her friend Patty, and my cousin Camille. Four absolutely beautiful women with different life stories. I hadn’t seen my cousin in over 26 years following a tragic event that rocked our family. This is a reunion I cherish. 

When I picked up my phone this morning, I saw that on old high school Facebook friend commented on a picture that I posted from the latest U2 tour this past summer. The picture “HerStory”.

Women over the centuries have their own beautiful, good, bad, heroic and tragic stories. Women have been oppressed and in many parts of the world still are. They still don’t have the same rights men have. Not but a century ago voting was in question, even in the developed world. Much has changed, but not enough yet. There is plenty of history and little ‘herstory’. None of us are equal until all of us are equal. This not only includes women, but all skin colors, gender preferences, sexual preferences, handicaps, spiritual practices… everything and anything that imaginarily divides us and seems to lead some to believe that they have rights and power over another human being.  

As for Ford… I believe her. I don’t believe this has political motivation. Anyone who has been abused in someway should really understand this. She moved on with her life and kept quiet as most victims do. She was successful at ‘moving on’. But the trauma of an attack usually stays with you. It comes back at random times when the body is triggered by something that the conscious awareness didn’t pick up, and pieces of the memory come back. We are now learning that it is how the brain works. The brain is wired to protect you by blocking out pieces of the event(s). She shouldn’t be written off if she can’t remember how she got home after an attack. Allowing that to happen takes away the believability of so many victims and only gives perpetrators more power. Aren’t we civilized and sophisticated enough to understand science and the brain? 

I believe her. I don’t believe she would have ever said anything if Kavanaugh wasn’t nominated for Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. I think this was her own trigger. Whether or not he was 17 or 70; he hurt her, took away her power, and a part of her innocence. Most victims would have a hard time watching someone who hurt them be promoted, praised and raised to any position of power. I don’t believe it matters if he was a Republican, Democrat, Communist or member of the Rastafarian tribe. 

I believe her story. As a victim of abuse myself, I can almost sense when someone else has been traumatized in similar ways. It doesn’t matter how it started out or if anyone was drinking, or what age anyone was. For me, it’s about how it ended up, how someone’s life was affected by it, and the example we might set for other young men and women. 

It’s her story. The one that she experienced. I feel she did the right thing. Dragging up a 30+ year old traumatic event would be a difficult decision for anyone to make, not to mention making it into a nationally televised revelation. Knowing every moment you lived, skirt (or bikini) you wore, every tipsy laughter or wink… everything you ever did would be dragged up, scrutinized and questioned like a criminal when you know you are the victim. That takes guts and I feel Ford should be praised as an example for other women and victims to start talking.

In my humble opinion, the more women and victims talk and share their stories, and the more the perpetrators are called out publicly; the less likely current and potential perpetrators will be to take advantage of others. It has been overlooked and gone on for too long. Stand up, fight for human rights and let’s put an end to any type of human abuse. 

I believe her. I believe he is shocked and tearful and truthfully… even that he wouldn’t do or condone such a thing now. I’m on the fence about whether it should or should not allow him to serve in such a position. It’s not political for me. It’s human. We need to set some kind of example for the younger generation. I don’t have an answer about what the right thing is to do from here. All I know is that I believe her and that HerStory is the story of so many. Like the beautiful women in my own family, we all have stories and I think it’s time in general to hear “HERS”. 

My aunt Fran (left) and mom (right) as little girls
My cousin Anthony who left us all way too soon

Me, aunt Fran and Camille last night

Life in the Slow Lane

Today I woke up feeling good. On 7/11/18, 2 months and 2 days ago, I had just one of the worst evenings of my life. The following few days were even more difficult. These last 2 months have been a journey that I realize is life-long and I’m in no rush to finish. I’m enjoying and embracing every step forward and every obstacle that prohibits steps forward, or that even sets me a few back. Obstacles and set backs are really necessary learning experiences.

Today I’m in gratitude. I might not be in an hour, but for now I am and I’m incredibly grateful.

I could write for hours about how I got here (I promise I won’t). The biggest contributor was my childhood and the mal-adaptive strategies [albeit very normal] I developed early on to deal with life while my brain was forming. One of my newly favorite psychology writers Van Der Kolk calls it Developmental Traumatic Disorder (DTD). This diagnostic explanation is fairly new in the world of Psych. It didn’t quite make it to the DSM 5 which is latest edition of the manual by which mental health clinicians diagnose and bill for disorders. For now the closest diagnosis is PTSD, which DTD is branch of. Particularly for me, for now it’s Delayed Onset, Complex PTSD. It turns out I’m just another statistic and if someone were watching closely, everything that happened to me could have been predicted.

I’ve been through a gamut of emotions the past few months. Many before 7/11, but even more, and much more intensely since. Crazily, but also not surprisingly this episode took place just 2 days and exactly 25 years after what was one of the most transformational days of my life at the time when I was 17. I’d written about it before in My Mom. It’s one of my trigger dates, something I don’t think I fully believed in until this summer. I didn’t consciously recognize the significance of how the date triggered me, but my body did. The Body Keeps the Score.It really does.

What I realized most profoundly this summer is that I have PTSD. I really do. Two and a half years ago I had my first panic attack. I was immediately diagnosed with Anxiety and Panic Disorder. Last summer the PTSD diagnosis was added. While I remember telling people about it, somehow I didn’t realize how important it was to my mental recovery to embrace and work on it. In fact, when the true awareness hit me like a ton of bricks just less than a week after 7/11 this year, I was surprised to realize that I’d been sharing and telling people about it prior to then. A few days ago I re-read something I added to my blog page in May “About Me”, and it was there too! Why wasn’t I working on it?

I wasn’t working on my trauma and PTSD for many reasons. Because it wasn’t urgent and didn’t seem important. Because no one tells you that it’s important. In fact, no one can; it’s something you have to discover on your own when your body is ready. Also because I didn’t have the time or the life style until now. That is why I’m in gratitude this morning. I’m moving in the slow lane and I love it.

From a young age I moved fast. I always had excessive energy. I never understood how anyone could sit at a meeting or in a class and not fidget. I was just always bursting out of my skin. Driving… I had to be in the fast line. I was constantly assessing for traffic, changing lanes with the flow. Heart always racing. Breath always erratic. I was always, always, always looking for more efficient ways to do things. From driving to folding laundry to cleaning… to redesigning whole work groups and even departments at my job. I was good at it. It was a great outlet for my energy. I was efficient and I helped others to be as well. A good use of my talents. Or so I thought.

Now I’m living in the slow lane. I still have the habit of moving fast, but I catch myself at least 80% or so of the time when I realize that for no good reason my heart is in a lurch or my breath isn’t steady. I stop it and slow down. I manage my breath. I smell the roses. I ground myself in the present and it’s SO much better. I think about that quote about how nothing or everything is a miracle, and see things as beautiful. Even ugly things. I wish we could teach our children this from a young age. Instead we are programmed to ‘succeed’, to do more & faster, to have it all, to do it all. We are programmed to think we are a failure if we don’t meet this criteria. On paper by this methodology I was a huge success.

Take two driven people like my husband and myself, put them together, and what do you have? It’s debatable. 7 years ago I would have thought a match made in heaven. In fact at our wedding we incorporated the Japanese term of kaizen (continuous improvement) into our vows. Ugh… how I cringe now. All I can think of is U2’s lyrics in the song ‘Moment of Surrender’

The stone was semi precious
We were barely conscious
Two souls too smart to be
In the realm of certainty
Even on our wedding day

I do believe in continuous improvement, but not in the way it was taught to me (faster, better, do more, etc). I believe it the slow movement. That less is more. That slowing down and even stillness is where the magic of life lies. Take a look at the pets in our lives. They are content with doing less, watching the world outside the window for hours just as it is. Accepting us for who we are. Not caring about how we are dressed or what fancy letters come after our name. They are in a sense more human from a sense of connection than we are. I have four pets. I didn’t even have time to pet them before. I would shoo them away when they came to climb on me when I collapsed on the couch after 16 hours of non-stop movement. We had to have our dog in day care just to get exercise and go out because no one was home long enough to play with him or take him out. Picking him up and dropping him off was another burdened activity on the check-list. Why have pets, kids, a house (2 in our case), a garden, etc – when there was no time to put any love or life into any of it? It’s been a slow realization for me that none of this makes sense. That I was living by a clock and not a compass. It took even longer to do anything meaningful about it. I’m still on that journey and in no rush to any finish line. The unfolding is a beautiful experience that I’m embracing wildly.

I wrote a few paragraphs back that I could write for hours about how I got here. Everyone has their own journey, their own stories, their own level of awareness, and their own (hopefully) point in their life – more often than not in the second half of it, in which they proverbially “wake up”.

My own story started on March 1, 2012. At work I enrolled in a Franklin Covey industry based class for the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It was a 2-day seminar that set the path of a new life for me. At the time I was recently remarried and my husband and I were just finishing up the renovations we worked on non-stopfor 2 months in our new home. I felt SO alive during those renovations. I loved working on the house. We often stayed up until 1 or 2am in the morning on work nights and didn’t feel the least bit exhausted in the morning.

Once the renovations were finishing up I started to feel trapped, bored, and useless. Something I wasn’t accustomed to feeling. Since my husband and I moved in together with our kids the year before I felt like I was mentally unraveling. The renovations were a pleasant distraction. I began going to a bible study at the hospital where I work which one of my vanpool mates hosted. I hung onto many of the teachings and words, learning new language to explain what I was feeling. The Covey class used similar language but explained it in a different way that opened me up in a special fashion. Three things I really connected with was the concept of a paradigm that we see the world through, that I make my own independent choices constantly, and that to feel in line with who you are; we should be living by a compass and not a clock. Wow. This was mind blowing and life changing for me.

Shortly after I explored the bible much more. Then I ran into a Bishop Spong book quite by accident (I honestly cannot remember which one). I was never religious, but grew up Catholic and felt like it was a sin to question anything that didn’t make sense. As soon as my mind took me to those questioning places, guilt kicked in and I pushed it away. The John Shelby Spong book provided the freedom to question what made no sense and shift the focus to something that did in a more mystical, metaphysical way where it allmade sense. From there I found podcasts on the Centers for Spiritual Living to help time pass while having to drive to Bedford, MA quite often for work in 2 ½ hours each direction. Those podcasts prompted me to read the ghastly large book by Ernest Holmes called “The Science of Mind”. The world was opening and unfolding in ways I could have never dreamed. From there for some unknown reason I started taking yoga classes, which spoke the same type of language. Then I would listen to Alan Watts during my lunch walks and long commutes. All different words, but the same beautiful, timeless messages that make sense.

Years later in January 2016 I loved yoga and this way of thinking so much, I started yoga teacher training. My regular life with work, the kids, pets, blended family, commute, and constant RUSH was becoming unsustainable. Why was I adding a full weekend a month commitment to this training? I don’t know but I just felt compelled.

For some reason I thought in yoga teacher training I would learn more about the poses, teaching, and the actual class. Instead, like the Franklin Covey class years before it became a personal journey. I quickly decided that it was a necessity to meditate regularly. Once I started quieting my mind and relaxing regularly, I realized that is how a body should feel and how I lived for the previous 40 years was anything but calm. It started to become unbearable to not feel calm. Combine that with what I now realize is a few PTSD triggers from work at the time, it’s absolutely no surprise that I had my first panic attack exactly when I did and they escalated from there; completely out of control. My body was releasing 40 years worth of emotion that was bubbling just under the surface. The same energy that kept me moving, grooving and successful; was the same energy that was keeping me stressed and mentally unaware that I was damaging myself by not dealing with the trauma that has plagued my mind, body and spirit.

The past two and a half years since have been transformational. A lot of bad and negative things arose, but more positive, learning experiences than anything bad. You have to go through it to move through it. It sounds simple, but it’s much harder than it sounds. It wasn’t until now that I’ve given myself the time and opportunity to heal. But you have to make the time. Your life has to allow it. You have to slow down.

This past summer was rough. I spent hours upon hours writing and allowing myself to remember and experience the anguish of old memories. Many were the same memories that came up during what I now know as PTSD episodes, but I’d felt too ashamed, embarrassed or dramatic to explore. In writing, crying, thinking, gardening, exercising, waking up in the middle of the night, reading, etc – I started to explore my triggers and where they came from. It made sense. I learned more about how the brain is wired and why I seemed to lose control at times. I logged and shared trigger dates with my family. I allowed myself to feel all that I’ve always pushed away and thought I moved past years ago. It was always there waiting for me to deal with it. I just didn’t slow down enough to hear it.

Today I feel good. Over coffee this morning I saw my husband petting one of the cats who was purring where he shouldn’t be (on a counter). When my husband moved his hand away to finish getting ready for work, our cat Gilmore bipped him on the hand – asking for more petting, which Daren provided. We are in a place where we have time to pet our cats. I am thankful I am in a job where if I woke up in the middle of the night and didn’t sleep for hours that the pressure of getting dressed and driving to the office with a smile is not there because I can telework and I’m part-time. I’m thankful for the mental health breakdown this summer. I spent so much time on the days I wasn’t working living like my pets. I napped in the middle of the day if I needed to. I only ate when I was hungry. If I felt like the sun was calling me, I read and wrote outside. If I felt the urge to move I went for a walk, run or bike ride. Listening to my body helped me to attune to what it’s telling me in other ways too. Our bodies are a walking, living, physical communication device. It’s a compass of that path we should be on.

This summer I also listened to the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People CDs that I was provided with from that class back in March of 2012. Listening to the late Stephen Covey’s voice felt like listening to an old friend with sound, sage, timeless advice. I also spent quite a bit of time doing those old exercises again. I created a mission statement, thought about my values and principles, my ‘rocks’, how I communicate with people, how I think and how I live. I thought about the life that I want to program. My own talents. Not the talents the world has barked at me – like designing things bigger better and faster, but what I wanted to be when I was a kid with no restrictions and what that meant. The imprint I want to leave on the world.

These aren’t overnight answers. If I thought for a New York second that I know them right now I’d be fooling myself. I’ll be working on them for the rest of my life. I’m trying diligently to listen to the compass. If we quiet ourselves enough, and ask our inner selves for advice, the most profound wisdom is all there, right within us. Our bodies know what we need. They keep the score.

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My dog Koji who teaches me all sorts of invaluable lessons without saying a word
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Bored at home after carpal tunnel surgery of my right hand this past Monday (9/10), I decided to try to open my right brain by painting with my left hand
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My left handed drawing depicting what is supposed to be a sunset
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This one started left-handed by I switched to using my wrapped surgical hand to clean it up (majorly). It’s a rendition of a little knickknack my step-kids gave me for the holidays several years back by one of my favorite fun modern artists (Miami artist Roberto Britto)