Monday, July 28, 2014

Walking the labyrinth of life.....

In the past couple of days I’ve walked three labyrinths here on Maui.  Two of them in a beautiful setting at The Sacred Garden ( the lush, tropical side of the island and the third on a magnificent, wild and windy headland jutting out into the ocean on the west coast.

Labyrinths are an ancient and sacred symbolic manifestation of the journey of life, the spiritual journey, the journey within.  They wind slowly and methodically back and forth, sometimes appearing to lead one close to the center only to be led away again back to the very edge of the circle.  Eventually, after meandering through its lengthy pathways one arrives in the center.  After spending as much time as feels comfortable in the center of the imaginary cocoon, one turns to retrace one’s steps back to the beginning.

What a metaphor for our life’s journey!

As I walked the labyrinths many things came to my mind.  As I slowed my pace and became aware of each time I placed my foot on the ground, I began to wonder why I was not always this mindful in my everyday life?  My usual modus operandi is to get up in my head thinking of this and that, having ideas, wondering how I will carry them out.  When I do this, I am definitely not thinking about where my feet are in relation to the rest of me.  The result is that often I trip or bump into furniture or other people.  Walking and thinking at the same time are clearly a challenge for me!

The gentle wandering of the pathways seemed to mimic the wandering of my mind.  Often I think of one thing and, a few minutes later I find that my mind has wandered many miles off its path.  Now something else has grabbed my attention and the original thought – or deed – is left incomplete.  I felt almost as if the labyrinth itself was mocking me and gently prodding me to look at my ridiculousness and laugh at myself.

Reaching the center of the labyrinth brought me a feeling of peace and calm.  I had slowed down and relaxed on the journey and now reaching this place of balance and serenity gave me a fresh perspective on what it means to be on the journey of life.  I am not meant to be racing into the future in competition with everyone else and even with time itself.  My life journey is meant to be calm and measured.  I am meant to breathe easy at all times and not be affected by what is going on outside.  My calm comes from my center where I am always at peace.

Retracing my steps in the opposite direction reminded me that there is nothing new in this world.  Everything has been done before.  Therefore I need not worry that I will be alone or unsupported.  If I reach out for help, if I ask, someone will have been there before me and can give me encouragement to walk my own path.

I was fortunate enough to have been able to build two labyrinths outside of my previous home.  Now in a new home with a much smaller outside space, I am considering how to create a labyrinth type walk in my backyard.  Although I cannot construct a full size labyrinth out there I am beginning to see that I can make a walkway that meanders around and through the yard coming to a central space and then returning to where it began.  Strolling mindfully around this on a daily basis will keep me connected to all that I learned walking the labyrinths in Maui.

The Labyrinth Society ( has much information about labyrinths and you can locate them worldwide through their search function.  I intend to seek out labyrinths whenever I travel from now on and to check out those in my own neck of the woods.  Won’t you join me?

Monday, July 21, 2014

Life Lessons through Typing

When I was sixteen, I learned to type.  I sat in a classroom with about thirty other students.  Each of us took our place behind a heavy, behemoth of a manual typewriter.  We were instructed to place our fingers on the “resting” keys……a, s, d, f for the left hand and semi colon, l, k, j for the right.  We pounded away on those eight keys for several lessons while repeating to ourselves “a, s, d, f, semi-colon, l, k. j” over and over again.  We were never allowed to look at the keys but kept our eyes either closed or staring straight ahead.

We graduated to reaching up one finger at a time to the row of keys above and the row below all the time chanting the new letters.  We gathered strength in our fingers as we banged down on the mechanical keys and we stomped away to music to keep our performance rhythmic. 

It was repetitive, boring and mind numbing and…..I am so glad I did it!

Being able to type fast and accurately has been possibly the most useful skill I have learned in my life.  Back in those days of heavy manual typewriters it never occurred to me that I would be using it today even more than I did then.  Nor did I have any inkling of how much easier it would be to be fast and accurate without spraining my fingers to depress the keys.

I have used my typing skills both to earn a living and to complete my education.  As a writer, I’ve always been able to type my own copy and as a student, was always able to produce my own papers….even finally a 400+ page dissertation.  What a blessing!

The advent of electronic typewriters and keyboards was an amazing bonus.  Now I was free to type almost at the speed of my thinking.  No more writing by hand and copying out in type but a free flowing exercise in applying thoughts to print in a matter of moments!

Back in the 60s when I was sitting in that classroom thumping away bored out of my mind it never occurred to me that half a century later I would be so grateful to my younger self for sticking it out.  I smile when I think of my grumpy teenage self grumbling to herself and cursing herself for signing up for such a trial!  If only she knew…..

To be able to look back and see how the various events and decisions of my life have fallen into the big picture of my journey is a gift for which I am so grateful.  So many things have happened in my life that, at the time, I couldn’t make sense of in terms of why it was happening and what it meant for me.  But as years go by, they all drop into place like the pieces of a jigsaw and the scene becomes more clear. 

We are all putting together the puzzle of our lives.  At the time we do things we often are not aware of the long term consequences or benefits.  We do them because they seem to be the best thing at the time or they are thrust upon us and we have to deal with them.  Sometimes things seem so bizarre or unrelated to anything we have experienced before or expected for the future that we hold up our hands in disbelief as we walk through them anyway.

Time however, has a way of making sense of almost everything.  When we have come through something difficult we often walk out the other side a stronger, wiser individual.  We are able to share our experience with others going through the same thing to give them hope and support. 

We can use our experience to change our own behavior and avoid the same pitfalls again or we can use it to ride the same wave a few times more.  All the time we gather wisdom and, as long as we don’t fall into the trap of losing hope, we grow and learn and keep moving forward.

Look back at your life and see how the puzzle is fitting together.  Are there some things that you thought odd at the time but now you can see why they had to occur?  What have been the lessons of some of these circumstances or events?  Do you still have some pieces that don’t seem to fit no matter which way you turn them or examine them?  (Take heart…..we all have some of those!)

Matching the pieces of your own personal jigsaw puzzle of life is an ongoing project.  Right now you may feel you have more pieces on the side than in place.  No matter.  Take it from one who has traveled 6 plus decades and know that, as you grow in years you will also grow in wisdom; the wisdom to see where and how the pieces fit and what they reveal about the beautiful pattern of your wonderful life.

I am so grateful to my younger self that I was able to type this without effort…..and without looking at the keys!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

What is the true meaning of friendship?

I admit to being a Facebook fan.  I don’t think I’ve reached the addictive stage but I do love the connections and the inspirational postings and the news from friends old and new.  I love the opportunity to connect on a daily basis and to check up on what is gong on easily and quickly with those who are far away.

I now have a few hundred friends on Facebook.  I know that on one level I can’t really say that they are all friends in the sense that I know and have spent time with them.  I don’t know their circumstances or their families or their experiences.  However, I do count them as acquaintances, I do care about the ups and downs of their lives and I do try to be supportive when I see a need.

One of the features of Facebook I am most grateful for is the birthday reminders.  Keeping track of even my close family members’ birthdays has always been a challenge for me and to be reminded is a blessing.

The other day, however, I realized that as far as acknowledging birthdays on Facebook and responding to its reminders goes I was, without consciously thinking about it, displaying a behavior that left me uncomfortable.  I was only selectively wishing people Happy Birthday using some vague criteria of how well I thought I knew them that was based not much in fact but more in how I was feeling that day at that time.  I was ignoring a whole bunch of birthdays because, well, they weren’t really my friends were they?  They were just Facebook connections and therefore I was not obliged to wish them many happy returns.


Where did that come from?  What if just one of those people didn’t get a single message on their birthday?  What if I could have changed that by just typing two simple words?  It doesn’t take much of an effort to check the birthday reminders every day and type in a greeting.  I know it brings a smile to my face when I get those good wishes so I am sure it works that way with others too.

From that moment I changed my behavior.  Now the first thing I do when I get on Facebook every day is check the birthdays and send out greetings, whether I know the person well or not.  More often than not, later in the day, I get a Thank You back and I know that I have contributed just a little to someone’s good day.

I began to think that the idea that Facebook friends are not true friends is only the result of thinking that my friends deserve a better kind of treatment than everyone else I meet.  Oh boy, that realization gave me the shudders!

Why would I have two standards of treatment for people just because I know some and don’t yet know others?  That doesn’t now seem to make much sense.

What if we all treated everyone we meet as a true friend?  What if we give them the attention and love we give to our friends and family?  What kind of a place would the world be if we all followed that philosophy and performed those actions?  I wouldn’t mind betting that it would be a far better place than it is now.

Old habits die hard as they say and changing my behavior around others is a challenge but I believe it is worth the effort.  I’ve made a start by wishing everyone a Happy Birthday on Facebook not just those I know well.  

In my neighborhood, most people smile and wave as they drive by each other.  If they are walking they say good morning.  I love that!  As a result we have a friendly community where people support one another and offer help in time of  need.

Treating everyone as if they matter (because they do!) yields wonderful results not just on birthdays but everyday.  Try it!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

How many threads are enough?

I love a well made bed……crisp, smooth sheets, a warm blanket and a pretty bedspread and I am a serene Sleeping Beauty!

We recently moved to a new home and the first room we painted and finished was our bedroom.  How nice to have at least one room that is complete and relaxing to go to while the rest of the house is in chaos.

I finished off the decorating with new sheets, blanket and spread for the bed in matching tones.  I was pleased with the finished effect and content with my choices until………..

One day I logged on to Facebook and scrolled down my newsfeed.  Fun and interesting comments from friends.  Photos of new babies and kittens.  Recipes and news from around the world. 

And an ad for sheets……….

“Luxurious Egyptian cotton sheets,” it said, “1000 thread count.”

What?  1000 threads?  How is that possible?  I thought mine were pretty amazing at 500 threads.  Now you mean I could have got 1000 thread sheets?  Why did I not know?  How can this be?

I am kidding of course.  I no more want 1000 thread sheets than I want gold thread embroidery on the pillow cases but the ad gave me a moment of reflection.

A few years ago I don’t think I knew anything about what is now called “thread count” for sheets.  I just bought sheets because they were the right size and I liked the color.  Then I became aware……..there were sheets with a 200 thread count.  No, wait, I could get 300 and 400 and 500 and even 600 count ones.  More must be better right?

I must admit, I could tell the difference between 200 and 400 thread count sheets but above that…….not so much.  They all felt pretty good to me.  So is it really necessary to have 1000 thread sheets?

Then I realized that sometimes I can get into “thread counting” my own life.  If I need something and I am fortunate enough to get it, will more of it make me happy?  If I eat one square of chocolate and it gives me a good feeling, will I feel ecstatic if I eat the whole bar?  Will one new dress do the trick or must I have three?

Of course, the ultimate issue for thinking this way is around money.  More is always better right?  It will make me happy.  It will bring me peace.  It will solve all my problems.  Well…….maybe.

There is no doubt that having enough money does bring peace of mind but observing the drama-filled lives of the rich and famous illustrates that more doesn’t always bring happiness.

Counting the threads in my life gets me deep into the details of what I don’t have which leads me to obsession and, ultimately, depression.  It obscures the bigger picture and gives me a false impression of how my life really is.  I begin to see only what I don’t have and move away from appreciating what I have.

Years ago I was introduced to the concept of gratitude, of looking around in the moment to find things in my life to be grateful for.  At first, I thought this was an impossible task.  At the time my life was a mess and I was miserable.  I didn’t think I had anything to be grateful for.  I was counting threads and there weren’t very many.  I was, I thought, only living a 10 thread count life.

Then I learned that I could be grateful for the things I had in life that I had always taken for granted.  Things like the clothes on my back, the food in my fridge, the flowers outside and the sun or even the rain.  I could begin with whatever was in front of me……my morning cup of tea, birds singing outside, a quiet moment to myself before the start of a busy day and build on the list as I went along.

Being grateful for these everyday blessings is truly the way to count the threads of my life.  In doing this I discover that I have many wonderful, even golden, threads that make up each day.  New people, new experiences, new ideas and realizations can all be added to my gratitude list as well as appreciation for what I already have.

I don’t need more and more of anything to make me happy and I certainly don’t need 1000 thread sheets,………my 500 count ones will do nicely. 

Now all that remains is to convince myself that this theory applies to shoes…………

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

A Place in the Shade

We moved to Arizona a few months ago.  Boy it’s hot down here!  Actually I knew that as I had lived here before but I had forgotten just how intense it gets and how it feels.  You never really get used to it but you do learn some ways to live with it and how to readjust your priorities to maintain your “cool”….so to speak

One part of life that becomes a concern is driving.  A car with good air conditioning is a must.  When I lived here before I spent two whole summers without it.  I don’t know how I survived but I did.  I drank many huge “Gulp” drinks a day and said lots of prayers for green lights so I didn’t have to sit in the sweltering heat waiting for them to change.  This time around I am SO grateful to have a car with good A/C.

A related concern is parking.  When you get back in your car that has been parked in the sun for a hour or more and the thermometer reads 120 degrees plus, you know there will be an uncomfortable delay until the A/C gets going enough to bring it down to a tolerable level.

So it becomes very important to grab a piece of shade for your car whenever you can.  That makes searching for that shade a top priority when you enter a parking lot or need a place on the street.

When I go to the gym, there is a line of trees in the parking lot that provide shade for about 5 parking places.  I always, of course, head for one.  The other morning when I arrived, all 5 spaces had orange cones in front of them as a crew trimmed the trees and dropped the branches on the ground.  I was outraged!  How dare they take my place in the shade!

I drove to the other side of the lot and parked under another tree that didn’t give quite as much shade and required me to walk twice as far.  I was going to work out for heavens sake, so why was I annoyed at having to walk farther?

Having a place in the shade is obviously important in an intensely hot location such as the Valley of the Sun but I got to thinking about how it might also be important to have “a place in the shade” in everyday life.  So what do I mean by “a place in the shade”?

I mean that it is important for us all to have a place to relax, to wind down, to just be,  a place that shades us from the harshness of life.  This may be a physical place out in our backyard or on a patio.  It may be a corner of the bedroom or a room of our own.  It maybe a favorite park bench or a rock on a nature trail.  It may be the front porch or the back porch or, as was the case for my teenage stepdaughter, the roof!

These places provide us with the shade of peace, a loving shadow that falls over us when we are in them.  We feel it as if it were a soft blanket and it brings us that feeling of “ahhh” as our bodies and minds relax and become still.  These are sacred places in the middle of our busy lives and we need to treasure them and visit them often.

What happens however, if we cannot get to these favorite “places in the shade”?  What if we are stuck at our job or at a traffic light in the heat or in some other seemingly inhospitable place? 

Then comes the challenge.  How to find that relief, that peace, that feeling of comfort without being physically in the place? 

For me the answer comes by using the magical, imaginative qualities of my mind.  Our minds are wonderful things!  They enable us to be in places when we are not physically there.  They help us to experience what we would experience if we were there.  They can lead us to peace and comfort when all around us is busy or even chaotic.

So next time you are craving your “place in the shade” remember that you can go there in your mind.  Close your eyes (not if you are driving!), picture your favorite place, remember what it looks like, what it feels like.  Take a deep breath and experience that place as if you were there.  You will feel your body relax.  It is happy to go along with the fantasy!

In your mind, you don’t have to go driving around the parking lot looking for a shady place as I did.  Your “place in the shade” is as close as your next thought.