Making The Best Of Difficult Times

I’ve been so taken up with our unsettled world and what is happening in our own country that I’ve gone over the edge once again … waking with the dreads, a general malaise, and a burning need to break away from all that unsettles me. It’s also been raining here … a lot. I’ve sometimes wondered if the sun is still up there. When I lived in Vermont I suffered from Seasonal Affective Disorder from November until April. The way I’m feeling right now is very similar, but I think it has more to do with what is happening around me than the light. As an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person), I easily pick up on the vibes out in the world and need to take action to get myself out of the dumps. It’s exhausting to allow myself to get so involved in things I cannot control.

So what do I do about it?

I meditate. I let myself cry if I need to. I turn off the radio and the tv and turn on Pandora to listen to classical guitar while I do my Egoscue exercises, or jazz it up with Dave Brubeck, David Sanborn and others when I need to add some energy to my day. I’m also a fan of Yo-Yo Ma, Frank Sinatra, and the likes of Ella Fitzgerald. For me music is a cure-all and a necessary part of my days.

I’m watching for signs of spring.  Since I have the smallest garden I’ve ever had, I’m thinking small and am beginning to plan a container garden mostly for herbs. I do have space for the helebores, irises, and peonies I dug up from my last home before we moved. My friend and garden helper, Maria, has been overwintering them for me and she will be coming soon to get them in the ground. I can’t wait!

Keeping my creative energy flowing is also important so last week I pulled out a beading project I had started a couple of years ago and then forgot about. It’s been sitting in a plastic storage bin since then and I’ve been anxious to get back to it, especially since it will take a good while to finish it in time for the fall. It’s a styrofome pumpkin that I am covering with tiny seed beads using Peyote Stitch. I started a collection of fruit and vegetables using this technique a while back. I find it quite relaxing. And the shifting and mixing of slightly different colored beads makes for imaginitive brain work.

I’ve also started setting aside one day a week and labeling it “MY DAY,” on my calendar. I do not plan anything ahead of time. It’s simply a day when I can do whatever I want to do rather than what I have to do. When I began writing my memoir, I did the same thing, but at that time the chosen day was reserved for writing and activities geared toward getting it published. It quickly turned into several days a week and then a rigorous work/writing schedule. This time around I’m using it just to get my creative juices flowing and I’m looking at getting a canvas set up and slapping paint on it sometime soon.

So while I’m still paying some attention to what’s happening out in the world, I’m happier, more relaxed and feeling more positive than I was just a few weeks ago. And I continue to remind myself that in order for change to happen, sometimes things have to get very ugly and depressing before we notice the light at the end of the tunnel. It is happening whether we realize it or not. It’s what life and being human is all about and I’m trying to make the best of it.  While I’m still paying attention to what is happening out there in the world, I’m spending more time in the present and worry less about changing what I can’t.




Snap of ice on the river breaks
chilling silence frozen thoughts
come to life like startled fish
darting for cover in a tangle of reeds
a hidden pool

I try to stay with my breath
label the fear as it comes and goes
storm clouds followed by sun
the constancy of weather
my human mind

As snow dusts the meadow a cardinal proclaims
the season’s shift with frenzied song
I conjure restless seeds sprouting in fecund earth
the release of light slowly climbing northern skies
like summer morning glories

But cold wind calls me back the ticking
of dry leaves on glass the migration of sun
moon stars the coming and going of breath
then is now becomes when
muddled thought continues


I just discovered Pandora, and am spending lots of time listening to music. It helps to free my mind from rants and other thoughts that keep me captive.

What do you do to tame your restless mind?

The Work Of Living

Scattering My Mother's Ashes, October 2012. oakdale, New York

Scattering My Mother’s Ashes, October 2012. Oakdale, New York

Every so often I’m called to get back to work on myself. Old issues, that I thought I was done with, come popping back up. I find myself feeling lost, or that a piece of me is missing. Over the last couple of months that’s how I’ve been feeling. My book, Scattering Ashes, A Memoir of Letting Go, was finished and published in September. The writing and publishing had taken three years. But in reality I had been working on it, since 2001, when my mother came to live with my husband and me. It was a fifteen year odyssey of learning about myself, life lessons, and finding a way to continue moving forward.

Holding the finished book in my hands, doing a reading and book-signing here in Charlottesville, on September 20th, was the joyous finale of those long years of contemplating a particularly difficult time in my life, writing, rewriting, sharing it with others, and rewriting it all over again.

The morning after the reading, I drove to a local radio station at 7:45 AM, where I did a live interview about the book. I went home and crashed. I was exhausted and was ready for some time off. I didn’t want to think or talk about the book or my mother. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was no longer myself. I had become the book that I had spent all those years getting out into the world.

I spent hours examining that idea as if it were a a Zen Koan. “Does the dog wag the tail, or does the tail wag the dog?” It lasted a week or so until I got myself back. I wasn’t the book and I could now go on with the rest of my life. I began looking for a new pathway.

The election happened and then the holidays came along. I was distraught over the results of the election and then Christmas arrived. Not my favorite time of year. Although I was with people and busy day and night, I was depressed and lonely. I snapped at Bill when he said something that I deemed silly, and discovered I was back in an old pattern of not thinking much of myself. While other sister-authors I knew were moving ahead with marketing and promoting of their just published books, I was lagging behind, and feeling ashamed of myself for not having the energy or the desire to move in that direction.

I took time off from writing and started taking care of myself. The book would have to move along on it’s own. I read. I cooked. I slept. I took walks. I cried. I realized that Bill and I were entering what very well could be the last chapter of our lives. My aches and pains were multiplying and watching my sweet husband struggle with healing from two surgeries in one year made me sad.

Deciding to take advantage of whatever time I had left ahead of me, I came to the conclusion that it was time to celebrate us … Two old farts still full of piss and vinegar, who don’t want to waste time on unimportant things. I still have my brain. Although I can’t run a marathon or plan on skiing down an expert mountain slope, there are still things I can do to make my final years fun, important, and interesting while accepting that we will be slowing down and eventually moving on. Finding a way out of the muck of the last few months and making peace with myself seems like a good start.

Last Saturday, I went to an Insight Dialogue Meditation retreat taught by one of my favorite teachers and began finding my way back to myself. For those who don’t know about Insight Dialogue, it is learning to be aware of our own feelings, both physical and emotional, while speaking and listening to another person. One of the first things we learn is to pause, take our time when we speak, and become a better listener while being aware of our own feelings. The theme of the day was Living Peace, and as the outside world spun around me, I found Peace, at least for the moment. In early April I hope to attend a 5 day Insight Dialogue retreat, “Working with Difficult Emotions.”

Hopefully Bill and will also begin making some future travel plans and find ways to make life with our aging bodies more easeful.

Do you find yourself moving backwards at times? What do you do to begin moving yourself forward again?

Managing Stress In An Insane world

I stay sane by working in the garden and taking in the beauty of the natural world.

I stay sane by working in the garden and taking in the beauty of the natural world.

Earlier this year I decided to avoid the news as best I could. I didn’t want to hear about the presidential campaign; especially the words of one whose name shall not be mentioned here. He upset me greatly and when I started yelling  at the television it was a sure sign that I needed to turn it off. I do still tune in less than an hour every day because I want to be able to make informed choices. But I leave the room from time to time when I want to avoid talk from certain people.

Managing my stress is an important part of my self-care. I do not want to live with constant anxiety which turns my gut into a churning cement mixer filled with rocks. I get jumpy, depressed and feel hopeless. At the ripe old age of seventy-three I want a life of ease. I can’t afford the damage that stress causes to my mind, spirit and body.

I’ve been a news junky for as long as I can remember. I absolutely had to watch all of the heart breaking reports when JFK was assassinated. I tuned in constantly when Martin Luther King, Jr., and Bobby Kennedy were taken out. On the morning of 9/11, I wept and felt like it was the end of the world. On all of those occasions my gut churned away. I had no appetite for food. And for at least a week if not longer, I sat in front of the television reliving the cataclysm of 9/11.  Every news channel replayed the fall of the twin towers, over and over again. I was depressed. I had trouble sleeping. Like everyone else, I was sick at heart. At the end of that week I realized I was harming myself, not helping myself.

I needed to find my center. I needed to smile and laugh. I couldn’t go to NYC and help with the cleanup but thought perhaps if I lightened up and started believing in goodness, my depression would go away. I gave blood. I went back to working in the garden. I helped to prepare the downstairs apartment in my home for my mother, whose health was failing. She would be moving in with us in late October and would spend the next six years being in residence with us before she broke multiple bones and died in May of 2007. I knew it was going to be difficult and wanted to ground myself before she moved in.

I felt much better until Mom’s health started going down hill rapidly. I began watching hours of news again, and woke to NPR every morning. While I peeled potatoes, prepared meat loaf, or kneaded bread the TV was on. I listened to how the world was falling apart. It was easier to watch the world in turmoil and spout off on how to fix it, than it was to give my attention to what was happening in my own household as Mom moved toward the end of her life.

Later I was told I suffered from PTSD. It was suggested that the horrific news about climate change and the continuing saga of war in the Middle East were making me more stressed out than I was to begin with. But it was hard to turn it all off. I was too invested in the news and what was happening around the world.

I started meditating, said no to events or movies that I knew would upset me and set some boundaries For myself. But it was still difficult to stay news free. How would I know how to live if I didn’t know what was happening in the world? I was especially anxious about the mass shootings occurring so frequently around the country in schools, movie theaters, military bases and shopping centers. But even through those events I did fairly well at turning the boob tube off at the first sign of my being upset. I worked at staying positive. I reminded myself that beyond the negative is a beautiful world filled with good people who are kind and doing good deeds.

Then “you know who” decided to run for the presidency. My stress and anxiety levels began growing by leaps and bounds. I was sure the end of the world was nearing. I was afraid for my country. I feared what would happen to my kids and grandkids in the future if that man got into office. I yelled at the TV during debates and the nightly news. I cried some nights as I tried to fall asleep. Finally I said, “Enough. I can’t do this anymore.”

When I woke to the tragic news of the shooting in Orlando, a few weekends ago ago I was surprised by my reaction. I had no need to see the grim photos or know the numbers of innocent people killed and wounded. It was so unlike me. I asked, What is wrong with you? Why aren’t you reacting the way you usually do?

But I knew there was nothing I could do. Would sitting in front of the television all day taking in this heinous act of violence help to keep this kind of event from happening again? I knew that all it would do is make me feel angry, hopeless, and extremely heart sick. I decided to turn the news off and go about my day. I worked in the garden, cooked a delicious meal, and finished reading a book that I was completely immersed in. During the following days I signed petitions and made a donation to one of the sites involved in bringing an end gun violence. And after a bout of angry posts on Facebook, I decided to stop that too.

I still tune into the news most nights just to get the headlines. But it isn’t causing my stress levels to rise. I’m living in a better world, taking care of myself, trying to be as kind as I can, and being grateful for all that I have.

How do you handle the gruesome events that seem to happen every day all around us?
How do you stay positive in the face of negativity?

Morning Meditation


When I was asked the other day, if I’m still meditating, I had to admit that I haven’t sat on my cushion in months. That’s more of a winter thing and though on rainy days I might still sit, walking in the early morning before the day heats up and the humidity level gets overwhelming has taken its place.

It’s Sunday morning around seven. I’m out the door before there are many cars on the road. The neighborhood is still asleep except for one or two people walking their dogs. The bird song is the first thing that hits me. This spring we’ve had a Wood Thrush in the area, singing his heart out in search of a mate. I presume he’s found her and is off somewhere preparing a nest, since I haven’t heard him for about a week. I miss his fluid song, similar to the sound of a mountain brook. It consistently brings my stress level down and I imagine myself floating peacefully somewhere in the ether.

Even without bird feeders our yard is filled with a huge variety of birds, as are the tree-lined streets in this part of town. This morning there are Robins, Cardinals, Cat Birds, Blue Jays, Chickadees, Wrens, and a Woodpecker drumming in the distance. The only incongruity that interrupts the joyous symphony of winged creatures is a wailing siren going about the business of humanity.

The temperature is about 75 degrees. I’t muggy and the air is still. I take my sunglasses off and on as I move into shade and then into light so bright I can’t see without them. I begin counting my steps, loose track, and begin again.

When I’m meditating on my cushion, I focus on my breath … the in, the out, and the space in between. Out here that’s difficult. Having fallen last year because I wasn’t paying attention on one of my walks, I want to stay aware of where my feet are, how I lift them, and put them down. Counting helps to keep me somewhat focused until my mind again wanders.

Ten minutes in, my shirt is getting damp and my breathing is a bit more labored as I go up a hill. I’ve got a bit of a twinge in my lower back and my feet are hot, encased in athletic shoes. This is how it is walking in the summer. I allow myself to really feel it, then push away the thought of quitting and going back to my air-conditioned home. I refocus on my steps.

As I walk down fraternity row, there are actually roses blooming in one the frat house yards. When the University is in session, there are usually beer cans, liquor bottles, and discarded packaging from fast-food establishments littering every inch of ground. I like the summer look better.

As a runner brushes by me on the narrow sidewalk, I turn the corner onto a small, one-way lane where older homes stand under a magnificently dense canopy of trees. It’s always cooler here. On  this street are two gardens that I adore. Walking by slowly, they always make me smile. I want to stop and sit on the bench in the one on my left, surrounded by a graying picket fence. There are winding paths through thick beds of ferns and other shade loving plants. But I don’t even dare to stop and take a photo. I’m a private person and I assume everyone else is too.

The garden directly across the street is about the size of a postage stamp. The Ancient brick home was probably built around the turn of twentieth century, but its worn well and looks welcoming and cozy. Its short walkway to the front door, is covered with a multitude of potted plants. There is Coleus in dark maroon, with pink and lime green highlights, variegated hostas, ferns, and other plants with colorful leaves that I can’t identify. If I were to move to a smaller house without much of a yard, I’d choose this one or one like it, tucked away on a quiet street.

In my delight of seeing the gardens, I’ve again lost count of my steps. I almost tripped a few steps ago. My toes sometimes drag rather than lift off the ground. I begin again, trying to stay on count, allowing everything else fall away.

This is a quiet segment of time here. The UVA students are gone, elementary and high schools are still in session, and the tourists haven’t yet arrived. I love the bit of sleepiness the city exudes for the moment. But it won’t last long. Soon summer school will be in session and in early August students will begin returning to continue their year long studies.

Forty minutes later, on my way back down the hill toward home, I wave to a neighbor out weeding his garden. Though I’m tired, sweaty, and hot, my head is clear of the tension and worry I started the day with. I’m ready to begin the work of surviving the twists and turns of today. Will there be surprises? Boredom? New discoveries? Disappointments?

This is my morning ritual. On days when I don’t have time and need to rush from one thing to the next, I get lost in the chaos. Is this walking a meditation equal to sitting on my cushion? I think so. It’s a time for noticing, for asking questions, for being relaxed, and finding the light in my heart.

Are you a meditator? Do you have a morning ritual that you consider meditation even though you aren’t sitting on a cushion watching your thoughts pass by?