Living with Joy

“A joyful heart is the normal result of a heart burning with love” Mother Teresa

I truly believe we are wired for happiness as it is part of who we are innately. If you missed Sunday’s blog, Happiness is an Inside Job, kindly check it out. It’s sort of the pre-cursor to this post on Joy.

Joy is the feeling….the expression of  happiness. Much has been written about Joy. One thing that seems to be a common thread on the subject is that Joy is something that we choose and have to keep choosing time and time again despite the catastrophic events that may be going on in and around our life and the fear, stress, anger, grief, illness and death we all experience. We can look at these life events as Obstacles to Joy, as the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu call them in their groundbreaking book, Lasting Happiness in a Changing World – The Book of Joy (a wonderful, funny, touching and inspiring read by the way). Or, we can look at these obstacles as opportunities to allow us to tap into that love and happiness in our heart and feel those moments of Joy that are always present. We just need to consciously choose to “linger” in those moments. Lingering in those moments of Joy, however brief or fleeting they may seems at first, is something Sheryl Sandberg talks about in her amazing book, Option B (another great read and resource). When we take the time to be still and sit in silence, we experience how love, gratitude, grace, and happiness permeate our mind and body. All those “feel good” chemicals get released into our bodies, and we feel that sense of elation and joy. It’s truly a no brainer. If we can constantly bring ourselves back to our true nature, which is love, happiness and joy show up!

Regardles of what we have going on in our lives, we can make the conscious choice to feel, create and spread happiness and joy. We either choose to be happy or not. When we are mindful, awake, and present to the events that are unfolding, we can approach each activity, chore, task, and even challenge from a place of happiness, reverence, gratitude….almost like a meditation in action. And what happens when we do so? We feel a deep sense of Joy! Furthermore, we can  feel peaceful, calm, serene and at ease even when circumstances around us or in our life are not peaceful.

Living from a  state of consciousness, choosing to create and spread happiness and live fully in our life is much grander than seeing life as an accident of “random forces.” Seeing life from a place of completeness signifies wholeness, and that is a space where we can live. Being in this space allows us to see the love, abundance, wealth, beauty, magic and joy in all areas of our life. More importantly, it allows us to operate from that place of abundant joy and happiness as opposed to scarcity and sadness. At any moment in time, regardless of whatever turmoil or chaos is around us, we can connect to our heart and the love, bliss and happiness which is our internal state of being. Remember, it is a choice that only we can make!

Joy is probably one of the most powerful emotions we can feel when we give freely of ourselves. Giving is a two way street and brings both the giver and the receiver much Joy. Can you think of a time you were able to give someone the support or words of wisdom they needed at just the right time? How did they feel? How did this exchange of energy make you feel? I bet hearts were full of joy! This reminds me of a beautiful quote by the late, great Maya Angelou, “When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed.” 

Given the state of affairs swirling around us these days, it is imperative that we do all we can to live in, create and spread Happiness and Joy any way we can. We are each uniquely different and creative in our own ways. We have talents, gifts and abilities that differ person to person. Our jobs, careers, positions and roles in our family allow us a platform to be the change, create and spread Happiness and Joy. Embrace this privilege my darlings! Let’s make a conscious choice to enjoy each and every day and discover more Joy in our lives. Repressing joy, even during difficult times, is not a wise thing to do nor a healthy way to live. We can find, create, appreciate, spread and be grateful for Joy during the most challenging times in our life. These challenging times are when we must “linger” in those moments of Joy.

I invite you to take a moment and reflect on ways you can find, create, appreciate, spread and be grateful for Joy. Tap into that burning love in your heart, and let it guide your way!

 

Inhale Love…Exhale Gratitude, JTC

 

 

Ask and You Shall Receive

“When someone we love becomes a memory, the memory becomes a treasure”

Dedicated to Zenaida Figueroa Carricarte, my Mama, on the 9th anniversary of laying her to rest 10-6-2008

As the last leg of Mama’s journey began on her 84th birthday on June 5, 2008, I asked God, Guardian Angels, Powerful and Divine Beings for the following: that Mama go peacefully; for me to be there by her side; for lots of PATIENCE, compassion and under standing. I will forever be grateful for God’s grace and the way the Universal and Divine Plan unfolded.

I remember it was around mid-morning, and I decided to take a half day from work, bring a birthday party to her, and go to to the hospital to see Mama. After all, I just knew this was Mama’s last birthday on earth. Work was just not that important once I put things in perspective.  Upon leaving work, I went to the store and got party hats, balloons, snacks, party decorations and headed over to the Argentinian bakery for the decadent cake they are known for making. When I got to the hospital, I really thought that we were going to lose her that day and was thankful for having the presence of mind to put Mama before work. You see, at another time in my life, work came first, second and third! That was quite a day with a bunch of her admirers coming to see her, staff from the nursing home popping in, and doctors, nurses and aides she had gotten to know at the hospital over the years dropped by as well. I just kept taking pictures. I took pictures of everything and everyone! She was discharged back to the nursing home a few days later, and the party continued there. I decided not to go away for the month of July as I was accustomed to doing and just spend it with her….a stay-cation of sorts. I kept taking pictures….of everyone and everything!

I will be forever grateful for the honor of being able to play “Mother” and do things with her that kept me fully present in the beauty of the moment and the awareness to treat each day with her as if it were her last. I will be forever grateful for the simple things that brought Mama joy and for the opportunity to spoil her, plan her last birthday party, feed her, massage her legs and arms, scratch her back, play dress up, do her makeup and even cut her hair. I will be forever grateful for wheeling her along the river, taking her to the cemetery to visit Papi’s grave, visit the Our Lady of Fatima statue that was at Lourdes’ and Jorge’s house, buy her all the foods she craved (even though she only ate 2 bites at best), and spend time reading the dozens of cards and letters my Robert Waters Panthers and Pantherettes wrote to her. And I kept taking pictures… of everything and everyone!

Mama had a couple of good months, but once September rolled along you could tell that she was done. October 2nd, her last day with us, was filled with an on-going stream of visitors coming to say their goodbyes, so I was glad to just have it be the two of us once the last of the visitors left. I still remember the awesome wine Sara brought and the delicious home-made Italian food Francine brought to the nursing home that night. We talked, laughed, ate and drank wine because I had decided to spend the night by Mama’s side. It was obvious that Mama was leaving us any moment. As I lay in bed with her, a couple of hours before she crossed over, I caressed her, chanted and sang to her, talked to her about my lifetime of memories, and named all the spirit family members who were waiting for her. Their light and energy could be felt around us. I told her how God, the Angels and other family needed her now. My dharma, or purpose, in my mother’s life became crystal clear to me at that precise moment. Upon coming into this lifetime, I chose her  so I could play “Mother” to her (she was left motherless at the tender age of three). And that loss was something she never got over. Mama referenced her mother “Mamaita” almost daily as well as how much she missed her. Mama had only one tattered picture of her in her possession…how sad. She guarded that picture with her life! As I sit here typing, a memory of Mama asking me if I “would take care of her” came to mind. She took to asking me this over the years as her health declined more and more. She wanted to be taken care of “like a little girl.”  She even had a few stuffed animals by her side.

I will be forever grateful for the alone time I had with her that last night. I will be forever grateful for all the pictures I took of everyone who came to see her, pictures from her party, our field trips in July, activities in August, pictures from her last day and even pictures from the day of her burial and repast. Lastly, I will be forever grateful for the gift of being able to do her make-up once she was dressed and coiffed in her casket. That was the BEST 50th birthday gift!! You see, Mama died 2 weeks before my 50th. What an honor to spend that sacred and alone time with her and make sure she looked like her fashionista self. It took a lot of perseverance, negotiation and ultimately releasing it into the universe, but my wish was fulfilled!  And, yes, I kept taking pictures….. of everyone and everything! I was creating memories….cherished memories that became my treasure.

Mama passed peacefully. I was by her side. And boy did I walk away with a lot of patience, compassion and understanding. “Ask and you shall receive!”

I encourage all of you to live each day with intention and purpose and as if it were the last day. When we do so, we have more fulfilling days. We are able to really see who and what matter. We are more present, Alive and in tune to the precious gift of life we have received.

If you are interested in the dying process, and what the body goes through emotionally, physically mentally and spiritually as it prepares to cross over, I recommend you download Crossing the Creek by Michael Holmes. My mom’s Hospice social worker gave me a hardcopy years ago, and I have since shared it with numerous people. This book is no longer in print, but the author has made it available for free download. It is an absolutely wonderful and valuable resource. In addition, the Zen Hospice Project always puts out wonderful articles too. If you go on their website, you see the beautiful ways they honor palliative and end of life care. Remember darlings, we are all terminal….some of us are just lucky enough to know it!

It is my belief that death, like any other rite of passage, is something that can, and should be celebrated. It does not have to be all doom and gloom; after all, we are celebrating someone’s life and the contribution they made while on this earth. It’s also a meaningful, memorable and sacred act to send our loved ones off with much love, intention, appreciation, respect, honor, integrity and dignity (and bubbly, fun, laughter and even a dance party). It’s equally important for us to express OUR wishes to our family, friends and loved ones as well. When you think of it, there’s always a reason or opportunity to Celebrate Life! Ask and you shall receive…Just remember to take pictures…of everyone and everything!

Inhale love…Exhale Gratitude, JTC

Strong Calm…A Season of Change

“Each day is a gift…Open with joy”

Fall is such a beautiful time of year. It’s when Mother Nature takes out her richly colorful pallet and paints for us in the most beautiful shades, tones and hues. We capture this season’s beauty on our iPhones and cameras and, if you’re the artistic type, you take out your paint brushes, canvas,  or color pencils and sketch pads and capture its beauty through your creative lens. Fall is also a time of shedding, falling leaves and is synonymous with the art of letting go. Fall brings with it many holidays commencing in September through the end of the year. It’s also a time of year that people tend to get sad, miss their loved ones who have passed on,  send young children off to school for the first time or even off to college leaving them to be empty nesters, or are simply wallow in the fact that life isn’t exactly how they “expected” it to be.

Fall months have been a time of a lot of loss in my life and lots of endings, especially in the month of October. I had not yet given this much thought this year until last week when I was in yoga. My teacher passed out cards and instructed each one of us to pick a card. The card I pulled read Strong Calm. Hmmm, I found this to be quite interesting. I placed it down on my yoga mat and decided to remain open to whatever arose throughout my practice. At some point, it hit me. I set the intention to take a different approach and outlook on the fall season this year. Rather than be reminded of the many losses and allow myself to get funky and sad, I decided to approach this time of year with a “Strong Calm”  much like yoga – grounded, rooted, inner calmness and a strong core. In doing so, I can shift my perspective and look and all the beauty, abundance, miracles,  magic and wealth, and wisdom that has shown up in my life after losing my parents, selling my Florida sanctuary, putting down my beloved Blackie-Mama, ending relationships, having surgeries and ending my career.

When we take the time to reflect and count our blessings, we have the opportunity to carefully examine our life, choices we’ve made, their outcome, people who’ve come into our lives and others who are no longer part of it. The lessons we’ve learned become crystal clear. More importantly though, we are able to see the richness and fullness of our lives. We see the depth, scope and significance of the relationships we have with our friends and loved ones as well as the relationship we have with our Self.  We appreciate the beauty that surrounds us and gain an understanding of the destruction around us. We are better equipped to see the light and the dark, as well as the love and the fear. With a sense of “strong clam,” we can hold a space for all of it.  In this space, is where grace and gratitude can be found.  Gratitude opens our hearts!

By now y’all know that I’m a gratitude junkie. Gratitude is miraculous! Being grateful fills our hearts with endless amounts of love and pure joy. It is what gets us through anything we are going through, regardless of how challenging and difficult it may be. Our mindset is the key. I don’t know about you, but I am choosing to approach this beautiful Season of Change with a Strong Calm. Here’s how you can do the same: Write down the ten hardest or most terrible things that ever happened to you. As you look over the list, can you see the gifts that each of them brought? Take the time to write about each of these gifts and feel the sense of joy and gratitude that fills your heart center.

I now leave you with beautifully written piece by John O’Donohue. If I had to give it a title, it would certainly be Strong Calm:

“May you awaken to the mystery of being here and enter the quiet immensity of your own presence. May you have joy and peace in the temple of your senses. May you receive great encouragement when new frontiers beckon. May you respond to the call of your gift and find the courage to follow its path. May the flame of anger free you from falsity. May warmth of heart keep your presence aflame and may anxiety never linger around you. May your outer dignity mirror an inner dignity of soul. May you take time to celebrate the quiet miracles that seek no attention. May you be consoled in the secret symmetry of your soul. May you experience each day as a sacred gift woven around the heart of wonder.”

Inhale Love…Exhale Gratitude, JTC

 

Rise and Shine…An Attitude of Gratitude

“Gratitude turns what we have into more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity…Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for the future”  Melody Beattie

I don’t remember exactly when I became such a “gratitude junkie.” Perhaps it is something I grew into as I deepened and expanded my spiritual practice and deepened my faith. However, I do recall watching the Oprah Winfrey Show back in the day, and she shared how she started keeping a gratitude journal. Being a self-proclaimed “student of life” and hearing how Oprah’s life was shifting with her gratitude practice I, too, started keeping a gratitude journal. Every day, I wrote 3-5 things for which I was grateful. It was just a matter of time before I started feeling so much lighter and happier! To this day, I have a gratitude journal that I write in almost daily. If I skip a day, then my list of things I’m grateful for is longer that next day. My gratitude practice has evolved greatly since then, and sometimes I use a quote or The Chopra Center’s 21 Days of Inspiration booklet, which is based on Deepak Chopra’s book, The Seven Spiritual Days of Success as a springboard to start writing. One thing I learned long the way, is that our nervous system can NOT be happy and sad at the same time. It’s an impossible feat. Given the choice, don’t you want your nervous system happy and have all those feel-good endorphins running through your body? It’s a natural “high” my darlings!

Aside from my gratitude journal, which I usually write in at the end of the day, I love starting my day with an “attitude of gratitude.” I love this morning ritual. After saying “thank you” as my feet touch the ground, and take care of the bathroom necessities,  I make my bed, brew a cup of Yogi Tea, read the little message on the tag (which may also spark a journal or gratitude journal entry), and hit the floor ready for my “morning practice.” Everything I may need for my morning practice is within reach: prayer books, yoga mat, bolster, essential oils, mala beads, singing bowl, journals, gel pens in all colors, angel cards and books upon books to support my practice. This “discipline” for a lack of a better word, is truly a lifestyle. For me personally, it’s one of my non-negotiables You are probably wondering what are my non-negotionables ….they are yoga, meditation, prayer, sleep, water, nutritious foods and other self care practices (how non-negotiables came to be are for yet another blog). These daily rituals evolved over time, but really took on a new meaning when I went on a yoga retreat, with the lovely Christy Naida, and stayed at Lumeria Maui (educational and adventure retreat oasis). Shout out to my Maui Sisters by the way!!!!

At the time, this was back in 2013, Lumeria Maui had Daily Rituals and Core Values that emphasized “An Attitude of Gratitude.” As I read them, they truly resonated for me and allowed me to visualize how I wanted to live each day of my life. I was so touched by their core values, that I even wrote them in my notebook. Here they are, straight from their website:

  • Reverence –  “We actively honor each day, the land, our ancestors and teachers, one another, the process and ourselves.”
  • Beauty – ” We delight in revealing and protecting the beauty that surrounds and inspires our environment.”
  • Wonder – “Life is dynamic. We remain open to new ways of learning, sharing and being. We look forward to and enjoy imagining the possibilities.”
  • Collaboration- “We are inspired by the potency of what we can create together and seek paths to inspire our collective growth.”
  • Nourishment- “We are committed to providing that which feeds our bodies, souls and minds in a sustainable way.”
  • Presence- “We strive in all actions and interactions to be fully present to the gift of ourself, our friends, and the opportunity to serve with love, compassion and enthusiasm.”
  • “We end each day in ritual to the setting sun.”

What a beautiful practice and manifesto for living, don’t you agree? So, over time, these core values and daily rituals became part of my everyday existence. Can you imagine if we all lived from this place of grace and gratitude??? Just pause for a moment and think how your life, the life of those around you, the life of your family and friends, colleagues, and even strangers would be like if we all subscribed to this way of being. Think of the peace and healing the human spirit would experience and the enduring impact on the healing of this most beautiful planet we share.

Regardless of the problems and losses we all experience, having a formal gratitude practice is life altering. It allows us to experience joy and happiness regardless of the life situation we are experiencing. We become more resilient. As a matter of fact, having a gratitude practice has been instrumental in my healing over the years and helps me to get through any challenging situation I may experience. Along with my Tribe, this practice has gotten me through some of the darkest and most difficult  times of my life. Having an attitude of gratitude allows me to approach each day from my heart center and affords me the ability to inspire, love, serve AND lead from the heart…right from the start. 

If there was one, lasting “quick fix” I would recommend for anything you are going through – whether it be an illness, loss, grief or major life event – it would be to start keeping a gratitude journal. Rise and shine with an attitude of gratitude, and watch the ripple effect it creates around you…..it’s magic!

Inhale Love…Exhale Gratitude, JTC

 

 

Why Blog?

“Our task is to choose to live our own life as an example of grace and humanity, and to surrender to both the light and the dark, and to create a space within for beauty and devastation and for all that life will reveal”  Seane Corn

Unbeknownst to me, the idea of starting a blog came to me around June 2012. At that time, the seeds were already being dropped into my head and, subconsciously, I began watering them with my beliefs, actions, intentions and, yes, compromises I had made years past and over the next several years. I recall being so sick with an upper respiratory thing and a looming migraine that was threatening to take me down. At the time, I was an assistant principal in an elementary school, and there was a Saturday workshop being conducted for administrators. Additionally, we had to bring in our laptops for something (swapping out? re-imaging? You get the picture). I was so sick that I considered staying home and have the laptop issue resolved at school. However, something was pulling me to go. Ariane de Bonvoisin, author of The First 30 Days of Change, was the featured speaker at our workshop.

Now, if you know me, I LOVE CHANGE…It’s what keeps us alive, thriving, growing and ever-transforming into better versions of our old selves. Something (my internal GPS) was telling me to go despite how violently ill I felt. Through “divine intervention,” the Universe used a dear friend and co-worker of mine as a messenger. My friend sent me a text along the lines of this speaker being someone that would be of interest to me. I immediately googled the author…there it was! I picked myself up, armed myself with some herbal remedies, tissues, water, etc., and I headed to the workshop / seminar.

Our stories and journeys are not only our lessons but they teach others as well. What we do and how we do it has the power to light the path for others in need and can serve as a great source of inspiration, motivation and consolation. We are all on the same path, returning home to find ourselves, our true self, the connection with that force that is greater than ourselves and that resides inside each and every one of us…..and to light and pave the way for others. How we live out our purpose is as unique as we are. It is our responsibility as a human being to want to contribute…to inspire, love, serve and leave behind a legacy of love and service. Let’s be clear, what I just mentioned is our purpose; However, it is up to us, our passion, and our willingness to be vulnerable, broken open, courageous, brave, fearless, fierce, intentional and deliberate that will allow us to grow, transform, flex our resilience muscle, make an impact and affect change. In the end, it’s all about healing ourselves, helping others to do the same and, in turn, helping humanity to heal. I know, without a shadow of a doubt,  we are here on this earth to love, serve and uplift each other.

Oh, and did I mention ask for help? Yes, you heard it…..Ask for help. If you are that rock everyone comes to, the fixer, the handler (come on now, we all have a little Olivia Pope in us), you know how difficult it is to ask for help. Well, my darlings, if we do not learn to ask for help and allow others the joy of helping us, you can be sure the Universe is going to deliver some hard lessons and get us to utter the word help;  I need help; Can you please help me…. Get the picture? Trust me, this will teach us to leave the EGO at the door!

Towards the last several years of my career, I was fed up with what I saw and experienced first hand: fed up with the big egos, the abuse of power, politics, lies, bullying, harassment, intimidation, a system not doing “right” by its clientele and personnel, the back stabbing and everything else that comes with working in a toxic work environment. I felt that my talents and my gifts weren’t even being tapped into. My creativity and light were being zapped! Nevertheless, I was committed to impacting and influencing others by continuing to “work the work” of self transformation, talk the talk and, more importantly,  walk the walk. I committed to living my yoga off the mat. The more my yoga and meditation practice deepened and flourished and the more I studied yoga philosophy, the more that I felt morally compromised and suffocated. The more I spoke my truth, operated from an authentic and transparent place, the more I saw that I no longer fit in that organization and that my soul needed, and was craving, expansion……Be careful what you wish for……that will be for another post!

The only thing that got me through those last few years leading up to 2012 and the last few months on the job, were to Lead from the heart….Right from the start, always and in all ways. And, boy, can I give you ways to do that!!!!!

Hence…….the Inspire Love Serve Blog.

Please stay tuned!

Inhale love….Exhale gratitude, JTC