Flowing with Sensitivity

“Beauty of whatever kind, in its supreme development, invariably excites the sensitive soul to tears.” – Edgar Allan Poe

One of my new favorite magazines is called Breathe. My dearest and oldest friend, Ili, turned me on to it. The issue I recently purchased (well a couple of months ago) was The Well-being Special. This particular edition contains numerous articles for each of the following categories: Wellness, Kindness, Mindfulness and Inspiration. As you can imagine, this magazine is right up my alley!

I can’t begin to tell you how much content this magazine offers. There must be about 10 articles for each of the featured categories. And the visual graphics are extremely soothing. The featured  quotes cannot help but to touch us in some way. Here’s the welcoming one from the Wellness section: “Whether you’re working, resting, or playing, treating yourself like the guest of honor in your own life will lead towards inner peace.” Just how lovely is this quote? It makes me stop, inhale deeply and let it all out with a sigh…And let’s not forget how true it is!!!!

One of the articles that I especially enjoyed was the one on highly sensitive people titled, “Sensitive People; the Untold Story.” We’ve been talking a lot about this topic in one of my yoga classes, so the timing of this article was spot on with where my thoughts have been recently traveling.

You see, I never considered myself to be a “highly” sensitive person as I was growing up. I don’t even think I had that vocabulary or knew how to express some of the things I would feel. As I have gotten older and wiser, I have learned to embrace the fact that I am a sensitive soul (maybe not Highly, but sensitive to some degree). It’s like meeting a new me for the first time. It’s also allowed me to look at other people though a different lens, be more patient, compassionate and better understand them.

Needless to say, highly sensitive people (HSP) are often misunderstood, judged and even poked fun at. As noted in the article, sensitive people “perceive and process the world at a deep level, are often incorrectly labeled shy or deemed overly dramatic and told to calm down. But being fine-tuned to their environment isn’t something they can throw off – it’s part of the nature of the internal system of the Highly Sensitive Person.”

We tend to have a picture in our heads of what a “sensitive” person looks and acts like, but we have learned there is a wide spectrum of highly sensitive people in the world. “The HSP trait manifests on a sliding scale and to varying degrees of extremity.”  Also, the reality is that some of us may know we are highly sensitive, and some of us may still have no idea other than knowing that we feel very deeply to the point of sometimes feeling weighed down or depleted.

 The truth of the matter is that “there are certain people who are predisposed to perceive sensory data more deeply because of the nature of their internal system.” What does this mean? Well, it means that such individuals tend to experience  the world rather differently than the rest of society.

Since I am such a self-care advocate, student of life, and love writing / sharing  ways we can continue to grow, evolve and help ourselves and others, I thought it would be beneficial to summarize and share the tips offered in the article for grounding and setting boundaries. Grounding is an important aspect for all of us to do on a daily basis. It allows us to feel deeply rooted and supported. It is especially necessary for HSP do to because of the nature of their openness and ability to unwillingly take on someone else’s pain or energy which, in turn, leaves them feeling dehydrated, depleted and exhausted. Setting boundaries is equally as important and something we do for ourselves and for others. Here goes:

Grounding:

  1. EAT GROUNDING FOODS such as root vegetables, leafy greens and nuts. These types of foods rebalance and regulate the body and its ability to heal.
  2. ENERGY CLEARING at home, in the workplace and especially after visitors. You can burn/ smudge sage, Palo Santo or even use ready-made clearing sprays infused with essential oils.
  3. GET OUTSIDE IN NATURE walk barefoot in the grass, talk to plants or hug trees.
  4. LET NATURE IN and open doors and windows because it resets the energy to neutral. Have plants in  commonly used spaces, especially near electronics as it purifies and recycles the air.
  5. WATER is known for its healing powers. Take baths using bath salts for added detox, take a swim, wash hands when leaving places, and drink lots of water.
  6. RELAXING BREATH is a useful tool for achieving a relaxed and clear state of mind. Connect with your breath and feel grounded. Controlled breathing techniques help to reset and regulate the nervous system, inducing an increased state of calm.

Setting and Holding Boundaries 

  1. SAYING NO is a critical part for establishing boundaries and for one’s sensitivity to external factors. Be clear about what not to do or where not to go. Comfort comes first.
  2. PROTECTING PHYSICAL SPACE by having a designated place and space that’s just for you. It should be somewhere you can retreat to, to center and ground.
  3. LIMITING TIME WITH SPECIFIC INDIVIDUALS is key. Learn to leave a place or situation when ready. Disconnect and take quiet time to relax.
  4. LIVING IN LINE WITH NATURAL ENERGY whenever possible try to work, socialize, exercise and eat when it best suits you, and wake and sleep naturally. Choose spaces and places with natural light and get outdoors regularly.

Whether you or someone you know is a sensitive soul, there are wonderful resources out there. You can visit hsperson.com or look into some of Dr. Elaine Aron’s work. She is the author of the following books:

  • The Highly Sensitive Person
  •  The Highly Sensitive Child
  • The Highly Sensitive Person in Love
  • The Highly Sensitive Person’s Workbook
  • Psychotherapy and the Highly Sensitive Person

In retrospect, I wish I had known of the existence of these books early on in my life journey. They would have answered a lot of questions for me. It’s taken me a lot of life experience, personal growth and learning about energy to come to a point in life where I am extremely discerning as to where, when, why and with whom I choose to expend my energy. Self-preservation, darlings!

Also, I think these books would have prepared me as I embarked on my teaching  profession. After all, educators and administrators come across highly sensitive children and staff all day long. And all of us, in every profession and calling, come across people whom are highly sensitive. The more we know, and the better we are able to support HSP, the better prepared we are to be in any kind of relationship with such beautiful and deep feeling souls.

I hope to share a few more articles and tips from Breathe magazine in some upcoming blogs. By now, you should know I’m all about the sharing and anything that calls our souls to inspire, love, serve AND lead from the heart…right from the start!

Inhale Love & Light…Exhale Grace & Gratitude.

 

You’re Not Alone

“No amount of security is worth the suffering of a mediocre life chained to a routine that killed your dreams.” -Maya Mendoza

My previous blog, Relationships Expire, was geared towards friendships that sometimes need to be let go of due to the nature of the circumstances surrounding the friendship itself. While much of what I wrote about can most definitely be applied to romantic relationships, partnerships, unions and marriages as well, this particular blog will explore the excuses that we sometimes use as our reason for staying in a romantic relationship gone bad. Self-doubt, not wanting to be alone and not being able to make a decision – one way or the other –  are key factors that oftentimes keep us stuck.

When I was growing up, Mama would always remind me, “Para ester mal acompañada, mejor ester sola.” Translation: You are better off alone than in bad company.  Perhaps that is why I’ve always had the ability to recognize when a romantic relationship was no longer serving me OR the other person. I’ve never had a problem being alone. The reality is that sometimes we are the loneliest in a relationship. However, some of us prefer to stay in unhealthy and dysfunctional relationships. Why? Because we claim we don’t want to be alone.

Not wanting to be alone / lonely speaks volumes! If we don’t like our own company,  THAT is a problem right there. If we don’t learn how to be in relationship with ourselves, then we will never know how to be in relationship with another. If we can’t love ourselves enough to recognize and acknowledge our needs, how will anyone else do so? If we can’t feel secure on our own two feet, nothing another person does will give us that feeling of security. If we subject ourselves to another person’s alcohol abuse, drug abuse and domestic abuse, we will continue to attract such behaviors at the expense of our mental health and physical well-being. If we can’t dream and aspire to achieve our dreams, no one can do it for us. If we can’t be exceptional role models of what healthy relationships look like for our children, then who will?

Some of us are what I call “routine junkies.” It’s a comfort zone of sorts or may even be a coping mechanism. It’s like we are unable to freely function if we aren’t chained to a routine of some kind regardless of how destructive it may be. We will maintain a stronghold on that routine at all cost –  even if it robs us of our life, love and the pursuit of happiness.

Let me be clear here. There are definitely relationships worth getting in the ring for and doing the work for, and there are many resources and tools out there to help us do so. However, we must first be committed to working on the MOST important relationship of all – the one with ourselves. Only then are we able to come together, have unity of purpose and the skills needed to handle the inevitable conflicts and ups and downs of being in relationship with another person.

And just as there are people in beautiful, healthy, loving, productive and committed relationships for decades upon decades, there are those people who’ve been together just as long but for all the wrong reasons. These are the ones who’ve stayed way past the expiration date. Perhaps they have failed to see that the relationship / union / marriage has died? Do they stay because of the money? The children? The pets? The company? The convenience? The house?  Comfort? Guilt? Self-doubt? Complacency? Because of what others may “think?” How they will be “viewed?” Lack of drive or ambition? Lack of  self – respect / self- love? Fear of confrontation? Lack of skills? Lack of support? Lack of expectations? Inability to make a decision? Fear of starting over? Fear of the unknown? Fear of being alone? Just plain fear?

A long time ago, a psychologist recommended a wonderful book on relationships to me. She prefaced the recommendation by saying that, although the title had the word “marriage” in it, the book was a great tool for anyone fighting for or wanting to be in a healthy relationship. The book, Fighting for Your Marriage, is based on the Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program (PREP). The book is divided into 4 parts: Understanding the Risks on the Road to Lasting Love; Teaming Up to Handle Conflict; Enjoying Each Other; and Staying the Course. I found the book very helpful during a  time when I was in one of THE most challenging relationships of my life. It helped me to realize that we were both on two very different pages and stages of our lives.

Around the same time, I attended an Omega Conference and one of the keynote speakers was Harville Hendrix and his wife, Helen LaKelly Hunt. Together, they published a book, Getting the Love You Want. This book also has an accompanying workbook for couples. And like with many self-help books and programs, part of the work / success comes from examining our own issues, agendas, childhood, traumas and other stumbling blocks that keep us from getting the love we want – and so rightfully deserve. I have come to learn that if we do not have a healthy, loving and compassionate relationship with ourselves, there is no way we can reap the beauty of being in a healthy romantic relationship.

Another book that is a game changer, and one I have also passed on to others, is Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay, by Mira Kirshenbaum. If you are unsure as to whether you should remain in a romantic relationship or call it quits, this book is a step-by-step guide  that will help you make a decision and remove self-doubt from the equation. After all, self-doubt can sabotage the healthiest of relationships, never mind ones in disrepair. This isn’t a book that will tell you ways to fix a broken relationship; it is one that will help you choose whether to leave or stay in the relationship. The scenarios in the book cover just about every challenging issue you can think of and will guide you to make the best decision for yourself. Whichever decision you make, you will feel confident doing so. As one reviewer noted about the book, “A powerful self-help resource for anyone caught in a web of relationship distress.”  Hmmmm….I like that term, a web of relationship distress!

I think it’s safe to say we all enter relationships having certain expectations. However, times change and people do too. The more we evolve, grow and mature, the more we come to realize that some romantic relationships MUST have an expiration date. We can acknowledge and honor the fact that we came together for a purpose, we were each other’s teacher, we can identify the value we each added to the relationship yet know when to walk away……respectfully, wisely, compassionately, consciously and maybe even lovingly.

One thing to remember, is that you’re not alone in any of these scenarios. There are people in our lives who support us and have our back, tools to help us identify the root causes of our troubles, professionals that can guide us in working the work, practices that allow us to feel deeply rooted, stable, and supportive, and resources that we can turn to for inspiration, encouragement, motivation, wisdom and enlightenment. The key is tapping into these resources!

Darlings, happiness, joy and love are our birthright. Oftentimes, the only person keeping us from claiming them is ourselves. We don’t need to remain in a dead-end relationship  that is robbing us of these gifts. The choice is ours to make. It always comes down to choice making. The key is making the most evolutionary choice…..the one that will free us to fly, dream, soar, be happy, joyous, live fully, embrace our magnificence and, perhaps, even find love again!

Inhale love & light…Exhale grace & gratitude, JTC

PS- During the month of February, I will be blogging on Sundays and Wednesdays only.

 

 

 

Relationships Expire

“Let go. Something beautiful wants to grow on its place.”

So let me begin by being totally transparent here and tell you that I waited until late in the day before this blog was set to publish before I sat down to write it. I don’t know why, it just happened…..I’ve been off  my writing schedule a bit, and today I felt a little bit “off my game.” I had something in mind, but it just wasn’t flowing, and I’m all about going with the flow.

A part of me didn’t give it a second thought because my “pseudo daughter,” otherwise known as “LL Cool Rutz,” was stopping by to pick up some delicious, home made, old-world, Cuban black beans (made by my friend Barb). By now you know I’m all about sharing, so Barb also put some beans aside for my fellow friend and foodie. I also knew that LL and I would end up in some sort of conversation that would fuel ideas for future blogs.

Now, LL may have thought she was just making a quick pit stop at the treehouse to pick up some food….really? Who comes to a Cuban, Italian-by-injection, food-loving household and doesn’t get fed? Oh, and did I mention she was also going to have a cocktail? Well, the food “drive by” and quick cocktail ended up in a Tito’s jam-fest complete with hummus, chips, popcorn and freshly steamed brown rice, black beans and a side of avocado (mind you, she didn’t want to eat here). So much for a quick pit stop. I’ve learned…don’t ask, just serve!

As we ate curled up on the couch, I shared my thoughts for a blog with LL, and she insisted on the title, Relationships Expire,  because of the direction our conversation was headed. I initially was thinking about romantic relationships, but then we zeroed in on friendships. We talked about how we can get “stuck” in relationships that don’t serve us any longer and why. Here are some questions that were thrown around (in no particular order):

  • With whom do you commiserate?
  • Have you ever felt “stuck” with a person / people because they are part of  your life?
  • You know the saying, “misery loves company?” Is that some kind of coping mechanism? 
  • Are your peers growing alongside you?
  • Can you identify the stagnant relationships in your life?
  • Who guides you along your evolutionary path?
  • Is there someone who drags you down?
  • Is there someone keeping you from growing?
  • Can you identify the givers and the takers in your life?
  • What value do your friends bring to the table?
  • What value do you bring to the table?
  • Are there conversations / stories you are getting tired of telling?
  • Are you OK with letting go of a friendship that no longer serves your greatest good?

OMG I am trying to make sense of some of the notes I took while we were chatting up a storm, and I can’t make heads or tails out of them! It’s like they are written in a foreign language. I have pretty nice handwriting, but what I scribbled literally looks like gibberish! Why on earth do I scribble? Ugh!

Anyway, as we were chatting away, we were also sharing times in our lives where we felt that a relationship had expired. Especially if we are on an evolutionary path. There may come a point where we start to grow apart, and we see the learning gap getting wider and wider. We see that we have less and less in common with a particular friend(s). And that’s OK. Everyone is on their own path and has their own individualized learning plan that must be respected. We may reach a point where we feel we are growing by leaps and bounds, and others are lagging behind – until it gets to the point where we get cut loose or we do the cutting loose. And that is OK. Sometimes, we just have to let go! The key is knowing when to let go!

We each have a role to play in the friendships we develop along this journey called life. Some friendships are longterm, some temporary, and others are transitional. Some ebb and flow, some hover on the surface, and others sink to the bottom. As we grow, mature and evolve, our circle of key friends may decrease in size but increase in value.

Also, different people fulfill the different needs we have as human beings. It’s like we have various “gas tanks” to fill….survival, primal, emotional, intellectual, professional, physical, spiritual, cosmic, creative, etc. It’s very rare for just one person to fill all of these tanks (although occasionally it may happen). That’s just the way it is. Another key factor is being able to identify who is filling these various tanks for us and knowing how we contribute to the lives of others as well. If there isn’t some sort of mutual exchange happening, if we aren’t adding value to each other’s lives, if we aren’t showing up for each other when we need it most, then we must examine the significance of the relationship we are holding onto.

Sometimes, by holding onto a relationship that has expired, we are keeping something truly beautiful from growing in its place. After all, don’t we see that in nature? Nature is truly such an amazing teacher! Periodically, we must do some weeding. We must clear out dead weeds, plant new seeds, nurture and water them, and watch them blossom. Relationships are no different. Just as weeds die, relationships expire!

OK darlings, as LL and I have taken to saying on many evenings, it’s time for me to go to Club Bed –  featuring DJ Pillow and MC Blanky (I saw this posted once and just loved it).

Next up, the second half of our conversation that dealt with romantic relationships. Some have expiration dates as well!

Inhale love & light…Exhale grace & gratitude, JTC

 

 

 

Checking In with Your Heart

“Everybody has a calling. Your real job in life is to figure out why you are here and get about the business of doing it.” – Oprah

Today I pulled out a book I had purchased in August 2012 and had never opened it, other than to write an inscription in it. This particular book, The Daily Om, was purchased at Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY when I was there for their Being Yoga Conference Retreat. I purchased the book because I’ve always enjoyed the wisdom, messages and stories of The Daily Om and used to receive them via email. By the way, some of their on-line courses are very helpful as well. On another note, their Daily Om Horoscope is always ever so appropriate. Go figure!

I guess you can say that I wasn’t all too surprised when I read the first story (what a magical universe we live in). You see, I’ve always loved hearts as far back as I can remember. I used to doodle, draw and cut out hearts all the time as a child. I’d buy anything with hearts or the word Love on it. I still do! As I read the first story, it reminded me of the intent behind InspireLoveServe and why I felt the line- Lead from the heart…Right from the start- had to be included. As I mentioned in a previous blog, these words have become part of my philosophy, purpose and way of living. I don’t think I could have come up with such a deeply spiritual and profound description if I tried; yet, there it was staring me in the face. It was tailor-made! So, here it is:

Linking Center: Checking In with Your Heart

Every day, we experience a magical twilight between our dreaming and waking states. During this brief period of time, our minds still remember that all things are possible. We can smoothly transition to the physical world without losing a sense of hope when we first cheek in with our heart center before we even get out of bed.

Our heart center is our link between body and spirit, instinct and inspiration. It does not take long to hold a thought of loving gratitude for that which beats within us — in a mere moment we can review all we want to accomplish in the light of love. When we get into the habit of beginning our day from the heart, all of our activities glow with the infusion of conscious intent, and all interactions occur with compassion.

We can restart our day right now my imagining how love and inspiration feel. As light glows from our heart, radiating out through our bodies into the space around us, any feelings of stress or frustration seem to melt away. Now we see each person we encounter as a fellow traveler along the journey of life, and every activity becomes part of a spiritual partnership. As conscious participants in the cycle of giving and receiving, we share our light with others as we become enlivened ourselves, with our heart leading the way.

In the intersection where body and soul meet, our heart beats in time with the rhythm of the universe. It does the physical work of supplying our body with life force without our attention…but for its spiritual work, we need to be conscious. When we concentrate on its rhythm and glowing light, we remember that we are spiritual beings having a human experience. Then we know that we can choose any time to check in with our heart center and, in doing so, experience the joy of being in love with life.

You know the quote, Do what you love and love what you do? Well, if we check in with our hearts, we can tap into that knowingness of why we are here. This particular Daily Om story spells it out pretty clearly. The key though is to figure out how we are going to get about the business of doing it. Decisions, decisions…Choose wisely!

How can you inspire, love, serve AND lead from the heart…right from the start in your daily life?

Carry on, darlings!

Inhale love & light…Exhale grace & gratitude, JTC

Now I Know My ABC’s

Accept Differences – Be Kind – Count Your Blessings – Dream – Express Thanks – Forgive – Give Freely – Harm No One – Imagine More – Jettison Anger – Keep Confidences – Love Truly –  Master Something – Nurture Hope – Open Your Mind – Pack Lightly – Quell Rumors – Reciprocate  – Seek Wisdom – Touch Hearts – Understand – Value Truth – Win Graciously – Xemplify Kindness – Yearn For Peace – Zealously Support A Worthy Cause

Precisely ten years ago, I received these ABC’s in a holiday card that I have kept ever since. It too makes its way around my place during the holidays, as does the one I wrote about in a previous post, A Meaningful To-Do List.  Today, more than ever, it seems like the world needs these ABC’s on steroids! I silently give thanks for all the people around the globe who are working hard and tapping into their tools every single day to exemplify these traits, for these human beings are part of our global community helping to heal humanity.

The healing though, as with many things in life, must first start with ourselves. We have been blessed with the privilege of being alive, and with that comes a responsibility to grow and evolve into the very best person we can be. If you are committed to self-improvement, inner investigation and evolving mentally, emotionally and spiritually, you know it’s not an easy job. The work can get ugly, messy, and painful; but, the rewards outweigh it all. Remember, true transformation occurs from the inside out, and it takes time, practice and patience! One of my favorite quotes is, You are allowed to be both a masterpiece and a work in progress at the same time.”  Amen to that!!!!

As I was thinking about what to write about in this blog, I came across some questions that one of my favorite people in the world, Seane Corn, posed at a yoga workshop I did with her about 4 years ago. These questions really require us to get to the core of who we are…both our light and shadow side. If we want to be able to live peacefully, coexist and truly effect change, I believe we have a responsibility to ourselves, and the life we have been given, to really dig deep and work hard at chiseling away the dark residue from our shadow side. It’s hard work. It’s also heart work!

Below are numerous questions – I invite you to peruse them, answer them if you like, share them with your tribe, have conversations about them, or just see what thoughts, feelings and emotions arise inside you as you read through them. Hopefully, you will find them useful in some way – if not now, then sometime along your personal journey.

  • How are you showing up for yourself?
  • How are you showing up for others?
  • What tapes are running through your head?
  • What conditioning, grief, dysfunction, pain, sorrow, situations or people who no longer serve you are you still holding on to? Why?
  • What limiting beliefs are holding you back or keeping you stuck in “victim” mentality?
  • Are you in a state of denial?
  • What hurts, traumas, surgery, loss or life situation has shown up?
  • What behavior do you turn to when you want to avoid feeling your feelings?
  • Who or what situation has brought you to your knees?
  • Who or what has broken your heart wide open?
  • Do you choose love over fear?
  • Do you act from a place of love or fear?
  • How can you connect to your pure essence which is Love?
  • How do you show compassion, empathy, understanding and kindness to others?
  • What ways do you show up for yourself from a place of hope, love, compassion, understanding and empathy?
  • Who taught you how to love?
  • How do you contribute to the collective energy of the planet? 
  • Are your thoughts, views, actions and speech negative and judgmental in nature, or are they positive?
  • What words do you use?
  • What type of language do you use to communicate with others?
  • Does your language emanate positive or negative energy?
  • What types of example are you setting for those around you…partners, children, family, friends, co-workers and strangers?
  • Who are your closest relationships?
  • Who or what triggers you?
  • What sensations do these triggers cause in your body?
  • Do you react or pause, then act?
  • What tools can you employ so you don’t react?
  • Do you abuse power?
  • Do you have issues expressing love and acceptance to those of a different race,  nationality, color, gender or religion?
  • What words / language do you use that causes separation?
  • What does peace look and feel like for you?
  • What ways can you contribute to making your surroundings, as well as the collective energy of the world, more peaceful?
  • How can you exercise patience, understanding and non-judgement?
  • What are you grateful for?
  • How do you express gratitude for what shows up in your life?
  • Who were / are your spiritual teachers?
  • What’s your shadow side?
  • How do you shine your light?
  • How do you step into your power?
  • What change do you want to see in the world?

Darlings, may you always feel your essence with each heartbeat…LOVE, LOVE, LOVE…..and send that out to into the world….and feel the earth pulsating with LOVE, LOVE, LOVE! Oh, and one last thing – please be sure to practice your ABC’s…wink, wink!

Inhale love and light…Exhale grace and gratitude, JTC

 

 

 

 

A Meaningful To-Do List

Be Merry. Be Happy. Be Bright.

About 20 years ago, one of my girlfriends (and soul sister), Patti, sent me a beautiful card for Christmas that I have treasured ever since. As a matter of fact, I keep it in a picture frame and display it every year as part of my decorations. Over the years, I have also typed it up on colorful stationary and passed it on to staff members, friends and family.

With three major holidays this month – Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa and, in addition, Winter Solstice and New Year’s Eve, I thought I’d share the contents of the card with you. Needless to say, we don’t have to wait for the holidays to do any of these things. In my humble opinion, what you are about to read should be part of our to-do list on a regular basis…..just sayin’

This Christmas

  • Mend a quarrel
  • Seek out a forgotten friend
  • Write a love letter
  • Share some treasure
  • Give a soft answer
  • Encourage youth
  • Keep a promise
  • Find the time
  • Forgive an enemy
  • Apologize if you were wrong
  • Think first of someone else
  • Be kind and gentle
  • Laugh a little
  • Laugh a little more
  • Express your gratitude
  • Gladden the heart of a child
  • Take pleasure in the beauty and wonder of the earth
  • Speak your love
  • Speak it again
  • Speak it still once again

If you are in need of a little token gift, strapped for cash, or just want to be mindful of where and how you are spending your money, you can get creative with this beautiful to-do list, add to it, create your own, print copies or have it printed on cardstock at Staples, and perhaps slip into small frames as gifts. You can also roll them up and tie with a lovely ribbon. We don’t have to spend an inordinate amount of money on a gift. Simple, no fuss gifts from the heart carry our energy, love and intention with them. They are the gifts that keep on giving.

Create away darlings….and remember… be merry, happy and bright!

Inhale Love…Exhale Gratitude, JTC

Special Edition… ‘Tis the Season

‘Joy is Prayer. Joy is Strength. Joy is love.” -Mother Teresa

Season’s Greetings darlings! I read a most beautiful article written by Elizabeth Lesser  yesterday, featured in Maria Shriver’s Sunday Paper, and I felt compelled to share it with you. I love, love, love Elizabeth Lesser and her style of writing! Her messages are always so deep, profound and life-altering! So, here it is:

10 Ways To Have Yourself a Merry Little Holiday

by 

It’s that time of year again: the modern miracle known as “The Holidays,” when into the dark little months of late November and December, we squeeze Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Years Eve, and a myriad of other celebrations, from ancient Solstice rituals to the more contemporary rites of school plays, office parties, and community gatherings. Throw into that mix a generous dose of unrealistic expectations, dysfunctional family feasts complete with political disagreements, airplane flights and long drives, darker days, colder weather, budget-busting shopping, excess eating and drinking, and no wonder that along with “peace on earth, goodwill toward men,” come seasonal stress for most, and for some, real depression and loneliness.

Some greet the season with excitement and joyful expectation. Others dread the whole thing. Personally, I harbor both excitement AND dread. So I’ve come up with some ways for all of us to stay healthy and sane, to celebrate and enjoy, and to dig into the real meaning of the holidays. Of course, another option is just to ignore the madness completely (good luck with that) or to knock yourself out trying to live up to all of your holiday expectations (good luck with that, too).

Here are my ten ways to approach the season with reasonable expectations and good cheer.

1) Be Kind: Stress doesn’t bring out the best in us, so remember to take a few breaks during a busy day or at a family gathering or whenever you feel overwhelmed. Find a quiet spot—even if you have to go into the bathroom and lock the door—and just sit still for a minute or two. Put your hand on your chest and pat your heart gently. Then take a nice deep breath into that spot and flood yourself with warm feelings of kindness toward yourself first. Breathe in acceptance and forgiveness and appreciation. If you only have time to do that, it’s enough. You can add this to the practice, too: As you exhale, let the breath of kindness move back out and feel it all around you—as if you were wrapped in a cloak of light. Now inhale again, and breathe kindness into your belly, your organs, your bloodstream. Exhale, and feel that cloak of light expanding. Inhale again, all the way down to your fingers and toes and deep into the center of your bones, flushing every cell with warmth and vibrancy. On each inhale, bring kindness into your body. On each exhale, extend the cloak of healing light further and further—embracing the people in your life, those in the world with whom you disagree, and finally our whole big, amazing, hurting, evolving world. This is a wonderful practice to do when you wake up, when you go to sleep, or whenever you like during the day. 

2) Simplify: We live in an excessive culture. There’s just too much going on. But there’s one thing we seem to have too little of: time. We fill each day with too much activity, too much stuff, too much media, and too many responsibilities pulling on us in too many directions, and time races away. We go to bed at night and wonder where the heck the day went. We wake up and do it again. And now at the holidays, we’re supposed to add more excess to the excess. More food, more socializing, more presents that require more money. I think it’s a revolutionary act to resist the more-more-more culture and, instead, to simplify. Purchase fewer gifts and put more thought and meaning into the ones you do give. Say ‘no’ to engagements that will only add more stress to your week. Say ‘yes’ to gatherings that fill your soul and make you and others happy. Unplug from the 24/7 news and social media. Spend time in nature. Look at the stars. Find a little kid and hitch your wagon to their wonder.

3) Roll With the Changes: As families change and grow, traditions change as well.  For example, if you are a working woman who had a stay-at-home mother, instead of knocking yourself out trying to reproduce the exact old-fashioned holiday of your childhood, relax your standards. Do what fits YOUR life and infuse it with meaning, humor, and love. Or if you are a divorced dad or mom, share the holidays with your ex with as much generosity and harmony as you can conjure up. It will be the best gift you give to your kids this year. If you are far away from your family (or choose not to be with them), invite others into your home and give the words “extended family” new meaning. 

4) Help Others: not because you SHOULD but because it feeds everyone—the giver and the receiver. Find someone who is struggling financially or emotionally or physically, and lend them a helping hand, soothe their loneliness or hunger or confusion or pain. Check out the stories of every holiday tradition—from Thanksgiving to Hanukah to Christmas. If you celebrate any of these holidays, you might as well get down to what they are really about: generosity, connection, the promise of light-in-the-darkness. Be that light for someone else.

5) Drop In: to a church or mosque or synagogue or temple or . . . you get the idea. Even if you have no religious affiliation or belief—even if you have deep-seated problems with religion in general—these kinds of spaces have a mysterious quality that can bring peace to a visitor. They carry within their walls the prayers and songs of our human family. Most places of worship welcome all people, even those just looking for a touch of grace. Instead of hurrying by that church you have passed a hundred times on the way to work, take a moment to enter its doors and sit quietly, imbibing the beauty.

6) Take Care: Eat well, drink water, exercise, and then be merry. Instead of making one more feeble New Year’s resolution to join a gym or cut back on the drink or sugar or Twitter, do it right now. You will be amazed at how just the littlest bit of movement and healthful habits will lift your spirits and reduce your stress. And sleep for goodness sakes, do whatever it takes to get enough of it. Sleep deprivation is at the root of so many of our mental and physical problems.

7) Love Everything: Even the hard times; even the cranky and crooked people of the world; even yourself, with all of your embarrassing shortcomings. If loving everything seems impossible, start with forgiveness. Forgive all sorts of people—those from your past, your work, your family, even those abhorrent jerks and so-called enemies in the news. Bitterness towards others is like drinking poison. Put down the bitter cup and take up… 

8) Tenderness: See what happens if you keep your heart open and soft. When you feel fear, or anger, or judgment clutching at your chest, put your hand on your heart and pat lightly. Instead of shutting down, stay open. Stay tender. Just try this and see what happens. Your mind will tell you it’s not safe to be open, that you don’t want to soften, that you’ll tenderize only if the other person changes first. But those strategies haven’t really worked, have they? Try something new.

9) Connect: When you practice love, forgiveness, and tenderness sincerely and consistently, you begin to feel so connected to other people and to life itself that your sense of “me” frays at the edges, loosens, merges. I heard a man at a retreat with the teacher, Eckhart Tolle, say that he’d been practicing compassion meditation and a weird thing was happening to him. “I don’t know who I am anymore,” the concerned man said. And Eckhart replied, “Congratulations.” When you let go of that firm sense of who you are, and what you must protect, and why you are better or worse than anyone else, you are free. There’s less fear, less striving, less of the need to prove your case. There’s more room to let others in, more comfort with the world just as it is, and at the same time, more courage to speak up for truth and beauty.     

10) Joy to the World: How strange that we have everything we need to cheer up right this minute, but so often, joy alludes us. You may recoil at this idea. You may think, “She has NO idea what I am going through; cheering up is not possible.” But I have met some of the most joyful people in the most unlikely, difficult places, including jails and hospitals. And some of the gloomiest, most aggrieved people in luxurious homes and privileged situations. Albert Einstein said that the most important thing to pursue is “sacred awe.” If you think about it, how awe-some—preposterous really—that we are here at all. That YOU showed up here on this little blue marble floating in space. Each one of us has a joyful core that is truer than the worry, the sadness, the blame, the fear. Find your joyful core. Trust it. Be it. Share it.

ELIZABETH LESSER is the author of several bestselling books, including Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow and Marrow: Love, Loss & What Matters Most. She is the co-founder of Omega Institute, recognized internationally for its workshops and conferences in wellness, spirituality, creativity, and social change. She has given two popular TED talks, and is one of Oprah Winfrey’s Super Soul 100, a collection of a hundred leaders who are using their voices and talent to elevate humanity.

 

Together we can all inspire, love, serve. And if you choose to Lead from the heart…right from the start, you will see a big shift in your life and the lives of the people around you. Now go out and Have Yourself a Merry Little Holiday!

See you all back here on Wednesday for my own little holiday to-do list.

Inhale Love…Exhale Gratitude, JTC

On This Day

“On this day, the Lord gave you life. May you use it to serve here.” Snatam Kaur

On this day, October 25, 1958, a baby girl was born and was given the name Jo-Ann Theresa Carricarte. Yep…..me! Apparently, by what I’ve been told, it was a happily anticipated event (I was late) and my birth brought much joy because a baby girl was born into our family. You see, most of my first cousins were males, and the few female cousins were already much older than me. So, I guess I was like a new toy…a doll.

My mama told me that I drew a lot of attention in my early years. If you saw baby pictures you’d understand why.  Suffice to say I have her to thank for my fashionista ways (among so many other things, of course). She dressed me up every single day. I mean really dressed me up…to the nines! When she would take me out in the carriage or stroller, people asked her if she was taking me to a party. Can you imagine?  Mama was every bit the fashionista herself. Those were the days! Everyone dressed up at all times. Women wore fashionable dresses, shoes, hats, gloves, broaches, necklaces and earrings, stunning coats and furs….you rarely saw them in pants. As a matter of fact my only living grand-mother, at the time, passed at 102 never having worn pants. Can you believe that? And the men! Oh the men were dapper in their slicked back hair, structured suits, ties, bow ties, sweater vests, sports jackets, overcoats, hats and polished shoes. Looking back, all my aunts and uncles were every bit fashionistas too! Guess it’s in my DNA! My favorite picture of me, probably around the age of 3, is sitting on a little stool with my legs crossed and sporting a spectacular pair of black lace high heels belonging to my mother. I can still see them in my mind’s eye. They were absolutely gorgeous and stunning! I’m willing to guess that’s how and when my life-long love affair with shoes started. Shoes are my beloved children…wink, wink!

Now onto lessons and blessings. As I look back at every decade in my life thus far, I can clearly see the lessons I was meant to learn and the people / teachers who were instrumental in my learning, growing, evolving and enlightenment – especially in the area of romantic relationships, which is what I will share with you now. I’ll start with my early teens. They were difficult. I really didn’t feel like I “fit in.” I had a strict mother and the strictest of aunts, and my high school years weren’t as fun as you would imagine. As a matter of fact, my high school years were mortifying! Don’t get me wrong, I tried to make the best of those years. Did I mention I went to an all girl Catholic high school and that we lived two doors away from the school? And that I had a super jealous and possessive Cuban boyfriend? What was I thinking? Was I even thinking?

High school was truly mortifying – I wasn’t even allowed to hang out with girlfriends at night and had to have a chaperone when I went out with the boyfriend! In addition, the “tape” that was running through my head at the time was that of when  I was little and my aunts saying, “What’s wrong with that girl? She can’t sit still. What’s the matter with her?” Now darlings, we know JUST how destructive those tapes can be! In one way, shape or form, they become part of the limiting beliefs we start to construct for ourselves. Regardless though, my mother instilled in me the will, desire and drive to be “different” when it came to how I presented myself as well as when it came to fashion, of course. She used to tell me to be a leader and not a follower, and that  I shouldn’t want to “look” like everyone else in a room despite the current fashion trend. Like I said earlier, she was grooming me to be a fashionista (with out me even knowing it). Seriously though, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the influence my parents, grand-mother, aunts and uncles who are no longer with us had on my life. They were made of substance, integrity and dignity and taught me to live my life in that manner. I’m proud of the legacy they left behind, and I try my best to be conscientious and mindfully uphold the values they instilled in me.

So what brought me comfort? Journaling (surprise, surprise), music, and our Saturday shopping trips to Alexander’s in Paramus. My dad would drive, peruse the store, buy himself some cashews, and sit outside on a bench as his ladies had their shopping fun. And boy did we have fun, and did I enjoy putting outfits together! Presentation, presentation, presentation…Thanks, Mama! And Honey-Honey (that’s what my dad and I called each other), cashews are still my favorite, and I always think of you when I eat them. By the way, when I finally did start to think, it was bye-bye boyfriend!

On to the “trying twenties.” I always joke and remark that a nice Cuban girl leaves the house in either a wedding dress or a body bag (pregnancy being a BIG taboo and don’t even THINK about going away to college). So what did I do? I got married after my freshman year in college to get out of the house. I was “in love,” he looked like John Travolta, cool as could be and came from an absolutely amazing and wonderful Italian family. They took me in as if I was one of their own. Good Italian in-laws always put their daughters-in-law before their own boys. I learned how to cook and keep an uber-clean house. Oh, and they were big into fashion as well!!! My most valuable lesson though, was Respect….especially between two romantic partners. Once that line of respect is crossed, whether by lying, cursing, arguing and screaming to out-do / out-say one another, you’re done. You can kiss your relationship good-bye. And that is exactly what we did.

The “terrific thirties” was a very fun and exciting time for me. I was free and self sufficient. It was a time where I relished being extremely independent and dedicated to my career (my career is for yet another essay altogether). In addition to teaching, I was an adjunct professor at a local community college, tutored on the side and even worked as an optometric assistance – fashion was a hobby I was very committed to, so I had to pay the bills!

During the first half of my thirties, I was in a relationship that commenced in my late twenties and one that worked for both of us. We had the best of both worlds. We each enjoyed our individual alone alone time  and then enjoyed the time we had together. That was an important lesson in itself. What was the other one?  Don’t loose yourself to another person. You see, when we were together, a lot of it revolved around what he wanted to do, when and how. Don’t get me wrong, we loved each other deeply, but there were times I should have spoken up and didn’t. Speak up, or you will lose yourself! You guessed it, I started to lose myself. More lessons learned!

My “fabulous forties” brought a whole lot of change, challenging and stressful situations and, by the same token, were very enlightening. Allow me to rewind a bit and set it up for you, The later part of my thirties brought an unexpected surprise to me, my families and my friends. Little did any of us ever, ever, ever expect me to say I was getting married again….and to a Cuban guy! You see, I had sworn off Cuban men after my super jealous and possessive high school boyfriend. That man I was marrying was a gem! I loved our relationship, the way he loved me and how he showed it. I always remarked that he reminded me of my cousin Al and the relationship he’s always had with his beloved Sheryl Ann. My then husband-to- be may have had an over-bearing, possessive, and jealous mother, but I was always his priority as was our relationship. Truth was first and foremost – as it should be. I always remarked that I felt that I could fall backwards off the Empire State Building, and he would be there to catch me. That’s just who he was…..honorable, respectful, sweet, hard working, a man of integrity and of his word…..and an amazing dresser who loved to shop! You know the feeling when someone has your back? Well, he did. And boy, did I ever enjoy our “hug therapy,” as we coined what we would do the second either one of us walked in the front door. We were always very supportive of each other’s goals, dreams and ambitions.   Sadly, the one guiding principle that was a mainstay in our relationship –  truth, was the one that I failed to honor in the end. I guess I was still grappling with finding my voice on some level and didn’t have the words, courage, confidence or the skill-set to adequately explain what I was feeling and experiencing.

Hindsight is a most powerful tool and, years later when all was said and done, I realized I was peri-menopausal in my early forties. I came to realize that my emotions were all out of control. I was fighting hard to stay in control and even control the behavior of a man I knew for 20+ years when our worlds collided. I ended up dating him and tried to change and save him too. We all know that does NOT work! The only person we can change and/or save is ourself – and that is only if we choose to do so. Another lesson learned! In a last-ditch effort to salvage the relationship, I moved in with him for what I called “my limited engagement of broadway.” You see, I knew it wasn’t going to work, so I was wise enough not to give up my apartment. I still recall my mama saying it was the smartest thing I had done!

The next person I dated for about a year in my mid-forties was like a knight in shining armor. A big lesson I learned from him was that I didn’t have to do it all by myself. I didn’t have to be Wonder Woman, so I took off the cape. I was so exhausted and worn down from what I had put myself though in the previous relationship, that I actually allowed myself to rest and to let someone take good care of me. I remember sleeping a lot. This man would cook for me, watch me sleep and knew what I needed and when I needed it. Sadly, the emotional reality of what I had previously put myself though was starting to take a toll on me and on our relationship. That emotional reality was actually the catalyst for me to do something entirely differently. THAT is when I came to the realization that I needed to be by myself for a while and get to know Me. I had always been in relationships and knew who Jo-Ann was as a daughter, sister, cousin, friend, aunt, lover, wife, teacher, school administrator, colleague, caregiver – but who was Jo-Ann deep down at the core? The other lesson I learned from this man was to do things “the right way” no matter how painful it may be, so I prayed to God to give me the skillful words to honestly convey what I was feeling and why I needed to end the relationship. I asked, and the words were delivered!  This man may not have understood or believed my reasons for ending what “appeared” to be a wonderful relationship at the time, but it had nothing to do with him and everything to do with ME.  There’s that famous line in Sex and the City where Samantha tells Smith, “I love you, but I love myself more.”  Yep, that’s what I was feeling! It was a “conscious uncoupling” and the right thing to do in my heart. I was able to put my head on the pillow at night and know that I did things the “right way” just like we had promised each other we would always do. Lesson mastered, wink wink!

It was also at this time when I found my yoga practice. It saved my life! Yoga opened me up in unexpected ways, softened my heart and started to change me from the inside out. The more I studied yoga philosophy and delved deeper into the Eight Limbs of Yoga, which are ethical precepts / guidelines for yourself and how you interact and show up in the world, the more that I felt like I was coming home. The more I studied and practiced, the more my soul was set on fire. The more self-inquiry and inner investigation work I did, the more I was able to be mindful and present in the “now” and for the people in my life.  Another HUGE lesson I learned at this time was to be in relationship with my Self first (this also prepared me for how I was to “show up” in my next romantic relationship months before I was turning the big 50). Honestly, I had not learned to do that. It was circa 2005 when I went on what I called a “self-imposed tour of celibacy” and dedicated that time to working on me. My sacred living space became my own ashram, my own sacred dwelling place, my own church. I found myself in a relationship with the Divine, Spirit, the Source in unimaginable ways. God is not solely in a building. He/She is in every living, breathing thing we say or do, how we say or do it,  and is ever present in the magnificent beauty around us and in us. My main goal was to be in a relationship with myself, the Divine and learn how to truly love myself unconditionally – the way the Divine Creator has done since the day I was born. This is what allowed me to show up 100% ready, willing and able when “Scandalous” blew into my life (Scandalous needs a blog all to himself…wink, wink). What I will share is that unconditional love, patience and leaving my ego at the door were the fruits born of this relationship. So were detachment, letting go, surrendering and non-judgement. What wonderful tools to have as I was entering my fifties!

Fifties are freeing and filled with much fabulousness! That’s what I always heard the women around me say. I can personally vouch for the fact that they are. However, it requires work. When we work on ourselves, find ourselves, find our path, purpose, and passion and, more importantly, our voice to speak our truth, we are FREE! It requires so much gut-wrenching, heart-opening and soul-bearing painful work; nevertheless, the benefits are all worth it. My fifties were a time of just that. I grew into my authentic Self and loved it. I was able to look back, connect the dots and see how every single life experience led me to this wonderfully freeing and liberating decade, the work I was doing and how I was being of service to my Maker. My goal wasn’t just to talk the talk, but to truly and authentically walk the walk. I have been able to show up this way because I learned how to first make the time to show up for myself. “Lead by Example” became my mantra both personally and professionally. Truth, authenticity, transparency, discernment, integrity, steadfastness, reconciliation, resilience, gratitude, joy and balance have been my guiding principles throughout my fifties. They’ve been valuable lessons and blessings for which I am eternally grateful. As I look back, I see how much love I was blessed with having and how each romantic partner was instrumental in weaving this tapestry of a masterpiece I call ME. I would not change or alter a thing! I approach each new day from a place of  reverence and the deepest gratitude possible that fills my heart with endless love and joy. No one is doing that for me….I AM doing it for ME! My daily request is to be used as an instrument of peace and for the ability to be of service to whomever needs motivation, consolation, inspiration, an ear to listen or some sage advice.  You can bet that God and this most beautiful, whimsically magical, oftentimes mysterious, hilariously comical and infinite organizing Universe always delivers on all counts!

The relationship that has been the most lasting- one even life-long, and others spanning 20-30+ years has been that of my Tribe of Girlfriends. And let me not forget the “Lovelies” that came into my life during this fiercely fabulous decade! The constant, ever supportive, entertaining, amusing, special, creative, passionate, and sacred girlfriend relationship is one I value more than anything. Having said that, beware of women who don’t have female friends and/or their own tribe for that speaks volumes!!!  And if there is one additional piece of sage advice I’ve learned and can share with you regarding “that new special person” in your romantic life, is that Your Tribe Knows Best. SImply stated! Throughout our life, our girlfriends have probably known us better than we’ve even known ourselves for they have seen and been there through it all….the good, the bad, the ugly, the highs and the lows. Remember, they are part of our Spiritual Board of Directors; therefore, they need to be consulted!  FYI though, you may have to ask some of them for their input. Not everyone may be as forthright as you would be or expect them to be. Your Tribe knows when you’re not being yourself, when your energy is being depleted, when you seem overwhelmed, compromised, not being true to your Self and not in a good place. Just ask! I will say no more on the subject other than to quote my lovely Linda Lou, “Period. The end.”

As you know, I like rituals and celebrations, so I am thinking of a word I want to work with this coming year. Maybe even two words. What keeps showing up for me, time and time again, is Grace (and my confirmation came when my yoga teacher was sharing the word she wants to work on as she embarks on a new year as well). I want to find Grace in the places that I never knew it existed. I want to dig deeper than ever before and help others do the same. The start of the InspireLoveServe blog was a good starting point. I want Grace to revel itself in unexpected places, the dark as well as the light places, and I want to be able to share those places with you so we can linger together in those moments of Grace.

Now that I’ve unlearned things I learned, only to relearn them in a way  that better serves me, I also relearned how to be a child again and approach each new day with a deeper sense of wonder, awe, magic, creativity and playfulness. This is something we should all do more of, don’t you think?  We should all want to spend more time in nature and do more of the things that bring us joy and nurture our mind, body and soul….things that bring us a sense of calm, ease and deep peace, and encourage all those around us to do the same. Just look at small children and see how open, loving, free and inclusive they are. They are fearless, open and accepting…they don’t see color, race or religion. They are so spirited, carefree and vibrant! I want to live in that kind of world. It is my deepest desire that we all re-learn to approach life and others from a place of love, compassion and kindness and that we see our souls reflecting back at us when we look deeply into another’s eyes and deeply listen to their words. Another thing I know for sure is that in order to heal the world, we must first heal ourselves. We must move from a place of fear and separation to one of love and oneness.

I’ve recently taken to looking more and more at the life vision board that I created just before going into surgery in January of 2016, and seeing that I am living and doing most of the things I included. More importantly though, I want to continue growing, evolving, serving, learning, deepening and expanding my practice, inspiring mindful seeds of change, making a difference in the world and in the healing of humanity, helping others grow into their best self, empowering and supporting young girls, paying forward, celebrating with friends and family, going on adventurous retreats and cozy getaways, loving deeply and passionately….to sum it up –  Living With Intention! And as far as romantic relationships go, who knows? I am perfectly happy in the most fulfilling and intimate relationship I’ve ever had, and that is the one I’m in with Me. If that realization isn’t a moment of Grace in and of itself, then what is? What I do know for sure is that the appropriate soulmate will show up in divine time, and we will be able to reap all the beautiful benefits of having “worked the work” over the course of the time it took for us to come together. I’ve learned not sweat the small stuff my darlings…I have arrived!

Sixty is virtually around the corner. I’ve heard “60” described as seismic, sensational and spectacular. Starting tomorrow, each new day will bring me closer to that mountain top called 60. Each new day will bring me new opportunities to serve here. I mentioned Snatam Kaur’s song, On This Day, in an earlier post. Please take a moment to listen to it if you haven’t already done so. She has such an angelic voice! Listening to that song is an absolutely sacred and meaningful way to start the day! It allows us to settle in, ground, root, re-commit and set the tone for the way we’d like to approach the day, shine our brilliance and magnificence, and honor that life we’ve been given.  Each day we open our eyes is our birth day. We are given life again. How can we not ask, “How can I serve here?” Yep…Grace it is, and Gracefully is how I’ll do it!

“The ghosts of all the women you used to be are all so proud of who you have become, storm child made of wild and flame.” Nikita Gill

 

This essay is dedicated to all the women, ancestors and guides that paved the way for me, walk along side of me and have made it possible for me to carry out their legacy. With infinite love, grace and gratitude, Jo-Ann Theresa Carricarte