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In a TED Talk Jon Jandai offers some significant food for thought regarding what truly matters and how we complicate our lives unnecessarily.

Here’s an example of his simple wisdom, Before I thought that stupid people like me … cannot have a house… because people who are cleverer than me and get a job need to work for 30 years to have a house. But for me, who cannot finish university, how can I have a house. It’s hopeless for people who have low education like me. But when I start to do earthen buildings, it’s so easy! I spent two hours per day… and in 3 months I have a house. A friend who was the most clever in the class he has a house too but he has to be in debt for 30 years, so compared to him I have 29 years and 9 months of free time. I feel life is so easy.” 

And here’s another, “I feel like now is the most uncivilized era of humans on this Earth.  We have so many people who finish university, we have so many universities on the Earth.  We have so many clever people on this Earth.  But, life is harder and harder.  We make it hard for whom?  We work hard for whom right now?”

Jandai’s message resonates with me as I seriously consider taking the next step towards living more simply and consciously.

The video above is an excerpt from a talk  by Robert Emmons,   professor of psychology at the University of California, and author of “Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude can Make you Happier.”

Emmons observes, ” Gratitude is not easy. It’s not something that comes naturally, but has to be worked at. It has to be cultivated. It goes far beyond saying ‘thank you.’ It’s deeper than that; it can be a really fundamental way of viewing life, an orientation toward life itself.”

Emmons asserts that gratitude changes lives.  My own experience has certainly supported his assertion.  The more I practice gratitude, the more resilient and optimistic I feel.  How are you at experiencing gratitude?  Want to get better at it?

Following are some resources that you might find helpful.

Enhance Happiness and Health

Six Ways to Cultivate Gratitude

A Practical Guide to Gratitude

A Meditation for Cultivating Gratitude

Gratitude as a Spiritual Practice 

On January 22 from 7:00 to 8:30 join us in a warm and cozy environment to refresh your soul and deepen your spiritual life.  We’ll be discussing the first three chapters of “When the Heart Waits” by Sue Monk Kidd. While the group is free, you must pre-register by email in order to participate. Put “register me” for book group in subject line. Register at: tammiefowles@gmail.com

For more information visit: https://www.facebook.com/events/852567931430974/

sue monk kidd quote

We’re so busy these days, more often than not it seems, too buried beneath the often insignificant details of our lives to fully live them, or as Gregg Levoy observes, “to make them literally come true.”

What would it mean to make your life come true?   According to the dictionary, ‘true’ is defined as “real, genuine, authentic.”  From this perspective, how true is your life?  Is it guided by what you believe to be meaningful and ethical?  What fills your hours?  Your days?  Do they contain what truly matters most to you?  What percentage of your time does what you say and do genuinely reflect who you are and what you love?  How real, genuine, and authentic does your life feel?

In an article entitled, To Be Seen, Tim Kutzmark lamented,  “Look around—we are a people of masks and disguises. We are a people who have been taught to transform ourselves into what others need us to be… We’ve come to believe that most people don’t want to see or hear what we feel, what we need, who we are. We’ve learned that most people don’t want to see the messiness and confusion that each of us carries inside. We’ve learned that only parts of ourselves are publicly presentable. Other parts must be hidden away. For acceptability, approval or promotion, we conceal the rough edges, the broken places…”

In one of my favorite children’s stories, The Velveteen Rabbit, the little toy rabbit who longs to be real asks his companion, the skin horse, how he might become real.  The wise old skin horse replies ,  ‘It doesn’t happen all at once… You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

While I’m reasonably certain that I was absolutely  real as a child, returning to that elusive and imperfect state is proving to be  a long and frequently demanding journey.  The outer world’s claims on my time, energy, and psyche all too often distract and sometimes overwhelm me, while the inner voice that calls me towards greater authenticity issues its own demands.  It has  repeatedly insisted that I piece together those places inside of myself that have been broken or discarded in order to be whole again.  It urges me to reveal  my weaknesses and vulnerabilities rather than to hide them away in shame.  It insists  that my behavior not contradict my values, orders that less  of my time be wasted on things that don’t matter much, mercilessly rejects all attempts on my part to deceive either myself or others,  and unrelentingly calls on me to listen to my love and not my fear.

   Along the way to becoming real, like the velveteen rabbit,  I’ve suffered significant scars, and am no longer the beauty that I once was when I was untried, unmasked, and brand new.  And yet, as I continue to work on living consistently smack dab in the middle of my truth, I find new opportunities and new doors being opened up.  I encounter teachers every where (when I am open to them) that encourage me to do my very best to make as much as I possibly can of the sweet life that is left to me come true.

Tara Brach is a clinical psychologist, author, lecturer, and teacher of Buddhist mindfulness meditation.  I’ve listened to several of her teachings via her youtube channel which blend western psychology with eastern spiritual practices, and I’ve gained a great deal of insight from reading her book, “Radical Acceptance.”

In an interview with Deb Kory on Pschotherapy.net, Tara shared, ” I remember being very struck by William James, who wrote that “all religions start with the cry, ‘help.’” Somehow deep in our psyches there is always some part of us that’s going, “Okay, how am I going to deal with this life? How am I going to deal with what’s around the corner?” What happens for most people—and this is kind of the way I organized True Refuge—is that we develop strategies to try to navigate life that often don’t work. I call these false refuges. This is in all the wisdom traditions. We know that the grasping and the resisting and the overeating and the over-consuming and the distracting ourselves and the proving ourselves and the overachieving… just don’t create that sanctuary of safety and peace and well-being. It just doesn’t work.”

Her newest book, “True Refuge” explores the pathways through which we find what her title suggests, our true refuge – one that exists within each and every one of us.  Her following talk, “Awakening Through Change and Loss”  addresses these issues as well.

If you’re currently struggling,  you may want to read about RAIN, a very helpful four step process for dealing with painful emotion described by Tara on her website.  You can read more about RAIN here.   

The very same holiday rituals that were filled with Joy during other years can become acutely painful when we’re grieving .  So much that warmed our spirits  during happier times now leave us cold, adding still more weight to hearts so heavy  that we may be exhausted from carrying them around.

I lovingly reach out to those of you who are hurting during these holidays to reassure you that as painful as they can be,  you can not only get through them, you can experience brief and beautiful moments of love,  awe, gratitude and perhaps even joy. In addition to the video above,  you may also find the following articles helpful.

How to Help Ourselves Through the Holidays

Meaningful Remembrance Ideas for Holiday Grief

During this difficult time of year when the absence of someone you love can feel so much more profound  than their presence did the year before,  and you have no choice but to grieve while the celebration goes on around you, I urge you to make every modest and healing decision that you possibly can. Decide to take in the love that still surrounds you even if only for a moment. Decide to touch someone else’s holiday in a modest but meaningful way. Decide to acknowledge the multitude of gifts that still grace your life – a beautiful sunset, a perfect snowflake,  the rich aroma of a scrumptious pie in the oven, the presence of light at the push of a button, a warm home, loving hearts,  unanticipated gifts of grace that are already on their way, and so much more….

I bless you.  I bless your magnificent, wounded, heavy, and yet still bravely beating heart……

It will get easier, I promise…….

Tammie

TeJae Byram winter 9

Photographer: TeJae Byram

By Linda Campanella

Today I brought two yellow roses to my father. Two days from now, my late mother would be turning 80. Yellow roses were “their” roses ever since their romance began in 1956. Mom lived just long enough to celebrate their 52nd anniversary before succumbing to cancer in the fall of 2009, one year and a day from her terminal diagnosis.

The flower shop is less than a mile away from my dad’s house. While driving the short distance, en route to one of my more or less weekly “lunch and laundry” dates with him, I realized I had started to cry. It still surprises me that the tears can come so quickly when I indulge memories of my mother and find myself yearning for her to not be gone.

I don’t often ask my father how much he yearns for her to be with him again. I’m reticent largely because I don’t want him to be sad. My mother’s dying wish – her instructions to him, I suppose – were “Don’t be sad.”

When I handed him the roses, he didn’t say “thank you”; instead he said, “I know.”

“What do you know?” I asked, without needing to. “I know,” he said again. “It’s coming up.”

He has bought yellow flowers himself in the past. I remember being deeply moved when I discovered a big bouquet of yellow roses on his kitchen counter while visiting a few days after February 14, 2010. They were roses for Mom on her first Valentine’s Day without him.

My parents’ love for each other was never more in evidence than during their love story’s final chapter.  I’m often asked how my dad is doing, especially by people who’ve read my memoir of Mom’s final year and therefore experienced vicariously Dad’s wrenching heartache and anticipatory grief. When asked, my response is – and the truth is – that he is doing really great. I desperately hope that wherever and in whatever form she is now, my mother bears witness to her sweetie pie’s strength and resilience.

He’s become a much more social creature, which would surprise her. Soon after her death, eight or so of their cul-de-sac neighbors started a monthly get-together, with hosting duties rotating among them month to month. To my surprise, he accepted the invitation to attend the inaugural gathering. Maybe he said yes because he knew how much my mother would have loved this kind of thing. (And it’s quite possible he would have sent her off without him if they’d been invited as a couple!) I went to visit him that afternoon and prepared an appetizer for him to bring. As he was leaving, he told me I might as well stay put in his house, because he’d only stay a half hour or so at the party and we could play another round of rummy upon his return. An hour and a half later, he called to tell me I might as well go home; he was having a good time – though his actual and understated report had been “It’s not bad.” Five years later he’s still going – and hosts when it’s his turn. My offers of assistance were declined ages ago.

Though long past retirement age, he’s still working on average three days a week as a radiologist. In April, I took care of his dog for five days so he could take a course at Harvard and earn continuing ed credits. Last month, he renewed his medical license for another two years. He is much in demand by the radiology department he chaired in his younger days, highly esteemed by his physician colleagues and the young residents whom he teaches, and genuinely loved by the technicians who work with and occasionally flirt with him. He’s always been a real charmer.

He arrives well before 6AM to get a jump on reading films left from the prior day. Two weeks ago, he turned 83 on what happened to be a scheduled work day for him. Since I thought it was a big deal to be turning 83, I called the radiology department mid-morning, just to give folks a heads-up in the hope they might wish Dad a happy birthday. I hated to imagine no one would acknowledge his special day.

“Honey, we are way ahead of you!” was the surprising response. Apparently he was welcomed that morning with balloons, posters, pastry, and a string of requests from female colleagues wanting to be photographed with him. The tech on the phone told me that each time he accommodated a request to pose for a photo, he said to the woman next to him, “Be careful; Nan is watching!”

“Nan is so happy you have all of us to love you!” was the rejoinder. How perfect – and perfectly true! My siblings and I also are so happy about this. We believe work has given our dad a reason – and the courage – to keep living. And we know the sense of being needed and also loved has been balm for a heart broken when the person who needed and loved him most left him alone.

I marvel at many things about him, including his stamina and legendary work ethic, but most of all I marvel at my father’s mind. While my own gives hints of growing dimmer as I grow older, his mind seems sharper than ever. English is his second language, yet I venture to guess that his vocabulary is exponentially larger and his grammar far better than 99.5% of Americans’.  Don’t challenge him to Scrabble, Boggle, or any other word game and expect to win! With a steel trap for a memory, he has an especially uncanny ability to remember details of history, and he can correctly identify just about any piece of classical music after hearing only the first few measures played; then he’ll recite the life story of the composer and provide a brief lesson in the history of the period or place in which he lived.

Last month I took a three-hour trip with Dad to visit my sister in New Jersey, and because he has never been a conversationalist, I decided to break the silence and pass some time by playing an old car game; “Let’s pick a letter and name all the places that start with it,” I suggested.  He jumped at the challenge, of course expecting to destroy me. We started with “A.” As we progressed through the alphabet, I managed to keep up with him pretty well, but I failed miserably when he digressed occasionally to ask me a question related to a place one of us had just named.

We spent a lot of time on the letter “D,” I recall. “What do you mean you don’t know what happened in the Dardanelles?” he asked in disbelief. (I had already confessed to not even knowing where the hell the Dardanelles are located on a map!) An urgent geography lesson evolved quickly into a riveting history lesson about the Ottoman Empire, the Gallipoli campaign and World War I. And although I earned a point for naming Dunkirk while we were thinking of places beginning with “D,” I didn’t remember enough as I should have about the famous battle there, and another lesson replete with astounding detail ensued. By the time we got to “G” I was feeling both much smarter and totally humiliated by my relative ignorance.  He, always a great teacher, was in his element.

I felt like one of the luckiest girls alive on that father-daughter trip to the Jersey Shore.

How lucky I am that my dad is still in my life and that his life is still so full. What a relief that his broken heart has mended, that his mind is still so brilliant, and that his body remains so sound. He is a little more stooped over, his hair is a little thinner, and he eats too many frozen meals and not enough fruit; but other than that, he is doing just fine. Five years a widower, he is healthy and he is happy; he is needed and he is loved.

What better present could we possibly give my mother for her 80th birthday than that?

Linda Campanella is the author of a Nautilus Award-winning and life-affirming memoir about her joy-filled last year with her terminally ill mother. WHEN ALL THAT’S LEFT OF ME IS LOVE: A DAUGHTER’S STORY OF LETTING GO is about love and loss, family and faith, hope and hospice, grief and gratitude.  Since her experience and her book’s publication, Campanella has become a passionate advocate for compassionate end-of-life care. More information about the author and her book can be found at www.lindacampanella.tateauthor.com.

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