Intentions, Resolutions and Reminders

Dead Branches and reflections 2

Growing up I was somewhat clumsy and awkward. I was always tall for my age—I stopped growing at the age of twelve and was even taller than most of the boys in my class, who soon outgrew me. My parents also thought I was careless. I wasn’t really, just lacking in experience. I also had poor proprioception. That word defines an actual sense: awareness of where one is in space and how much effort is being put out. I once embarrassed myself dreadfully when my best friend’s mother asked me to help her set the table, by pulling it completely out of the sideboard and dumping its contents on the floor.

While I outgrew the awkwardness and with the aid of yoga even became quite graceful, I still struggle with the proprioception. However I found that mindfulness helps greatly with that. Centering myself, slowing down, and practicing deliberate awareness when I am moving around or even pouring water from a pitcher into a glass, is a must. Over the years I have tried to make this a habit, like washing my hands with frequency, especially lately.

The flu season has made it vital to remember to wash my hands each time I return home, especially when I’ve been touching things like Grocery cart handles, restroom doorknobs and even counters or tabletops. The other day in a restaurant a woman near us was coughing with frequency into her hand as well as into the air around her. We are told that washing hands well is more effective than using sanitizers and better for our health.

I learned this the hard way. Last week I picked up a germ that invaded my sinuses and hit my right eye causing me great pain and rendering me unable to read for any length of time. As a result I have strongly resolved to wash my hands carefully not only when using any restroom but especially immediately upon arriving home. I hope to avoid not only the flu, but any other germs.

Resolutions are better kept when we have a reminder to do so, and a deliberate intention is well bolstered by any negative experience that happens when we haven’t. Hand washing is now an imperative for me, and while I regret the suffering and pain of my illness, I am grateful for the positive reinforcement of my intentions. Powerful reminders are not always pleasant, however they certainly are useful. Making lists helps too. Without a list my intentions, let alone whatever I have resolved to do may be forgotten.

Getting older has its good and its bad aspects. Becoming wiser by virtue of experience is helpful. Becoming more mindful as a result of that experience helps greatly also. On the other hand, becoming forgetful is a nuisance. However, my lists do help considerably. The trick is to remember to write things down and then also to look at the list. When I was a young parent in order to stay on top of things I had to outwit my children. Now instead in order to stay awake and aware I have to outwit myself.

Smiles and Frowns can Grow on You

My first husband was in the ROTC in college. After his graduation we went to El Paso to live while he attended officers’ school. My little girl took her first steps there. We lived in a small housing complex with other young families. I became friend with another of the mothers in her twenties. She was from Oklahoma. One of the first things I noticed about her was that living in that hot, dry climate had scored deep frown and squint wrinkles in her youthful skin. Seeing them I determined right then that if I was going to have wrinkles at least they would be pleasant ones, and so I trained myself to notice whenever I started to squint or frown. Then as I caught myself, I would stop.

Some research on the Internet revealed that it takes more muscles for a genuine smile than it does for a frown. Furthermore, the act of smiling exercises the facial muscles and brings more blood to nourish the cells of the face. This I turn helps make us look younger and prettier. More important, so far as I m concerned is that the act of smiling releases endorphins in the brain. These are feel good hormones that makes us feel happier. So as we do so, we smile more and so forth. This is called a positive feedback loop.

One does not always feel like smiling. Some days it seems like the whole world is conspiring to create problems for you. Now certainly you do not feel like smiling. However, you can take heart. Even a pretend smile releases he feel good endorphins. I learned this from Thicht Nhat Hahn, the well-known teacher of meditation. If you make even a small smile it will release some of those feel good endorphins and make you feel better and more like really smiling.

The subject of this column was sparked by the visit of an old and dear friend who came over recently for lunch. He told us that a little while ago when he was interviewing for a job his interviewer asked him, “Do your cheeks hurt?” He said they didn’t and asked why. “Because you never seem to stop smiling,” came the reply. He does indeed smile a lot, and he is a very happy person. I expect there is a connection there. For myself ever since I can remember I have always enjoyed smiling at people. It does make me feel good and sometimes I get a smile in return.

Years ago I did find that it was unwise to smile at strangers on the subway because they might get the wrong idea and try to follow me home. It is also true that in some societies, smiles are considered bad form and indicate something less than friendliness. An article in Wikepedia suggests that smiles may have evolved from a grimace of fear. However, perhaps this worked to make people less fearful and happier, who knows. It has been said that in our youth we have the face God gave us, and in our elder years we have the face we have given ourselves. This is a good enough reason to smile as often as possible.

Tasha Halpert

The Importance of Self Care

Teddy Bear 2

As children we are often told to be kind, to be sharing and giving, and to show our love to others by how we treat them. We are seldom told to care for or to love ourselves. I remember as a child sending for a nurse kit from Quaker Oats. It was advertised on a radio program I listened to every weekday. I liked the idea of being a nurse. It was a way to care for others, as I was told to do. After my little kit came I bandaged up my teddy bear and treated him to a hospital stay as I played nurse in my little white cap and apron.

As young people we feel invulnerable; we can go for a night without sleep and hardly notice. Unless we have allergies or some medical condition, eating whatever we like is the rule rather than the exception. We seldom need to sit and rest after exertion but can continue on as if we were made of steel. I was in my late forties when I began to realize I could no longer treat my body as if it were some kind of machine that could go on and on.

I began to notice that if I didn’t pace myself I would need to slow down or even stop in the middle of my efforts to get everything done. This bothered, even annoyed me. I didn’t like to stop. I wanted to do what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it. Then I had a real wake-up call: I got an excruciating pain in my neck and shoulder that wouldn’t go away. It took a number of chiropractic treatments and a lot of rest before I was able to move without hurting. The experience was extremely unpleasant. I finally got the message: I had been treating my body badly, and I needed to change my attitude.

First and foremost I realized I heeded to stop and rest between efforts. I also began to notice that when I ate certain foods I was uncomfortable; when I didn’t get enough sleep I was dragging. While this annoyed me, I had to admit it was important information. I realized that while it was strong and able my body needed a different kind of attention. Rather than treat it offhandedly as a machine that just needed fuel and occasional maintenance, I needed to treat it kindly, as if it were a faithful animal that was carrying me where I needed to go. I also had to accept its messages as needs and wants rather as impediments to what I wished to do when I wished to do it.

The importance of my self care grows with each passing year. Movement I used to take for granted has become an effort. There are even things I can’t easily do at all any more. But what is more important is that I remember to do what I need to do for my comfort as well as my health: Rest between efforts, meditate, take time to sit with my feet up, put in my eye drops, drink enough water, eat enough fiber, avoid what I can no longer comfortably digest. My list could go on and on, however I’ve made my point. Self care matters. More importantly, remembering to care for myself means I can continue to care for others, and that most of all is a good reason to do so.

Tasha Halpert

I am Thankful

Stephen and Tasha Hug          I make a practice of being thankful. I have often shared the little prayer I say a dozen or more times a day for various and sundry blessings. However it is not necessary to pray one’s thanks. It enough to simply acknowledge that one is grateful. My gratitude for what I have is enormous. I am also very grateful for much that I do not have, or may have had and no longer do.

What we have and what we do not have may both are something to be thankful for. Did you ever think back to when you were little and wanted something–a pony, perhaps? Most likely you didn’t get it, and most likely if you had you would soon have tired of taking care of it. Ponies require daily brushing, cleaning up after, feeding, petting, riding, and more: taking care of the saddle, bridle and all the required tack. They are a lot of work, and the child who wants the pony doesn’t think about that.

We seldom think about the consequences of receiving what we wish for. There is an old adage that goes: be careful what you wish for, you may get it. I remember admiring big houses, and oh how I wished for a swimming pool. One day I acquired both. That pool was more work than it was worth, although many people enjoyed it. However they weren’t tasked with the care of it as I was.

I used to think I wanted more space, and now having had two large houses–though one was smaller than the other, I have learned that every bit of space I may have requires care and looking after. I have learned to be content with a lot less space that I ever thought I would be.

As well I am thankful for those difficulties I have left behind. It is lovely not to have to clean three bathrooms each week, tend a huge garden, prune lots of bushes. When I hear a child yelling in the supermarket I am delighted it’s not my job to care for a howling toddler. I am also glad not to have be cooking a big Thanksgiving dinner and hosting a large group of people. I enjoyed and was thankful at the time I did all these things, now I am glad that time has passed.

There is much else I am just as glad not to wish for any longer. I used to think I would like to go up in a balloon, I don’t feel the need to do that any more. I don’t want to jump out of an airplane with a parachute either. I am thankful that I don’t need to do these things to be happy or feel fulfilled.

Thinking about thankfulness as I do each and every day but most especially at Thanksgiving I am struck by the way I have learned what I truly want and how fulfilled I feel. Once I yearned to be more popular. Now I am thankful for the friends I do have. I have learned that what is important to me are the small daily pleasures of contact with people and our communications. Most of all I am grateful for my beloved partner and best friend Stephen. Having a special friend with whom to share my life is my greatest blessing.

It Tolls For Thee

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As Above, So Below Photo by Tasha Halpert

Heartwings says, “Love is the goal and love is the way to achieve it.”

When a huge tragedy occurs we are all affected. As John Donne, the 17th century metaphysical poet said, Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. On April 15, Whether we were on the scene or safely watching it on TV, we were there. Even if we hadn’t yet heard about it, we were there. It is my feeling that in some mysterious way, we are all connected, interwoven with one another like the cells of a finger or an eye. Yet each functions as we are created to do by our unique makeup.

As we are all connected, when we harm one another, we are harming ourselves. It makes more sense to be peaceful, yet human beings seem to continue to pursue conflict as they always have. Animals that live by cooperation live longer, healthier lives than those who do not. Why is it that part of us attacks another part of us? There may be many reasons given, as many as there are speakers. Not one of them is either right or wrong. It is what it is.

Regardless, the healthier each one of can become, the healthier we all will. Much progress has been made in the last century in so many ways. Most recently is the trend toward men spending quality time with their infants and toddlers, changing their diapers and bathing them. How wonderful for a child to have the care of both mothers and fathers at such a young age. Cigarette smoking was once prevalent throughout our society. Now it is frowned upon by many. Recycling is common, conservation is growing.

Progress is made slowly. Yet sometimes that is best. The slow plow turns a deep furrow. The loving responses of the many as the Marathon tragedy unfolded is heartening to see. Little tales of compassion continue to surface. We might take some small consolation that the tragedy has brought out our best selves, teaching us what  we can do to change the world to a more compassionate, loving place to live. Little by little with each act of kindness and compassion we add to the sum until little else is left but love.

May you find joy in sharing and caring. Blessings and Best Regards, Tasha Halpert