Nature, “Chance” & Gratitude

From the Sanctuary:

The first cicadas of summer are making their buzzing debut—invoking a sense of relaxation whenever I hear it. Pretty soon the sharp snapping of the katydids calling out to each other will be joining them for the midseason orchestra that I love so much.

Passionately perched in my lanai, pen in hand, I am surrounded by color with my row of tiger lilies exploding in front of me, blossoming white rose-of-sharon with red centers and hanging petunia baskets of red, yellow and white. A new addition yesterday came as a complete surprise, spotted in a Western New York grocery store. There, next to a haphazard display of succulents was a healthy bromeliad. This caught my eye immediately because a close friend in Florida has them decorating her balcony and patio. The bright red flower was calling her and my names, so I carefully tucked it into the child seat of the cart and took it home. It’s ten feet away from me now, happy in its new place.

At dusk, although the sunset is less dramatic tonight, hidden behind clouds, I decide to take a walk by the creek to take in the pleasant stillness. When I reach the stream, I pause by the water to take in the fresh air. There’s a deer on the other side, and we startle each other. I smile and whisper, “Hello Baby.” He/she checks me out for a minute before scampering off, snobbishly waving a white tail. I continue on through the grass, lush from yesterday’s torrential rain. I pass a dirt mound where a solo Queen Ann’s lace towers toward the sky looking majestic, living up to her name. Her tall presence prompts a gratitude memory from a couple of weeks ago.

I was sitting alone in my office when I heard a voice at my door, “I’m sorry to disturb you, but yours was the only open door in the hallway.”   The looming man standing there was looking for a professor. I recognized his bald head, signature bow tie and larger than life stature immediately, yet he seemed out of place in an academic setting. Before I directed him, I said, “Are you a pediatric surgeon?” When he responded “Yes,” I extended my hand and smiled. What I really wanted to do was throw my arms around him in a hug. As tears of joy welled up in my eyes, I explained that he was responsible for saving my son’s life twenty years prior. It was a moment to savor for both of us. He asked questions about my son’s scar, and his condition and updated me on what to look for in future generations. I had the pleasure of telling him about the man my son had grown up to be. When you are alone in a dim recovery room holding a sedated infant and frightened and relieved at the same time, you don’t think about such things or have the words to whisper a proper thanks. So to have this opportunity to exchange the praises of gratitude was magical. When I came home that evening and told my son, he rolled his eyes, and I laughed thinking about how many similar gestures I would’ve missed without him.

I continued my walk past the dirt mound to the edge of the field where I stood with my hands on my hips. I inhaled the surge of love for my kids that came over me at that moment. Always regenerating itself, especially in moments like this when I look up at the sky and the magnificence of its vastness and the Universe beyond. The same Universe that set up a “chance” meeting of which there have been too many in my life to believe they are really chance. I’ve learned to enjoy them. And I did so watching the bats come out to feast and the beginning of the fireflies’ flashy show.

Returning to Joyful Reality

 

People often refer to me as someone who is positive all the time.  I would describe myself more as someone who always consciously pays attention to the beauty and good that surround me, yet I love and admit that my perspective manifests itself that way. Really, achieving overall bliss for me was a concerted, yet simple effort, gets better with practice and was recently enhanced by an AHA moment.   While sitting poolside reading a book in Florida for the first time in some years, I placed it upside down on my belly between chapters, and reflected. It felt so good to be still with a friend next to me, sharing the evening breeze whispering through the palms and drifting back and forth between reading and quiet conversation. Minus our phones, I was reminded of how fulfilling my days were before the interruptions of devices or the urge to utilize, consult or rely on them. It had only been six short years since it started with the purchase of my cell phone. It occurred to me just how swiftly and intensely that technology, along with the accompanying social media, had driven my life into fast forward. Lounging there, I longed for this fast-paced madness to stop.

When I returned home, I hit the “Stop” button on the tape recorder of my life by deleting my Facebook account with a polite goodbye to my virtual “friends.” In an instant I felt as if a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I found myself propelled back into my own quiet reality; blessedly alone.  Although I couldn’t recoup the time lost from the looking, scrolling, commenting, judging and comparing, I could get my life back by settling back into “Play” mode.   Now that I’ve slowed back down again, I am able to take in and appreciate all that truly exists around and in front of me. It’s hard to describe, but it’s like the world stopped screaming at me. Distractions removed, I read books, schedule face to face (not screen) time with my friends and family, keenly aware of and celebrating their physical presence and aliveness, just as I used to. No more drama. Period. My alone time is spent writing on my lanai, and reserving my computer use to typing and sharing my words on my blog.

It is only here in the post-Facebook state that I fully realize how phone/computer- controlled my life had become in such a short period of time. Being so connected to everyone and everything took me far away from my spirit, my true self, my independence. Now that my thoughts are my own again, I’ve reintroduced some activities into my life that have brought me joy since childhood. One of my favorites is the Sunday drive. Either alone or with a friend, I road trip over wide open hilly swerving roads passing corn and wheat fields dotted with red barns and Amish farmers. I get lost in the country sometimes with no particular destination, but enjoy a spectacular view of the clouds and sun, and always manage to find my way back home. I also handwrite more letters and notes and surprise people with kind words through snail mail. Doing so touches my heart and brings me back to me. It is such things that did and do make me happy. I feel renewed in returning to these and so much else that brought me joy before I became lost in the digital age.

I simply did not belong there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Label Peeled

Woot! Woot!

Celebrating my removal of the label given to me nineteen years ago this summer because it no longer makes sense or is fitting or necessary. I feel too perfect to accept the title disordered or bipolar, whatever those mean. It’s just a term, yet words sometimes stick with a strong adhesive. When it was first bestowed upon me, it was a frightening one, conjuring up images of hopelessness. Through the years I’ve come to realize and demonstrate that I’m not the least bit disordered; I’m actually quite well, raising two thriving children to adulthood, working full time in higher education launching the careers of thousands of students, not to mention accumulating nearly 200 sick days over thirty years. I’m in the middle of authoring my third book, have dozens of friends, own a house that I manage in an affluent suburb and love life more than anyone I know.

Being classified as mentally ill today is becoming passé; getting old. Not only are more of my peers getting diagnosed and medicated, so are their children and grandchildren. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is the handbook used by health care professionals in the United States. When it was published in the 1970’s there were a mere two dozen diagnoses. The latest edition lists 265, plenty of new labels to go around.

As my Mother used to say through her sage wisdom based on common sense, “The worm is turning.” “Crazy, insane, nuts” or related words formerly whispered in private to describe a person perceived as not right in their mind are showing up in everyday vocabulary applied to the workplace and population and society in general. If you’ve ever noticed anyone walk off a curb or into a pole while staring down at their phones or talking to themselves on the streets (Bluetooth or not?), you just might notice that it’s become more difficult to spot the “normal” folks. The former asylum for the insane, once overflowing with patients on the outskirts of Buffalo, has been transformed into a boutique hotel and restaurant in the heart of a renaissance city. The people responsible must’ve been crazy to try it.

I’m not manic, just over stimulated by a culture that throws out too much information too fast and the angst and impatience of the device users around me who have become accustomed to instant gratification and grow frustrated when it’s not available. I’m not depressed, just retreating to the pre-Internet simple life, disconnecting from all media outlets and returning to what was considered virtual reality before it meant digital; it was a happier time for me.  I reconnected to coveted direct human contact, becoming saner in the process.

It’s ironic that I found sanity in the most unlikely of places a few months ago; a group of the most creative, fun, and intelligent writers I have ever associated with. We get together every two weeks at a well being workshop to practice our craft with pens, notebooks and thoughts; a successful format that has not changed in twenty years. We have another thing in common. We all share a label associated with mental illness. But who doesn’t these days. We are brilliant in our spontaneous exchanges, based on timed writing prompt exercises that result in laughter, honest emotional responses, genius short stories and poems. Whether or not we decide to share, there is something for everyone to take away. Our anthology comes out soon; a best seller if the New York Times ever gets wind of it.

So off comes the bipolar disorder label; exposing the more important ones that people have given me over my lifetime…Mary, Mom, sister, friend, beautiful spirit, lover of life, funny, grateful, blessed. The events surrounding my two brief episodes eighteen years apart describing excessive stress that landed me overmedicated in a hospital shouldn’t warrant a title for a lifetime.  There are so many positive ways for us to refer to each other, a diagnosis shouldn’t be one of them.  If you find yourself with a label, I invite you to peel with me; let’s make it a party.

If anyone still insists on referring to me as the “one with bipolar disorder,” even in a whisper, I ask that you consider the words of Billy Joel, “You may be right, I may be crazy, but it just might be a lunatic you’re looking for.”  After all,  we’re getting more popular, more recognition every day.

Cheers!

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Little Nature Rampage

From the Sanctuary:

Nature rampage lately…so healing to the psyche! First to Southwest Florida to explore with friends. My first day there they introduced me to their resident tree frog who peeked at me from their balcony bromeliad. Adorable beyond words! In the five days that followed we walked the beach, visited a nature park and drove to the Everglades, a destination that had been on my bucket list since I was five and read a story about it in Kindergarten. I wasn’t disappointed as we saw plenty of alligators and manatees. I ate fresh shrimp and tried Conch for the first time sitting at a picnic table by the water in one of the restaurants near the old City Hall. A teaser trip, I’ll be back.

Another highlight was our usual fishing outing which takes us from Bonita Springs out onto the Gulf of Mexico through narrow passages by small mangrove islands and inlets. My friend is an expert navigator and patient fisherman, baiting the hooks and freeing lines of those of us who aren’t the greatest at casting.  I catch nothing but the wind in my hair and sun on my face, but that is enough. The trip includes the pleasant surprise of a school of dolphins feeding near the shore. We slow up to drift between them and marvel as they surface close enough to us so we can hear the sound of the air escaping their blowholes. Magical.   I’m quiet on the way back, letting my thoughts drift peacefully and as pleasantly as the water, glad to be sharing this time in my Florida Happy Place with happy friends.

I returned to New York on a Thursday at midnight, due at Allegany Nature Pilgrimage on Friday afternoon.   Different wardrobe packed, I hop in the car headed for a weekend of scenic bliss and a prescription of workshops that include searching for spiders (led by a delightful nine-year-old bug enthusiast), butterfly catching, instruction at a beaver lodge and lesson on rattlesnakes (not nearly as dangerous as I suspected).   I was reunited with a retired friend from my UB Engineering days and had a relaxing night fireside with cabin neighbor family, a couple and their grown son.  We enjoyed our pleasant banter that included the perfect cheater microwave recipe for S’Mores in a pinch when you’re in the mood and there’s no fire to be found. Had reports of a pesky raccoon badgering (pun intended) campers for food, but he didn’t stop by my place.

The following weekend I spent Saturday and Sunday on day-long hikes with my Earth Spirit Educational Services family for the final sessions of a four-part series on herbalism field studies. By the end, I was much more adept at recognizing plants in different settings of Western New York forests, fields, creeks and ponds.   In all, we identified more than 100 plants, including a blooming Tulip tree, majestically looking like those flowering beauties in Florida. The ground looks different now, not just a place to walk upon, but a world to enjoy the endless gifts that Mother Nature provides in all of her purposeful greenery. As is the case with all Earth Spirit events, this one came with sentiments of true nature appreciation. When our educator introduced us to poison ivy he pointed out that although it has a bad reputation, all nature does what it needs in order to survive.   The more educated we become, the less fearful we will be. That was definitely true of my recent spider and rattlesnake lessons.  Reflecting, I also thought about people I have needed to forgive during my life, and I smiled in the moment thinking of them with love and a new understanding.   Perhaps that is true of humans as well…we behave in whatever ways we need in order to survive.

As I write this I am grateful to be back at my own sanctuary enjoying the bunnies chasing each other, great blue herons by the creek, sounds of the birds and the spotted fawn who appeared with Mom a couple of weeks ago sporting brand new wobbly legs. And I am happy.

Sharing True Happiness with Confidence

If I had a nickel for all of the incidences where I have heard that it is impossible for us to be happy all of the time, I would be the richest woman in the world. If I believed it, I would be the poorest. I know it is possible for us to be happy all of the time, because I am and have come to believe it is our natural state of being. Sad and angry moments happen, but they need not take over life or cancel out happiness.

I attended a recent presentation given by the counseling center at the university where I work. The topic was how to deal with “Students of Concern.” In my mind that covers the entire student population because I care about them all; I have for more than thirty years. The speaker’s message, certainly well meaning, was centered on the pressure on our young people today. She made it a point to announce that no one can be happy all the time. And inside I was thinking, “I am. Am I really the only one?” There has to be a more hopeful message we can pass on to the next generation.

Once hindered by fear and doubt,  I now confidently feel that we are supposed to be happy. Why else does it feel so good to laugh out loud, smile at a fond memory and be inspired by something I enjoy, so I found a way to maintain this state for myself. The driving force is my desire to be joyfully uplifted rather than paralyzed by misery. In my worst moments of depression, I knew that even with the assistance of others, no one could ultimately help me but myself, so I created a process. By giving careful contemplation to what brings me pleasure, diverting my thoughts away from the negative and devoting my attention and time only to that which gives me personal fulfillment, happiness became my priority. I’ve heard it said, “We all have to do what we don’t like to do.” My response to that is to find a way to make it fun or find someone who likes to do it and invite them to join me. Enjoy, Enjoy, Enjoy!

The world is filled with negativity, gloom and doom, uncertain futures and things that cause stress and anxiety. I was drowning in that until I faced the fact that it has always been that way. Yet it is also sparkling with goodness, beauty and light, caring people; life to be cherished and grateful for in the moment. That is what I have learned to embrace. It is simply a matter of focus and choice. Really.

It took a considerable amount of conditioning and reprogramming to reclaim my natural inclination to happiness. I had to backtrack with reflection, shift from mass communication to personal contact, separate myself from the media, disconnect from devices and reconnect with my friends, family and fellow human beings. Once I took care of that I was able to look around and open my heart to what had never left me…my inclination toward kindness, inner joy and ability to be happy all the time.   To describe that in one four letter word: Love.

The pursuit of perpetual happiness is a reachable and worthwhile journey if you truly desire to walk that path. And when you land there, I promise you will know it, and don’t let any person, circumstance or diagnosis talk you out of it.

Remember, when driven by love and steering toward brightness, you always move forward into goodness.  And happiness.

 

Harmony Through Loving Kindness

From the Sanctuary:

There is value in getting to know ourselves deeply and sharing that with others. Not just what we do, but who we truly are based on the joyful human beings that we are destined to be.

I never stray far from loving mode, but when I do, I intentionally seek my way back quickly because I like it there best. Realigning this way I believe is an intuitive gift that we all possess, but I had to develop my own unique way to reclaim the process. The other evening I found myself a bit crabby without knowing quite why. Busy work, honking drivers, trashed kitchen, half-finished laundry in the washer. Sometimes it’s a compilation of those little things. Perhaps it was just wanting face to face conversation with my son and his girlfriend who were preoccupied with their phones. Figuring out the reason for my deviation from harmony was not as important as my desire to recover it.

Abandoning my chores and my disposition, I put down my dish towel and stepped out into the sanctuary of my screened in porch. It was a warm evening and I remembered that my small Amish table was still stored in my spare bedroom closet, so I retrieved it and placed it in its summer position between two patio chairs. It seemed empty, so I poured myself a small glass of wine and set it on there. Now it looked complete. I sat down, took a sip and a deep breath and began my process. I was unable to focus right away, even with the approaching sunset because of the sounds of loud cars and motorcycles, so I closed my eyes and began what I call my gratitude grip exercise. I did a recollection of encountered blessings since the day began…the fun moments, smile-provoking exchanges, the friendly people at the pharmacy and grocery store. I celebrated that my son’s girlfriend made dinner and that spilled into a pool of appreciation that she also does his laundry, keeps him in line and loves him as much as I do. Soon my breathing slowed, the loud noises quieted and my attention shifted to the sounds of the birds in the trees, the soft swishing of my creek, my cat gently pawing the insects on the screen.   When I opened my eyes my psyche was able to take in the beauty before me. The faraway trees were in 3D against the setting sun and the one closest to me had fresh leaves popping out from their brown bud covers. New life. The colors all around stood out on the landscape, bright green grass, yellow daffodils and every shade of orange in the sky. Smiling and renewed inside, I was ready to begin my loving kindness meditation.

For this I use a combination of tools I learned from a holistic healer through a guided meditation circle, tips from a fascinating book called Love 2.0 written by a scientist who studies love and my own spiritual energy work. This simple technique involves calling up memories and thoughts of people (known and strangers) and sending them peaceful, joyful wishes. Putting them in the light, holding space for them, whatever the choice phrase, it’s customizable. I started with my son’s girlfriend. I breathed deep, beckoned the memories, called out the loving thoughts for her and smiled. That conjured up visions of my son, so he was next, then my daughter, and so on. No two meditations are alike. I never know quite where things will go, but it always ends at the same place, back to my familiar loving self. Guaranteed.

Most of the time I am able to do this in the moment in any situation or location, but this night I am glad that I took the extra time to revel in the loving kindness. My family, friends and the world got an extended dose of blessings, most of all me. It was late by the time I went inside and finished the chores, but I did them all with a clear and joyful heart and went to bed in harmony.

 

 

 

 

 

 

From the Sanctuary

Solo road trip along the lake, Cleveland bound. This journey begins with my being on the receiving end of a random act of kindness when I reached the toll taker arm outstretched, money in hand. She told me to keep my change and proceed on through because someone had “taken care of me.” I continued on in joy; vintage CD’s in tow. These include Queen’s A Night at the Opera, which allows me to perform my personal rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody belted out word for fabulous word with unquenchable manic enthusiasm. This, by the way, is as intuitive as Mooing when passing a field of cows. It’s a rare moment of pure unadulterated satisfactory expression.

My purpose for this adventure is to meet with a likeminded professor at Case Western University who not only understands, but preaches the power of positivity. A historic Gothic hotel is my stay of choice, where I arrive early afternoon and spend several hours writing uninterrupted. Nice. In the evening I turn the television on (I don’t have one at home, so this is an act of bravery) and surf around, landing on a National Geographic interview of the Dali Lama. His words and message send me to a peaceful meditative place before I settle into slumber.

Too cheap to spend the fourteen dollars for the hotel breakfast buffet the next morning, I head to Case Western three hours before my appointment. The campus is much different than the University at Buffalo I’m accustomed to, nicely interspersed with the local community and featuring as many modern buildings as old ones, adding a lot of character to the locale. The nature is different as well. There are groves of fascinating trees with pretty-colored peeling bark that I can only identify as River Birch. I also encounter several red squirrels and a skunk safely observed from afar.

After I wander for a bit, I ask a student on a street corner where the best place to get a cup of coffee is. His friendly response doesn’t disappoint. When I arrive at The Coffee House, I find the perfect spot to my personal liking. No franchise here, instead a quaint local shop in a restored old house, clean with antique furniture and run by a local owner (in our short “small world” chat, we discover that his wife grew up ten miles from me). And they have Jamaica Me Crazy flavor! I hang out there and write some more before taking a long walk, exploring buildings and engaging in people watching.

At noon, I am warmly received by both the Organizational Behavior Department and the professor. As part of their MS in Organizational Development and Change program, he teaches a course and concept called Appreciative Inquiry, a process that focuses on an organization’s and its employees’ strengths to be built upon rather than problems to be solved. This is done through a series of inquiries and storytelling to invoke positive emotional responses. After taking the course online, I know the material and his intense wisdom and insights will add significant value to the work I will be doing in my program coaching young adults diagnosed with mental illnesses to thrive.

Dining over the best college food I’ve ever tasted, we talk about topics that aren’t often strung together… joy, neuroscience, compassion, Alzheimer studies, coaching, how words create worlds and the importance of listening. I show him the draft of what I am working to accomplish and he gives me more contact names and offers to review it and send feedback as I move toward implementation. My serving heart is working its way into a plan, and I am grateful for the encouragement and support.

Spirits elevate after our meeting; I head out into the sunshine to enjoy the waterfront and a stop at the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame where I read about the history of Bohemian Rhapsody. I don’t sing it there, at least out loud. My visit provides a fun jaunt through music history and memorabilia and my favorite display cases exhibit the first handwritten drafted lyrics of some of the most famous songs ever written. Words create worlds.

My evening ride home is more passive, with instrumental synthesizer music accompanying my smile, the dimming sunset and some contemplative thoughts.  Reflecting back to seven months ago when I received word that my job would not be renewed, I thought, “When one door closes…”  And then I said out loud, “Let us keep inspiring one another.”