About what matters

Writing about what really matters

Month: December, 2013

A card for Madiba


I just could not depict him as frail. To me, he is a lion. … When the [Harlem Boys’ Choir] came out, he sat up in his chair and just sort of puffed up, and glowed. That’s when I took that amazing shot that I was so grateful for. It showed his vision and strength and love. –photographer Jane Feldman, speaking of the primary photo I used in my card above

As I wrote in an earlier post, I’ve recently become aware of the need for more forgiveness in my life. To provide a focal point for my intention to create it, I decided to make a SoulCollage card to represent Forgiveness.

As I searched in vain for images that might help me represent this very abstract concept, I remembered the wonderful image of Nelson Mandela (whose tribal name was Madiba) I’d saved from a recent Yes! magazine. What could be more perfect than a man who personified forgiveness?


A path forward


A manual for human beings … Should be read by every person alive. –Boston Globe, reviewing Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom

I used to consider it a great luxury to stay up late, reading to the end of a book. As I did so Friday night and Gracie tried valiantly to herd me to bed, I realized it’s been a long time since I’ve indulged.

Last night’s book was Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom. I’d bought it some time ago, and initially got bogged down in the childhood and early adulthood chapters. I took it out of the bookcase a few days ago and got down to the part I was really interested in–the activist years, the trials, his philosophy, resistance techniques, imprisonment, and finally (after an unimaginable 27 and a half years), freedom.

I hadn’t originally found the book to be a page-turner, as the cover blurb tells me the Los Angeles Times Book Review did, but Friday night it certainly was, and after a difficult day at work, I was happy to immerse myself in a world of far greater challenges than mine.

The impetus for reading the book started when I went out of town for a few days last weekend. I’ve noticed that when I do, I seem to receive an extra measure of guidance when I meditate. Last weekend, it came to my attention that it would really serve me to be as absolutely free of resentment as I possibly can be–and that I wasn’t there yet.

As I pondered this over the next few days, Nelson Mandela, whom I’ve long admired for the quality of forgiveness and magnanimity that seems to me a huge theme of his life, came into my mind. And so I picked up his memoir once again.

As I put the book down at 2:30 am, I realized a 40-minute meditation wasn’t going to happen. I decided to meditate for 5 minutes or so before lights out. I usually invoke an angel or ascended master when I meditate, and though I wasn’t sure whether he technically qualified, Mr. Mandela seemed the obvious choice. So I asked for his assistance in releasing all resentment from my mind, spirit, and body. As I mentioned my body, I was surprised to feel an unpleasant weight lifting from the pit of my stomach, which is still gone as I write, and a lovely sense of peace descend.

I went to bed at 3 am, feeling that I could see a path forward in my own immediate journey.

Like a faucet that cannot be turned off

leopard card

This past weekend, I went to a SoulCollage gathering and made two cards. Apparently I had a wild cat theme going on, as one of the cards featured two lionesses and a bedraggled cub, and the other featured a leopard, one of my companion animals.

One of the SoulCollage card suits is companion animals, one (or more) for each chakra, which collectively form your personal totem pole. For me the leopard represents raw power, as well as its well-known and unchangeable spots.

The idea with SoulCollage is to create cards using images that are personally meaningful to you, or that attract you for reasons you don’t fully understand, and then let them speak. I typically select images and create cards very intentionally, but find that there are still frequently surprises. Here’s what my new leopard card had to say when I read it at the gathering.

I [the leopard] am one who is powerful–a deep core of strength. I am/you are more than strong enough to deal with this situation [another challenge at work that was the topic of my question].

I [the waterfall] am the flow of blessings into your life. Believe me, they are coming. A faucet that cannot be turned off–an eternal flow of love.

Green, verdant abundance–it is all there for you, waiting to be uncovered.

Tap into your strength.

You are who you are–some people will like it–some won’t. Be with the ones who do. Be yourself, don’t change.

How to optimize your energy

white infinity

Perhaps, like me, you’ve been finding your energy somewhat depleted by the holiday season and all it entails. Here’s a little trick that for me was life-changing … I’ve been using it myself this week.

I learned this technique from Sarah Owen, who practices Donna Eden’s energy medicine. The theory behind this is that a person’s energy pattern, instead of flowing correctly in an infinity (figure eight) pattern, can become homolateral.

What I know for sure is that when I started using this technique several times a day, I was able to significantly lift my overall energy level and accomplish more. I’ve also found that correcting the flow of my energy using this technique can also immediately improve my mood (major bonus!). I typically use the technique when I’m feeling tired. It allows me to determine whether I’m legitimately tired because I’ve been working my butt off, as we women do, or if my energy is simply out of whack.

So here it is: Using one or more fingers of my dominant hand, I trace a figure eight around my eyes, working clockwise to begin. I start between my eyes, go around my right eye, then my left. The key point is that when your energy is flowing correctly, you’ll take a deep breath or sigh–that’s the ‘hook up.’ Sometimes I’ll find myself taking the deep breath when I’ve only formed the intention to check my energy and haven’t physically done anything yet. That means it’s all good.

If my energy is seriously out of whack (which it hasn’t been in awhile now), it could take several minutes of tracing the figure eight before I get the ‘hook up.’ If you’re trying this and don’t get the hook up right away, don’t be discouraged. This simply means you really need it!

I found that it took doing this several times a day at first to retrain my  energy. What I learned to do is to use feeling tired as a cue to take a break and check in with my energy.

Getting and keeping my energy aligned properly has really made a difference in my life. I feel better, and I can get more done. I’m pretty sure I must also be healthier as a result.

I hope you find this technique as useful as I have (and many thanks to Sarah).

How to meditate


Meditation is not a way of making your mind quiet. It’s a way of entering into the quiet that’s already there – buried under the 50,000 thoughts the average person thinks every day. –Deepak Chopra

When you have pain in your body, when all sorts of thoughts are going through your mind, you train again and again in acknowledging them openheartedly and open-mindedly, but not making them such a big deal. –Pema Chodron, in How to Meditate: A Practical Guide to Making Friends with Your Mind

Before I started meditating, some years ago now, I resisted doing so for a long time. The instructions all seemed inane–“Just focus on your breath. It couldn’t be simpler.”

When meditation is difficult for me now, my favorite method is to focus intently on the sounds around me. The clock’s pendulum, back and forth. The barking dog outside. A dog breathing at my feet. Leaves being raked. Whatever’s happening–there’s always something.

A common misperception is that you need quiet in order to meditate. People often tell me that they have to wait for more perfect circumstances to start meditating. The apartments where they live are too noisy, or their dog has dementia and wants to go outside every five minutes.

The bad news, and the good news, is that life never gets perfect. You should also know that someone, somewhere, is always using a leafblower. You must simply begin.

Meditation is a way to create peace and quiet in a noisy and imperfect world, not to mention a noisy and imperfect mind. When I describe to people what meditation is, sometimes they’ll tell me there is never a break in their stream of thoughts.

If you meditate, though, there will be.

I remember being dismayed when I started meditating that it seemed I wasn’t very good at it. There’s still the occasional day when that seems true. If you find that you’re not either, remember that the beauty of meditation is that you don’t have to be good at it to reap its benefits. And, you will get better.

Key to the whole process, I believe, is dropping judgment about having thoughts. There seems to be a belief that meditation involves turning off your thoughts. It does not.

It involves becoming aware of your thoughts, and gently releasing them. As this process continues over time, more space opens up between your thoughts.

When I become aware during meditation that I’m thinking, I let the thought go, like cutting the string to a helium balloon, or releasing a bubble to the surface of water. There is less than no point in thinking, “Oh damn, thinking again,” because that is creating more of what you don’t want. So release any judgment along with the thought.

Thinking is what everyone is doing, even during meditation. However, those who meditate are having fewer useless thoughts, even when they’re not meditating. The habit of creating mind space (as well as of dropping judgment) carries over into real life. Thank goodness.

Besides creating calm, peace, and tranquility, a major point of meditation is to create space for guidance and wisdom to come to you. If the noise of your busy life is preventing you from hearing your inner wisdom, meditation clears space to allow it to come through loud and clear.

I typically meditate 15-20 minutes (I set a timer), both morning and evening. If work is really pushing my buttons, sometimes I’ll take 10-20 minutes to meditate at lunch as well. I keep Doreen Virtue’s Archangels and Ascended Masters on my coffee table, and often ask for the help of an angel or ascended master as I meditate. I also keep a journal nearby, so that when guidance comes to me I can write it down. It’s encouraging to flip back through my journal and read so many positive and encouraging words.

I find that meditation really centers me in the morning, preparing me for my day, and calms me at night, preparing me to sleep.

I’ve just recently started a 40-day x 40-minute meditation challenge. I’m still meditating 2-3 times a day, but extending one of my meditation sessions to 40 minutes. So far I’m finding the 40 minutes quite long, but I also have a sense that the extra time is benefiting me in ways I don’t fully understand.

If you aren’t yet meditating, I encourage you to simply begin! Even 5 minutes a day will benefit you. And if you’d like to meditate longer, please feel free to join the challenge!

Ashes of roses


As I sit in my home office tonight, Gracie warm in my lap, the pleasant scent of rose incense still lingers.

Typically I feel the energy in my home is very good, but I noticed recently while doing a couple of guided meditations in my home office (for proximity to my laptop) that the energy there could be much better.

I attributed the energy issues to the chair where I was sitting, a family hand-me-down, as well as to one of my dogs, who tends to be fearful and nervous, spending a lot of time in my office. It may also be that stressful energy associated with my job (I sometimes do work at my desk) has accumulated there. And all the electronics are probably doing the energy no favors either.

This morning, I knew I’d be doing another guided meditation here as part of a teleclass I’m taking, so I burned a stick of incense on a table right next to the chair where I’d be sitting. This afternoon, I was able to meditate there easily.

A few weeks ago, I burned some incense on my desk, and I was amazed by the clear, clean, pure atmosphere I felt there afterward.

I’ve found that a lot of incense can be too strong and intense for me, but I really like the Maroma Encens d’Auroville fair-trade rose incense I’ve been using. I think I’ll burn another stick on my desk tonight …

Cunning in the kitchen

Right now the world outside is frozen, and just beginning to thaw. Here, we have no snow tires or chains, snow plows, or salt, and very little sanding. Everyone says that people here don’t know how to drive in the ice and snow, but the reality is that without the normal tools people use in places with an actual winter, it is really darn difficult, not to say impossible, depending on what kind of vehicle you have. My car is only two-wheel drive.

A few years ago when it iced and I got bored with the food in the house, I decided to venture out to the grocery store. I never got there, but I did have an interesting adventure that yielded no actual food. I got stuck on the hill across the street from the grocery store, and several nice people helped me. Someone came running out from the vet next door with a pan of kitty litter, and a couple guys pushed me. I was smart enough to drive back down the hill and go home.

Thursday night on my way home from work, the rain started to freeze on my windshield while I was still waiting for the engine to warm up. I was losing visibility as I worked to stay in my lane while defrosting the windshield. I live only a couple miles from the office, but by the time I got home, a substantial crust of ice had formed on the back windshield. And here I’ve been ever since.

The larder is a bit bare, as I typically go grocery shopping on the weekend. I’ve eaten the last of the frozen fish, the last of the ham, the last of the green onions and grapefruit. I’ve begun pulling assorted oddments out of the deep freeze, and finding them lacking.

I typically bake an egg for breakfast, but since I had only one egg left yesterday morning, and it looked like I was going to be eating at least one more breakfast before going to the store, I decided to make pancake batter instead. I diluted some leftover heavy whipping cream with water to approximate whole milk–and I must say, the pancakes were excellent. (Thanks, Stonewall Kitchens. I do know how to make pancakes from scratch, of course, but this mix is quite good.)

However, the lean blueberry sausage I pulled from the freezer and fried up didn’t quite make the grade, and ended up in the dogs’ scrambled eggs. A bit of Parmesan cheese also missed the mark, and I decided to eat my spaghetti without it. (It will go in the next batch of eggs for the dogs, which will definitely require a trip to the grocery store, as I’ve now used every last egg in the house.)

The only tomato product in the house, not counting ketchup and chili sauce, was leftover frozen tomato paste. (While I realize some people do dress spaghetti with ketchup-derived sauces, believe me when I say I will risk life and limb prior to taking that step.) The flavor of the thawed tomato paste was less than vibrant, so I had to pull out all my improvisational tricks to end up with a satisfying pantry spaghetti sauce. Along with the fresh onion and garlic I had on hand, and the usual Italian herbs, I threw in Chardonnay, juice from the jalapeno jar, cayenne pepper, molasses, brown sugar, celery salt–and finally ended up with something quite good.

Never give up! The key to success in the kitchen–and no doubt elsewhere as well. Skill and cunning can trump raw materials!

Now I’ve reached that stage of cabin fever where I’m starting to have food fantasies. As I walked through the kitchen just now on my way back from the freezing laundry room where I’d just put a load of laundry in the dryer, without conscious intention I suddenly vividly conjured a steaming dish of lovely Thai curry. Mmmm … that would be fabulous. (This is something I go out for rather than cooking it myself, so I have only a small fraction of the necessary ingredients on hand.) Something else to do when the ice melts …

I’ve been thinking how best to prepare for the next hard freeze. I could, and should, have left work early and gone to the grocery store–and that’s what I’m going to do next time. This freeze has been harder than predicted (whereas the last predicted winter weather episode panned out to exactly nothing).

I really enjoy the flavor of absolutely fresh ingredients, so I’m struggling to think how I can have the variety of ingredients I’d like on hand without compromising freshness or flavor. Right now I don’t have as many canned goods on hand as I usually do, so bumping those up makes all kinds of sense. Since I was disappointed in the quality of the meat and cheese I pulled from the freezer this weekend, I’m feeling a bit reluctant to stockpile there.

How do you stock your pantry and cook from it when you don’t have access to any ingredients other than what you have on hand?

Of budgets and windfalls

Verbena cottage

I never thought I’d be the one to say this, but there’s something about making and sticking to budgets that really feels great. Perhaps it’s being the creator of discipline, rather than having it imposed upon you by outside forces and circumstances.

I structure my budgets to ensure that I can have some of what I want right now, in accordance with my belief that every plan (budget, diet, or what have you) should include carrot as well as stick. There’s an overall outline for the year, various goals measured in months, and then a very specific budget for each pay period. Each of these allows for bills to be paid, debt to be paid off, and necessities, as well as some entertainment (going out to eat with friends or antiquing) and other “want to” types of spending. (I initially typed “wait to” types of spending–and waiting is certainly a key concept in my theory of budgeting. Suze Orman‘s idea of waiting a day to go grocery shopping can be applied to many types of shopping and spending.)

Not long ago I watched Oprah’s recent interview of Sarah Ban Breathnach, the author of Simple Abundance who made, and then lost, millions from its royalties. I’ve found it food for sobering thought ever since. It would be very easy to think, I’ve got more common sense than that! It could never happen to me.

But it’s happened to more than one inspirational writer, all of whom have published books that seem to indicate they knew better–this situation is not a one-off. And it happens when people get windfalls at all levels, whether it’s a relatively small storm-relief stipend spent on a Louis Vuitton bag, or millions of dollars earned and spent with very little left to show for it.

It all seems to beg the question, Is it my values or my circumstances that are determining my lifestyle and the choices I make?

Since 2005, I’ve been participating in an online discussion about building a wardrobe via a handful of high-quality acquisitions each season. This discussion has turned into a virtual support, accountability, and advice network that stretches over continents. It’s a way of life now, an ingrained habit for me to carefully consider every clothing purchase I make. My intention is always for every item to be beautiful, useful, and make a lasting contribution to my wardrobe. I take a similar approach to buying the other things I need.

This approach is important to me, not just because I want to use my own resources–such as time, money, storage space, and head space–wisely, but also because I don’t want to grab an inordinate amount of the planet’s resources. I want to take only what I’ll really use and enjoy, and leave the rest for others.

So what (I ask myself) would happen if there were no practical limits other than the ones I myself set? Magazines are chock-full of documentation of the obscene results that can occur when people have huge amounts of money to spend. I have yet to understand, for example, what people can possibly be doing in a 25,000 square foot house.

I’ve always preferred cozy little cottage-like houses … they speak of home to me. I truly don’t understand the appeal of a house you could truly get lost in–unless perhaps it’s an historic treasure. Still, it’s hard to imagine actually living in a castle. I’d really prefer to live in the gamekeeper’s cottage. (Of course, Sarah Ban Breathnach also lived in a cottage–Newton’s Chapel.)

My house is 1400 square feet, and I found when looking at 25+ houses that there was a very specific size that felt right to me. I’m a fairly abstract person, I’d always thought not that spacially-oriented, so I was interested to find that even 100 additional square feet registered as too much.

So 25,000 is a bit mind-blowing for me. Do people really find that comfortable, or is it just about impressing others? Or oneself? These are the kinds of questions I wish interiors magazines would ask (perhaps a bit more obliquely), instead of about the difficulties of bringing a hugely bloated space back down to human scale.

I’d like to believe that should I experience my own windfall, I would continue to take a measured approach to spending and acquisition. That I’d still value a few exquisitely beautiful, high-quality things. That I’d still want a house that feels cozy and home-like to me and others. That I’d still believe that all the best furs are attached to furiously-wagging tails, and greet you at the door of your cozy cottage.

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