Tag Archive | Joy

Finding My Own Integrity

jumping-for-joy

Integrity has become the cornerstone of my life over the last several years. And not in the moralistic sense of always doing the right thing, “even when no one is watching.” But in a deeper, more personal way: To always do as I say and say as I do. And what I really mean by that catchphrase is:
To be whom I am. At all times. To be true to myself. To proudly present myself—warts and all. To celebrate the imperfectly perfect person I am!

I used to confuse integrity. I thought I walked that path but in truth I was practicing external integrity instead of internal integrity. I believed that my primary purpose “of serving needs greater than my own,” translated to taking on whatever you held as your integrity; helping you fight for it, preserve it, advocate for it. I would don the appropriate mask for that particular occasion or interaction, performing the part I thought was expected of me. I thought I was acting in integrity by being whoever you needed me to be; that forsaking a part of my own identity was just part of the bargain, a necessary sacrifice of sorts.

I strived to be the best me in your eyes and the eyes of society. I imagined what a person of integrity looked and acted like and I played that role to a tee… the perfect wife, daughter, friend, employee. Thankfully, I have now come to learn that a person of integrity is being the best possible person I Am. As Is.

It wasn’t until I entered a 12 step program almost 5 years ago that I was able to take an honest look at myself. Part of re-learning integrity was learning to let go… of all the ways I thought I “should be” or “had to be” in order to be considered “good.” It wasn’t until I took all the pieces of me—each and every facet that created my beautifully flawed whole—that I integrated the all of me.

Reflecting on the word “integrity,” my mind quickly traveled down the word chain… from integrity to integral to integrated. My curiosity led me to the dictionary where I discovered the cohesive evolution of these descriptors:
Beginning with Integrity: the state of being whole and undivided. Leading to Integral: lacking nothing essential. And finally landing on Integrated: to blend into a functioning whole. Essentially, to become “completely, soundly and entirely united.” PS- Also see: “Honesty”

How fitting is that? Because I now know that to have integrity is to be honest with one’s self. That when I approach any situation with a clear picture of my abilities and truest self, I walk with integrity. I heed my intuition; I act as no one other than who I am.

For me, one of the biggest lessons in integrity I’ve learned is committing to only what I am capable of. So that I truly “do what I say and say what I do.” This can be a challenge with my physical limitations; because I need to recognize the all of me—from my strengths to my shortcomings. And have faith that the all of me is enough exactly as I am.

I cannot commit to everything I want to. But, when I am honest about what I can and cannot do, when I remove all masks and stand proudly naked for the world to see, I am respected. By others, but most importantly, by myself.

And when I remove the self-imposed obstacles of all the ways I used to think I should act in order to be perceived as one with perfect integrity, I am free to flow through life as an unimpeded river of grace. I feel the strength of my own center. And I live from that place: from my own truth.

Martin Lurther King Jr. said, “On some questions, cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it polite?’ And vanity comes along and asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’ But conscience asks the question, ‘Is it right?’”

My conscience is the seat of my integrity, the guardian to my inner voice, that when heeded never steers me wrong. But I used to confuse the question, “Is it right?” I would use this assessment as a moral scale, which in my mind said, “do you think what I am doing is right?

But, I now know, after much shedding of external layers, that I know what is right. I know my own integrity. The key is pausing to listen, truly listen, to what my intuition is saying or asking. To not question it out of fear or judgment of myself. But to open myself wholly to the person I am.

In 12 step programs, there is a daily 10th step inventory where you ask yourself, “What action did I do today that I want to keep?” (IE: where did I walk with integrity). And, “Are there any actions from today that I would do differently in the future?” (IE: in what ways did I not act in my highest good). The beautiful thing about this process, is the more you do it, the more the list of “do-overs” becomes fewer and farther between. Because you learn what it is like to walk with integrity every day. And there is so much joy surrounding this feeling of being honest with yourself–with being 100% pure you– that you no longer want to be or act any other way.

Being honest with yourself is like finally freeing your soul from the caged expectations of self-imposed “I’m supposed to be’s.”

As Parker Palmer said…
“I now know myself to be a person of weakness and strength, liability and giftedness, darkness and light. I now know that to be whole means to reject none of it but to embrace all of it.”

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Is It Beautiful or Useful? Resolution for 2015

happy new year

I remember hearing this sage Feng Shui advice: when de-cluttering your living or working space, look at everything in your environment with the discerning question: “Does this object bring beauty or is it useful?” If it is neither of these things, then promptly throw it out. I have decided to apply this principle to other aspects in my life in the New Year.

This is my so-called “New Year’s Resolution.”

When you live with a daily chronic illness, as I do, time and energy are hot commodities. I have to make discerning choices as to how I am going to expend my limited resources. But it can be difficult at times to determine what the right choices are. Especially when you start to factor in concerns over other people’s feelings and obligations you feel you “should” fulfill.

Then I realized, what if I ask myself the above question: “Is this activity going to bring beauty/joy into my life or is it useful?”

In the first category are all the activities that bring me the most fulfillment, spiritually or emotionally. They are the things that make life worth living. They are the little bits of sunshine that carry me through the cloudy moments; the Beacons of Hope amidst the storm that will surely come.

The second category may not bring an immediate sense of happiness or beauty, but are necessary tasks for my continued survival. These are doctor’s appointments to maintain my state of being, procedures to treat my health, daily exercise to “oil” my joints and increase my mobility, keeping my living space free of clutter, and taking time to plan and prepare healthy meals. Also, landing here, is taking the time to evaluate things I cannot do on my own, and then asking for help from others.

It’s much easier for me to fill up the list with “activities that bring beauty and joy into my life.” And, as much as I need to look at the pile of activities that bring me joy, and rate them from “most joy” to “least,” just by asking the initial question, I have already weeded out all the things we as humans engage in just because we think it is what we should be doing, or what others expect from us.

Going to work each day, even when it is not the most satisfying, is useful because it brings home money to live and thrive. Going to lunch with a co-worker that generally annoys just because you are afraid to say no, is not useful nor beautiful. That time could be spent doing an activity for 45 minutes that feeds your soul so that you can return to work more light-hearted.

For me and others with chronic illness, we have what has been coined as a “limited amount of spoons” each day. Every time we have to expend energy (any amount), we have to give up a spoon (or two, or three). Once our daily allotment are gone, they are gone. Too often, I forget this. I start trying to hand out forks and knives, items that really are only on loan and carry a steep penalty. I am borrowing against myself. And then I will pay in the days following when I have nothing left in reserve and my body shuts down. Completely.

This year, I want to do differently. I want to respect my body. To honor its limitations. To realize that if I pay heed to the true amount of energy I have then I can enjoy a small amount of truly meaningful activities each day.

I want to recognize that many times the activities that bring the most beauty and joy into my life are ones of quiet solitude. Moments of peaceful participation in painting or writing or reading or just sitting and listening to music.

I want to pause when someone invites me out for an activity and listen inward to see if my heart is singing with the beauty of this possibility. Or, if it is sighing with resignation because I feel like I need to fulfill an obligation.

It has only been just under one day into the New Year, but I have already applied the “Beauty and Usefulness Principle” to each moment of this day. And, you know what? It has both kept me fully present and making conscious choices throughout my day, big and small. I have balanced my choices by spending some time throwing out old clutter (useful) and prepping a canvas to paint sometime in the next few days (beauty/joy). I have kept each activity short, with periods of rest in between.

My heart feels full and satisfied.

Try out this barometer question when facing various choices in the next several days, and see where your heart leads you.

And may reading this give you support if you live with chronic illness, or understanding if you are a friend to someone struggling daily. When we have to say no to an invitation, it isn’t saying no to you, it is recognizing and honoring our own limitations. By staying true to ourselves, we are true to others.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

These Are My Graces…

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Yesterday, was my father’s birthday. He passed 4 years ago and so with the day brings a deep sense of melancholy, and yet… all I feel is JOY at the myriad of ways his spirit shines through me every moment of every day.

Today, I am in more physical pain then I have been in years. Meds have been changed, symptoms flared, and yet… all I feel is GRATITUDE that I am able to be with my closest family today; the ones who do not expect me to be anything other than me.

A couple days ago a dearest friend called in deep distress over the sudden loss of her closest mate, her dog. And my mind reeled with the age old question, “Do we close ourselves off to love to protect against the pain of loss?” And yet… all I feel is BLESSED at the way every being in my life has shaped me; has made me a better person. I have lost a lot… and yet I have also lived a life full of love.

Today, I turn on the news and once again bear witness to the tragedies of war and famine, death and disease, throughout the world, and yet… all I see is STRENGTH in the faces of my brethren, and the little acts of KINDNESS that are woven through the stories of strife.

THESE ARE MY GRACES…

The way I live my life… the way I view the world.

Threaded through my heart, coloring all that I see.

Influencing the way I treat others, and in turn, the deep compassion in which I am treated.

It is seeing a world full of ABUNDANCE instead of loss.

Grace, no longer reserved for just the Christian community… it is there, right there. Every Where. For every one of us.

Ripe for the picking.

Grace is not a thing you can earn, or deserve, or create, or even lose.

You do not have to be “redeemed” by grace; we are all gifts of grace.

It is always there. It is in the sparkle of newly fallen snow, blanketing the world in a clean, new slate.

It is in a child’s smile as they crack open from ear to ear at the mere sight of you.

It is in the gentle pressure of two hands as they encircle you in love, in support, in comfort.

It is the feeling in your heart when you give of yourself, passing the grace, to another.

It surprises us. When we are at the end of our ropes, Grace appears with an extension piece to help us get our feet placed firmly on the ground again.

It astounds us. A reminder that “no matter how tragic or bleak things get, the bad simply can’t shut out all the good, the dark can’t squeeze out all the light.”

It is our safety net: woven from the hands of loved ones, the history of passed ones, the memories of times survived, the hope that there will always be a brighter day ahead, and the knowledge that this too shall pass, and that in this moment, grace shimmers below the surface of everything.

And although GRACE is an unexpected, yet utterly amazing, gift waiting to be opened anew each day, you can still be an active participant in grace….

Pull grace into your life. Tonight at dinner, invite everyone to share their best “Grace Story.” This a great way to express gratitude for the ways grace has graced your life; and to role-model this attitude for others, especially children.

Be a witness to Grace’s magic. We’ve all heard of Bird Watchers, now it’s time to become a “Grace Watcher!” Keep a grace journal, where you document the ways grace has worked or appeared in your life each day. Review it at the end of the week and be uplifted.

Be a Giver of Grace. Look around today. Who in your life needs to be reminded that grace is still working in their lives; who needs to be uplifted by a moment of grace? Is there a way you can pass the grace this Thanksgiving, without that person ever knowing where it came from? Challenge yourself to this. It will be surprisingly rewarding: doing a random act of grace just because.

Turn yourself over to grace. Choose a day during the upcoming holiday season where you put your calculated “To-Do List” down for a day. Let grace guide your day instead. Trust that what needs to get done, will.

And most importantly, be open to grace. Center yourself each day with a short mantra. Mine is, “May my mind, eyes and heart be open today to seeing and receiving the gifts of grace that cross my path.” The challenge comes in accepting the gift of grace in whatever form it comes. No “return to sender.” Remember if at first I doesn’t seem like the right fit, try again. Grace often appears in unexpected ways and at unexpected times, and yet it is always just what you need in the moment to get by.

“The winds of grace are always blowing,

but you have to raise the sail.”

{Ramakrishna}

Little “Seeds” of Hope

friendship-quotes-picturesIn the darkest of hours, a small beam of light will appear at the end of a long tunnel of pain, suffering, and sadness. Two choices lie before you: 1 – face this light, walk towards it, and let it grow into a beacon of hope and faith. Or 2 – turn your back on the light, shrouding yourself in darkness, the known place of suffering seeming safer than the unknown possibility of hope… of taking a leap of faith.

I experienced this very cross roads just last Saturday. I woke once again in deep, unrelenting pain, with a throbbing sadness in my heart for all that transpired over the previous 10 days.  I felt defeated. I felt lost. I wanted to move forward, but I didn’t know how. And, let’s face it, there was that part of me, as well, that wanted to stay stuck right where I was. I felt tired of “fighting,” of constantly pushing through the pain and misery. I witnessed others embracing this place and dwelling in it. And I actually saw benefits to this option.  The biggest of which would be that people would finally recognize, that just because I can see the beacon of light in the darkest of times, doesn’t mean that I don’t also experience pain, and disappointment, and suffering. They are not exclusive.

I had just settled into my comfy chair when the doorbell rang. Upon answering, I discovered an unexpected visitor on my porch.  A supportive friend and champion, she intuitively knew to take a moment out of her day to bring lightness into mine. She hadn’t intended to bother me, only wishing to leave a small package and note in my mailbox. But my mailman had foiled her plans, ringing the bell just before her arrival.

Exactly as it was meant to be.

Inside this “Delicate! Do not squish” package lay three, half-dollar size, whelk-egg-cases-and-teeny-contentsoval seed pods. Transparent, with a little seed inside. Shake. Shake. My friend takes one and gently begins to coax this “seed” out. And lo and behold, it is not a seed after all!  It is this miraculous gift from the sea, the teeniest, tiniest conch shell I have ever laid eyes on (a mere 2-3 mm long!).

I gasp in surprise as my heart swells with wonder and awe.

She explains that upon discovering these years ago on the beach, she researched their origin, learning that conch shells are born by the thousands in connected translucent “cocoons” (often called a “Mermaid’s Necklace”). After a dozen years, they mature into the large conch shells we all covet finding on southern beaches.

conch shell symbolismLater, I researched them further and found that conch is also one of the Eight Auspicious Symbols of Buddhism and “represents the beautiful, deep, melodious, interpenetrating and pervasive sound of the Buddhadharma [“natural law”], which awakens disciples from the deep slumber of ignorance and urges them to accomplish their own welfare and the welfare of others.” (Wikipedia)

And that’s how I felt; as if I was awakening from a deep slumber of depression. And for the welfare of myself and others, I needed to face that beacon of light.

I was reminded of Helen Keller’s wise words: “Keep your face to the sun and you will never see the shadows.”

And the gift didn’t stop there; she nudged me to read her note …

“When I’ve been through tough times, I have trouble seeing anything besides my pain.  These [shells] can’t heal your suffering, of course, but I hope they remind you that the universe is full of joy and beauty and awe inspiring creations at the same time.  I hope you find moments where you can access that joy.  Please know that, even in your toughest times, you yourself are a source of joy, inspiration and an example of how beautiful God’s creations are to me and to countless others.”

I felt shaken awake. Flashes of beauty and moments of grace began to pass through my mind and heart. Just in the past week, during the period of my deepest pain, I was gifted access to that Universal Joy; I had not fully shut down. There was a crack in my soul just waiting to be re-opened. And, here was an unexpected angel, pushing her way through!

Her words brought welcomed tears and memories of past experiences where life and death, beauty and sadness coexisted in my life. I shared with her another time of deep sadness, when my mother in law collapsed suddenly from invading cancer and passed away 10 days later. My husband and I rushed back from Boston and never left her side. During this time, we would find ourselves sitting outside at the hospital staff picnic table, all hours of the day, situated right outside the birthing center. As my beloved second mother was lying 7 floors above in hospice, we were witnessing couples and families rushing in to bring new life into the world just below her.

And we couldn’t help but feel peace in the light of God’s grace, the universal cycle of life and energy.

There is no pleasure without pain.

There are two sides to every coin.

I made a choice on Saturday to walk towards the light.  This does not mean that my pain, or frustration, or anger, or sadness are gone.  It just means I no longer give them permission to consume my life.

I am actively seeking out moments of grace, of joy, of hope, and of healing. These are the foundation blocks to my continued survival.

I did not arrive at this conclusion alone. Because my “God” wears skin; meaning I see the God in you as I see the God in myself. And when that spirit knocks on my door, I am choosing to answer it.

I am choosing to let the light in.

Finding New Avenues of Joy: What’s Your Machu Picchu?

and-in-all-of-our-troubles-I-have-great-joy.-2-Cor.-7-AnExtraordinaryDay.net_

Finding new avenues of joy… several months ago I randomly (perhaps not so “random” after all!) had the T.V. on during a Good Morning America segment on the NFL player, Steve Gleason.  He’s a New Orleans Saints’ hero whose life has changed, all because of the devastating disease, ALS (Lou Gherig’s).  Yet, he does not view his life as a devastation… when told he needed to “prepare himself to die,” his first and only thought was, “I am going to prepare to live!”

Although it has been 6 months since I first viewed this stunning story, it has never strayed far from my thoughts.  I’ve wanted to share it with others, but until today, have not been able to “find” it on the internet.  For a while, I thought perhaps it had been one vivid, prophetic dream!

Then I awoke this morning thinking of “bucket lists,” and once again, the empowering tale of this man came to mind.  I began my futile searching again, but this time I must have strung together the right combination of words, because it appeared at the very top of my search results.  I have faith that there is a reason today was the day I finally re-discovered this tale of strength, perseverance, and above all, JOY.

The idea of creating an annual “Bucket List” has been tumbling around my daily thoughts.  Not sure if I wanted to jump on this trendy bandwagon, I have resisted this idea.  Yet, there is something so appealing about following others yearly journeys as they check things off their bucket list.  As I read others, I am surprised and, admittedly, intimidated by the audacity of their goals.  My mind immediately goes to all the reasons why this will not work for me… all my limitations: not enough money, not enough time, not enough physical well-being, on and on and on!

I think, why set myself up for failure?  But then there is that little intuitive voice that never steers me wrong saying, “why not set yourself up for success?  Each bucket list is a personal endeavor; it can be shaped to fit my unique set of circumstances, needs, and dreams.  By setting goals, I will be more apt to make a game-plan to make them happen.  By writing down my annual hopes and dreams, I will be setting my intention with the Universe.

And so I’ve begun to toy with what my 2014 Bucket List will look like.  For example, I have a deep desire to dance once again.  It would be unrealistic for me to set a goal of dancing the Suite of the Sugar Plum Fairy en pointe, like I did when I was 18, healthy and fit!  But, I am graced with living in a community that encourages creativity in people of all ages and abilities.  Dance studios and open-classes have exploded over the last few years, now including an abundance of opportunities for the community to engage in a wide variety of dance styles, at all levels.  I’ve begun by getting out and experiencing these offerings as a patron.  And I have been proud to support and celebrate these burgeoning endeavors.

But now it’s time for me to get off my audience seat and onto the stage.  But, what does this mean for me?  I am not blind to my limitations, but I am not going to let those stop me either!  As Steve Gleason so eloquently puts it in this interview…

“I now search for new avenues of joy.  With each loss, [I] have worked to find a beautiful replacement.”

And my dance replacement looks something this… finding a way to move my body in a fluid and free-form motion.  I am drawn to Carribean danceCaribbean styles, where the dancers of all ages, sizes, shapes and abilities are smiling from ear to ear as they engage the music fully.  There is a freedom and openness to this style that is very appealing to me. And, Volia!… I have the first item on my bucket list!

This is the beauty of creating this list annually.  Now that I have set this goal (my intention), I am already developing a plan of action in my head. First step?: researching studios and open-dance nights.  And that’s all I have to worry about for now… just taking that first step.  Taking the risk to say, “I am worth it.”

I will not allow my physical limitations to limit my ability to experience joy!  My Bucket List may look a helluva lot different than the ones floating around the web.  But, I choose to use those as inspiration… not as a point of comparison and feeling “less than.”

machu picchu steve gleasonIf anything, the most intimidating “list” I’ve seen is Steve’s.  Once his diagnosis was delivered, he made the conscious choice to always have something to look forward to.  His most recent goal and accomplishment?.. climbing to the top of Machu Picchu!!  How on earth does someone without the use of their physical body climb Machu Picchu, you ask?  He does not do it alone!!!  And, to me, that is one of the best legacies he can pass on to others.  Not only that he “chooses to focus on the beauty of now,” but that he relies on the love and support of others to achieve his goals.

My Bucket List is not going to be a singular endeavor.  The goals and dreams will come from my inner soul, but the steps to achieving them will be paved by the love of my friends and family.

I would like to offer the same gift back to you: to be your support and cheerleader in any way needed as you create and then implement your 2014 Bucket List!  In the coming weeks, I will slowly unveil my own list as it evolves.  And I hope you will take the journey with me as I check off the items in the coming year.

Please share your bucket wishes, too.  For inspiration comes from without.  And without all of you, I would be lost.

I encourage you to take just 5 minutes of your time to watch the GMA interview with Steve Gleason.  I dare you not cry. I dare you not to smile. I dare you not to come away inspired!

http://gma.yahoo.com/blogs/abc-blogs/steve-gleason-embraces-challenges-lou-gehrigs-disease-battle-121402622.html