meditation

Staying in Focus: Meditation and Mandalas

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2018 began as a high stress year for us, beginning with my husband’s diagnosis of prostate cancer. In preparation for the radiation therapy he would receive, he underwent a procedure to place three gold markers in his prostate.

A few days later he developed an e-coli infection in his blood, which landed him in the hospital for three days. It could have been worse, but the hospital staff was on the ball, and started him on antibiotics immediately. Needless to say, my anxiety levels were on 24-hour alert.

Fortunately, I had developed a system for dealing with anxiety, as part of my regimen in handling my Parkinson’s disease. This is a simple system, no drugs required, consisting of Meditation and Mandalas.

My meditation is based on calming my mind and body with relaxed breathing and the repetition of two lines of a poem I wrote and use as a mantra.

Let It Go

I take a breath, I let it go
I feel the calm, I let it flow
I embrace the moment, I am still
I let gentle peace my spirit fill
I clear my thoughts, now is the time
To silence fears within my mind
I can cope with this I know
I take a breath, I let it go…

I will repeat this poem several times, and then, as I feel the calm flow over me, I’ll use the last two sentences as a mantra.

I enjoy all types of coloring books, but my favorite for calming my nerves and reducing stress are the mandalas. I have posted in the past about how stress-reducing it is to color. For years the only good coloring books for adults were available in museum stores. A few years ago, however, it was discovered how stress relieving coloring can be and suddenly there were coloring books everywhere – from bookstores to the check-out counters in grocery stores and pharmacies.

The word mandala means “circle” and they represent our connection to the universe. Coloring a mandala is a soothing process, and once I have completed coloring it, I can use it as a focus point in meditation. As I gaze at the mandala, I focus on the colors and patterns, and this helps me to clear my mind of fears and anxieties. When troublesome thoughts arise to distract me, I gaze again at the beautiful colors in my mandala and continue with my meditation.

Choosing colors for my mandalas is the artistic part of the process. I usually use 5 to 6 colors, and try to balance cool and warm colors, and a complementary or contrasting color as well. Then it is just a matter of coloring in the pattern.  A color wheel can be helpful with this step. I find that Prismacolor pencils provide a rich, saturated finish. A good pencil sharpener is vital as pencil points must be sharp to fill in small areas. An interesting  thing about coloring mandalas is that you really don’t know how it will look when it is done. As more and more of the pattern is colored, the image grows brighter and more vibrant.

The next time you have a lot of stress to relieve, give coloring mandalas and meditation a try.  Thankfully, my husband is almost finished with his radiation treatment. and my stress levels have eased. Now I can color for the sheer fun of it, but I’ve worn some of my favorite colored pencils down to the nib.  I’d better stock up because I just ordered 3 new mandala books from Amazon. It always pays to be prepared…

 

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Staying in Focus: Daily Prompt: Back to Life: Let’ s be Real

Daily Prompt: After an especially long and exhausting drive or flight, a grueling week at work, or a mind-numbing exam period — what’s the one thing you do to feel human again?

After a grueling day or a mind numbing experience, my first thought is to go home. Home is a refuge from the world. Close the blinds, lock the doors and the world fades away, at least for a little while. Ideally, here is what I would do next: Change into my exercise clothes and do some yoga or tai chi, focus my attention inward, stretch the muscles, concentrate on the moves, blocking out intrusive thoughts. A nice warm bath, some candles, soft music on the iPod, most likely Enya, would follow. My next level of escape would be meditation, provided the preceding events have chilled me enough to focus my attention. Lastly, a good book and a good night’s sleep.

But let’s be real for a minute. More than likely this is how it would pan out:  I would go home, and spend the evening reading, while devouring something dreadful for me like ice cream or donuts or a slice of chocolate cake and a frosty glass of milk, or maybe brownies or an Entenmann’s crumb cake, or… you get my drift, which is in the direction of the nearest grocery store…

Staying in Focus: Daily Prompt: Frame of Mind/The Colors of My Mood

 

Daily Prompt:

If you could paint your current mood onto a canvas, what would that painting look like? What would it depict?

My canvas would be covered with a swirl of interacting color, reds and oranges depicting stress and concern, blues and greens for those moments of peaceful serenity (scarce as they may be at present ). I try to focus on the blues and greens, hoping to expand them, but the red and orange seep from the corner trying to overcome what little peace I can enjoy.

My life is a constant swirl of these colors lately. Carried along with the red and orange is stress, concern for those family members and friends suffering from various illnesses, my anxiety increased as both my son and his ex-wife  are out of work at the same time, with 2 young children to support. The blues and greens float like ribbons in the air, a lovely gathering of those same people on the Fourth of July, a wonderful weeklong visit with my mom, dinner with friends, planning Christmas crafts and celebrating my son’s birthday on the 10.th

. Anxiety is a sticky-wicket. I play a game on my computer called Candy Crush Saga. On some of the levels, as I try to complete my task, a column of chocolate begins to grow, eventually covering everything in its path, and unless I fight it back, it immobilizes me.

Replace the word chocolate with the word anxiety and watch the orange and reds become a maelström, seeking to overwhelm my blues and greens.

 

 

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Serenity

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Anxiety

 

 

 

I try, however, to push the red and oranges back, diminish them with meditation, with looking forward to an upcoming weekend stay with our friends, Kathi and Don in a mountain cabin in Asheville, NC, followed by meeting Bill’s family near Asheville and travelling to South Carolina to visit Bill’s brother, Bob and sister-in-law Jill, in their new home in Traveler’s Rest, SC. I’ve always felt more at peace in the mountains than anywhere else. Right now, I need a mountain fix. Maybe I won’t have the chance to take a sunrise picture over the ocean waters this year, but one in the mountains would do just fine.

mountains

when pressures of life build to a peak

some people find solace in shorelines and sea

but it’s often the higher ground that I seek

for it’s always been mountains for me

I stand on a ridge at the top of the world

from worry and care I am free

I sing in the sun with my spirit unfurled

for it’s always been mountains for me.

Staying in Focus: Focus On: My Last Day

I am so far behind in keeping up with the daily prompts. I am trying to finish the final rewrite of a book project, design calendars for Christmas giving, and write my annual Christmas poem and a bunch of other stuff, including playing  a seemingly innocuous game on the internet called Candy Crush Saga. Beware, it can take over your life!  A recent prompt asked how I would spend my last day on earth.  Here is my plan

On my last day on earth I would want to spend time with my friends and family, but as they may have their own  agenda as to how to spend their last day,  I will outline mine..

I would begin the day at sea, rising before the sun, and watching it as it appears over the horizon. There is nothing more profound than a sunrise at sea. Once on shore I will don my yoga clothes and run through a few routines of the sun salutation on the beach and then meditate to the sound of the waves rolling to the shore. I’d lie on the sand and look up at the sky and try to find objects and faces in the clouds. I loved to do this when I was young, a child’s form of meditation, I guess.

I would try to eat some of my favorite foods throughout the day including a Peanut Butter Bash from Dairy Queen, a sweet potato dripping in real butter and sprinkled with cinnamon, a double chocolate donut from Dunkin Donuts, a cup of IHOP coffee and a stack of pancakes with original syrup, Butterfly Shrimp from the China Paradise restaurant in Wayne, NJ, an Entenmann’s crumb cake, a Reese’s peanut butter bunny and a large order of hot, McDonald’s fries.

I would watch my favorite movie, Gone With the Wind. I’d also like to watch While You Were Sleeping, Love Actually, Groundhog Day and the Muppets Christmas Carol, during which I will eat as much buttered movie popcorn as I can.   I would watch the last episode of Babylon 5(because it makes me cry), all the Firefly episodes (because it was the best sci/fi series on TV) and Star Trek 5 because everyone else hates it but me, but there are only twenty-four hours in a day, unless I can fly to an earlier time zone. I’ll have to work on that one.

Then I would fly to Sitka, Alaska, with as many friends and family members as are willing to go . We’ll gather round a large fire  and sit under the stars and talk or think about only the good and beautiful aspects of our lives  and the world.

I ‘d  listen to the songs on my iPod:  John Denver, Mike Nesmith, the Monkees, The Beatles,  Sir Paul McCartney, James Blunt, The Plain White Ts, The Moody Blues, Enya and even scary Rob (Thomas). Listening to music, surrounded by mountains and the people I love, is the way I’d like to go…

What I will not do on my last day on earth is count calories, eat lettuce, listen to ‘What Does the Fox Say’ , take my meds (won’t matter anymore) exercise (except for yoga),or waste another minute of my fast diminishing life playing Candy Crush Saga.

I’ll gaze at the stars for a while, saddened that I never had the chance to discover what the universe is really all about. Then I will sit quietly and look to the horizon, until the sun fails to appear and everything fades to black.

Focus On: Smiles

    a smile is a special gift
   to share with one another
   to do so gives your day a lift
   and makes the world look kinder
   when you see your smile reflected
  on the faces of people passing by
  you’ll know they’ve been infected
  by the twinkle in their eye
  and the smiles swiftly spread
 to others through the day
 and all because you had one
 to kindly give away
          – pc 2012

The other day, while going through some photographs, I spied one of my grandson that I just adore.  And although I think he is  the cutest little boy in the world, it’s his smile that captivates me in this picture.

And I thought about how easily children share their smiles with others, and in doing so, brighten up our day.  Just because we are grown-ups now and busy doing serious things, doesn’t mean we can’t take the time to share a smile with someone we encounter as we dash about.  And smiling is infectious.  When a person passing  by flashes you a big smile, it’s difficult not to return in kind. I’m a lucky one.  Between Evelyn and Gavin, I’m surrounded by smiles that light up their faces whenever they see me.  Talk about the power of a smile.  Nothing finer!

My mother is a great example of this.  She has weathered her share of difficult times in her 89 years of life, but she is always has a smile on her face when she greets other people and everyone she meets  is immediately taken with her.  I think a big part of this is her friendly personality, and a big part of that is her smile.  It makes people feel good to be around people with a smile on their face.

This brings to mind my favorite scene in the movie City Slickers.  Billy Crystal plays the role of a man somewhat dissatisfied with his life.  His pals give him a birthday trip to herd cattle at a ranch out west.  His wife, aware of his state of mind, encourages him to go.  Needless to say, all three of the pals experience revelations about their lives as they face  many challenges.  But when Billy Crystal arrives home, and his wife greets him at the airport he says, pointing to his smile, “Look what I found.”  She asks, “Where was it?” And he replies,”In Colorado.  It’s always in the last place you look.” Funny, but so true.  Sometimes we simply don’t know where or when we lost our smile, but there are ways to find it.

If you come to a point in your life when you cannot muster a smile, you have work to do.  Meditation can help this, as Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist teacher and author, writes in his book, Peace is Every Step. Meditation can help, for the source of a true smile is an awakened mind. Meditation  can help us deal with matters that may be the cause of our unhappiness. Thich Nhat Hanh suggests  we practice smiling by doing so when we first wake up in the morning.  A smile, he writes, affirms our awareness and determination to live in peace and joy.  Let the singing of the birds or the slant of sunlight streaming through your window remind you to smile.

Marion Tripp,  a friend of Thich Nhat Hanh, wrote “The Dandelion Poem”, which he includes in his book, Peace is Every Step:

I have lost my smile,
but don’t worry.
The dandelion has it

As long as you can recognize that your smile is somewhere, all is not lost .Open yourself to the help and support of those around you and your smile will return.

Once you have it safely in place on your face, share it with others, and watch the happiness you spread grow and infect the rest of the world.  Who knows, maybe something as simple a s a smile can save us all. At the very least, it can save me and you!

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Focus on: Time Out

Look Within

look within and you will find
a way to calm the restless mind
seek a place where all is still
and in the quiet find the will
to silence the insistent sounds
to loosen all the earthly bounds
to banish the anxiety
and embrace joyful harmony
look within and you will find
a way to calm the restless mind
– pc 2005

Well, we have reached the dog days of August.  It’s still hot here in North Carolina and I want to go back to Alaska.   Each time I see my suitcases, I get this incredible urge to start packing,. but since it is not financially realistic to return to Alaska right now, we decided to go to our fallback plan – a week up north in our Pocono mountain haven and a visit with the family in New Jersey this fall. In between running away every now and then, I handle the stresses of life with meditation.  Meditation is like a time-out for grown-ups.  When we find ourselves moody or grumpy, overwhelmed by stress and the evening news, there is a place we can go to reset ourselves – our time-out spot  We don’t have to have a physical space set aside  for this,  although it is nice to have one.  I have a spot in my bedroom where I placed a lovely little table I picked up at a rescue mission,.I sanded it down,  painted it and placed on it some of my favorite things – framed quotes, special gifts from friends, a bowl of potpourri, a book of poetry, a candle and my i-Pod on which I have loaded guided meditations and music.  Underneath the table  I stow my cushion.

my meditation spot

My grandchildren tend to view the time-out spot as punishment as they are sent there  to reconsider their recent behavior but, in fact, even for them it is a positive thing – a little time to  de-stress, reconsider their actions, and move on.  And I know many adults who would look upon a period of time-out as punishment.  But it can be so much more a positive experience.

Meditation isn’t hard to do. I simply take a few deep breaths and gaze at the candle or close my eyes and try to clear my mind.  Concentrating on my breathing helps to bring me back if my chatterbox mind starts up again.  There are mantras we chant, (the famous “om”) and more involved types of breathing, but the important thing is  that you take a little time to connect with yourself. Don’t give up if you find yourself redirecting your mind back to  your breath ten times in ten minutes.  At first it is challenging, but the more you do it, the less you find you have to bring your focus back..  When the thoughts arise, just acknowledge them and let them go.  The nature of these thoughts may be an insight for you as to what is most on your mind, but for now shelve them and later examine what  your sitting time brought to mind and journal about it as  a way to put it in perspective.  Perhaps you’ve neglected calling your mom, or are worried about a current relationship.  Meditation can bring up these situations that you may have buried deep or put off dealing with.  It’s a message from your mind that some of your fatigue and stress may be related to unresolved conflict, and that maybe it is time to deal with them.

According to a recent article in Shambhala Sun magazine several studies have taken place i n a variety of universities, including Wake Forest, UCLA , The University of Massachusetts Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital. Results include reductions in pain intensity, a range of brain area with stronger neural connections and less atrophy than the control group, which could aid in the prevention of dementia, subjects completing mindfulness programs were less stressed and anxious, and those experiencing menopause found symptoms, including hot flashes reduced and after completing a meditation program there was increased gray matter density in the hippocampus, important in learning and memory and associated with self-awareness, compassion and introspection.

And that brings me back to  a recent post in which I  wrote about an awakened society being an enlightened one, and an awakened society recognizes the goodness within themselves and others.  And meditation plays a big part in this, as it is our chance to recognize that we and most people are basically good. The more time you spend getting to know yourself, the better you will like yourself.   (In the event you find out you really do not like yourself, then meditation can provide a path to fixing this, too) .And this improves our worldview, counters the constant barrage of bad news from the media and returns to us a sense of hope and a positive future for us all.

I think this is a pretty powerful payoff for taking  a few minutes out of each day to just sit and quiet your mind. We have a nice long weekend ahead. In between picnics and tail-gate parties, try to slip in a few minutes just for you.  If you have several months on your hands, try a walkabout. But if not, take a time-out, and give your mind a rest.  Namaste..

Staying in Focus

I recently came across an essay I had written twenty years ago.  It was titled “Over the Hill and Proud of It.”  In the essay I examined the reality of facing forty. What was I thinking?  What was the big deal?  Now that I am looking sixty in the face, at forty I was still a youngster and quite clueless.  I ended the essay with this conclusion, “We look ahead, not back.  We hatch plans, not regrets.  The hardest part of the climb is over.  We’ve acquired confidence, we  temper life’s ups and downs with humor.  We delight in our wisdom .We’re over the hill and proud of it.  We anticipate all that lies ahead.  And it’s going to be quite a ride — remember it’s all downhill from here.”

While most of that still holds true, in retrospect, it has been the last twenty years that have included life’s greatest challenges for me and brought me a deeper wisdom.  Believe me, I still had a lot of climbing ahead of me, and those downhill rides were terrifying. There have been delights – a new daughter-in-law, two lovely grandchildren, a couple of nice houses, some great vacations, but there have been obstacles I never imagined at forty.   Most of it culminated in 2007, and although I had no idea what was in store, these silent predators  were busy plotting against me.   First of all, out of the blue,  I was hit with terrible social anxiety, which I still deal with today.  And then, in 2007, I was diagnosed with both colon cancer and Parkinson’s disease.  Talk about anticipating all  that lies ahead!  Who anticipates a freight train heading for you at 100 miles an hour?! Hopefully, I’ve got the colon cancer on the run, and the research community is hard at work on better drugs for the Parkinson’s, and perhaps, one day, a cure.  But in the meantime, I’m the one on the front lines in the battle for my life.

This blog is not meant to be about illness and meds and doctors,  or a place for me to whine and bemoan my fate,but rather about staying in focus on the here and now,  living the best life you can and keeping control of your own life.   For me, keeping it all in perspective is paramount, and my sense of humor is a major lifeline.  In addition, there are the three  ps – prose, poetry and photography.  These are my fortresses, the places I go to stay in focus..  Mix in meditation and the big E (exercise) and I am armed and ready for the fight.  You’ll be hearing a lot more about these in the weeks to come..

So, in addition to sharing my experiences with you, I wanted a place to collect my words’ present my photographs and share the crazy thoughts and perspectives that I house in my head,  but most especially to have a place to keep it all in focus.