Saturday, August 13, 2022

What I'm Reading: Feel-Good Book 8

Bestselling author Dr. Joe Dispenza says 95% of the thoughts we have today are the same ones we had yesterday, and he wants to make sure our thoughts are helping us move forward, not holding us back.

I bought a hardback copy of Becoming Supernatural: How Common People Are Doing the Uncommon from Amazon because my friend Julie insisted I read it. It's a cerebral book, and my brain hurt from the effort of understanding it, but I certainly learned a lot. Dispenza, who's mantra is "Where attention goes, energy flows," opened my eyes to the scientifically proven importance of thinking positive thoughts. He says, "How you think and how you feel literally creates your personal reality." 

"So if you want to create change, you have to do it from a level of energy that's greater than guilt, greater than pain, greater than fear, greater than anger, greater than shame, and greater than unworthiness. In fact, any lower-vibrational energy that you are feeling cannot carry the thought of your future dream. If you are going to perform something that's unlimited, you'd better feel unlimited. If you want to create freedom, you'd better feel free. And if you want to truly heal yourself, you'd better raise your energy to wholeness."

I appreciate that Dr. D has been able to track and explain the power of maintaining positive emotions, but for the life of me I wasn't able to feel unlimited last weekend. Chris and I visited family in Atlanta and we packed a month's worth of activities into three days. Somehow everything worked out, even the trip to the DMV, and we had a wonderful time. But there was definitely some lower-vibrational energy going on, mainly fear as Chris and my brave daughter maneuvered the Atlanta highways.

When Dispenza says, "You have to think greater than the way you feel to make any real, lasting changes," he adds great advice. An excellent way to level up is to look around for something - anything - to feel grateful for, like a beautiful red rose or a purring black cat. 

Another way is the following chakra meditation.

"Begin by placing your attention in the first energy center (the root chakra at the base of the spine), and then move to opening up your attention to the space around this center. Once you can sense this space around the energy center, bless that center for the greatest good, and then connect to elevated emotions --like love, gratitude or joy--to raise the frequency of this center and also create a coherent field of energy. Do this for each of the seven energy centers in the body, and when you come to the eighth center, a place about 16 inches above your head, bless this center with gratitude or appreciation or thankfulness, because gratitude is the ultimate state of receivership.

"Remember: the more powerful your feelings, the more you are up-regulating your own genes. Bless your body, bless your life, bless your soul, bless your future as well as your past, bless the challenges in your life, and bless the intelligence within you that is giving you life."

Here's what "up-regulates" me. Appreciation for my family and ancestors, dear friends, pets, my good health, my house, my books, the beach, morning tea, etc. I'm also grateful for the things that make me laugh. On those days when I can'ts seem to find my way out of fear (or Atlanta), I look back on the happy times I've collected, thanks to Jeanne Robertson. Those funny moments continue to delight, and as a result, my personal reality becomes a place of joy.

Thursday, July 14, 2022

What I'm Reading: Feel-Good Book 7

I'm shifting gears to a lighter kind of enlightenment with this book. I borrowed Humor: The Magic of Genie by Jeanne Robertson from the shelves of the Emerald Coast Writers conference room in Pensacola. I've been a member of The Emerald Coast Writers (formerly the West Florida Literary Federation) since 2006, and highly recommend this group to anyone wanting to write -- or to borrow books from their library. 

In this book, published in 1990, humorist Jeanne Robertson, who "grew up large in a small Southern town," shares "Seven Potions for Developing a Sense of Humor" along with plenty of anecdotes from her life as a 6'-2" beauty pageant winner turned professional speaker What a fun, uplifting experience it was to read her book and learn more about her!

My sweet mother loved to laugh, and I remember many funny times with her. Robertson also had a mother with a great sense of humor. Speaking about her mom, she writes, "Standing proudly by my waist [Robertson reached 6'2" at 13], she would say to the salesclerk, 'I want to get some things here for the baby,' and lovingly glance all the way up at me. Once a clerk asked, 'What size shoe does the baby wear?' ... 'She wears a seven and a half, but an eleven feels reeeeal gooood if you happen to have any.'"

Many of Robertson's anecdotes center around her height and her speaking engagements. Once, the contact for a group in Michigan told her, "Everybody is looking forward to looking up to you." She told him she looked forward to speaking at the banquet, and he answered, "As a matter of fact, when you get here you really don't have to be so funny ... but you darn well better be tall!"

She also speaks of her son Beaver (6' 8"), who came by his nickname, as an infant from Red Ryder's faithful sidekick. Once, before Beaver was old enough to wear braces to straighten his teeth, the family went to a restaurant. Robertson writes, "I am like most mothers -- I give directions. 'Put your coat on that hook, Beaver.' 'Sit in that chair, Beaver.' 'Here's the menu. What do you want to order, Beaver?' All of the sudden, a woman at the next table grabbed me by the arm and said, 'How would you like it if he called you giraffe?'"

Excellent advice from this book: develop humor awareness by looking for humor in everyday situations; create your own humor; associate with humorous people, or just ask others to tell you something funny; and collect happy times.

Gretchen Rubin, best-selling author of The Happiness Project, points out, "One of the best ways to make ourselves happy in the present is to recall happy times from the past. Photos are a great memory-prompt, and because we tend to take photos of happy occasions, they weight our memories to the good." 

I have set out on a quest to collect happy times, like the moment of pure joy I captured of my mom. One of the reasons I love working at Hallmark is because of the funny cards, like this one of a dog saying, "I did not get you a car for your birthday." Inside, it reads, "It's a long story and I'd rather not talk about it." For the life of me I don't know why it's so funny, but it gets me every time!

A quick note about my book, Courage Without Grace. The stickers are in! Chris and I made this video, in hopes that it would give someone a laugh!

Sunday, July 3, 2022

What I'm Reading: Feel-Good Book Six

Sounds True, Inc. is a publishing company whose mission is to spread wisdom. When the catalog used to come in the mail, I'd pore over it, circling books that caught my eye, feeling uplifted just reading the titles! When I saw Polishing the Mirror; How to Live from Your Spiritual Heart by Ram Dass with Rameshwar Das, it was a Sounds True book I had to have.

This eye-catching book with its reflective cover is filled with Ram Dass's wonderful sense of humor and his sweet devotion to his guru Maharaj-ji. Ram Dass, born Richard Alpert, started out as a prominent Harvard psychologist and psychedelic pioneer and became an American spiritual teacher who wrote Be Here Now in 1971. I heard him speak long ago, and still remember his stories about India, some poignant and beautiful, others hilarious and heartwarming. He gave each of us mala beads with a strand of his guru's blanket on it, still precious to me.

On Daily Living:
"Use every situation you have with other people as a vehicle to work on yourself. See where you get stuck, where you push, where you grab, where you judge, where you do all the other stuff. Use your life experiences as your curriculum."

"When you live from your soul and your heart is open, you can awaken other souls. You go into a grocery store, [to work on the Hallmark aisle, for example] and it's like a temple. Everybody is a soul. Some think they are customers; some think they work there. You get to the checkout, and your eyes lock for an instant with the clerk's. 'Are you here? I'm here. Wow, a fellow soul!"' 

"I get on a bus, and by the time I get off, I feel like I have met intimate family members I've known all my life. We're all in love with one another."

"Don't take your melodrama so seriously. Let's remember who we really are -- that is, souls, not egos. The ego is who you think you are."

"Offering your work and all your actions to God takes daily life out of the realm of ego and into the higher Self."

"Christ said to be in the world but not of the world. You are simultaneously living your story line--keeping your ground, remembering your zip code --and having your awareness free and spacious, not caught in any thing, just delighting in the richness of this timeless moment."

On Attachments:

"Once you understand that there is a place in you that is not attached, you can extricate yourself from attachments."

"One way to get free of attachment is to cultivate the witness consciousness, to become a neutral observer of your own life. The witness place inside you is simple awareness, the part of you that is aware of everything -- just noticing, watching, not judging, just being present, being here now."

On Self-Awareness:

"Along with that self-awareness comes the subtle joy of just being here, alive, enjoying being present in this moment."

"I have pains throughout my body. I list them for my doctors. But I don't identify with them. I identify with being a witness of pain." (Ram Dass had a debilitating stroke in his sixties.)

"Much of my sense of contentment comes from my relationship with Maharaj-ji and the constant remembrance of his presence in my life. Being in relationship with him is like having an infinitely deep pool of love and wisdom that always mirrors my deepest being."

"When you are identified with your soul, you not only reflect God's light, but you also become a mirror for others to find their souls. The only goal a soul has is to satisfy God and become one with the Beloved."

Ram Dass tells the wonderful story of driving too slowly on a freeway and getting pulled over. He had been, "singing to Krishna, a radiant, blue incarnation of God" when he saw blue flashing lights behind him. He effused unconditional love to the state trooper, who it seemed didn't want the conversation to end. They discussed the infraction, the car (a 1938 Buick), and the box of mints on the passenger's seat until finally the officer said, "Be gone with you." Ram Dass writes, "As I got into the car and started to drive away, he was standing by his cruiser. I looked in the mirror and saw that he was waving at me. Tell me, was that a state trooper or was that Krishna?" 

Monday, June 27, 2022

What I'm Reading: Feel-Good Book Five

When I lived in Washington, DC in the eighties, I met the meditation teacher Stephen Levine at a conference and bought his beautiful book, A Gradual Awakening. "Treasure yourself," he inscribed on the first page. I devoured the practical tips on meditation, the clear explanation of the benefits of becoming aware of "monkey mind" -- the mind's incessant chatter -- and found great joy in the guided meditations sprinkled throughout. 

One hot August day in 1988, I took this book and my lunch to the park at DuPont Circle for my lunch break from my job at the Institute for International Environment and Development. This park, surrounded by a large traffic circle and a magnificent fountain at its center, pulsed with life. Bike messengers, chess and checkers players, homeless people, others on break like me, and passersby filled the walkways and patches of grass.

Seated on a bench, I began to read the guided meditation on opening your heart in loving-kindness. I slowly read the words, "May all beings be happy. May all beings be clear-minded. May their hearts open. Slowly and gently let your love spread to all beings, everywhere."

"May all sentient beings, all feeling beings, may they be free from suffering. May they love themselves. May they come to their happiness. May they uncover the joy of their true self. All beings everywhere. Just let yourself sit in the light of this love, in this caring for yourself, for each other. Don't try to do anything. Just be. In love. In the light. May all beings share in this openness. May everyone experience this spaciousness, this openness of heart. may we all come home to our completeness."

As I read, sitting on the park bench in the summer sun, still wearing a sweater from the cold office, I felt the words crack my heart wide open. I ate my food, a delicious, peanut butter sandwich that I chewed slowly, appreciating deeply. I took in the others at DuPont Circle and loved each and every one, open to their sadness and their joy. I took in the whole city of Washington, DC.

My heart opened out to the country, touching my brothers' lives where they were, and my other relatives and friends. My heart opened out to the Americas -- including my parents who lived in Colombia -- and then to the world. As I meditated, tears of utter bliss streamed down my cheeks. Deeply, amazingly at peace with the whole universe. I saw my part in it, feeling the presence of a powerful force whose language is love.

All too soon, it was time to walk back to work. The world around me seemed to vibrate with life, with love. I felt wide open to others, to everything, deeply grateful for this beautiful life. 

But as hard as I tried to maintain that openness, it slipped away. It's okay, though. I know where to find it again; inside the covers of A Gradual Awakening.

PS My book Courage Without Grace takes place in DC, and Josie spends a lot of time in and around DuPont Circle. Here's Josie.

"For the first time since arriving in DC, I had hope. Pedaling past the many pigeons and bicycle messengers at DuPont Circle, I admired the park's fountain with its chalice-like shape, three sculptures, and low pool. On the Taft Bridge, I snapped pictures of my stone lion friends. The expressions on their regal faces looked pleased, as if they knew things were looking up for me and were glad to play their part. 

 Still giddy with new hope, I turned up my street, standing as I pedaled up the hill. Something rumbled nearby, and I checked behind me. I nearly fell over when I saw the black motorcycle. Dear God, will that man never leave me alone?"

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

What I'm Reading: Feel-Good Book Four

 I have no idea where I got The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living but it's been on my bookshelf for years, like a joyful reminder that happiness is possible. The book follows a conversation between His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, MD, beautifully capturing the Dalai Lama's joy and wisdom. Cutler uses examples from his life and his psychiatric practice to give the Dalai Lama's words more meaning.

One of the Tibetan Buddhist monk's most famous quotes is, "My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness." In this book, he expands on kindness. "Once you accept the fact that compassion is not something childish or sentimental, once you realize that compassion is something really worthwhile, realize its deeper value, then you immediately develop an attraction towards it, a willingness to cultivate it. And once you encourage the thought of compassion in your mind, once that thought becomes active, then your attitude towards others changes automatically. If you approach others with the thought of compassion, that will automatically reduce fear and allow an openness with other people. It creates a positive, friendly atmosphere." 

I first read this book about twenty years ago, when my daughters were one and four. It changed my life then, and with this re-reading, it's changing my life now. 

My girls and I attended a Mom's Club event where we had decorated our car trunk for a Halloween party. Prizes went to the favorite "trunk-or-treat" designs, and I did what I do best. I joked with the other moms, telling everyone to vote for the farm we'd created out of Fisher Price Little People. Sure enough, they did, and I won. I was mortified by the attention, and mentally kicked myself for having such a big mouth. But I stopped myself, remembering what I'd read about compassion. Why not have a little compassion for myself? Often I am an outspoken joker. Maybe, just this once, I'd accept myself, show myself a little compassion.

I opened my prize and laughed. "Welcome Home" said the fall-themed door hanger. Yes indeed, Jeannie, welcome home to accepting yourself exactly as you are.

This time around, I've taken from the book a way to create a more positive, friendly atmosphere in my life. As a retail merchandiser for Hallmark, I visit eight stores weekly to keep the greeting card displays organized. I'm often surrounded by people - who can be so annoying! As a result of Happiness, it occurred to me that I could practice compassion in my aisle by looking for ways to be kind. The first day I went to work with the intention, I was actually nervous! I felt vulnerable by taking the risk of making a fool of myself. It turned out really well; From a place of simple kindness, I had genuine interactions with people that made my day. And now I'm off to work again, preparing to share a little compassion with any fellow human who might wander up my aisle. Maybe I'll see you there! 

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

What I'm Reading: Feel-Good Book Three

Happy Yoga: 7 Reasons Why There's Nothing to Worry About is written by Hindu monk Steve Ross, a yoga teacher on TV. This yoga class is PBS's Lilias Folan on steroids, and I picked this book up at Barnes & Noble for the great title and awesome cover. I was not disappointed!

Chris and I have a garage gym, the Zokan Fitness Studio, and we love yoga. We've even begun a sunset yoga class that lasts between fifteen and thirty minutes and is strong on shavasana, the most relaxing pose. He and I are the only members so far, so if you're local, join us around 7:30 every night. As you can see, we have plenty of mats! 

Here are some quotes for you to get a sense of Happy Yoga. On Breathing: "Breathe deeply right now. Just breathing can take you from a state of fear into an open state of peace and well-being. Regular deep breathing regulates the heartbeat and calms the mind. Just breathing helps prevent disease, aging, and depression."

On Loving: "Practice loving. Anybody, even people you don't know, can be a target for your loving energy. Start exercising your power to love unconditionally. Take the emphasis off of getting love and put it on giving love."

Door Two Please: "Essentially, there are two ways to go through life: 1) Resist everything that happens and comes into your awareness, attempt to manipulate the world to the point of exhaustion, and think obsessively about yourself and your life situation. 2) Surrender to the perfect mystery and accept each moment as perfect and essential for your evolution. It's that simple."

On Enlightenment: " ... it's similar to uninterrupted happiness, awareness of the source of all and everything, and conscious oneness with the all and everything... This depth of awareness feels like being bathed in bliss and soaked in heaven, until the bliss seeps in and becomes your very being. You are a vibrating, spacious, calm breath of God, so perfectly alive and in love with simply being."

Light-Up Chairs: "Once enlightenment happens, limitations and suffering fade away. Everything is alive, everything is beautiful. Even a chair becomes alive and glows with life force. You naturally love everything and everyone, because all you see is you. You no longer identify with the body and mind: instead the whole universe is your form."

You Still Gotta Pay the Ticket: "There truly is no spot where God is not.... Where under normal circumstances you might only perceive a cranky, bitter parking-enforcement officer, in an enlightened state you see past the facade and recognize the radiance of God playing there." 

On Acceptance: "Everything is perfect exactly the way it is. You're exactly where you're supposed to be. If you wholeheartedly accept that possibility, a big relax can happen. And from this realization, an openness and receptivity to what is appears."

Along with a  number of yoga poses, Ross shares inspirational quotes in his book. Today's takeaway is one I've loved since my college years on the power of presence: "You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait. Do not even wait, be quite still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet." Franz Kafka

Want to try a challenging but fun class? Inhale with Steve Ross

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Courage Without Grace is the NIEA Winner for New Age Fiction!

I entered Courage Without Grace in two categories for the 16th annual NIEA awards, Women's Fiction and New Age Fiction, after reading an article by Abbey Campbell Cook called, "5 Reasons We Need More New Age Fiction." You can read it here: 
Writer's Digest

Thanks to Cook's article, I had a sneaking suspicion my book could fit in that odd little category. 

On a quest to find the truth, I discovered that New Age fiction has spiritual components, motivational psychology, growth in consciousness, and a worldview that respects the diversity of life and cultures. Also called Visionary Fiction, it can be inspirational and has no gratuitous violence. It's self-help with a story.

And guess what? NIEA chose Courage Without Grace as the winner in the New Age Fiction category!

To view the winners, go to this link: indie excellence 16th annual winners. The Existence of Pity was an NIEA finalist in 2017, so it feels good to win this time around!