This article was written in the spring of 2015
I wrote a health and wellness column a while back that claimed balance is possible in the face of chaos. I promised that we are all capable of maintaining some degree of inner peace no matter the external stressors—that even challenge and grief are healthy aspects of our lives—that maintaining faith through the challenge is balancing in and of itself.
But I had written that column from the window seat of a charming straw-roof cabana in the Yukatan Peninsula just steps from the ocean, as a warm breeze kissed my hair. I was in an emotional and spiritual place far, far from grief, and in a geographic location far, far from the stressors of typical daily life. The only challenge I felt on this vacation concerned choices over the dinner buffet desserts.
As I wrote, a little voice in my consciousness said, “Writing about faith and balance from this place of paradise might not be believable. Feeling faithful and somewhat balanced while chaos swirls around me, now that would be something (I do NOT want).”
It wasn’t long before I would to be tested, of course. I returned home from my vacation and within the first week, four mini crises presented themselves, painfully. From the living center of chaos, I was compelled to revisit my claim about faith and balance.
What did I do? I leaned on all of my rebalancing support resources. For me, the saying, “Don’t wait for the fire before buying the hose” is invaluable, and it turned out that I’d been keeping an impressive hose collection. Because of this, I found myself managing with more grace than I had as a younger woman—it was very clear to me that I wasn’t going it alone, that I didn’t have to.
One significant resource I relied on that week was prayer. While walking my dog, I opted for the route that would take us to the hundred year old trees and the croaking frogs pond. I sat down where I could feel the vibrancy of nature all around me, and I asked God for help, a lot of it.
I remember specifically not knowing what the help would look like for this and that issue, and especially for my daughter Abby, struggling with a problem so deeply that she’d lost her appetite for days.
I begged God for help and for the ability to recognize the help when it showed up.
Two days later when she finally felt hungry, Abby had me google on my phone the new Domino’s Pizza store in our Lexington, Kentucky (Andover neighborhood) location. I dialed and we huddled together over the speaker-phone conveying our dreams of extra toppings. But when it came time for the phone number, pizza guy could not make sense of my cell number. Again and again we repeated it as he typed away on his Domino’s Pizza computer, but politely he kept apologizing that there were too few digits.
"Too few digits?"
After several minutes of this, puzzled and losing patience, we told him we’d call back. Was this some sort of joke?
As I clicked “end” on my I-phone, the phone number I had dialed popped up on my screen before shutting off.
It read: +44 1264 363333.
WHAT THE %&*@!
Yes, it was a very good joke! I had accidentally tried to order a pizza from Domino’s in Andover, in the United Kingdom.
We looked at each other and then at the phone, and then at each other. The swirling confusion around us dissolved into laughter, “Hahaaha, the most expensive pizza on the planet, haha haha haha!”
Laughing harder, “After this phone call, we can’t afford pizza, hah hah hah hah hah!”
Tears streaming, “I hope we’re still hungry next week when it gets here! Hahahahahahaha haahaahaa haaahaaahaahahahahahahahahaha!"
We laughed at ourselves for about 10 minutes and then another 20 as we called our family members to share what we had stupidly, hilariously tried to do.
Finally, with faces hurting we slowed down, exhausted. Abby looked at me calmly, and with a new light in her eyes, she said, “I feel better.”
I feel better. It's what I had begged God to help her feel.
Miraculously, what changed for my girl most in those minutes, was her own sense of perspective. While the details of her week of struggle remained, suddenly her world felt much bigger than the narrow confine of her problem. Indeed, what better way to gain wider perspective than to order a pizza overseas!
But what’s more, when 16 year-old Abby saw that her problem wasn’t her entire life, just merely a part of it, one small chapter, I knew that my prayer had been answered. God comes through every time, often in unexpected ways. And has a most excellent sense of humor.
In retrospect, as I navigated through four rapid crises that involved grief, challenge, and ensuing imbalance, it felt more profoundly true to me, that faith was indeed playing a starring role in my coping process through all of it.
I whole-heartedly feel that we control the tone and the color of our lives—we don’t control what happens, and especially not when things go wrong, but we decide how to respondwhen they do.
For me and my family, laughter is good medicine and has been a resource through some tough times. But when deep in the hole of personal pain, it’s very hard to remember that it actually helped before–that anything ever will.
That’s where prayer, friends, family, therapists, nature, and God come in. They all remember for you; you get to have the laughter when out of nowhere it comes on.
Though we might not imagine how our prayers will be answered, it’s recognizing God’s response in the little things that opens the window to the healing and strength to keep going.
Then you recall that you always do get back up, dust off, look around, and rebalance. A vacation in paradise feels nice for a spell, but coping through crisis feels invaluable, always.
May you find rich pizza moments this week.
I realized I had better change course. Once conscious, it’s what we choose to do about our thoughts, feelings, and beliefs that can forge a new direction–new possibilities. We always have choice; we are not our thoughts, we are the thinkers of them.
A funny thing happened yesterday. Funny interesting, and strange, that is. And, kind of awesome (an experience leading to awe).
After planning for months that several days at the end of the month would be dedicated to the specific and serious de-cluttering of my home space, and after very painful procrastination during designated well-planned days, I unexpectedly ran into a colleague who offered up an identical story, strangely.
While waiting in line for our lattes, he recounted his story of scheduled organizing in the final week of the month, as well as a lack of giddy-up in the GO.
My antennae picked up the signal with maximum alarm.
Whaaaat?! Beeeep! Beeeep! Beeeep! What?!
I knew immediately that this encounter wasn’t just about the random coincidence of a mirrored situation from someone I rarely see and who never discloses information about his personal life. Nor was it about the unbelievable story of what was happening in the latte line.
It was much bigger, and I became consciously, thrillingly aware of it in its unfolding this time. Right there in that informal setting surrounded by average people and beverages, I recognized the inter-relativity of everything, and, that I create my own reality whether I realize it or NOT.
I took an intensive class with Deepak Chopra once called SynchroDestiny about the spontaneous fulfillment of desire and our built-in human capacity to harness the infinite power of coincidence. In other words, because consciousness co-creates reality, we help make things happen; we are the co-creators of our lives and of all the good (and not so good) things that take place therein.
Poetically, this captures my experience and Deepak's class:
There is an endless net of threads throughout the universe.
The horizontal threads are in space.
The Vertical threads are in time.
At every crossing of the threads,
there is an individual.
And every individual is a crystal bead.
And every crystal bead reflects not only the light from every other crystal in the net,
but also every other reflection throughout the entire universe.
~The Rig Veda (translated by Frank Joseph)
If intense focus on my cluttered closets and accompanying lethargy beamed out signals to the universe powerful enough to attract others living the same pain, imagine what I (each of us) can do instead to attract situations, relationships, and dreams that are intentional.
It’s so easy to forget that we are so powerful, but it is the truth and it is an inherent quality of the human spirit. When I was your I was a walking, breathing example of a girl, who out of trauma and struggle dreamed a different life for herself, and made it happen.
Today I understand the grace and the quantum mechanics behind this, but living it came first—it always does.
Back in the latte line I saw that I had created this too. Luckily no harm this time from my unconscious week of self-inflicted wallowing, but I realized I had better change course. Once conscious, it’s what I choose to do about my thoughts, feelings, and beliefs that can forge a new direction–new possibilities. I always have a choice; I am not my thoughts, I'm the thinker of them.
So, I listened to my colleague with a light-bulb over my head and an expanded heart for the beauty of synchronicity. Back at home that afternoon, this awareness and some really good music stoked a fire under me and I made some good head-way with my task (a back-seat full of headway in the form of donations).
My closets and I are much happier now that I am out of my funk, and, I have a new play list ready for the storage space in the basement as I prepare to police the boxes and dark corners…
I hosted a women’s mini retreat at my house on Saturday and it was everything I’d hoped it would be with terrific women ranging in age from 34 to 61. Many of them were strangers to one another when they arrived, a few having travelled 80 miles to be here, but in just three hours the group had become what many women’s groups become after any heartfelt period of shared time, a sisterhood.
Yes, whether its 30 minutes or three hours, when it comes to heart, women of diverse backgrounds inevitably relate to one other, empathize, laugh with, support, and encourage each other, because we share an emotional language of understanding what it means to be this gender.
Our stories and contexts of experience might be different, but what’s the same is perceiving life through female eyes and spirit, and extending forward from a long line of female ancestors.
And, women like and need time to gather for the purpose of healing. I remember the light-bulb moment of this realization years ago when I read Anita Diamont’s historically accurate, Red Tent, in which the women of the village lived together according to the moon cycle, about 7 days of each month. I’m still moved by the image of women washing the feet of their “sisters” and massaging the abdominal pain away as they convalesce.
I’m going into my 9th year of coordinating and facilitating women’s gatherings, and what never fails to happen in the first hour, is a collective settling into Togetherness. It’s very much like coming home, and if the facilitator’s agenda is to focus on emotional strength instead of failure, these homefolks become the functional, happy family we always wanted, at least for the duration of the gathering. Even if participants never see one another again, what was shared becomes a sacred experience of connectedness that fostered self-reflection.
I find this incredibly interesting and though it’s not new (women’s circles go back thousands of years), it might be news to some that we do share an unconscious understanding of our feminine-divine need to have sisters.
On her way out the door on Saturday, one participant commented, “I really needed to be with other women like this; I’ve been so tired of being with people who complain, but I didn’t realize there was another option. “
After all the gatherings goings-on I’ve observed, what I continue to find special is articulated beautifully by another participant who e-mailed me later saying, “We uplift each other simply by being there. Yet, as each person enters the group with an honest intention of her own forward motion, the whole group moves forward.”
Sighhh. Our sisters are everywhere and in every context, and we often do support, care-for and empower one another, even strangers, without giving it much thought. This is just how we roll.
The next time you spot a woman with her dress tucked into her underwear and you stop her to gently whisper this truth, you are upholding the sacred oath of sisterhood. What can be different now is your conscious awareness that this is what you are doing. From here, you can seek all the perks of membership whenever and where ever you want or need it.
See you there,
In 2005, after reading yet another inspiring book by Deepak Chopra, I gave myself a birthday present and attended my first Chopra Center weeklong class called, SynchroDestiny.
The title still excites me and I can tell you that it was fantastic. Dr. Deepak is a terrific presenter with a peaceful, engaging energy, and when he signed my book he was warm and present. At our farewell dinner we chatted about a mutual acquaintance and I felt, and do still, that he is swell guy and one of the most influential leaders of mind-body medicine in our modern world today.
It was at this Chopra Center class that I was introduced to meditation for the first time, and it was there that I thought meditation was baloney the first time, the second time, the third, and twice a day for the entire week.
I really did want the promised health benefits of optimum blood pressure, deeper mental and emotional stability, and a state of “restful awareness” that would ensure a stressless existence, but my struggle to sit still in silence seemed to indicate I was wasting my time. I could NOT calm my mind, I could not focus, I could not enjoy it and I certainly did not see a future in meditation for myself.
*As you gain experience with meditation, you’ll begin to feel the reappearance of youthful energy and vitality that is being released from the deeper level of the nervous system. This is a very profound change and the real fountain of youth.” Perfect Health: The Complete Mind Body Guide, Deepak Chopra, M. D.
But I persevered along with the other 50 or so attendees because it was part of the deal and because I had paid for the entire Chopra Center experience with my birthday savings. And because I was loving the rest of the SynchroDestiny intensive.
So I returned home and went about life as usual and felt pretty good. For me, there’s nothing like a vacation that includes learning, great food, AND massage. And because I hate to give up before the promised results, I continued to try to meditate daily despite feeling I was getting nowhere.
And then, two after SynchoDestiny, something happened, the day my handyman Elvis worked in my attic.
I looked up from my computer to see Elvis’s feet dangling through a hole in my second story hallway-ceiling as huge pieces of paint and dry wall and CEILING continued to break off to expose his entire flailing lower body.
I should add here that because we have vaulted ceilings from the living-room up, the distance to the closest floor is 40 feet.
Yes, a man was falling and holding on for his life, in my home, no joke. And he was screaming, and kicking his legs around in panic, just the way it looks in movies. The fear was palpable.
But I felt completely and genuinely calm:
"Hey Elvis, don’t worry, you’ll be ok—just hoist yourself back up slowly and come on downstairs—I’ll make you some tea.”
What? Who was the strangely calm and reassuring being that had taken over my senses, my spirit, my own vocal chords?
Ahem. Turns out there was a “restful awareness” me inside me the whole time, and with just a few weeks of meditation practice (albeit sloppy and restless and checking my watch every 8 minutes) I had rewired my primal fight/flight response mechanism enough to circumvent it and thereby help prevent a disaster.
And so, my relationship with Deepak Chopra and his Center truly began (I have twoChopra Center Instructor Certifications to date), my relationship with Elvis remained intact (though my ceiling did not, and frankly has never been quite the same—I can see the painted-over patching-job right now from my living room), but most importantly, I discovered how profound it is to explore and integrate the health of my mind and body for my daily life.
This calm-in-the-storm response is what grows in us when we become aware that “activity in your mind is communicated to every cell in your body. If you can quiet your mind, you can send messages of peace and harmony to every cell in your body.” The Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga, Deepak Chopra, M. D.
And at first, even a brand new meditation practice is enough to clear some of the cobwebs of turmoil to establish a calm, rather than automatic panic, to unpredicted dangers. I’ve learned what every practicing meditator knows: it’s not what happens in the 30 minutes of meditation that matters (phew), it’s that you tried, and it’s what happens in the other 23.5 hours of the day that matters. The sitting in silence and trying is the practice, and like practice, it takes practice.
My health and well-being have improved by leaps and bounds over the years even as I age. I feel and look healthier at 45 than I did at 25, but what’s more, I’m much happier because when I become unbalanced it’s a mere slight adjustment back to center. Oh, and I now welcome my silent, meditative practice, it truly sets a peaceful tone for my day.
Yes, this is a great plug of a true-story to join me in Costa Rica in February for a Chopra Center intensive focused on the brilliance of mind-body medicine. This is a Women’s Retreat that features yoga, meditation (of course!), Ayurveda, adventure, hammock-lounging, sisterhood, laughter, and deep healing.
I hope you’ll consider attending with me and my Chopra Center facilitating partner and friend Sherri, for what can be the best Christmas, Hannukah, Birthday, Thanksgiving , Just-Because, gift you or your family can ever give you.
Get in touch with questions, I’d be happy to talk or type with you: LisaMMM628@aol.com
I read a story this morning that was written in 2005, about a lost and traumatized baby hippo in Kenya, who “adopted” a tortoise to be his mother. An elderly male, the tortoise is said to be a century old.
“They sleep and eat together, and have become inseparable” says the director of the nature preserve.
As if that’s not moving enough, I'm tearful after learning further that this baby had survived a tsunami-ravaged river that swept him into the Indian Ocean where tides eventually washed him ashore. Dehydrated but hanging on, rescuers found him on the beach (and brought him to the nature
This is a tug at the strings story for me. And when I step back, I find it interesting that both tragedy and miracle are (now in my heart) here in this story—two seemingly opposing forces. And a third force, inspiration, is here as well.
So, is inspiration born of tragedy and miracle?
If you're like me, your favorite stories are about true-life characters overcoming adversity.
Why do those stories appeal? Because there’s something truly amazing and life affirming and heart-filling about knowing that others have faced what seemed like insurmountable obstacles, and not only survived, but found deeper meaning.
It’s hardly ever easy to recognize the worth of something tragic while in the middle of it. No tsunami, loss, or pain feels like it’s going to lead to something positive.
But, for whatever it’s worth, I know that “worth” cannot be measured until later when the dust has settled, when we are no longer in survival mode, and as we move forward with living.
There’s an old Jewish saying, “Gamzu l’tovah” which means, “This too is for the good.”
It’s about leaving room in the moment for faith, hope and God, and about acceptance that the grand-scheme-of-things picture is not completely ours to design. But that it is one that ultimately leads to meaning.
While baby hippos might not specifically rely on inspiration and faith while riding out storms, what does seem intrinsic to the nature of all living beings is to do one’s best to survive (when there is nothing one can do to change what is) by going with the flowing. Tsunamis are devastating, but they too pass.
Finally, isn’t it true that we’re hardly ever inspired by our own life stories? That’s because we’re always still living them.
But why not step back and realize how far we’ve come ourselves? Recognizing the journey and wisdom gained through our own storms is a powerful force that is not just miraculous in some cases, but also truly empowering where inspiration leaves off.
"Beautiful young people are accidents of nature, but beautiful old people are like works of art"
"Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter"
"The best part about being my age is in knowing how my life worked out"
I’m particularly drawn to this last quote. It has me thinking about life as a story, experiences filling the pages of each chapter, and chapters are all made complete by both insignificant and significant details.
As I think about this, I see that we can’t possibly know the relevance of an experience until many experiences later when they’ve all been assembled and integrated into the story line.
But even having been the one to have lived my own experiences doesn’t automatically make me well versed in the symbolism and meaning therein.
Could I lead a high school or college English seminar on the symbolism of love, addiction, family, grief, bliss, and all the living that has been the great work of my life so far?
Hell, yes. I force my teen daughters to take this class almost every day. (I’m sure they’d say “hell” was a good way to begin this paragraph. But they are allowed to audit because I am a kind and righteous mother).
But perspective isn’t immediate—it tends to be quite a little journey down that road of whatever experience and accompanying emotional stuff it features—it has to be that way, the panoramic view requires distance and space. And similarly, the plot doesn’t make sense when you read only chapter 18.
So, I’m here at 62 (chapter, not years, thank you) with a lot of back story to work with—trauma, drama, love, pain, plot twists, and pa-lenty of metaphor. It’s all really very interesting so far. A top notch read.
But really, I think that the best part of my age (45, thanks) is my awareness that the way in which I read and re read my own story is completely up to me, and can determine the way I live the RESTof my life. Regardless of this character or that situation, this is really about my own education. This is essential for me.
(By the way, if the theme of this blog entry were favorite t.v genres, I would say here that I’m partial to the sit-com and that I like actresses with great hair and teeth.. They can play me in the movie about my life.)
Finally though, it’s true for me right now that, “the best part of aging” is knowing that there IS a rich story ahead, that I intend to enjoy it consciously, and that most of all, my story is made all the richer as I share it with my girls again and again and again and again….
Shanti Om y’all,
And a hug,
Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do
are in harmony. -Mahatma Gandhi
Hmmm. I used to think of a million reasons about why I couldn't be happy until later including but not limited to: losing 10 lbs, finishing that project, finishing this course, earning more money, losing 14 lbs, leaving this job, switching lanes, leaving that job, switching cities, losing 6 lbs, leaving this gathering, switching vitamins, when my husband stops snoring, taking a vacation, taking a vacation from my family, taking a vacation from my thoughts, leaving this vacation and going home, losing 24 lbs, buying that thing I NEED, eating a pizza....
So there was a lot of getting somewhere else in order to be happy, it was never right now but rather, a destination in the future.
But what happens is that later, when we finally get "there", is still not actually there because there can't be a here and now for the later thinker, later will ALWAYS be later and somewhere else.
So what did I do?
FOUND A WAY. FOUND A WAY. FOUND A WAY. I had to find a way to be happy in myselfness, even if only for some brief, genuine, constructive ("constructive" does NOT include the deceptive lie of colored sugar and artery clogging fat found in cake and other processed desserts, and bacon) minutes throughout the day.
And it wasn't easy, at first. But I'd heard that people could do it. There were true stories of not-perfect, non-vacationing, working, family oriented, unemployed, healthy-food-eating, kids, adults, men, women, and centenarians, who were actually happy. And often, they felt happy for no particular reason. And some of them even lived in poverty—with only one leg and maybe 6 fingers all together.
So, this made me think, but what's more, it began to give me perspective.
Thinking that happens only in the brain is limited. Perspective however, is something else (as in, "all that perspective is something else, aint it!") because perspective is thinking from the heart and the soul.
It’s seeing and feeling and knowing in a big-picture way. And this leads to gratitude, and gratitude is right now. And each right now full of perspective, heart, soul, and gratitude, creates exactly what is most desirable for the future.
And, it takes us there gently, more smoothly, with hope, and with awareness; it's not some other time and place, it's a process of now turning into later eventually, evolving into later in the same way that the sun rises and over the course of the day it sets too, and then night turns into day again smoothly and definately.
Well, here I am today. My kid has this big problem and my husband another and I'm really worried about that thing that could potentially turn horrible, and world politics is...
But it's okay; this too will pass, and right now I'm breathing clean air in my own space, in my safe neighborhood surrounded by chirping birds and the light of day, and I've got five good fingers on each hand.
It's right now in this breathing moment, an amazing thing to be alive. And right now. And right now.
This is the space (full of calm, perspective, gratitude, awareness) from which to approach each perceived problem.
And apparently, because “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony”, it might make sense to re-evaluate a lot of what’s been stored in that thinking department upstairs--there can be a whole lot of expired junk in that old cupboard of a brain in my head.
So here you are right now, too. What are you feeling happy about right now? What are you grateful for? And what is the big picture for you?
I would love to know; your stories continue to inspire us all. Briefly, post here!
Shanti Om (peace y'all)
Lisa M. Miller* *Mind-Body Health Specialist*Teacher*Chaplain