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There’s just so much bad news these days.  Are you feeling frustrated, anxious, angry? Would you like to feel centered, grounded, more relaxed?  Take a few slow, deep and deliberate breaths and then watch the above video while continuing to breathe slowly and gently. It’s a brief meditation spoken by Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, accompanied by the chanting of Phap Niem and absolutely beautiful visuals. A feast for the eyes, ears, heart, and soul…

four women standing on mountain
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In “How We Choose to be Happy,” authors Rick Foster and Greg Hicks identify Nine choices that extremely happy people make. What are those choices? According to Foster and Hicks the happiest people:

1. Consciously choose happiness over unhappiness
2. Choose to accept full responsibility for their thoughts, actions, and feelings
3. Choose to look deeply inside of themselves to determine what makes them uniquely happy vs. looking to others to learn what should make them happy
4. Choose to keep what makes them happy central in their lives
5. Choose to convert problems into opportunities and find meaning in even the most painful times
6. Choose to be open to new opportunities and remain flexible and ready to adapt when the unexpected occurs
7. Choose to possess a deep and ongoing appreciation for all that is good in their lives and to stay present focussed
8. Choose to give of themselves generously and without expectation of being rewarded
9. Choose to be honest with themselves and others

How many of these choices do you regularly make?  If you were to commit to making these nine choices every day, how might your life be different?  What might you be doing differently?  How might you be thinking and feeling differently?  I think I’ll make this my journal assignment for tonight.  Join me?

 

woman wearing gray jacket beside white puppy
Photo by Oleksandr Pidvalnyi on Pexels.com

The late nineties were rough years for Neil Pasricha, and after his wife told him that she no longer loved him and a close friend committed suicide, he came home from work one day and in an attempt to cheer himself up he started a tiny little blog he called, “1000 awesome things.” In a TED talk he explained, “I was trying to remind myself of the simple, universal, little pleasures that we all love, but we just don’t talk about enough — things like waiters and waitresses who bring you free refills without asking, being the first table to get called up to the dinner buffet at a wedding, wearing warm underwear from just out of the dryer, or when cashiers open up a new check-out lane at the grocery store and you get to be first in line — even if you were last at the other line, swoop right in there.” And this sweet and simple little blog eventually won a Webby award and launched a bestselling book.
We all need to be reminded of those tiny and all too often uncelebrated pleasures in our lives. So I think I’ll start with just 10. Let’s see…

1. The scent of lilacs from the tree in my front yard
2. Fresh and warm baked bread
3. Birds flying in formation
4. The smell of the forest in springtime
5. A puppy’s kiss
6. A lazy afternoon at Reid State Park
7. The first sip of hot coffee in the morning
8. That feeling that comes right before you drift off to sleep
9. Absorbing the warm sun on my face
10. Being moved by a piece of music
11. Laughing so hard my muscles ache (oops getting carried away here, only supposed to write 10.)

Yup. I feel better. Your turn. Try it. Just list 10!

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I’m delighted to announce that my six-week course, “Reclaiming Your Lost Self and Healing into the Present” is now offered as a self-paced course.  The course consists of Six major segments each of which contains a number of individual sections.

Table of Contents:

Segment One: Introduction

Course Overview

Guidelines

How Might Your Life Have Been Different?

Journaling

Mindfulness

Meditation

Yoga

Women’s Friendships

Segment Two:  The Lost Selves of Girls

Reclaiming Our Lost Selves

Growing up Female

What Does it Mean to _____________ Like a Girl?

Shrinking Women

Journal Suggestion

Gathering Your Gifts

Dismantling Outer Directed Behaviors

Journaling Questions and Suggestions

Self-Parenting

Four Expressive Capacities

Journaling Questions and Suggestions

Guided Meditation

Check in Questions

Additional Reading/Resources

Segment Three: Identifying and Honoring Your Needs

Journaling Techniques

In the Begining the Girl Child…

Reclaiming Our Birthright

Beauty Sickness

Journaling Assignment

Healthy Experiences for Girls

Honoring Body Connection and Attunement

The Whole Girl

Guided Meditation

The Body Scan

Inner Listening

Inner Wisdom

A Circle of Women

Journaling Suggestions

The Wisdom of Eve Ensler

Check-in Questions

Additional Reading/Resources

Segment Four: Identifying, Expressing and Honoring Your Feelings

Imagine a Woman

Early Childhood Experiences

The Emotional Woman

Healing into the Present

Journal Questions

The Legacy of Unclaimed Pain

Childhood Fantasy: What Might Have Been.  What Still Might Be.

Listening to Shame

Guided Meditation

The Unexpressed Feelings of a Lifetime

Learning to Respond Vs. React

Reparenting the Inner Girl

Healing Shame and Fear

A Circle of Women

Journaling Questions/Suggestions

What Are You Unwilling to Feel?

A Voice of Her Own

Check-In Questions

Additional Reading/Resources

Segment Five: Speak Your Truth

Reclaiming Our Stories

Wisdom and Authenticity

The Voice of the Girl-Child

Reclaiming Your Birthright

Healing Experiences for Girls AND Women

Radical Self Honesty

Telling Yourself the Truth

The Courage to Trust Yourself

Journaling Assignment

Guided Meditation

Giving Women a Voice

A Circle of Women

Journaling Assignment

How Might Your Life Have Been Different?

Check-In

A Meditation of Deep Acceptance

Additional Readings/Resources

Segment Six: Express Your Creativity: Honor Your Artist Soul

Creativity and Our Girl Selves

How Creativity Boosts Our Health

Journaling Assignment

Reclaiming Your Birthright

Your Creative Genius

Healthy Family Experiences for Girls AND Women

Journaling Assignments

Creative Affirmations

Women and Creativity

A Circle of Women

Imagine a Woman

Journaling Assignment

Your Vow

Designing Our Lives

Check-In Questions

Additional Articles/Resources

Note: If you decide to sign up, don’t forget to let me know which times work best for optional group Skype calls on the form included in the introductory section!

Sign up by clicking on the following link

Reclaiming Your Lost Self

 

woman sitting by the cliff
Photo by Jake Colvin on Pexels.com

A few days ago I came across an article entitled, “5 Different Questions to Ask in the First Week of the New Year” and decided to answer the questions suggested in the article.  It was a truly helpful exercise in prompting me to clarify my intentions for the coming year and so I thought I’d share them as well as my answers in the hope that you might give them a try yourself.

1. What do you most want to feel this year?

I want to feel as much awe as possible.  The kind of awe that I felt yesterday standing on the shore at Christmas Cove.  The kind of awe I felt the day before yesterday gazing out over the Atlantic at Lands End perched at the head of Bailey Island.  And the kind that I felt the day before that standing on the rocks at what I’ve come to call ‘the land before time’ with my husband, Kevin, absorbing the warm winter sun, mesmerized by the power of the surf thundering against ancient stone.

When I feel awe, astonishment, wonder, and reverence flow through me.  When I feel awe my soul reaches out, freed in some mysterious way from the confines of my body, released with each exhale to flow freely towards the inexpressible; the beautiful; the sacred.

Awe stretches me far beyond any boundary I have known and dances inside of me – my muse, my teacher, my birthright.

2. Who do you choose to love unconditionally this year?  

I choose to love my father without conditions this year.  I choose to love him even when he repeats himself for the 5th time in fifteen minutes.  I choose to love him when he makes yet another impossible and unreasonable demand.  I choose to love him when old resentments rise up from those deep and dark places tucked untidily away within me.  I choose to love him (and forgive myself) when I find myself imagining the day that I am finally free.

I choose to love the man who carried me on his shoulders, who danced with me perched upon his feet, and who kneeled by my bed each evening with hands folded reverently on my bedspread as we said our prayers.  I choose to love him with as much gentleness, and patience, and gratitude as I can muster.  I choose to love him with a wiser heart this year.

3. How will you get back on track when life gets hard?

When life gets hard I will remind myself that my discomfort will pass, just as joy passes, seasons change,  and each and every night gives way to daylight.  I will breathe into my pain and seek to learn from it when I’m able and ready to.

I will keep working to let go as quickly as possible of the inevitable inconveniences, frustrations, and disappointments that arrive, and stop giving them the kind of power that they would never have managed to acquire without my assistance.   I will remind myself that the stories that I tell myself about my experiences shape them (and me) in significant ways, and so I want to commit to telling myself the best stories I can.

4. Who is someone you could help achieve their most important resolution?

The person who I can help to achieve his or her most important resolution is whomever I happen to be with at the moment.   If I don’t distract or burden myself with the responsibility for someone else’s dreams or aspirations, but commit instead to being a loving support person and witness whenever possible, then I will ultimately have more energy for myself and others.

5. What word can you pick as the quality you most want to focus on this year?

I want to experience much more gratitude this year than I’ve managed in the past.   I want to lightly hold (if only for a moment) as many blessings that come my way as I can in the palm of my hands, place them close to my heart, and thank them.  Knowing that as I appreciate them – they, in turn, will appreciate.

I want to move through this life with reverence for all of the good (both great and small) that is; that might never be again; that might, in fact, without some sweet miracle, never have been; and for that which has always been.   Let me drink in all that blesses and graces my ordinary/extraordinary days.  Let me utter over and over again the words “yes” and “wow” and “I love you” and thank you.”

And now, it is your turn, how will you answer these five questions?

Many Blessings,

Tammie Byram Fowles

 

These days in March are sweet and simple.    I’m committed to living more closely in harmony with my values, caring for my mind/body/spirit, and creating moments that fill my soul with peace, with gratitude, and with delight.

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I’m loving the creativity involved in living beautifully while living beneath my means.  I’m feeling good about the fact that on the rare occasion that I take myself on a shopping spree, I’m supporting non-profits like the Salvation Army, Goodwill, and my local hospice and humane society rather than contributing to the crazy consumerism that is devastating the planet.  Today I purchased a bra, a pair of brown pants, a bathing suit, two really lovely coffee cups, a shirt that I love, the book, “Pebbles in the Pond: Transforming the World One Person at a Time” and the audiobook “The Girls with the Grandmother Faces” all for a total of $19.00 ( I rounded up at the Goodwill).

I love how four of my seven days begin each week.  I  wake up, do a brief meditation, write an entry in my journal, slip into my bathing suit, hop on my bicycle, and ride to the pool where I do a few laps and then join a number of delightful women to do water aerobics.

“To live content with small means;

To seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion;

To be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not rich;

To study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly;

To listen to stars and birds, to babes and sages, with open heart;

To bear all cheerfully, do all bravely, await occasions, hurry never.

To let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common.

This is to be my symphony.”

William Henry Channing

 

In wanting less I have gained so very much more…

 

 

Each Day is a GiftThis morning a woman activist and leader that I respect tremendously asked the following question, ” How do group leaders best support the suffering that comes with all the feelings people might be having? How do we support ourselves and each other so that we come back for another round? ”  Her question stayed with me throughout the morning because it is a question I have regularly been asking myself.  Finally, I sat down and wrote the following:

Of Dark Nights and Women’s Wisdom

As winter settles in and deepens here in Maine, I am painfully aware that we in the United States have entered into a very cold, dark, and perilous time, one that leaves me with an almost perpetual sense of carrying a leaden ball lodged within the center of my stomach.  My heart aches, and my jaw regularly clenches in anger and frustration, and I am all too often these days navigating this sweet little life of mine within the constraints of grief and sorrow.   And this pain, while different, is similar in some ways to how I felt while I was caring for my mother before she died of lung cancer.  She wasn’t entirely lost to me yet, but with each day I felt her slipping further away from me, and the anticipation of her passing left me feeling hollow, heavy, and empty.

The growing threats to my grandchildren’s health, security, and to their very futures leaves me grief-stricken, and the daily assaults on my democracy, my planet, and to a way of life that I had the luxury of taking for granted for so long,  has left me in a nauseating state of shock and disbelief.  I fumble for words, search for answers, and ache for hope.

The outcome of the 2016 election should not have left me blindsided.  As in the case of most catastrophes, there were warnings of the coming disaster, foreshadowing’s of what would eventually arise.  There were calamities in the Midwest where countless Americans lost jobs, homes, dignity, health insurance, and faith, who struggled to survive in an abandoned segment of the country that would eventually be deemed “the landscape of despair.”

There were so many betrayals of middle-class Americans perpetrated in this “flawed democracy” by parties that were no longer found credible or trustworthy by many of the people they claimed to serve.  My America became a place where laws were shaped and land and lives diminished or destroyed by greed and big money; where economic and social inequality continued to grow at astounding rates; where corporations were granted the rights of citizens, and the pursuit of profit became the great axis upon which our broken world turned.

I tell myself that there have been other dark days in America – slavery, the great depression, McCarthyism, the Vietnam war, the assassinations of Lincoln, Martin Luther King, and the Kennedys, the shame of Watergate and other calamities that don’t immediately come to mind.  I tell myself that I cannot give into the despair that seems to be constantly peering over my shoulder, and climbing into bed with me at night.  I coax myself into doing the “next right thing” – writing a letter to my senator, showing up at my representative’s office, following the instructions of Moveon and Indivisible.  I’m bone tired though.  I want to curl up with a novel, turn off the news, focus on my own privileged life.  I can’t begin to express how tempted I am to throw up my hands in surrender in spite of the fact that I’ve barely gotten started.

How do they manage to keep going, those activists that have spent entire lifetimes fighting for social and economic justice, clean water and air, and governmental accountability?  There have always been too many of ‘us’ and too few of ‘them.’  By ‘them’ I mean the ones who have kept fighting, and by ‘us,’ I am referring to the ones (like myself) who have lived our lives for the most part in oblivion, striving primarily for our own security and success, and for that of our loved ones.  ‘Us’ meaning those who are sympathetic enough to shed a tear, make a modest financial contribution, or say a prayer for the suffering of others, but for the most part then quickly turn away.  And now, in large part, I suspect, because of those of ‘us’ who were distracted by our own interests and ambitions, those other ‘them’s’ – the ones who possess the lion’s share of wealth, power and privilege – may have managed to purchase our country and close the deal.

I’m not by nature an optimist, pessimism appears to be as fixed in my genes as the brown eyes that I inherited from my ancestors, and that peer back at me at each Byram family gathering.  And yet, I am aware with every weary fiber of my being that permanently giving into despair is not a viable option.  I tell myself that I need to stay strong, stay motivated, stay the course.  I reassure myself that it’s alright to feel the despair, anger, frustration, and anxiety that gets kindled within me with just about every new news cycle, providing that I don’t surrender to it.  But most of all, I draw from the wise women both living and now past who have weathered their own individual and collective dark nights, and had some understanding of how to navigate them.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes, analyst and author of Women Who Run with the Wolves, cautions that during dark times we have a tendency to concentrate on all that is broken and unmended in our world, an inclination that only serves to weaken and disempower us.  She urges us to not lose heart, that we must stand up and show our souls, and promises that “we were made for these times.”  Every heartache, disappointment, injustice, failure, and triumph that we have faced along the singular paths that each of us has traveled, has served to prepare us for days such as these.

Audre Lorde, writer, and activist informed us that combatting despair doesn’t mean turning away from or minimizing the enormity and danger that is posed by the forces that we are up against, but that we must teach, fight and survive with the greatest resource available to us – our very own selves.  It means acknowledging both the enemies without as well as those that dwell within us – the voices that live in our own heads that warn that we are not strong enough, wealthy enough, smart enough, young enough, old enough, advantaged enough, numerous enough to win.  It means heeding our wise ancestor, Alice Walker’s warning that “the most common way people give up their power is by thinking that they don’t have any,” that we believe her when she tells us that we each contain our own unique form of genius, and that “a people do not throw their geniuses away. If they do, it is our duty as witnesses to the future to collect them again for the sake of our children.  If necessary, bone by bone.” Not giving into despair means recognizing that our work now is not an isolated mission, but a continuation of the sacred and often brutal labor of women who came before us to claim their power, their voices, their rights, and to protect the very earth upon which we each tread and depend.  Within this context our struggle has meaning beyond our own individual lives – it did not begin with our births and will not end with our deaths.  It means that we must not surrender to despair, we must push through it – and beyond it.

The role of an activist is hard, long, and painful, and is, as Rebecca Solnit observed, “…not a journey to the corner store, but a plunge into the dark.” Solnit understands that many of us have been so much better at “imagining the end of the world, which is so much easier than the strange sidelong paths of change in a world without end.”  On my darkest days, I am most definitely among those with vivid and terrible fantasies of the end of my democracy, my country as I know it, of my grandchildren’s hopeful futures, and the slow, heartbreaking death of my unspeakably terrible, and immeasurably beautiful planet.  When I surrender to my worst nightmares, I am so overcome with anger and heartbreak that there is little room for the sweet, elusive dreams that I so dearly want to hold onto. I am anchored by my grief, head down in surrender, frozen in the claustrophobic territory of despair.  And here I remain until finally, I am called forward again by the voices of women like that of musician and activist, Joan Baez, who urges me onward with her bold assertion that there is an antidote to my despair, and that antidote is action.

Corinne McLaughlin, author, educator, and director of the Center for Visionary Leadership advises that acknowledging and honoring what is right and good and beautiful about our country is as important as what we currently resist, feel threatened by, and hate about what is rising within it.  That we must create a vision for what we fight for, and that we nurture ourselves and one another as we struggle to give birth to our dreams for a more just, more equitable, kinder world.  And author and activist, Terry Tempest Williams gently reminds us, “Finding beauty in a broken world is creating beauty in a world we find.”

And then there are those brave and constant spirits of the women who share my own tiny piece of the universe here in Maine – women like Patricia Fogg, Jennifer Jones, Kim Simmons, Anne Marie, and Stacy Leafsong.  Unless you live in Maine, these names will most likely be unknown to you, although you too are blessed with women who have different names but share the same remarkable dedication and resolve.  These women walk beside us.  They teach us, implore us, inform us, and urge us on.  They live and work among us – and they are among the best of us.  It is these beautiful, strong, determined women who give me hope, strength and shore up my faltering resolve.  And so, here I have it – famous women, wise women, my neighbors and friends, living and dead women –  my village, my tribe, my hope.  They are my light in the darkness and a timeless reminder that, in the words of Annie Dillard, “There is no one but us.  There is no one to send, not a clean hand or a pure heart on the face of the earth or in the earth – only us… unfit, not yet ready, having each of us chosen wrongly, made a false start, yielded to impulse and the tangled comfort of pleasures, and grown exhausted, unable to seek the thread, weak and uninvolved.  But there is no one but us.  There never has been.”

And so I go on…

Tammie Byram Fowles