Be Present in Your Life: Father’s Day Edition

This morning I was running down the beach. Yes, I live near the ocean, you may commence hating me for that, I’ll understand. (More on that in the next post.)  From afar I could see what appeared to be a large heart-shaped something at the water’s edge up ahead. As I approached the image came into focus. (Keep in mind I didn’t have my glasses on so the heart-shaped something could have been almost anything and not at all heart shaped.) It was two horses, a stallion (male) and a smaller one, obviously a younger horse, a child of sorts. The little one was standing in the larger one’s shadow kind of resting its head on the stallion so they were somewhat connected at the head end with their hindquarters apart, forming a triangular, yes, heart shape. Awww. It being Father’s Day, I imagined them as father and child. A child often stands in a father’s shadow. I did and it was warm and wonderful there.

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I stood for a while, keeping the recommended distance of 50 feet from the wild horses who live here and just appreciated the beauty of nature and of nurture. I thought about the majesty of fathers and how they shape their children’s lives. It’s a “big job,” as my own dad would have said but when done right, it leaves a legacy of love.

So I observed and enjoyed what I was seeing and feeling. Normally I would have been doing something entirely different. I would have been frantically trying to get their picture before they moved. I mean heart-shaped horse bodies, one doesn’t see that often. It would have made a fantastic photo and I would’ve loved to capture that moment in time. That’s what writers and photographers do, we observe and we feel compelled to somehow record what we see. We can’t stop ourselves and maybe that’s often a good thing, this desire to see and share, to help others learn what we’ve learned or failed to learn, to see what we’ve been privileged to witness. That’s what we do most of the time. I’ve “run” into these horses before and they are majestic in their beauty. I often have a phone with me and I always say, “This photo is going to be awesome.” Because in real life the view is incredible. So I snap and snap and snap and almost never does the photo match what I recall seeing.

But this morning I couldn’t strive for the perfect photo because I had no camera. No phone, no instrument of moment capturing whatsoever. Which afforded me the luxury of simply being present to truly see what was. I really need to focus on doing that more often because when you are truly present you can feel things you might otherwise miss. You can grow in unanticipated ways. You can see inside yourself and outside yourself toward the goal of knowing more of both. And maybe with that knowledge comes peace.

Even if I miss the perfect photo, I’ll take the peace if I can capture that moment.

But, I don’t want you to miss the opportunity of seeing a wild horse so here’s one I captured on a previous day. I can tell you the photo isn’t nearly as cool as the sight of this magnificent, free, animal on the dune. But you’ll get the idea.

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So, today, I wish you peace and I wish you the ability to be present, be focused, see what’s around you. And, I hope it’s beautiful.

10 Ways to Leave This World More Peacefully

In my previous post I suggested (gently and with music) people take time out of their lives to talk about death. Why? Because it’s the one thing we all have in common and yet, we’re doing it pretty poorly. We don’t talk about death because we’re afraid it might happen. Newsflash: It’s going to happen. We are all going to go sometime. If you talk about it you’re going to die, and if you don’t talk about it, you’re going to die. But if you discuss it your death could be easier for you and for everyone you love who cares about you.

Think this isn’t going to be a problem in your family? Think again. It’s a problem in way more families than you think. Even in the ones who least expect it. Death brings out the worst in people. While the battles are often motivated by money, greed isn’t the only motivator. We love our parents and we want to hold onto them so some folks go to battle over sentimental items or power. We battle trying to prove “Mom always loved me best.” Or, “I really was the best child Dad raised.” We battle over who gets the pin Grandma wore to her wedding or who gets to keep the watch Dad got when he retired. (Yeah, that used to happen!) If you doubt my suggestion about how big a problem these battles are, Google Family Inheritance Battles and How to Avoid Them. Heads up, though. You’ll get 13,100,000 hits. More than 13 million suggestions for staving off what might be ahead.

I don’t have 13 million suggestions, just 10, but if you follow any of them, you’re likely to avoid having to read through the 13 million suggestions later.

1. Talk about your death with your adult children and talk the death of your parents with your parents. Discuss what you believe about the end of life and how it should be handled. Ask them what they believe. Air this topic out, don’t shroud it in darkness. Letting light in by simply bringing up the topic over  family dinner will make it way more palatable.

2. If someone “Pooh Poohs” you and says, “Let’s change the subject, this is too depressing or too morbid,” simply respond gently. “I don’t think it’s morbid at all. It’s just a reality we all have to face and won’t it be a lot easier if we face it together?” Because the truth is, it will be easier to handle end of life together.

3. Have a will. Where there’s a will, there’s a way to a more peaceful transition. If you are reading this blog, you’re probably an adult. If you don’t have a will, you have no way of knowing what will happen to the things you care about after you die. In some states if you die without a will the things you own and the money you have may go to your state. No one wants that! (Except maybe your governor) Writing a will may be done best with an attorney but if that doesn’t work for you don’t worry. There are will templates on the Internet. There are free options and a few you have to pay to download. Look at a few, choose one you like and fill it in as needed. State who gets what after you die and don’t leave anything to chance. Then make a few copies and sign each in front of two witnesses. Keep a copy for your records, maybe even two copies, and give the others to a few key people you trust.

4. Talk about love. Ultimately most of the family battles over money are really over love. If you air your feelings openly while you’re alive, if you resolve conflicts while you’re alive, you won’t have your heirs battling over your grave.

5. Be open about the reality of your plans. If you do have a will, let your family know what you’ve included in it. It’s best if you don’t use your will to deliver any sort of message you should have delivered while you were still breathing.

6. There’s a saying, “When you assume, you make an ass of u and me.” It’s so true in terms of family battles. You might think you have the perfect family and so you don’t have to worry about anyone fighting over anything. I’m happy for you if you feel that way and I hope for your sake you’re right. But, you know what? You’re probably wrong. Even in families where everyone feels close it’s hard to predict who will start fighting when a loved one is sick and/or dying and everyone is stressed out. So, if you do have a loving family, protect it by doing what needs to be done in advance to avoid battles later… even if you’re sure your family is immune to such rifts. They’re not. No family is.

7. Pick a point person, give someone what’s known as “Power of Attorney.” What that means is that you are allowing someone to act with your full range of power over your money and your life, acting as your agent as if they were you. You choose this person to make decisions for you if and when you can’t make them anymore. Choose someone you trust with your life, because they literally will be running your life. Don’t choose two people because they would then have to agree on every point and that will be very difficult for any two people to do. You can choose one person and a back up person but not two to serve together. Power of Attorney is only put into place while you are alive and can’t function. Once you are dead the executor of your will takes over in decision-making capacity. And, yes, the same person can serve in both ways if you want that. You can also break up Power of Attorney and choose one person to make financial decisions and one person to make health decisions if you prefer.

8. Consider how you want to die. Do you want to be kept alive at all costs? Do you want to be hooked up to machines which may breathe for you and/or feed you? Do you want to be kept alive beyond the time you can fully function? Do you want heroic measures done to save you despite how infirm you may be? Okay, these are ghastly things to think about. I get that. But you know what’s more ghastly? It’s forcing your loved ones to make these choices for you without knowing for sure what you would have preferred because you never said so.

9. Let superstitions go. Cannot stress strongly enough what a waste of time these distractions are. You can’t “luck” your way out of dying.

10. Seek help. If you can at all afford to do so, check with an attorney in drawing up these legal papers. It may cost a bit but that money might be very well spent if it helps your family avoid problems later.

I hope you take this matter seriously and yet not think of it as too sad. Death is just a part of life and it doesn’t have to be disastrous. If you have any suggestions to add you think might help folks going through some difficulties with this, please comment here and share. And feel free to send this post along to everyone you’ve ever met in your life, especially if you’re related to them!

Be the beacon of light that helps your family find its way to peace. They’ll thank you for it . (Okay, they probably won’t but you’ll know you did the right thing!)IMG_2860

Jump For Joy? Why Not?

Once I saw Goldie Hawn being interviewed. When asked why she always seemed so happy and was it authentic, she answered, “Yes, it’s real, I guess I just have an inner joy that’s always with me.” My daughters said, “No wonder you’ve always liked Goldie. You and she think alike in that same corny way.” I couldn’t disagree with them, even as I knew they were making fun of me. That phrase, inner joy, stuck with me. It became a goal for my life, to do whatever I could to maintain joy inside me and to promote it in others. Of course it’s not always easy to do either. But I believe keeping my eye on the prize did and still does help me get through some of the challenges of life, including those of my crazy dysfunctional family. The maintenance of joy is one reason I kept humor throughout my book.

Toward the goal of promoting joy in others, I share two things today. First is a blog I tripped over just this morning called, “Jump For Joy.” It’ll make your day so go check it out. The artist shares photos of, perhaps you’ve already guessed, people jumping for joy. They’re fantastic and guaranteed to make you smile.

Secondly, one of the things that makes me joyful. Love, love, love sunrise. Don’t see it often. Here’s one I saw recently. EnJOY. 🙂

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How do you attain inner joy? Is it something you seek consciously on a daily basis?

Family Holiday Survival Tips You Need Now

Holidays can be hell when you’re a member of a dysfunctional family unit. I know this for a fact as holidays have been challenging for us for most of the last 20 years. But, I didn’t want to dread the holidays so I’ve developed some strategies for surviving the event where you may be surrounded by people you can just barely tolerate. Here are my half-dozen  survival tips for dealing with the holiday happenings.

1. Invite some people you love. Balance the scales in favor of more people you enjoy than people who drive you up a wall. For many years we’ve opened our family celebrations to our friends when they were available. That way you can, throughout the meal, turn to your friends, roll your eyes and silently thank whomever you believe in for sending some friends your way. This works for a while. In recent years some people politely said if my in-laws were going to attend my holiday dinner, they’d prefer not to. So, you have to rotate the friends you invite in order to have new people who are up for the challenge joy of being with your extended family.

2. Learn to look the other way. When my in-laws would start fighting at the table, my strategy was to turn toward my kids, whom I adored and focus just on them. It’s like meditating where you control your mind but with the control being on your focus. Of course it helps if inside your head you keep repeating this mantra: At least I’m not as crazy as they are, at least I’m not as crazy as they are…

3. See recent movies. This is a good one. When the conversation takes a turn you know is going to go swiftly downhill and end up in  an unpleasant valley, you bring up a movie you’ve seen and be ready to launch into a five-minute distraction/dissertation about the plot, the characters, why you loved or hated it, whatever you can think of to completely derail their plan to foil your fun with misery.

4. Speak loudly. When the relatives are heading into tough territory if you can overspeak them in volume and take the talk somewhere better, to something less volatile than their personal grievances, like say politics or religion, you will be happy with the result.

5. Some holidays call for wine as part of the celebration. If yours doesn’t, you may want to consider adding that.

6. Know that the sun will set on this day and tomorrow your life will be much brighter for having done so well in coping with holiday “joy.”

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I Don’t Recognize My Sister, Nor Do I Think I Want To

My sister hasn’t spoken to me for about 25 years. As I described in detail in my book, I don’t really know why she’s so angry. She has never been willing to tell me beyond the time she and her husband (who, I believe is really the abusive control freak responsible for my sister cutting me and my entire family out of her life) took me to court over something completely nonsensical and lost. If I passed her on the street I’m not sure I’d know who she was and I doubt she’d recognize me. People tend to change a bit in that many years and besides that, I’m pretty sure she’d walk right past me if she did know it was me.

But yesterday I saw her online and I didn’t recognize her. It wasn’t her face, it was her words that were foreign to me. Once upon a time when we had a relationship. We had things in common, we liked shopping together, we we were of similar minds politically. Among other things we agreed on, we were pretty much both pacifists. Okay it was during the Vietnam War era and a lot of people were pacifists but we were and I thought it was for real in both of us.

So yesterday when I happened upon an Op-Ed piece she wrote in a newspaper I was shocked. My pacifist sister was not only no longer a pacifist, she was pretty much strongly advocating going into regions of the world and scorching and burning people, places, and things. Agree or disagreeing politically is one thing but this was a complete reversal of her belief system. She really had become a different person altogether than the one I grew up next to. I wondered, what if she hadn’t cut me out of her life? Would I even want to know this person? Yes, I know we all  have people in our families with whom we may not agree on every point. We hear myriad stories of family holiday celebrations rife with discord as the family members loudly and verociously argue their respective points of view. But the person who wrote this Op-Ed piece sounded nothing like my sister. (Yes, I know it was her; she has a very unique name.) I wasn’t at all sure I could like or embrace this person. I didn’t even know if I could have a meal with her, let alone embrace her!

So what happens if you have a family member with whom you really cannot have a relationship because you are diametrically opposed in belief systems? How do you handle such things? For me, it’s easy (I use the term loosely, nothing about losing my sister was easy) in that she won’t talk to me anyway, but in my musing, I wonder what I’d do if she  suddenly offered to come back into my life?

Breaking Bread With Buddhists

The other night we had dinner with friends, one of whom we didn’t know very well. The conversation was engaging, particularly when two of the people began discussing their mutual interest in Buddhism. Both had been practicing for many years. I have a rudimentary (putting it mildly) understanding of Buddhism, which is to say I know almost nothing but find it intriguing. So, I asked for the basic tenets. Carl said it starts with some “rules.” Keep in mind these are my words paraphrasing his explanations and most likely not doing them justice but you’ll get the idea.

First is impermanence, which is to say, nothing lasts forever and/or everything changes. Everything dies, that’s another rule. So, if you get those concepts, everything else in life falls into a category of, in a way, not really important. When my daughter was 3 she referred to unimportant things as “nevermind.” “That’s ‘nevermind’,” she’d reply if you brought up a topic she considered too inconsequential to even discuss. So, Lisa, the other Buddhist breaking bread, said, for example, the  issues my family has been dealing with for the last year and a half as my mother–in-law was dying and my siblings-in-law were scheming to grab all of her assets for their own , in the view of the average enlightened Buddhist would be “nevermind.” (Or as I might less politely put it, bullshit.) In other words, we should have been able to put it all in perspective and let it go without allowing it to pierce our hearts, our souls or our minds, as we did.

That was an epiphany of sorts. Of course I knew the drama the despicable siblings had generated was somewhat insane but I was sorely lacking in the ability to see it for what it was — “nevermind.” Rather, I took it to heart, I suffered great angst, I worried, I schemed ways to stop them, hell I even wrote an entire book as I processed all they had done.

If I were an enlightened Buddhist, would I have done none of those things? While that looks pretty good to me in hindsight, I wonder. If the only thing that matters is that which might actually kill me and come to think of it not even that because as an enlightened person I’d have accepted my death because I know for sure it’s coming, then what would I write about? If everything but death takes on less importance wouldn’t that also make it less interesting to process?

If I could no longer muse on human drama because none of it mattered, would I be happier? Practicing Buddhists appear to be calmer, more peaceful, and more accepting of drama. They don’t seem to need to process in the endless (some might say annoying) way I do. Maybe I wouldn’t be happier but would I be more at peace?

I’m planning to read more about Buddhism. Yesterday Kindle offered a free download of a book called something like “Buddhism for Beginners.” I’m going to read it but I’m not sure I’m going to be more peaceful as a result. In the meantime, I’ll continue breaking bread with interesting people and I’ll probably follow up by processing what they said.

I may not be cut out for Buddhism. If you’d like to comment and explain the many ways I’m wrong about this, go for it. I’ll probably process what you say as well.

Running, Mediation and Writing

This morning I ran a few miles outside for the first time in many months. Running time has often been meditational for me and today was no different. While I try to quiet my mind what usually happens is thoughts that must push their way through the quiet do so and interrupt my meditation. When that happens, I’ve learned to go with it and investigate the thoughts in order to let go of them.

That’s when I had the epiphany. Writing is a meditational process and much the same way as in meditating, you may be writing or attempting to write one thing but other thoughts keep pushing through. There’s a reason they push through; they demand to be investigated.

Years ago I set out to write a piece about my dad who had just died. I meant to write a loving tribute to a wonderful man with a beautiful soul. But here I am, many years later and that same piece of writing morphed into a full memoir about family. I didn’t mean for it to do so, I just couldn’t keep those thoughts, the concept of a family’s big picture dysfunction, from creeping in. I had to investigate them. So I did and before I knew it, it was a book.

And now I can let it go. And pick up where I left off. Back to meditating and musing on love.

If you find yourself writing and thoughts keep crashing in, maybe you are writing about something which needs to be tabled so that you can focus on what keeps bubbling up to the top of your mind. Then, let it go.