Well-spirations

Sunday Sermon: The More Than Ten Commandments

Easter calls for a special Sunday Sermon, and I have one for you.

It’s a favorite poem of mine, written by my mother many years ago. Even though she didn’t always agree with my personal decisions (that makes two of us, mom!), my mom loved me without condition, and often showed it by hopping on a plane and landing on my doorstep for a visit.

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Mom

One year, she and her best friend visited me and my then boyfriend (the part of my life that she didn’t agree with at the time), at Rancho La Puerta where we were working. It so happened that the same week, the late Pulitzer Prize winning Poet Laureate of Vermont, Galway Kinnell, was there offering poetry readings and workshops for the guests.

In between trying her hand at morning meadow walks, aqua aerobics, and communal meals of tempeh and tofu, she and an equally smitten group of women, followed Galway’s workshops religiously. Just google him and you’ll understand why.

As I walked across the Ranch between my classes, I’d often see members of his dedicated fan club sitting in the gazebo with a cup of tea or in the swing under the big pepper tree, crafting homemade poetry to share later in the afternoon.

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A place to write.

My mom did some wonderful writing that week and she shared her poems with me as time went on. Many of them were deep, raw reflections on her life raising five children with an introverted, often silent partner, while forging a successful career in college health nursing on the side.

Initially, I was caught off guard by the candor of her words and the angst I seemed to have missed about life in my house growing up. But later, I loved knowing more about this strong, gutsy side of her. A piece about Galway I unearthed in the NYTimes provided an explanation for her brave and honest writing. It’s what Galway must have been teaching them all week. It seems like “go deep or go home” was his philosophy:

“I’ve tried to carry my poetry as far as I could.  To dwell on the ugly as fully, as far and as long as I could stomach it. Probably more than most poets I have included in my work the unpleasant, because I think if you are ever going to find any kind of truth to poetry it has to be based on all of experience rather than on a narrow segment of cheerful events.”

The poem I share with you today is not like that. It is gentle and hopeful. It is full of wellness and promise. Kind of like Easter.

It was published in a beautiful journal called Sacred Journey, soon after my mom wrote it. It was a wellness moment for her–to have her work acknowledged. I think it deserves to find its way into print again. And because I can (the beauty of having your own blog), I will! Enjoy.

 

The More Than Ten Commandments
by Mary-Kate Heffern

I must get up early.
I must walk three times a week.
I must floss my teeth.
I must read food labels.
I must limit the fat I eat.
I must increase the fiber.
I must avoid eating salt.
I must drink skimmed milk.
I must eat fresh fruits and vegetables
and peel them only if necessary.
First I must scrub them well.
I must save the peelings for mulch.
I must separate cast-off papers from cans and bottles.
I must put them in their proper containers
and set them out on the sidewalk for collection
on the right days of the month.
I must shade my skin from the direct rays of the sun
and check each mole carefully
noting any change in size or shape.
I must avoid excess amounts of caffeine.
I must avoid excess amounts of alcohol.
I must not smoke, at all!
I must stretch my limbs regularly
and lift or push against resistance.
I must wear a seat belt in a car and a helmet on a bike.
When I am over fifty I must have a yearly mammogram;
perhaps before. Let me check the ad.
I must eat three meals daily,
preferably dividing the calories equally among them.
I must drink eight glasses of water each day as well.
I must drink orange juice,
and be careful to remember calcium.
I must trim my toenails straight across,
and see the dentist every six months.
I must write in my diary, keep track of my expenditures,
and develop goals based upon set priorities.

If I obey these commands, there’s a chance I will live
longer than predicted.

On the other hand,
If I believe,

Then I will live
Forever.

Thanks Mom. Beautifully written. I think Galway would be proud!

Feel good. Be well. Meg

WELLNESS PROMPT:  Galway Kinnell’s poetry workshop was the first time my mom tried her hand at writing poetry. What’s new and hopeful on your wellness screen these days? What have you always wanted to try, but never took that bold first step?  10-minute write . . . go!

 

MomAbout my Sunday Sermon: Sunday Sermon is a tribute to my beautiful, 87 year old mom, who was teaching me about wellness before the word was part of our daily lexicon. She used to give me long “lectures” on life–as only a mother can do–while we shared breakfast at Harry’s Luncheonette in Princeton. When she was finished talking, I’d often laugh and say, “Thanks for the sermon, mom. Does that mean I don’t have to go to church on Sunday?” When I stumble on a wellness thought and take the time to write about it for fun and personal insight, it makes me think of those good times.

Keys Creek Lavender Farm: A Day of Lavender Infused Wellness

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Looking up at lavender.

My love affair with lavender goes way back.

Before I knew it as a plant that had the ability to transform the way I felt simply by crushing the dried buds in the palm of my hand and lifting the soothing sachet to my nose, it was the color I painted the trim in my office of the first real job I ever had. Perhaps, intuitively, I knew that I needed more of what lavender had to offer in my life—tranquility, calmness, and the skill of letting go.

At that time, I didn’t know that love and life would deposit me in a place where lavender grew freely in the small garden behind my house, and people baked muffins, and scones, and made ice cream from its beautiful blue-purple buds. I certainly didn’t imagine that whole farms existed for the singular purpose of sharing all the wellness lavender has to offer.

So Long Mommy Track!

So, it’s no surprise that a day long Spring Renewal Retreat at Keys Creek Lavender Farm, just south of Temecula, would be on my bucket list. It’s actually been sitting there unchecked for a few years, calling my name whenever lavender season rolls around. But each time Lisa Hampton of Mindful Fitness (a wellness friend from years back) announces the date of her mindfulness retreat, it seems like my life has some other commitment it feels is more important.

Keys Creek Lavender Farm

Keys Creek Lavender Farm

Not this year though.

I finally saw my chance when my son’s hockey season ended serendipitously with the arrival of my birthday. Under the guise of a birthday gift, I felt less guilty about rolling up my yoga mat along with a big floppy sun hat, and waving goodbye to the mommy track for a day.

I headed out the door anxious and behind schedule as usual, but looking forward to infusing my life with a few hours of lavender bliss.

Shifting  Gears 

It was clear from the moment I turned east off the smooth pavement of I-15, that the theme of “mindfulness” was no joke. The road immediately narrowed and began to wind sharply through unfamiliar territory. Giant Beavertail Cacti poked their flat spiky tails out into the road, making it tricky to navigate when sharing the space with another car heading in the opposite direction. Any ability to drive on auto-pilot, like I do chauffeuring my kids up and down California’s major thruways, was gone. I realized quickly that eyes on the road, hands on the steering wheel, and focus on the breath were all going to be required in unison to arrive at my final destination alive.

My mindfulness retreat was already in full swing and there wasn’t even a sprig of lavender in sight.

When I finally turned on to Keys Creek Road and began to rumble past cows lazily enjoying patches of shade under sprawling oak trees, I remembered Lisa’s printed directions included an invitation for traveling the last rugged mile of the journey: “Slow down, take your time, and enjoy the beautiful scenery along the way.”

Breathe in. Breathe out. I braked gently and carried on. I was starting to get the hang of this mindfulness thing.

Stepping out of my car into the parking lot of the farm, I was greeted warmly by another excited retreat participant toting a yoga mat under her arm. It was just one of many friendly new connections I would make before the day was out. I later learned that a number of women chose to come solo like me, and that meeting like-minded wellness seekers would be no problem.

A Mindful Afternoon

With refreshing cups of lavender scented water in our hands, we gathered in a large inviting circle for introductions, over looking rows of lavender still yet to bloom. It didn’t matter that peak season was a full month away. Even at its “worst,” lavender provides a breathtaking vista.

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Lisa Hampton of Mindful Fitness

Lisa introduced herself along with the owner of the farm, Alicia Wolff. Alicia shared how she came to own the property. It was one of those stories that lets you know the Universe has your back. She described how she stumbled upon this diamond in the rough in 2008 and fell immediately in love, only to find out that it was already in escrow. When she returned from a trip a few months later however, the farm was back on the market. She snapped it up and closed the deal in thirty days. How’s that for a lesson in letting go to get what you want!

From there we headed into the program for the day. Though the afternoon offered a full schedule of activities, it moved at a leisurely pace in keeping with the theme of mindfulness. We took a tour of the farm with one of Alicia’s assistants, Rilee, who had a youthful exuberance for all things lavender. She gathered us on the porch of the store where we sampled a wide variety of oils and products made from the organic lavender they grow each year. We continued on our walk steeped in a sweet smelling cloud of lavender mist.

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Rilee sharing her passion for all things lavender.

The garden path wound around to our next activity, the labyrinth walk. I’ve seen many labyrinths in my day, but never an entrance to a labyrinth quite like this one. A horseshoe shaped canopy of fuchsia colored flowers framed the entrance, and became a busy photo op for everyone in the group—-even me, who has a distain for photos of myself in touristy poses. Lisa offered a few gentle suggestions for walking the path mindfully and we set off slowly into the center, perhaps the most fragrant group of pilgrims on the planet.

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Out and about the lavender farm.

Once back at our original meeting spot, we were offered a light snack of fresh fruit and delicate cookies, along with a bit of free time to relax and explore on our own. I chose to repeat, almost verbatim, the day’s previous activities. I took a leisurely walk through the garden and visited the store—-only this time I spent lots of money (mindfully, of course). After all, how could I return home without an adequate supply of my new wellness mascot? I even walked the labyrinth again before finally sitting down to relax with my feet soaking happily in the saltwater pool.

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Ahhhh!

Meditation and yoga were next—-a dangerous combination after such a lovely day ambling about in the warm afternoon sun. After 45 minutes of gentle postures, during which Lisa guided us to move at our own pace and listen to what our bodies needed (mine needed a nap), she invited us to choose a stretch or pose on our own so that she could gauge our energy level. I guess I wasn’t the only one in need of a siesta, because her next set of cues sank us down into the most relaxing Savasana I can remember. When I woke up, I was being offered a warm lavender scented towel to lift me the rest of the way out of relaxation bliss. It was these little choreographed moments that made the day particularly memorable.

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Perfect moments.

 An Almost Perfect Ending

As the sun set behind the hills, we gathered for dinner around a long linen draped table overlooking the valley. A nice selection of wines along with spinach frittata, and warm organic cauliflower soup, were just enough to punctuate this wonderful day of mindful wellness. We took our time. We laughed and shared bits and pieces of our lives with each other, and jumped up and down from the table snapping photos of the gold tipped lavender fields basking in the setting sun.

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Dinner with a view.

You don’t end a day like this without chocolate . . . and Lisa’s decadent homemade brownies, drizzled with Keys Creek Lavender Carmel Sauce, provided the almost perfect finale. Why “almost?” Because the store where the carmel sauce could be purchased was now closed for business. All I could think was, “How could you do this to us—-give us a taste heaven and then not allow us to buy in?”

Attachment . . . after a full day of practicing mindfulness, I recognized it immediately. Perhaps it was just another one of Lisa’s perfectly choreographed moments, put in place to remind us that life is best lived in the moment and with heartfelt gratitude for the truly special things that come along, like new friends and lavender carmel sauce.

I’ll have to let go for now, but the memory of that sauce is enough to put another one of Lisa’s mindfulness retreats at the lavender farm back on the top of my bucket list.

Feel good. Be well. Meg

IMG_5762Wellness Prompt: Do you have a bucket list of experiences like my trip to the lavender farm? What’s holding you back from venturing out? Time? Money? Giving yourself permission to escape for the day? Brainstorm a simple checklist of actions you can take to bring your trip to fruition. Why not start ticking them off today? 10 minute write . . . Go!

P.S. You’re in luck! If this sounds like fun to you, Lisa is hosting another retreat on April, 25th. Click here to learn the details. I just might see you there!

Go Red for Women: Do This One Thing to Save Your Life Now

As National Go Red for Women Month (a zippier name for Heart Disease Awareness Month) comes to a close, I thought I would pump out a few words on the subject.

I’ve noticed that the conversation has slowed considerably since the first enthusiastic posts hit my newsfeed earlier this month. The importance of raising awareness around women’s heart health and the prevalence of heart disease among women cannot be overstated.

Here’s what we know:

  • It’s not just a man’s disease. Maybe you didn’t know that. Eye-opening.
  • 1 in 3 women die of a heart attack or stroke. Next time you’re having dinner with your BFFs, look around the table. That’s how close you are to this disease. Startling.
  • It’s preventable. Please don’t leave in fear and shame right now. This is not a lecture on losing weight or eating more vegetables. Thank goodness.

I even got into the game early on, posting my first official Selfie for the #goredselfie cause. I was wearing a bright red vest after a heart-pumping walk with a good friend. Okay, so the picture was from the neck down. Does that still count?

Go Red Selfie!

It wasn’t long after, that we all went back to life as usual; same old, same old, no longer phased by the magnitude of this issue. No more perky pictures of ourselves all decked out in red getting in our 10,000 steps a day, or sitting quietly on saffron colored meditation cushions breathing our way toward wellness.

I’m not judging. These things come and go. They’re fun, even inspiring. They make wonderful news for short periods of time. They go viral, and then just like a good antibiotic, the busyness of real life swoops in and snuffs them out in a day or two.

But like I said, this conversation is too important to simply move on to National Caffeine Awareness Month without another mention. And since we already know the facts, I want to talk about the part that no one really talks about—the elephant in the room–not just the one on our chests.

First, a Tale of Two Heart Attacks

My dad had a heart attack in 2008. He woke up one morning feeling unwell. Within minutes he alerted my mom. He said, “I don’t feel well. I need help.” Luckily she’s a nurse. She took his pulse, assessed his complexion, which was pale and gray, and then immediately loaded him into the car for a lifesaving trip to the emergency room. Okay, next time she should call 911, but I’m not going to make her feel bad at this point. The patient lived.

Contrast that to Rosie O’Donnell’s story. She became the celebrity face of heart disease for women after suffering a heart attack in 2012. She walked around for HOURS–almost a FULL DAY–with strange and serious symptoms before finally calling a doctor. When she felt unwell, she didn’t say, “I need help,” like my father did. She took an aspirin and went to bed like any exhausted, overworked mom would. She even minimized her discomfort and attributed her symptoms to indigestion and being miserably out of shape.

It’s true that the symptoms of a heart attack are different and more confusing for women than they are for men. But we can easily memorize them or carry a list around in our Prada for quick reference if needed.

“Click” for Warning Signs Printable

When we make this the headliner for the Go Red for Women discussion, we fail to address the deeper underlying issue behind this serious epidemic. The one that holds the most promise for prevention.

The Heart of the Matter

At the very heart of the matter is that women struggle to make themselves a priority in their lives. We habitually put the needs of others ahead of our own until the s*** hits the fan in the form of a health crisis. I often say in my workshops that some of the healthiest women I know have life threatening illnesses. Sad, but true. We need to be grabbed by the lapels and shaken into awareness by chest pain, clammy skin, and vomiting–like Rosie was–before we will admit, “I don’t feel well. I need help.” And only then, in the aftermath, do we give ourselves permission to devote time, energy, and financial resources to the journey back to wellness.

This makes the prevention piece problematic.

Taking care of ourselves with heart-healthy nutrition, regular exercise, and skillful stress management techniques–even being able to recognize that we are experiencing the symptoms of a coronary event–won’t happen until we step forward and claim our wellness as our birthright.

I matter.

My health matters.

Come to think of it . . . my pursuit of happiness and fulfillment in my life matters.

A bold step for sure. Some might argue, selfish. But think about it. If we do that, the rest falls into perfect place like the final piece of a complicated puzzle. Snap!

Suddenly, we give ourselves bits of permission to carve out more time for ourselves.

Maybe we take a walk one day and feel our pulse quicken. Oh, that’s what my body feels like.

Maybe we find a mediation class one evening a week, and gift it to ourselves. Ahh! That’s what it feels like to breath in and out and stay . . . just stay with what comes up.

Maybe we even play with saying “No” to the things that don’t serve us anymore, and learn, with practice . . . Yes, I can do this! That’s the sound of my heart speaking to me. I think I’ll listen. 

Over time, our confidence grows and we begin to feel just better enough that we want more. Little by little we take bolder more purposeful steps in the direction of wellness until we don’t just feel okay when we wake up in the morning, we feel GOOD!

Now that’s what I call a healthy heart.

Rosie said it herself, “There are no accidents in this world.” She did not sign on voluntarily to lead the charge for the Go Red for Women Movement. Who would? Especially when the prerequisite is a near death experience. Perhaps she was hand picked by a higher power because we need her loud and boisterous voice until ours becomes strong enough to be heard on its own.

Promise!

You can do this!

I’m encouraged. In spite of the fact that these celebratory months come and go before we turn our heads, I see women everyday beginning to listen and take inspired action. The women’s wellness movement is growing and the conversation is bold, positive, and more empowering that ever.

So, what does your heart say? Are you ready to step up and CLAIM YOUR SPOT? It’s my wellness challenge for the month.

Let me know in the comments below. I’d love to hear your voice.

Feel Good. Be Well. Meg

Wellness Prompt: Take a minute or two before your write this time. Close you eyes and get quiet. Connect with your breath. See what comes up. Is there an area of your life that’s trying to tell you something? What feelings or sensations take hold of your attention? What do you think they are trying to say? What holds you back from listening? 10 minute write . . . Go!

Sunday Sermon: Wellness Advice From a Patient Angler

“Feb 6th: Steady as she goes, it’s all about perseverance when the temperature drops, there is still plenty of opportunity for the patient angler.”

“Bandit,” a friendly, bait stealing snowing egret.

I stumbled upon this beautiful piece of nature writing last week in the most unlikely place. I love the outdoors, and before we had kids, my husband and I spent every weekend taking long luxurious hikes on whatever trails were near our house. Now that we have two hockey playing sons and live in suburbia–it’s harder to get out.

So, I forget the lessons that nature has to offer. Like the one shared by this writer: Timing is everything. Be steady and patient in your efforts. Persevere.

I feel the excitement and opportunity he talks about in slowing down and waiting for just the right moment to snap my line taught.

Captain Pete

The writer? My brother-in-law Captain Pete. The unlikely place? A post on his Naples Fishing Charters Facebook Page.

Even if you’re not a fisherman, his page is worth a follow. He makes people’s dreams of catching the big one come true everyday. Their smiles are as big as the fish they catch. They will make you smile too.

The real gold for me though, are his nature musings and what he sees when he’s out on the water. As I said, I don’t spend much time off of the pavement these days, so his observations remind me to slow down and look at things more softy in my own life. Maybe they would for you too.

Thanks Captain Pete. I’m casting my line out today. I have a sense that if I take your advice, I might catch me some WELLNESS!

Who else is on board?

Go in Peace.

Feel good. Be well. Meg

WELLNESS PROMPT: What’s up with your wellness these days? Is there an area of your life that might benefit from a softer approach? What if you slowed down, sat quietly and waited like a patient angler? Would you snag the wellness you’re looking for?  10-minute write . . . go!

 

MomAbout my Sunday Sermon: Sunday Sermon is a tribute to my beautiful, 86 year old mom, who was teaching me about wellness before the word was part of our daily lexicon. She used to give me long “lectures” on life–as only a mother can do–while we shared breakfast at Harry’s Luncheonette in Princeton. When she was finished talking, I’d often laugh and say, “Thanks for the sermon, mom. Does that mean I don’t have to go to church on Sunday?” When I stumble on a wellness thought and take the time to write about it for fun and personal insight, it makes me think of those good times. 

5 Wellness Lessons I Learned from Quitting Yoga

I can’t recall exactly when I decided to roll up my yoga mat and call it a day.

IMG_5203Maybe it was a few years ago when I couldn’t find a yoga class that I enjoyed within a reasonable driving distance from my house. Sure, there were plenty of studios. But each time I stepped onto my mat and attempted to keep up with the flow and pace of the new fangled fitness yoga, I stepped off an hour later thinking, “Wow. I’m getting too old for this. I just can’t keep up anymore.”

I tried to go it alone for awhile. After all, I was a yoga teacher. I should have had the discipline and knowhow to make it happen for myself. But doing downward dog with my computer screen flickering in the background and a sink full of dishes just a few steps away was a recipe for distraction.

So I quit trying.

Surprisingly, I didn’t miss it that much. I happily replaced my practice (if you could call it that) with walking, swimming, and reading about  yoga in Yoga Journal when it landed in my mailbox each month. And when my body felt stiff and sore, I just reminded myself that this was why I didn’t do yoga anymore.

But last week, I found myself standing back on a borrowed yoga mat, in a warm, softly lit studio, in the town where I grew up. I had traveled back to help my parents for an extended period of time, and one night, out of the blue, I excused myself from the dinner table and announced that I was going out to take a yoga class. Just to get out. Well, I didn’t say that part. I acted like it was something I do all the time, not knowing if I would even make it past the Starbucks just around the corner.

I did make it to class that night. And from the moment I put my feet together in Mountain Pose and extended my arms over my head like the teacher instructed, I knew I had been away too long. All the reasons I loved yoga came flooding back as I stretched and moved in tune with my breath. As we took our time moving in and out of each pose–Chair Pose, to Warrior II, then on to Triangle and Warrior I–it dawned on me how much I missed having an activity in my life that encouraged me to move slowly and mindfully.

And I realized I was stiff–really stiff. Every muscle I moved seemed to snap like dry kindling as I coaxed it beyond its comfort zone. But in spite of my rigidity, I was able to find ways to move with some degree of ease through the poses. I took my time. I breathed. I encouraged myself to stay present and not judge. By the third class (yes, I excused myself from the dinner table two more times), I surprised myself by walking my feet up the wall into a modified handstand–something I was sure I was “too old” for.

Finding my yoga practice after a long layoff was a gift. But perhaps the bigger gift was quitting it a few years earlier. Contrast is a powerful teacher–you never know what you’ve got until it’s gone, kinda thing. Reflecting back, my journey home to yoga taught me some valuable wellness lessons:

  • I learned that taking a break from things in your life–yoga, a stale workout routine, your kids, your spouse–can be a good thing. You often return with a beginner’s mind and a renewed passion and appreciation for what you love.
  • I learned that it’s easy to forget how good we can feel–and that total, feel-good wellness is our birthright. Sure we live crazy, busy, overstuffed lives. But tools like yoga, good nutrition, and regular exercise are life enhancing vehicles to feeling like our best selves. “Don’t settle!” is my new mantra.
  • I learned that the remedy for feeling stiff and sore is not less movement, it’s more. A body that slouches in front of a computer screen or chauffeurs kids around all day hunched over a steering wheel forgets how to open and extend. Be gentle at first. Listen to your body. But always remember that moving more is the single best thing you can do for your wellness.
  • I learned that the statement “I’m getting too old for this!” is a clarion call to action. It’s easy to make a slow, gradual retreat from life as we experience the changes that happen each time we celebrate a birthday. Defy your age! Walk your feet up the wall into a handstand (with a spotter if you need it!). The confidence that comes from that will add years to your life.
  • I learned that wellness is not about whipping our bodies into shape for our fifteen minutes of red carpet fame. It’s about living our best life; body, mind, and spirit. Having a practice like yoga, with a dimension that calls you to be present and accounted for each time you step onto the mat, is real training for real life.

Duke GardensI’m still searching for a yoga class to love nearby. But in the meantime, I’ve rolled out my mat on my office floor and plan to practice in spite of flickering computer screens and dishes piling up in the sink. I’m back on my mat–and it feels really good!

Feel good. Be Well. Meg

WELLNESS PROMPT: Have you given up on an activity or hobby that you used to love? Why? What did you love about it? How did you feel when you were doing it? What keeps you from going back–or what would it take for you to give it another try? 10-minute write . . . go!