Exhale one deep breath, like a pressure-release valve.
Feel the tension inside diminishing as you let off steam.
–a mindfulness reminder from chill-app.com

Your oasis is anywhere you are

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Oasis.”

Finding the Calm.

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“Meditate Schmeditate”, my mother-in- law, Dora once said to her son, my husband, Mark as he headed off one summer day in Long Beach to find a quiet bench on the boardwalk to attend to his twice daily meditation practice. From that day on, every time Mark would go sit down to meditate he would say to me, “I am going to go “meditate-schmeditate” and we would both laugh about it.

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Twenty minutes a day, twice a day for over thirty years. Rarely did Mark miss taking time out to do his Transcendental Meditation practice. When he was an educator in the New York City Public Schools, he rose 45 minutes early to meditate then showered, shaved, dressed, made his coffee and peanut butter sandwich (for the energy he needed in his high-stress –very- hectic- job as school principal) and then pack himself an apple, a few clementine oranges and some almonds. He would then get into his silver Volvo 240 to drive to East New York, Brooklyn.

In my eyes (and the eyes of many others I bet)  Mark was a true enlightened warrior.

Mark took his training for Transcendental Meditation in Manhattan in the early 1970’s. Once, when I asked him what meditation was for him, he said something like this, “It helps me to focus. Meditation rests my mind. It helps me to relieves stress. TM helps me to get things done.” I often noticed he seemed happy and more relaxed when he completed his daily meditations. I admire how he stuck with it day in and day out.

When I asked him if meditating meant he turned off his thoughts he said, “No, the opposite, what it does is that I just notice my thoughts and let them go while focusing on a mantra. “ A mantra is a syllable or sound to keep your mind from wandering over to list-making and looking ahead to the busy-ness of the day ahead

Meditation,  a practice thousands of years old available to each of us in endless permutations and possibilities, has become a bit of a buzzword.And I say, “none to soon”. Mark was onto something 40+ years ago.

In a recent interview at the 92nd Street Y, Ariana Huffington spoke about the many CEO’s who meditate including most famously the late Steve Jobs.

Studies using MRI’s have shown that the brains of Tibetan Buddhist monks who meditate daily and for long periods of time have shown brains with increased gamma wave activity, which help with many cognitive functions including increased compassion, improved memory creativity and test taking abilities. In short, Gamma brain waves are those that get you “into the zone “.

To my way of thinking that can only be a good thing, doesn’t your brain deserve a spa treatment?

There are health benefits. Science has shown that meditation can reduce stress, helps to lower cortisol, adrenaline production and in turn lower blood pressure.

In recent articles in the New York Times, The Path meditation center in Manhattan focuses on networking for fashion and tech millennials, through meditation. According to the article, many post-meditation deals have been made and jobs have been found. In Los Angeles, there are “Drybar” style meditation centers popping up.

This is an interesting development really just a twist on ashrams. From where I sit making new friends and business contacts at a place like The Path or Suzee Yalof’s place in LA  is a happy alternative to a loud bar or restaurant. People who meditate tend to enjoy being here now. There is a shared experience when meditating in a community. It’s a peaceful practice.

In  another article in the NY Times it was shown that meditation has the potential to help students to increase their scores on the big tests such as the SAT and ACT exams.

It seems that Mark was really onto something so many years ago. Meditation served him well throughout his life, working in some very complicated situations in the NYC school system. When Mark  was battling cancer, meditation he remained strong , calm and uncomplaining. Though sometimes he just lost it too.

Hey he was only human.

It was because of Mark that I began my 30 year journey to yoga and meditation. As someone who is high energy, active and has the need to move, I found that for me to meditate I had to do a little yoga to limber up and release excess energy and then I could sit and enjoy the stillness. I am grateful to Mark for starting me on my yogic path.

While for me, my favorite way to meditate is in a group with my fellow yoga practitioners, it is at home on my own that the practice really unfolds for me.

For those who want to give meditation a whirl there are many places to look. There are many different types of meditations to try on youtube.com, where you can practice in your living room.

Do your best not to judge yourself. According to meditation teacher and American Buddhist teacher, Jack Kornfeld, it takes many lifetimes to master meditation so why not just enjoy it? There is no right way to do it.

It can be as simple as just following the breath for 5 minutes a day while sitting still. Do this: Just sit quietly, follow your breath and it will unfold. If your mind wanders to your to-do list, just come back to the breath. Five minutes a day will get you started. After 21 days of 5 minutes of focusing on the breath, it will become a habit, like brushing your teeth.

Meditation helps us to “take out the trash” in our minds to  get access to creativity and our best selves. What’s not to like?

The UCLA Mindfulness Awareness Research Center is a good place to get some free training and introductions to meditation, marc.ucla.edu and look for the link to Free Guided Meditations. Look on iTunes for both free and paid meditations. Or youtube.com

One thing I know for sure, meditation is neither weird nor complicated.

There’s an APP for that.

Here are few apps to try some are free and some charge a fee: Breathe2Relax which is great for practice working with the breath, Buddhify 2 with lots of good information and various meditations that run from 5 to 20 minutes, Omvana has music, talks, guided meditations and much more. Search your APP store to see what’s available read reviews try a few different types of meditation.

Find your calming place, I am betting you will be glad you did.

http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2014/01/31/more-mindfulness-less-meditation/?_r=0

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/16/fashion/unplug-inventing-a-drybar-for-meditation.html

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After Loss Don’t Skip Steps

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Judi, a psychic I have known for about 30 years, recently told me my Life Purpose was to share my experiences as a wife who became a widow.

At first this felt heavy. I thought, “In some cultures I would be relegated to wearing black clothes in perpetuity,” however being a native New Yorker the majority of my wardrobe is black so no big deal there. It’s the other part, the being the Widow, with a capital “W” that means being in mourning forever.

This being a widow thing is very tricky. It’s been less than two years and I still miss Mark, and I have had to work on myself, my broken heart everyday to get through this. I make a daily choice to be open, grateful and loving especially when I want to feel sorry for myself.

I lived half of my life with Mark. He will always be in my heart. Most times I want him to walk through the door. Often I feel like he is guiding me, some days more than others, I know his energy is there, it’s like a whisper like in the Kundalini yoga chant, SA TA NA MA.

In life Mark was subtle about things.  He did not make big noises he disliked showing off. Mark did things well and quietly on this side so he would not be loud and noisy on the other side.

Oddly, when I gave up the constant longing to have him come back, I could sense him much more. He would come to me in my dreams which until he died, I never remembered. Giving up the longing the wishing, the begging and bargaining to get him back took a lot of work on my part. The truth is I am unable to let go of Mark. He’s my guy, always and forever even though he told me to find another one. Perhaps one day I will but I have realized I cannot skip steps. I must find me all over again first. Who am I now without Mark? He was very specific. He said, “Be happy” The question for me now is what does that mean?

To say I am an expert at this would be untrue but if what I write here helps you that is a good thing. Mark died less than two years ago and it took me a while to scrape myself up off the floor. I have to keep going but the big question is how?

When Mark first died, I wanted to do the same because I wanted to be with him. But that passed. When I went to a bereavement group I discovered that the way I felt, others felt the same way. Being understood does help. It is important to take the time to grieve and go through the mourning. There are no shortcuts and it is okay to be sad for as long as you need to. It’s when it turns to complete depression and you become unable to function, that is a danger sign. Pay attention to how you are

A daily cry is cleansing. Yes, I do have a daily cry. Right after Mark died I couldn’t cry. I felt as if I was a block of frozen peas. I felt nothing except stunned.

People commented on how “calm” and “collected” I was. While I am not one for public displays of tears,  I couldn’t have cried if I wanted to, I was frozen solid.

In my bereavement group we looked at what are commonly known as “grief triggers” and to find ways to avoid them. For some people this may work but I think it is just kicking the can down the road.

My point of view is different. I come down on the side of running right at the grief. That by facing the intense sorrow I can go on for another moment, and then another and another. This is not an easy thing to do. What I discovered was the deeper I stepped into the places that hurt, my heart heals just a teeny  bit. I sought the tears. I sought the hurt and pain of missing Mark. I remember how lucky having been married to Mark. How blessed to be  in  a family that cares about me. How fortunate to have many loving friends. And to have my beautiful dog Clinton by my side, he makes me go out and take long walks.

Some people never get any of that. Still I wanted him back.

Another thing I learned in bereavement group was about his “stuff” Some of the women in the group said, “Get rid of his clothes right away they will remind you of him.”

I am pretty sure they were sorry later. My way of looking at his belongings was “please remind me of him,” and  I spent many hours sitting on the floor of his closet in tears.

While this may sound a bit dramatic, I felt a connection to him and to the memories that went along with each article of clothing. The grey chalk stripe suit from Barney’s reminded me of the day we went to Barney’s big warehouse sale. I could see his handsome face, his shiny black hair and how good he looked in that suit. On the shelf above my head, his perfectly polished black Frye dress boots, his well worn jeans with the ripped knee, the nearly threadbare Maverick denim jacket he used as a pillow on the cross-country trip he took in his tan Volkswagen square-back, his freshly washed hoodies that he wore to warm up after roller skating.

How could I let them go?

One day after a year had passed I donated some of his best suits, blazers, dress pants and shirts to a charity that helps men get interview ready. Mark’s suits were like new because he was very particular, bordering on fussy, about his clothes. Mark’s impeccably good-looking suits would help someone to possibly get the job they wanted and in some way Mark’s generosity and kindness would live on.

One item Mark’s soft, green terry cloth bathrobe that I bought him for his birthday so many years ago is a cherished possession. I wear it as my own, softened to just the right degree of cozy comfort, his spicy vanilla scent still lingers ever so slightly so that I can catch a gentle whiff of him.

When I was in the frozen food state, I thought, “Something has to be done about this, it just cannot be healthy to live this way” I was concerned I would get sick if I didn’t start to release the pain in some way. This widow thing was not easy.

I began watching movies. I couldn’t sleep anyway, I didn’t want to. Sleeping was too sad, without Mark.  I settled into my cozy couch with my soft, fleecy, blanket armed with a box of tissues and a glass of chardonnay. My best buddy Clinton my big sweet gentle, handsome,  brown rescue dog was at my feet. I flicked on the television. I started my search for just the right film to begin the big defrost. My gut told me that if I could start to cry, I would eventually be okay. Here are just a few that were good for a cry.

It started with “The Notebook” with Rachel McAdams, Ryan Gosling, James Garner and Gena Rowlands. One night I turned to STARZ romance and I hit pay dirt: the ultimate tear-jerker, chick flick, heart-breaking love story. I could not believe my good fortune. Corny,yes. Trite, for sure but it helped. From there, I began my daily, nightly search for movies to help me mourn, to be as miserable and tearful as possible. The movies made me face what my life as it is now, sad, tearful feeling a little lost. They were also transporting.

Next up was “Hope Springs” with Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones. Mark and I had our struggles in our marriage and like the couple in the movie we overcame them.    When Tommy Lee Jones plays Al Green’s version of “Let’s Stay Together”, I fall to pieces, crying loudly.

Loved it! I downloaded the song from  iTunes so I could access that sadness again and let it rip when I need to. Music is on the grief trigger hit list so I made it my business to create a playlist that would get me started. I just had to make sure I wasn’t driving or I would have to pull over. Now, when I hear a song that helps me to get access to my grief I add it to my playlist. Movies and music: a perfect combination for getting through the sorrow and finding a way to little moments of happiness again.

“Love Actually” starring Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Laura Linney Alan Rickman, Colin Firth, Bill Nighy Liam Neeson that has many moments in it for a good cry, especially the closing scene over-dubbed with the Beach Boys, “God Only Knows What I’d be Without You” The song went on my playlist.

Here’s what I have learned. Don’t skip steps. Get help with the grief and the mourning. If you think you can do it alone, you cannot. Find help, that really helps you.  I practice yoga, I meditate and often cry my way through to feeling okay again. When I meditate I can connect with Mark and let him know I am okay. And I am in a community of people I care about who knew Mark and know me.

I went to two rounds of a bereavement group, worked with a bereavement counselor on the phone and met with the same therapist that Mark and I went to when we hit some rough patches along the way. Seeing our shrink from years ago has been a real gift for me mostly because she knew him and I could talk about him once a week for 50 minutes non-stop if I needed to, how else was I going to move through this?

Mark was relatively young, handsome, vibrant, never sick and then diagnosed with a nasty cancer and now dead.

No amount of anything is preparation for that. But the sun will come out tomorrow. I might as well be ready for it.

Love and light to you. Nancy

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