life’s challenges

Making Friends With My Thoughts

To Sit with Discomfort

by cheryl on February 5, 2016

in Meditation

When I first tried meditating several years ago, I remember struggling between trying to still my body and my mind.  At first, I found it incredibly difficult and physically uncomfortable to sit still, which was then followed by my many thoughts,  “My knee really hurts . . . My back aches . . . I am feeling restless . . . I am uncomfortable,” which only made my physical discomfort more deeply felt. Other days, I would have no problem physically sitting still,  but my mind was the source of my discomfort, refusing to be still.

Over the years,  I have learned that it is best to “make friends” with my discomfort.  I try not to struggle against whatever is distracting me, or figure it out or beat myself up for having these distractions.   I use them, instead, as an important part of my meditation.  I try to approach my discomfort or distraction with a sense of curiosity and interest, no longer trying to do anything with it.   I simply observe what I am experiencing with a friendly, loving and gentle attention.   I look at my experience, whatever that may be, as an opportunity for self-awareness, rather than an obstacle to it.

It would be nice to report that each time I sit down to meditate I find myself enjoying twenty minutes of sheer bliss.   What I have found, instead, is that each meditation is different.  Somedays I have an ache or a pain, some days my mind is extremely busy, and other days my mind and my body are peaceful and still.   In essence, this is what the practice is all about.  Learning to sit and simply get to know myself, to have some sense of control over where I place my  attention, and when I feel out of control, to simply let it be and watch without becoming overwhelmed by it.

Just like my meditation practice, my days are not all the same, and certainly not always peaceful – – – people can annoy me, my children don’t always listen to me, my house is not always clean, my back sometimes aches, people close to me get sick, and the evening news continues to report great tragedies around the globe.   I find that I can now look at all of these things with a sense of presence, openness and curiosity, just like I practice on my cushion each morning.  Instead of getting swept away by what is happening, overwhelmed by it, or trying to figure it out, I can connect to my own inner stillness and allow myself to feel whatever comes up fully (anger, sadness, frustration and, yes, great joy) and just be with it.  All this from simply sitting on my cushion for a few minutes a day.

On to Week 2!

 

This blog is part of Sharon Salzberg’s Real Happiness Meditation Challenge.  In the month of February, you can join over 12,000 people around the world who have committed to sit each day and give meditation a try!  You can learn more about the challenge, join in and read what people are saying by clicking  here.

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Mindful Living: An Introduction to Mindfulness and Meditation

In this course, we will explore meditation and mindfulness practices that can be used everyday to help reduce stress, increase a sense of calm, clarity, and connection, and create greater contentment in our lives.  Each class will consist of a discussion of mindfulness tools and the developing research on the neuroscience of mindfulness, as well as group mindfulness practices.

“Mindfulness practice means that we commit fully in each moment to be present; inviting ourselves to interface with this moment in full awareness, with the intention to embody as best we can an orientation of calmness, mindfulness, and equanimity right here and right now.”

― Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life

Benefits of Mindfulness and Meditation include:

  • Increased attention, focus and concentration
  • Decreased levels of stress
  • Increased sense of calm, balance and equanimity
  • Improved mood
  • Greater ability to regulate emotions
  • Improved sleep patterns and overall sense of  wellbeing

Class Dates & Times:  Four week session begins February 26th.  Classes will  meet from 8 pm to 9:30 pm on Wednesdays, February 26, March 5, 12 and 19. Snow date will be March 26th.

Location:  Groove, 108 Chatsworth Avenue, Larchmont, New York.

To Register click here.

 

 

 

 

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Finding the Light in the Midst of Darkness

Finding the Light in the Midst of Darkness

by cheryl on January 3, 2013

in Meditation

In the wake of the recent tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, we entered this holiday season with a heaviness in our hearts.  We struggle to comprehend the incomprehensible and to fill a deep hole in our hearts that seems impossible to fill when thinking of the 26 innocent souls that we lost on December 14, 2012.  Yet, we can emerge from this horrific moment in our history by focusing on the incredible acts of human kindness that we have seen following that terrible day.

We are now aware of the amazing acts of courage and selflessness of the teachers and staff who risked their own lives to save the lives of innocent children.  We have heard numerous accounts of first responders who acted with bravery and compassion in dealing with the horrific scene they found at the elementary school that day.   We have seen images of  people from around the country and the world, people from different backgrounds, with different religious affiliations and different political views, offering their support, sending gifts and sharing their love in any way they can during this time of national mourning.  Through these countless acts of kindness, we can feel a renewed sense of hope, inspiration and faith in the incredible strength of our basic human goodness.  This is the good in all of us that we must recognize and foster that can help us overcome our sadness, anger and grief.

 

When we see the heartbreaking images of those beautiful young children who were killed that day, we see in their smiling faces such joy, innocence and life.  This reminds us all to notice those amazing qualities in our own children, in ourselves and in the people around us.  We have heard the mourning parents speak about how blessed they feel to have had their beautiful children in their lives, even if only for a short time.   Their words remind us all how important it is to stop and take a pause in our busy days to notice the richness of our own lives and the beauty of all that surounds us, and not wait until it is gone to fully appreciate all that we had.  We are reminded to tell those we love how much we love them, to give our children an extra hug and kiss and to take the time each day to be fully present in our lives.   We are reminded that life is too precious to be lived unaware of its beauty each day.

 

So, in response to the tragedy in Newtown, we can find hope and inspiration to move forward toward a better future for ourselves and for our children.   We can take away so much from this tragedy that will help us to rise up, be strong, come together and foster the love and compassion that we all have an endless capactiy to give, which is the perfect tribute to those beautiful souls we lost in Newtown.

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The Art of Letting Go

The Art of Letting Go

by cheryl on December 6, 2012

in Meditation

As the New Year approaches, we begin to look back at the year that has passed and consider all that we experienced.  We think about our New Year’s resolutions and set our intentions for the year to come.  Looking at the past, we often want certain things to be different or better in the New Year and we strategize to change our lives by doing something differently. This year, try adding to your resolutions for 2013, the practice of letting go.

There is so much to be gained from learning to let go.  How can I gain something from letting something go, you may ask?  Read on and you will see that the rewards of letting go can be life changing.

There is so much that we hold onto in our lives that cause us pain and suffering.  We cling to our desires and our expectations, and when those desires are not satisfied, and those expectations are not met, we suffer.  We want things to be a certain way, and when life does not unfold as we had hoped, we are sad, angry, disappointed or depressed.   We often resist what is actually happening because it is not what we want to be happening, and we suffer through it.

We can eliminate so much of our negative emotions and experience greater joy in our lives, if we practice the art of letting go.  By analogy, we can look at our own bodies.   We hold a tremendous amount of tension in our bodies, often in our necks, backs, and shoulders.   Many of us aren’t even aware we are physically tense until we begin to feel severe aches and pains in our bodies.  Yet, often unknowingly we are clenching our muscles in response to stress.  Once our attention is drawn to those areas, we recognize the tension.  After becoming aware of where we are holding this tension, we can work on releasing it.   By letting go of our tension, we can literally move through life with greater ease and less pain.   In much the same way, we cling emotionally to so much that causes us great pain.   It is the art of letting go that can bring us tremendous relief and offer us the opportunity to move through life with greater ease.

So what do we need to let go of?  This is often the most challenging part of this exercise because we need to look deep within ourselves to understand what we are truly experiencing.  Here are a few of the big things we can look at in our own lives and ask ourselves, “How is this serving me?”  If it is not serving you in any positive way, then let it go.

Letting go of Expectations

A common source of emotional pain and suffering occurs when our expectations are not met.  We may feel great disappointment, sadness or anger when colleagues, friends or relatives do not act in a way that we had hoped they would act.  Perhaps we are not getting the support that we need from someone.  Or, we do not have the kind of relationship that we had hoped for. Or, we simply think someone in our lives is a very difficult or challenging person (we may use other words to describe that person, but I will stick with these).   It is important to remember that this is not about who is right and who is wrong.  There is no judgment in this exercise.  The goal is to recognize that what we are getting (or not getting) from someone is not what we want.  Since we cannot force others to act in a way that meets our expectations, the best path to alleviate this emotional pain is by simply letting go of those expectations, and accepting what is.  Once we let go of our expectations, it is remarkable how a relationship can change.  By releasing the grip of our attachments to our expectations, we open ourselves up to new possibilities for connection.

We place some of our greatest expectations on ourselves.  In our culture, we strive for perfection in the way we look, in our lifestyles, in our own behavior and in our children.  We set incredibly high standards and feel disappointment when we fail to meet those lofty goals.  Yet, as Anna Quindlen so beautifully said, “The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work on becoming yourself.”

As parents, we also need to take a close look at the expectations we set for our children.  Are they realistic?  Are we ignoring our children’s needs and their individuality when we place certain expectations on them?  Sometimes we need to let those expectations go in order to let our children flourish and grow on their own terms and in their own way, rather than imposing on them our own desires and wishes for who we want them to be.  Once we learn to look at them through an unfiltered lens, void of the distortion of our own expectations, we may be better able to see the incredible people that they are.

Letting Go and the Art of Forgiveness

The ability to forgive is one of the greatest acts of letting go.   Nelson Mandela once said, “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”  Clinging to unhealthy emotions, like resentment, is a self-destructive behavior that does not serve you.  On the contrary, clinging to resentment will only cause you tremendous pain and suffering.   It is extremely difficult to forgive others when they have wronged you or someone you love, but holding on to deep resentment or hatred will do nothing to your “enemy” but will do great harm to you.  Can you identify a person who you are unable to forgive? Can you think of an event that continues to trigger negative emotions?  How is that serving you?   How would it feel to simply let that go?

The BIG One – Letting go of Fear

Most stress and anxiety is deeply rooted in fear.  We may not always realize this, but if we dig deep enough, we will find fear at the base of almost all stress and anxiety.  We are afraid of being alone.  We are afraid of not being loved.  We are afraid of failure.  We are afraid that our children will fail.  Our ultimate fear, of course, is the fear of death.  These fears cause us sleepless nights, stressful days, and lots of running around trying to prevent these things from happening.

Again, we must ask ourselves, “How is this serving me?”   Will it prevent me from being alone?  Will it help me to be loved?  Will it prevent me or my children from experiencing failure?  And, the big question, will fear prevent me from dying?  We all know the answers to these questions, and yet, we continue to live with stress and anxiety that stems from our fears.

It is important to remember that fear is a perfectly normal feeling.  However, when fear causes great stress and anxiety in our daily lives, which leads to sleepless nights and our inability to experience happiness in our days, then it is important to practice the art of letting go.

I experienced a profound moment of letting go in my early twenties on an airplane at 10,000 feet above the earth.  I was traveling for work when the airplane began to bounce through the air as we experienced quite a bit of turbulence.  I panicked.  I clenched the armrests, and began to envision the plane plummeting downward.  I was petrified, alone, fearing the worst possible outcome.  And then it happened.  I recognized that there was absolutely nothing that I could do to help the airplane land safely.  I was aware that my fear was causing my heart to race, my breathing to speed up, and my hands to feel numb as I continued to envision my impending doom.   Yet, I also recognized that my fear was not serving me.  I was suffering.  So, I made the conscious choice to let go.  In some ways I opened my heart to what was happening and accepted it as it was.  I took a deep breath, picked up my magazine, assured myself that it would be all right and I began to read, choosing very specifically not to allow my thoughts to be consumed by fear.

 

Letting go can be an extremely difficult thing to do.  However, by releasing the strong grip of fear, resentment or expectations, we can experience tremendous freedom and open ourselves up to new possibilities.  We have the incredible power to let go.  By letting go, we can free ourselves to experience life with much greater ease and much less pain.  So, this New Years Eve, I invite you to consider the possibility of letting go of those things in your life that are not serving you.  In doing so, you will find greater peace and ease in the year to come.

 

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Teachable Moments in the Eye of the Storm

Teachable Moments in the Eye of the Storm

by cheryl on November 13, 2012

in 2mindfulmoms

Hurricane Sandy was a massive storm that caused great devastation and loss of life along the Northeastern United States.  My prayers go out to all of those who lost so much in the storm.  Having lived through it with my children, and having been incredibly fortunate not to have been severely impacted by its wrath, I now have the opportunity to reflect on the many teachable moments Sandy has provided me and my children.  Here are a few of the things that we were reminded of this past week in the aftermath of a superstorm.

Lesson Number One: Less is More

In the hours before the storm hit, my family and I rushed to remove all the items from our basement to protect them from being destroyed by the expected ten to fifteen foot tidal surge that would soon sweep through our community.  Living only minutes from the Long Island Sound, and having a tidal estuary in our backyard, we had good reason to fear that our property might be inundated by the salty waters that Sandy would send our way.

As my family raced to bring all of our belongings from our basement up the stairs to areas we hoped would be spared, I took a moment to evaluate the situation.  What was all this “stuff” that we were moving around?  If the waves rolled in and completely ruined all of these items, would my life be greatly impacted?  I realized then, that none of this “stuff” really mattered.  All that really mattered was the safety of the people helping to move all that stuff upstairs.  As long as they were safe, the rest was all either replaceable or simply unnecessary.  So the first teachable moment for me was the opportunity to take a good look at all the things that we have, to recognize how unimportant most of those things really are, and to focus on what really matters.

We spend so much of our time, working so hard to accumulate things – new clothes, a new car, new furniture, new toys, a bigger house.  Do those things really improve our quality of life?  Is all of that stuff really so important?  Is it important enough to justify  the amount of time we spend trying to get more of it?   Perhaps constantly adding to our  “stuff” diminishes the value of each item and teaches our children the wrong message, that each item is only valuable and useful until we are able to find its newer, and more exciting replacement.

As I was hauling all this “stuff” up the stairs, I  was struck with the realization that if everything were to get flooded in that space, it is not the items that I would miss most.  It is the space itself that provided us the opportunity  to have fun, to learn, to be together and to create great memories, that is what we do in our homes (no matter how big or small, full or empty),  and those experiences cannot be destroyed even by a superstorm.

The tidal surge came and went and the flood waters filled our street.  We returned to our home the next day to assess the damage.   As we approached the lowest elevation point on our street, we had to walk knee deep through the cold salty water to get to our home.  The water was slowly receding, and as we approached our home, we realized that we were incredibly lucky.   The water had reached our garage but did not find its way into our home.  Many of our neighbors were not as lucky.

As I looked at the piles of “stuff” now upstairs untouched by the flood, I decided to pack much of it up, along with many other items from around the house, and put everything in boxes to donate.  Perhaps someone else, someone who lost so much in the storm, or others who had so little before the storm would be happy to have some.

Lesson Number Two: We are all in this together.

After realizing the great devastation and loss that many are experiencing after the storm,  people are mobilizing in great numbers to help those in need.  This sense of connection, kindness and compassion was also palpable in the days and hours before and during the storm.   There seemed to be a feeling in the air that we were all in this together, whatever may come.

This strong sense of interconnection was in stark contrast to how we live our normal, busy everyday lives.  Usually, we are so focused on meeting our own needs and the needs of our families, that we forget how wonderful it is to connect to those around us.  This incredible weather event connected so many people in so many ways.  It was not just the opportunity to donate to the hurricane relief efforts after the storm, it was also the numerous phone calls from friends and family in other parts of the country reaching out to check in to see if we were safe.  It was the caring conversations with total strangers in the grocery line in the hours before the storm, reassuring one another that it would be OK and making suggestions on what we might need in the days to come.  It was the endless e-mails from friends and neighbors asking who lost power, who needed a warm place to stay, who needed food, and following up with offers to help.

This was such a wonderful reminder that we all face challenges in our lives and we can get through those challenges with greater ease if we show kindness and compassion to one another.  Although we live in a western world in which we are often focused on “me” and “mine,” it was so nice to see that in times of great need, people were focused on “you” and “yours” or on “us.”  We saw first hand how much richer life is when everyone cares a bit more for one another.

Lesson Number Three – If Given the Choice to Laugh or to Cry, Choose to Laugh!

The night of the storm, we decided to leave our house out of concern for our safety and spend the night in a home nearby with 25 friends and family members.  In the midst of the storm we gathered.  We played cards, listened to the news and laughed a bit at the situation we were in.  At the time, I was fascinated by the storm and the potentially devastating impact that it would have on people’s lives.  So, the laughter that night at first seemed a bit inappropriate.  However, I soon realized that there was nothing any of us could do at the time, other than what we were doing.  We had a choice.  We could tremble with fear and worry in anticipation of what might be, or we could chose to sit tight, recognize that we were safe and make the best of our current situation.  This is so often our choice in life when circumstances arise that are beyond our control.  When given the choice to laugh or to cry when life gets challenging, always chose to laugh, and that is what we did.

There were many opportunities to make the best of a bad situation in the days that followed.  When we returned home, large hundred-year-old trees had fallen in our yard.  We were in awe of their grandeur and of the massive root systems that towered over us as they lay sadly on their sides, permanently uprooted.  As children so often do, my children saw the fun and found the joy in this new situation and decided to climb up on the now horizontal trunks and delighted in the giant bridges the trees now made across our yard.  They played in the enormous holes in the ground left behind by the now uprooted giants.  They splashed through the waters that flooded our streets and explored their new surroundings with awe and with laughter.

We saw first hand, on television, in the news and in our own community, the devastation that this storm brought to so many people’s lives, but in the midst of those struggles that often cause tears, it was so wonderful to be able to laugh a bit at the absurdity of it all and find great joy in the fact that we are here, that we all came together to face the storm, and that we are incredibly grateful for all that we have, most of which a storm could never take away.

 

 

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12 Exercises for Mindful Parenting

12 Exercises for Mindful Parenting

by cheryl on September 21, 2012

in 2mindfulmoms

We all know that parenting can be a challenge.  Many of us have undergraduate and advanced degrees and have continued our professional training, but it is rare to find a course in what is arguably our most important job – parenting.  So, we at 2bpresent, hope to pass on to you any helpful bits of advice that we find along our journey on how to become a better parent.  In the book, Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting, Myla Kabat-Zinn and Jon Kabat-Zinn offer the following exercises that are wonderful tools to make our jobs as parents a bit easier and, perhaps a bit more rewarding and fulfilling, even at the most difficult moments.

12 Exercises for Mindful Parenting:

  1. Try to imagine the world from your child’s point of view, purposefully letting go of your own. Do this every day for at least a few moments to remind you of who this child is and what he or she faces in the world.
  2. Imagine how you appear and sound from your child’s point of view, i.e., having you as a parent today, in this moment. How might this modify how you carry yourself in your body and in space, how you speak, and what you say? How do you want to relate to your child in this moment?
  3. Practice seeing your children as perfect just the way they are. See if you can stay mindful of their sovereignty from moment to moment, and work at accepting them as they are when it is hardest for you to do so.
  4. Be mindful of your expectations of your children and consider whether they are truly in your child’s best interest. Also, be aware of how you communicate those expectations and how they affect your children.
  5. Practice altruism, putting the needs of your children above your own whenever possible. Then see if there isn’t some common ground, where your true needs can also be met. You may be surprised at how much overlap is possible, especially if you are patient and strive for balance.
  6. When you feel lost, or at a loss, remember to stand still and meditate on the whole by bringing your full attention to the situation, to your child, to yourself, to the family. In doing so, you may go beyond thinking, even good thinking, and perceive intuitively, with the whole of your being, what needs to be done. If that is not clear in any moment, maybe the best thing is to not do anything until it becomes clearer. Sometimes it is good to remain silent.
  7. Try embodying silent presence. This will grow out of both formal and informal mindfulness practice over time if you attend to how you carry yourself and what you project in body, mind, and speech. Listen carefully.
  8. Learn to live with tension without losing your own balance. In Zen and the Art of Archery, Herrigel describes how he was taught to stand at the point of highest tension effortlessly without shooting the arrow. At the right moment, the arrow mysteriously shoots itself. Practice moving into any moment, however difficult, without trying to change anything and without having to have a particular outcome occur. Simply bring your full awareness and presence to this moment. Practice seeing that whatever comes up is “workable” if you are willing to trust your intuition. Your child needs you to be a center of balance and trustworthiness, a reliable landmark by which he or she can take a bearing within his or her own landscape. Arrow and target need each other. They will find each other best through wise attention and patience.
  9. Apologize to your child when you have betrayed a trust in even a little way. Apologies are healing. An apology demonstrates that you have thought about a situation and have come to see it more clearly, or perhaps more from your child’s point of view. But be mindful of being “sorry” too often. It loses its meaning if you are always saying it, making regret into a habit. Then it can become a way not to take responsibility for your actions. Cooking in remorse on occasion is a good meditation. Don’t shut off the stove until the meal is ready.
  10. Every child is special, and every child has special needs. Each sees in an entirely unique way. Hold an image of each child in your heart. Drink in their being, wishing them well.
  11. There are important times when we need to be clear and strong and unequivocal with children. Let this come as much as possible out of awareness, generosity, and discernment, rather than out of fear, self-righteousness, or the desire to control. Mindful parenting does not mean being overindulgent, neglectful, or weak; nor does it mean being rigid, domineering, and controlling.
  12. The greatest gift you can give your child is your self. This means that part of your work as a parent is to keep growing in self-knowledge and awareness. This ongoing work can be furthered by making a time for quiet contemplation in whatever ways feel comfortable to us. We only have right now. Let us use it to its best advantage, for our children’s sake, and for our own.

Excerpted from Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting by Myla Kabat-Zinn and Jon Kabat-Zinn.

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Back to Reality

Back to Reality

by joanna on August 8, 2012

in Meditation

It’s been a glorious summer for us at 2bpresent.  We took time from the normal school year schedule and lived weeks in a very unstructured unscheduled manner.  As we are now in August, we have been struck by the reality of returning to a school and life schedule that is drastically different from the way we have lived for several weeks now.  In pondering this shift that is going to have to take place the following lyrics from En Vogue seemed apropos to share with all of you.

Back to life, back to reality.  Back to the here and now, yeah.  Show me how, decide what you want from me.  Tell me maybe I could be there for you.
However do you want me? However do you need me?  How, however do you want me?  However do you need me?
Back to life,  back to the present time.  Back from a fantasy, yeah. Tell me now, take the initiative. I’ll leave it in your hands until you’re ready…

Summer is a break from the reality of the hectic schedules that we have during the school year.  People asking of us and us pouring ourselves out to those we love and the causes that we support.  We are wanted and needed and needed and wanted 24/7.  By breaking from that for summer we are able to refuel and come back recharged.  The transitions from one to another are not without anxiety for us or for our children.  For our children they have shifted from school schedules to summer (camp or unstructured chill time) and now what they focused on so much is coming to a close and the hectic school schedules that they have are approaching them once again.   Can we incorporate the best of what they love from the summer into their normal school year schedule?  Can we put a little less on all of our plates this year and have more time to just be together as a family?  Will they miss something if they aren’t as busy?  Will we?

September also coincides with a climatic shift as the sweltering warm days start to turn cooler.  We go from shedding clothes to adding layers to stay warn.  As we look toward this transition, can we add mindfulness and meditation into the layers we wrap ourselves in?  Incorporating a mindful practice into the way we interact with those we love the most and those who we just barely touch.  Mindfulness can make those shifts be they seasonal or from summer back to school smoother and easier for ourselves and our families.

If you are interested in learning more about beginning a practice of mindfulness and meditation, please join us as we once again journey to find Real Happiness following the work of Sharon Salzberg and other experts in this field.  Click here for more information on this upcoming course and on our event hosting Sharon Salzberg in our community.

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Weekly Wisdom #14

by cheryl on May 22, 2012

in Weekly Wisdom

“Most obstacles melt away when we make up our minds to walk boldly through them.”

-Orison Swett Marden

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Loving Lovingkindness

Loving Lovingkindness April 3, 2012

Lovingkindness meditation (maitri in Sanskrit and metta in Pali) is a very powerful type of meditation in which we focus our attention on ourselves and on others with a sense of interest, caring and compassion.  The traditional practice of lovingkindness meditation is done by repeating to yourself:  May I Be safe, May I Be happy, May I Be […]

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A must read and one of the best essays on parenting . . .

A must read  and one of the best essays on parenting . . . March 19, 2012

All My Babies Are Gone Now by Anna Quindlen All my babies are gone now. I say this not in sorrow but in disbelief. I take great satisfaction in what I have today: three almost-adults, two taller than I am, one closing in fast. Three people who read the same books I do and have learned not to […]

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