Transforming Christmas

A recent posting on social media described a “healthy” way to inform children about the mystery around Santa. A friend of mine responded to the post by sharing what her daughter felt when she was old enough to learn the “truth” of that mystery, and the new traditions they created for themselves thereafter.

As I thought about how anxious and disconnected I’ve felt about the approaching Christmas holiday with its overwhelming commercialism, and as I have been recently redefining what religious or spiritual beliefs I now cherish, I suddenly realized I truly don’t want to celebrate the season the way I’ve seen it come to be or the way I’ve always done it… just because that’s the way I’ve always done it. At the same time, I write this for our children and grandchildren, not so much to make a big announcement, but to free them from any religious traditions I may have insisted on teaching them that raises the question: Why am I doing this?

To move away from the Christian influence of this particular holiday is a monumental undertaking. Even the word “Christmas” implies religious and biblical overtones; there’s nothing hidden in its meaning. But what if you’re not Christian? What if the meaning of the word and the beliefs behind the symbolisms don’t apply to your beliefs? What do you do then?

BACKSTORY

A Christian school provided my early education. Along with my parents, the school presented religious traditions, songs, lessons, stories, and definitions to live a good and moral life. By my mid-teens I was done with the lectures and discipline. However, in my early 30s, I gave it another chance, wondering if those childhood lessons had evolved into something I could relate to and share with my children. It didn’t work out. For nearly another decade I searched for a spiritual path that fit my concept of God.

Eventually, I found New Thought, in particular, Religious Science. Founded as a philosophy in the early 20th century via a textbook written by Ernest Holmes, and in part, based on biblical teachings of Jesus, it was a fresh, yet familiar, concept of how I thought about God. As I delved into the study of this modern religion, I learned that the teachings were based on Universal Principles found common in many of the world’s major religions and great philosophies. It encourages its students to remain “open at the top” and to explore those other religions and their teachings, as well as to test the Universal Principles introduced (to me) in the pages of Holmes’ books. I’ve been studying and testing this philosophy for 30 years. I am still “open” and still learning. Religious Science (AKA Science of Mind) has been my spiritual foundation AND has given me wings to explore.

As a spiritual teacher and ordained minister, it has been my practice to push students past their comfort zones. To help them define their beliefs. To guide them to grow stronger, spiritually. To require them to test the Principles for themselves. To help them deepen their faith and question what it is they truly believe. Lately I’ve been doing the same about Religious Science as I once did about my Christian upbringing. The result of this questioning and exploration has brought me to an intersection of sorts.

HISTORY

Because Religious Science was founded in part on biblical teachings, many of its holiday traditions and rituals “borrow” from those of Christian influences, especially Christmas. The story of the manger is widely repeated in New Thought December church services. While Religious Science is a very contemporary religion, it borrows many of its customs from Christian sources and a few others from other religions. Not many of its rituals or traditions are original or new… and that got me wondering: If I were going to celebrate a holiday in December that recognized and honored the Divine Spirit within me and this amazing world, what would it look like? Could I think of a new way to celebrate? Are there other religions from which I could borrow this or that and create something new?

Since Christians also borrowed a number of practices from the Roman Pagans (Christmas, New Year’s Day, Easter, the Roman version of Halloween, carols, mistletoe, trees, etc.), I did some research of mythology that dated prior to and shortly after Christianity began, and discovered some interesting details:

  • “Yule” is the term used for the winter festival observed by the Germanic peoples and eventually incorporated into the Christmas tradition. Yule is considered cultural, while Christmas is (or was) thought of as religious. Yule is a time of celebrating nature and seasonal change.
  • Like Winter Solstice, Yule is about celebrating the “return of the sun,” so candles are a big part of its symbolism. Red, green, and gold are considered Yule colors.
  • Evergreens are said to represent everlasting life. Evergreens made into a wreath represent the Wheel of Life. Evergreens were hung throughout the home and the lighted wreaths eventually came to represent the Christian Advent wreath.
  • Although it apparently took until the Victorian era for German Prince Albert to introduce the Yule tree, it is now simply known as a Christmas tree. Other cultures, such as ancient Rome’s Saturnalia traditions, decorated trees for their Winter Solstice festival to celebrate the light. In Pagan families, they placed a live tree in the home, so the wood spirits kept warm in the cold winter months. It was also commonplace to hang food and treats on the branches for the spirits to eat.
  • Odin, the all-father god in Norse mythology, was widely revered in Germanic paganism. Odin appears as a prominent god throughout the recorded history of Northern Europe, from the Roman occupation of regions of Germania (from 2 BCE) through movement of peoples during the Migration Period (4th to 6th centuries CE) and the Viking Age (8th to 11th centuries CE). [Wikipedia.org, 12/4/23]
  • While Odin was quite involved in war-like activities, he was also known for keeping tabs on who was “good” or “bad,” bringing gifts to the poor and to children, riding an eight-legged horse, and collecting information from around the world via ravens and wolves.

Sound familiar?

While more information can be found on Odin and various Christian rituals or traditions, beginning around 300-600 CE, the point I want to make here is that we’re making it all up!

Humankind has evolved in its religious beliefs, holiday traditions, and ceremonial rituals primarily through “borrowing” bits and pieces from other cultures, religions, or conquered peoples. We take something, put our own slant on it, and call it ours.

When I was a full-time Religious Science minister, I did the same for our services and celebrations. If I knew (or could find out) where a particular practice or ritual came from, I would give credit to that person or culture or religion, and share as much of the history as I could with those present. However, because Christmas is so engrained in our American culture, I never thought twice about having to explore or explain its origins… until now.

LOOKING FORWARD

This change in thinking is partly due to my increasing focus on Interfaith studies. I want to learn more thoroughly about the common Universal Principles between the world’s major religions, as Holmes taught. I want to focus on a deeper Spirituality, not just religious rules or holy texts. I want to celebrate the return of the sun, the return of the Divine Light within me, and within each living being. And I want this seasonal acknowledge­ment to be accompanied by physical practices or rituals or traditions that provide heart-felt meaning to me and those who might share it with me.

I’m confident there are bits and pieces I can “borrow” from any of the thousands of religions and practices that more accurately describe my current view of God and how I choose to celebrate each season of life, each month of the year, different from the way I’ve been doing it for the past few decades. I don’t need to stay stuck in a tradition that more often brings me mostly anxiety and pressure, and to which I no longer have connection.

I already know there will be gifts for those I love and cherish, some will be handmade. I want to have candles and incense and evergreens, including a live tree (with solar-powered lights) that I can plant in the spring. Food. Silence. Songs. Laughter. Donations to those struggling. Prayer and meditation, and gratitude for life’s continuing abundance. I think Winter Solstice is a good day to express all this and more.

It’ll be interesting to see how it unfolds and evolves over time. I get to choose what serves my soul, my heart, my home… just as you get to choose for you and yours.

Learning to Accommodate Myself

It’s interesting to notice the thoughts going through my mind in the middle of the night as I sit on a kitchen chair in front of the toilet, the porcelain god as we used to call it, waiting for the next vomitous mass to purge itself from my stomach.

The primary theme of these particular thoughts focused on my sporadic, even neglectful, willingness to diligently care for my body. This experience of sudden illness and pain brought on by ingesting the wrong foods or combining foods that should never have been mixed made it clear that I am not doing a very good job. There is definitely room for improvement.

For most of my life I’ve never been too concerned about avoiding certain foods. I could eat anything and usually in large quantities, knowing my metabolism would quickly convert the feasts to energy. Then, about thirteen years ago I suddenly developed a gluten allergy. My body’s initial reaction to this discovery was very similar to my recent puking incident. The doctor’s follow-up advice was simple:  “Stop eating gluten.” For the most part, I have, although I’ve been able to tolerate a tortilla or a couple of cookies now and then without any reaction.

Now, I’m not so sure.

The other issue that’s made itself known recently is a weakness in my hands (thumbs and wrists). Likely arthritis with a possibility of carpal tunnel. It’s especially noticeable when I try to pick up dishes from the upper cabinets. Each hand alone doesn’t have the strength to collect more than one dish at a time. I do much better when I use both hands to lift a small stack of plates from the shelf or carry them to the table. Same thing with pots and pans, especially if there’s food in them. I need to use both hands to carry the cookware from the stove to the sink or place it on the breadboard.

This became such a big concern for me, after dropping a dish or two, that I boxed up the decades-old, heavy dishes – my favorite kitchen plates, bowls, and saucers – and replaced them with a lighter (but fashionable) plastic variety. I’ve always considered plastic dishware only for camping and picnics; I never intended to make them my daily set. However, now I can easily lift these new dishes without instant pain.

I’m learning to accommodate myself, to practice diligent self-care. Too bad it’s taken various levels of pain to bring my needs into focus. Yes, it would be better for me if I didn’t wait quite so long to make these changes.

It’s the avoidance of suffering (a Buddhism thing) that keeps me going back to the gym for much-needed walking and biking on a regular basis. The avoidance of suffering is what helps me go to bed on a regular schedule to get the sleep I need. The avoidance of suffering is what prompts me to plan, shop for, and prepare healthy meals on a mostly consistent schedule each week. The avoidance of suffering is what supports decisions to budget finances and expenditures so there’s money left over at the end of each month. And, the avoidance of suffering is what encourages us to seek medical or health guidance when we’re not feeling our best or vaccines are needed, especially in these advancing years.

I’d like to think I’m getting better at accommodating myself BEFORE I suffer. To respect myself. To practice diligent self-care. To keep myself healthy and strong. To be aware of what I need and then take care of that need before it becomes a bigger issue. I’m truly grateful our bodies have the capacity to correct and heal without waiting for permission or even our awareness that something has to be done.

I really don’t want to spend any more nights sitting in the bathroom, waiting to see what comes up.

# # #

Raven Skies

Two moons ago ‘neath raven skies, I searched for light beyond the clouds. I knew the weeks ahead would change my life. Days filled with chaos, peril, exhaustion, and anticipation followed. Nights offered deep sleep and rejuvenation.

Each box was carefully packed, labeled, and stacked for the return journey home. Sixty-five days later, the final frame of treasured art hangs on a new wall, in our forever home.

I stand in the enveloping darkness of the day’s end and reflect on this journey, this change, this decision. Once made, the only direction was forward. Not away, but toward. Not painless, but strengthened in courage and knowledge gained by prior experiences borne through hardship and error and success. One final push.

The birth of this home, a final destination, provides an opportunity to explore the coming winter of our lives together. In beauty. In comfort. In joy. In love.

The clouds now have parted and raven skies fill with morning light. I lean into gratitude for the recent journey and the gifts it provided. A new path stretches before me. I breathe in the possibilities.

A new day begins.

Warning! Warning!

Today I experienced someone (maybe two someone’s) attempting to defraud me.  All we wanted to do was sell some really nice furniture before we moved. Now, I don’t really care if we sell it or not before we go. Here’s how it went…

I posted the photos on Facebook Marketplace. The first person who responded (Hilda) was slow to reply to my confirmation that the furniture was still available, asking if “she” was still interested. Meanwhile, a second “person” expressed interest, too. Once Hilda confirmed she wanted the pieces, she wanted to pay me via the Zelle app so I could take the posting down.

I only recently attached the Zelle app to one of my bank accounts, knowing it was a money application people used for such transactions. However, I’d never used it to know how it really operated. It seemed Hilda had all the answers to my confusion. But as I slowly made my way through what I thought was the correct process, her messages became more intense and pushy.

RED FLAGS went up everywhere in my body! I finally told her I was slow at this and to be patient. I received an email from Zelle that suggested a hold was placed on the money she paid because I had the wrong account type and it wasn’t compatible with her business account. In order to correct this, Hilda needed to pay an additional $500 to me, which I would then “reimburse” before the other $1,500 could clear my bank account.

She expressed concern about me being trustworthy. She asked if I was really going to pay back the extra $500 that was needed to get my account in compliance with the system. I assured her I was just new to Zelle. She recommended that I call the phone number in the email and even knew where on the email that phone number was located. Also, she wouldn’t call me because she was “at work” and couldn’t talk. Then I looked at the Zelle email address and saw it was a bogus Gmail account. More RED FLAGS!

I decided to call my local bank directly instead. I explained to the customer service person (small town branches allowed me to reach her quite quickly) what was happening. She checked my account. There was NO “pending” transaction behind the scenes.

She then explained how Zelle worked for her when she and her brother sent money back and forth – none of which had occurred during Hilda’s invisible transaction. No text from the bank or Zelle. No Zelle-business-email notifications. No phone number or email that could identify Hilda, either. She strongly suggested that I NOT go through with the transaction or find another way to obtain the money. (I wanted cash anyway; this was just too nerve-wracking.)

I went back to Messenger and sent Hilda a short note that this wasn’t going to work… it appeared to be fraud… and that she had a few minutes to agree to cash or I was moving on to the next buyer. Crickets. No response. The next buyer made similar gestures to want to pay up-front and then pick up the items later. I didn’t give him that option. Cash only, I told him. Again, crickets and no follow-up.

I’m angry for a couple of reasons. One, that people like this are scamming others. I’m sure they’re successful often enough to continue creating personas and honing their techniques to risk such larceny. Second, I’m a bit mad at myself that I went that far down the rabbit hole with Hilda and didn’t see the bogus email details earlier to stop the whole thing. I felt really stupid for a couple of hours. BUT… at least I made the phone call to the bank. It allowed me to stop much sooner with the second apparently bogus buyer, whoever it is. Experience does help. And to make sure I won’t forget, they both tried this on the same day!

I’m also putting additional warnings on my accounts, just to be certain enough blockades are in place.

I AM grateful that I hit the “PAUSE” button once my inner voice and nervous system started screaming and jumping throughout my body. I listened. I stopped. I sought proper advice from the right and trusted source. And I’d much rather have to load up this furniture (one more time) than be suckered into giving someone hundreds of dollars because I wanted to sell it rather than move it. The furniture will go eventually… just not today.

Embracing Limbo

In that prolonged empty space, between activities or seasons or marriages or moving houses, I’ve usually been tempted to fill it with numerous means and ways to avoid any sense of boredom. The constant busyness numbs my frustrations or irritation of waiting for people’s assistance or for things to happen, while transitioning from one step to the next. However, as my husband and I now make one final house move, I’ve decided to embrace this period of limbo. Enjoy the calm. Rest the body. Review the plans. Breathe.

This time the move seems easier. We’re returning home to Colorado and a place we’ve lived before. Also, because I’ve moved so often in the past, I know the expectations, most time frames, and various steps before us. I easily anticipate what’s needed and work to eliminate possible obstacles before they arise. I’m confident about my abilities to address and overcome any difficulties. I can present numerous options to facilitate the move, thereby reducing the stress (in my mind) and, hopefully, sharing that sense of calm with my husband, too.

For example, while I’m writing this – in my camper van parked in the driveway, with our dogs by my side to keep them quiet – the house is being inspected for the buyer. My husband is inside to answer any questions. Our realtor is there to assist and be the liaison between us and the buyer’s agent. My job for the next three hours is simply to keep the dogs quiet and out of the house so the inspector can do his job efficiently and without distraction. It also allows me to take a much-needed break from the chaos of endless paperwork, packing boxes, and whatever requirement the next email or phone call brings.

I’ve discovered this limbo period to be extremely enticing and am reconsidering its value. I might let the van be my “satellite office.” In addition to being a space for writing or reading or naps, and taking breaks with the dogs, it could be my mini-retreat spot where the stresses of a busy life are simply put on hold or allowed to slip away.

There is a much different mindset to the practice of embracing the limbo period, rather than resisting or ignoring it. A practice worth developing. A practice filled with gratitude. I’m willing to practice welcoming the space between.

Just Chill

After weeks of sharing ideas and evaluating how we want to evolve in this retirement home of ours, we took a step forward with one of the many options and went back to the idea of “simplify.”

First, we acknowledged that it’s been six months since my husband officially retired from his business. We’ve settled into a bit of a routine around the house. We evaluated our pattern of living and what changes we can make for greater comfort. And while we’re keen to keep addressing repairs and improvements, a little at a time, we are in no big hurry to take on too much nor do we want to spend tons of money in the process. We fix that, clean this, improve whatever, and feel like we’re going forward on our home maintenance list. It works for us.

In addition, we’ve increased our levels of physical exercise (walking, Pickleball, Corn Hole) and have purchased passes at the college recreation center up the street. This has resulted in meeting new folks, developing an exercise routine, and feeling more energetic. I joined a virtual walking challenge community and have been racking up miles more than I ever thought I would. I’ve changed what I eat and am noticing the difference in how my body reacts. Room for improvement? Of course, all ways and always!

A big accomplishment over the past several months was learning that we can live on much less income than we once did. While prices in many categories continue to rise and fall (depending on where you live), we’ve learned to adapt within our budget. Also, as mature adults, we just don’t need that much of anything. I won’t bore you with all the ways we’ve done it (in this writing), but the cost and money awareness we now have, coupled with the above changes, means we’re spending much less overall… including what we spend on home improve­ments. HGTV used to be my favorite go-to channel; now it’s YouTube DIY-er’s from around the globe.

So ALL of these areas of life came together this week as we worked out a solution about how to use the attached garage space.

We have really missed our covered patio from our previous home and wanted something like that here… so we can sit “outside” but protected from the winter months of rain. We want to watch the rain – not get rained on. We also wanted to protect our fairly new patio chairs and cushions from the winter weather, as well as the mold that would surely follow if left outside. We finally came up with a solution we could both agree on (the hardest part). We created a “chill” space in the garage… for both of us.

This idea was somewhat fashioned from descriptions provided by friends who converted their garages into summer living rooms… an area to chat with neighbors or hold group BBQ’s. A place to lounge close to the elements yet still have the comfort of home. An extra “room” created without any extra expense.

So yesterday, we took action! A large area rug was unrolled and placed in the center of the garage floor. The motorcycle was repositioned to one side. The patio chairs and footrests, with a small table between, were placed facing the outdoors. A quilt is close by for those chilly, rainy afternoons. There’s even enough space deeper inside to place a twin-sized bed for naps (or guests). The garage is insulated, paneled, electrified, and already feels quite cozy. Now for a good cleaning.

I’m looking forward to more custom touches, using what we have first or repurposing found treasures. We continue to come up with ideas to make it more useful and inviting. Battery-powered lamps. Curtains. Ceiling lampshades for the bare bulbs. There are several more items that will be moved out, sold, or given away so that we have additional room for extra chairs. For the neighbors and new friends and visiting family members… and us.

A place to chat as the deer stroll by. To read and watch the rain. To just chill.

# # #

Brain Fall-Out

A few weeks ago I came to a startling awareness that has since impacted another major decision in my daily life.

I was circling the outdoor walking track at the local college with a new friend and walking partner. The day’s discussion was mostly about our attempts to maintain balance in life – physical, emotional, time commitments, and relationships – as well as being respectful and inclusive of other people’s ideas and beliefs.

The conversation centered around my interest in Interfaith communities. I’ve long been open to the world’s religions and delight in recognizing the commonalities most share with one another. In recent months, I’ve been part of a religious community that welcomes people from all faiths, yet professes no set creed or holy text. According to the history of this religion, its creed was once based on the Bible, but religions evolve and this one has mostly moved away from such teachings.

Instead, the philosophy of this community is based on principles (values, virtues) that guide its messages and how the members interact with one another. Members are free to pursue their religion of choice independently, and then they come together each week for a mostly secular message, one that usually does not mention God or Spirit. Sadly, I have not heard members share openly about what belief systems they follow in their lives. Thus, the Interfaith aspect, an opportunity to learn, is also missing.

When I first started attending this “church,” I thought Sunday services with worldly lessons would be enough to satisfy my desire for a spiritual community. I was wrong. They are a lovely bunch of folks, practicing their common principles as they’ve done for decades… yet I want more than this from a spiritual community.

I had already reached the point where I greatly missed the New Thought music and messages and uplifting meditations I’d been surrounded by for almost 30 years. Listening to them privately at home brought some solace, but after two years of mostly pandemic isolation, I was ready to engage with a religious community in-person. However, without the Interfaith discussions I hoped for as a substitute for New Thought, I felt like I was opening a door, but no one was willing to come in. I couldn’t force what didn’t exist.

My walking partner listened quietly until I stopped talking. Then she shared a wisdom that a friend of hers had provided to her years before. “Don’t be so open-minded that your brain falls out,” she said.

Don’t be so open-minded that your brain falls out.

She went on to explain that we can become so open, so willing to understand and learn other points of view, so eager to be part of something that almost fits, so able to compromise… that we give away too much of ourselves – our beliefs, our time, our energy. We dilute our very beliefs, ideals, and principles for living. And while I had been speaking about religion, this idea applies just as much to our thoughts about politics, parenting, communication in relationships, work ethics, etc. And she was right! Boundaries are important for both sides of the equation.

For the past few years, my focus has been directed toward Interfaith teachings and exploration. My mind has been open to other ways of doing religion. So much so, that I’ve neglected regular study of my own faith’s texts. Nor have I consistently dedicated time to deepen the core beliefs I hold dear, beliefs that include certain principles, also found in other religions. I thought that, if I attended this “open” church community and became involved in supporting its lay-led leadership, perhaps the spiritual support they professed to offer for each one’s journey would be enough. It wasn’t. Not for me. I simply didn’t fit. It was time to make a change.

The first thing I had to do with this newfound wisdom was to decide what my beliefs were. What’s important to me now in the religious realm? What values and principles are key to me? What kind of spiritual community would support that kind of thinking? Is there such a group nearby?

I’m no longer interested in starting a church from scratch, but, if necessary, would consider initiating a study group. Fortunately, there is a New Thought church in the community… a slightly different version than what I’ve been teaching or ministering… yet one with a history of New Thought founders similar to that of my own religion’s… and close enough in its writings and teachings to feel spiritually fed and connected.

I decided to attend a special mid-week prayer service and met the senior minister. These folks were openly talking about Spirit, God, Divine Mind. The music! The meditation! The familiar readings! Even the building – a real church – with an expansive New Thought library! I felt welcomed and comfortable. There was an inner Joy, a knowing Light, in the midst of each gathering. We spoke the same language! This, and a few other “test” visits and conversations with the minister, convinced my husband and me that a significant change had to be made regarding our choice of church.

I provided ample notice to the board president of the “open” church so that my volunteer tasks could be covered by others in the future. I hope she and I remain friends. And as difficult a decision as it was to reach, to leave their small group, my heart is now happy. I’m looking forward to once again being part of a New Thought community. It’s where I belong.

It is an important lesson in setting boundaries, of not giving away so much of myself – time, energy, spiritual desires… too much open-mindedness… too much compromise – that my soul becomes heavy and sad. Once again I realize the value and sense of peace in establishing, in having, in honoring spiritual beliefs that bring me comfort, while also exploring different viewpoints. I can be open-minded and still keep my brain (and heart) where it belongs.

# # #

Really, What IS Work?

What do you call the act or process of working? Whether it’s income-driven or as a volunteer, is your work a necessity to live? To express? Is it an addiction? Or is it to avoid doing other things expected of you?

My husband and I now call the avoidance tactic “hide work.” We’ll sit in our offices in front of our computers for hours sometimes, just to avoid doing house repairs or yard work or unpacking from our move. I’m also well aware that excessively working has been one of my chief addictions for years. Balance is an ongoing challenge.

Being busy, working, started out in childhood as a way to stay in the good graces of my mother. If we were busy, productive, or doing chores, we were less likely to be tasked with things we didn’t want to be doing or suffer the punishment of the day. We might even hear an occasional compliment. There was no such thing as boredom in our parents’ home. We could play “after the work was done.” But it never was… done.

I brought that incessant productivity mind into adulthood and years of employment. Employers loved it! I volunteered for overtime when I could. I worked through lunches. I honed my administrative skills, took classes, and learned to do tasks more quickly (and accurately). There was a time I was commended for doing the work of two or three people. Unfortunately, that recognition did not often translate into a higher salary, so I would move on to another place that was more appreciative of my efforts… until it wasn’t.

Making the transition from that productive, working mindset to a more relaxed and less demanding pace in retirement has been difficult. I find or create projects that require weeks of list-making, sorting, processing, creating, and that, finally, end up with a pleasing result… before coming up with another idea and starting again. It’s what I’ve always done, up until now.

As I’m about to finish a two-year volunteer project (with others thrown in between), I look over the list of ongoing ideas on my whiteboard and think about what I want to do next. The answer is, “Nothing.” Shock! At least not for a while.

The other day I decided to “take a day off” from my busyness and just read a book. It’s been on my desk for over a year. I promised myself I would stay out of my office and off my computer for at least the one day. It was extremely difficult to keep that commitment, but I did it. It was also a wake-up call… again.

While my mind thrives through structured hours and project deadlines, and I will never give them up entirely, I would now prefer such schedules be the exception rather than the daily expectation. I’m “retired” for goodness sake! I’ve traded my time with the world and a myriad of organizations throughout my life, for income and a sense of serving society. And though I continue to serve as a volunteer for a couple of organizations, I have stronger boundaries in place. This allows my life to be filled with creativity and friends and love and seeing sites and being with family… all the things society promised when a person retires. More of that, please.

As I “rewire” my brain and daily address this workaholism, I already sense a shift in how I’m being in the world. I’ve done much personal growth, healing, and self-development through the last twenty years, and yet, I know there is more to do in these final decades of life. I’d really like to learn how to play and not feel guilty about it. My husband has this down; he’s a willing teacher, too.

Perhaps my efforts are only a shift in perception or I’m simply calling it by a different name. However, it’s enough of a shift inside to create a new set of feelings. Calm. Joy. Abundance. Peace. Awe. Love. Oh, to make those a priority for one’s whole life; truly that would be success. As long as I still have time, I’ll work on that.

Choice

This is not the first time I’ve blogged about “Choice” and its importance to me. This link https://www.carlaryan.com/?s=choice  takes you to a 2013 posting on this site. Current times require that I add a bit more today.

Following the recent reversal of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court, many people in this country (the United States of America) are re-examining the right of a woman to make her own choice about safe, pregnancy-related healthcare. Something we’ve taken for granted for nearly 50 years. Something we were told by the newest Justices was “settled law” and a “protected right” in this country. They lied.

What we are discovering is that America is not so much the “United States” about this matter. We (State legislatures and their supporters) are extremely divided on many things and in the manner for which such healthcare should be carried out. However, the bottom line for me is that a woman’s CHOICE about it has been taken away in many states and in many circumstances.

Without the right to choose, she has become less than a full human in a situation she cannot even create on her own! Tell me, what choice has been taken from the men involved in creating the scenario in the first place? What consequence will they bear for their actions?

How is this possible in a “free and independent” society? When did women willingly relinquish control over their bodies to a government entity? For what purpose are such subversive political or religiously-influenced measures being used? What’s the end-game?

Now, more than ever, CHOICE is my #1 value. While I’m past childbearing years, I can exercise CHOICE in what I write, where I live, what I do, who I see, where I go, and how I vote. Those freedoms appear to be still intact and I’m grateful for that. Yet, my political alarm sensors are on high alert. I choose my words carefully both in what I say and to whom I speak. I’m concerned for my children and grandchildren, and their future in this country.

And while, as a minister, I continue to share information about my religious preference with anyone who asks, NEVER in my wildest imaginations would I consider imposing my beliefs on someone else to the point of reversing laws or creating new ones that only make life more difficult for people (women) already in a difficult situation – no matter the circumstance. CHOICE is personal and sacred – whether about my religion or my body. Isn’t that why we founded this democracy in the first place? Freedom from religious persecution and the right to choose our own paths, including decisions about our own bodies?

Choose wisely in all things. It’s important.

Meanings

I love words! I love discovering new words, hidden meanings, pronunciations, dialects, and inspirational quotations. I enjoy playing word games as well. Learning to read at an early age opened a multitude of worlds for me. It still does. I’m happy to share new learnings with those around me, whether in conversation or through my writing. Two word lessons came up this week that caught my attention.

While practicing Tai Chi in my living room via a video instructor, he was explaining the type of early instruction he received from a Chinese master several decades ago. Basically, the master would demonstrate a movement and then expect the student to replicate it and continue practicing until it was perfected. All without any type of correction or feedback.

He called that type of instruction “chi ku” style, which means to bear hardships or eat bitterness. In other words, the master expected the student to suffer toward the perfection of the Tai Chi movements, to struggle through it with difficulty until the student got it right, to figure it out without any additional guidance. Heavy meaning for two small words.

Fortunately, the video instructor did not endorse that style of teaching. He discovered that, when he began teaching Tai Chi in the United States (the West), his students didn’t appreciate that type of instruction. They wanted feedback, correction, input as they were doing the movements.

The second lesson came from a Scrabble™-like game app. I spend far too much time playing this app on my phone, so I was pleased to recognize a valuable spiritual lesson in the process of playing.

Aside from the strategy involved regarding placement of the letter tiles on the board in order get the highest number of points, I love the challenge of creating words – as long as possible – with the tiles given to me by the program. Rarely do I “swap” tiles. I simply work with what I have and, usually, it’s enough. My current stats show I win at least 60% of the time.

The thing is long words are harder to place on the board. If you have a connecting tile available, there’s usually only room for the placement of longer words near the beginning of the game, when the board is relatively open. By midway through the game, even though I might be able to create a five-to-seven-tile word, oftentimes there’s no place to put it. If my intent is to score the most points, I have to let go of the word I created and find shorter words, fewer characters, to place in strategic positions on the board.

It’s the idea of disassembling what I’ve created that causes me angst. I’m faced with recreating a word or vision for what I WANT to do in order to make progress (points) so I can have the best outcome (win the game, if possible).

How often are we faced with that challenge in our lives?

We work and plan and save and strategize to create something in our lives, a dream or goal. And sometimes, by the time we achieve it, the dream or goal no longer suits us… at least, not all of it. We might be able to salvage a piece or a different version of it. Like changing majors in college to fit into an emerging industry. Not everything we’ve done is wasted, and not everything we take with us into the future is what we thought would happen, but there we are… making adjustments to our plans.

The gift I often receive is that the new, shorter word and its placement on the board is usually worth more points than the long word I struggled with and couldn’t find a spot to place it.

We can suffer over it, feel like it’s an undeserved hardship, express our angst… or… we can smile about how we’re able to shift gears, change direction, adapt, and stay in the game. Our response is always a choice. I’m smiling a lot these days.