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15 Jun

The Eight Steps of Love on Every Breath

An excerpt from LOVE ON EVERY BREATH by Lama Palden Drolma

At this time, when our human family is facing many challenges, it is more important than ever that we find peace and sustenance in our hearts. In the new book Love on Every Breath: Tonglen Meditation for Transforming Pain into Joy, author Lama Palden Drolma introduces a profound, ancient meditation that has been practiced in isolated mountain retreats in the Himalayas for centuries, which is now available to the modern world.

In the standard Tonglen, the meditator simply breathes in the suffering of others and then breathes out love and compassion to them, but this approach does not always work well for Westerners, who often find it difficult to get past the ego’s roadblocks. That is why Lama Palden prefers to teach the more user-friendly “Love on Every Breath” variation to Westerners, which comes from the Shangpa lineage of two enlightened women.

We hope you’ll enjoy this excerpt from the book.

# # #

Love on Every Breath is an ancient Tibetan Buddhist Vajrayana meditation from the Shangpa lineage that combines breath, awareness, imagination, and an energetic transformation process. The meditation brings all these components together in a powerful way in order to open our hearts, to reveal and cultivate our kindness, love, compassion, and wisdom. In Tibetan, this is called the Extraordinary Tonglen, since it uses special techniques of Vajrayana to transform suffering. The Tibetan word tonglen is composed of two words — tong means “giving or sending,” and len means “receiving or taking.” First, we open ourselves to receive and feel the suffering of ourselves and others, breathing it into our heart center. This is the “taking.” The suffering is then instantaneously and effortlessly liberated in the heart and transformed by a special method into unconditional love. At this point, on the out-breath, love and healing energy are sent back out to whomever you are doing the meditation for at the moment, whether yourself or another. This is the “sending.”

The primary purpose of the Love on Every Breath meditation is to cultivate our love and compassion, to transform and liberate our heart. When we come from a place of love, everything shifts for us. This book gives you the tools to transform and empower yourself and come to a place of creative engaged freedom.

The Love on Every Breath meditation is not an exotic Himalayan practice, but it is something that emerges out of us spontaneously and naturally. It is inherent in us to want to remove suffering — others’ or our own. The problem for many children (and adults) is that we absorb the suffering of others, and then it stagnates inside of us. Love on Every Breath gives a way for the suffering to be liberated in the body and the psyche and emerge as compassion. There is a felt sense as this happens.

 

The Eight Steps of Love on Every Breath

The Love on Every Breath meditation has eight steps. The complete meditation is done as a sitting practice and takes about forty-five minutes to an hour from start to finish, but the practice is highly adaptable and can be easily abbreviated.

 

Here is a brief description of each step. In step 1, Resting in Open Awareness, we let go of everything. We let go of the past and the future; we let go of any and all ideas about ourselves or others; we completely let go into our bodies and into relaxing. We become aware of our mind so that we don’t allow it to wander into thinking. Rather, we stay present with what is. Usually, the easiest way to do this is to join our attention and breath. This anchors us in our body, and in our felt sensations, instead of in our thoughts. This is a doorway into calm abiding. We simply rest in awareness and openness; openness is synonymous with emptiness.

 

In step 2, Seeking Refuge in Awakened Sanctuary, we go for refuge, for sanctuary, to the awakened ones. This helps create a context and the space for our meditation. We also ask the buddhas and other awakened beings to support us during our meditation.

 

In step 3, Cultivating Awakened Mind, we engender the altruistic intention to fully awaken to be able to help liberate all beings from suffering.

 

In the fourth step, Stepping into Love, we invite an awakened being, traditionally Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, to be present above the crown of our head.

 

Following our heartfelt prayers, Chenrezig dissolves into ourselves, and we meditate that we become inseparable from Chenrezig. The awakened mind is then established in the heart center as a crystal vajra of light, which is a symbol of the indestructible, pure luminous empty reality of who we truly are, our buddha nature. The vajra is what transforms the suffering — not our individual personality or ego. This saves our ego from saying, “I don’t want to take in more suffering! I have enough of my own!”

 

The Vajra that Appears in our Heart Center

 

In the fifth step, Taking and Sending for Yourself, we imagine our ordinary self in front of us and contemplate our pain and wounds, meeting ourselves with loving awareness. We breathe in our suffering as a dark smoke-like substance, breathing it right into our heart center. As soon as it touches the vajra of light, we visualize a lightning bolt arising from the vajra, transforming all suffering into white light, symbolic of unconditional awakened love and healing energy. When we are breathing out, this white light goes into the heart center of our ordinary self, where it heals, illuminates, and awakens.

 

In the sixth step, Taking and Sending for Others, we meditate on a loved one, and gradually we include others. As in the previous step, we contemplate their suffering, big and small, see it as dark smoke, and breathe it into the vajra in our heart. When the suffering touches the vajra, it is instantly transformed. Then, on the out-breath, we imagine the white light going into the person or people, filling them with light and healing, and eventually bringing about their awakening.

 

Chenrezig, together with the vajra of awakening, greatly enlarges our capacity to welcome the suffering and transform it. Slowly we expand our meditation out to various people and groups of people, until finally all beings are included. We rest in the love and joy of all of us awakened together.

 

Step 7, Dissolving, involves dissolving our visualization, completely letting go, and resting in open awareness. Then in step 8, Dedicating, we dedicate any and all benefit of our meditation to the awakening of all beings.

 

# # #

 

Lama Palden Drolma is the author of Love on Every Breath. A licensed psychotherapist, spiritual teacher, and coach, she has studied Buddhism in the Himalayas with some of the most preeminent Tibetan masters of the twentieth century. Following a traditional three-year retreat under his guidance, Kalu Rinpoche authorized her to become one of the first Western lamas. She subsequently founded the Sukhasiddhi Foundation, a Tibetan Buddhist teaching center in Fairfax, California. Visit her online at http://www.lamapalden.org.

 

Excerpted from the book Love on Every Breath. Copyright © 2019 by Lama Palden Drolma. Printed with permission from New World Library — www.newworldlibrary.com.

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04 Jun

Summer Travels by Train!

Travel by train is a great way to see the country with your family this summer. Super easy and comfortable – and also affordable!

Check out this news from AMTRAK!

Buy One Sleeping Accommodation Bring a Companion Free

Limited-time summer sale offers the perfect opportunity to Get Carried Away on Amtrak

 

WASHINGTON – The experience of traveling on Amtrak with someone special has never been better. Now when one person purchases a roomette or bedroom, a friend or loved can join them for free. Ideal for two, Amtrak sleeping accommodations offer meals that are included in the price of a ticket on most routes, comfortable seating by day, and at night, chairs that convert into a comfortable bed. Available exclusively on Amtrak.com between June 4-10, 2019, the sale is valid for travel from August 1, 2019 through March 31, 2020.

 

“We believe that the journey is part of the adventure. Recognizing the need to get more out of every moment, we wanted to offer our customers a truly unique way to experience the country this summer,” said Amtrak President and CEO Richard Anderson. “With our sleeper sale, customers can share the experience while taking in some of the best views and sightseeing opportunities the United States has to offer.”

 

Special prices available during the sale offer fares as low as:

Pairing Cities Roomette Bedroom
New York, NY – Charleston, SC $323 $613
Washington, DC – Orlando, FL $314 $602
Chicago, IL – New Orleans, LA $269 $319
Seattle, WA – Oakland, CA $305 $534
Los Angeles, CA – Albuquerque, NM $271 $450
Emeryville, CA – Salt Lake City, UT $236 $395
Portland, OR – Los Angeles, CA $357 $646
Atlanta, GA – New Orleans, LA $220 $285
Chicago, IL – Memphis, TN $197 $259
Washington, DC – Chicago, IL $275 $416
San Antonio, TX – New Orleans, LA $195 $357
New York, NY – Chicago, IL $344 $571

While traveling, customers can move around the train, visit the lounge car for beverages or snacks and relax in the comfort of a private room. Customers book travel across the national network with sleeping accommodations on trains including the California Zephyr, Capitol Limited, Cardinal, City of New Orleans, Coast Starlight, Crescent, Empire Builder, Lake Shore Limited, Silver Star, Silver Meteor, Southwest Chief, Sunset Limited and Texas Eagle.

 

Roomettes and bedrooms are complete with bed linens, pillows, temperature controls, lights, bed-side storage nooks, electrical outlets, huge double-decker windows, and a fold-down table. A dedicated train attendant will book meal reservations, make and take down the beds, assist with luggage, notify customers when their stop is close and share great stories of life on the rails.

All prices will be automatically discounted from the standard fare price. Customers must use discount code V540 or the link provided on the promo code; prices are as shown and can’t be combined with other discount codes.

 

There are no blackout dates. This offer is valid for one free companion rail fare traveling in the same roomette, bedroom or family room with the purchase of one regular full adult fare. The free companion and full fare passengers must travel together in the same room and reserve in the same reservation. This offer is valid for sale between June 4 and June 10, 2019 and is valid for travel between August 1, 2019 and March 31, 2020. The sale is not valid on the Auto Train. The companion traveling with the customer must stay in the same bedroom or roomette. Other terms and conditions apply.

 

About Amtrak®

Amtrak offers a more comfortable and convenient travel experience with free Wi-Fi on most trains, plenty of leg room and no middle seat. With our state and commuter partners, we move people, the economy and the nation forward, carrying more than 30 million Amtrak customers for each of the past seven years. Amtrak operates more than 300 trains daily, connecting more than 500 destinations in 46 states, the District of Columbia and three Canadian Provinces, and reaches 400 additional destinations via connecting bus routes. Book travel, check train status, access your eTicket and more through an Amtrak app. Learn more at Amtrak.com.

 

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21 Jan

Better Sleep Can Warm Up A Relationship

For couples having trouble under the sheets, improving their relationship could be as simple as getting a good night’s sleep.

Catching extra winks together in bed can significantly help improve a relationship. A good night’s sleep is restorative to the mind and body, gives us energy and improves our mood—all attributes that can make us better partners in romantic relationships. On the other hand, a poor night’s sleep —often the result of a couple’s mismatched sleep styles— can be a major problem for a relationship.

Many couples can live happily together, but they can’t sleep well side-by-side, which can negatively impact their relationship. Sleeping together is an important way for couples to feel connected with each other. And not getting enough sleep can leave us feeling sluggish, cranky and hard to get along with.

If your partner’s sleep style is keeping you up at night here are some tips to bring harmony back to the bedroom and into your relationship:

1.
Problem: Your partner kicks in his or her sleep, waking you up.
Solution: Make sure your bed gives each sleeper enough sleep surface to move around comfortably. For couples sharing a bed, the mattress should be at least queen-sized.

2.
Problem: Your partner likes it hot, you like it cool.
Solution: Ideally, your bedroom should be a cool 60-65 degrees Fahrenheit. But a few simple adjustments can make it possible for a person who craves heat and a person who craves cool to sleep side by side comfortably.
• Double-fold the blankets so there is more coverage on one side.
• Invest in a dual-control electric blanket or a twin-sized electric blanket on one side.

3.
Problem: Your partner snores, keeping you up at night.
Solution: Snoring can be a serious health concern, so make sure to consult your physician. If your partner’s snoring is not a serious health condition, try alternative treatments like investing in anti-snore pillows, sprays or nasal strips that are designed to help people breathe more easily.

4.
Problem: Your partner tosses and turns.
Solution: It may be your mattress. Mattresses should be evaluated for optimum comfort and support every five to seven years.

5.
Problem: Your partner loves to cuddle, but you like your space while you sleep.
Solution: Compromise. Before falling asleep, spend some time snuggling together and then agree to sleep apart.

6.
Problem: Your sleep schedules don’t match.
Solution: Try finding a bedtime that works for both of you. Be considerate if you are a night owl or an early riser compared to your sleep partner. Keep overhead lights off and use minimal lighting while you are awake and your partner is asleep.

A bad night’s sleep affects your mood, work and relationships with others. Sleep, like proper diet and exercise, is essential to overall well-being.

More sleep tips at BetterSleep.org

Sleep Tips video

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14 Jan

More Birthdays: A Reason to Celebrate!

Recent survey results released by the American Cancer Society reinforce, once again, the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, and the findings are definitely cause for celebration. The online survey, which showed a strong link between health and attitudes about birthdays, revealed that people who say they are in excellent health are more likely to consider birthdays special and exciting events.

In addition, the survey found that people who say they are in excellent health are nearly twice as likely to love celebrating birthdays, generally consider them fun and feel more special on their birthday than people who say they are in poor health.

Clearly, these results are another reminder about the benefits of leading a healthy and balanced lifestyle. Not only will you look and feel great, but you’ll also be a brilliant birthday party guest!

The results are part of the Society’s Official Sponsor of Birthdays campaign, which asks people to imagine a world with more birthdays. More birthdays mean more time with our friends and family, and more opportunities to celebrate the important milestones in their lives.

A big part of the American Cancer Society’s effort to create more birthdays is helping people stay well by making healthy choices in their daily lives. Whether you’re planning a party for a child, an adult, or yourself, there are fun and creative ways to make your celebration one that will help create more birthdays for years to come.

Get Active.
To get your guests moving, pick an action-oriented theme for your birthday celebration — pool parties, soccer games, dance parties, or scavenger hunts are great fun for kids and grown-ups alike. There’s nothing like a little healthy competition!

Be Prepared.
If you’re hosting an outdoor party, have sunscreen (at least SPF 15) and extra hats on hand for guests who might have forgotten them. If you’re hosting your celebration indoors, find a smoke-free restaurant or venue or have it at your house and remind guests that cigarettes aren’t welcome.

Stay Food-Smart.
We know birthdays are about celebrating, but you can have your cake and stay healthy, too. There are plenty of healthy and delicious foods you can choose to share with your guests. Consider serving low-fat snacks like popcorn, pretzels, and baked chips and salsa and healthy meal options like grilled chicken or shrimp skewers. You can bake healthier, too, by making your birthday cake from scratch so you can control the ingredients and make smart substitutions like swapping butter for applesauce.

Give the gift of more birthdays.
Joining the movement to create a world with more birthdays isn’t limited to your own special celebration. By giving birthday gifts to friends and loved ones throughout the year with health and wellness in mind, you can help the people you care about look forward to more candles to light. Here are some creative gift ideas to help people stay well:

For cooks or want-to-be cooks
:
Package flavored oils and vinegars in a large bowl made for salads.
Create a basket filled with healthy cooking utensils such as an apple corer, zester, lemon/lime juicer, garlic crusher, ginger, and nutmeg graters.
For the portion size conscious cook (and eater), consider giving a food scale, measuring cups, and/or attractive measuring spoons.

For foodies:
Create a basket with cheese, crackers, and fresh fruit, with perhaps a decorative cheese spreader.
Package dried fruits and nuts in a unique serving dish with pretty cocktail napkins.
Collect your favorite healthy recipes and give them in a recipe journal so they can also record their own.
Give a cooking class gift certificate.
Give a subscription to a favorite healthy cooking magazine.
Give a gift certificate to your favorite local healthy restaurant.

For those wanting to be more active
:
Give a gift certificate to a local athletic shoe and apparel store.
Include a step counter/pedometer with an mp3 player.
Package a jump rope, exercise band, set of hand weights, and/or workout ball for an all around healthy workout.
Make coupons for babysitting so your friend can work out while you watch the kids.
Make workout buddy coupons and commit to get up three days a week to walk before work with your friend, if that’s what she wants to do.
Give a gift certificate for a tennis lesson, packaged with a water bottle and flashy colored tennis balls.
Give a gift certificate for a golf lesson, with a book on the best public courses to play (and encourage your golfing buddy to join the USGA Walking Member Program).
Give a gift subscription to a favorite health magazine such as Fitness, Runners World, Walking, Golf Digest, Bicycling, etc.
Give an exercise mat and workout tapes or CDs for home use.
Volleyball net and ball.
Badminton racquets and shuttlecocks.
A yearly pass to a local or national park.
Croquet set.
Baby jogger.

Thanks in part to the efforts of the American Cancer Society, eleven million cancer survivors will mark their birthdays this year. What’s not to celebrate about that?

To join me and the Society in the movement for more birthdays, visit www.morebirthdays.com.

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07 Jan

Time Well Spent: Volunteering in the Foster Care System

Time is a commodity. It’s been compared with money. We only have so much of it in this lifetime, so time is precious. And how we spend our time says a lot about what is important to us. Recently I’ve had a big change in where I’ve been finding my time spent – and it has surprised me, in many wonderful ways.

 

I’ve done the career thing, a couple of times over in a couple of different incarnations. And I’ve done the mom thing — wholeheartedly: from carpools and karate, to homework and heartache and everything in between. And all along the way I’ve been involved with some kind of service. But it was always secondary to the job, or the kids, because there is only so much time to go around, especially for a working mom.

 

When my boys left for college I found myself with time on my hands. This is something that hasn’t happened since I gave birth. Yes, I’ve still got work, but a person can only sit in front of a computer for so many hours a day without going crazy! I decided to volunteer at a group foster home.

 

The process for this is quite extensive. I had to go through security clearance, including fingerprinting and a TB test. And I also had to go through training. It took a couple of months for all the paperwork to go through, but now I’m officially a volunteer. And I love it!

 

In the past, when I’ve volunteered it was all about making gift baskets for silent auctions, going to lunch meetings, and selling raffle tickets to raise money for the organization. I wanted to contribute in a different way, to actually work with the kids. In one of my work incarnations I was a modeling school teacher, so I have experience working with teen girls. This population is the most “at-risk” in the foster care world and I felt it was a place where I could make some sort of a difference. At this particular foster home, there are 14 teen girls who live on campus.

 

A group foster home is often the last stop for kids. At this point they have nowhere else to go. Most of them are there through no fault of their own. If they have parents, their parents are abusive, addicted to drugs, or in jail. Or they are simply unable to cope with the difficulties that their child is going through. Most of the kids are SED, or severely emotionally disturbed. This foster home has family outreach, and things like parenting classes, with the goal of bringing the family back together again. But the reality is that just about 3% of the kids who arrive at group homes eventually return to a healthy family situation.

 

I waltzed in to the girls cottage thinking this was going to be fun, that the girls would be happy to see me, and that we’d have tea parties and book clubs. I quickly learned to not have any expectations, or any particular plans, and to just be present for whatever needs they had at the moment. One of the staff members told me that these kids are like porcupines. They are withdrawn, and suspicious, and have their spikes up to protect themselves. You need to approach cautiously, and gently. And when a porcupine throws out a spike, you can’t be surprised, or angry, because it’s just the nature of the animal. With everything these kids have been through in their young lives, it is completely understandable for them to be on guard.

 

Where we started to bond was in the kitchen. These girls need their spirits to be fed, and sometimes the best way to do that is by starting with their stomachs. Group homes aren’t known for their gourmet cuisine, and the weekend dinners are the most dreaded of all the meals. By cooking together, good wholesome meals with lots of fresh vegetables, we were able to fill up the cottage with yummy smells that made the place feel much more like a home than an institution. While cooking we can talk amongst the activity, so there are no awkward pauses. And we have a mutual goal that we accomplish together, something tangible to both serve and enjoy in a delicious meal.

 

I’ve been going up there every Sunday to make dinner with the girls. And I find that during the week, I miss them, so I’m up there at least a couple of times in the afternoons just to hang out, help them with their projects, and generally be available. I’ve given them books, and DVDs, and I bring fresh fruit for after school snacks. But what they really appreciate, more than anything, is my time. It’s just the being there that really makes a difference. And as time goes on, I’m discovering that more and more, this is where I am choosing to spend my time. Vedic philosophy says that the three most important things we can give our children are attention, affection, and time. The children in the foster care system are starved for all three. And this is something that any of us can provide without spending a dime.

 

As I learn more about how everything works with foster care, I’m finding more ways that those of us who want to help can really make a difference.

 

Right now there are more than 780,000 children in the United States who are in the foster care system because they are unable to live safely at home. Most of these children are there through no fault of their own, but because their parents can’t, or won’t, take care of them. The children often have difficulty trusting people, and making lasting relationships because so many strangers come in and out of their lives: police officers, lawyers, judges, therapists, social workers, and foster parents. If they are placed in a group home, there is also several different staff throughout the week to watch over the kids. They can be moved from home to home, and school to school, with little or no notice. It can be daunting, and even scary for a child.

 

Thankfully, there is a volunteer organization called CASA: Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children. CASA volunteers are appointed by judges to look out for specific children in the overburdened legal and social service system. These volunteers make sure that the children’s needs are being met, that they aren’t getting lost in the system, or languishing in a group or foster home that is not appropriate for them. The CASA stays with the child until the case is closed, and the child is placed in a safe, permanent home. Because foster kids move around so much, many times the CASA volunteer is the one constant adult presence, the one adult they can count on to care for them, and advocate for them. The CASA volunteer really gives the child a voice, by speaking on the child’s behalf in the courtroom and in team meetings so that the needs of the child are addressed and met.

 

If you have some time to spend, and you want to make a lifelong difference for a child who really needs your help, consider volunteering in a foster home. Or even better, consider becoming a CASA. Last year, more than 68,000 CASA volunteers served more than 240,000 abused and neglected children through 1,018 program offices. CASA volunteers have helped more than two million children since the program was established in 1977. Currently there are not enough CASA volunteers to go around. Statistics show that children with a CASA volunteer are far more likely to find the services and resources they need and go on to lead successful and productive lives. Now can’t we all consider that to be time well spent?

For more information, visit the CASA website: nationalcasa.org

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10 Dec

All Children Are Our Children

A study commissioned by the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption showed that nearly 40% of American adults, or 81.5 million people, have considered adopting a child. If just one in 500 of these adults decided to adopt, all of the 134,000 children in foster care waiting for adoption would have a permanent home.

 

I’ve written before about my experiences volunteering at a local group foster home. It’s actually a residential treatment and crisis care center. While there are many children who live there for varying amounts of time, I have been lucky enough to establish relationships with a handful of them. I love these kids. I feel like they are my children. And in a very real sense, they are mine. And they are yours. They are a part of our community, and they are a part of ourselves.

 

When I first committed to this “job” I agreed to come in for two hours a week, for four weeks. I’m now averaging four hours a day, five days a week, and I just was there for eleven days in a row. I’m well into my sixth month, and I can’t imagine stopping ever. Being a volunteer means that I am not paid, and spending this much time at the place actually costs me lots of money each week. I can’t help but bring fresh fruit and books and things like that. I make the time because this is important. I spend the money because I would rather help these kids than save up to buy a designer purse.

 

More and more we are learning that we live in a global community. We see how much of what happens in other communities, and other countries, has an affect on our own lives. And because of the internet and ease of travel, it’s easier for us to reach out and help children not only in our hometowns, but around the world.

 

I recently met Vivian Glyck, an amazing woman who has made a difference by following her vision. She says that after becoming a mother, she developed “a keen sense that the world is so small, it is really just one community, and I realized that taking care of oneself means heeding one’s calling – without hesitation or deliberation.” Vivian’s calling is helping children in Uganda. Why? Because 25 million Africans, many of whom are children, are infected with the HIV virus. Every 30 seconds a child in Africa dies of malaria. 12 million children are already orphaned by AIDS. Vivian travels to Africa and works with children personally, and she says they are “just like my child” which is why she named her organization “Just Like My Child.” The mission is to alleviate the suffering of women, children, and families in rural Uganda by empowering communities to create their own long-term solutions to healthcare, education, and microenterprise. Read more about Vivian’s story at: justlikemychild.org

My friend Lysa Heslov is also helping children with her foundation Children Mending Hearts. Her mission is to give children worldwide the power to find and use their voices through creative expression. This is a global arts exchange between at-risk children in America and children living in conflict zones around the world that educates, empowers and encourages all the participants. People of various cultures connect the different projects, and learn and grow from their experiences with each other. Lysa has traveled to the Congo and worked with children first hand. And now her foundation is traveling around the United States to conduct art workshops. For more information visit: childrenmendinghearts.org

 

My friend Joseph Curiale saw a news story on CNN which compelled him to start a foundation to help orphaned girls in India. Right now there are four girls going to school on scholarships, who would otherwise be living in poverty in a government orphanage. Joe has traveled back and forth to India 12 times to make sure that these children, whom he considers his own, are getting the support, and the love, that they need. Joe is a testament to how one person can make a difference in this world. The work he has done is remarkable. Read more about his story at: josephcurialefoundation.com

 

Through organizations like Plan USA we can sponsor an individual child, and help that child’s family and community as well. Sponsorship helps to provide vaccination and nutrition programs, community water systems and well construction, home and health clinic construction, school and teachers, and so much more. As a sponsor you receive a photo of your child, a family profile to introduce you and provide information about the community, and regular updates on how everyone is doing. You can send letters and small gifts, and you can even visit your child! This sponsored child becomes your ambassador to a place and culture that you might otherwise never know. I began sponsoring Swapna, a little girl in rural India, in 2005. I’ve been able to see her grow and communicate through Plan USA’s field office volunteers. We don’t speak the same language, and the geographical distance is great, but we are connected through our hearts. She is a beautiful child, and I am grateful to be able to contribute to her life in some way. If you’re interested in sponsoring a child, visit: planusa.org

All children are children of the world. All children are our children.

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29 Nov

Divorce Is Forever

My friend Sandy and I had had yet another one of our philosophical discussions this weekend. She said, “I have a great title for your next blog: Marriage is Temporary, Divorce is Forever.” Having been divorced myself I can understand her sentiments. Yes, divorce is forever. But now, truly happily married, I’m in the state where I once again feel that marriage is forever, too. Maybe there really is no delineation — maybe it’s that these relationships we get ourselves into go on and on, and it’s just the definition of the relationship that changes. Whether married or divorced, there is this person in our lives that we love — or loved — and through whom we are tied with children, or finances, or history.

As celebrities give us this great illustration with which we can all better understand, let’s explore this theory with a few examples. Bruce Willis and Demi Moore: married, seemingly happily, for enough years to produce three beautiful daughters. They divorce amicably, and no bad blood shows up in the press. She later marries Ashton Kutcher, and Bruce shows his support as the three attend many family occasions and holidays together. One big happy family! And when Bruce remarries, of course they’re all there, too. Very civilized, very mature. So Bruce and Demi, although married to different people now, are still tied to each other through their children, and have managed to maintain a functional relationship.

Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt do not share any children, although they shared years of their lives together as husband and wife. Will the press ever let them forget that? I think not! Even as Brad welcomed his 5th and 6th child, twins, with his current partner, Angelina Jolie, tabloids speculated about an Aniston-Pitt reunion. What gives? These people have all clearly moved on, but why can’t we? Is it because Brad and Angie have yet to tie the knot? They are clearly committed — and they certainly are looking to the future as they raise these children together. I think it’s because we want to see that Jennifer is okay. We want her to be happy, and in love, like Brad is. That way it seems more “fair.” But life is not always fair. Life gives us lessons, and sometimes they’re tough ones. We just have to trust that somehow, someway, through some power greater than our own, that it all balances out in the end. Karma? Destiny? Maybe that’s it.

From Sandy’s point of view, her marriage was temporary. She didn’t plan for it to be that way. She went in with the best of intentions, until death do us part. But as it goes, things happen, people change, and plans go awry. So now she’s divorced, which she considers to be permanent. This is the new definition of her relationship with her ex. Can she “wash that man right out of her hair?” No. They have kids together. They had a life together. And now all of that has to be shifted to fit this new paradigm. It can be painful, and certainly stressful. There are unfulfilled expectations. There is grief, fear, and uncertainty. And what can we do about it? Somehow we have to manage. We have to redefine the relationship in such a way that it makes sense to us, and that we are okay with it, taking the good with the bad, however we choose to see that. We have to let go of any anger or resentment because there comes a time when we realize that we are only hurting ourselves with it.

So yes, my first marriage is over. But am I over it? Probably not. I’ve still got these two kids as constant reminders of the years we shared in it. Those years don’t disappear. They are a part of my memory, and my psyche. They helped to shape who I am today. But I still wouldn’t change a thing about it. I know mistakes were made, but those mistakes helped both me and my ex to learn and to grow. I know we are both better off where we are today. I love my life, I love my husband, and I know that I wouldn’t have what I have right now had the divorce not happened. So it’s all good. And I am sure that my ex feels the same way.

Life is full of challenges and full of risks. Marriage is a big risk. Divorce is another. Both take a commitment. It’s a commitment to living life to its fullest, to being true to yourself, to doing what you feel is best, and to honoring the wisdom that you have gained through your experiences.

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15 Oct

13 Romance Ideas to Warm Up the Fall Season

1. Join In On Football Season

For many men, “Fall” is just another name for “Football season.” Since you can’t beat ’em, you might as well join ’em! Get tickets to a local game, pack a tailgate picnic and head out to the stadium. Be sure to bring a warm blanket for the two of you to snuggle under, and maybe a thermos-full of hot chocolate laced with coffee liqueur for half-time.

2. Take Advantage Of Pumpkin Season

Jack-o-lanterns aren’t just for kids — this Halloween, pick up a couple of extra pumpkins and spend the evening carving them up together! Maybe you want to work together to create an amazing masterpiece, or maybe you want to work solo to design special “his and hers” messages for one another. Some ideas: a big set of lips and some false eyelashes on a girl pumpkin for him — an “I love you” message that lights up when the candle is inside for her!

3. Play High Stakes Board Games

Take a traditional board game and make up your own rules. Yahtzee can become “Strip Yahtzee,” by simply adding that for every three of a kind you roll, your partner loses a piece of clothing. For every four of a kind you roll, you get a “wish”: a kiss, a foot massage, etc. And for every Yahtzee, set the timer for 5 minutes (and only 5 minutes!) of “high scorer dominance.” You can do something similar with Scrabble – earning extra points for sexy words, or Monopoly – paying for properties with “favors” rather than cash.

4. Share Firelight

There’s nothing more inviting than the glow of a fireplace on a crisp Fall evening. Spread a blanket out in front of the fire, toss around a few fluffy pillows, and serve up some warm apple cider with cinnamon sticks. Relax and enjoy each other’s company. Soon you’ll be toasting more than your tootsies!

5. Dance In The Dark

Set up an impromptu dance floor in your bedroom. Light some candles, turn on the Harry Connick Jr. CD and hold each other close. Dance the old-fashioned way, cheek-to-cheek, and whisper sweet nothings in his ear. Let the music move you, and melt into each others arms.

6. Want To Make It interesting?

When the weather’s crummy and he wants to spend the day watching sports on TV, make it interesting for both of you! Place bets on how many car commercials are shown in the next station break, which team’s cheerleaders get on camera next, how long it takes five minutes to really play. Bet kisses, massages, sweet treats, etc.

7. Puzzle Him

This takes a little forethought – get a jigsaw puzzle and put it together on a piece of cardboard. Put another piece of cardboard on top of it and flip it over. Now write a message to your significant other, or make it an invitation! Be creative, even naughty! Then flip it back over and pull the pieces apart. Keep one piece hidden in your bra. That night, ask him to help you with the puzzle. If you have a glass top table, do the puzzle directly on the table. Once the puzzle is all assembled, have him look for the missing piece under the table. When he can’t find it, crawl under the table to help, and show him your message. It won’t take long for him to find that missing puzzle piece now!

8. Create Your Own Starry Nights

Get a pack of glow-in-the-dark stars to stick on the ceiling over your bed. Have them spell out a love note to your honey. When the lights go out, you can lie under the stars and cuddle.

9. Wash Your Cares Away

How about a soothing bath for two? Make bath sachets by wrapping cinnamon sticks, cloves, and orange peel in pieces of fabric and tying with a ribbon. Drop into a hot bath, add a few capfuls of almond oil. Indulge!

10. Tea For Two

Take a little time-out with an afternoon tea party. De-stress over chamomile and banana bread, and take turns with the shoulder rubs.

11. Recipe For Romance

Cool Autumn breezes call for simmering stews. Spend time in the kitchen together chopping up herbs and veggies and create your own cold-weather feast! Serve with corn bread and your favorite wine.

12. Bicycle-Built-For-Two

Enjoy the last few sunny weekends by renting a bicycle built for two and cruising the neighborhood!

13. Story Time Together

Grimm’s Fairy Tales take on a whole new meaning when read aloud by the one you love. Curl up on the couch and revisit some of your favorites, and love happily ever after.
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27 Sep

Self Care – How Well Do You Do It?

As a Counsellor and Life Coach, self care has always been very important to me and to the people I have supported (in a professional capacity).

Self care is something that I always advocate. However, self care can sometimes be misunderstood.

To gain some clarity on this topic, I refer to an article by Megha Pulianda (a Ph.D. student in counselling psychology at Texas Woman’s University). She states “Self-care is anything but a one-time act. It is a mindset and a process”.

A process indeed!

When I speak about self care to kids who are getting bullied at school, the key word that I emphasise is “habit”.

What does that mean?

It means that you should make self care a habit. It should not be a one off activity that temporarily uplifts you or relaxes you. It should be something that is ongoing and it should serve you long-term.

Let me share a personal example with you. I love training in combat sports. If I am working on a demanding project, just like most people, I will feel the effects of working long hours over a given period of time. Going to a mixed martial arts class after working on that project all day will definitely make me feel better. I will be energised after the training session. Here’s one question – should I only go to MMA training when I am working on a demanding task? Or, should I go on a regular basis, regardless of what type of workload I have on my plate?

The answer to that question is quite simple. If something is uplifting your mood, you should be engaging in it on a regular basis, regardless of how much you have on your plate.

So, how do you begin your self care routine?

Here are three suggestions:

  1. Find something that will minimise your chances of making excuses – let me share an example with you. A close friend of mine was having some mobility issues. Her GP suggested doing yoga. She had a relative who had been attending yoga classes at a wellness centre. She decided to join this relative in doing yoga. The wellness centre was almost one hour away from where my friend lived. She started off well, and was attending yoga classes three times a week. Eventually, the traveling got to her. She said “I have to do more than two hours of driving for just one hour of yoga”. She quit! My message to you is this – include something in your self care routine that will maximise your chances of ongoing involvement.
  2. Be clear on what’s important to you – in one of her articles, Dr Barbara Markway (psychologist) outlines seven types of self care activities. She lists them as spiritual, emotional, physical, social, mental, sensory, and pleasure. If you had to list these seven types in order of importance, what would your list look like? Please think about that. Your priorities will decide what type of self care activities would suit you most. I have mentioned earlier in this article that physical self care (MMA training) is what suits me most. If I was feeling drained after working hard on a project, and a friend asked me to meet for dinner, I would prioritise MMA training over meeting a friend for dinner. That is what I prefer. Have a look at the seven areas mentioned by Dr Markway, and pick which areas you can engage in, when it comes to self care. That will provide you with clarity.
  3. Have support – it can be very easy to lose momentum when you need self care the most. I once delivered a presentation on “Burn out” to a group of animal rescuers. These brave beings are often confronted with unimaginable animal cruelty. One of the concerns raised by that group was the loss of momentum, regarding self care. A young lady in the group said “Sometimes I just cannot be bothered with any of this. I just feel emotionally drained and physically tired. I wish I had someone who would motivate me to do more self care activities”. My emphatic suggestion to you is to reach out and ask for someone to hold you accountable in your self care routine. Ask them to be strict,  and constantly remind you to engage in self care activities. If that person would like to join you in self care activities, that would be great! If not, let them support you in keeping the momentum.

Self care can be a complex subject for some people. If you feel that you are getting close to burn out or compassion fatigue, please seek professional help.

Quote: “You can’t pour from an empty cup. Take care of yourself first.”  Anonymous

I sincerely hope that you have gained insights into how you can begin to engage in self care.

Influencing you to your excellence,
Ron

PS: My Anti-Bullying Charity’s latest short video addresses how to handle overwhelming thoughts and feelings when you are getting bullied (https://bit.ly/2OsIxy9)

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24 Sep

Change Your Life, Be A Mentor!

January is National Mentoring Month. Being a mentor can mean different things to different people. When I was growing up, my parents were divorced and my mother worked full time. My dad moved away, and my mom was stressed out and tired when she was home. Luckily we had Diana. Diana was our real estate agent when we had to sell the family home and move. She and my mother became friends, and Diana ended up moving in with us. It was a blessing in many ways. It helped my mother pay the bills, gave her someone to talk to, and it gave my sister and brother and me an additional adult in our lives.

At the time we thought of Diana as our friend. She introduced us to tacos, and hot fudge sundaes. She stayed up with us until midnight on New Year’s Eve. She made sure that our birthdays were celebrated in a grand fashion. Even after Diana moved out into her own place, she was always there for us, just a phone call away. We could talk to Diana about anything, and know that she never judged us. One of my favorite memories is when she took my sister and me to the beach and we made Clam Chowder from scratch and went bike riding. Diana helped us feel normal, and brought light and joy to our lives when we desperately needed it.

Diana has always been a member of our family, kind of like the hip Aunt you always look forward to visit. And now that I’m involved with the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, I can see that Diana was also our mentor.

It is evident how much having a mentor can mean to a child, no matter what circumstances that child is in. All it takes is one adult to show support, encouragement, or concern to absolutely affect a positive change in how that child views himself and the world. I knew this going into the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. What I didn’t know, and soon learned, was how much the experience would change me.

I’m a parent, so I know what it means to love a child. I know what it means to want the best for this person, to put his needs before your own, and to make this person your priority without hesitation. I have a child with special needs, so I know about the obstacles, and the heartache. I thought I was fully prepared and well equipped to handle all of the emotions and challenges that come with mentoring a child. But every day I learn something new. And every day my heart is opened more, and I am grateful that I have the opportunity to expand my awareness because this girl is in my life.

What makes Big Brothers Big Sisters unique is that it is a one-on-one mentoring program. There are local chapters all over the country, so that many different geographical areas are served. When an adult volunteers to be a mentor, there is an interview, and a background screening process. Then the “match” part can begin. The adults, the “Bigs,” and the children, the “Littles,” fill out a questionnaire that reflects their interests, needs, and wants in a mentor relationship. From there a match specialist pairs up two that are compatible, and a match meeting is set. At the match meeting, the two meet for the first time, and get to know each other. The parent, foster parent, or guardian also gets to participate, and if all parties are agreed, the match is made.

The minimum time requirement is four hours a week. This can be accomplished in one visit or several visits, depending on how the match wants to work it. There is a lot of flexibility to the program. Low cost or no cost activities are encouraged. Time together is what is emphasized, as that is what the kids need more than anything. Some adults express that they worry that they don’t have enough to give, that they will have a hard time finding interesting things to do each visit to keep the child interested. But once they spend a few weeks just hanging out, they discover the beauty and simplicity of the relationship itself, and know that time together is the most valuable gift there is.

Adults who enter the program are required to commit one year to it. It takes a few weeks, or even months, for the relationship to really gel. Many times the kids have trouble trusting, and it takes time for them to bond to a new person in their life. The year goes by quickly, and if at the end of the year, for any reason, the adult needs to dissolve the match, they can. But most matches last much longer, even a lifetime. Children ages six through eighteen can be matched with a mentor, and they can stay in the program until they are twenty-one years old.

My Little Sister is sixteen years old now. I’ve known her for almost a year. I can’t imagine my life without her. We have a lot of fun together, going to plays and movies, cooking, and discovering different parts of the city. But the best times are when we just hang out and talk.

People come into our lives for a reason. We learn more from our relationships than we do from anything else. Diana came into my life when I was a child, and she’s still an important part of my life today. She’s family to me, and I love her. And now my Little Sister is an important part of my life, too, and I love her. I hope that I am helping her as much as Diana helped me, and that she will mentor someone when she has the opportunity. Relationships are the heartbeat of this world, and Big Brothers Big Sisters brings people together to make the world a better place.

Introductory video, Big Brothers Big Sisters Ventura County:

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