Looking Beyond What You See

Looking Beyond What You See

Reading Kay's words taught me that each soul in that room has depth, grace, and beauty well beyond what can be visualized with eyes.

Allegheny Morning

Allegheny Morning

In the mist there is clarity

In the quiet I can hear

Connecting with the Essence

Letting go of fear

In this moment

Feel my heart,

Beating, blessings be

In this moment

In my soul

I am free

The Essential Vulnerable Soul

Getting ready to visit with classmates that I haven't seen in over 40 years, there is a nervous feeling that looms over my being.  Niggling at my psyche are the thoughts of how I will be perceived; as the 17 year old skinny funny girl they knew in high school, who helped paint murals on the long walls of the high school halls, as the girl who enjoyed being in plays and singing in choir,  or as what they see on Facebook now, snippets of my life, my family, children, grandchildren, interests and passions? Do they even care or remember much? Do I even care or remember much about each of them?  

Before I encounter anyone I think about who will be attending and what I remember about them, "Oh yes, she was the 'cool girl,' the 'popular one,' the 'quiet one,' or even my friend from fourth grade when I moved into town on through high school."  They are combinations of all of the above and/or none at all. 

Walking into the restaurant I recognize one of the women from her Facebook page; she and another classmate wave, smile and we embrace as old friends do. I thank her for organizing the dinner and tell her how appreciative I am that she put it together just because I was making a cross country trip to walk down memory lane.  She smiles and says she is happy to make it happen. 

I sheepishly say to one of the men that I had to look him up in the yearbook as I could not place a face with his name.  Unfortunately there was not picture, and he goes on to tell me he left school at 16, got an apprenticeship as a baker and went on to open multiple successful bakeries in the area.  Under "education" on his facebook page is "School of Hard Knocks."  We share baked clams and a beer as we wait for the rest of the group to arrive.  We clink our glasses and all say 'It's SOOO good to see you."

More people walk in, some recognizing others, and some having to be prompted as to who is who.  Always there is the joyful sound of recognition and welcome, hugs and giggles and shrieks of happiness. We find our way to the table, playing musical chairs throughout dinner, so we can each share stories about what we remember about each other, classroom memories, teachers we loved, teachers we didn't love, boyfriends, girlfriends, sororities (yes, my high school had very active sororities) and all that high school was to us.  We talk about those who are not at this dinner with us that we miss, and hope that next time the group can be larger and more laughter and memories will be at the table.

As the evening continues, we share what has been happening these past decades, our joys and our struggles, our lifelong marriages and those marriages that did not last, our healthy children and our children with physical and cognitive challenges, where we've lived and where we want to be.  We are united by our vulnerability, and feel comfortable placing our hearts on our sleeves, knowing that we will be nurtured, nourished and strengthened by the kind souls before us.  Even if individually we weren't so close in high school, we now share a level of empathy that only time can create.  We have such a great time together that some of us continue to chat long into the night after dinner, and make promises to visit near and far, as we are spread across the country now.

If I was fearful before walking into the restaurant, I am now joyful for the great experience of the day.  Being vulnerable and brave enough to walk in a door to the unexpected and unknown enabled me to be open and ready to hear others' stories, to be, as Leo Buscalia says, the "listening ear" to those who were struggling or feeling fragile, as well as those who were celebrating and reminiscing.  By doing this each of us can be the vessel into which someone can place their most delicate thoughts, knowing we will be the keepers of this precious commodity of memory and heart.  Whether reuniting with high school friends of long ago, old friends or new friends or even family, holding space for others as they share their life's memories, struggles and stories is an intangible gift that is most meaningful to share.

The Essential Vulnerable Soul

Getting ready to visit with classmates that I haven't seen in over 40 years, there is a nervous feeling that looms over my being.  Niggling at my psyche are the thoughts of how I will be perceived; as the 17 year old skinny funny girl they knew in high school, who helped paint murals on the long walls of the high school halls, as the girl who enjoyed being in plays and singing in choir,  or as what they see on Facebook now, snippets of my life, my family, children, grandchildren, interests and passions? Do they even care or remember much? Do I even care or remember much about each of them?  

Before I encounter anyone I think about who will be attending and what I remember about them, "Oh yes, she was the 'cool girl,' the 'popular one,' the 'quiet one,' or even my friend from fourth grade when I moved into town on through high school."  They are combinations of all of the above and/or none at all. 

Walking into the restaurant I recognize one of the women from her Facebook page; she and another classmate wave, smile and we embrace as old friends do. I thank her for organizing the dinner and tell her how appreciative I am that she put it together just because I was making a cross country trip to walk down memory lane.  She smiles and says she is happy to make it happen. 

I sheepishly say to one of the men that I had to look him up in the yearbook as I could not place a face with his name.  Unfortunately there was not a picture, and he goes on to tell me he left school at 16, got an apprenticeship as a baker and went on to open multiple successful bakeries in the area.  Under "education" on his Facebook page is "School of Hard Knocks."  We share baked clams and a beer as we wait for the rest of the group to arrive.  We clink our glasses and all say 'It's SOOO good to see you."

More people walk in, some recognizing others, and some having to be prompted as to who is who.  Always there is the joyful sound of recognition and welcome, hugs and giggles and shrieks of happiness. We find our way to the table, playing musical chairs throughout dinner, so we can each share stories about what we remember about each other, classroom memories, teachers we loved, teachers we didn't love, boyfriends, girlfriends, sororities (yes, my high school had very active sororities) and all that high school was to us.  We talk about those who are not at this dinner that we miss, and hope that next time the group can be larger and more laughter and memories will be at the table.

As the evening continues, we share what has been happening these past decades, our joys and our struggles, our lifelong marriages and those marriages that did not last, our healthy children and our children with physical and cognitive challenges, where we've lived and where we want to be.  We are united by our vulnerability, and feel comfortable placing our hearts on our sleeves, knowing that we will be nurtured, nourished and strengthened by the kind souls before us.  Even if individually we weren't so close in high school, we now share a level of empathy that only time can create.  We have such a great time together that some of us continue to chat long into the night after dinner, and make promises to visit near and far, as we are spread across the country now.

If I was fearful before walking into the restaurant, I am now joyful for the great experience of the day.  Being vulnerable and brave enough to walk in a door to the unexpected and unknown enabled me to be open and ready to hear others' stories, to be, as Leo Buscalia says, the "listening ear" to those who were struggling or feeling fragile, as well as those who were celebrating and reminiscing.  By doing this, each of us can be the vessel into which someone can place their most delicate thoughts, knowing we will be the keepers of this precious commodity of memory and heart.  Whether reuniting with high school friends of long ago, old friends or new friends or even family, holding space for others as they share their life's memories, struggles and stories is an intangible gift that is most meaningful to give and to receive..

Kindness - Old Fashioned, Yet Timeless

When I was young and I asked my father what he wanted for his birthday, he would say "a kind word."  What a strange request, my young mind thought.

Now that I have many years and life experiences behind me, I realize this was and is a completely rational and wonderful request.  Think about it; look on your Facebook page, on the news feed, on Twitter...how much is kind and how much is nasty.  The world is filled with haters, AND the world is filled with promise as well.  We cannot choose what others post, but we can choose what we take in and what we ignore.  

One friend has chosen to fill her Facebook page with "A Month of Bunnies."  Another has chosen to ask friends and family to fill their pages with music. Still more choose to post affirmations of all sorts.  All of this in response to the negativity that floats around cyberspace. It gives me hope. Thirty two years since my dad's passing; his request was not so strange, after all.

Let's encourage each other to uplift one another, to strive to bring joy into the world, whether as an antidote to negative postings, or just for its own sake.  And guess what; you can even dismiss the idea of doing this through social media.  Try smiling at a stranger, listening to a friend, or even sharing a kind word.  And feel free to leave these thoughts and actions on my comment page so they can be shared with others.  Dad would be so happy.

A Nature Inspired Poem

It is no coincidence that my best inspiration to write comes when I am out in nature.  I spent the past few days at a friend's cabin in the woods of Michigan, where each morning was started with a warm cup of tea and the view of the lake just footsteps away.  Hearing the loons call from one side of the lake to the other, and the squirrels chattering in the trees was rejuvenating.  Even a summer thunderstorm was welcome and cleansing for body and soul.

I offer these words and wish that you, too, have moments of peace, time in nature, and contentment within, today and always. With love and laughter, Caryl

There is a rhythm in nature
As trees hold out their limbs
And dance with the breeze
And feel so at ease
There is a rhythm in nature
As birds converse and sing their songs
And tell their secrets and fly along
There is a rhythm in nature
As we take in each breath
And sway with the trees
And sing with the birds
And dance with the bees
 
 

 

Don't Rock the Boat Girl & Other Ridiculous Things I Was Told Growing Up And How I Turned It All Around

I grew up in a house in the 1960's and 70's suburbs of NY that seemed very normal to me for the most part; listen to your parents, respect your teachers, be kind.  One part of my upbringing that I believed to be routine at the time was that as a girl, my needs would be taken care of by a man down the line.  Don't rock the boat and all will be well.  Don't be contrary.  If you don't have anything kind to say, don't say it at all.  For many, many years I bought into that and was content.  I did marry a wonderful man, who to this day, takes care of many of my needs, and supports me with all the entreprenurial ideas I have to do good in the world, no questions asked, just as I support him.  I am thankful every day for our mutually caring relationship.  I have supported him through good times and bad as well over the past 36 years, and wouldn't change a thing in our lives.

What I have come to realize very recently is that those 'rules' I grew up with had a flip side, an unsaid undertone, that squelched my very essence.  A tone that discouraged me from being the person I was meant to be, from having my voice heard indpendently.  Ironic as is sounds, it was with my husband's encouragement and support that I found my own voice, and discovered the talents that lurked beneath a quiet surface. Let's look at these one by one...

"Don't Rock The Boat and All Will Be Well"  Today, I see this as 'women can be seen but not heard.'

"Don't Be Contrary"  Today, I see this as 'your opinion is not important.'

"If You Don't Have Anything Kind to Say, Don't Say it At All."  Today, I hear this as "if you don't agree with me, I don't want to hear it."

So as a young woman, I was terrified to voice my opinion, I was not encouraged to have my thoughts heard.  I went through my freshman and sophomore years of college taking 'incompletes' in classes that required oral reports, and ultimately dropped out, to the great disappointment of my parents.  I kept my opinions and my dreams to myself for a very long time.

In the mid 1990's I had the opportunity, through my synagogue, to be part of an interfaith dialogue.  This opened a world to me.  Jews, Christians, Muslims, Sikh, Bahai and more interacted and grew from getting to know one another, sharing rituals and food and holidays and celebrations.   Through this program I was approached to talk to a group about the experience, along with my Sikh counterpart.  I said 'sure' not knowing what was ahead. I can share with you that it was an experience that changed my life, opened my heart to knowing that what I had to say mattered, was welcome and was beautiful.

At a luncheon at the Chicago Hilton, I was transformed from a quiet, sort of shy person to a person with a message of hope, connection and spirit.  The group was large; 1,000 people that gathered for the Parliament of the World Religions meeting.  Surinderpal, my Sikh partner, and I talked about our interactions, sharing holidays, visiting each others' temples and most importantly, getting to know one another on a personal level.  Words came easily, and speaking to a crowd was a pleasure, as it was all words from the heart.

This was the beginning of my profession as a speaker, and more importantly, my beginning of validation of my worth.  I didn't know it then, but as a reflect today, it is loud and clear.  When you speak from your heart about any topic, you are received with love, your words are accepted as meaningful, and most of all, your opinion is respected.

With all do respect to those that raised me in a time when young women were still be encouraged to be passive and quiet, I say...We as women positively are welcome and encouraged to be seen and heard.  Our opinions do matter and carry weight.  Rocking the boat every now and then gets everyone out of their comfort zone, and opens the door to new ways of viewing the world, of viewing each other.  It doesn't have to be nasty, it just has to be honest.  I love to hear other voices, and I love to hear my own.  Finally, I am satisfied that I am heard.  And it is good.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Best Seat on the Plane

Flying back from Florida where I celebrated my mom's 93rd birthday, I felt grateful for many reasons.  Having Mom here on this earth is one, being able to take the time to visit often, having a good relationship with my family, all add up to a great visit.  And the trip is enhanced when it starts with a good seat on the plane.

This trip and airline experience did not start out that well.  I was originally seated at the very rear of the plane (not good for me) in an aisle seat (good for me).  A man whose family was sitting next to me approached and asked if I'd like to trade seats with him; he was seated on the aisle in row 8.  Fantastic!  It was a win for everyone; he gets to sit with his family and I get to sit just behind first class.  Fabulous.  Or so I thought.

Our plane had arrived at the gate with only 30 minutes til departure, so staff was stressed to get the plane cleaned, get us seated and off the gate.  If the airline is late off the gate they pay a penalty.  With just 15 minutes to go it appeared to me that everyone was boarded and seated.  As I approached the front of the plane to seat my self in aisle seat 8, I see more passengers (probably stand by) boarding, and the seat I thought I had is now occupied. A flight attendant firmly states that we need to take our seats as soon as possible for an on time gate departure. I explain my situation and she sends me back to my original seat, which is now occupied by the kind man who wanted to sit with his family.  Now I don't have a seat at all.  In the meantime, there seems to be some confusion over a number of people's seats and the flight attendant is barking orders to be seated.  I explain my situation and she says now there is a seat in row 8, but its a middle seat.  Being quite mindful that I don't want to be a pain, I explain that I need the aisle seat.  In her stress to get going, she finds me an aisle again in the back of the plane.  I resign myself to not make eye contact with this flight attendant as I feel she has been unprofessional and kind of rude.  We take off and all is well.

Soon after take off and at our max altitude, the same flight attendant approaches me and explains that an airline employee (non-rev passenger) took the 8 aisle seat, and she will ask him to move to the rear so I can have that seat.  She is apologetic, as am I, as I might have been short with words earlier on as well.  She says she's been flying for 30 years and nothing bothers her anymore, she just wanted to make my trip a pleasant one.  We continue to chat (I decided to remain in my rear of the plane seat instead of moving around) and have some good laughs over being stressed.  It all turns out well.  My seat was fine.

Looking through my bag for reading materials I discover that I have a 'laughter pill,' a plush toy, purple and orange colored, that when squeezed emits a 3 year old child's laughter.  It is the great diffuser for problem situations, fear, annoyance, etc.  I decide to gift this to the flight attendant when deplaning.  When I approach her, we both smile and I say thank you very much for coming back and talking with me, and that I am grateful for this kindness.  In return I give her the laughter pill and suggest that she use it when she has unruly passengers or just for fun with the staff.  She is clearly moved by the gesture and hugs and kisses me.  I am moved my her response.  A great ending to a flight that didn't start off so well, and a great beginning of a weekend of celebration.  Not to mention a fun story to share.

So what can start off as a stressful situation, when tempered by honest, vulnerable communication, can be turned around to be a great experience, a kind exchange and a memorable moment.  There is always room for joy.

ADVENTURES IN MINDFULNESS

ADVENTURES IN MINDFULNESS

June 22, 2016

 

My eight week journey to mindfulness, meditation and yoga via the Insight Center of Chicago, with facilitator Chris Chroniak and the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course, came to an end as my last class convened this week.  Gratitude is in abundance for this learning experience. 

My journey of yoga, meditation and mindfulness will continue on, for as long as my life time gifts me.  It is fluid and ever changing.  Having travelled the yogic path on and off for decades, it is interesting to observe my relationship with the path over time.  In sharing this story, I hope you see the possibilities, the simplicity AND feel the depth of contentment of travel on the winding road of mindfulness.

In my twenties, I discovered yoga at a studio in a three story walk up in Queens, NY.  At that time my concern was doing it ‘right,’ being able to keep up with my classmates and learning a new skill.  Sun Salutation was ‘it.’  Even then, my thin, lithe body was not able to bend in ways required to be proficient at this yoga flow.  But I persevered, enjoyed and grew from the experience.  And then, I went away for a while.

We moved across the country, became parents and began the every day experience of raising children.  Through that I learned that life, as John Lennon said, “is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”  The unexpected often appeared when I was least prepared.  In these younger years, I wish I knew more of the meditative experience of yoga, both to calm myself as an exhausted parent, and to teach my children how to calm themselves down when life got overwhelming. For much of their early years, formal practice was not part of my life.  Nor did I yet understand the connection of the asanas of yoga to meditation and the breath.

 

Soon I learned that doing the asanas, or specific yoga movements, was only one arm of an eight limbed philosophy of yoga.  The breath, too, was a significant portion of the experience. But still, I was relatively young, now in my late 30’s and ready to incorporate specific breathing into my poses.  Now my challenging pose was triangle, and the teacher at the time felt the right way was to get one arm completely down to the ankle in the pose while the other arm was raised above to the sky.  She also was not aware of props or doing what your body permits.  Even teachers need to learn. <smile>.

Feeling like a failure from that class, I left yoga and travelled on other paths, the path of health club exercise, the path of my own faith, and joined an interfaith group to learn about others.  Time passed, children grew, jobs came and went.  Yoga was not at the top of my to-do list, for a very long time.

I rediscovered yoga and the serenity it offers in my 50’s.  I had an outstanding, unique teacher named Wendy.  She had small classes, so there was lots of personal attention. When we stretched out in savassanah at the end of our class, it was more than the corpse pose, it was as important as the vinyasa flow we stretched and worked in.  With Wendy, I also learned about ahimsa, honoring my body.  So the idea of not being able to do a pose went away, as there were blocks and straps and cushions and bolsters and blankets to support me in my efforts.  What an eye opening experience!  I also learned about restorative yoga (a personal favorite), chair yoga and gentle yoga.  And meditation.  LOTS of meditation, combining breathing with ‘letting go.’  Not letting go in the sense of emptying your mind; I am not sure there is anyone who is breathing that can honestly say they can do that.  But to see your thoughts as just that, things that come and things that go, like the clouds in the sky on a warm summer day.  I learned to not be attached to my thoughts, and to be more of an observer of them.  THIS is yoga, THIS is mediation and the use of the breath.  It is interconnected and one and many things.  Yes, all of those.

I also discovered at this time in my life that yoga can be any stretch, when it is done with intention, kindness and alignment.  We can create our own vinyasa flow, our own series of movements that serve our individual bodies.  It is good, it is necessary and it is something I encourage others to do, too.  And breathing; a very good thing to do if you want to remain alive.  ALL of this is yoga.  All of this is meditation.  All of this is part of being mindful.

So I came and went on my yogic path; sometimes stayed for a long time, other times left for a decade.  The most important part is not that I went away for a while; it was that I returned.  The most wonderful part of practicing yoga, is just that, practice.  Try and try again.  Come to each session with what yogis’ call ‘beginner’s mind,’ as if it was fresh and new for the very first time.  Begin again.  What a gift that is.

And now, as my journey with my new friends at The Insight Center comes to an end, and our MBSR class is over. I create my own road to continued contentment, with my own meditations, mindful practices and yogic stretches.  Most mornings I do “bird meditation.”   I sit in my zen room - yes, I created one in my new home; it has African dundun drums, a tea table from Thailand, lots of Buddha incarnations, a southwest ladder to nowhere draped with mala beads; it’s a place that is truly sacred.  I sit in my zen room and pull up the window shades to expose my bird feeders and all the happy feathered beings that enjoy the bounty.  Watching them I feel peace, I feel all is right in the world, as they move forward and do what they have to do to survive.  While I watch them come and go, I do what I now know I need to do to survive the waves of my life; I breathe deeply, often saying a prayer of being thankful for reaching this moment.  And once again I am on the path.  I enjoy the moment that I am in, as it is the only one I have.  Namaste.

In Silence, We Can Hear Our Own Voice

Yesterday I attended my very first day long silent retreat.  Before the event I was thinking, “How will I be able to NOT talk when there are 50 people around me?  Will I be okay in silence for so long?  What is the instructor going to have us do – yoga, meditation, what else?  How can we fill eight hours of time without communicating?”

As I often find, worrying about something like this before it occurs usually is for naught, and so it was with this retreat.  It was part of the eight week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program I am currently participating in. 

What I found was that eight hours in silence, in a variety of walking, sitting and moving meditations and yoga, I found freedom.  Freedom to hear my own inner voice.  And surprisingly, even with no talking and no eye contact with others, an amazing connection with those like minded individuals. 

Our time was scheduled with our instructor doing the talking to lead us.  The only unscheduled time we had was our lunch hour, in which we still needed to maintain the silence and reduced eye contact, as well as no technology, i.e. phone time.  This was the most challenging.  However, the silence gave me an opportunity to really be alone with myself, and with that came the following words, which I now consider a great gift.  These words encompass the gift of sitting in silence, the gift of allowing the creative mind to come forth and be heard.  I am grateful for the opportunity to hear my soul sing.  And now, in reflection from the day, I offer them to you.

Silence (written at silent lunch at MBSR 6/12/16 retreat)

I sit in silence;

I am connected with those who, too, wish to listen

Not through words

But through the beating of hearts

Side by side.

In our silence,

In our gaze beyond what we can see

To a place that is contentment,

To a place that is our individual peace.

How often it is that we seek this place, this peace,

Somewhere “out there” beyond where we are,

When in our heart and soul we know

It is right before us,

WITHIN.  –Caryl Derenfeld

A Letter of Gratitude

A Letter of Gratitude (written 3 years ago but still so relevant today)

 

Standing on the shoulders of my peers, teachers, friends and loved ones; the ones who have taught and reminded me about resilience, confidence and love; the ones who have told me all I need I already have, so go out and share it, I presented "Laughter - The Rhythm of Happiness" to the lovely participants at the TOPS convention in Santa Clara, California on June 1, 2013. It was a 90 minute talk and activity about using positive emotions and sustained laughter as a stress relief tool. About an hour before going on stage, while reviewing slides and speech, I was flop sweating so much I thought I'd pass out from dehydration or slide across the stage floor in a puddle of my own sweat. And those would not have been the laughs I was looking to share.

 

Thankfully the sweat did not appear. I fell into a full flow of genuine love and desire to share what I know about Positive Psychology and the power of sustained laughter. It was well received as the audience participated wholeheartedly in the discussion and laughter session; they listened to the words of great laughter innovators such as Annette Goodheart and Madan Kataria, and Positive Psychologist researchers Barbara Fredrickson and Tal Ben Shahar. They played, they danced, they sang joyfully. They welcomed the quiet of meditation, and asked great questions as we wrapped up. They enjoyed the new laughter toys and asked when I will be selling my video, so they can share it with their groups at home. I don't yet have a video, but did videotape the event, so will be working on that quite soon. I gladly returned home with homework to create a video and a desire to begin a weekly blog. Gratitude and thanks to all TOPS members for being the joy fueled souls that you are.

 

Genuinely pleased and a bit overwhelmed by the response, all I can think is GRATITUDE to so many; my teachers and peers at CIPP at Kripalu; particularly Maria Sirois, Donna Marino, Scott Simon, Tal Ben Shahar, all the CJAMMI's (you know who you are) and everyone that participated in Laughter Yoga at the immersions. You are all my 'confidence boosters.' Much thanks goes to my husband, Carl Derenfeld, who has always been my cheerleader, and this day was my Audio Visual Master, too. To Sebastien Gendry, Linda LeClerc, Jeffrey Briar, Laura Gentry, Debbie Friend, Sue Carter Ansari and Madan Kataria, Melanie Rudolph, Ina Lukas and Jason Freeman, all who introduced me to the great world of Laughter Yoga, trained with me and encouraged me to pursue its great lessons and share those with the world. And to my yoga teacher, Wendy Silvers, who has taught me that yoga is so much more than asanas on the mat; it is meant to be lived every moment as we walk through each day of our lives.

And much gratitude goes to you, each and every one who reads the Joy Fueled Souls blog. Thank you for taking time in your busy world, with email filled mailboxes to open, to read and share this information. I'd love to get your feedback, too. You can comment at the bottom of the blog or write on the “contact” page any thoughts or suggestions that you may have. May we all continue to feel truly blessed and be grateful everyday of our lives.

Change Your Posture, Change Your Attitude

The simple task of how we stand, how we present ourselves, can not only change how others perceive us;  it can also change how we perceive ourselves.  Just as in laughter yoga, we can 'fake it to make it' when it comes to public speaking, job interviews, or other challenging situations. This is not at all about being phony.  It is about convincing our own minds through the movement of our bodies. Copy and paste the link below to enjoy this outstanding TED talk by social psychologist Amy Cuddy.  As Tim Curry said in "The Rocky Horror Show,"  "Don't dream it, be it."

https://youtu.be/Ks-_Mh1QhMc

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Great Family, Great Visit - Why Am I Stressed?

I am coming down from three weeks of mega activity that consisted of presenting “Laughter – Keeping You Young At Heart” at the Alabama Gerontological Society, then spending a few days with my daughter and grandson at a water park, then hosting my 93-year-old mother, my brother from California and 87-year-old mother in law from Florida for both holiday celebrations and our grandson’s third birthday.

Each of these individually were joyous opportunities that I cherish dearly. So why did I feel stressed?  Speaking to almost 200 people about the benefits of a daily laughter practice is my passion, and sharing it was such a receptive crowd of social workers and others that care for seniors and others in need is the icing on the cake of my work life.

After flying home from that great event, I got to spend three days splashing and going down water slides with my grandson, and enjoying quiet evening time with my daughter, watching my boy take his first pony ride and indulge in syrupy pancakes every day for breakfast.  Precious moments, indeed.

The fact that Mom and my mother in law could fly independently from Florida to Chicago is incredible and wonderful, and I count my blessings that four generations could be together to celebrate my grandson’s birthday (by the way, my grandson has FOUR great grandmothers – pretty awesome!).  This incredible scenario is not lost on me.

Having my brother travel from California to Chicago was also a great opportunity, as he doesn’t get this way often. 

All great stuff, right?  Agreed.  However, together in succession they provided both great happiness AND great stress.  What????  Yes, even happy situations can cause us stress and difficulty, and it’s up to us to find the balance in it all.  Not always an easy task.

Now that everyone is back in their respective homes, I can relish in the memories of these past weeks.  What I come to realize is that I CREATE THE STRESS – in that I worry about pleasing everyone; mother, mother in law, brother, grandchild, daughter, and of course, my own husband.  The mere fact that he was not mentioned in the above gives me stress, too, as we both worked so hard at making everything wonderful for our guests that we forgot about being wonderful for ourselves. 

It is only in retrospect that I realized we each need to nurture ourselves amidst the joy and chaos of a houseful of visiting family.  When we do that, we can create contentment within and watch it shine on to those around us.  We have the innate ability to balance the self-created stress, with self-created love.  And we don’t have to wait until everyone goes home.  We can do this every day.

The simplest activity is to BREATHE.  Yes, we do that unconsciously, but when we are bustling about making sure everyone else is happy, our breath may be shallow.  By taking deliberately deep breaths, that fill our lungs, enrich our blood that courses throughout our bodies, up to our brains, we stimulate the parasympathetic nerve system, which according to GoodTherapy.org “plays a vital role in maintaining both mental and physical health by helping the body to calm down from stress reactions that elevate blood pressure, dilate the pupils and divert energy from other processes to fighting or fleeing.”  

Aaaaahhhhh.  So simple.  No pills or gym equipment needed to destress; just our own bodies.  Just our ability to breathe in and breathe out.  How awesome each of us is; we don’t always appreciate our abilities that are right before us.  Makes me think of Shakespeare (and to those of us of a certain age, the music from “Hair”).  “What a piece of work is a man. How noble in reason.  How infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable…”

So next time you are feeling stressed, in whatever situation comes before you, good or bad, know you have the ability to reconnect with your essence.  Take five minutes; a bathroom break even, and just breathe deep.  Your heart and soul will experience happiness and joy. And those around you will benefit from your calm energy.  Namaste.

Joyful thoughts continued...

Just found this wonderful TEDx program on finding joy in your heartspace.  Enjoy!!!  Follow this link...https://youtu.be/NgFczqJuklg

What Does JOY Mean To You?


One of the key essences of Laughter Yoga is connecting with your own personal joy. Recently I asked friends and colleagues around the world what 'joy' means to them; how would they describe it? What would it look like? Many beautiful answers surfaced and I'd like to share some with you as you contemplate your own answers to these questions.


Kathy in Austrailia says Joy is "loving unconditionally, loving all aspects of ourselves and appreciating all the varieties of contrasts in the world around us."


Deniz from Turkey says if she had to illustrate the concept of joy she would "would hug you and laugh looking into your eyes with love and what we share would reveal reveal how joy looks."


Kristen Jo from Virginia says "Joy to me is when I feel connected to others and love unconditionally; I truly feel we are one. Laughter Yoga helps initiate this process and keeps it growing and glowing inside and out."


Hanna in Finland says "To me joy means... I am safe, I know who I am, life goes on and the world is good, I am walking to the beat of my own drum..."


And finally, Vijaya of India says " Joy is when you assume Nothing, do more, smile often, dream big, laugh a lot and realize how blessed you are. ..."

I was blessed and felt quite joyful this past Thursday and Friday as I attended the Alabama Gerontological Society's annual event in Birmingham.  It was a pleasure to present "Laughter - Keeping You Young At Heart" as the closing program.  Southern charm, meeting new people, and sharing laughters' great benefits for mind, body and spirit made for a great first time visit to Alabama.  Visiting Birmingham Botanic Gardens was the icing the cake of a great experience.


Joy resides in us all and resonates in so many ways; confirming that life is good, in sharing genuine moments with a new friend, in connecting us to one another and in the recognition of how truly blessed we are. As adults, we must remember in our hectic and stressful everyday world to connect with our joy, whether it is by laughing often, or dancing to our hearts content,or taking a moment to meditate, listen to our breath, or all of the above. All these joyful things will balance and improve our lives. Wishing you love and laughter always, Caryl

The Wisdom of The Orchid

The Wisdom of The Orchid

 

I went to the Botanic Garden recently and in my possession was a flowerless, wrinkly leaved orchid plant I had received as a housewarming gift in July of 2013.  My quest, or so I thought, was to talk with experts at the garden to see if my plant was still viable.  Little did I know that this visit would turn into a life lesson on patience and perseverance that reached far beyond taking care of an orchid.

This orchid was the first in my possession that stayed alive for so long, as I had very little knowledge of how to care for it beyond the instructions included in the pot, which were kind of odd, given that an orchid naturally grows in hot, humid environment and doesn’t need to ‘cool off.”  It just needs water, as all living things do, to exist.  “Place three pieces of ice on it once a week” it said; there was no mention of fertilizer or repotting or tropical plants freezing from ice.  Following these directions, it had flowered constantly for two years. Success!  However, for the last six months had been barren of flowers, and in the last number of months some of its bright green leaves began to shrivel and wither.

Luckily the Orchid Show was in full bloom at the Garden (insert groan for pun here), and there were many people from which I could receive reassurance that all was well with my plant.  Just add a bit more water, remove it from its decorative pot, let it drain, and it will thrive.  ‘Lose the “Ice” idea,’ they said.  My instincts were right; give it space and keep it warm.

As the conversation with the experts continued, they placed a plant before me that had interesting cane like stems with variegated design and flowers that were pale pink and beginning to fade.  It is the plant in the picture at the beginning of this story.  I commented on how lovely it was and how its’ cane (found out the flowers are on canes not stems) reminded me of a beautiful snake.  In the animal spirit world, snakes are a sign of great transformation and positive change. This notion totally changed my feeling about snakes from creepy crawly things that I didn’t want to encounter, to creatures that shed their skin, recreate themselves and grow anew through the seasons.  An admirable thought for us humans to consider as our bodies age and change.  The Orchid Society professional and flora rescuer shared that she found this orchid in a dumpster, as someone had deemed it not ‘show worthy’ or good enough for display.  She brought it to their booth, knowing they would find the right person to nurture it and encourage it to thrive.  I commented that I admired her tenacity to keep it alive.  She then gifted it to me.  Wow.

What did this woman see in me that made her know that this plant had found its next home and caregiver?  I don’t know the exact answer, but I do know they supplied me with information about the two different orchids now in my possession, the one I brought with me being in the Phalaenopsis family and one saved from the dumpster of the Dendrobium variety.  I hope I can do the Orchid Society proud.  And I thought that was the end of this story.  Then I realized she something more.

This story goes way beyond taking care of flowering flora.  Orchids teach us perseverance and patience, as I learned that we need to nurture it when it’s not displaying its best outward appearance; we have to wait a considerable amount of time for its inner beauty to reveal itself.  So it is with people; I particularly think about this as we go through the teenage years with our children.  Gosh, they can be so annoying, as we to them, but eventually we appreciate each other as time and wisdom blossoms within each of us.

The snake-like design of the cane reminded me that we all have the ability to transform to something new with each new season.  We can shed what is no longer needed and create anew on a regular basis.

And that the Orchid Society person saw something beautiful in this plant that someone else had dismissed as worthless; she saw its inner beauty and potential.  So it is with people; we need to look beyond the surface to envision what is yet to come.

 

Welcome to Joy Fueled Souls and Soul Stirrings Blog

Welcome everyone.  The Joy Fueled Souls website is officially up and running, as is the Souls Stirrings blog! I am so glad you are joining me on this journey of self awareness and joy.  Weekly blog posts will consist of musings of the week, some personal, some profound and some just plain silly.   More to come soon.   I thank you and am humbled by your sharing this with friends and family and colleagues.  Sending love, laughter and light to each and every one.  Blessings for the week.