Connected to the power of the full moon

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Did you know this January we had two full moons? What an amazing way to start the New Year. The cosmic energy is shining upon us. Yes, that sounds like something a crazy astrologer would say. Have I become that crazy myself? I surely hope so.

Women are connected to the moon on a monthly basis. Our patriarchal society disregards our periods as something of which to be ashamed. They have created special medications to counteract the communication (and yes, power, especially power) that our female bodies offer us women on a monthly basis. Sadly, we have bought into the system. Just look at some of the names by which we call our menses and you will agree with me how derogatory we all have made it look.

But what if we turn the stories we tell ourselves around, and start embracing our bodies and its power with every full moon?

I clearly remember the day I got my period.

The year was 1978, the month was March, and the day was Sunday the 26th. It was Easter, and my grandparents were visiting my house as we were having a big feast for the day. That was 40 years ago. Exactly.

At some point I felt something in my pants, and I excused myself and got up to go to the bathroom. I found some blood on my undies, and immediately called my mom. It was not a total surprise as I was 13 and some of my friends already had their periods. But it was a surprise to me. I felt confused, and did not know what to do. I also felt a bit embarrassed, and did not want my mom to tell anybody.

When I came out of the bathroom and back to the table, everyone looked at me different. Not because I had changed, which I had. I just knew they knew. My mom had betrayed my secret. With time I understood that she was proud of her youngest daughter becoming a young adult woman and very eager to share the news. But at the time I was angry with her.

Everyone congratulated me like something awesome had happened. I was not able to grasp the wonderful miracle of the moment. It took some time to understand the awesomeness of having a period, and like an unripe green fruit, I needed some sunshine, warmth, and time to become ripe and ready.

My relationship with my period changed over the years. At the beginning it was a bother. Later, in my teen years, it became an excuse. During my adulthood it converted into a secret power.

My blood always told me things. My body has always communicated with me. We are all born with the ability to listen to its sublime messages. Although I lost the innate ability to listen to it as the years went on, and I became more trained to listen to my head and less to my body, my intuition has always been really strong. So my body kept speaking to me loud and clear when I needed it the most, so I would pay attention again.

Around the time I was trying to get pregnant, I started bleeding a bit between periods. It was more of a spot that the doctors said was normal. I knew my body and knew it was not normal. The problem became not that I was bleeding between periods, but that as the years went by, I could not get pregnant. They tested me for a lot of problems, and all the tests came back negative and normal. Nobody could explain why I was not getting pregnant, let alone my in-between-periods bleeding.

When I found a tumor in my breast, and eventually was diagnosed with breast cancer, the spotting between periods stopped. I never bled between periods again, for the next 10 years. Then, in the fall of 2010 I started bleeding between periods again. I got scared as I knew what my body was communicating with me again. My knee hurt as well. All signs of changes that needed to happen. But I was scared of changes. Eventually, I went to have some tests, and indeed my cancer had returned and spread to my bones, and they found other tumors related to the breast cancer. As soon as I was diagnosed I stopped bleeding between periods. I finally listened to the message, so the bleeding stopped.

The main point of this is not to be scared when your body sends messages. On the contrary, the key element is that, if you pay attention, your body will communicate with you what it needs and indicate what direction to take. Every cell in your body wants to be well, healthy, and for you to thrive. We have many talents we were born with, and our bodies will always point us into the right direction, so we can be the best possible version of ourselves.

In 2011, my ovaries were removed from my body. This removal was a collateral damage to treating the cancer. I mourned my ovaries with great grief. First, I was angry at them. Eventually, I let them go with sadness and thankfulness. This meant the end of my period and the beginning of my menopause. This is the time in a woman’s life when the period ends, and her body goes into a great deal of hormonal changes and soul transformation. It results in great wisdom and power. Unfortunately, most people do not see it that way.

I am so thankful to my body for all the work it has done to carry my soul, my being, and the person I am. I am especially thankful to my period, which through the years helped me connect to the moon, and remind me that I am part of this earth and this universe, and that I have extraordinary powers within me.

Do you remember the first time you got your period? Do you remember when your daughter had her first period? Or do you know the story of when your partner had her first period? I invite you to celebrate these stories under the full moon this week. Feel the power!

Learning to let go

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There is no a better time to make resolutions than the New Year. Celebrations all around–which as far as we know date back four millennia–acknowledge the end of the year as a circle coming to a full close, while infinite possibilities lay in front of us. In many parts of the world, traditional New Year’s dishes signal the wishes for good fortune for the twelve months to come.

The inevitable end of the calendar year is the perfect time to start a new practice of “letting go.” Letting go starts with making a choice. Whether you want to let go of weight, material stuff, feelings, or that box of old sentimental stuff taking space in your basement, letting go has to be a conscious decision based on the belief that you will feel better and lighter, healthier and happier, without all that baggage.

What do we want to let go of? Well, I have few ideas for myself. What about you?

My first step in letting go is simply to pay attention.

I have to pay attention to the way sometimes my breathing is very shallow. This happens to many of us through the day. In fact, take a moment right now to breathe really deep. Come on, close your eyes and take at least three deep breaths through your nose! Let the air circle around your chest, your stomach, your back, and let go of the air through your mouth. Remind yourself to do this several times a day. Letting go consciously of the carbon dioxide is a good reminder to also let go of all of the toxins in our lives.

Second, I have to let go of the nagging voice in my head that pushes me down constantly; voices that say I ate too much yesterday, or that I did not finish that project this week, or that I did not call my aunt to wish her happy holidays, or that I am not good enough, or pretty enough, or smart enough, or young enough or skillful enough, or the best mother or lover or daughter. Anything that we constantly tell ourselves but that we would never tell our best friend… has to go. Every time you start thinking about something that will push you down, press an imaginary CANCEL button, and stop right there. This takes awareness, and sometimes we are not even conscious of the way we limit ourselves with our own beliefs. So pay attention, and start talking to yourself with kindness and compassion.

Third, I need to let go of the preconceived expectations I have based on the results of previous experiences. Yes, the past teaches us, if we are paying attention, not to trip on the same bump in the sidewalk that twisted my ankle the last time. Instead, I’ll walk just a little to the right of it or step clearly over it. However, those past experiences sometimes prevent us from going out again altogether. Let go of those worries. Approach every situation anew. Follow your intuition and your heart, and trust that the outcomes are going to be beneficial, even if they are not what you wanted at the moment. Remember that for the flowers to bloom they need dirt and compost first. Who knows, you may be surprised that the bump in the sidewalk has been fixed.

Fourth, forgive and forget. We have to start with ourselves, because when we are at peace with who we are, and how awesome and unique we all are, whatever others do to us become really their problem and not ours. But to be able to pull that off one needs a lot of self-love and self-esteem, and time, which heals, if you cooperate with it.

To truly forgive and forget we need to be able to accept that we only have one part of the story, our own perspective. It really helps if we can change our perspective, our limited point of view, and put ourselves compassionately in the shoes of the other person. It just feels good to let go of resentment, because we are really only hurting ourselves. Some tactics that may help with that are: smashing eggs against a fence or in your own shower (so the mess is easier to clean), breaking bottles in the recycling bin, or writing what we feel on a piece of paper and then burning the words together with our resentment. I also do martial arts. Kicking, punching and screaming are very therapeutic. These physical activities help us to overcome painful strong feelings and the stress caused by them.

I have always had a nostalgic dimension to my persona (it is part cultural), and oftentimes I have found myself feeling a wistful yearning for the happiness that could have been but was not. These feelings assault me with more intensity when I see my two daughters growing up. Now one is a teenager, and the other is getting there faster than I can hold her hand. I often miss their childhood and wish that I could have been in a better place to enjoy it more fully. Struggling with cancer diagnoses, surgeries, fear, and the shame, insecurities, and powerless feelings of living with an alcoholic in the family, at times makes me hold on too tight to guilty feelings about their childhood.

My daily Qigong practice, deep breathing, talking to myself with respect, and feeling powerful and adequate, are a few of the things that help me overcome my own nostalgic, delirious feelings on a daily basis. I have to remind myself of the cancel button when my mind goes off to negative places. I have learned to enjoy my family for who we are today without much worrying about where we will be tomorrow. It is a very freeing way of living. Whatever the situation, we have power to do something for ourselves.

Little changes are much more doable than a long wishful list of impossibilities. Start small, but start today. Happy New Year!

 

 

Happy Winter Solstice!

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Winter is here. Depending on where you live, you may have put your mittens out to dry, and are enjoying a cup of something hot while watching the snow fall through the window. Sounds good, right? If you have already slowed down, sipped some hot ginger tea (or hot cocoa, why not?), and sat down to savor the quietness of winter, congratulations to you.

Many people suffer from winter blues. The lack of light and the intense cold in the northern hemisphere during this time can be wearing. This is a natural process, and your awesome body is just telling you it is time to take it easier, pay attention, and rest. Are you game?

If we look at nature, we will see that everything slows down during winter. The animals retreat after a busy autumn gathering food and preparing for a long cold season. The trees are also in peace, many after having let go of all their leaves. Underground, beautiful processes of new life are in the making. In the meantime, we should sit and wait . . .

Unfortunately, that is not what our modern society has taught us to do during winter, especially the holidays. On the contrary, December has become a very busy time of the year, not only in the United States, but many parts of the world. And there is a reason why. If we look into a bit of history, we will find that our ancestors recognized the importance of winter and revered it.

Many cultures around the world have celebrated the winter solstice since time immemorial. From ancient Rome (the Festival of Saturnalia) to the Chinese celebration of Dongzhi, just to mention two, older cultures recognized the winter solstice as an important astronomical occurrence. Even festivities like Saint Lucia, Hanukah, and Christmas, with their importance on the use of lights, has been influenced by the longest night of the year.

In many of these festivities, gifts were exchanged, but surely our predecessors were not frantically shopping in malls, and driving while texting. These celebrations were understood more as a freedom from the necessity to work. Resting was imperative. However, today even our “holidays” have lost their “holy” meaning, and have become an excuse to do more instead of less.

We barely acknowledge any longer the dark side of winter. Our modern world just focuses on the cheerful side of the jolly, the “Hallmark” picture-perfect side of the season, leaving a great number of the people on the outskirts feeling isolated, and lonely.

Why not take a moment in your busy holiday schedule to rest and be mindful of the season without spending so much of your energy? Go back to the root of the celebrations and take some time to energize your kidney, which reigns in winter, by doing nothing.

There are a few simple things that we can do to take care of ourselves during the winter months. First, stay warm and dress appropriately when going out. Even inside of the house, wear proper slippers, always keeping your hands and feet warm. If the temperature rises, don’t be tempted to go out in lightweight clothing just as a wishful attempt for the spring to come earlier. You will pay the price with a cold in the spring. Instead, take hot baths, light candles, make it pretty . . . and nourish your soul.

Even if you live in a warmer area of the planet, it is still important that you nourish yourself during the holidays and save some good energy. Have an invitation to yet another party but feel too tired to go? Listen to your body and stay put!

To support your kidneys during the winter, you can eat salty food, especially fish or seafood. You can also rub your ears with the palm of your hands for a quick energy pick-up, especially during the late afternoon hours, when we feel more tired.

Take care of your stomach as well, which supports the kidney, by consuming lots of warm foods (think soups, coffee, tea). Also important, stay away from foods with a cold and damp essence, for example, dairy, cold or iced drinks, and salads. Yes, you heard it right, salads! All these foods will unbalance your stomach’s ability to function well and support your kidneys.

If all of this sounds like something your grandmother would have said, yes, she was right all along! Maybe she did not know about the salads, but now you have a good excuse to stay away from lettuce.

Last but not least, “Don’t worry be happy!” (And by “happy” I really mean content). It still sounds cliché. It is. So very cheesy. Yet, it is one of the hardest things to accomplish in life, and one piece of advice that will keep you healthy for years to come. Your kidney and stomach will appreciate it. This one may take a little bit of faith, and a lot of awareness. It is a daily practice. More on that in posts to come!

For now, my wish for you is to carve out some time this winter solstice and enjoy some work-free moments by truly relaxing. You won’t regret it!

 

Another point of view

 

Lately, I have had several conversations with friends who are in despair. The reason for their despair varies: broken hearts due to unrequited love (one of the worst feelings in the entire world!), the death of family members, sick family members, empty nests, and hardships at work. Some of the more altruistic are in pain for what is going on politically and how it affects others. And I am not talking in general, these are conversations that I have had in the last 30 days with people I love and admire. 

 Through my own ups and downs (divorce, cancer, my awesome relationship with my now-recovered-alcoholic husband), I have found ways to understand my own feelings and emotions, and take a step away (sometimes many, many steps away) to find another point of view. My Qigong Master says we create our own reality. That was a hard one to bite. But I think I am actually getting it. We are what we think, and we can choose our own perceptions. We just need to be open to the possibilities.

 By that I don’t want to be callus and suggest that people who suffer are doing so out of choice. Pain, fear, sadness, grief . . . they are all part of our human condition. What I want to offer is a respite, to suggest that even in the worst of moments, there is the potential for growth. With perseverance I have been determined to see the good. Easier said than done, you must be thinking. Yes, I agree. It’s a daily practice; it’s a moment-to-moment practice. 

 Opting to see the good is not like shopping in the supermarket, but it can happen while shopping in the supermarket.  I need to pay attention to what is going on inside me, and around me, because seeing the good is about understanding what is my daily default setting and trying to be mindful about the way I think about any particular situation.

 I have learned that if I approach every moment with playfulness I get more out of it. Even a broken heart can laugh a bit about itself. We are all too serious too often. Yes, the world seems to be upside down with so many shootings, earthquakes, hurricanes, political upheavals, and bullying across nations, within nations. So we can sit and worry like mad, or we can choose to look at it all from another point of view. There is always another point of view. 

 In this same world of so much devastation there is also love, compassion, friendship, laughter, hugs, and so many caring people working hard at making a better world one day at time. It is yin and yang.  The bad and the good are always entangled in the same rope. What are you going to focus on today?

 When three months ago Hurricane Maria was hitting the Caribbean, I was trying to find footage on the Internet about what was happening on the islands…I could not be with my part of the family there, but I was trying to stay connected with their reality so I could feel closer to them. I found a few YouTube videos showing the winds, so loud and scary, and some of the videos showed things flying around in parts of Puerto Rico, and other islands. But then I also found a NASA view of the Hurricane from a satellite. This video showed another point of view of the same reality: quiet, serene, even beautiful. You could see two sides of nature at its best, beautiful and peaceful but also scary and devastating, depending on which one you clicked. 

 There are always many sides to a story, many different ways to perceive our reality. In the middle of the storm, it is a good idea to breathe deep and to separate oneself from the raging winds, find some peace, and then (like Dori, the fish–see my previous post) keep swimming. I can say that I am a pretty content human being who takes good care of herself, but it was not always like that. I had to break with my automatic unconscious beliefs, and give myself choices by paying attention. It takes effort, a lot of discipline, and constant awareness. The more I have been able to do that, the better my story has become.

Just keep swimming…

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So I will start my very first blog talking about how Dory and Marlin (yes, they are fictional fish characters of a Disney movie!) became sources of inspiration in my life. I know Disney pictures have a bad rap sometimes, but Finding Nemo and Finding Dory are two good movies to watch, if you like animation. Or just read along, and I will tell you why I am using these characters for today’s message.

Marlin is a single father with some scary experiences in his past (he lost his wife and other children due to sharks–let’s say they were murdered). So Marlin is stuck in that past and in his own fears. Raising a child (which is not an easy task for anybody, let alone single parents) and trying to keep his son (Nemo) safe, is what makes him so uptight about life in general and being safe all the time. It is only when his son disappears and he has to swim through an ocean of problems to find him that he is able to overcome parts of his past, his deepest fears, and move forward.

In the film’s sequel, you can see how he’s still true to his own worrying nature, and his inability to let go (which, by the way, will knock your stomach and liver energy out of balance, but more of that on another post). He always comes on strong at the end, conquering his own shortcomings. Don’t get me wrong, I do like him. He is a very nice and carrying father and friend. It just shows that it’s not easy to change. We all have a lot of Marlin in us. Well, I should speak for myself; I do have a lot of Marlin in me. I am also a caring mother, or try to be, whose children’s safety is very important, and for that I am a lot of times uptight and unable to relax around my kids. But that has been changing, as I practice Qigong and apply it to my daily life. Practice is an every moment, daily life commitment, not an hour a day exercise routine.

Dory, on the other hand, is playful and wise in what looks like a careless way. She is not careless. Her problem is that she has short-term memory, but that is also her bliss. Not remembering bad experiences saves her a lot of trouble about worrying all the time about what is going to happen. She is forced to constantly let go (something we should all practice on a regular basis); she is forced to live in the present moment, and her decisions about the immediate future are not based in her past experiences, but she approaches every situation as new, with wonder eyes and a little bit of innocence. However, there is a lot of wisdom in her.  Her head is faulty, so she listens to her heart. She is very brave despite having suffered a lot of trauma due to her condition. She is aware of that, but that does not stop her. Ever. I strive to be more like Dory every day, and although my nature is to be more like Marlin, I have learned that I need to keep swimming no matter what. 

So even if you have not watched these films, and even if you do not like Disney and Pixar animation, the message here is simple but hard to put into practice: daily life has to be faced with new eyes. We do not know the future, we only know the past. But the past is gone, so today is what matters. Like Master Oogway says, rephrasing what the Buddha taught, “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the present.” That’s from Kung Fu Panda, yes, another animation film that has taught me so much. (I also highly recommend it.  It was my first assignment when I became a Qigong student.)

When I am overwhelmed I think: what do I have to do NOW. Not tonight, not tomorrow, not next month, but NOW. One day at a time, one thing at this moment is my mantra. It has kept me safe and sound.