A Passage from Anne Lamott

I discovered the writing of Anne Lamott before the PCT and read a couple of her books since returning home. Not only does she understand the bigger picture of life, having a deep sense of knowing that we are all connected, that change and healing must begin with ourselves before it can expand out into the world, and that the most important thing in life is to be kind to both ourselves and others, but she is also hilarious. Today, she posted the following on her Facebook page and I wanted to share it because along with bringing to light the pain that we as humans can not avoid in life, it also made me laugh, which I find to be the most healing medicine of all. In this posting, she refers to platitudes that many people offer as a way to avoid feeling anything unpleasant. I have always had a problem with sayings such as “It’s all good” and “Everything happens for a reason.” To me, these sayings feel like a dismissal of my pain. I have a good friend who I have known for about 14 years, who always confounded me by dismissing my feelings whenever I shared a story of something difficult that I was going through. Her favorite saying was, “It’s all good.” Actually, it’s not all good… It most definitely is not. Life is a mixture of good and bad, pleasant and unpleasant, pain and triumph. Some of us have had more than our fair share of pain and sadness. I never understood why she was so quick to defend the person in my stories who was causing me harm. And I never understood why she could never sympathize with my feelings. Wasn’t I her friend? Was she even hearing what I was saying? It wasn’t until I was in the middle of my yoga teacher training that I was struck by an epiphany. She couldn’t empathize with my pain because she wasn’t allowing herself to feel her own feelings of sadness or frustration or anger. She was pushing away all of those darker feelings and only expressing positive emotions. Her way of relating to the world brought her many friends, but I could see that she wasn’t attracting what she deserved in terms of intimate relationships. Over the past year or so, she has begun to explore some of the feelings that she has previously avoided- such as the grief over the loss of her good friend and roommate over 12 years ago- and although we don’t get a chance to spend much time together and she is still quick to brush away anything negative and amplify any inkling of positivity (whether it exists or not), I can tell that her feelings of empathy and compassion are expanding, which is allowing us to connect more. I appreciate realness more than anything. The ability to sit with someone in their pain and just listen and offer a hand or a hug is all we truly need.

(This passage also reminded me of something that a senior yoga teacher whose workshop I took said, which really affected me. “Every problem is a doorway. Even when facing the worst problem- hearing the news that you only have one more day to live- you are presented with a choice. You can choose to head straight to the freezer and consume a pint of your favorite ice cream (this idea didn’t sound so bad to me…) or you can tell your loved ones that you love them but that you need this time to get yourself in the right frame of mind before this transition, say goodbye, and then sit and meditate.”)

Anne Lamott:

“Many mornings I check out the news as soon as I wake up, because if it turns out that the world is coming to an end that day, I am going to eat the frosting off an entire carrot cake; just for a start. Then I will move onto vats of clam dip, pots of crime brûlée, nachos, M & M’s etc. Then I will max out both my credit cards.

I used to think that if the world–or I–were coming to an end, I’d start smoking again, and maybe have a cool refreshing pitcher of lime Rickeys. But that’s going too far, because if the world or I was saved at the last minute, I’d be back in the old familiar nightmare. In 1986, grace swooped down like a mighty mud hen, and fished me out of that canal. I got the big prize. I can’t risk losing it.

But creme brûlée, nachos, maybe the random Buche Noel? Now you’re talking.

The last two weeks have been about as grim and hopeless as any of us can remember, and yet, I have not gotten out the lobster bib and fork. The drunken Russian separatists in Ukraine with their refrigerated train cars? I mean, come on. Vonnegut could not have thought this up. Dead children on beaches, and markets, at play, in the holy land?? Stop.

The two hour execution in festive Arizona? Dear God.

And let’s not bog down on the stuff that was already true, before Ukraine, Gaza, Arizona, like the heartbreaking scenes of young refugees at our border, the locals with their pitchforks. The people in ruins in our own families. Or the tiny problem that we have essentially destroyed the earth–I know, pick pick pick.

Hasn’t your mind just been blown lately, even if you try not to watch the news? Does it surprise you that a pretty girl’s mind turns to thoughts of entire carrot cakes, and credit cards?

My friend said recently, “It’s all just too Lifey. No wonder we all love TV.” Her 16 year old kid has a brain tumor. “Hey, that’s just great, God. Thanks a lot. This really works for me.”

My brother’s brand new wife has tumors of the everything. “Fabulous, God. Loving your will, Dude.”

My dog Lily’s ear drum burst recently, for no apparent reason, with blood splatter on the walls on the entire house–on my sleeping grandson’s pillow. Do you think I am well enough for that?
Let me go ahead and answer. I’m not. It was CSI around here; me with my bad nerves. And it burst again last night.

Crazy!

Did someone here get the latest updated owner’s manual? Were they handed out two weeks ago when I was getting root canal, and was kind of self-obsessed and out of it? The day before my dog’s ear drum first burst? If so, is there is an index, and if so, could you look up Totally Fucking Overwhelm[ed]?

I have long since weeded out people who might respond to my condition by saying cheerfully, “God’s got a perfect plan.” Really? Thank you! How fun.

There is no one left in my circle who would dare say, brightly, “Let Go and Let God,” because they know I would come after them with a fork.

It’s not that I don’t trust God or grace or good orderly direction anymore. I do, more than ever. I trust in divine intelligence, in love energy, more than ever, no matter what things look like, or how long they take. It’s just that right now cute little platitudes are not helpful.

I’m not depressed. I’m overwhelmed by It All. I don’t think I’m a drag. I kind of know what to do. I know that if I want to have loving feelings, I need to do loving things. It begins by putting your own oxygen mask on first: I try to keep the patient comfortable. I do the next right thing: left foot, right foot, left foot, breathe. I think Jesus had a handle on times like these: get thirsty people water. Feed the hungry. Try not to kill anyone today. Pick up some litter in your neighborhood. Lie with your old dog under the bed and tell her what a good job she is doing with the ruptured ear drum.

I try to quiet the drunken Russian separatists of my own mind, with their good ideas. I pray. I meditate. I rest, as a spiritual act. I spring for organic cherries. I return phone calls.

I remember the poor. I remember an image of Koko the sign-language gorilla, with the caption, “Law of the American Jungle: remain calm. Share your bananas.” I remember Hushpuppy at the end of Beasts of the Southern Wild, just trying to take some food home to her daddy Wink, finally turning to face the hideous beast on the bridge, facing it down and saying, “I take care of my own.”

I take care of my own. You are my own, and I am yours–I think this is what God is saying, or trying to, over the din. We are each other’s. Thee are many forms of thirst, many kinds of water.”

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New friends

I’ve lived in this little town for the past 12 years, but never really knew anyone around here except for my landlord and his small family. Every weekday, I commuted into Boston for my job, and after discovering my yoga studio in 2011, went there every night after work, grabbed a quick bit to eat at Whole Foods, took the 8:30pm train home, and prepared to do it all again in the morning. On weekends, I did my chores- laundry, grocery shopping, cooking meals for the week, and sometimes headed back into Boston for a yoga workshop. It has been a very solitary existence.
Since I’ve returned home from the PCT, I’ve been able to spend more time in this town in which I live than I’ve ever had before, which has been nice. When I’m not hiking for months at a time, I can’t seem to get enough time at home. I still commute into Boston most days to teach several yoga classes per week, as well as take a few classes at my studio, but I’ve also been able to walk on the beach more days than not this summer. For years, I never even visited the beach! I always wish that my friends from Boston would come up and visit me so that we could enjoy the beach, the nice weather, and a nice meal together, but as it has now been over 10 months since I’ve been back, I’ve given up on that hope. The girls at the coffee shop have been my only source of company around here. It is the only business that I frequent (not having any spending money) and whenever I feel too lonely, I go over there and sit for a bit with them. It took a long time (mainly due to the winter weather), but three of us finally hung out one afternoon at the end of May. It was so much fun! I got to meet a 50 year old talking pet bird, laugh a lot, hear some gossip, briefly check out a couple of small beaches, and eat a delicious sushi dinner. We agreed that we should continue to get together once a week- whoever is available can gather. Unfortunately, this idea never took form. The second gathering took place just last weekend when we went to watch one of the girls perform in her play.
However, in the meantime, I also became friends with a very sweet woman who suffers from Alzheimer’s (or something similar). In the winter, I would see her and her husband in the coffee shop eating their lunch. She is from Florida and loves to talk to anyone around. She has a very cheerful attitude and loves to joke and share memories from her past. One day this spring, after walking back to my apartment from the beach, I saw her picking flowers by a stone wall next to my landlord’s house. I waved to her and she waved back and then kept looking at me with a big smile on her face. She then waved me over and asked if I would like to come inside. “Okay!” I said. She offered me some ginger ale and said we could sit and chat and get to know one another. She kept asking me where I lived and if my family was expecting me. We went through several rounds of this and finally she asked me to write down my name and phone number. I told her she should call me and we could go for a walk sometime. She loves to walk to the beach. Over the next couple of weeks, I saw her a few times and she remembered my face and always greeted me enthusiastically, and even gave me a few hugs when we parted. I think she appreciates having someone to walk and talk with and I really enjoy her positive energy. She is full of child like wonder. Every time that she hears a bird, she stops and looks for it, her face open and lit up. And every time she walks onto the beach, she picks up limpet shells as if it was her first time doing so, telling anyone around, “These are called Mermaid slippers” and finds someone to give them to. She finds so much delight in watching children play and loves to talk with them and share her seashell findings. One day, she offered them to the teenaged lifeguard, who kindly accepted them. She also loves to pick flowers and make arrangements.
A couple of weeks ago, when I saw her and husband sitting with another couple on a bench by the ocean after my walk, she did not recognize me. It had been too long. “What’s your name?” she asked when I stopped to say hi. Her husband said, “That’s Wendy.”
“Oh! Her name should be ‘lovely’!” she responded. They made room for me to join them and they called me “Wendy Lovely”, after that, which I didn’t mind. I kept eyeing their white wine, but there were no extra cups to share. Before they left, I told her husband about my next talk that I was giving in a few days and he seemed very interested. They gave me a ride home and I gave them a flier. The next night, I saw them again at the beach. It was the night of the super moon and after my walk (instead of my planned attempt at going for a jog), I went home and found a stray beer in my refridgerator from when I had a visitor at the beginning of April. I walked back down to the beach and drank my beer with my newfound company, as we shared peanuts. It was so nice! The moon took forever to appear, but we all stayed to watch it rise.
And as promised, Charlie and his wife came to hear my talk! Charlie was very concerned that I only posted a flier at the coffeeshop that I go to (The library does most of the publicity and I don’t spend any energy on trying to get anyone to attend. I know that whoever is meant to be there will be there). This was the first talk in which I was having a great deal of trouble getting my slideshow to appear on the screen. Because I made it on Mac-specific software, it is complicated to transfer to an external source. Charlie and Christine were the first couple to arrive, and because I was trying to figure out this major issue, I didn’t have much of a chance to say hi. Another couple came in, but as the clock ticked toward 7, no one else had arrived. Charlie told me that I should have put fliers up other places. I was still working through the connecting problems (Charlie said I would have to reschedule it and show it in my apartment), so I wasn’t very concerned about the lack of an audience- if four people were there, I would still give the presentation. But then, the librarian opened the door to discover a crowd waiting in the lobby! They didn’t think they were allowed in! As they poured into the room, Charlie gave me two thumbs up and I flashed him a big smile! Everything was just fine!

After my talk (the fourth one that I’ve given so far), the connections started to grow…
(I will write about this in another post.)
It’s been a difficult 10 months, but things are finally starting to turn around for me!

A Fascinating Experiment

My dear friend (and very first yoga teacher), Checka, did an amazing experiment that I would like to share with you. When she first presented the pictures in 2012, she wrote, “These are photos from an ‘energy experiment’ that I did with a group of teenage boys with whom I have a meditation group each week. We directed kind thoughts and positive energy towards one jar, and taped the corresponding positive words to it, and did the same with unkind thoughts and negative energy directed towards the second jar. Each bottle had the exact same amount of water in it prior to freezing. Pretty interesting stuff…”

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Negative energy jar one day after freezing

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Positive energy jar ice one day after freezing

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Positive energy jar one day after freezing

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View of how the ice formed in negative energy jar one day after freezing

After the jars had been in the freezer for one month, I melted the ice and this is what happened.
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Today, she reminded us of this experiment, writing, “*Every* one of us will struggle at certain points to maintain clear and calm hearts and choose positive, gentle energy over the alternative. Was this [experiment] done in a lab as a perfectly controlled scientific experiment? No. Will it offer you a moment to pause, and wonder? I hope so:). Having witnessed it firsthand myself, I found it to be and incredibly powerful lesson in my journey as a student, teacher, and human.”

Dr. Maya Angelou believed words are things and that someday we will be able to measure their power. “They get on the walls. They get in your wallpaper. They get in your rugs and your upholstery and your clothes. And finally, they are into you.”

“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible” – Dalai Lama

I am interested in trying this experiment myself! Who wants to join me?

“The Revolution of Consciousness”

I bookmarked this article from July 10 in the Huffington Post, knowing that this was a topic that I wanted to write about. I finally read it today and found it a fitting time to share with all that is happening in the world right now. Marianne Williamson is a spiritual activist, author, and lecturer. I first learned of her from a famous quote that is widely attributed to be written by her for Nelson Mandela’s inauguration, and which I have read at the end of a few of my yoga classes.
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Today, I discovered that although it is a passage included in one of her books, it was actually never spoken at Mandela’s inauguration. This year, she also ran (unsuccessfully) for Congress. Marianne is a truth teller and I could not agree more with what she writes.

The Revolution of Consciousness
-Marianne Williamson

“There is a revolution occurring in the world today, but it is not fought with armies and it does not aim to kill. It is a revolution of consciousness.

This revolution is to the 21st century what the Scientific Revolution was to the 20th. The Scientific Revolution revealed objective, discernable laws of external phenomena and applied those laws to the material world. The Consciousness Revolution reveals objective, discernable laws of internal phenomena and applies them to the world as well.

The Scientific Revolution improved the state of humanity in many ways, but it also fostered a worldview neither ultimately helpful nor deeply humane. That worldview is mechanistic and rationalistic, without the slightest bow to the primacy of consciousness. Yet consciousness supplies moral vision and ethical purpose, without which all the science in the world won’t keep us from destroying ourselves or the planet on which we live.

Gone with irony and deep sigh any lingering hope that science will cure all the ills of the world. Certainly science has improved and continues to improve the world in significant, even stunning ways. But despite all its amazing gifts, science cannot give us what we most need now. It cannot save us from ourselves. Science can lead to the cure of a physical ailment, but it is not just a physical ailment that needs healing. Humanity’s core problem is not material but spiritual. It is our insanity — our inhumanity toward each other — from which we need to be delivered, in order to save us from the self-destruction on which we seem so bent.

Science itself is placed at the behest of human purposes. It can be used for good and it can be used for evil. Of itself, it is neutral and thus amoral. It should not therefore be our god. It’s time to end our strict obeisance to its dictates that the laws of the material world are fixed and unalterable, unchanged by the powers of consciousness. The old Newtonian model of world as machine has in fact given way to the realization that the universe is not a big machine, so much as it is, in the words of British physicist James Jeans, “a big thought.” Science itself has begun to recognize the power of the mind, but not so a lot of the world it has mesmerized over the last hundred years.

We need to heal our thinking, in order to heal our world.

The Law of Cause and Effect holds true on every level of reality. Thought is the level of Cause and material manifestation is the level of Effect. Change only on the level of effect is not fundamental change it at all, yet change on the level of cause changes everything. That is why a revolution in consciousness is our greatest hope for the future of the world.

What is the Revolution of Consciousness, in a nutshell? Like all great movements in human history, it is based on a single insight: in this case, that we are not separate from one another. We are not material beings limited to the physical body, but beings of consciousness limited by nothing. Like waves in the ocean or sunbeams to the sun, there is actually nowhere where one of us stops and another one starts. On the level of bodies, we’re all separate of course. But on the level of consciousness, we are one.

What that means, of course, is that what I do to you, I do to myself. That makes the Golden Rule very, very good advice. Do unto others what you would have others do unto you — because they will, or someone else will.

In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one, affects all indirectly.” That understanding is not metaphor or symbol; it’s a description of an ultimate Reality shoved from our awareness by an obsolete scientific worldview. To reclaim that understanding is not blind but visionary. King was not just a movement leader but also a spiritual one, proclaiming that the human condition would not fundamentally change until our hearts were changed. Until that change occurs within us, every time we cut off the head of a monster three more will take its place.

Anything we do to anyone else will ultimately come back at us, whether as individuals or as nations. Once we know that, we cannot un-know it. It changes everything, including our hearts. How can we not change how we see each other, once we realize that we are each other?

In the words of President John F. Kennedy, “Those who make peaceful evolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable.” The revolution of consciousness paves the way for the peaceful evolution of the human race. The alternative to that evolution is catastrophic and impenetrable darkness.

Any species, if its behavior becomes maladaptive for its own survival, either mutates or goes extinct. What arrogance it would be to believe that that applies to every species but our own. In fact, humanity’s behavior is in fact maladaptive for our own survival: we fight too much with too many weapons of mass destruction existing on the planet, and are actively destroying our own habitat. Our choice is clear: we will either mutate or we will die.

The mind does not want to hear this, but the heart rejoices in it. The dictates of science aren’t so sure about it, but the dictates of consciousness are clear. Humanity doesn’t need to make another machine; it needs to make another choice. We need to consider the possibility of another way, another option, another path for the human race to follow…one in which we do not bow before the laws of science, but rather bow before the laws of love. The mind will no longer be our master, but our servant. Science will no longer be a false god, but a truer help. And humanity will evolve, peace at last will come to earth, and war will be no more.”

I find it difficult to look at the photos and read the stories of those who were killed in just this one incident without feeling a strong sense of connection to each one of them. We really are all one.
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2697010/Faces-innocent-victims-Melbourne-real-estate-agent-wife-student-leading-AIDS-doctors-confirmed-dead-Flight-MH17-terrorist-attack-killed-298-people-board.html

Ocean Scenes

“Just imagine becoming the way you used to be as a very young child, before you understood the meaning of any word, before opinions took over your mind. The real you is loving, joyful, and free. The real you is just like a flower, just like the wind, just like the ocean, just like the sun.”
-Miguel Angel Ruiz

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“Overcrowded Yoga, Pink Hair and an Ounce of Kindness: A Story”

“A mountain is composed of tiny grains of earth. The ocean is made up of tiny drops of water. Even so, life is but an endless series of little details, actions, speeches, and thoughts. And the consequences whether good or bad of even the least of them are far-reaching.”
Swami Sivananda

I recently came across this very touching story, written by a man named Dave Ursillo, which so powerfully demonstrates that just one simple act of kindness has the potential to change the entire course of someone else’s life for the better. Everything that we do has a ripple effect. The extent of that ripple- in magnitude or distance- is what can’t be known.

“Overcrowded Yoga, Pink Hair and an Ounce of Kindness: A Story”
By Dave Ursillo

Three Thanksgivings ago, I walked into my third ever yoga class–and promptly walked out.

The free community yoga class on that holiday was just too crowded for me. Rather than trying to fit myself in on the floor somewhere–or get stuck in the back hallway or kitchen space–I chalked the effort up to a loss, turned around and quietly snuck out the front door.

But the teacher saw me.

And then she followed me out onto the street.

The pink-haired, tattooed yoga teacher named Debbie invited me back inside.

“We’ll make room for you up front, just come with me.”

I had taken just one class with her the Friday before Thanksgiving. It was the first class that I had ever attended on my own. Debbie made a point to welcome me to class that morning–she even remembered my name that Thanksgiving when she called for my attention out on the street.

I politely resisted. “Oh, that’s okay, I’ll just–”

But Debbie counter-insisted. So I went back inside with her.

And even though I was a bit embarrassed that I had tried to “escape” a few minutes before without anyone noticing, Debbie pulled a few strings with her adoring students and tucked me and my mat up towards the front of the class.
The yoga class was great. I left feeling elated. That Thanksgiving afternoon, all throughout my family’s traditional dinner and the ensuing festivities, I felt like a new human being.

Although the yoga left its mark on my feeling state that day, what did more was being seen by this teacher who called me back when I quietly tried to run away.

Honestly, I don’t know if I would have ever gone back to another yoga class if Debbie hadn’t pulled me back in. I’d like to think that I would try again. But part of me suspects that I might have made excuses. Or said that yoga “wasn’t for me.” Or found some sort of rationale to avoid facing a similar experience: feeling like there’s not enough space for you in a room full of people who you don’t know (and who all seem to be on another level with their yoga).

Whether or not I would have ever gone back to a yoga class, what I knew at that moment on Thanksgiving three years ago was that I liked this pink-haired yoga chick.

I liked that she cared enough for a stranger whom she had only met once to leave her own class and implore him to come back inside from the sidewalk.

I liked that she cared. I loved that she cared when she didn’t have to.

Part of me knew those three Thanksgivings ago that I would be loyal to this human being. She showed me more in the first two days that I met her than many shyer or meeker souls tend to show in a week, a month or a year (this, coming from someone who was himself a much shyer and meeker soul in the past).

Beyond her fun style and yoga prowess, she carried a gusto about her that was kind, unapologetic and steadfast.

The energy of someone like that is infectious.

And I felt loyal to her for that.
A week and a half ago, this story of “how I got hooked on yoga” came full circle.

Not only did I graduate under the tutelage of Debbie after six months of yoga teacher training to become a 200-Hour Certified Yoga Teacher, it was none other than Debbie who invited me to join the staff of my favorite local yoga studio, Laughing Elephant Yoga, in my old hometown of East Greenwich, Rhode Island.

And I start teaching tomorrow!

None of us ought to go around doing kind things and expecting that it might come around in a blog post three years later. It’s not about recognition, payoff, or even knowing that an ounce of kindness you shared with someone really did change that someone’s life.

And, in yoga and other healing arts, teachers and leaders are wary to accept praise like this because they’re humble and good people who understand that they are simply guides of students’ own practices. People in positions of power and authority always run the risk of being given credit for a student’s breakthroughs, changes and evolutions when, really, it was the student’s own doing, all along.

But when you carry indiscriminate kindness in your heart and make a practice to stand up for someone, speak up for someone, offer a compliment, give an “I’m here for you” or even chase someone out of the yoga studio and onto the street, you can damn well trust that that showing of love may have a real and lasting effect on the life of the one who receives it.

I’m eternally grateful that Debbie showed me an ounce of her warmth, consideration and kindness nearly three years ago.

It’s ironic how something like a simple and even forgettable moment–a generous but “everyday” act of kindness–can have such a ripple effect in your life. It’s almost unnerving. But it’s also kind of miraculous, and beautiful.

It’s moments like these when you do feel that something bigger in our Universe has got your back, if you dance the dance with Her to receive it.

I’m proud that it was a new friend’s insistence and my “rolling over” to accept it that put me on a path that I never intended to walk–and how much better a man I am for it.
So, thank you, Debbie.

You’re a pretty amazing human being and I’m so grateful to call you a friend.

And, I know that there are dozens more stories like this in our hometown community here in Rhode Island that give you the same thanks for being so kind, for teaching so generously, and for making the space in the room for everyone who walks in.

To you, the reader, I encourage you to spend some time this week reflecting on acts of kindness and generosity that might have put you on a path that you never intended to walk.

I think that it’s important to remember these stories, because they are earnest examples that can really help to motivate our own actions, words and deeds on any given day.

Be abundantly kind and considerate, and forget the result. The Bhagavad Gita says, “Abandon all attachment to the results of action and attain supreme peace.” Make space for people. Hold space for them–whether through listening, understanding, compassion, empathy, a smile or shuffling a few yoga mats around in the studio.

Who knows. Maybe someday you will be someone else’s pink haired yoga teacher who, through simple caring and an extra ounce of effort, helped change the life of a guy who thought it easier to pack his mat and walk away.

Full Moon

Tonight, the super moon made its appearance. I read that the full moon is a time for gratitude, for raising your ability to have, and for receiving what is unfolding in your life. It is a time to focus on beauty and expansion. Today, during my regular walk on the beach, many thoughts about painful events in my past entered my head and each time, I couldn’t stop the flow of tears that coincided with them. But in between these memories, I thought about the things that I am grateful for now, including the presence of my new friend, and kept my eye open to the beauty around me. I usually take a few photos of the beach with my iphone, but today, after finding a rare feather on the beach, which Mariet told me she often turns into pieces of jewelry, I decided to try taking a few pictures of scenes that I don’t normally photograph. For the first time, I discovered how to access the different tonal settings on my camera. Here are a few of the pictures that I took.
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