Tuesday, September 24, 2013


I Remember...

          When I close my eyes I can recall the feel of the hard cement floor under my thin mat at kindergarten during mid-day. Ahhhh, nap time. I’d fight it for a nanosecond but because I’d played so hard, I couldn’t help drifting off with visions of the coconut cookie and juice we’d get when we woke.

          As an adult, however, I never napped because I thought it meant weakness, as if you couldn’t get through your day without resting…like a child. But my opinions and habits about this delicious ‘sport’ have changed recently.

          I started by asking my friends how they felt about naps and was surprised to learn that many did indeed imbibe and felt no guilt about it whatsoever. By briefly dropping off the edge of consciousness, many were able to steal extra time they needed to tackle tasks, either mental or physical. But what kind of naps and how long? While no formal survey was conducted, it seemed the best kind of naps were short, lasting 10 minutes to a half hour, whether sitting or lying down.

My Little Experiment

Friday, September 20, 2013

Where is God? - Guest Blog by Suzanne Sackett

Mark Nepo
          One of my favorite authors is Mark Nepo. Mark, born February 23, 1951 in Brooklyn, New York, is a writer and philosopher who has taught in the fields of poetry and spirituality for more than 35 years. As a cancer survivor, Mark devotes his writing and teaching to the journey of inner transformation and the life of relationship.

          I began first with The Exquisite Risk, which called me to select it from a myriad of other delicious choices, right off the shelf in Stepping Stones Bookstore, in the first month I came to the Center for Spiritual Living, Santa Rosa. Not only have I read it numerous times (whole or in part), I continue to recommend it to many others. It was one of five books I made certain to keep in my collection, when my life circumstances insisted that I downsize. A list of Mark’s books that I have read and thoroughly enjoyed is shown below.

          Mark Nepo's latest book, Reduced to Joy, is a book of poetry. In it, Nepo explores the places where pain and joy are stitched to resilience, uncovering them with deep wisdom, poetic passages and personal revelations. Nepo reminds us all of the secret and sacred places within, forgotten in the noise and chatter of our busy distracted 21st Century lives. Reduced to Joy is a lesson in stillness, in standing in the mystery and, above all, in the work of love. This poem from the book is already a favorite:


It's as if what is unbreakable—
the very pulse of life—waits for
everything else to be torn away,
and then in the bareness that
only silence and suffering and
great love can expose, it dares
to speak through us and to us.

It seems to say, if you want to last,
hold on to nothing. If you want
to know love, let in everything.
If you want to feel the presence
of everything, stop counting the
things that break along the way.

          Mark Nepo's poems reduce me first to grateful silence and then to tears and then to laughter and then to praise.  He joins a long tradition of truth-seeking, wild-hearted poets—Rumi, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Mary Oliver—and deserves a place in the center of the circle with them.
          In his time, Mark has been and continues to be a prolific writer of books. This is a partial list of his books, namely the ones I have read:

The Exquisite Risk
The Book of Awakening 
As Far As the Heart Can See
Finding Inner Courage 
Surviving Has Made Me Crazy 
Unlearning Back to God: Essays on Inwardness (collected essays) 
Suite for the Living 
Inhabiting Wonder 

                                                           ~ Suzanne Sackett
Suzanne is a Doctor of Education in Counseling, a Licensed Prayer Practitioner at the Center for Spiritual Living, Santa Rosa, CA. and a dear friend.
Leave a message or comment for Suzanne at:
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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Balance Your Relationships – Guest Blog by Rev. Chris Michaels

          As peculiar as this might sound, I was recently inspired by the selection of lettuce at the supermarket: Boston lettuce, red-leaf, green-leaf, romaine, butter, field greens, and the plain, but ever-popular, iceberg. And it made me think of the variety of people in my life: white accountants, black doctors, gay therapists, male actors, female lawyers, young people, old people, rich ones and poor ones.

          We've been told that the key to a healthy diet is to include a variety of food groups. Perhaps the key to a healthy and balanced life comes from including that same dose of variety in our relationships. If this is true, then one would seek to have friends from a variety of different cultural and ethnic groups, as well as religious and political affiliations. For balance, we would seek out relationships with people of varying age groups, race, sexual orientation and social status.

           It's clear that Spirit had an assortment in mind when it made the human race. No single person can satisfy all of our relationship needs. That's why we have so many choices. And yet, the one thing we all share in common – and perhaps the only thing – is that we're all individual expressions of the same Spirit. Each one of us has been uniquely designed to share a special gift with the world. No one can be duplicated or replaced. Every person offers something unrepeated in nature.

           Imbalance occurs when we don't have enough diversity in our lives. We were not designed to live "by bread alone." That's why relationships with our biological family should hold equal value with our chosen, spiritual family if the two aren't the same. Friendships are just as important to our psychological well-being as our families. Relationships with our pets also bring something unique to our lives that humans cannot. Variety is the key in creating a whole-life experience.

           When you rely on one person or one relationship to fulfill all of your needs, you apply undo pressure on that person and create a scenario that will ultimately lead to failure. To make one person your advisor, confidant, best friend, spiritual guru and lover is not healthy. Spread yourself around. Seek out new relationships regularly. Don't depend on the same people for the same benefits.

           People are fascinating creatures and each one has something new to offer you. Don't be afraid to extend yourself to them. After all, you have one very important thing in common with them – you come from the same life!

Rev. Chris Michaels is Senior Minister of the Center for Spiritual Living, Kansas City. He
is an outstanding speaker, counselor, teacher, author and friend. For more information
on Chris Michaels, check out his website: http://chrismichaels.net/

You may reach out to me or leave at comment here:
     antoniasseniormoment@hotmail.com or Antonia's Senior Moment on Facebook

Friday, September 13, 2013

One of Those Moments: Advice for Us ALL

          This wonderful article appeared in the New York Times on July 31, 2013. It looks like a speech for graduates, but it's really about how all of us, young and old, impact the lives of others. This is a long piece, and well worth slowing down for the full five minutes it'll take to read it. Enjoy!


George Saunders’s Advice to Graduates

It’s long past graduation season, but we recently learned that George Saunders delivered the convocation speech at Syracuse University for the class of 2013, and George was kind enough to send it our way and allow us to reprint it here. The speech touches on some of the moments in his life and larger themes (in his life and work) that George spoke about in the profile we ran back in January — the need for kindness and all the things working against our actually achieving it, the risk in focusing too much on “success,” the trouble with swimming in a river full of monkey feces.
George Saunders
Damon Winter/The New York Times George Saunders

The entire speech, graduation season or not, is well worth reading, and is included below.
Down through the ages, a traditional form has evolved for this type of speech, which is: Some old fart, his best years behind him, who, over the course of his life, has made a series of dreadful mistakes (that would be me), gives heartfelt advice to a group of shining, energetic young people, with all of their best years ahead of them (that would be you). 
And I intend to respect that tradition. 
Now, one useful thing you can do with an old person, in addition to borrowing money from them, or asking them to do one of their old-time “dances,” so you can watch, while laughing, is ask: “Looking back, what do you regret?”  And they’ll tell you.  Sometimes, as you know, they’ll tell you even if you haven’t asked.  Sometimes, even when you’ve specifically requested they not tell you, they’ll tell you. 
So: What do I regret?  Being poor from time to time?  Not really.  Working terrible jobs, like “knuckle-puller in a slaughterhouse?”  (And don’t even ASK what that entails.)  No.  I don’t regret that.  Skinny-dipping in a river in Sumatra, a little buzzed, and looking up and seeing like 300 monkeys sitting on a pipeline, pooping down into the river, the river in which I was swimming, with my mouth open, naked?  And getting deathly ill afterwards, and staying sick for the next seven months?  Not so much.  Do I regret the occasional humiliation?  Like once, playing hockey in front of a big crowd, including this girl I really liked, I somehow managed, while falling and emitting this weird whooping noise, to score on my own goalie, while also sending my stick flying into the crowd, nearly hitting that girl?  No.  I don’t even regret that. 
But here’s something I do regret: 
In seventh grade, this new kid joined our class.  In the interest of confidentiality, her Convocation Speech name will be “ELLEN.”  ELLEN was small, shy.  She wore these blue cat’s-eye glasses that, at the time, only old ladies wore.  When nervous, which was pretty much always, she had a habit of taking a strand of hair into her mouth and chewing on it. 
So she came to our school and our neighborhood, and was mostly ignored, occasionally teased (“Your hair taste good?” – that sort of thing).  I could see this hurt her.  I still remember the way she’d look after such an insult: eyes cast down, a little gut-kicked, as if, having just been reminded of her place in things, she was trying, as much as possible, to disappear.  After awhile she’d drift away, hair-strand still in her mouth.  At home, I imagined, after school, her mother would say, you know: “How was your day, sweetie?” and she’d say, “Oh, fine.”  And her mother would say, “Making any friends?” and she’d go, “Sure, lots.” 
Sometimes I’d see her hanging around alone in her front yard, as if afraid to leave it. 
And then – they moved.  That was it.  No tragedy, no big final hazing. One day she was there, next day she wasn’t. 
End of story. 
Now, why do I regret that?  Why, forty-two years later, am I still thinking about it?  Relative to most of the other kids, I was actually pretty nice to her.  I never said an unkind word to her.  In fact, I sometimes even (mildly) defended her. 
But still.  It bothers me.

So here’s something I know to be true, although it’s a little corny, and I don’t quite know what to do with it: 
What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.   
Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded…sensibly.  Reservedly.  Mildly. 
Or, to look at it from the other end of the telescope:  Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth? 
Those who were kindest to you, I bet. 
It’s a little facile, maybe, and certainly hard to implement, but I’d say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be kinder. 
Now, the million-dollar question:  What’s our problem?  Why aren’t we kinder? 
Here’s what I think: 
Each of us is born with a series of built-in confusions that are probably somehow Darwinian.  These are: (1) we’re central to the universe (that is, our personal story is the main and most interesting story, the only story, really); (2) we’re separate from the universe (there’s US and then, out there, all that other junk – dogs and swing-sets, and the State of Nebraska and low-hanging clouds and, you know, other people), and (3) we’re permanent (death is real, o.k., sure – for you, but not for me). 
Now, we don’t really believe these things – intellectually we know better – but we believe them viscerally, and live by them, and they cause us to prioritize our own needs over the needs of others, even though what we really want, in our hearts, is to be less selfish, more aware of what’s actually happening in the present moment, more open, and more loving. 
So, the second million-dollar question:  How might we DO this?  How might we become more loving, more open, less selfish, more present, less delusional, etc., etc.? 
Well, yes, good question. 
Unfortunately, I only have three minutes left. 
So let me just say this.  There are ways.  You already know that because, in your life, there have been High Kindness periods and Low Kindness periods, and you know what inclined you toward the former and away from the latter.  Education is good; immersing ourselves in a work of art: good; prayer is good; meditation’s good; a frank talk with a dear friend;  establishing ourselves in some kind of spiritual tradition – recognizing that there have been countless really smart people before us who have asked these same questions and left behind answers for us. 
Because kindness, it turns out, is hard – it starts out all rainbows and puppy dogs, and expands to include…well, everything
One thing in our favor:  some of this “becoming kinder” happens naturally, with age.  It might be a simple matter of attrition:  as we get older, we come to see how useless it is to be selfish – how illogical, really.  We come to love other people and are thereby counter-instructed in our own centrality.  We get our butts kicked by real life, and people come to our defense, and help us, and we learn that we’re not separate, and don’t want to be.  We see people near and dear to us dropping away, and are gradually convinced that maybe we too will drop away (someday, a long time from now).  Most people, as they age, become less selfish and more loving.  I think this is true.  The great Syracuse poet, Hayden Carruth, said, in a poem written near the end of his life, that he was “mostly Love, now.” 
And so, a prediction, and my heartfelt wish for you: as you get older, your self will diminish and you will grow in love.  YOU will gradually be replaced by LOVE.   If you have kids, that will be a huge moment in your process of self-diminishment.  You really won’t care what happens to YOU, as long as they benefit.  That’s one reason your parents are so proud and happy today.  One of their fondest dreams has come true: you have accomplished something difficult and tangible that has enlarged you as a person and will make your life better, from here on in, forever. 
Congratulations, by the way. 
When young, we’re anxious – understandably – to find out if we’ve got what it takes.  Can we succeed?  Can we build a viable life for ourselves?  But you – in particular you, of this generation – may have noticed a certain cyclical quality to ambition.  You do well in high-school, in hopes of getting into a good college, so you can do well in the good college, in the hopes of getting a good job, so you can do well in the good job so you can…. 
And this is actually O.K.  If we’re going to become kinder, that process has to include taking ourselves seriously – as doers, as accomplishers, as dreamers.  We have to do that, to be our best selves. 
Still, accomplishment is unreliable.  “Succeeding,” whatever that might mean to you, is hard, and the need to do so constantly renews itself (success is like a mountain that keeps growing ahead of you as you hike it), and there’s the very real danger that “succeeding” will take up your whole life, while the big questions go untended. 
So, quick, end-of-speech advice: Since, according to me, your life is going to be a gradual process of becoming kinder and more loving: Hurry up.  Speed it along.  Start right now.  There’s a confusion in each of us, a sickness, really: selfishness.  But there’s also a cure.  So be a good and proactive and even somewhat desperate patient on your own behalf – seek out the most efficacious anti-selfishness medicines, energetically, for the rest of your life. 
Do all the other things, the ambitious things – travel, get rich, get famous, innovate, lead, fall in love, make and lose fortunes, swim naked in wild jungle rivers (after first having it tested for monkey poop) – but as you do, to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness.  Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial.  That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality – your soul, if you will – is as bright and shining as any that has ever been.  Bright as Shakespeare’s, bright as Gandhi’s, bright as Mother Teresa’s.  Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous place.  Believe it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, share its fruits tirelessly. 
And someday, in 80 years, when you’re 100, and I’m 134, and we’re both so kind and loving we’re nearly unbearable, drop me a line, let me know how your life has been.  I hope you will say: It has been so wonderful. 
Congratulations, Class of 2013. 
I wish you great happiness, all the luck in the world, and a beautiful summer.

I'd love your comments at antoniasseniormoments@hotmail.com   

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Thanks for the Memory

What Do You Remember?         

          You know how I love books. I think of the brain as the Library of Congress. How much information we encounter every day of our lives is overwhelming. There’s no way to really know all that you know. Conversely, there’s a ton of stuff we can’t seem to remember. I’m sure I’ve forgotten a library’s worth of information, be it important, entertaining or nostalgic. Why is it we can remember where we were the first time we heard the song Louie Louie but we can’t remember what we had for lunch yesterday? Or why can’t I remember the safe place I put that thing I wanted to be sure not to lose?

          There is a significant amount of scientific data as to why we have trouble remembering stuff, but, in my opinion, it’s pretty boring data. I guarantee there are several easy and fun ways to improve your ability to routinely remember more than you currently do, regardless of whether you’re a senior citizen or younger, and I'll share a few of those in a moment.

Woo Woo Questions

          Besides the practical, there are a couple of ‘woo woo’ things to consider first. To me ‘woo woo’ means touchy feely or sort of psychological things that might impact our ability to remember something.

          The first thing is having the right attitude. Do you really want to remember? A friend of mine needed some help learning something on his computer but he’d repeatedly have to be shown how to do what he needed to accomplish. He was frustrated and, as it turns out, any work with a computer made him feel unqualified and not capable of doing the simplest of tasks. He kept throwing his hands up in despair and opted for a different, less electronic way to accomplish his task. While he felt he couldn’t remember what I’d shown him, in truth, he didn’t see the value of doing this task on the computer to begin with. So, be sure to ask yourself: How important is it for me to remember this? And, do I really want to remember this?

          The second woo woo question I ask is: Who is telling me to remember? If it’s a grouchy spouse or the ghost of a cranky teacher or parent, there is a good chance you won’t let whatever it is really sink in enough to remember it in the future. However, the opposite might be true as well: the experience may have been so unpleasant you’ll never forget it! I’m sure you’ll be able to tell the difference.

Friday, September 6, 2013

One of Those Moments: Laughter and the Simplier Things in Life

     Is there ever a time when what you need to shift your mood is just a good laugh? Have you ever realized how free and light you felt after seeing a comedy performance? I've always thought laughter is exercise from the inside out. All things look less dire after a good laugh.

     Sometimes I have to jump start that laughing exercise, and I do that with some funny videos from YouTube.  Enjoy this one of my favorites:

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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Art of Graceful Aging

               “Whining is not only graceless, but it can be dangerous. It can alert a brute that                              a victim is in the neighborhood" - Maya Angelou
          Why do I care about aging gracefully? Because I’ve found for myself that I have more fun when I approach all things with grace. Coming from a place of grace gives me a strong sense of gratitude and allows for the pause that refreshes, so to speak. When I’m being in grace, I’m not in that ‘bull in a china shop’ space where I never slow down long enough to really enjoy the process. And don’t you agree that, as older adults, the process needs to be just as worthwhile as the end result? I want to have fun along the way. The end result can be the icing on the cake, the cherry on top or the cat’s meow, etc. Ok, enough metaphors for this week!
What It Is

          Perhaps it’s best to define grace as what it isn’t rather than what it is. It’s definitely a subjective word. To me, grace isn’t about money, or where you went to school or if you have friends in high places. It isn’t about the car you drive or the clothes you wear. And, yes, you can still live in grace even if you know nothing about wine, or art, or fine dining. To me living a graceful life is all about an attitude.

           A graceful life is characterized by a cornerstone of gratitude. All things in my life spring forth from a strong sense of appreciation. I don’t take for granted my freedom, or my health or my friends or the ability to read and write. I am thankful to be surrounded by beautiful things to look at, free things that change throughout the seasons.

These are the ways I remind myself to be grateful for as I age:

          In order for gratitude to be fully incorporated into my life I do the following things every day:

    - Acknowledge, either when I first awake or right before
            going to sleep, that my life is full and fun and that I
            am blessed with an abundance of love
    - Share the resources I have available to me be they time,
            money, energy or  knowledge


           Second most important in a graceful life is