Beliefnet
The Bliss Blog

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Throughout my life, my father used to utter these wise words, “You never know what tomorrow brings,” as his way of honoring the present moment. Although he wouldn’t quite frame it that way, since he was a worrier at times who projected into the future what could go wrong as a way of warding it off, I chose to drink that advice in and slurp the metaphorical juice from the bottom of the glass, not wanting to miss a drop.

A few days ago, Facebook offered up its daily blast from the past memories. Six years ago, on 4th of July weekend, I went to a gathering that my friend Nancy Hesch held in her park-side (Peace Valley Park in Doylestown, PA) home. Friends, fun, food, laughter, and love were served up in abundance. As I looked at the photos of a few friends and myself, I teared up a bit as I realized how dramatically life had changed for all of us in the interceding turn of the calendar pages.

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278800_2218729905932_4327743_oOndreah Johnson (standing in front, with longer hair in the first picture) had been diagnosed with breast CA early this year, (which she refers to as ‘C’ as she rides the ‘C train’) and has now completed chemo (which she calls IV meds) and is preparing for a lumpectomy on July 25th. I have ridden the locomotive with her as we find the blessing in the mess, the humor in the haze of unpredictability. We laugh at the most bizarre things.

Phil Garber (dark hair and beard) has been in and out of the hospital for cardiac surgery and kidney issues. I visited him yesterday as he is in the CCU of Cooper Hospital in Camden, NJ and offered Reiki to this man who has been my son’s father figure since Adam was 14 and in need of a supportive male role model after my husband died when he was 11. Phil has been his go-to guy for everything. Adam is now 30 and about to get married in August. The intention is for the two of us to walk him down the aisle together.  He refers to me as his ‘baby mama’.

Janet Berkowitz (light, short hair) is Phil’s wife who has been his stalwart support throughout this many decade health ordeal that Phil has faced. She has had kidney issues and longstanding mental health challenges, as has Phil. Both are peer supports for other consumers and for many years, have run Suicide Anonymous meetings, both in person and on-line. She uses her creative gifts to help her keep on keepin’ on. Both are resilient thrivers.

The fourth member of this crew is Gary Schoenberg who became a dear friend in 1998 when he came from our interfaith spiritual community called Pebble Hill when we were sitting shiva for Michael. He has seen me through all kinds of wild rides and as a psychologist has offered guidance tinged with a deep sense of spirituality. A few weeks ago, I was delighted to have attended his wedding to the beautiful Clare Fisher-Davies and read a passage from The Song of Solomon. She is now a welcome addition to my family of choice.

Six years ago, I had no clue, that a heart attack was waiting in the wings for me, as a result of a way too fast paced lifestyle, lack of self-care, poor sleep habits, limited boundary setting and not honoring my own heart as I did others. On June 12th, I celebrated my third cardiaversary with a FREE HUGS stroll through Philadelphia.

These pictures and the delight we shared on that day is a potent reminder to treasure each day and the people who are gifts in our lives.

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July 1, 2o17

In a few days, America will celebrate its birthday with parades and picnics, fun and fireworks. In my childhood, it meant time with extended family and friends engaged in all of those activities and remain in the recesses of my mind and heart. I smile in recollection. For me, as a world citizen and not just one born in the U.S, it is is not about patriotism and nationalism. I embrace a multi-cultural and multi-spiritual life. My celebrations this weekend will include drumming circles, potluck gatherings, pool lounging and offering one of my FREE Hugs events in Philly. The City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection awaits.

I also think of this as the perfect opportunity to declare my own freedom which I break down into two categories:

Freedom from and freedom to, in order to change my life.

I declare independence from 

fear

a belief that I can’t be financially prosperous

denial of my talents

limiting thoughts of any kind

my history, knowing that it need not be my destiny

feeling intimidated by anyone

not enough/too much thoughts about myself

envy of those who have what I want in life

carrying the weight of the world

self-judgment about being single for so many years

resentments

judgments of others

fear of speaking my truth

asking for only what I think people will say yes to

pitching my work for fear that it/I will be rejected

second guessing my choices

I declare freedom to

live out loud

take my light out from under a bushel

be colorful

be bold and badass

release caring what everyone thinks about my choices

love whoever and however I choose

ask for whatever I want, being able to accept the answer no matter what it is

rock the boat and make waves

go out on a limb

be on the world stage

do a TED talk

be in a committed life relationship with the love of my life

be emotionally naked and vulnerable

live authentically

shrug off disapproval

determine what I want and go for it, audaciously

take the time to BE and not do, more often

be self-compassionate

let go gracefully

be open to receive

Feeling my freedom~

 

 

 

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As I am writing this article, I am sitting at my dining room table with the ceiling fan whirring overhead, providing a calming counterpoint to the rockin’ music from WXPN that helps animate my typing fingers. There are a few items around me, including my water bottle, cell phone and charge cord, the cloth that I used to clean my smudgy glasses, and check from a client that will go to the bank this morning. When I leave the room, I will take all of these things with me, so they don’t pile up and so  (in my middle-aged mind moment) I have what I need, rather than forgetting where I put necessities.

It got me to thinking, as many things do, that there was a time when I wasn’t so organized. When I was married, (before my husband died in 1998), he used to say that I left ‘clown droppings’ around the house. The origin of that description is that among many hats I wear, I am a clown. I would start an activity and then move on to the next thing, sometimes without completing the first and leave the remnants on the table or the sofa or kitchen counter.  Little did I realize that it was unfair to him and a measure of my consciousness at the time. I joke that I am ‘functionally manic with tinges of ADHD’. I get distracted at times and need to call my attention back to the task at hand, complete it and then move on to the next item.

It occurred to me in the past few days that when I see clients in my office, I often swivel my chair side to side as we speak; with the fidgets. Fortunately, it is subtle enough that no one seems distracted.

Since I live alone, keeping up with household tasks is pretty easy. No kids, critters or partner to clean up after at the moment. Michael was far more fastidious than I ever was, organized almost to the point of compulsion. When he died, I picked up some of his habits, wanting to manage the emotional chaos that followed. Structure became my sanity.

How do you handle a relationship (romantic, housemate, parent-child) when your priorities and theirs are different when it comes to noticing when things need to be done (housekeeping as an example)? Although I am by no means white glove clean, my rules for myself are: If you take it out, put it away where you found it. If you drop it, pick it up. If you make a mess, clean it up. If you borrow it, return it. Don’t expect anyone else to clean up your literal or emotional mess. It just feels respectful, not holier than thou and to me, it reflects how I feel about myself and anyone else with whom I share space. When I am in someone else’s home, whether it is for a brief visit or overnight stay, I treat it the way they do. I take notice of how they clean up and attempt to meet that standard.

It feels good to accomplish tasks, like dishes, having a clean kitchen when I go to bed, (especially after a party:) stepping back and seeing that my lawn is mowed and weeds are whacked and that I can put away clean and folded clothes. Do you grin and bear it? Do you clean up someone else’s mess yourself? Do you nag and nudge? Do you simmer and stew over it? Do you ask for change? Have you noticed a change?

Are you willing to ‘clean house’ emotionally as well?  What dust bunny thoughts are hanging out under your bed?  What mental cobwebs hover in corners? What sticky residue coats your mental counters? Get out the broom, dustpan and spray cleaner and go to town!

As I was planning on writing this blog entry, my friend Joanna Chodorowska posed a question:  How’s Your HQ? (Hug Quality)  I responded that she knew how mine was, since I offer FREE HUGS any and everywhere I can. I know that Joanna can answer in the affirmative as well, since she too, is a consummate hugger and has joined me on a few occasions as a Hugmobster Armed With Love. In the interceding years since the group’s 2014  inception, I/we have shared hugs at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, in various places in Bucks County, at rallies and vigils, at the DNC, at parades, at fitness events, at my polling place on Election Day (and many places since then as a result of the outcome), in DC, and the Phoenix airport.

Yesterday, I hugged all sorts of colorfully garbed people at Pridefest in Philadelphia. The sweltering temps didn’t prevent folks from embracing me or each other. I knew it would be a welcoming place, as the purpose was to celebrate the freedom to love. Hugs reach across all kinds of culturally created and perpetrated stereotypes and divides.

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Quite simply, hugs heal. The words of  family therapist Virginia Satir could just as easily be written on a prescription pad: “We need four hugs a day for survival, eight hugs a day for maintenance, and 12 hugs a day for growth.”  Hugs meet skin hunger needs, which are just as vital for wellbeing as food hunger. Without nurturing, non-sexual touch, by consent, we fail to thrive. Touch need not be shared only or primarily between sexually intimate partners. It is not only possible but indeed, enjoyable to cuddle/hug with platonic friends. I have ‘cuddle buddies,’ of all genders who help meet those needs. I facilitate a workshop called Cuddle Party which teaches communication, boundary setting and offers that kind of touch. Even if people don’t know each other at the beginning of our time together, they may leave feeling like family of choice.

The truth is, even touchy feely folks like me don’t share that many hugs per day. Like many adults, I live alone and at the moment, am not in a consistent romantic relationship. I have wonderfully affectionate friends and family and when I see them, I fill up my hug tank. I am not with them on a daily basis. Sometimes I take a home writing break and go to my favorite coffee shop in my small town of Doylestown, PA; in part for the tea and for an even more important reason. The welcoming hugs from the owner and friends who frequent it (Think Cheers, where everybody knows your name) are even more nourishing.

When I take it to the streets to hug it out, I am filling a mutual need. At first, I thought the hug gigs I do were supposed to be purely altruistic until I realized that they fuel me as well. We can’t serve from an empty cup, so I fill mine up to overflowing. It is not selfish to need affection. It is self-sustaining and enlivening.

When I hug people, I slow down and breathe with them. I am fully present, if only for 20 seconds. Longer is preferable. I feel a mutual heartbeat. When we step away, we carry a piece of each other, a strand of love. Sometimes they cry. Sometimes I do. We each smile and often laugh.  We allow ourselves to be fully human. I have been asked how it feels to hug strangers. I respond that once we have hugged, we are no longer strangers. I also have been asked if I feel rejected if people turn down hugs. I don’t since I know that everyone’s touch needs are different. When they decline, for whatever reason, I encourage them to hug someone, or at least, themselves.

Last weekend, my friend Flora Zanfrisco followed me around the streets of Philadelphia as we spoke of all things huggy.