Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Your Annual Review

This title might sound dreadful, if you’ve ever had an annual review to measure your job performance. Leave out the dread and think self-review with the goals of patting yourself on the back for a job well done and redirecting your course in the year to come for goals you’ve missed.

The review I suggest isn’t your typical report card to Mom and Dad, even the Mom and Dad in your mind. (If I could learn how to turn off parental voices in my mind, I’d be the richest woman on earth when I shared that secret!) What I’m suggesting is an objective, loving look at your course and whether or not you’re getting closer to where you want to go. I talk a lot about my GPS or God Positioning System. Have you veered off course? That’s all … and if you haven’t, it’s time to get excited about whatever represents Paris, Rome, or other exciting destinations. You’re getting closer!

My Year-End Review

No joke, it’s more than a rear-end review where I measure how much weight I haven’t lost! I review my journal to see what’s really been going on in the past 365 days. I play Objective Observer and view the scene from further back than too close to see what’s really happening. If you don’t already journal, read Journals: The Sort-It Detail and consider starting one as a goal for the new year and decade. But even if you don’t journal as yet, you can do a meditative review of your year by simply observing it as a movie in your mind. Do it as early as possible in the new year.

Keep a calendar or PDA? Use it as a memory jogger to recall key events. Find a quiet corner and an hour to do this exercise. Start with January, and month by month, see what you were up to. Drink in the events as your memory movie unfolds, then contemplate them for 3-5 minutes to sort out the feelings and learning. Next write what comes up for you. What were your key lessons, feelings, progress, stumbling blocks?

Once you’ve got 12 monthly blurbs, you can check for common patterns and truly experience the magic of Objective Observer or Overseer. Remember, there’s “seer” in that last role, which means you are seeing with wise eyes and the ability to notice the course you’re taking. What would you redirect? What would you “not change for anything?”

Enter the New Year Softly

Wave hello to 2010. After all, it’s a new decade. Wasn’t it just yesterday that we were worrying about terminal crashes to our computers (pun intended) and stashing food for the dreaded domino effect of bad programming fallout in our electronic devices? Bad programming is what we’re trying to avoid taking into the new year with us. To change a pattern, we have to see what it is—and tinker till we get ourselves back on the path we want to travel.

I can’t repeat too often, winter is an inner time. Be joyful, celebrate the New Year, but the real celebration is another year of growing as a spirit embodied on Earth.

What’s your “10”—your hottest projected accomplishment—in ’10? What do you aim for? What looks like success? At the end of this new year, you may change your mind and discover in this process that your truest accomplishment was something different all together.

That’s the inner adventure. May yours be fulfilling and dotted with exciting surprises. May the 2010 decade overflow with cool insights.


Photo Credit: HOLIDAY BACKGROUND © Dmstudio Dreamstime.com

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Quarterly Astrology Forecast and Winter Solstice Exercises to Warm Your Heart and Light Your Way

Happy Winter, Cool Insighters!

In case you haven’t noticed in the sidebar, I am now writing a quarterly astrological forecast by sign for one of my favorite sites, Perrie Meno-Pudge. You’ll learn a lot about winter, what it is and isn’t good for, and find out what’s happening in both the General Sky as well as the Outlook for your Sun sign. Check out what winter holds in store for you at Perrie’s Planetarium – Winter Solstice 2009.

Get a taste of the fabulous Winter Solstice celebration I held on December 21st with my Solsisters friends. Two of the regular exercises we do each year—I call them “astrologizes”—are replicated on Spirited Woman blog, where I am also a guest blogger this week. The articles are called Astrologize: Exercises for the Winter Solstice to Warm Your Heart and Light Your Way. Here’s #1, Ceremony of Recognition and #2, Burning the Old.

I’d like to close with this quote from the Revels and my wish for you:

And so the shortest day came
And the year died
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing
To Drive the dark away.

Let’s all proclaim together—Welcome Yule, WELCOME YULE!


Photo Credit:  WINTER STAR CONSTELLATIONS © Solarseven  Dreamstime.com

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Let It Begin with Me

Music inspires us. Once during December, someone asked me my favorite song of the holiday season. It’s Let There Be Peace on Earth and Let It Begin with Me. Even though it’s played most often during this time of year, Let There Be Peace wasn’t originally written as a holiday song. That’s fitting, for peace is not a season, it’s a way of life.

Yet when we see the headlines, peace probably seems like a pipe dream. War is rampant. Years later, we are still reeling from 9/11. Is it just me, or have more people on the edge gone over? We see senseless killings, mayhem, and discoveries of physical and sexual abuse, even by priests, parents, and other adults most trusted by children.

Peace is not a season; it’s a way of life.

It’s easy to feel helpless and wonder if the world has gone mad. Do you ever ask yourself, “What can I do? I’m only one small person.” I can’t stop countries from fighting. I can’t keep crazy people off the streets or out of airports.

But I’m going to tell you what you can do; how your small daily acts of peacemaking are more important than you ever imagined at a time when they were never more needed. Like pebbles of caring, your acts of kindness ripple outward when dropped into the ocean of our collective consciousness. The little things you do every day can have a divine domino effect.

And while songs inspire us, a picture is worth a thousand words. We first got the Big Picture when Earth was photographed from our Moon in the late ‘60s. Its beauty was magnificent, and that image should fly on a global flag to remind us who we are—one planetary people and organism.

Use peaceful words—cooperate, consensus, fun, together, common ground, everyone, love, and friendship. Avoid “fighting words” like us and them, some people, those kind of people, and what kind of a person would…

Here are my Five Tips for a Peaceful Day (Week, Month, Year, Life):

1. Let peace begin with me, let this be the moment. Take a moment and start noticing when you react to something with anger or a desire to lash out. Ask yourself: What inner conflict is this stirring up in me? Almost always, we are merely projecting our own struggle onto another person. When this happens collectively, it escalates into war. It can be nipped in the bud, as in you ‘n’ me, bud!

2. Watch your thoughts like a hawk. Thoughts are powerful, because they lead to actions. Every thought leads to a collection of thoughts called a mindset. Set is the operative word. We can become fixed in negativity—a negative mindset—which leads to hate, conflict, even murder and war. Or we can notice and build on what’s good. Accentuate the positive, as another old tune goes. It leads to love, joining, and a sense of community—even a global community.

3. Watch your mouth. This is the partner of Watch Your Thoughts, because one of the actions thoughts lead to is talking. Use peaceful words—cooperate, consensus, fun together, common ground, everyone, love, and friendship. Avoid “fighting words” like us and them, some people, those kind of people, and what kind of a person would…. You have the power to redirect any communication, to neutralize it and lighten up its energy. Above all, don’t gossip. I define gossip as idle talk about others with no constructive value, usually mired with judgment.

4. Consider that you don’t necessarily know what’s going on with people. When someone acts like a jerk, instead of getting angry, wonder what’s really hurting him or her. I’m a sensitive person who tends to take things personally; so, this one’s a challenge for me. Just for a change, assume it’s his or her stuff (that projection thing in #1). Then exercise compassion. Assume this person is having a bad day, a problem, or a rough life. Don’t escalate by responding to the sharp word. If you’ve ever seen someone good at this, it’s a joy to behold. (They turn grumps into gold). Some customer service people are experts at it.

5. Find common ground, even with so-called enemies. Everyone has something they really care about. Find out what it is and talk with them about it, whether it’s old cars or their pets. Give up having to be liked in favor of doing your best to make all communications as productive as possible. And don’t forget, common ground may be that you and the crab learn to live in the same airspace!

Peace on Earth. It’s an inside job. It’s a good virus. It’s contagious in the best possible way, capable of morphing into forms of good beyond your wildest imaginings.

The holiday season is a time for thinking and doing “big.” Just as John Lennon did, I invite you to do just that--Imagine.


Photo credit: My great great niece, Ana, mesmerized by the menorah.

Note: Let There Be Peace on Earth and Let It Begin with Me was written by Sy Miller and Jill Jackson, © 1955 by Jan-Lee Music.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

“Happy Holidays”—Another Kind of Peace Sign

© 2009 by Joyce Mason
All Rights Reserved

I love my friends who “want to put Christ back in Christmas,” and I honor their viewpoint. I grew up with strong Catholic roots, and I love celebrating the birthday of Jesus. But I don’t think saying “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays” necessarily does the trick of what’s at the heart of that Christ in Christmas expression—making people act more Christ-like or more aware of the religious roots of the season.

In fact, it can have the exact opposite effect. I am rarely this blunt, but I have to say it. In certain contexts, “Merry Christmas” is rude. It alienates Jews, Muslims, and practitioners of a variety of other religions or beliefs other than Christian. In a not so subtle way, it imposes your viewpoint on other people by just assuming they share it. “Happy Holidays” acknowledges the vast number of faiths that exist and respects a person’s right not to believe at all. It says, “Whatever you celebrate or don’t, I wish you well during this time of year where there’s a surge in generosity of spirit.”

Let’s put this in perspective. No one wants to inhibit your freedom to say Merry Christmas at church, among fellow Christians at home or in any other setting, except those that are more public where people of all faiths converge. If you know someone is Christian, “Merry Christmas” the right thing to say. “Happy Chanukah” is the appropriate greeting for someone who’s Jewish. Happy Solstice is a good bet for your favorite agnostic.

 But out and about, where you might not know someone’s spirituality or lack thereof—that’s another story. Here’s an empathy experiment. Imagine you’re Christian and you just landed on a planet where Christianity is not the norm. It’s a festive time of year and people are shouting (pick one) Happy Chanukah, Allah Be Praised, or Atheists Rock! No one acknowledges your beliefs, and you feel like a lonely petunia in an onion patch. If your beliefs are close to your heart, this can be painful and isolating. At best, it is hurtful or irritating; at worst, when done consistently, it contributes to an intimidating atmosphere where people do not feel safe to share themselves. Beliefs reflect the core of who we are.

How little it takes to acknowledge and celebrate diversity.

When “Happy Holidays” first became the politically correct greeting, I, too, resented it. I felt like a lifetime of celebrating the season in a way that wove religion, spiritual perspective, and general goodwill had been forcibly replaced by something that sounded secular and cold. It took me a long time to get the point. We are free to “talk amongst ourselves” in a very candid way in any homogenous group, but once we mix it up, we have to consider the comfort of others. It’s the Golden Rule. It’s the teaching of Jesus at his best, and I daresay of the prophets from any number of other religions.

Inclusiveness is the epitome of Christianity. Jesus ministered to the fringe of society—the poor, the sick, the disenfranchised. This loving kindness and welcoming is reflected in the beliefs of many other paths up the mountain. I appreciate that there are those who believe in their heart of hearts that their faith is the one and only way to salvation. But out in the world, it’s not OK with me—or a lot of other people—to emphasize it. Religion can be even more divisive than politics and this time of year, especially, we need to focus on the love in which we’re all joined. There will never be peace on earth unless we learn to stand comfortably in our beliefs while respecting each other’s unique way of seeing things.

Lastly, we are wrong to assume that saying “Happy Holidays” is secular or implies a person whose only interest in December is shopping and the presents she receives. As one of my friends recently reminded me, the word “holiday” is derived from “holy day.” You can make the winter celebrations more ecumenical or universal, but you can’t deny their roots. Many people would be surprised to know that the Christian holiday traditions drew heavily from pre-existing pagan practices. The original “Christians” were Jews before they split into two separate faiths. The simple expression, “Happy Holidays,” has a lot more togetherness behind it than meets the eye. The degree to which that’s true depends on the mind and heart of the person saying it.

Let’s try a collective experiment. The next time you say “Happy Holidays,” make it an open-minded, open-hearted outpouring of goodwill and the only true gift anyone you can give anyone—to love them just the way they are.


Photo credit: +EPS WORLD RELIGIONS, DOVE © Casejustin | Dreamstime.com

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Fairy Godmother Wands You!

Gift Ideas. Last year, I wrote a post about my gift for gifts called The Fairy Godmother. I invited readers to Comment and share some of their best gift ideas, too. The results were fabulous! Many of you said the exchange sparked ideas for your holiday shopping lists. We could all use a little help this time of year. I’ve decided to invite my Fairy Godmother persona back for another visit—to make her magic dust and gift tips an annual feature. VoilĂ ! Here are this year’s flicks from the Godmom’s Gift Wand:

(SPOILER ALERT! If you are someone who normally gets a holiday gift from me, don’t look, as I may be talking about the gift you haven’t gotten yet this year.)

eBaybe Basket - Our niece has recently become a passionate eBay shopper. Inexpensive baskets make the base for many of my gifts. After the season last year, I got three nesting holiday baskets in green and red for next to nothing. I used the medium-sized one for this collection of goodies: a nifty, electronic kitchen timer for making sure she doesn’t miss those last-minute bids; a pound of Bad Ass Coffee, a company whose name and donkey logo send the right message about being an online shopper in stubborn pursuit of winning the latest auction; and an eBay gift card. I lined the basket with raffia style “grass” and used my computer to create a tag that reads eBaybe Basket.

A Trip Down Under – Some of our relatives can’t travel much anymore due to limited mobility. I figured out a way to send them to Australia, and they only have to go 10 miles from home to get there—no airport security, three-ounce jar limitations for carry-on, and no baggage fees. In fact, no baggage at all except an appetite! I found a darling little stuffed kangaroo at Barnes & Noble online. His pouch is perfect for fitting a gift card to Outback Steakhouse, that yummy Aussie-themed restaurant. I made a special card modeled after an Australian postcard, touting the features of this trip Down Under, no passport needed.

Relief for the Older Relative Who Has Everything - One of my relatives is a challenge for being of a certain age where he has most everything he wants or needs. Also, he travels from across the country to be with us for the holidays. Anything I get him needs to pack well for the return trip. At my local CVS Pharmacy, I stumbled across Sarah Peyton’s Hot & Cold Personal Spa Set. Aside from sounding like the name of my blog, it has soft wraps with therapeutic gel inserts than can be heated or cooled for the aches and pains that invariably go with the turf of an octogenarian—or a someone often much younger. (Me!)

Peace on Earth Bracelets - I love that the peace sign is back! It’s that time of year when we talk most about Peace on Earth. I found wood bead bracelets at Mixed Bag, one of my favorite local boutiques, that have tiny, sterling silver peace sign charms on them. They are perfect for two of my friends, who are as dedicated as I am to being part of the Peace. One of the most beautiful compliments I ever received was from my late, great friend Garry. Writing about me, he said, “She’s all about peace on the planet.” I love recognizing sister peacekeepers in such a lovely way! (Aside to the astro-savvy: These two friends and I, as a trio, call ourselves The Venus Girls for having the planet Venus in a prominent in our charts. If someone you know is a Venus Girl—especially if she’s a Libra or Taurus—two of their big loves are peace and beauty, and this bracelet covers them both.)

Coffee Lover - Last year I focused on another love of my eBaybe niece—Starbucks. We have two credit cards where we accumulate points for purchases. They can be redeemed for gift cards. We often cash in our points for holiday gifts, as in this case. I bought a lovely reindeer gift box for $3 at Michaels, square and deep with the design both inside and out. I put in a gold mug. In the mug is the Starbucks gift card. Also in the gift box was frankincense and myrrh soap by Indigo Wild. The brand is Zum Bar, and it’s made from goat’s milk. I buy the soap at our local Natural Foods Co-op or Whole Foods. It smells divine! However, to unacscentuate that part of the gift till opening and so it doesn’t mingle with the smell of coffee with possibly strange results, I wrapped it in clear cellophane wrap. It sits in a bed of white sparkly “grass” that looks like snow. Behind the mug is a half-pound of Starbucks Christmas Blend in its shiny gold package. I created a bubble in Word and cut it out, so that the deer inside is thinking/saying: There is no greater gift than Love—followed by gold, frankincense, myrrh—and Starbucks!

• For the Runner on Your List - I gave my friend Wendy the book, Women Who Run by Shanti Sosienski. In interviews with numerous women, it explores why women run, what drives them, and what continues to spark their interest in the sport. Even before she pounded pavement, Wendy had some “tootsie trouble.” To help keep her feet in good running condition, I also gave her some new-fangled toe stretchers that can help realign the lower digits if you have any podiatry problems like hammer toes or bunions. While the running book and toe stretchers were Wendy’s gift last year, think of the possibilities for the runner in your life that could accompany a book about running: good padded socks like Thorlo’s, sweat or wrist bands, or iPod download gift cards to make the run both a walk and a concert in the park.

• Literary Mama - My friend Lucy is an excellent writer, but motherhood and working have put literary efforts on the back burner for her. However, she wants to take the pot out and stir it as often as she can. I got her the book, Literary Mama: Reading for the Maternally Inclined by Seal Press. Mom-writers share the growth they’ve gained through motherhood. Writer’s Digest offered me a free gift subscription if I renewed early. I asked Lucy; she wanted it. This part of the gift wasn’t a surprise, but I asked them to start it with the January issue and bought her a single copy of the December issue to go with the book. It gave me something to present besides just a gift card and served as a preview and “teaser” till her subscription kicked in.

• For Your Favorite Travelers – Another great find for my uncle who travels from afar and around the world is the Travelon Leather ID and Boarding Pass Holder. It’s a fashionable, practical, hands-free “necklace” for your travel documents while doing the airport security jig. What’s more, it passes the true test of a great gift find. I want one!

• Seasonal Delights - Last year, for my sister in Pennsylvania, I put together a seasonal package with a tag that read, Open Before Christmas. Enjoy all season! Starting with a holiday tote bag I got for $4 at Barnes & Noble in a special seasonal promotion (they have them again this year), I started filling it with the darkly playful humor of one of my favorite memoir writers in his gut-buster, Holidays on Ice: Stories by David Sedaris. Also in the package were my favorite frankincense and myrrh soap and a Santa mug filled with packets of exotic hot chocolate blends. I got a kick just thinking of introducing my sister to David and his holiday antics. I could see her sitting in her house, sipping hot chocolate. I added a personally made card (MS Publisher). On the outside, it said Merry Sismas with a vintage boomer photo of the two of us at ages 12 and 13. I added a personal note to the sentiment: Having you for a sister makes it Christmas every day of the year! 

This last idea can be modified to fit any favorite friend or relative. Even the family curmudgeon might enjoy a copy of Scrooge, book or DVD. Add one of with those hilarious cloth gift sacks marked Naughty, containing licorice or other goodies as “lumps of coal.” I just bought a relative one of those cool money jars available at every other store this season. It has a digital gismo that counts your change as you put it in. Wouldn’t your favorite Scrooge enjoy counting his cash while everyone else revels? Oh, and don’t forget a set of earplugs so he can’t hear the carols. And one of those lapel buttons that says “Bah, Humbug!”

I hope this “conversation” has brought out your inner Fairy Godmother! Please have her visit the Comments with any ideas for this annual gift idea exchange.

Don’t forget, Google and your mouse are your best friends during this time of year. No crowds, no parking problems, no snarky shoppers or crabby clerks. However, you must stock a box cutter at home and recycle all the cardboard that will overflow as delivery trucks bring the holiday right to your door.

May your joy in giving catch fire and light the world this holiday season. Peace!


Photo credit: HOLIDAY © Lenta Dreamstime.com

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Four Elements: I Dig Earth!

Part 4 of 4

© 2009 by Joyce Mason
All Rights Reserved

Give me dirt, and I’m in my element. As I’ve mentioned on other posts like Gettin’ Earthy, this is literally true. From my Earth- heavy astrological chart to my Earth imbalance in Chinese medicine, where Earth is my “causative factor” or CF, I am an Earth Girl. To be even more accurate, I’m a spirit on an Earth mission. And I really dig it!

When I’m gardening, I feel closest to Spirit. From childhood on, there has always been something about mud pies, plant roots, and clumps of dirt that heals whatever ails me. Earth ruled from the Beginning. It wasn’t a Campfire, Waterfall, or Breezeway of Paradise—it was the Garden of Paradise. It had trees, flowers, and probably chirruping birds. Earth was its primary element.

The astrological Earth signs are Taurus, Virgo, and Capricorn.

But earth is more than dirt, and quite frankly, as a Virgo, I can only play in it so much before I have to clean up! Earth is associated with our physical bodies, our planet that’s named after this element, and a variety of practical skills, as well as sensuality. I have always gotten a charge out of the title of the wacky 1988 movie, Earth Girls Are Easy. Um, yes, we certainly can be especially at the height of our hormones!

The Native American Medicine Wheel represents the Circle of Life. On it, the Earth element is associated with the direction North, the color blue, and the season of winter. One resource on Native American Spirituality calls winter the season of sadness, survival, and waiting. This speaks to both the downside and ultimate triumph of the element Earth. Everything “natural” on the Planet Earth ultimately dies. That‘s literal just once, but meanwhile, throughout a lifetime, little deaths of things in their current form give rise to resurrection in both a literal and figurative recurring springtime. Earth is the anchor element of all four—some would argue the sweetest. The temporary nature of life here makes everything so poignant. One of my favorite moments I’ve mentioned before comes in the John Travolta movie, Michael. Playing an angel completing his mission who is about to return to the heavenly realms, he surveys the beauty all around him and says, “I’m really going to miss this.”

Thanksgiving is an earthy holiday where we gorge ourselves with food to nourish and bring pleasure to our physical bodies. We are grateful for Earth’s bounty. We revel for living on a planet that supports our life form, not just in a so-so way, but with bawdy abundance.

This holiday, spend a little time contemplating your relationship to the element Earth. Get down ‘n’ dirty in whatever form appeals to you from digging in planter boxes to the sensual side of Earth’s blessings.

One of the greatest gifts of Earth is grounding. May your roots be deeply planted and closely intertwined with Gaia, the spirit of the divine dirt upon which we are privileged to live and share and have our being.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Photo Credit: MAN HOLDING SEEDLING © Markross |Dreamstime.com
For more on Thanksgiving inspiration with an astrological spin, read Jumpin’ Jupiter, Happy Thanksgiving on The Radical Virgo.

Four Element Series
Air - Air Born
Fire - Hearts Afire
Water - Wetting Reception


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

My Three Minutes of Fame

Dear Cool Insighters,

This is a between-the-posts share about how my six-word memoir led to a local TV interview. Last year, I wrote the following micro-memoir on Smith Magazine’s six-word memoir site:

First love lost, 14; married, 50.

It’s Tim’s and my love story in a nutshell. (Want 200 more words? Click “show backstory” under these six words and the picture of Tim and me at my 8th grade graduation on my Smith link.) This summer, Smith partnered with AARP Magazine to do a regular column for the 50+ audience. Ours was chosen as one of the tiny memoirs on the theme of love (Less Is L’amour …) in the September/October 2009 issue.

This tiny blurb turns out to be six of the most evocative words I have ever written! Old friends saw the entry in the AARP column, and I got calls from people I hadn’t spoken with in decades. Soon I had an e-mail from a local reporter who wanted to feature us on “Good Day Sacramento” on a show they were doing with a “lost loves” theme.

Since the clip is from a copyrighted TV show, I can’t link to it directly, but if you’d like to see it, here are the directions:

Go to Good Day Sacramento.: . Once you’re on the GDS website, on the right there’s a Good Day Videos screen. Under the screen, the far right button says Menu. To the left of Menu is a spyglass. Click the spyglass, which activates a search window. Plug in the words “lost loves,” and you’ll find our video.

We hope our story inspires others who always wondered about their lost loves. While not all stories have our happy ending, it’s healing to complete that circle of “unfinished business” and “always wondering,” regardless of the outcome.

And about that 15 minutes of fame Andy Warhol said we all get? I’ve still got 12 left! I hope I can cash them in on a book or two—or ten.

Here’s to those flashes back to the past,



Photo: My favorite of the booth photos Tim and I took in Dallas on February 14, 1997, our first Valentine’s Day together since 1961.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Four Elements: Wetting Reception

Part 3 of 4

© 2009
by Joyce Mason
All Rights Reserved

Rain drenches us; it ruins our plans. It tends to make us feel depressed and to declare that the day has gone downhill.

Yet rain—water—cleanses, and changes in plans often hold hidden blessings. Downpours drive us indoors where we can be closer to our family and ourselves—the actions, people, and things that form our foundations and replenish us daily. It can drive us inward to contemplate, reorganize, and wonder about the meaning of life … how the events in our everyday dramas add up to something bigger. We can listen to our favorite music while tinkering around the house, tackling a put-off project, or treating ourselves to some bonus relaxation. Consider curling up with your favorite magazine, book, or source of encouragement with the rain splattering on the roof as background music.

Getting wet is a refreshing back-to-nature experience, if you look at it with the wide eyes of a child. In our high-tech culture, too often we are literally not in touch with the elements and the magnificence all around us. Remember when you were a kid, opening your mouth, tilting back your head, and hoping you could gather enough drops for a drink of fresh rainwater?

The element water probably holds its own special place for you. For me, it was often a scary place. My mother’s fear of water rubbed off on me. (She almost drowned as a child.) But I was bent on overcoming it. It took me nothing short of 50 tries to get up on water skis for the first time. As I grew up, I discovered the muscle-soothing heaven of a whirlpool and floating down the river in a rubber raft in the lazy days of summer.

Rivers themselves are home to me, and I bless the day that I migrated to a city with two of them. My friends and I hold ceremonies celebrating the changes of seasons, milestone birthdays, and weddings on the banks of the American River. In the Native American Medicine Wheel, the element water is associated with the West, the color blue, feelings, the season fall, and the setting sun. It always feels right this time of year to create our own ceremonial circle surrounded by the element autumn celebrates.

I soothe myself with lunch on the Sacramento or overlooking the American. Driving down the Delta Highway is heaven. The closer I am to water, the more I am alive … not to mention the two liters a day that I drink. The more I get, the more I want. What I once feared, I now crave … and none of us can live without it.

Water symbolizes emotions, no more literally than in our tears. There is a popular wedding blessing: Let there be such oneness between us, that when one cries, the other will taste salt. Tears are the rain of intimacy. Soggy days, as my dad used to call them after my mom died, are the thunderstorms of loss and disconnection. They are the release that clears the air and revitalizes the atmosphere. Without them, we can’t love again.

The astrological Water Signs are Cancer, Scorpio, and Pisces.

Movies, our great cultural barometer, have seen rain. Gene Kelly was Singin’ (and Dancin’) in the Rain, showing us the best time in water since our rubber ducky. On the side of soggy days that never end, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, a ‘60s, soapy French musical, is set in a rainy town where the heroine, played by a young Catherine Deneuve, sells umbrellas--les parapluies-- in a small shop. She goes on to face love lost with all its heartbreak, a tearjerker that could only be set in the rain.

And let’s not forget surfer movies, shipwrecked themes— stranded on an island surrounded by water—the lightweight beach blanket genre, water theme park, and submarine flicks. More recently, the myth of her people’s Whale Rider helps a young aboriginal girl in New Zealand triumph over centuries of male tradition to take her rightful place as chief. There’s even a water horror genre—Jaws.

But closer to home: Baths and showers can elevate water to a sacred experience. Candles, soft music, and plenty of aromatherapy crystals turn a bath tub into an altar and a celebration of letting go. Water has a high place in our lives. As babies, we are baptized in it. Catholics cross themselves—a sacred gesture—with holy water, not clumps of dirt or sparks of fire. And one of the sweetest ways we can leave life and our earthly remains behind us it to have our ashes scattered at sea.

We water our plants and lawn, a ritual to help nature and help us mark time in our impatience till the flowers bloom. Where I come from, winters are cold, wet, and rainy. Winter beats down on our windows, but spring and summer and water hoses create an illusion of some temporary control over this element we can’t grasp, but only let flow.

On the other hand, when our actions are less than brilliant, people wonder if we have enough sense to come in out of the rain. I hope not.

Hug your next rain shower and experience the element water. Write down what it feels like and what you learn. There’s a reason why most of us and our gorgeous globe is made up of H2O. Go discover it!

Then, to take it a step further, ask yourself: What other changes in weather, literal and figurative, make me balk? What treasures am I missing—resisting?


Photo Credit: THE BEAUTY OF RAIN © Lyoung403b | Dreamstime.com

Four Element Series

Air - Air Born
Fire - Hearts Afire
Earth - I Dig Earth!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Four Elements: Hearts Afire

Part 2 of 4

© 2009 by Joyce Mason
All Rights Reserved.

Chances are early man first observed a naturally occurring fire from a lightning strike--some say, as long as 40,000 years ago. It may have taken many generations before Homo erectus figured out how to strike two rocks together to start a fire on his own. Once these early men got that know-how, they had overcome one of the biggest hurdles to evolution. Life would never be the same. Now meat could be germ-free, and eating it would take less gnawing, which led to a smaller jaw and teeth. With more digestible nutrients, both their brains and bodies increased in size. Fire allowed creation of better tools for more effective hunting, ensuring a steady food supply. Fire kept carnivorous animals at bay that preyed on humans for food. It provided warmth and comfort.

And that’s just on the physical level! We might still be squatting in caves without it, and, ladies—heaven forbid—cavemen might still be dragging us around by our hair bearing a club. These are reason alone to light candles on our altars, paying homage to the element fire. We wouldn’t be here now—in our present shape, form, freedom, and capabilities—if it weren’t for the fire discovered and perpetuated by our earliest human ancestors.

Fire is this and so much more. When we’re excited, we say “we’re all fired up.” When we’re passionate about something we’re doing, we’re “on fire.” When stress takes it’s toll, we’re “burnt out.”

These expressions all suggest what Fire means in Chinese medicine. I have used acupuncture as one of my main healing modalities for nearly 25 years. In that system, Fire rules the heart and circulation. Before traditional Chinese medicine practitioners knew about the nerves and glands, they called these systems The Triple Warmer or sex energy. A person with excess fire in Chinese medicine terms is high-strung and highly stressed. Conversely, a person who lacks fire would feel burned out and may suffer fatigue, restlessness, and disturbed sleep among a bevy of other potential symptoms.

It’s the connection to the heart that makes fire so important. It is our spark and the seat of the warmth we are able to give each other. There is no love without fire.

The astrological Fire Signs are Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius.

One of my favorite songs of all time is Hearts Afire by Earth, Wind, and Fire. (Could I really do a series on the elements without mentioning this band I fell in love with in the ‘70s? I’ve always loved their astrology-inspired name.) I was mad for the TV series of the same name starring the late John Ritter, Markie Post, and Billy Bob Thornton during its short run from 1992-95.

Passion is heat, whether it’s sex or anger. We refer to a sexy man or woman as hot or a hottie. When an e-mail or internet post is angry, mean, or spiteful, it’s flaming. It’s often not easy to contain, that’s why the astrological fire signs have their challenges with reeling in their anger or urge to go forward (the Aries temper and impatience), their pride (Leo boastfulness) or opinions (the Sagittarius know-it-all).

In Native American spirituality, Fire is associated with the direction South. Its color is white for peace and happiness. Its season is summer, a time, of plenty. Perhaps the old “rule” for wearing white only in summer till Labor Day came from this association.

Fire is Eros—our life force. In mythology, the god Eros is the patron of male love. (Aphrodite rules the love between men and women). Still, sexuality is only one aspect of Eros, even though the term erotic is derived from it. Eros is our flame, the passion that fires our work in the world, and our life energy itself. It’s what makes us shine and fires us up to get the job done. In one of the astrology books that most changed my life, Chiron: Rainbow Bridge Between the Inner and Outer Planets, Barbara Hand Clow links eros with the kundalini or awakened life force. The idea is to have this energy flow freely through all our chakras from the base of our spine to our third eye. The kundalini rises naturally at the Uranus Opposition, according to Clow, which happens when we are around 40. The Uranus Opposition is one of the midlife transits that associated with "midlife crisis." The sexual side of that energy is often what causes otherwise “normal” people to leave spouses, have affairs, or buy a hot red sports car! Ultimately, when kundalini rises through all seven chakras, we have harnessed the life force in its full possibilities and become balanced, warm, and often overtly spiritual people.

Don’t play with fire, but do experiment with it! From candles to a roaring fire in the fireplace, watch it on your gas range, barbecue, or try some Tiki torches on your patio. If there’s a controlled burn or an unexpected fire in your area, watch from afar and see what you learn just by observing this element. It’s fast and furious, it can be quickly destructive, but it also can provide everything that nurtures us—hot food and drink and a snuggly temperature for hugging.

Fire is the life force, and most important of all, the love force. Of course, there’s no difference:

"The day will come when, after harnessing space, the winds, the tides, and gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, we shall have discovered fire." ~ Pierre de Chardin


Photo Credit: FIRE HEART © Silverv |Dreamstime.com

Four Element Series

Air - Air Born
Water - Wetting Reception
Earth - I Dig Earth!


How Was Fire Discovered
Fire and Early Man
Fire Chinese Element Symptoms
Native Spirituality

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Blog-4-Cause: An E-book to Support the Susan G. Komen Cause for the Cure

A special message to the Readers of Hot Flashbacks, Cool Insights:

I was adopted as an infant, yet ultimately I had the joy of knowing both my mothers after my birth mom, Helen, and I were reunited in 1986. Sadly, I lost both my moms to cancer, but it’s breast cancer that’s part of my genetic history. Both Helen and her sister, my aunt, died of this disease.

If you are a woman, especially a woman of a certain age, breast cancer is potentially part of your history, too, whether or not your mom or other female relatives ever had it. Here are some facts that we should never forget along with our annual mammograms:

*  The most proven and significant risk factors for getting breast cancer are being female and getting older.

    *  Only five to ten percent of breast cancers are due to heredity. The majority of women with breast cancer have no known significant family history or other known risk factors.

      *  Breast cancer is second only to lung cancer in deaths among women.

        Two wonderful bloggers I have encountered by what I call “happystance,” Lance Ekum (Jungle of Life) and Joanna Sutter (Fitness and Spice), have developed an e-book called Blog-4-Cause. I am a proud contributor. Blog-4-Cause contains fascinating articles by many writer/bloggers in multiple subject areas: Inspirational, Personal Growth, Health & Fitness, Humor, Food, and Miscellaneous. (My article on Auntie Mame is on p. 15 in the Inspirational section.)

        If you’d like to an introduction to some diverse bloggers and an opportunity to support this worthy cause, at the same time, I hope you’ll consider clicking on the photo or the Blog-4-Cause link in the paragraph above to become part of the solution. All contributions for the e-book go directly to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation. The participating authors have volunteered our work for the cause, and I hope you’ll consider a contribution of any amount, for which the e-book is your gift.

        Think pink! And remember, our breasts are close to our hearts.

        Health and happiness,


        Friday, October 23, 2009

        The Four Elements: Air Born

        Part 1 of 4

        © 2009
        by Joyce Mason
        All Rights Reserved

        As a concept, the elements are ancient. Many philosophies and most major spiritual traditions have used the archetypal four elements to describe patterns in nature. That goes for human nature as well. “Know thyself” is the cornerstone of spirited living. This is the first of a series of four posts exploring our elemental nature. (For more on this topic, read The Vast Lane to Elementary School ). Let’s start with some examples of the part the elements play in various traditions.

        Native Americans align themselves with the Four Directions in a medicine wheel to invoke the Spirits of the Four Elements. Each spirit rules a direction: East (Air), South (Fire), West (Water) and North (Earth). By attuning themselves with elemental energies, they create the space to pray, heal, and commune with the natural world and the universe. They call this walking in balance with the Earth. Heaven only knows how badly we need that right now.

        The astrological Air Signs are Gemini, Libra, and Aquarius.

        Indigenous cultures view air as the universal power or pure substance. Even in our high-tech, modern world, we know the power of air. We are born—considered to exist independently—from the moment of our first breath, whether or not the cord has been cut, whether or not we are detached from our mother. In the Medicine Wheel as in life itself, Air comes first and last. We are Air Born. When we are no longer able to breathe—to take in air—we die.

        Yet breathing, our most personal experience of air, is something we often take for granted—unless or until we suffer from the flu, a bad cold, asthma, or other respiratory diseases. How fully do you breathe in the breath of life?

        Stress and other environmental factors tend to lead to shallow breathing and diminished oxygenation and mental clarity. Think of the word inspired, something we all hope to be in our work, play, and life in general. Inspiration is breathing—to inspire or breathe in. What is your relationship to your own breath?

        We worry about bad breath, but halitosis is the least of our problems. The really “bad” breath is not drinking in life to our full lung capacity. Yoga, the gentle exercise that focuses on breathing, means union—union of spirit/air and our entire physical being. We have a lot to learn from this ancient practice currently enjoying a renaissance in the Western world.

        But if chanting om and sitting still are not your bag, there’s runner’s high and a host of other ways to drink in the breath of life. There’s nothing like hot sex to get you panting and appreciating how we’re wired for extra air, just when we need it most. Another example of air conditioning comes when you have to run from danger, or God forbid, for your life. Who knows where it comes from, that extra oomph to heave your chest and make room for the surge of fear and expanded lung capacity. Who cares? It’s an elemental miracle.

        Simply being quiet and focusing on your breath either sitting still or walking in nature can be a centering ritual filled with startling revelations. It is only when we “listen” to our breath that we can hear our spirits speak.

        The breath of spirit can also become, as the practitioners of Ayurveda call it, deranged. Too much air is unsettling—one reason we are discombobulated after a long plane ride, flying around through so much air space. We don’t like it when something is “up in the air.” It’s undecided and out of our control. When wind whips through the trees and stirs up pollen, we don’t just sneeze. We often become downright cranky. Excess air causes a myriad of conditions that simply ask us to return to the inner barometer of our own breath, our trusty medium of life and spirit.

        Experiment: Simply take time to breathe—to notice your breath. Consider learning some yogic breath exercises. If you like to sing, do breath control warm-ups. Explore the edges of full and empty lungs. Donate to the Lung Association. Consider a visit Chicago, the Windy City. If, like me, you live within driving distance of windmill fields that create alternative energy, watch them spin. Go to a toy store; buy a pinwheel or kite. Blow up a balloon. Let it fly, or make music by stretching the mouth and letting out little bits of air. Play with this element. Journal the results.

        When we are completely high on life, we say, “I’m just flying!” Find out the full meaning of this metaphor and know when you’re living it. It’s the essence of being alive. 

        Or to quote the lyrics go of an old song, The Air That I Breathe  by The Hollies, "Sometimes all I need is the air that I breathe and to love you.


        Photo Credit: DANDELION WISH © Mircala Dreamstime.com

        Four Element Series

        Fire - Hearts Afire 
        Water - Wetting Reception
        Earth - I Dig Earth!

        Thursday, October 15, 2009

        Hot Flash Forward on Dan Brown’s New Book, “The Lost Symbol”

        © 2009 by Joyce Mason

        On Hot Flashbacks, Cool Insights, we like to play the symbols, not lose them as in the title of Dan Brown’s latest book, The Lost Symbol. But I found out recently that I haven’t lost my touch for inklings! Brown’s new book features an organization you’ve heard a lot about recently on this blog. You may recall our wonderful, two-article series by guest writer Janet Walden about the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS) last August. (To flash back, visit IONS: Tools to Change the World and IONS at the Movies.)

        Unbeknownst to me—and certainly to Marilyn Mandala Schlitz, President of IONS—it turns out that Dr. Katherine Solomon, the female protagonist in the novel, bears remarkable similarities to Marilyn Schlitz. Dr. Schlitz only found out about her brush with fictional fame on the book’s release date. Katherine is a composite of her and some other noetic scientists. Noetic science figures prominently in the story. I thought you’d like to know that life was anticipating art on Hot Flashbacks! Hopefully, you were fascinated enough by Janet’s articles on this organization to be cheering with me about its 15 minutes of fame. I am thrilled to have played a small part in the current wave of “positive IONS!” (Have you noticed how the Google ads on this site, keyword-based, think we’re talking about positive ion air machines, whenever the acronym IONS appears?)

        Because I consider IONS to be one of the most on-purpose and in-integrity organizations dealing with the big issues that bring science and spirituality together, I believe spirited people everywhere should be applauding this depiction of the organization in a mainstream novel that’s selling like hotcakes. It’s a spirited living breakthrough. Brown’s newest book rose immediately on its September 15 release date to #1 on Amazon, sold one million copies overall the first day, and broke nearly all historical sales records for fiction—just for starters! This means that millions of people around the world are being exposed to the merger of science and spirituality through its pages.

        Stay tuned for an NBC "Dateline" special, “Secrets of the Lost Symbol,” airing October 16 that will focus on the symbolism in Dan Brown’s book and feature IONS scientists Marilyn Mandala Schlitz and Dean Radin and the work of IONS.

        I feel a part of the excitement of these blessings that IONS is reaping, even if my involvement is “fringe” and from the auspices of a little fish blog in the deep blue sea of millions of them. I thought you might like some links to learn more about how Marilyn and IONS are greeting this surprise gift:

        In the Spotlight on IONS Home Page – Follow links if interested in a weekly audio course on the book.

        NPR: Woman Read’s Dan Brown Novel, Discovers Herself – Marilyn Schlitz wakes up to instant fame

        Marilyn Schlitz, PhD: Lead Character in "The Lost Symbol?" – Short You Tube video by Marilyn

        I haven’t read the book yet, but it’s next in my reading queue. If anyone has read it and would like to comment without spoilers--or offer a guest blog review, please contact me.

        Since I’m over the Moon for the good fortune of IONS, here’s an ending quote by IONS’ founder, Astronaut Edgar Mitchell. He is describing his trip home from the Apollo 14 Moon-landing mission:

        "Up in my cockpit window every two minutes, the Earth, the Moon, the Sun and the whole 360-degree, panorama of the heavens and that was a powerful and overwhelming experience. And suddenly I realized the molecules of my body and the molecules of the spacecraft and the molecules of the bodies of my partners were prototyped and manufactured in some ancient generation of stars. And that was an overwhelming sense of oneness, of connective-ness. It wasn't them and us, it was...that's me, that's all of it...it's...it's ONE THING!' And it was accompanied by an ecstasy, a sense...OH MY GOD...WOW...YES! An insight, an epiphany."


        Monday, October 12, 2009

        Laughter: Champagne for the Soul

        © 2009 by Joyce Mason

        Laughter is carbonated holiness. –Anne Lamott

        I take spirituality seriously. That’s why I laugh a lot. As I’ve said many times, I feel we’re closest to God when we’re laughing. Laughter joins, heals, and connects us as human beings. To laugh is to take a huge gulp of Anne Lamott’s carbonated holiness and toast our divine interconnection. When we’re laughing, we realize that we are each other.

        One of my favorite spiritual double entendres is “lighten Up.” Enlightenment shouldn’t come with long faces and a furrowed brow. It should come with peals of laughter that tingle all the way down to your toes and explode out the top of your head. In-between outbursts from a ticked funny bone, being highly spiritual or spirited should evoke plenty of smiles.

        When did spirituality take a left turn into somber? I’m not sure I even want to research that travesty, but I do want to talk about the sometimes-limited view of it many of us developed in traditional religions, regardless of what they were. I’ll pick on my own. I grew up Catholic, and now the whole world knows about our history of hair shirts and self-flagellation, recently brought home to the entire world in the fictional Silas character in Dan Brown’s DaVinci Code. As a girl, I was taught to admire and consider as role models women who had been raped, tortured, or had their breasts cut off. I’m not kidding. Especially if they were martyred (yes, killed), they became saints, more or less on the spot. Being a Catholic kid in the 1950s, at least where I grew up, was a gruesome business. To say the least, I don’t think the focus on blood, guts, and gore sent the right message. (I’m still shuddering.)

        Thank heaven, in the decades that have passed, many people—clergy and their flocks alike—have evolved away from this dim view of holiness. One of my favorite priests once told us at Mass, “The real church starts when you walk out of this building.” I believe that wholeheartedly. We talk of being a Christian, Muslim, or a Jew. To be is a verb, and spirituality is action, ergo the expression, “to walk the talk.” In the Christian tradition, it means helping others and acting to eradicate all forms of social injustice. Jews put perhaps even more emphasis on good works. Holiness means not just something sanctified, but something made whole. It has to do with seeing ourselves as part of all of creation and wanting all that lives to live to the fullest. This is stated so poignantly in this video by Peter Mayer, singing and playing his inspiring song, Holy Now.

        “Holy Now” is an example of the sweet side of spirituality, the one where we are in awe of the beauty of life that’s ours to relish, if we only have the eyes to see it. Here’s my quote for this tender side of spirituality:

        Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair. ~G.K. Chesterton

        The love affair is with everything—people, places, plants, animals, and the spark of life, wherever it shines. It reminds me of the title of one of my favorite books, Everything Belongs, by Richard Rohr. While the subtitle is The Gift of Contemplative Prayer, the content is much more—a breath of fresh air that will keep you in that place of “holy now.” In "Everything Belongs," there are chapters entitled Vision of Enchantment and Return to the Sacred. You get the picture.

        For now, back to laughter and evolution. Since so many of us had early religious experiences, often among misguided souls who taught us, religious humor becomes an outlet for both healing and reconnection to the “rightness within.” My favorite priest told me in confession when I was a teenager worried about going to second base, which felt good and not wrong, “Your conscience is the ultimate authority—more important than any religious teaching.” Wow! Isn’t it cool to realize that in a sea of misinformation, I stumbled upon an oasis, one wise soul bearing truth?

        I have to admit, some of my favorite jokes involve a priest, a rabbi, and a minister. When Garrison Keillor has joke day on A Prairie Home Companion, I laugh hardest at these funnies about the various religious perspectives on life. As a Catholic who grew up in a Jewish neighborhood, I relish the Jewish roots of Christianity and both religious perspectives. That said, I couldn’t resist telling my favorite joke:

        In the inner city of a large metropolis, there was a great deal of urban renewal going on. The local temple was being demolished, and the congregation had no place to go until the new synagogue was finished. In an act of interfaith generosity, the neighboring monsignor contacted the rabbi and offered a solution. The temple could use the church in its off hours. They’d stagger services and meeting nights, accommodating both church members and temple goers until the new synagogue was ready. The rabbi was delighted with this offer, and both clergymen felt they were setting an example of tolerance and love.

        The schedules were ready to go, the announcements ready to be made, but the rabbi scratched his beard and the monsignor scratched his head, both of them expressing the thought that something didn’t sit right. They’d have to call it something different in the meantime to help both congregations grasp this temporary ecumenical meeting ground. After a long period of drawing a blank on common denominators, they finally found it:

        Our Lady of Perpetual Guilt.

        Jesus was arguably one of the greatest teacher of all time, if not the greatest of all. He taught in stories and allegories. I can’t help but believe he had a sense of humor, and I get a lot of mileage wondering what kind of jokes he told. I wonder why none of the gospel writers saw fit to pass them on. I guess they wanted the Word to be taken seriously. If they knew then what we know now about the physiology of laughter, as told in one of my favorite articles ever, How Laughter Works, we might have a very different bible. We might have had more laying on of laughs than the laying on of hands. I have always loved this depiction of Jesus Laughing.

        If you’re serious about spirituality, I hope you laugh a lot—and if you don’t, do some heavenly homework and begin watching how much our human foibles, depicted in humor, bring us all together—and deserve our giggles, belly laughs, and guffaws as we see ourselves “illuminated.” Seeing our absurdities lit up is just another form of enlightenment. Share in the Comments anything interesting you observe in his new holy/wholely comedy perspective.

        This past weekend, I saw the play Late Nite Catechism: ‘Til Death Do Us Part in Sacramento. What a hoot. It clearly threw light on certain elements of Catholic practices and perspectives in the past were—for lack of a better term—downright insane. The laughter as “Sister” quoted the old party line with deadpan delivery was infectious. Nonie Newton-Breen, who played Sister, is an improv graduate of Second City in Chicago. (I recognized her kindred accent immediately.) The funniest questions were from those in “class” not raised Catholic about limbo, purgatory, and the rhythm method of birth control. (“It didn’t work too well,” Sister admitted. “You wanted 3 and got 13.”) The game show, Compatibility, had two couples facing off who couldn’t have been more different—a staunchly Catholic pair to this day after 39 years together, and a much more free-spirited couple, together 10 years who had yet to marry. (“What are you waiting for?” Sister was nothing if not blunt.) She even had a list of names from the ticket purchases, so if people did not volunteer, they could be called upon. Scary! No ruler whacks, though, “Because nowadays parents have lawyers.” We had a fabulous time, and as one who always took religion way too seriously as a kid, it was a relief to sit back, relax, laugh, and separate the best of my core beliefs from the BS. Our minds provide us a filtration system, just like a conscience.

        Since I’m most familiar with the Judeo-Christian perspective (I’d welcome knowing how other paths regard humor), I’ll end with two quotes that suggest that laughter was always there in our religious roots, just underemphasized:

        To everything, there is a season …A time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance. Ecclesiastes 3:1-4.

        The one whose throne is in heaven sits laughing. Psalm 2:4.

        If we are made in the divine image and all have that spark of divinity within, it’s high time take that last quote seriously.


        Photo credit:
        CELEBRATING AROUND THE WORLD © 14ktgold |Dreamstime.com

        Need more laughs? Read Ten Laugh Stops Online, especially Swami Beyondananda.

        Tuesday, October 6, 2009

        The Magnificent Seven Encore

        Kreativ Blogger awards are like Oscars, because they’re recognition from a writer’s peers. As you’ll see below, KB Awards involve “magnificent sevens.” Thank you, Susannah of Joy Frequencies for letting me take home my second KB logo this year! (Read about the first one here.) I nominated Susannah for a Lemonade Award in May, and she richly deserves that Lemmy for being an oasis of joy and inspiration. She brings sparkles to my life!

        If you’ve been nominated in my list later in this post and want to pay it forward (optional, of course), here are the guidelines:

        • Thank the person who gave you the award

        • Place the logo on your blog

        • Link to the person who nominated you

        • Name 7 things about yourself that people might find interesting

        • Nominate 7 bloggers for this award and post links to their blogs

        • Send a message to let them know they’ve been nominated

        Another Seven Things You May Find Interesting About Me

        Since I’ve done this once before, I’ve decided to share seven new things about myself, so I don’t bore you. (If my colleagues nominate me for any more awards, there won’t be anything left to reveal in my memoirs! However, I’m willing to live with the danger.)

        1. In my first career as a social worker, I spent eight years working with children and adults with developmental disabilities.

        2. I have been married twice, and both men have two different colored eyes. (What are the odds of that?)

        3. I went to Catholic high school for three weeks, and then decided I wanted to go to our public school instead. At the time, Evanston Township High School was rated in the top 5% of high schools in the country. I really left St. Scholastica because I couldn’t stand studying Latin, which was required. (In public school, I studied both French and Spanish and loved them. Maybe there wasn’t enough “romance” for me in Latin.)

        4. As a sophomore, I wrote for the annual high school variety show. My creative partner, Bonnie Fox and I, envisioned ourselves as the new Rodgers and Hammerstein. (She wrote music; I wrote lyrics.) I believe we did the first completely original tune in the long history of the show. (Most songs were existing ones with new lyrics.) It remains one of the thrills of my life, the first time I heard our song performed live on stage.

        5. As a graduating senior, I won the class award as the most promising student in journalism.

        6. Unlike cartoonist Sandra Boynton’s hippo who never met a carbohydrate she didn’t like, I have, and it’s mashed potatoes. (I know it’s un-American, but I think it’s a texture thing.)

        7. For a writing class I took in my early thirties at our local State university, I wrote a script for “All in the Family” in my Writing for Television class. It was critiqued by producer and famous TV writer, Mort Lachman. He was kind enough to be supportive and tell me both where I hit the mark and didn’t.

        Seven More Blog Nominees That Get My Vote

        The joy of doing this more than once is that I can share with my readers my new blog discoveries since we last met on a Magnificent Seven list as well as some time-honored faves.

        Kelly Diels ~ If you write or read blogs, do not under any circumstances miss Kelly’s article on ProBlogger linked on her site, “Why Blogging is Like the Wizard of Oz.” This is this is the best article on blogging I’ve read to date by one of the best writers I’ve ever discovered. She shares her life in gutsy, humorous, deep and delightful way. Kudos, Kelly!

        Red Door Diaries, A Creative Café by Lee Russell ~ Her motto says it all, Positive thoughts creating joyful conditions. Lee and I met when we both lived in Sacramento years ago. She was the graphic artist for Chironicles, the international newsletter on my astrological specialty, Chiron. (Chironicles had a wonderful run from 1992-95. Many of its best articles have been updated and posted on The Radical Virgo.) In the Red Door Diaries, Lee shares her journeys, both inner and outer with her usual creative pizzazz.

        Midlife Musings on Perrie Meno-Pudge ~ I don’t love Perrie’s new blog just because I was the first guest blogger, but because it has the usual tone, style, and help in a fun atmosphere that the Perrie Meno-Pudge team is famous for. Congrats, Barbara and Joanne, for another mid-life rockin’ winner!

        My Seat on the Beach by YaYa Bowman ~ Every time I visit this blog, I’m sorry I don’t do it more often. If that isn’t the sign of a great read, nothing is! YaYa’s personality just leaps off the screen along with her joie de vivre. Whether she’s addressing serious issues, like Domestic Violence Awareness month, sharing her milestones such as the return of the monarch butterflies to Santa Cruz, CA where she lives, or sharing her loves and their celebrations—especially her parents’ recent 60th anniversary—YaYa is sitting on that beach, living life to the hilt, and sharing it from the heart.

        The Brat in the Hat the Rantings of a Grumpy Old Woman by Pop Art Diva ~ All of Pop Art’s blogs are the bomb, but this is one for a day when you really need a good laugh, when your dark side needs to let loose, and when you need to ROFL till you cry. She even sells products with “snarky designs to fit your snippy moods” in her Rantorium Emporium. The Brat is a medicine bag full of he-he-he’s that heal.

        Journeys Close to Home –Susannah nominated me for this current award, and I can’t resist nominating her back for this newest addition to her family of blogs. I already love her Joy Frequencies and astrology blog, The Lion and the Lightning Bolt; her newest makes it a triple-header! What a great concept, sharing adventures close to home, even though hers is not close to mine. Susannah journals about short trips with plenty of pictures, maps, and travelogue—perfect in these more cautionary economic times where people are discovering their own backyards and taking “staycations.” (This word actually won some sort of “new word of the year award” for its entry into the lexicon by the Dictionary People. I assume they are second cousins, once removed, of Miss Manners.) I am so enjoying the vicarious outings. I tip my hat to Susannah for her pulse on a big cultural need, delivered with delight!

        The Jungle of Life by Lance – I just discovered this blog while searching for other bloggers who focus on insights. It’s an oasis of beauty (great photos, quotes) and balance as Lance juggles his life before our eyes with such grace, you can’t help but feel a part of it. For a great overview and feel for this blog, read Lance’s interview on Joyful Days. I think it’s an especially encouraging read to new bloggers about how to create community in the blogosphere.

        I hope you're inspired to discover some new blogs and perspectives because of the Kreativ Blogger process. Do share your thoughts in the Comments.

        Wednesday, September 30, 2009

        The Ordinary Life

        I was afraid of living an ordinary life, and I realized that’s what we all get. We all get an ordinary life. And it’s good enough.  ~ Garrison Keillor

        Recently, my husband and I finally got around to listening to a PBS special we had TiVoed some time ago, "Garrison Keillor: Man on the Road in the Red Shoes."

        Even if you’re not already a fan of A Prairie Home Companion, this is a slice of Americana you won’t want to miss, especially if you’re an American, a reader, a writer, or an old radio lover. As all four, it hit a home run out of the ballpark with me …

        … but Garrison’s closing punch line about the ordinary life stuck in my craw, demanding I digest the contents and share any emotional/spiritual nutrition I derived. That quote is turning out to be one of those health food drinks with a shelf full of vitamin additives.

        I never saw myself as ordinary, nor do others see me that way. I definitely don’t see Garrison Keillor as ordinary, and I’m sure most other people don’t either. So, my question to me—now to you is: Just who are you on the continuum of ordinary to unique? Why does “owning” both of these seemingly opposite designations matter?

        Ordinary Dilemma

        A deep truth struck me in the moment I heard Garrison say this. The ordinary life is what we get for starters—but in order to express extraordinary skills and talents, there are often huge impacts on the ordinary life—a big price to pay. That is, until we can learn to hold both of them at once, which we must, each in our own style and way. This is what it takes to achieve balance and happiness.

        We doubt this balancing act is possible, yet many celebrities model this achievement for us every day. President Obama talks about how one of the benefits of his job is the ability to have dinner with his kids most nights, something he often could not do as a Senator. Certain stars leap immediately to mind as putting family first. Bon Jovi, a true family man, attends his kids’ parent-teacher meetings, just like any other mere mortal. Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick alternate working, so there’s always one parent who is primarily at home. You probably know dozens more examples.

        I have always sensed that I could never achieve my ultimate success unless or until I had a grounded, happy home life. Now that I have it, I sometimes fear that I sabotage how far I can go, because I am afraid of losing my warm nest and grounded routine. These are the very things that nurture me down to my toes and up through my soul. They give me the springboard for going out into the world and doing great things.

        Yet, I am still sometimes afraid to leap. I do not want to lose the ordinary things I treasure: my husband’s warm hugs and teasing (alternating between endearing and annoying), kitty whiskers rubbing my face, watching our ritual mystery movie on Saturday nights, getting the mail, or our teamwork on gathering and putting out the garbage one night a week. While some of these things sound boring, they are also the stepping-stones that mark our days and help them feel solid. Breaking out of this routine sometimes feels like throwing off the down comforter on a freezing cold winter morning and forcing myself into the shivering dawn and discomfort for no good reason.

        Hints from the Other Kind of Stars

        Astrology has helped me understand this dilemma. It offers several planetary and mythical metaphors to help all of us sort out and blend our internal mix of ordinary to extraordinary parts of ourselves.

        Saturn represents foundations, structure, and responsibility, as well as wisdom and being grounded. Permanence and self-sacrifice are also its domain, all together, the stuff that solid daily life is made of—or any long-lasting “institution.” However, if that were the entire substance, marriage and/or the family and home life would drive many of us crazy enough to belong in an institution of another kind.

        Uranus, on the other hand, represents the opposite archetype—originality, uniqueness, the unexpected, freedom and independence. You can probably sense right this minute whether you’re more Saturnian or Uranian. I thought I started out more Saturnian and grew more Uranian, especially when I moved to The Left Coast in 1973 at the height of the counterculture movement. On viewing my first wedding photos, more than one person has said I looked like “a hippie princess” in my old-fashioned muslin dress and crown of wildflowers. By contrast, back when I was growing up in the 1950s, I thought I was Happy Days typical. I’ve been stunned, quite honestly, to have many people tell me I was “a free spirit” from a very early age. So, when you’re mulling over where you start on the Saturn/Uranus symbol curve, you might also want to get a second opinion from those who have known you for a long time.

        Chiron is my astrological specialty, the composite planetoid/comet called a centaur, just like the mythical half-horse, half-human character after which it is named. Chiron is an integrating energy that turns our wounds into blessings, our handicaps into our vocation, and asks us to make lemonade out of lemons. Just as mythical Chiron groomed many famous heroes like Jason of the Argonauts, the powerful Hercules, and Asclepius, the Father of Medicine: Chiron asks us to bring out the best in ourselves by resolving opposites within us. How do you like this metaphor? Chiron is located in space between Saturn and Uranus and acts like a bridging function between the two planets and what they symbolize.

        Roots and Wings

        There’s a wonderful saying I love:

        Two great things you can give your children: one is roots, the other is wings. ~ Hodding Carter

        (I’ve also heard it attributed to the famous inventor of the polio vaccine, Jonas Salk. You can tell it’s a great quote if people argue about who said it first.)

        I think this never stops being true; adults need roots and wings as much as they did as children. When either of those forces becomes too overdone, the other energy demands reckoning.

        I agree with Garrison Keillor that the ordinary life is a gift we all receive. If I were forced to choose one or the other, I’d have to take the ordinary life, even though the free spirit in me would begin to wither and die without expression.

        From Either/Or to Both/And

        Fortunately, we are not forced to choose. But this is something we often have to discover for ourselves. It reminds me of the game my parents played with me as a child. Little did they realize how potentially damaging it could have been to my sensitive psyche. “Who do you love best, Mommy or Daddy?” If I said Mommy, Daddy would pretend to cry. Vice-versa if I said Daddy. Asking children or adults to choose between roots and wings would be like asking them to pick Mommy or Daddy when they need both.

        We are actually charged with integrating the opposites within us, including roots and wings. Chiron—and life itself—teaches us that joy exists in finding out where we are on a continuum. Everyone has this charge. The baby boomer generation perhaps has had the most stark life experience with it. Boomers grew up in the Ozzie and Harriet ‘50s only to have those ideals blown away as irrelevant, as we reached young adulthood in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Somewhere, we had to figure out where we fit between Doris Day and Janis Joplin.

        Personally, I think the deeper our roots, the higher we can fly. We just have to be willing to face that initial discomfort of coming out from under our warm, down comforter on a freezing winter morning.


        Photo credit: © Dolnikov | Fotolia.com

        Want to learn more about Chiron and astrology? Joyce's new e-book is beginner-friendly and full of hints on how to turn lemons into lemonade, contribute your special gifts (vocation), and achieve fulfillment. Read more and/or purchase Chiron and Wholeness: A Primer on The Radical Virgo.

        Sunday, September 20, 2009

        Autumn Equinox: Harvest Your Thanks

        If you’ve been following Hot Flashbacks for any length of time, you know autumn is my favorite season. As I say of myself in my poem, Happy Birthday:

        Born on the cusp of fall
        Of woman in spring of life…
        Seven pounds some of cosmic energies.

        Even in utero, my mind was apparently going faster than my body. I feel so at one with the season of harvest and thanksgiving, yet I was actually born just hours before the equinox when the cosmic clock turned fall. I wanted to be born in autumn so badly; I arrived at its doorstep ahead of time.

        In autumn, we harvest the bounty of the things we have been working on since the spring growing season. Figuratively, they could be hopes, dreams, projects or changes in attitude. One thing is certain. The cornucopia is gratitude. The container that holds all of life’s gifts in our hands, even for a moment, is our willingness to say thank-you often for the magnificent cycles of life. Think of the seasons you have lived and breathed for whatever number of years you’ve been here on Earth.

        This autumn, I reach a very special birthday. At 62, thinking of myself as middle aged isn’t exactly accurate. If this is the middle, I’d have to live to 124! Not that I’d mind as long as my body works, but it has definitely been making noises like a car that’s pushing 100,000 miles without having had all its regularly scheduled maintenance. I’ve been getting out the oil can and looking at tread wear. I’m beefing up my efforts to keep running at optimum despite a few dents, nicks, and worn parts that have been replaced. My youthful face and active mind is housed in a classic vehicle. It’s impossible to deny it, but I don’t think I want to dwell on it.

        Due to a number of those cosmic nudges I always talk about, I will be applying for Social Security early at the end of this month. What a milestone. While I still think I’m too young for such things, I am so grateful for the option—a door that has opened as another one closed—my part-time job. I don’t know what to make of being more officially “senior” than ever before, except to be grateful that I’m still here, alive, and kickin’! When Tim and I got back together after 38 years, one of my favorite oldies that said it all was, Still the One by Orleans. These are some of the lyrics:

        I want you to know
        After all these years
        You’re still the one
        I want whisperin’ in my ear.

        I feel that way not just about my husband, but also about myself. I want to hear my Higher Self whisper in my ear more than ever.

        I like who I have become, and I’m glad I’ve had an opportunity to expand my spirit during this earthly sojourn to become more Me. Every harvest season is a tryout for your final harvest, the time you get to leave earth for a new adventure and leave behind the riches you have acquired in a lifetime. I believe we just become another life or energy form. Our light just looks like it’s burning out. It’s really pulling in to gather force before it explodes--an energetic burst to catapult us to the next plane, to shoot us back to the stars.

        This autumn, when you’re writing your gratitude journal or giving thanks at a big turkey dinner surrounded by loved ones, be thankful most of all for your own evolution—for this incredible Earth walk. Give yourself a flashback of your whole life—let it pass before you—and enjoy a preview of that white light experience at the end where you “get” what it was all about. You don’t have to wait till you go to the light to know! Ask for a preview. Share your cool insights about these hot flashbacks in the Comments.

        Life is for living all the way to the finish line and for expanding your spirit if you’re 16, 45, 62—or 90. I want to end with one of my favorite quotes in Richard Bach’s, Illusions:

        "Here is a test to find out if your mission on earth is finished. If you’re alive, it isn’t."


        Photo Credit: FALL HARVEST © Lulu2009 Dreamstime.com

        Want more autumn reflections? Read these past posts: Autumn EquiKnocks and Happy Autumn Equinox.

        Monday, September 14, 2009

        Boomer Survey on Love, Sex, and Intimacy

        Boomer readers! Got something to say on these subjects?

        This is a between-the-posts announcement to alert you to some exciting happenings on my friend Eileen Williams' blog, The Feisty Side of Fifty! Eileen recently interviewed and posted information about a love, sex, and intimacy survey being conducted by Suzanne Braun Levine. Suzanne is the founding editor of Ms. Magazine, who worked there for 17 years, a friend of Gloria Steinem's. Suzanne has written several books on boomer women and related topics.

        She also has created a questionnaire to get you thinking about marriage, partnerships, and other relationships you’ve experienced over the years. So take a few minutes and let her know how you’ve grown and changed since you hit midlife. You can email your answers to info@suzannebraunlevine.com


        Visit the link to Feisty Side of Fifty for the complete text of the questionnaire. As a thank you gift, the first 10 respondents will receive a free copy of Suzanne's best selling book, 50 is the New Fifty, so be sure to include your name and address. (Your responses to the questionnaire will remain anonymous.)

        May you learn more about love and life in the process!