Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Being With Trees: the Japanese Concept of Forest Bathing

There is nothing new about knowing that being out in nature, and in particular, being amidst trees in a park, woods or forest, is rejuvenating on multiple levels. But maybe it is good to be reminded, anyway. Maybe in our rushed and time-starved, 24/7 techno-hooked-in culture, it’s too easy for us to forget this free medicine for our souls and bodies, and to neglect to access it.


What many of us may remember from childhood, or if we are lucky and have been paying attention what we may continue to experience in adult life, is being scientifically documented for us. A decades-old public health program in Japan has been cultivating a practice referred to as “forest bathing”. Basically just putting ourselves in the presence of trees. And medical researchers have been tracking and documenting the physiological and psychological benefits, which are many and real.


Improved immune system function, including cancer prevention, is bio-chemically brought about by inhaling the essential oils naturally emitted by trees and plants to protect themselves from insects and germs. Decreased stress levels, blood pressure, and heart rate have been measurable effects, as have reduced levels of hostility and depression. And you don’t need to schedule a two-week vacation in the wilderness to benefit: a little consistent exposure seems to go a long way with lasting effects.


I personally find the term itself to be inherently refreshing! Forest bathing depicts a visual of the therapeutic effortlessness of receiving what the trees so generously offer.


Just reading this article on the topic felt restorative to me! I invite you to read it for yourself, and be inspired to foster in your own life the consistent wellness habit of forest bathing. Give forest bathing its rightful place right up there with adequate rest, good nutrition, healthful exercise and daily brushing and flossing. Your world will be a better place for it. It’s a scientific fact! But then, we already knew that.


http://qz.com/804022/health-benefits- japanese-forest- bathing/



Friday, October 21, 2016

Language of Laughter

I am known for my laugh. I hear about it all the time. It’s most often loud and full, it comes from my core, a true belly laugh. It’s genuine. It is not affected. It just happens.

The principal of the school where I taught music years ago, once remarked that he could hear my laugh all the way down the hall from the teacher’s lunch room. At her high school play, my daughter’s friends remarked to themselves from behind the curtain, “Susanna’s mom is in the audience. You can hear her laughing.” This was before the play even began!

I once was the delighted participant in a laughter yoga session at a retreat…what a powerful experience of energetic release. The whole room escalated with the sound of our laughter at really nothing in particular. I saw others pointing to me and laughing harder as I leaned back in my chair, my legs extended out in front of me, my head resting on the chair back, laughing toward the ceiling with tears pouring down my face.

Photo by Ben White


At the end of another retreat, we were given the assignment to laugh for two minutes every day for the next thirty days. I highly recommend it!

My laugh has only infrequently been the source of misunderstanding by people who equate laughter with ridicule or who count laughter as something you only evoke from others, as in, you don’t laugh at your own jokes. For me it is not at all ridicule, but it might be an expression of pure joy that seeks to be shared. Or it may bubble up when I share a thought that strikes me as hilarious. To me, laughter is not about scoring or affirmation of ego. It is certainly not about putting someone else down.

I had a recent experience of the transformative power of laughter. It was the day before my big out-of-state move. I had spent weeks sorting, hauling, packing, donating. I had had the details in place for some time: moving pods to be delivered and the independent team of movers scheduled to load them. All logistics lined up. I felt ready.

But, like a row of dominoes going down, my “best laid plans” went awry when the pods, once delivered, were too few and too small. I was in a bind. After sorting through possible options, the independent movers would do the entire move with their truck (lose the pods), but their available dates didn’t line up with this last-minute re-organizing crisis and conflicted with several important commitments of mine. I received that particular call in the line-up of back-and- forth contacts during the middle of my art class, and took my cell phone to the back hallway for the duration of that conversation. Overwhelmed with the stress of the situation and with the additional unplanned expense now looming over the move, I remained in the back hall for some time after hanging up to allow the tears of frustration that I could no longer hold back.

When I re-entered the art studio, thinking I had a least a shaky grip on my emotions, I sat down in front of my painting and took up my brush. But it was no good. More tears needed to arise. Feeling self-conscious even among these good people, I put my head down on the table and let them come. A bit later, after I had given some semblance of an explanation to the others and had taken up my brush again, one of my fellow art students began recounting a long story about her sister-in- law in some such similar situation involving the stress of a move. It was quite a detailed story of things going wrong, and as I listened I thought to myself, “Why is she telling me all this? The last thing I need to hear right now is any more about stress and moving!” But when her story came to an unexpectedly funny ending (one of those situations where the credit card that this person couldn’t find anywhere was tucked right into the holder with the cell phone she was using even at that moment to relay that it was lost), I had to laugh.

Photo by Brooke Cagle

Right out loud. From my core.

She smiled at me, and said, “There, at least you can laugh. Don’t you feel a little better now?” And the amazing thing was that I did. I felt MUCH better. Nothing about my outer circumstances concerning the move had changed. But my own inner experience of the situation had changed instantly. Laughter took me up and out of the depths of fear and frustration in a matter of seconds. And everything did eventually work out, as it so often does, in one way or another. I will always remember and appreciate her gift to me.

Laughter is good medicine. There truly is healing in it. Laughter is vibrance and spirit and joy. I invite you to try it often! Begin each day with smiling at yourself in the mirror. See if you can conjure up a laugh, even if you don’t feel like it. (And not out of ridicule or sarcasm.) Find occasion for it. It is worth seeking out, more than a pot of gold.

Photo by David Schap

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Here in Maine

My Maine Adventure Begins!
I pulled down the long 15 mph lane of my Kentucky farmhouse for the last time on the last Sunday of August.  The movers had just loaded the van and left minutes before. I glanced at the clock on the dashboard - 12:12. (Most auspicious!)
Lane through the trees
First destination was Philadelphia for a visit with my daughter, son-in-law and youngest grandchild Marco. I arrived late in the evening in their west Philadelphia neighborhood, which is partway into the process of gentrification. The curbs were tightly lined with parked cars and there was no place for me to park that was anywhere near the home they are renting.
Angel in West Philadelphia
Through a re-arranging of their car to open up a spot for mine, I was able to park a half block away. I was taking my suitcase out of the car when my daughter came to meet me and said, “Now we need to unload your car.” It was going on 11:00 pm. I had been on the road for over ten hours. All of the previous days and weeks had been busy with sorting and packing and hauling and last meet-ups with friends and nights of too little sleep. I was exhausted. My car was packed to the gills with stuff that I didn’t send in the moving van: musical instruments, my suitcases, my printer, monitor and laptops, my art supplies, who-knows-what-else.
“No way,” I countered…“we can’t carry all of this stuff a half block to your house! It’s way too much!” “We really should,” she quietly insisted. This dialogue repeated a few times, and finally in a weak attempt at concession I pulled my violin out of the back, the portfolio of illustrations for my next book, and let her carry my other suitcase. I locked the car, asked angels to stand guard through the night, and extended my hand, palm toward the car, putting a shield of Reiki energy around it. “This will have to do,” I said to my daughter.
The following morning as neighbors left for work, parking places opened up directly in front of my daughter’s home. “Now you really should move your car and we should unload it.” I agreed. I walked down the block and as I began to unlock my car to get in, a voice called out from a porch “That was a really bad idea.”  Not guessing that it was I who was being addressed, I continued to get in the car, when the voice took embodiment in the form of a tall African American man who was coming down his porch steps and saying directly to me for the second time, “That was a really bad idea.”
He went on to explain that in this neighborhood, you don’t leave stuff in your car. You can’t expect it to not be broken into. He said he had seen me park there and consult with my daughter, and saw me walk off and leave the car filled with possessions. “You must have been tired,” he intuited. I said that I was. He told me that around 1:30 A.M. he awoke and looked out to see a man sitting on the step at the end of his front sidewalk, just looking and looking at my car. He went out and told the man to move on. He said I was very lucky.
I did feel lucky! And I felt as though the Reiki energy shield that I had placed around the car was somehow delaying the man from breaking in, and the gentleman who sent him on his way and was now reporting all of this to me was one of the guardian angels I had asked for protection! I thanked him, moved the car, and unloaded everything with the help of my daughter and son-in-law. Even for the 24-hours that was left of my visit with them, I felt that I didn’t want to tempt fate again.
I spent that day blissfully interacting with Marco and the evening enjoying a Middle Eastern-Mediterranean style dinner out with Susanna and Camilo. By late the next morning I was on my way to Maine.
Me and Marco!

Susanna and Marco wave bye from porch

Upon crossing over the Maine state line, the heavenly scent of fresh pine permeated the air.  I arrived at my Brunswick daughter’s home after dark, and was greeted at the door by the whole family saying “Welcome to Maine!” My granddaughter Iris looked up at me with her eyes shining and her smile radiant. It was the best welcome ever!
A Plethora of Boxes!
The next day I spent caring for my grandchildren Iris and Arlo, then in the evening met my new landlord and lady and the movers at my new home. All of the furniture and household goods were skillfully unloaded in record time. After the van had pulled away, I came back into the house. Each room was stacked with boxes! There was the furniture, too, of course. But the boxes and boxes! I couldn’t fathom how much stuff I thought I needed. It was ridiculous that one person should have so much stuff. And this was even after sorting and giving away a lot of it before leaving Kentucky. I vowed that the next time I move, it will be with half as many boxes.
I made up the bed and lay down in my new bedroom. I slept soundly amidst all the boxes until dawn and awoke feeling very much at home.
The next few days were divided between grandchild-care and unpacking. On Day 3 I decided to put my priorities in proper order and took the morning to explore a river path two miles from my new home. The weather was fine and clear, the temperature was perfect. Being immersed in such a lovely natural setting was most restorative for me. The path is for walking and bicycling: two things that I love to do!
River Walk!

River!

Home Sweet Home and the Essence of Friends
In just a few days I managed to find a place for everything and everything in its place. As I opened all of these too many boxes and unwrapped all of the various items, I understood why I had chosen to bring so many of them with me. Almost none of them were purchases of my own. Here were the gifts and memories and items inherited and donated to me from so many of you! It is good to have them around me here. Collectively they provide the essence of friends and loved ones near and far, infusing this new dwelling place with familiarity and helping me to feel welcome. I know that there will come a time to let go of each of them in turn, but for now, I am grateful to have them around me, reminding me of all of you.
Aunt Marion’s Clock
One of these cherished possessions is a LeCoulter clock passed down to me from my Aunt Marion. Featured in my first book Chapters From the Farmhouse Journal, it had engendered special significance to me when, after never keeping good time before my move to the farmhouse, it kept perfect time once I placed it on the mantle in my first few days there. I felt that it was telling me I was right where I was supposed to be.
In the past couple of years, though, I had noticed that it was off again, and just this year it stopped working all together. It is a valuable clock, one that is powered by the gravity of the earth; it never needs winding. I could not spare the money to see to its being repaired, but I brought it with me and set it up here to see if by chance it would run. It began to run as soon as I unlatched the catch that keeps it still. It is keeping perfect time! I feel that it is letting me know that I am right where I am supposed to be! As a special bonus, the day I set it up here happened to be my Aunt Marion’s birthday, September 4th!
Aunt Marion's Clock

Bald Eagle
On Day 5 (Labor Day), with only one box left to unpack, and the pictures yet to hang, I took the whole day off of any and all work and re-visited the river walk. I felt filled to overflowing with gratitude. With each step it was as though my sneakers were saying in rhythm, “thank – you – thank – you –left- right- thank- you.” A bald eagle gliding along the river passed very near to me. Another welcome! I believe that may have been the first time I have ever seen a bald eagle in the wild.
Colorful-Flowered Skirt and a New Neighbor
As I walked along I looked down at what I had put on to wear that morning: a pair of brightly colored pink, purple, yellow and green flowery skorts with a pink t-shirt…one of my former massage therapist “outfits”. ”Hmmm,” I thought to myself, this is not really the average get-up to wear hiking in this “Home of L.L.Bean” territory. I wondered how I must stand out, or whether or not I appeared ridiculous, but didn’t really care.
On my way back along the walk two young women were power-walking with their fitbits and their sleek black stretch pants and sporty, perspiration-wicking tank tops with matching headbands. I overheard their conversation about men and relationships. One of them smiled at me and said, “I LOVE your skirt!” Wow, I thought! Who knew?!
Shortly after, a woman who was walking toward me looked at me and said, “Oh! Are you just moving in…?” I said “Yes!” She explained that she recognized me because of my skirt! She had seen me leaving my house earlier, which is across the street from her house, and of course this loud and colorful skirt made an impression! She introduced herself and we talked. She heard I was a writer. We quickly entered into a more meaningful discussion than one would normally engage in on such short acquaintance. As we parted ways, I thought how useful this “loud”skirt had turned out to be!
Flowery skirt
I went further along the trail and came to a place where large flat rocks extend out almost crossing the river. I stopped to appreciate the site.
Rocks across the river
Before long a young child and her “Gammy” came along. The little girl skipped across the rocks toward me and announced excitedly, “I always put my feet in the water whenever I come here!”  Watching her and then her Gammy sit down and take off their shoes and socks and put their feet in the water, I could not refrain from joining in. We sat and talked and enjoyed the refreshing moment as if we were all good friends. It didn’t matter that we never met before and hadn’t even exchanged names.
On my way back home, I found a farmer’s market and loaded up with fresh, locally grown produce. Maine blueberries for sure! This afternoon I sat out on the deck reading and relaxing. The landlord and lady, who live in the other half of this duplex, came out and we chatted. They are very nice people, and I am thrilled that this renting sight-unseen-long-distance-from-Kentucky has worked out so very well.
Landowners: Jason, Angie and Cole (and Lily)
A Welcome Orchid from My New Landlady
I look forward to this time of being a nearby grandmother to one part of my family here.
Iris taking my picture

Arlo is happy!
Streganonna and Iris
Special Moments

I plan to continue my writing and illustrating, and my search for a literary agent for a book I have written. I hope to begin marketing my voiceover work again. And there is lots of exploring to do in this beautiful state of Maine!
Already I have been to visit my sister, niece and nephew at a friend’s “camp”, which is what Mainers call a summer lake house. It is about an hour from my home.
Lake through the trees

Sunset on East Pond
And spent a glorious Sunday afternoon at a State Park beach, about 45 minutes from home.
Ocean with Sailboats

Sandpipers on the beach!

Waves

Blissful day at the seashore
I think I am really going to love it here.

Some of you have requested photos of my new home, so here are some.
1880 original structure half of duplex
  
back door

front door

New doormat: All are welcome!

Settling in

View out front door
Kitchen

Kitchen

Refrigerator full of farewell and encouragement!
Living Room

Stairway with two turns!

Guest bedroom

Bedtime reading corner

Bedroom

Tree at front door too lovely to cut down

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Advancing Confidently in the Direction of my Dreams

(Sure we’ve all read the first line of this quote many times, but read beyond it…)

“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings.”
― Henry David Thoreau, Walden

For much of this transitional year of my life, which sprung afresh from the unanticipated closing of my massage practice at the end of last year, I have adopted my all too familiar posture of waiting and trusting. I had a long-time goal to move to Maine, and was waiting and trusting that the practical aspects of arranging and affording this would fall into place at just the right time.

Recently I have had a 180 degree shift in my thinking. Instead of waiting for everything to fall into place so that I can advance confidently in the direction of my dreams, I decided to advance confidently in the direction of my dreams, with the assurance that this forward motion would itself bring the rest into alignment. It dawned on me that while I was waiting for external conditions to shift, perhaps those same conditions were waiting for me to shift.


So…I have shifted! I gave notice to my landlord and made plans to sell or give away household items that I don’t plan to move with me. I began clearing, culling and packing. I searched online and made inquiries for a suitable place to move to within easy but not-too-close distance from my daughter and her family who live in Maine. I found a home and have contacted the owners. It seems we suit each other. We are moving ahead with the plan. I move in September 1st!

It will be the beginning of a whole new chapter in my life. Who knows how it will unfold? Hopefully, Thoreau was correct in his proposal that if one advances confidently in the direction of her dreams, and endeavors to live the life which she has imagined, she will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. I intend for my next blog post to be entitled: My Uncommon Success.

I invite you to share this intention with me.

And if you feel inclined to share more than intention, please read on about a dream I had at my last lomilomi retreat in June of 2015. This retreat became the hinge on which my current life shift unexpectedly turned.



All of the lomilomi gatherings and retreats that I have ever attended have had significant transformational impact on my life on many levels, spiritually, emotionally, and physically. The retreat in North Carolina in June of 2015 truly raised the bar as far as transformational effect is concerned.

I had told all of my massage clients and friends before I left that my time away would be like “going to heaven and back again.” The lomilomi sessions at this retreat encompassed unprecedented experiences of lifting up out of limitation, of immense liberation and of profound spiritual Presence. I came away knowing that I had gone to heaven and come back again. Details of this will be in my next book, which I am currently working on.

This retreat also marked the beginning of a new and unfamiliar ache in my deltoid muscles. It didn’t “just work itself out and go away” as I had assumed it would, but increased, spread and continued until I made the necessary surrender to close my massage practice at the end of the year, concluding that vocation and ending my means of livelihood.

At that retreat I had a dream. In the dream was some situation of dilemma and effort and struggle, to which my spoken dream answer was: “…or you can just pass the basket.” (As in, take up a collection.) I discussed this dream at length with Donna (one of the facilitators). She immediately latched on to the solution that I had proposed to myself in my dream: just pass the basket. Ask for support. She even went so far as to suggest that I put a PayPal button on my website, asking for “donations to my fabulous life.” She suggested that I offer something in return, something I could do long-distance as a thank-you.

This was months before the closing of my business was even a faint idea. I had no idea of what the remainder of the year was to hold. The idea of asking for support online seemed highly improbable and unnecessary to me at the time. I could not swallow the concept of just asking people to give me money. It grated against so much of what we have been taught, of how I had been raised, of the ingrained American ideal of the independent and rugged individualist who does everything for him/herself and certainly doesn’t depend on handouts.

But Donna was so smilingly sure. Her eyes held that secret knowing that assured me that she knew she was somehow right in this. (Anyone who knows Donna can picture this.) I filed the information away for future consideration.


Well, the future consideration is now. I am passing the basket. I am asking for support from whoever is so moved, to help in my migration to Maine and the beginning of this new chapter in my life. In return, as a thank-you for your generosity, I can offer a Rune reading, or a shamanic journey on your behalf for helpful information or healing, your choice. Please visit my website www.lauralander.com and click on shamanic services to find further descriptions of these. You will also find a PayPal button to click on to make your love offering. Then contact me with your request at laurallander@gmail.com.

In my front porch meditation this morning, as I drew from the deck of Hawaiian intention cards created by Donna, I felt her “wink” at me. When I looked at the card I had selected, I read: Koa – Courage. “Courage is the willingness to push through even when fear is taunting or traumatizing you. Fear is a liar. Fear can hijack your thoughts and derail you from your heart’s knowing and your deeper purpose. To be brave, bold and fearless you must change your thoughts, silence the lies and courageously stay true to your higher calling.” So that is my intention. I am silencing my fears and changing my thoughts and passing the basket. I am moving in the direction of my dreams, even before the externals have lined up for me.

Here’s to my new adventure. Here’s to my next post: My Uncommon Success. Intend with me!



(For the Hawaiian Healing Intention Oracle Cards, please visit www.sacredlomi.com/shop-cat/healing-tools/. You will find inspiration, encouragement and deep wisdom in them.)


photos from unsplash.com

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Surfing Lessons

photo by Anton Repponen

I have never been on a surfboard in my life. Still, I do not allow that drawback to keep me from finding comparisons between surfing and living life. Thinking on these similarities helps me to navigate the flow of my own life more gracefully.

See, the wave keeps rolling under you. It is ever changing, always on the move. What it will do next is entirely out of your control. Your best option is to endeavor to keep your balance and enjoy the ride. Life’s like that.

You can blame the wind, the sea, the current, any of the contributing factors, but that doesn’t really help anything. It’s not productive. Or you can build your strength, your stamina, hone your skills at keeping balance, at staying on the surfboard; that is helpful.

You can stay aware, flexible and engaged, able to move and change with the movement that is happening beneath you and all around you. No matter how experienced or skilled you are, you can entirely expect to be pitched off from time to time; understand that this is inevitable. It doesn’t mean that something is wrong, or that it wasn’t supposed to happen, or that you are not good enough. It’s just a part of surfing. A part of being alive.

Sometimes the waves may come too fast to negotiate; it all comes at you too fast. Sometimes you have to wait a while for a good wave to come along; you feel stuck and in need of change. Sometimes you are on the crest. Sometimes you are in the curl. Sometimes it seems you are in over your head! You may get washed up on the beach and have to start all over.

Eventually you are brought home to shore. You get to decide if the thrill was worth the ride!