In Memorium

My father was interred today. He was buried in the family plot in Wallingford, on a lovely shaded hillside among those who died before him: his mother and father, grandfather and grandmother, his Aunt Charlotte, and his son, Jay. All shared the last name of Simpson; all lived on the farm on North Farms Road that had been in the family for generations.

My father passed away two months ago at the age of 86. He had an intestinal blockage that required emergency surgery and led to a yeast infection in his blood. Such infections are often fatal, as my father’s was for him.

Two days before my father was admitted to the hospital, we were together on a grocery shopping extravaganza at the local Walmart. He piled up his cart with essentials, including real butter which he had given up years ago and expensive hamburg that his limited budget didn’t ordinarily allow. We also hunted down his usual treats plus a few extras: churned vanilla ice cream, chocolate chip cookies, popcorn for his air popper, Entenmann’s cheese Danish, and the cinnamon swirl toasting bread he enjoyed with his daily breakfast.

dad2a_edited-1“Dad, you have half food and half junk food in that cart,” I said to him as we slowly made our way to the cashier (his cart temporarily filling in for the walker he needed for mobility). He looked over at me with conspiratorial amusement in his eyes. We chuckled. It was a look and a moment I will never forget. He loved his sweets, and at his age, I was not one to argue.

Two days later, he was hospitalized, and two days after that, his condition required intensive care. I was to never have another conversation with him. I spoke to him and cared for him from the depths of my heart but he could not reply. His body and mind were in a process that I was not privy to from my bedside chair. I could only watch and hope that he heard and felt my love and support.

My father had his share of emergency room visits in recent years, mostly due to pulmonary issues. I had long feared a phone call saying that he was found unconscious in his apartment, but thankfully that was not to be so. Instead, my sister and I had the gift of being present for his transition in every one of its phases. It was wrenching, and frightening at times. There were surges of hope, questions about treatment and not knowing which way to go, and finally much welcomed guidance from the palliative care team whose services I requested when his suffering seemed too great and his chance for recovery ever more remote.

Seven days after he was admitted to intensive care, Dad was taken off the ventilator that originally was hoped to aid his recovery and moved to a “comfort care room.” There were no monitors or machines, no invasive tubes or incessant beeps, and no interruptions to his body’s natural processes. He lay peacefully on an ordinary hospital bed, his breath steady yet increasingly shallow until coming to rest two days later. The sun streamed light and warmth into his room as my sister and I sat with his now quiet body and sent our deepest wishes for his gentle passage into the beyond.

I could write a book about the moments of Dad’s life and death over these last few years: the tender times, the difficult ones, the ordinary ones, even the spats we sometimes had. I was his daughter, but four years ago, I also became his helpmate, his confidante, his accountant, and his advisor. He referred to us as a “we.” His frailties became an opportunity for a relationship that would not otherwise have been possible. It was a gift for which I will be forever grateful.

Today, our remaining family of five laid Dad’s cremains to rest. It was a cool, sunny fall day. The maple trees glowed yellow and red, preparing to give up their own outer signs of life to winter’s inevitable arrival. Together, we shared remembrances and read poetry and verse. Then we watched as the cemetery workers set Dad’s urn into the ground, enfolded it in earth, and replaced the sod that will eventually bear the foundation for his memorial stone.

I felt grief and reluctance at each critical juncture on this journey, none the more deeply than at my father’s gravesite today. No physical trace of him remained. Even the grass looked undisturbed.

How strange this human existence is to me. We’re born, grow tall against the force of gravity, make much ado of our lives and then succumb, leaving only memories in our wake. Our impermanence is difficult to comprehend yet irrefutable. We’re fragile beings. Our lives can be taken in an instant and at any time. It’s this truth that makes each moment so precious.

My book about my father would have a beginning and an end, just as his life did. But the small moments described in the chapters and pages in between are what give his story richness and depth. It’s not my father’s accomplishments or failures that matter most to me (though they did make him an interesting fellow). It was the connections of the heart that made a difference, even when awkward, and maybe especially so.

George Wilbur Simpson, Jr.
January 20, 1929
August 14, 2015

 

Kathy Simpson is a freelance writer with Copper Beech Institute who specializes in mindful living and holistic health. She is a regular contributor to Copper Beech Institute’s mindfulness and contemplative practice blog, Awaken Everyday.

Learn more about Copper Beech Institute  l  Follow our Awaken Everyday Blog  |  Subscribe to our eNewsletters  l  Come to a Retreat  l  Friend us on Facebook  l  Follow us on Twitter

The Journey Within

by Miranda Chapman

My husband and I got married a few weeks ago on land of the beautiful matrilineal Nipmuck tribe. Some structures in this area date back over 8,000 years; one of the most fascinating to me on my wanderings throughout the land were the ancient underground chambers.

A steward of the land shared that these chambers were built to accommodate vision quests. In the Nipmuck tradition they believe that the journey from the head to the heart is the most difficult terrain one will ever traverse. Thus, an important custom in their culture sent young men and women around the age of twelve into these chambers for three-days without food, water, or contact to enact this crucial journey. It was an important ritual to signify the threshold from childhood to adulthood and to encourage self-awareness and reflection at this formative juncture. Once down in the chamber a large boulder would be rolled across the entrance and one would be left alone for the duration of the vision quest.

I climbed down into the chamber and sat for awhile on the stone slab that formed a bridge across the narrow cavern. There was room only to sit or lay down. It was several degrees cooler than the world above and the walls were slick with water and a small pool had formed below.

I reflected on the prescient nature of this thousands of years old tradition and the incredible longevity of this cave of deep contemplation. I reflected as well on contemporary culture’s fear of being truly alone — no phone, no wifi, no NetFlix — and sitting with oneself without distraction from the outer world.

As I sat on the cold, unyielding stone I was reminded that the greatest, most terrifying, exhilarating adventures I can take are the ones within. And, the journey begins anew each time I make the space to sit with myself.

Miranda Chapman is the founding Program Director and Senior Faculty at Copper Beech Institute, the nation’s newest retreat center for mindfulness and contemplative practice. Copper Beech Institute offers more than 40 transformational retreats and courses, as well as mindfulness practice and mindfulness at work offerings to help you awaken to the beauty of your life. Miranda will be co-leading a Knitting and Mindfulness retreat November 20 – 22, 2015 and the New Year retreat, Connecting to Your Light, January 22 – 24, 2016. Both retreats are opportunities to journey within and with Miranda 

Learn more about Copper Beech Institute  l  Follow our Awaken Everyday Blog  |  Subscribe to Our eNewsletters  l  Come to a Retreat  l  Friend Us on Facebook  l  Follow Us on Twitter

 

Forever Friends

When my son was in elementary school, one of his closest friends moved away. His heart was broken, but at his young age, I was sure it would be easy to mend. I gave hugs and sound advice like, “Call someone else. You have lots of friends.” I brushed off most of his feelings, just wanting him to bounce back quickly and to be happy again. “It’s just not the same,” he would say. I didn’t understand the depths of his sadness— until it happened to me.

What is magical about a friendship is that it is a unique bond between two people who can bring out something in each other that no one else can. As I recently waved good-bye to a friend who was moving across the country, I knew we would always stay connected. I also knew our friendship would never quite be the same again— the stopping over unannounced, the quick walk in the middle of a rain shower just because, meeting each other at the local coffee shop, holiday dinners together, taking each other’s kids for the afternoon when it had been “one of those days.” The day she left my world became a little less full, a little less bright. I suddenly understood how much my son’s heart must have hurt.

Thinking back, I feel badly about how I parented my child through the loss of a friendship and I didn’t want to make the same mistake this time when he parted from his “cousins,” my friend’s children. Carla Naumburg, author of Parenting in the Present Moment: How to Stay Focused on What Really Matters, revealed “I don’t like it when my kids are sad, I want them to feel better, and I want to make them feel better, which is pretty much the opposite of full acceptance. What greater gift could we possibly give to our children than our presence, our full acceptance of them, whoever they are, whatever they bring?” This time, instead of trying to just cheer my son up, we talk about what we love the most about our friends when we miss them and how it can feel miserable not to see them any more. Carla Naumburg uses the definition of mindfulness as “paying attention to the present, on purpose, without judgment.” Now we pay attention to what is coming up for us, acknowledging the full range of emotions, including anger. We also discovered the brilliance of Skype, seeing someone face-to-face in real time, which is a wonderful way to be fully present with one another!

I also regretted making my son feel powerless over his situation. There is always something you can choose to focus on in your present moment. I shared my new strategy with him. Now, after school, as the children explore the playground, I look for someone sitting alone, someone who is not in a small group conversing with others, someone who might just be praying she can utter the words, “We just moved here.” As difficult as it is for children to make new friends, I can only imagine what it is like to make new friends as an adult. Through this small act, I hope to feel lighter by brightening someone else’s day. Honestly, each time I reach out my hope is that someone in my friend’s new hometown is reaching out to her right now, too. This helps me to focus on what really matters in the present moment, including hearing my son say, “Maybe I should try that too.”

Kimberlea Chabot is a leader for the Holistic Moms Network in Connecticut and is the founder of a hyper-local resource for holistic living called Lucky Penny Found. Please visit www.luckypennyfound.com for more information. Kimberlea is a regular contributor to the Copper Beech Institute blog, Awaken Everyday.

Copper Beech Institute is the nation’s newest retreat center for mindfulness and contemplative practice located in West Hartford, Connecticut. We offer more than 40 transformational retreats and courses, as well as mindfulness practice and mindfulness at work offerings to help you find the calm, compassion and true happiness you seek.

For more information about the upcoming Copper Beech Institute Parenting Retreat

Learn more about Copper Beech Institute l Follow our Awaken Everyday blog

Subscribe to our eNewsletters l Come to a retreat l Friend us on Facebook l Follow us on Twitter

Focusing on What You Have Control Of

By Cheryl Jones

What causes you to feel stressed or even overwhelmed?

Start by making a list of all your stressors. (This might be stressful!)

Look at your list. Take a few breaths. Put a “C” next to all of the stressors you have control of.

Pick the top five things you’d like to address in the next six months. What feels most important to address now? What’s screaming at you?

Set a goal. Determine one thing you will do today, tomorrow, and for the next week. This should be a minuscule goal – something so easy that it feels silly to even be considered a goal.

This exercise is about being aware that you’re taking a tiny step every day toward alleviating the stress or solving the problem. This awareness is critical.

When we’re overwhelmed we freeze. We don’t see clearly. We don’t access our inner or outer resources. Instead of getting overwhelmed, we can focus on the one step we are taking each day to move in the direction we wish to move in.

It is possible to create an authentic life one moment, one step, and one breath at a time.

 

Reprinted with permission from Cheryl Jones’ blog at themindfulpath.com.

Cheryl Jones, founder of The Mindful Path, LLC, is a speaker, consultant, and coach. She believes mindfulness is the key to health for both individuals and organizations. Throughout the past decade, Cheryl has brought mindfulness to businesses, hospitals, educational institutions, and retreat centers. Cheryl will lead the retreat, The Mindful Path to Leadership, at Copper Beech Institute, November 16 – 17, 2015. The retreat is designed for all who are looking to bring mindfulness to their work life and workplace. Beginners to mindfulness are welcome. Group discounts are available.

Copper Beech Institute is the nation’s newest retreat center for mindfulness and contemplative practice offering more than 40 opportunities to help you awaken to the beauty of your life.

 

Learn more about Copper Beech Institute I Follow our Awaken Everyday blog

Subscribe to our eNewsletters l Come to a retreat l Friend us on Facebook l Follow us on Twitter

7 Small Steps for a Big Happiness Boost

DSC_0332

 

by Emma Seppälä, Ph.D

“The happiest people don’t have the best of everything but they make the best of everything they have.”

Did you know that most of us live our lives according to outdated (or even false) theories about happiness? It’s the transformative season of fall, and that means it’s an ideal time for change. You can make small choices that will help you make the best of everything you have—and experience a big boost in your health and happiness. Below I’ve summarized some of the best predictors of happiness, with links on each subject so you can dive deeper into any that you choose.

1. Replace Self-Criticism with Self-Compassion

Outdated Theory: Self-criticism and being hard on ourselves is a great way to get things done and be successful and strong.

What the Research Really Says: Wrong—A number of studies now show that self-criticism weakens us while self-compassion provides us with the skills we need for resilience happiness and productivity. (See here.)

2. Replace Complaints and Negativity with Gratitude

Outdated Theory: It’s good to be realistic, which means realizing that life sucks.

What the Research Really Says: Wrong—Research by Shelley Gable and Jonathan Haidt suggests that we actually have three times more positive experiences than negative. What keeps us from fully capitalizing on all the good in our lives, making us a slave to the bad? Our brain tends to focus on the negative and forget the positive. Gratitude is the perfect antidote and research shows it can be harnessed for greater health and well-being. (See here.) We also get caught up in an eternal chase for what we think will bring us happiness but really just fools us. (See here.) Here again, gratitude is the answer.

3. Balance Seriousness with Play

Outdated Theory: Adults need to be serious. Play and idle fun is for children and pets.

What the Research Really Says: Wrong—As adults, we often fail to remember to play, but research shows it boosts our creativity, health, and well-being. (See here.)

4. Balance Stress with Breathing

Outdated Theory: Yeah, yeah, “take a deep breath” and all that jazz…There’s no reason to pay attention to our breath. We all know how to breathe, it happens on its own. Breathing differently won’t make a difference.

What the Research Really Says: Wrong—Your breath is intricately tied to your well-being and the state of your mind. It holds the key to greater self-control and resilience. (See here and here.)

5. Balance Self-Focus with Compassion for Others

Outdated Theory: Everyone’s looking out for themselves, I need to focus on myself to get ahead in life.

What the Research Really Says: Wrong again—Self-focus is actually associated with anxiety and depression. We aren’t naturally selfish. Actually, our natural instinct is to act fairly. Compassion appears to be an evolutionarily adaptive trait that has tremendous health and well-being benefits. Compassion will benefit your relationships, including your romantic relationships. In fact, compassion may be the best-kept secret to happiness. It’s good for your business and both men and women are wired for it.

6. Balance Solitude with Connection

Outdated Theory: You’ve got to make it on your own, stand out, stand above the crowd, differentiate yourself and that, ultimately, is a lonely state of affairs.

What the Research Really Says: Our brains are wired for connection to others. We thrive when we connect. Loneliness can be balanced with connection. You can even learn to be together and connected when you’re alone. Connection helps us overcome stress.

7. Balance Activity with Doing Nothing

Outdated Theory: You have to be productive every minute of the day to get things done and stay afloat.

What the Research Really Says: Wrong—You’ll get more done by doing more of nothing. It’s good for you and your productivity. A great way to get started is meditation. (See here for 20 scientific reasons to start today.) Turning your attention inward is a secret to well-being that the brain is built for. (See here for the brain’s ability to look within.)

Wishing you a season of transformation this fall!

 

Reprinted from Psychology Today with permission from Emma Seppälä.

Emma Seppälä is the founder of Fulfillment Daily, science-based news for a happier life, and is science director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education. Emma will lead the happiness retreat, The Science and Art of Fulfillment, at Copper Beech Institute on November 13 – 15, 2015. She will also facilitate a mindfulness retreat for veterans at the Institute, The Power of Breath: Retreat for Veterans.

Copper Beech Institute is the nation’s newest retreat center for mindfulness and contemplative practice offering more than 40 opportunities to help you awaken to the beauty of your life.

 

Learn more about Copper Beech Institute I Follow our Awaken Everyday blog

Subscribe to our eNewsletters l Come to a retreat l Friend us on Facebook l Follow us on Twitter