Can I Borrow Your View?

A few weeks ago I started taking rowing classes on the Hartford river through Riverfront Recapture. In the early mornings before class, I always pause for a few moments on my front patio watching the sunlight slowly fill the sky and illuminate the Hartford skyline in the distance. As I drive down my driveway, through my town and into Hartford, the buildings become closer as I make my way to the boathouse. Standing beside the river, the skyscrapers tower above, earning their name.

I could describe what the buildings look like at sunrise and sunset. I could explain what they look like from the river. It would be easy to say, “Yes, yes, I know all about these skyscrapers as they are a part of my everyday scenery now.” However, I have never stepped foot in one of these buildings. I am not the guy who cleans the top ten floors and works the nightshift. Does he look out through the large panes of glass, wondering what it is like to be near the river? He might be waiting at the bus stop or walking home when I first arrive for my morning class. I am also not the woman wearing a business suit, who steps out of the elevator, arriving before anyone else. Does she have time to look at the river? She might be waiting for her fifty-plus employees to arrive when I am leaving to go back home.

Perspective. We each have our own unique perspective. We find it through our environment and our experiences, creating a lens to see the world. It can be tempting to claim our own story as THE truth. it is so easy to do. It is comforting, familiar. But when we decide our own story is the only story that can be possibly true than we risk not being able to connect with others who have a different story. We start to protect our own version so tightly that we won’t let anyone else’s story seep into our own. Our foundation can start to fill with self-righteousness and disregard for others. 

Today, I am simply looking for ways to be reminded that my story is not the only truth. I will be adding a dose of humility and a reminder to do all things with love in my heart. I will listen to other people’s stories and share my own, creating more expansion for us both. 

A lovely little girl was holding two apples with both hands. Her mother came in, smiled, and softly asked her little daughter: “My sweetie, could you give your momma one of your two apples?” The girl looked up at her mom for some seconds, then she suddenly took a quick bite out of one apple, and then quickly out of the other. The mother felt the smile on her face freeze. She tried hard not to reveal her disappointment. Then the little girl handed one of her bitten apples to her mom, and said: “Momma, here you are. This is the sweeter one.” ~Author Unknown

Kimberlea Chabot can be found chauffeuring her three kids to activities or writing blogs about connecting to what matters most, www.LuckyPennyFound.comsneaking off to a yoga class or stealing a quick dinner with her husband. In addition, she meditates regularly and needs reminders to breathe daily. 

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Finding Ways to Play

A lump in my throat. Restless, fitful sleep. A pit in my stomach. A month ago, I greeted the news of being asked to be a speaker at a storytelling event with excitement and enthusiasm. Now, as the date approached, I was slightly nauseous and very nervous.

Three days before the event, I realized I had scheduled a lunch date with Miranda Chapman, a master teacher at Copper Beech Institute. I first met Miranda at Copper Beech and was immediately drawn to her energy. During her yoga classes, I felt as if her voice unlocked places deep in my heart, like listening to the dynamic sounds of a Mozart concerto for the first time. I had been looking forward to learning more about Miranda’s upcoming one-day workshop called, “Presence and Play: Meditation in Movement” and to simply catch up. However, at that very moment, I felt like I was on the verge of breaking out in to full-body hives. I wondered if I should cancel. Did I need the time to practice my presentation? Again. Over and over. One more time. I shook off the thought. I decided the best idea was to go to lunch. Miranda had always been an incredible source of both inspiration and grounding—two things I was in desperate need of at the moment.

“It is exciting to be on campus during the summer when it is beautiful and just a magical place,” Miranda said. “My day retreat is about playfulness and how to bring this quality of light-heartedness into practice.”

This is the first summer that Copper Beech is offering events like daylong workshops and concerts.

“The retreat will allow participants to notice when you get into a place where you are really burdening yourself with stories and you become overly attached to what something should look like or how it should be,” said Miranda. “When we find ourselves in this space, we have a very distinct desire to compare ourselves to other people, or to previous versions of ourselves or future version of ourselves. This can become incredibly heavy and starts to build this unhelpful seriousness around us. I know this from my own practice when I was focused on how I can prove myself. It wasn’t a light-hearted energy. There was no humility in it. I have always liked looking at playfulness in adult life and how we can find moments of pure joy.”

This one-day retreat will include traditional yoga poses and meditation, but also creative practices to welcome in playfulness and laughter. Miranda is masterful at creating a welcoming space and building a safe environment. I love that she “walks the walk” in her own life, too. Miranda shares her gifts by traveling to the Hartford Correctional Center and other underserved populations in Hartford through the generosity of an Aetna Foundation grant.

Not adverse to hard work or tough situations, Miranda and her husband have spent the last year building their house with their own hands while living in a trailer on their land. (To read more about her experience, read here.)  She recently returned from a two-week silent meditation retreat.

“The effervescence of being alive that is inherent in play and the quality of presence invites us to find the balance between all of these elements in our lives,” Miranda says.

It reminded me of the quote from Albert Einstein, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” Play allows us to find the intersection between these two ways to live by remembering the magnitude of the gift we have been given while inviting curiosity and child-like wonder into our days. 

As Miranda’s words sank in, I realized I had been taking myself way too seriously and I had forgotten the element of play! My mind had become rigid by reciting my story over and over for the event. I knew every word, but it wasn’t coming from my heart. I had been focusing on how I would perform instead of how to be fully present. Play is a form of doing something with your whole being and being so present that you are unaware that your body, mind and heart are in alignment. The upcoming storytelling event would be filled with an audience that would want to play!

I could feel my excitement again. By taking on this light-hearted approach, my words would be able to be felt, not just heard. 

With a hug good-bye, I was thankful for our time together. I realized how easy it is to let my mind create stories that don’t serve me. I also realized how a simple conversation while being fully engaged can shift my energy. As each day spills into the next, it is important to take the time to find more ways to welcome play! 

To explore bringing play into practice and your life, join Miranda in her one-day retreat, Presence and Play: Meditation in Movement.

Kimberlea Chabot can be found chauffeuring her three kids to activities around West Hartford, Connecticut or writing for her blog about connecting to what matters most, www.LuckyPennyFound.com or sneaking off to a yoga class. In addition, she meditates regularly and yells at her husband and kids daily. 

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Walking the Path Together

As my husband-to-be and I stood at the altar, I remember hearing the words, “For better or for worse, for richer or for poorer ….” We both easily recited our vows to one another. However, I was surprised by the explanation of these vows: “Marriage is two people uniting and taking an oath to be willing to stay with one another for better or for worse. But what if it is her better and his worse? Or the other way around? Can you support one another in these times as well?”

As a new bride, I stood at the altar smiling, for it wouldn’t be for several years later that I would understand this concept. With a young family to support, we agreed my husband should jump on a major career opportunity that required a fair amount of travel. After several months of listening to the excitement in his voice when we talked on the phone, I realized that my husband was at his “better” in this new job. I also realized I was in my “worse” as I hadn’t been sharing that taking care of our children and the house by myself was starting to take its toll. By being honest with our own needs and taking time to put our relationship first, we were able to weather these rocky seas together.

Navigating a relationship with compassion and mutual respect are the type of topics that will be explored in the upcoming weekend retreat, “Walking the Path Together: Mindfulness Weekend for Couples” at Copper Beech Institute. Executive Director Dr. Brandon Nappi and his wife Susan will be sharing their experiences and ideas for all types of couples looking to deepen their connection with one another.

Here are some thoughts from both Brandon and Susan about how they met, their rocky start, and how they anchor their marriage while still exploring their own paths and after becoming parents.

How did you two meet?

Brandon: We met on a blind date after college. I graduated as a theology major with a concentration in medieval studies. I had spent some time in seminary studying to be a Catholic priest. After seminary I returned home to Connecticut. Susan’s name and number were given to me without her permission and she was not very enthused to go out on a blind date with a seminary dropout, but in those moments over dinner we found in each other an immediate connection.

Susan was the first person I had ever heard use the word “mindfulness” in its contemplative context. She had a mindfulness practice long before I did. In fact, on our first date, Susan shared that she was planning a month-long retreat with the famous Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh in Plum Village in France. I had no idea who that was at the time. The whole thing sounded weird to me. Wanting to cement our new relationship, I talked her out of the retreat and convinced her to go backpacking with me in Italy. In retrospect, I think she should have gone to Plum Village! 

Susan: Yes, I was not enthused. I made it very clear to my mother (yes, my mother was the culprit!) that we would only meet once. Thinking this was a one-shot deal, I was not worried about whether Brandon would like me or think I was “weird“ so I was able to have a very honest conversation. I was also prepared to pay for my dinner, although he insisted and said, “You wouldn’t be here at all if it wasn’t for me.”

What brought each of you to practice mindfulness/meditation? Did you each have separate pathways? Or was it a shared journey?

B: My first taste of practice was through Christian spirituality. When I was 18, I picked up a book by the famous 20th century monk Thomas Merton. Although I was completely baffled by his words and understood nearly nothing, something deep within me came alive as I read his teaching on silence and the contemplative life. I’m not sure I would be doing what I do today without his wisdom and influence.

It was not until after I was married that I began practicing mindfulness. The adjustment to married life was not a smooth one, and I needed support to navigate this new life with a partner. I began working with a gifted therapist who had studied with Jon Kabat-Zinn and had a dedicated meditation practice. It took me nearly five years before I really committed to mindfulness in a daily way. Even more than Merton or my therapist, Susan was the brightest light shining the way ahead in my journey to mindfulness. I had never encountered anyone with such clarity and insight about what to do with strong emotions. She was definitely my first teacher.

S: I was brought up Catholic but was not familiar with contemplative practice beyond the prayers I was taught in school. I started seeing a therapist when I was 18, a former Catholic nun, Patricia Plouffe St. Onge, who practiced mindfulness and meditation in the vein of Thich Nhat Hanh. She was co-founder of the Transfiguration Zendo in Southbury. She influenced me very deeply and introduced me to zazen, or sitting meditation. Given that she was also very Christian, it was very relatable to me. She never called what we were doing meditation, but simply invited me to breathe in her presence while moving through incredibly painful emotions. It was simple and it was profound.

I now have started practicing Ki Aikido, a martial art focused on teaching mind-body coordination. Having danced most of my life, I find Ki Aikido to be a very good way to learn the same principles of mindfulness through my body. Ki Aikido also helps me learn how to work with other people’s energy and blend with it rather than block or run away. We may be able to talk ourselves into and out of feelings but our body does not lie.

How did the benefits of practicing mindfulness begin to manifest in your life as a couple – and what were some of the struggles?

B: I realized that I am not my thoughts and judgments. This was an incredible relief! In turn, I became much more compassionate with myself — and by extension with Susan. I learned to become friendly and curious with emotions that I had fled or ignored before. Through our practice we have become much more accepting of each other. Susan and I are incredibly different people and yet we have grown in our ability to honor and learn from these differences. In the beginning this was not so easy. I saw difference as a problem to be solved which usually meant trying to convince her that my way was best. Needless to say, this was not a very helpful approach.

S: As Brandon mentioned, our transition to married life was not a smooth one. We each brought to the table our preconceived notion of what married life should be as well as our family histories. We both had very separate journeys that benefited our marriage. Our individual practices and insights are very different and I think that gives us something to discuss. Mindfulness (and also non-violent communication) gives us a common language to explore ourselves and in our relationship.

I am able to express myself very freely emotionally and that was very difficult for Brandon in the beginning. I had to learn back off and give him space when he needed it. Mindfulness helps support that; I realize I don’t have to fix him (or myself for that matter) so there is an ease that comes with that. I can rest in the knowledge that I am not there to change Brandon and he is not there to change me. That was very important to me to know after we got married. I felt at times like I would be swallowed up by this new identity of “wife.” I am a very independent person and Brandon honors that. I am learning to ask for help when I need it and it is incredibly liberating.

How has your practice grown with time, especially in becoming parents and raising your daughters?

B: The act of parenting is an act of surrender. With each passing day as our girls grow, I realize how little control I have. I also realize how little happiness has to do with controlling outcomes. Also, as I’ve grown up with my daughters, I am much more relaxed than I was at the beginning of this mindfulness journey. Sometimes there can be an energy of seriousness and gravity in the mindfulness world that never quite felt authentic for me personally. It’s understandable as we’re exploring in mindfulness some of the most intense feelings that human beings can experience. As I’ve learned to be more curious about life and control outcomes less, I think I’ve become more flexible and less serious. Silliness is an often-missed dimension of mindfulness. I love being silly. There’s lots of laughter in our house.

S: Our girls are our greatest teachers. As Brandon shared, they add levity and humor to the mix and help us not take ourselves so seriously. People think that if you teach mindfulness your kids will be sitting on cushions quietly meditating. While you certainly can access calm and peace amid chaos, mindfulness also allows you to access your truth, and that often appears messy. Brandon mentioned the laughter in our house, but there is also a fair amount of screaming and emoting. They are hopefully learning that all emotions belong and are worthy of expression; it’s how they are expressed that requires guidance and exploration.

Having children also keeps me honest about myself and whether I am truly being present. When I am getting extremely irritated at something minor, the girls have said to me, “Mom, you are angry about something else right now.” Maybe in another household this would be seen as disrespectful, but if we are practicing what we preach we are going to hear things from them that we may not like. I am able to apologize to them when I lose it which helps us create a forgiving environment together. I tell the girls that I am still learning, too.

In Ki Aikido, there is something we say at the beginning of our practice: “Onegashimasu,” which loosely translates to “teach me.” Our sensei (teacher) says it to us and we say it back. The sentiment here is that all beings have something to teach us if we are open. We may have more life experience than our girls but they are able to access things that we have forgotten. If we approach our children as though we always know better, we cut ourselves off from true connection with them and an opportunity to learn.

Are there mindfulness tools that you have come to use as a couple?

B: One of the most important tools is simply the universal permission to feel whatever we are feeling. Feelings are neither right nor wrong. Susan has always embodied this wisdom in a courageous way. This was an essential lesson I struggled with early on in my practice. I thought that life was about maximizing happy feelings and minimizing difficult emotions. I would scold myself or Susan when feeling arose that I thought were unhelpful or unnecessary. In mindfulness practice everything belongs. Also, we’re both introverts so one of the gifts that we give to each other is the gift of space. We both need lots of quiet time apart so that we can come together. One of the most important bits of wisdom for us has been the encouragement from Kahlil Gibran: “Let there be space in your togetherness.”

S: Like everyone else, we are extremely busy so “date night” is not always an option. We do enjoy Netflix on occasion and have found some shows we like to watch at the end of the day. I would say that because I feel connected to Brandon most of the time, I can access that during even the smallest moments together. We do eat dinner together every night when we are both home. We have worked on our communication skills by focusing on “need” language (learned through Marshall Rosenberg’s non-violent communication) rather than using blame. I don’t expect Brandon to instinctively know what it is I need; I try to take responsibility to figure that out and communicate that to him. Over time, I have learned that vulnerability is truly necessary to deep connection.

Do you have a story of an experience together that demonstrates your mindfulness practice in real life – a way you dealt with a difficult emotion or circumstance; a way you supported the other as s/he needed?

B: Mindfulness is about doing what’s called for or what’s needed in the moment. Sometimes what Susan needs is not always clear to me so I ask her. This has shifted the energy in our relationship from my guessing and assuming (which often was unhelpful) to my simply asking how I can be most supportive. When she is sharing strong emotions with me, I will sometimes ask, “Would you like me to listen or talk right now?” Both mindful speech and compassionate listening are both powerful expressions of mindfulness.

S: Every couple experiences difficulty – such is life – but the general theme is the same: when Brandon shares something that is troubling to me, I have to stop myself from jumping in and blaming him. I sometimes say to myself, “Do I want to be right or do I want to stay connected?”

What wisdom can you share in lessons you’ve learned from incorporating mindfulness into your married life all these years? Can you provide some do’s and don’ts?

B: Marriage is about recognizing the unique brilliance in yourself and supporting the unique brilliance of your partner. Each of us has a gift that only we can give—it’s the simple gift of our authentic selves. My work is being as fully myself as I can be and to help Susan be as fully herself as she can be. I’m always humbled by how Susan has done this for me for so many years. Since we each have blind spots, our partners help us to see the shadows that we cast that may elude our awareness. I’ve always understood the great adventure of life to be the curious, wonderful and painful process of becoming who you are. This journey of authenticity is the journey of life itself.

S: I would say that truly exploring and understanding your personal journey and what defenses you have adopted because of your history is extremely helpful information. If we lack insight and compassion for ourselves, the depth of our relationship will stay surface. Mindfulness can offer an opportunity for deep and true acceptance of things that can be difficult to accept. As I shared earlier, it starts with you and then and only then can it branch out to others. When I am taking care of myself and loving myself deeply, I can access a deep connection in our marriage. I realize this can sound like psychobabble, but I have found it to be the only way.

Any initial steps or key tips for those eager to begin to bring mindfulness into their relationship?

B: Have compassion for yourself first. Our ability to connect and have compassion with another begins with our own ability to have compassion for ourselves. This may not be intuitive for us at first. We seek to aim our mindfulness at others. Often when I am leading a workshop or a retreat, someone will come up to me and say, “My partner really needs mindfulness or my boss really should start meditating.” There is a wonderful temptation, especially at the beginning of practice, to recognize the ways in which everyone around us could benefit from mindfulness. The true gift of all the people that surround us in life is that they hold up a mirror to show us what needs attention in our own lives. The first step in bringing mindfulness to your relationship is to bring it to yourself first.

S: I echo the sentiment that deep compassion for yourself, your journey, and your uniqueness is the key ingredient for connection with your partner. Whenever a friend of mine wants to talk about his or her partner and express frustration or anger, I ask them what they think the feeling is telling them and turn the conversation to an invitation for self-compassion. Most issues are not about the other person. I would also share that when you start to really and truly wake up to your life, things can seem worse and there is a temptation to want to change and fix everything. That is precisely the moment to hold back and let the dust settle.

In addition to your retreat, do you have any resources you recommend on mindfulness for couples?

S: I really like Karen Maezen Miller’s books (she has several) which read like poetry but have very simple and profound insights about being present. Also, I recommend watching some comedy that you enjoy together. We have all really learned to take spirituality so seriously. Kyle Cease has some great videos out there that are really funny and poke fun at the seriousness and rigidity that can often accompany a spiritual practice.

To learn more from Brandon and Susan on how to bring mindfulness into your relationship, we invite you to join them at their mindfulness weekend retreat for couples, Walking the Path Together, May 6-7, 2016. All couples are welcome. For details and to register, CLICK HERE.

Kimberlea Chabot is a passionate proponent of living “all in!” while learning to find her own slice of sanity. She writes and mentors on how to connect with what matters most at her blog, www.luckypennyfound.com . Kimberlea considers her husband and their three children to be both her greatest blessings – and her greatest challenge to living mindfully. She is a regular contributor to the Copper Beech Institute blog, Awaken Everyday. Copper Beech Institute offers more than 40 retreats and programs to foster peace and resilience in everyday life.

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With a Passion for Clean Food

With cookbooks in hand, my oldest daughter asks if I am headed to the store. Ever since she was little, cookbooks have accompanied us on our various food shopping trips to check off the ingredients needed to make this week’s meals. However, today I was not going shopping, I was headed to meet the best-selling author of “Clean Food”, “Clean Start” and “Eat Clean, Live Well,” Terry Walters and get the juicy details about her cooking classes, her upcoming book and her weekend retreat at Copper Beech Institute. As only teenagers can, my daughter gives me a look, something just short of an eye-roll, and says, “Mom, glad you are excited, but just don’t do anything weird like ask her for her autograph!”

Terry Walters is well aware of the struggles mother’s face when trying to raise children. She started on this journey for one main reason: her health and the health of her family. She began holding cooking classes in her home as a way to connect with like-minded people and to create meals to nourish her family. She studied health programs to find different ways to approach her high cholesterol and daughter’s allergies. Her passion for healthy eating developed from an intuitive pull toward what the Earth has to offer during each season.

After looking over my collection, I decide to bring along Terry Walter’s “Clean Food,” her first cookbook self-published in 2007. As we sit down with our tea, she notices the cookbook right away and is just as giddy to look at it as I am to show her. Leafing through the pages, Terry reminisces like she’s looking through an old photograph album, stopping to tell stories along the way. At first, I am slightly embarrassed by the sticky pages, the scribbled notes in the margins, and the smiley faces drawn on the recipes that my children stamped with approval, until I realize that Terry is enjoying the obvious signs of how much we have used and loved her cookbook.

I am struck by the genuine warmth of her smile, her energy and her passion for life. It was this same enthusiasm and overall presence that I remember when I first was introduced to her several years earlier. At that time, I had two toddlers and I was becoming very curious about the relationship food played in our emotional and physical well-being. Terry was teaching about the benefits of seasonal eating while giving a tour of a local health food store. Her approach opened my eyes and really resonated with me. “Food is a source of nourishment for our body and our soul. It can fill us up in different ways. If you are eating standing up while rushing to get out the door, it won’t matter how healthy it is.” I loved how adding leafy greens to each meal was a “non-negotiable” in her house. I remember Terry explaining how it may take time to convert your taste buds and to make this your new normal. She offered many new ways to prepare foods. Terry’s talk gave me the permission I needed to enter into a new relationship with food.

In 2007 when Terry self-published “Clean Food,” her food choices and her notion of balancing a mind/body approach were on the cutting edge. Ingredients such as fennel, bok choy, quinoa, and miso were not well known. Most foods became available year-round due to pesticides and preservatives. As a nationally best-selling author, Terry continues to be a leading pioneer in this field today. Her books are as much a philosophy of living as they are about food.

“It’s a lofty intention to strive for conscious seasonal eating that nourishes mind, body and soul, that balances us with the environment and intimately connects us to our communities and the earth,” says Terry. “At the end of the day, if there is any intention worth holding, it is to savor every bite, feed your relationships and that which connects you, and sauté up a healthy serving of love each and every day.”

Terry Walters can be found sharing her gifts through educational and motivational public speaking, conducting cooking classes, and at her upcoming Copper Beech Institute retreat, “Eat Clean, Live Well: Clean Food and Sustainable Health.” She continues sharing her message because it is her personal goal “to create and inspire as much healthy and sustainable change as I can for individuals, families, communities, and our environment.”  I am beyond excited for her new book, “Dirty Food” and love the premise. “The foods we want to eat should come from the dirt. In that way, everything is “clean” just like my previous books. Each season will start with dessert because life is short and these desserts are sinful enough to taste like indulgences, but healthy enough to serve as breakfast.”

As our time together concludes, I hesitate to ask for her autograph when she says, “Oh, would you want me to sign your book?” I could honestly tell my daughter I hadn’t asked her and was able to just grin and respond with a resounding, “YES!”

We invite you to learn more from Terry at her Copper Beech Institute weekend retreat, Eat Clean, Live Well: Clean Food and Sustainable Health, March 18-20, 2016. Space is limited to 25 guests. To register click here.

Kimberlea Chabot muses about connecting to what matters most at her blog, www.luckypennyfound.com She lives in West Hartford, Connecticut and considers her husband of 19 years and their three children to be both her greatest blessings – and her greatest challenge to living mindfully. Kimberlea is a regular contributor to the Copper Beech Institute blog, Awaken Everyday. Copper Beech Institute offers more than 40 retreats and programs to foster peace and resilience in everyday life.

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An Interview with Dr. Maria Sirois

I stood on a small bridge, deciding if I should follow the path along the winding river that brought me to a familiar spot or if I should climb the hill to unknown territory. I stood quietly, and the sound of the brook babbling below helped me make the decision. Half way down the path along the river, I looked up and noticed a massive stone structure. My first thought was “I took the wrong path!” I had been enjoying my experience in the woods until I had glimpsed at the “might have been” reminder. I could only laugh at myself. Dr. Maria Sirois, nationally renowned clinical psychologist and inspirational speaker, might describe this as being able to move from a negative mindset to a positive framework. I recently spoke with Dr. Sirois about these concepts, her soon-to-be-released new book and her upcoming weekend retreat at Copper Beech Institute, “Mindful Authenticity: Giving Up All Other Lives Except the One That’s Ours.”

In our interview, Maria Sirois explains how choosing to come from ‘mindful authenticity’ will help us stay present on the path meant for us. “When we look at the question of authenticity, we need to ask questions about what is true for us now,” said Maria.“We make the mistake of living lives that were true for us ten years ago, or maybe we are living lives that were never true for us. Sometimes we need to consider that our lives would be much richer if we moved in a different direction, a more honest direction in the present moment. Authenticity requires that we seek alignment so that what we think, what we feel, and where we act from are all stem from within.”

Maria is a masterful storyteller and brings together scientific research, humor, and a fresh perspective on our every day lives. The first time I heard Maria speak to a group, I was immediately pulled in by her quick-wit and rich voice. She made me laugh, moved me to tears, and inspired me to take action on those things I was looking to change in my life.

Maria’s new book, “A Short Course in Happiness After Loss (and Other Dark, Difficult Times)” challenges the often-held belief that life at any one time is either good or bad, but rather each part is tightly woven together, creating a deep richness to the fabric of our lives.

“What we need to understand is that we will always have darkness, we will always have light, but the more we practice mindfulness, the closer we can get to what is true for us,” she explained. “We have the best chance for living in the paradox of light and dark coming together, if we have already cultivated vitality, joy and good health. All of these stem from mindfulness. And with these elements of resilient living our lives develop a deeper significance. We form a grounding that is strong and steady, and from that place, when life hits us hard, we are still rooted and we know with clarity who we are and what we want to bring forward in life. This is crucial to actually live well and die right when the time is comes. If we can accept that there will be high and low times, and that we need to be rooted and firmly planted in who we are, then we can rely on this as a resource to manage the next difficult wave.”

One practical way to put Maria’s wisdom to work in your own life is to choose to elevate one aspect of who you are. By focusing on this one aspect, “it gives you a foundation within yourself, so no matter what is coming your way, you know who you are and you can act from that place. Confucius said it this way, ‘Our rituals affirm us.’ If I have ritualized one of my signature strengths, such as the strength of generosity or compassion, I am affirmed in my day. I know what I am doing. This rootedness in the good within me makes a huge difference in terms of being in life and dancing with life versus feeling victimized by life.”

Maria teaches based on her years of experience from working with cancer patients and her extensive research in this area, but also from a deep desire to understand her own life. The next decade for her work is at the “intersection of art and science rising.” When I first heard Maria present, I noticed that when she illustrated a concept about alignment or transformation, her examples felt like she was addressing my own situation. Even though each of us in that room had walked a different path, she touched upon the threads of humanity that connect us all. I left her presentation feeling lighter, centered and more in control. Her work stayed with me long after her words were gone. Others have said after a full weekend with Maria, you will leave rested and rejuvenated with a clearer vision and practical ways to move forward in your one, true life.

We invite you to learn more from Maria at her Copper Beech Institute weekend retreat, “Mindful Authenticity: Giving Up All Other Lives Except the One That’s Yours,” February 26-28, 2016. For more information and to register click here.

Kimberlea Chabot is founder of  the hyper-local resource for holistic living, LuckyPennyFound. Please visit www.luckypennyfound.com for more information. Kimberlea lives in West Hartford, Connecticut and considers her husband of 18 years and their three children to be both her greatest blessings – and her greatest challenge to living mindfully. Kimberlea is a regular contributor to the Copper Beech Institute blog, Awaken Everyday. Copper Beech Institute offers more than 40 retreats and programs to foster peace and resilience in everyday life.

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

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A New Year Retreat

“Come just as you are.” In each breath, I can feel the fear and joy and excitement all mix together. I want this year to be one of intention, of choosing what I want to have in my life, letting go of what I don’t, and surrendering to what needs to stay. I want to reconnect my breath, my movements, and my thoughts, remembering how good it feels to be filled with possibility. I need space and time for this renewal, to move past the past and to explore what I think I need in the year ahead. This is why I am choosing to attend the workshop, “Connecting to Your Light: A New Year Retreat” with Miranda Chapman, Nancy Murray, & Terri Laggis.

The common thread woven among these master teachers is that each has walked though her own darkness and stumbled upon ways to let in the light. Now, each is intentional in how she creates this light and holds up a mirror to let others find their shine. I have been blessed to be able to experience both Miranda and Nancy’s amazing gift of leading meditations and yoga classes. I was reminded how often I think I know someone’s story, only to discover that I really had no idea. We often don’t know how the person before us has arrived at this very moment or what it took for them to get there. I also enjoyed hearing Terri’s story for the first time, who was described to me as a holistic nurse with a radiant light. Each of their unique stories gives them the insight and compassion to be present for others.

Nancy Murray, credits yoga for saving her after her mother passed away. It was how she found her way out of the darkness. From this experience, she began a new career as a Kripalu trained yoga teacher. Her life barely resembles the one she had before as a certified public accountant. I have the pleasure of calling Nancy my first yoga teacher and the person who introduced me to the concept of radical self-care through retreats. Nancy still wears her business hat as an original board member at Copper Beech Institute. In September, she will lead a group on a spiritual journey through Spain by walking the final 69 miles of El Camino, the ancient pilgrimage path from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela.

Terri Laggis began her career as a pediatric oncology nurse. Becoming frustrated with the offerings of traditional medicine, she began to explore the offerings of integrative practices. This journey has led her to study a wide variety of integrative therapies including massage therapy, holistic stress management, auricular acupuncture and biofeedback to name a few.  “Self care is such an integral part of wellbeing, yet it is often missing from a person’s overall health plan.” Terri is currently studying to be a nurse practitioner in the field of psychiatric/mental health with a focus on behavioral health and lifestyle medicine. Meeting people where they are in their journey of health and wellbeing and helping them to find the balance between traditional and integrative practices is where her passion is, providing support to help them achieve their goals and optimal health.

Miranda Chapman, who I rarely see without a smile on her face, beams contentment and joy. It truly surprised me when she shared how she has grappled with depression from a very early age due to chronic pain. “I needed to dim my own light to hold these things. I was hiding in my own darkness, living a very different life on the inside than the one everyone could see on the outside.” She now leads from this place of connection when she visits the jails weekly to teach boundless self-compassion. Miranda is young and small in stature but her presence and love fill each room, encouraging everyone’s energy to grow.

These three master teachers will be present for each session of the workshop, creating a safe and warm space. Angela Martin, CBI’s director of communications, described having these three teachers together is “like being given a giant hug from the Universe!” The general requirement to attend is to “come as you are” with a willingness and curiosity. I hope you are able to come experience each of their unique gifts to help awaken and connect to your own light in the new year ahead!

Kimberlea Chabot is the founder of a hyper-local resource for holistic living called LuckyPennyFound. Please visit www.luckypennyfound.com for more information. Kimberlea lives in West Hartford, Connecticut and considers her husband of 18 years and their three children to be both her greatest blessings – and her greatest challenge to living mindfully. 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.

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

The Simple Quick- Fix

The simple things.
These are the easiest ones not to do. To forget about.
The glass of water I would drink before each meal now forgotten. The morning meditation that I skipped that one day-  and never went back to. The occasional celebratory glass of wine that has become my daily way to unwind. The sugar-filled granola bar in the car that counts as a meal is now the norm and not the exception to the rule.
I realize there are other simple things that have been forgotten, too.
The hug when you first walk in the door. The “I’m sorry” for no other reason than one of us is hurting. The making of a hot cup of tea for me at night. The pulling back of your side of the covers before I slip into bed.
My favorite thoughts come in the morning, right after that first cup of coffee, when I am quite sure I can conquer the world while never eating another carb ever again and always remaining calm in every moment. It’s a high that comes with a price. When the power wears off and I am without my caffeinated cape, the ground seems far below. The wounds deep from repeated falls. It is in this lowest of places that my determination and commitment to remember to do the simple things starts to waiver. It’s easier to look at the big picture far off in the future. What magic pill or quick- fix book do I need? Its harder to focus on my own daily habits instead.
Recently I woke early in the morning, before the creak of the wooden steps would cause anyone to stir, before the birds had realized it was time to add their voices to the day, before the sun was ready to make an appearance. I sat on the porch, engulfed in more darkness than light and woke to the realization that I had literally stuffed my life with big, noisy, flashy activities and events and what I wanted back was the small, insignificant in the moment, simple things. I realized I left no room for those simple things to happen. Sitting on the couch with my legs across your lap, listening to music. Enjoying a good book from cover to cover in one evening. A spontaneous dance party on the kitchen floor. A stroll at night just to check on the shape of the moon and to feel grounded under a blanket of stars. Not quantifiable in any way. Not worthy of an Instagram post. Just deeply fulfilling.
I made a list of all the simple things I had let go of and wanted back. I gave myself permission to only focus on the one thing I wanted to do today that would affect my tomorrow. For me, it was cultivating gratitude for what was already present in my life. I then restarted my morning with a mug full of hot tea and a simple text, “How can I make your day great?” I sent it to my husband. Then I realized I needed to send it to someone else, too. I sent the same text to myself as a reminder to start with the little things first.
What simple thing do you want back in your life? What one thing can you do today that will make your tomorrow even better?

Kimberlea Chabot is the founder of a hyper-local resource for holistic living called LuckyPennyFound. Please visit www.luckypennyfound.com for more information. Kimberlea lives in West Hartford, Connecticut and considers her husband of 18 years and their three children to be both her greatest blessings – and her greatest challenge to living mindfully. 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.

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

Holding on to Summer

Summer is often the pause between the noise in our busy lives. We revel in the anticipation of vacation, of warmer weather adventures, and of days ruled only by a softened pace.

One of my favorite moments each summer is watching the sun sink lower in the sky while allowing for one last dip in the waves as they crash against the shore. I know these vacation days will all be memories soon and summer will come to a screeching halt. Soon, I will find myself packing lunches, helping with homework, and managing schedules. Soon, I will be calling for decent bedtimes instead of calling the kids out of the pool.

Meals will stop being thrown together with what is on hand or from the garden, like this year’s abundant basil, cucumbers and tomatoes. Instead, dinners will be calculated, planned and squeezed in between sports and ballet practice. Outfits and jackets and socks worn with shoes will take over. The outdoors will become less expansive within the shorter, crisp days and seem just out of reach from our busy lives filled once again with school, work, and other activities.

One of my favorite pauses this summer was writing letters to my teenage daughter at camp. I was able to share all the things in my heart that are sometimes difficult to say between nagging her for the third time to put her dishes in the sink and reprimanding her about draining our cellphone data plan. In these letters, I was able to share the pieces of me that I don’t often reveal to her, like letting her in on a secret club. I wrote about her many strengths and how much I love her. I delighted in taking time to sit and read her letters back to me, full of wide-eyed wonder at the world she is just coming to know.

As she begins her high school experience, I know the expectations, demands, and pressures will increase. I hope to remember to pause and take the time to write her a letter, simply as a reminder of all the wonderful things I love about her —maybe even writing to her when the air is thick between us and we each could use a moment of connection to get through a challenging time.

With the days of summer now numbered, my hope is to invite this pause into the hectic days ahead. I want to invite this stillness in. Make room for it. Welcome it and take a piece of summer with me through the months ahead.

I wonder what shape this pause could take in each of our own lives. Maybe it will be the deep breath needed before responding to a young child or the pause that teaches us to not fill uncomfortable silence during a difficult conversation. Perhaps we’ll learn to sit with undigested emotions that keep bubbling to the surface, or maybe we’ll skip the indoor sports practice to pause and enjoy a glorious autumn day as a family. Maybe it’s taking time to sit down for every meal, instead of eating in the car or leaning against the kitchen counter. Maybe the pause will be a blocked-off space on the calendar to schedule in that weekly yoga class that lets our heart sing.

What will your pause of summer look like in the cooler days ahead? I think mine will be setting aside time for the things that I love with a pace that reminds me of summer’s carefree attitude. I know I will need to continually invite stillness in to my life, though. This will allow me to find the pause I need before making a choice — those thousands of choices I make each day as a mom! Each decision will bring me closer to who I want to be in the moment, while evoking that feeling of sand beneath my feet, firmly connected to my days in the sun.

Kimberlea Chabot is the founder of a hyper-local resource for holistic living called LuckyPennyFound. Please visit www.luckypennyfound.com for more information. Kimberlea lives in West Hartford, Connecticut and considers her husband of 18 years and their three children to be both her greatest blessings – and her greatest challenge to living mindfully. 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.

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