The Universe Insists on My Makeover

Every so often, it’s good to change things up, to re-invent ourselves, to grow and to evolve.  Sometimes we initiate those changes, and sometimes the Universe makes that decision for us.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about kindness – especially kindness to myself. You know, even though I’ve taught self-care, self-love, self-compassion for years, I could be a lot kinder to myself. I haven’t been mindful enough of the natural changes in my life and my body. I’m happy, and a little surprised to say, that I’m going to be 73 this October. This really makes me think about redefining my priorities in life, and asking, “How well am I taking care of my health?  How well am I taking care of my relationships? What is most important to me now?”

I realize the tendency I have (and maybe you do too?) to go along, doing the things I’ve always done.  But now, I realize it is time to stop, take a breath, and look with self-compassion at all the areas of my life. At 73, in the Hindu tradition, this would be the time to take off into the forest and say, “Life as a householder and as a careerist is done. It’s time to pay more attention to your inner life.”

I do want to spend more time meditating, journaling and reflecting, and looking back at the patterns of my life (which is one of my favorite spiritual activities). I do, in fact, a memoir retreat called, “The Spiritual Art of Memoir, Finding the Invisible Thread of Grace”.  Whenever I teach it, I write a couple of my life’s stories, which is always followed by a big “Aha” moment – I learn something so valuable every time. This “metabolism” of my life is something I want to do more of. By giving my soul a chance to speak, I am doing a great kindness to myself.

I truly love my work. I love to learn, to share, to write. But my typical pattern of work, more work, then hopping on an airplane to give a lecture or retreat to work some more, sometimes comes at the expense of other priority activities, like exercising, stretching, meditating, writing, and just being with myself and those I love. I am blessed with a wonderful husband, wonderful children and 7 grandkids, and many wonderful friends, all of whom I want to enjoy more time with, as time goes on.

Here’s what happened a few weeks ago. The Universe demanded that I make over the whole way I live my life, and how I deal with myself.

I want to start this story by telling you I’m perfectly fine and healthy.

I had an episode of transient global amnesia. It sounds much worse that it is. I was sitting with my husband and a friend, having breakfast and chatting. Later in day, I had the sudden awareness that I had no recollection of those 2 hours. It would have been much more distressing if I hadn’t already heard about this from a friend who had a similar experience.

I had an MRI which was completely normal, and I’ve learned that fortunately, transient global amnesia is rare, seemingly harmless and unlikely to happen again. Interestingly, it is related to migraines, with which I’ve had a lifelong history.

What else happened that week?  I hadn’t been kind to myself. I way over-committed myself with a local conference, friends visiting from out-of-town, along with my normal, heavy workload. Not to mention re-wiring the house with new internet service. Then my computer died. I was stressed. I overlooked the little warning symptoms of impending migraine and tried to push through. Over-commitment is so common in our busy, busy culture, even for a “stress management expert” like me.

So, what is my new plan to manage my stress, and to be kinder to myself?

I’m working shorter stints, no more than 4 hours at a time. I’m taking my entire weekend for R&R, unless there is something truly urgent to complete. I’m exercising. I’m stretching. I’m eating mindfully. I’m meditating.

And every time someone asks me to do something, even though my heart leaps with the desire to do it for them, I’m not automatically saying “yes” right away. I’m being mindful and saying, “I’ll get back to you shortly about that.”

And now, I’m making a promise to you. That I’m going to be much more kind to myself.

And I hope you’ll make the same promise to someone –that you are going to be much kinder to yourself!

So, that is the makeover that the Universe insisted I do.  What will your makeover look like?

Warmly,

Joan

P.S. My website has gotten a makeover too!  We’re adding more free content, and it’s easier to navigate. There’s also a daily quote from my new audio version of “Pocketful of Miracles”. Check it out at http://joanborysenko.com

Out of Africa

Sweet Reader,

Well, I’m back! This is the first edition of my new monthly newsletter- Living with Grace and Grit. Each newsletter will include a blog, a health tip for the week, a link to a video, featured events where I’ll be out and about teaching, and tips about books and other valuable resources.

Since my husband Gordon and I recently returned from a bucket list adventure- an African Safari- I thought you might enjoy sharing a little snippet of the trip.

Yours truly outside our tent in the Chobe National Park, Botswana (Pic- Joan by Tent)

Yours truly outside our tent in the Chobe National Park, Botswana

We set out on June 11, 2018 for Botswana, a safe and thriving democracy bordered by South Africa to the south, Namibia to the west, Zambia to the north and Zimbabwe to the east. Botswana is magical- a peaceful democracy that values and cares for its people and its environment- with the richest concentration of wildlife in Africa. Their anti-poaching program is strictly enforced, with the result that there are now too many elephants! We frequently saw moms with their babies, and whole elephant families.

Part of a family of about 30 elephants wading in the Okavango Delta wetlands area- often called the last remaining Eden on Earth- that borders the great Kalahari desert to the south.

Our intrepid group consisted of 14 people from the US and Mexico, two heartfelt, brave, and talented naturalist guides- Peace Shamuka from Botswana and David Carson from neighboring Zimbabwe- as well as 6 talented safari staff who did everything from make and break down our camps, dig the somewhat precarious pit toilets (I managed to fall off ours and live to tell about it), fend off numerous wild animals among whom we were living, maintain a campfire for us to warm up around before breakfast and dinner, and cook gourmet meals in iron pots over a fire in the middle of nowhere.

Their open hearts, great knowledge of the area, and superb care was a deeply personal and sweet part of the trip for us. Quite a lot of us got teary when it was time to say goodbye. Our trip organizer Deborah Stephens owns Baja Adventures and used to live in Botswana. We were so fortunate to go on one of her rare mobile safaris.

Here is a photo of our group.

Here is a photo of our group.

Walking around the camp anywhere at night (it gets dark about 6 pm) was strictly forbidden without a staff escort as lions, hyenas, hippos, elephants, snakes and the like frequently wander by. Some nights were particularly interesting as we tried to figure out who was snarling, yowling, yipping, snorting, hissing, huffing or puffing close by. One afternoon a poisonous puff adder took up residence right outside our tent. Thankfully, the staff took care of the threat. The serpent’s appearance made us extra mindful of where we stepped… and, I might add, squatted.

My husband Gordon and I prepared for the safari as for a vision quest- an opportunity to leave everyday life behind, and to enter the Great Unknown where habitual identity is lost, creating the conditions to see ourselves anew. I needed to prepare with a meaningful ritual. So, a week before we left, I stood in front of the bathroom mirror and cut off most of my hair. I figured that we’d be out in the bush for 10 days with no electricity, and only rudimentary camp showers. I needed wash ‘n wear hair! I plan to keep it short for a while- revealing more of my true self.

It is amazing that as long as you are in the Safari Jeep, the animals don’t recognize you as a potential predator- or a potential snack. It’s like being invisible, which means that we could watch them from very close quarters. We were able to follow several leopards- and some cubs- deep into the bush both in the Moremi Game Reserve on the first leg of the safari, and later in the magnificent Chobe National Park where we camped in two different areas. We also saw several prides of lions.

Half our group in their Jeep, gazing at a pride of resting lions whose bellies are at the bursting point. They have just finished eating an eland- a good size antelope- and won’t have to eat for another week or so.

Half our group in their Jeep, gazing at a pride of resting lions whose bellies are at the bursting point. They have just finished eating an eland- a good size antelope- and won’t have to eat for another week or so.

Here is a lioness in the bush, snacking on rib of said eland. A minute later she licks her chops, gets up and takes a stretch, then saunters over to the rest of the pride to sleep off her meal in the equivalent of a big puppy pile.

Here is a lioness in the bush, snacking on rib of said eland. A minute later she licks her chops, gets up and takes a stretch, then saunters over to the rest of the pride to sleep off her meal in the equivalent of a big puppy pile.

Large herds of impala roam the savanna. They are the favorite prey of the big cats and the wild dogs. As Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote in the 19th century, nature is “red in tooth and claw.” The cycle of life is uncompromising and majestic, touching and raw. Everything is part of the whole with nothing wasted. 

What a sweet face this impala has!

What a sweet face this impala has!

Baby zebra colts are also prey for the big cats and wild dogs. Their moms keep close watch.

Here is an older zebra colt still nursing although he’s almost the size of mom!

Here is an older zebra colt still nursing although he’s almost the size of mom!

We asked if hyenas were big cats, or perhaps canines. Turns out they are neither. They are their own species. The “nanny” hyena below was caring for a group of about 15 cubs from several mothers. The little ones bounded in and out, sometimes nursing, sometimes playing, often fighting with each other.  When the main predators are finished with their meal, in come the hyenas, the jackals, and the vultures. But the hyenas are not only scavengers. They hunt down 60% of their prey.

Nanny hyena and a couple of her charges.

Nanny hyena and a couple of her charges.

Wild dogs, often called painted dogs, are the most fearsome predators of all. They hunt in packs and are absolutely fearless and efficient. We watched them hunt down an impala.

Wild dogs, often called painted dogs, are the most fearsome predators of all. They hunt in packs and are absolutely fearless and efficient. We watched them hunt down an impala.

Baby giraffes can also be hunted down by predators, even though their parents stand 15-16 feet tall!

Baby giraffes can also be hunted down by predators, even though their parents stand 15-16 feet tall!

A red hornbill, one of most common of about 450 species of birds on the savanna. The ostrich, of course, is the largest of the lot!

A red hornbill, one of most common of about 450 species of birds on the savanna. The ostrich, of course, is the largest of the lot!

I hope you enjoyed seeing just a few of the hundreds of amazing animals we saw. But wait! There’s more. I saved the best for last. I just love the sleek leopards, each unique in the pattern of its spots.

Leopards get up from their naps like any old puddy tat- but there the resemblance ends!

Leopards get up from their naps like any old puddy tat- but there the resemblance ends!

Although we returned home from Africa filled with awe, my husband and I also returned with respiratory infections. That may have been a grace in the end, since it forced us to rest and begin to metabolize the exquisite wonder of our journey, a process that will go on for the rest of our lives.

I am still dreaming of wildebeest and warthogs; baobab trees and teak forests. Somehow, it feels like my natural habitat.

Did you know that we are all descendants of 4 African women? They are called “the mitochondrial eves.” It turns out that mitochondria, the energy plants of our cells, are passed down exclusively through our maternal lineage, since sperm cells have shed their cytoplasm and are essentially a bare nucleus with a tail to swim toward the egg.

If we could only realize that we are all intimately related, brothers and sisters under the skin, it would be a much more peaceful world. So hail to you, Mother Africa, the land of our collective birth. We are all your beautiful children- human and animal alike.

What a wonderful world.