via Our Red Front Door by Linda McKenney (MY FRONT DOOR Series)

This year we didn’t send Thanksgiving cards, our tradition that began in 2001.  That was the year we’d all suffered trauma to varying degrees.  When it got closer to Thanksgiving, I wanted to share what we were feeling and connect to others.  I’d also had my consciousness raised regarding close friends who did not celebrate the Christian Christmas.  Thanksgiving cards with letters just seemed right.   Each year, I tried to write something inspirational for our friends and family.  This year, I just wasn’t feeling inspirational.


As cards started arriving at our home, I felt the pull to try to resurrect my usual optimism.  I looked for that original letter, which I remembered having a theme of hope.  Alas, that one was not saved. But as I was browsing, I found a letter from several years ago that seems right for 2019.  The year that many of us don’t feel safe.  We feel isolated.  Many of us are suffering some kind of trauma.  And so here’s the substance of that letter, which may sound familiar to some of you who received it several years ago. . . .


I was listening to a podcast talking about a survey of children four to six years old regarding the subject of love.  The children were each asked what love meant.  One little boy, age six, said that when someone loves you, they say your name differently, and your name is safe in their mouth.  Simple yet profound.


This holiday season I want to focus on love.  Give it freely and give myself permission to accept love when offered.  My wish for you this holiday season, is to think about all of the people who keep your name safe in their mouth and those that you cherish as well.  I hope your list is long, and your mouth is full.




Our inner dialogue or self-talk can sabotage our goals and health.  Whether negative or positive, it will influence our mood and emotions.  Statements such as “I should be” or “I could have” mire us in the past or future, rather than the here and now.  This particularly holds true when it comes to eating.  The best place to be with regard to food, is to take pleasure in whatever it is we are eating in the present moment.

When we make conscious food choices and eat mindfully we are less likely to overeat or beat ourselves up for whatever it was we consumed.

It’s important to pay attention to the words we use to describe our food choices.  Do any of the following sound familiar?

“I was so good today.  All I ate was salad.”

“I was so bad today—I ate ice cream and cake at the party.”

“I cheated on my diet with a whole bag of chips.”

 “I’m a total failure—I can’t stop eating carbs.”

The words we choose to describe what we eat have a powerful impact on our psyche.  Linking food choices with our self-worth is damaging and destructive.  Berating ourselves for our choices—any choice—is perhaps the most damaging and destructive behavior of all. We aren’t a mess, a disaster, a train wreck. We are simply a person, struggling with a difficult issue.

We are worth more than the food we put on our plate. Our value has nothing to do with ice cream or broccoli.  Thinking of ourselves as a good or a bad person based on our food choice can be a repetitive cycle we are doomed to repeat. Imagine, for a moment, that your food is just food, and that your choices are just choices—good, bad, those words describe your decisions, not you. Imagine how freeing that would be?

We don’t tell our children that they are bad or good based on their choices.  We tell them that they made a not-so-good choice, and then we talk to them about the consequences of that choice and how to make a different one in the future.  We can do the same for ourselves.

To change our relationship with food, we need to develop a new language around our food and to eat mindfully.  Which simple means that we consciously choose what we want to eat and we enjoy our choice.  Making simple statements devoid of judgement is the first step.

“All I ate was salad today.”

“I ate ice cream and cake at the party.”

“I ate a whole bag of chips.”

 “I ate carbs.”

Boiled down to a simple statement we can, if we want, figure out why we made that choice.  Once we know, we can begin the process of making a different choice based on our own values and goals.  Allow ourselves to become aware of our feelings around that choice. For example, feelings like worry, fear, stress, frustration, resentment and anxiety, can profoundly impact our food choice or result in us eating unconsciously.  Mindfulness opens the mind to see opportunity and choice.  When we eat more mindfully, we are bringing our full attention to food and eating. Some ways to do that are:

Give your full attention to the food that is in front of you by taking three deep breaths.

For the first breath, inhale the smells. Exhale any tension or stress.

For the second breath, inhale, knowing that the feeling of hunger will pass. Exhale your  worries.

For the third breath, inhale the present moment. Exhale thoughts of tasks, projects and  deadlines.

Tell yourself, “I can choose to relax and enjoy eating.”

Pause. Let your eyes feast on the food before you and celebrate what you will be eating.

Now, taste the bite directly. Notice everything and anything you can about the food in your mouth. Pause and let yourself fully take in the experience.

We want our food choices to provide variety, moderation and balanced nutrition.  We want our thoughts of food, hunger and weight to occupy only a small part of the day.  And we want to eat for health, pleasure and energy.  And afterward – simply feel satiated.

May I be filled with lovingkindness

“I am larger, better than I thought; I did not know I held so much goodness.”
– Walt Whitman

There are plenty of reasons for developing a kind and generous spirit for ourselves and others.  Anecdotal evidence has long maintained that by practicing lovingkindness we can reduce our own pain and boost our well-being.  Perhaps now, more than ever, we can reduce our anxiety, with a willingness to practice Metta or lovingkindness.

I am not in a position to solve the world’s problems.  Sometimes I can barely solve my own.  Over the past few months I’ve experienced hate, anxiety, fear, hopelessness and anger.  This is not my usual state of mind.  It has taken its toll on me both physically and mentally.  I know that if I am in the grip of the power of anger and hatred, that it is an enemy that will wreak havoc with my psyche.  I will be less likely to make sound decisions regarding that which is causing me angst.   I’d been practicing Metta and then threw it out the window when I needed it most.  For my own sanity, I’m returning to this practice of lovingkindness for myself and others.  If you’re interested in trying it, here’s an example.

Begin with a short meditation, maybe five minutes each morning, with a recitation of phrases, like the ones below, expressed with the intention of planting seeds of loving wishes over and over in your heart.  Breathe gently as you repeat the phrases directed toward your own well-being.  Let your heart be soft.  Let go of any plans or preoccupations.

May I be filled with loving kindness.
May I be well.
May I be peaceful and at ease.

May I be safe.
May I be happy.

Practice Metta until the sense of lovingkindness for yourself grows.  It is especially important to be patient and kind toward yourself, allowing whatever arises to be received in a spirit of friendliness and kind affection. When you feel you have established some stronger sense of lovingkindness for yourself, you can then expand your meditation to include others.   As you gradually  include other people in your meditation, picture each beloved person, reciting inwardly the same phrases, evoking a sense of lovingkindness for each of them.   You can choose to eventually extend your meditation to picture and include community members, neighbors, people everywhere, animals, all beings and the earth.

Lovingkindness can be practiced anywhere. You can use this meditation in traffic jams, in meetings, on airplanes, in the supermarket – any place where you feel anxious.

As you journey through your day, there are simple actions you can take to strengthen your lovingkindness and generosity muscle, so it becomes more natural.

Engage with the people you interact with: the grocery store clerk, a receptionist or people on the street.  Listen when they talk.  Gently smile and silently wish them goodwill.  You might be surprised at the pleasant feeling you will reap.

Offer acts of kindness.   The other day I noticed a young boy rush over to open a door for someone carrying a large box.  He was beaming when he walked back to his dad.  Gestures such as this activate a pay-it-forward climate of generosity in your little corner of the world.

You can practice lovingkindness at various times, throughout your day.  When you shower, notice the feeling of the water cascading down your body and take a moment to relish it.  Set an alarm on your phone to go off periodically throughout the day and when you hear it, take a breath or two and send yourself thoughts of kindness.  “May I be happy and safe.”   “May I live with ease.”  “May I be happy.”

Extending lovingkindness to myself and to others is a simple but powerful expression of mindfulness that makes a significant difference in my life.  I can open my heart and increase feelings of self-kindness and inner calm.

Then I can tackle the problems of the world from a place of peace and calm.

I marched today.

I’d had some trepidation regarding the Women’s March in Washington and a good excuse not to participate.  I’m in St. Croix.

That being the case, with mixed feelings, the idea of joining that historic March was off the table, but not forgotten.   Many dear friends were posting about the March on social media.  They’re not only marching in our Capital but in cities across the nation.  I thought that the only way I could feel connected was to pray and sit in silent solidarity, on this beautiful island miles away from all of them.

And then I saw the poster, tucked away, in the bathroom of a small restaurant on the beach.  I’d not seen it anywhere else.   The universe was beckoning me.  I’m marching.

My husband asks, “Is it okay if I join you?  Or is this just a thing for women?”

“I think that would be great.  It’s about equality and human rights.”  I visit the Women’s March webpage and read to him.

We stand together in solidarity with our partners and children for the protection of our rights, our safety, our health, and our families – recognizing that our vibrant and diverse communities are the strength of our country.

We support the advocacy and resistance movements that reflect our multiple and intersecting identities. We call on all defenders of human rights to join us. This march is the first step towards unifying our communities, grounded in new relationships, to create change from the grassroots level up. We will not rest until women have parity and equity at all levels of leadership in society. We work peacefully while recognizing there is no true peace without justice and equity for all.

“Okay, I’m in,” he says.

We marched today.

The Women’s March webpage also states that the movement follows the principles of Kingian non-violence.  I’m not familiar with that term, so I Google it.  And find that these principles evolved from Dr. Martin Luther King’s concept of a Beloved Community, a global vision, in which all people can share in the wealth of the earth.

In the Beloved Community, poverty, hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated because international standards of human decency will not allow it. Racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood. Love and trust will triumph over fear and hatred.

We marched today.  We were a part of the Beloved Community of St. Croix.

Our march today was not against, but for . . .

For our daughters and granddaughters who I pray will someday live in a world where women are respected and treated as equals.  Where women will not be judged on their looks, but on their intellect and capabilities.

As I marched, I couldn’t help but think about . . . .

  • The women and girls around the world who are made to marry as children or trafficked into forced labor and sex slavery.
  • The women who are refused access to education, political participation and prevented from making deeply personal choices in their personal lives.
  • The women trapped in conflict where rape is perpetrated as a weapon of war.
  • Mary, who I met yesterday. She couldn’t come because she had to work.  From her I learned that the United States citizens on St. Croix and other U.S. Territories cannot vote in the Presidential election.  The Territories, not being states, can’t appoint electors to the Electoral College– and therefore US citizens residing there can’t vote in general elections for President.

The March ended on the grounds of D. Hamilton National Park, where Fort Christiansted’s yellow walls rise up from the green grass.  Just a few days prior, we’d visited the fort and I went down into the dungeon, where slaves who’d committed a crime, as simple as slapping a white person, were imprisoned.  All five feet, four and one-half inches of me could not stand up in the dungeon.  I looked at the women around me.  A significant part of the crowd were residents, some of them direct descendants of the slaves brought here to run the sugar plantations.

Now the March is over and my heart is heavy, the jubilance diminished.

Sometimes the most difficult thing is making the decision to act.  This March was easy compared to what my long dead sisters and women all over the world have suffered in the struggle for human rights.

Will I be brave enough to do more?

Can I be like my spirit sister, Susan B. Anthony?

The older I get, the greater power I seem to have to help the world; I am like a snowball – the further I am rolled, the more I gain.”          – Susan B. Anthony

Hidden Fees

In 2012, a Los Angeles restaurant owner discovered a neon light on his property that had been walled over but never disconnected.  After 77 years of uninterrupted use, it had amassed $17,000 in electric bills.

When I read this, it made me think:

  • What is walled up inside of me that continues to amass spiritual bills?
  • How do I disconnect the power?

No matter how much I meditate or spend quiet time replenishing my spirit, I have not been completely successful in turning off the power of a hidden element with its “red” emission.  Programmed into my psyche, behind a solid wall, is the continually running low-voltage current that quickly changes to high-voltage when I encounter certain triggers.

Unless you happen to be the one who sets me off, you’d likely never know this light exists.  The other day I mentioned that we all have a dark side.  My grandson said, “Not you Lala, you are always thinking about other people and trying to be fair.”  While I admit that this is true, and am grateful that he has that perception of me, I sometimes respond in unkind ways when I feel as though I’m being provoked.

Neon has no stable compounds, much like anger, often used as a protective mechanism to cover up fear, hurt or sadness.  I know that my sometimes automatic reactions are learned.  My father often had intense, emotional responses triggered by a variety of things.  If you happened to be the target, it left its mark.

I’ve done enough research to know that anger can be a useful emotion.  It’s a signal that something’s amiss.  So I will continue to take apart my wall, brick by brick, until I completely reveal the hidden circuits and hopefully rewire them.

A jackhammer does not work because it may demolish important circuitry.  A chisel allows for gradual revelation and the opportunity to really see what is beneath the surface.

Some chisel-like tools I’ve used to crack open my wall are:

Journaling – by writing about the basis of my anger, I can scrape away the insulation and examine the exposed wire.

Breathing – slow in and out breaths give me time to think about what is really happening.  I can experience my anger and own it.  I can think about how I want to respond.  Or if I just want to let this one go.

Listening – What is going on with the other person?  Is he/she really wanting to attack me?  Or is this fear or hurt disguised as an assault?

Neon is an inert element.  That’s what I want for my anger.  I want it to live in stillness.  I want it to be informative, not destructive.  I want it to be a catalyst for change and self-discovery.  I want to honor and respect it.  It is, after all, an important element of perfectly, imperfect me.

Originally we were immigrants.

When Columbus met the Arawak people of the Bahama Islands, he and subsequent European explorers noted that they were remarkable for their hospitality and belief in sharing.  A report of the year 1650 shows none of the original Arawaks or their descendants were left on the island as a result of forced slavery and the search for gold.

Originally we were immigrants.

In New England, the elite of the Puritans wanted war but the ordinary Englishmen did not and often refused to fight.  The Indians certainly did not want war but they matched atrocity with atrocity.  When it was over three thousand Indians were dead.

Massacres took place on both sides.  The English developed a tactic of warfare: deliberate attacks on noncombatants for the purpose of terrorizing the enemy.

Ultimately the Indian population of 10 million that lived north of Mexico when European explorers first came to the Americas would ultimately be reduced to less than a million. All this because of the desire for land and resources.

I’m a descendant of immigrants.

When I read Howard Zinn’s The People’s History of the United States, I was appalled at what took place when we first settled this country.   These immigrants were my ancestor’s ancestors.  As a descendant, are my hands not stained with blood?

I don’t believe that by characterizing a whole group as terrorist, we will solve this problem of violence.  I look forward to a time when we do not vilify a whole group of people based on the actions of a few.

Perception is what you think and feel, but may not be fact.  Our perception is tainted by our experiences, culture, outside influence, etc.  If we interpret the world through the eyes of a racist, homophobe or extremist, it will be our truth.  If we interpret the world with eyes of kindness, compassion and optimism, that will be our truth.




This is not a usual blog post, but one I feel compelled to write.  It’s an open letter to the person who backed into our car at SUNY Oneonta and didn’t leave a note.

Dear Seems-to-Lack-Integrity Hit And Run Person,

The damage you did to our car cost us.  It cost us time and inconvenience, as we had to wait for the campus police to assess the situation and submit an accident report.  They determined this to be a hit and run.  We had to fill out an accident report for New York State and make sure it was submitted within a certain period of time.  It cost us time as we reported the accident to our insurance company.  We lost more time from our lives having the damage assessed and will suffer the inconvenience of not having our vehicle for two days while its repaired.  And it cost us the amount of our deductible, $500, as the damage exceeds that amount.

All that considered, I think this incident cost you even more.  It chipped away a large piece of your integrity, the foundation of character.  Integrity is the value that guarantees all other values.  Even if you feel justified in leaving the scene, deep inside your psyche, you’ve done damage.  Allowing this type of behavior to be your modus operandi, will result in your good karma looking like Swiss cheese.

I understand that you may have felt fear or embarrassment, causing you to flee.  But allowing those feelings to be your life compass will only make you weaker not stronger.

But the most significant damage may not have directly impacted you.  If you were there to watch your preteen daughter play basketball, you’ve demonstrated to her that it’s okay to lie by submission.  You’ve taught her that when one no one is looking, it’s okay to not own up to your mistakes.  You’ve taught her that other people’s property does not matter.  You’ve taught her that fairness and integrity is inconsequential.  You’ve now constructed a faulty compass for her, that will weaken her as she navigates her way through life.

This has cost you much more than we have suffered.

My Valentine

It didn’t start out as a love affair. I took everything you offered and seldom thought about what you needed. We were never apart. You’d think that would mean I’d have more awareness of you. But for so long, I took you for granted. I abused you. I tortured you and asked more of you than you could easily give. And yet you rose to the challenge.

In the beginning, it took you awhile to do what I asked. We floundered together. Trial and error. Bumps and bruises. Until finally, we were off and running.  Together forever.

I was often ashamed of you. Yet I never took responsibility for our relationship. I was envious of what others had. I began a campaign to change you.

I starved you and denied you. I didn’t listen to you. I ignored your voice in favor of the transformation I so longed for. And yet, you stayed with me. You made your best effort to be what I wanted you to be. But always, we’d end up back in the same place.

Eventually, you began to let me know that you needed something different. At first I resisted the change. I knew it would be hard and after all, I get to choose how we journey through life. You may have your little ways of letting me know what you need, but that didn’t scare me.

Then your warnings magnified. No longer little hints that surfaced occasionally, now every day and often, your message was delivered.

I need love!

I need nourishment!

I need protection!

I need to move!

I need attention!

Your cacophony made my head swim. Your twinges, restrictions and throbbing could no longer be ignored. I began to realize that, while you’d never leave me, you could certainly make life more painful and difficult.

I started paying attention to you. I’d notice your hot buttons. I’d notice how you reacted when I put something inside of you. I’d notice how you got even when I didn’t take you out.

I decided that we did indeed, need to make this a love affair. If I want you to be your best, I have to help you. I promise to nurture you. I promise to walk with you. I promise to fill you with what you need. I promise to be gentle with you. I promise to love you as you are and not try to change you.

I am so grateful for you and the places you take me.

Happy Valentine’s Day dear body.


Source: Christmas Memories, story by Linda McKenney (ME, DURING THE HOLIDAYS Poetry and Prose Series)

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