In Defense of a Monthly Festa (for Mental Health!)

Super Bowl

Writing bills isn’t the only thing you should be doing on a monthly basis. When my kids were small, I occasionally let them take a “mental health” day off from school. It was an occasion to spend some unexpected time hanging out together having fun, even having a picnic on the living room floor if the weather was bad. I would guess that in each of our memory banks we look back on those unexpected celebrations as important treasures that balanced our otherwise routine lives with the fun and laughter we needed to replenish and be even more productive than we were before.

But have you kept up those regular “mental health feste” in your adult years? They may just do you a world of good, by lightening your mood, revitalizing your energy, and strengthening your social life. Need I say more?

Well today, I have been cooking all morning in preparation of America’s big night tonight—Super Bowl Sunday. Of course I sing along to my favorite arias while creating mini-calzioni; broccolini e salsiccia; chili con carne and more—all with my typical Italian take on whatever holiday gives me reason to invite a few good people over to celebrate. Yes, it is important to fare festa, to dot our lives with celebration, especially if you are prone to:

  • Working non-stop
  • Leading a solitary lifestyle
  • Having a serious personality
  • Gravitating mostly toward intellectual pursuits.

Italy celebrates life full throttle; from the simplest joy of an onomastico (unfortunately, there is no “Saint Raeleen Day”, but that just gives me something to strive for J )—-to the grand occasions in a person’s life that bring a new level of personal growth.

Festeggiare. Throw an impromptu party. And do it regularly. The brevity of life begs us not to wait. I admit I don’t (yet) know what teams are playing; to boot I know next to nothing about football. But I do know how to intuit when it’s time to break out of the box and have some fun, especially when I have been absorbed in a long stretch of work on a project that makes me forget how much time has really passed.

So today—throw a festa.

If you can’t come up with an official occasion, INVENT ONE. You are the sole author of the life you wish to live. Live it happy and decorate it with busts of care-free fun.

Happy Super Bowl Sunday, e buona festa!

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Raeleen D’Agostino Mautner, Ph.D. is author of “Living la Dolce Vita” (Sourcebooks) and “Lemons into Limoncello” (HCI Books). She is a columnist for The Italian Tribune, and Host of The Italian Art of Living Well radio show, heard Mondays @ 7AM EST live stream http://www.wnhu.net .  You may write to her at raeleenmautner@gmail.com

How to be an “Insider” on Valentine’s Day

Amore

Valentine’s Day marks the perfect occasion to remind ourselves that each of us, by virtue of being human, has the capacity to give and receive love, regardless of our relationship status. There is a pride that comes in the realization that each of us has the capacity to bring love to those around us, and by virtue of doing so, can make the world a better place. What is more powerful than that? Make that the focus this Valentine’s Day and forget the commercialism targeted to “couples only”. Their bottom line is chocolate heart sales. Our bottom line is real love, in the fullest sense of the word.

Years ago I watched a television lecture on the topic of love by the late professor and author Leo Buscaglia (Felice Leonardo Buscaglia). He told the story of having been the son of Italian immigrants who had 11 children and barely enough money to make ends meet when they came here to America. Their neighbors would have nothing to do with them, calling them “Dago” and ‘Wop”, and saying they were bringing down the real estate value in the neighborhood. Buscaglia was bewildered at the contrast between the people in his little Italian village where everyone prayed the moment he even got a head cold and had a “festa” when he recuperated—to an environment where no one even said ‘hello” or greeted them. What he learned, however, from his close-knit Italian family, and later from his cross cultural studies on spirituality, was the potential of kindness, warmth and caring to positively affect everyone we come in contact with—even those who initially try to make us feel like “outsiders”. Buscaglia believed that each of us has something unique to give to the world—and that can be reflected in the ways in which we express love.

This Valentine’s Day, I challenge you to think of several ways that you can BE the love that makes another person’s day. Stop listening to media’s narrow definition of love and take a proactive approach in defining it on your own. Ask yourself how you can make someone else feel important, needed, and wanted. Go to a nursing home and volunteer your time reading, talking, or playing cards with the residents. Go to a school and tutor children who need extra help, or write letters for the blind. Perhaps you can express your love for others by taking whatever skill you have and teaching it to those for whom it might make a difference in their lives. Visit an animal shelter and donate a bag of food, a few toys or treats, or sign up to walk the dogs a couple of times a month. The list is endless and limited only by your own creativity.

Dr. Buscaglia was a riveting speaker and lecturer. His passion for spreading the message of love was quite compelling. He was referred to as a “cheerleader for life”, urging us all not to be afraid to embrace all of life’s wonders and joys, as well as the necessary sorrows that human life entails. Back then I remember watching him and thinking it was kind of a sappy message. Now with a lot more life experience (as well as behavioral training) behind me, I realize he was a pioneer in discovering what might really bring meaning and peace to our lives once and for all.

So if you’d like, go out and buy that chocolate heart. In fact, buy two. Give one to yourself as validation for the terrific person you are, and buy one for someone else, who could use a smile—a relative you haven’t seen for a while, a child whose family doesn’t have much, a former teacher or health care provider who may have changed your life.

Now get ready to celebrate AMORE, in ALL of its forms, and let this be the best Valentine’s Day you’ve ever had–knowing that you are indeed an “insider”, who enriches your corner of the world in a way that only you can do.

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Raeleen D’Agostino Mautner, Ph.D. is the host of THE ITALIAN ART OF LIVING WELL (Mondays 7AM streaming in real time www.wnhu.net), author of LIVING LA DOLCE VITA and LEMONS INTO LIMONCELLO—found wherever books are sold. Subscribe to The Italian Tribune where her columns appear weekly.  Check out my Facebook pages: Facebook.com/ItalianArtofLivingWell & Facebook.com/LemonsintoLimoncello. Follow me on Twitter here: twitter.com/RaeleenMautner

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time Flying By Too Fast? Here is a Plan…

Blog Life Plan

Technically the 24- hour-day formula is pretty non-negotiable, but if you make certain modifications to your lifestyle, in the words of Seneca, the Roman Stoic Philosopher, “Life is long if you know how to use it”. Here is a 4-point formula that might help “slow the hands of time”, at least long enough for you to savor each precious drop of your life

  1. Live in the Present
  2. Avoid getting distracted by daily trivia
  3. Make time for thoughtful reflection; and
  4. Create a Life Plan.

Seneca, the Roman Stoic Philosopher, in his essay “On the Shortness of Life” mused about how idiotic it is to spend one’s days organizing and planning for the future. Instead, focus only on making each moment the best it can be, so as to really interact with your life and not just being a passive bystander. Seneca also wrote “putting things off is the biggest waste of life, for it snatches away each day as it comes and denies us the present…” Put time aside each day to do something you love to do or have wanted to do. Spending your time worried about whether you will die prematurely or feeling regretful about not doing all you should have done in the past is unnecessarily harsh self-punishment, as is fearing that the time you have left on earth will fly by. The future is uncertain for all of us, which is why Seneca urges us to live “immediately”.

We are all guilty of engaging in endless daily “to-do” lists. We run around robotically completing the mundane tasks of living and. Granted, there are a number of routines we must engage in for survival (e.g. grocery shopping, etc.). However such activities should not become the reason for our existence. We need meaning. Seneca wrote, “ living is the least important activity of the preoccupied man, and those who run around preoccupied find life to be very short”.

Everyone needs periods of reflection so that you can cognitively “register” each day’s experience and that you are spending your time in line with your intention.

Finally, try keeping a notebook in which you write out (and continue to modify as needed) your “Life Plan”. Often the goals we set for ourselves end up looking more like a disjointed collage than the interlocking parts of puzzle, which when completed makes total sense. When I was a psychology professor one of the exercises I would give my students was called a “Lifeline”. You draw a horizontal line that represents your life, putting an X where you are now. To the left of the line you put an X to stand for each major experience that occurred up to the present (E.g.; got a new sibling, started dance lessons, first date, marriage etc.), then to the right, continue to put X’s to represent your future goals. Your goals should be aligned with your passions, values, and talent, no matter what your present age. Of course you don’t have to follow that particular template, or even the one in the photo above this article. In fact, I encourage you to customize your own template, according to the areas in your life you want to modify in the short, mid, and long range. The point is, it is never to late to give your life new meaning and live each day to the fullest.

In ancient times people turned to philosophers to serve as examples of how to live, and to their words to provide a guideline on the specifics of living a quality life. They covered areas of friendship, emotions, physical health, finances, love, and spirituality. Examine your life as it is now, and how you would like it to be in these fundamental areas, and then set out to close the gap. This will bring a greater awareness to each day; a necessary element for using your life well and experiencing a “long life”.

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Copyright  2016 Raeleen D’Agostino Mautner, Ph.D.. I am a columnist for THE ITALIAN TRIBUNE, Host & Producer of “The Italian Art of Living Well”, a radio show broadcast every Monday morning @ 7AM EST (wnhu.net) and Author of “Living la Dolce Vita Bring the Passion, Laughter, and Serenity of Italy into Your Daily Life”, and “Lemons into Limoncello: From Loss to Personal Renaissance with the Zest of Italy”. Wherever books are sold.

 

Da Vinci Rules (14 Tips for a Healthy Life)

Med_pyramid_flyer

Centuries later, Leonardo da Vinci’s advice for living a healthy life still has relevance and has been confirmed by researchers. Take from the following 14 pearls of wisdom what applies to you—only YOU know what you must modify in order to give your body and mind the ultimate support as you go through each day. These notes were from Richter’s version of the Notebooks of Leonardo—italics represent my own commentary.

What changes will YOU make based on the da Vinci 14? Comment below and share your thoughts!

According to Leonardo, good health comes from the following practice*

  1. Eat only when you want (want meaning hungry) and sup light.
  2. Chew well, and let what you take be well cooked and simple (He was way ahead of his time in knowing certain foods need to be cooked well, and are more easily digestible when cooked).
  3. He who takes medicine is ill advised (although sometimes necessary much can probably be avoided with good preventative self-care).
  4. Beware of anger and avoid grievous moods (Nota Bene: when you change what you say to yourself you can change your mood).
  5. Keep standing when you rise from table (we need to stay active and not go from the table to an after-meal malaise in front of the TV).
  6. Do not sleep at midday (Some believe in naps; others feel lousy after taking one. There is also a possibility that napping during the day may keep you from sleeping well and through the night).
  7. Let your wine be mixed (with water), take little at a time, not between meals

and not on an empty stomach (Good wine should always be sipped slowly with

          a good meal—drunkenness cancels its health benefits.).

  1. Go regularly to stool (self-explanatory—but regularity is key to good health!).
  2. If you take exercise, let it be light (moderation in all things).
  3. Do not be with the belly upwards, or the head lowered (good posture builds confidence, gives a strong mentality, and helps the body work better);
  4. Be covered well at night (the body rests best when at a comfortable temperature).
  5. Rest your head and keep your mind cheerful (don’t dwell on disturbing thoughts. Focus on all that is good!).
  6. Shun wantonness ( find ways to be productive and avoid boredom)
  7. Pay attention to diet (Leonardo always comes back to the importance of what we eat. Centuries later we know this to be the critical cornerstone of good health).

*Richter, Irma A. (2008-04-17). Notebooks (Oxford Worlds Classics) (p. 263). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

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Copyright 2016 Raeleen D’Agostino Mautner, Ph.D, author of “Living la Dolce Vita”; “Lemons into Limoncello”, and a weekly Q & A column in The Italian Tribune. Stream into my show THE ITALIAN ART OF LIVING WELL Monday mornings at 7AM EST for great interviews, recipes, music, and tips for living well: http://www.wnhu.net  or 88.7FM

Refuse to Let Insults Steal Your Tranquility

 

Marcus_Porcius_Cato
Cato the Younger (photo courtesy en.wikipedia.org)

Although there are many reasons why people insult one another, ultimately, insulting someone is just BAD BEHAVIOR. Some times, it is a case of projection (e.g. I am worried that I myself am going bald so I make a joke about needing sunglasses when I look at your scalp). Sometimes insults—as confirmed by social comparison theory—can temporarily make us feel better about ourselves if we make a “downward” comparison (e.g. I look better than you because I just lost 20 pounds and you didn’t). There are times when a well-intentioned suggestion, or even a compliment can be perceived as an insult to those who are overly sensitive. Other times a true insult can be cloaked in compliment.

As with all human (bad) behavior, sometimes insults just happen—and they happen when we least expect them. One has to first wonder “why would this person want to insult me”? None of us are impervious to verbal derogation, but I do think it would do us all well to reflect a bit before giving a knee-jerk reaction of anger when we are the recipients of a verbal slam. Cato the Younger, Roman Republic Statesman whom some described as the “perfect stoic” countered insults with humor. In his book A Guide to the Good Life: the Ancient Art of Stoic Joy author William B Irvine describes an incident in which Cato’s adversary Lentulus spit in his face. “I would swear to anyone, Lentulus, that people are wrong to say you can’t use your mouth!”. In another incident, Irvine describes the reaction of Socrates when someone came up to him and unexpectedly boxed his ears. He reacted by joking about what a nuisance it is never to know when to wear a helmet when one goes out. The point is, that reacting to an insult with humor sends a message that the insult is of no importance to you and the perpetrator did not succeed in upsetting you.

Of course, because insults can come so unexpectedly it is hard to come up with jus the right witty statement just at the right time. We all know what it is like to reflect hours or even days later and kick ourselves for not having said back then what we just thought of to say now. Therefore, for most of us, I think the following guideline might be useful:

First: Consider the source.

  1. If the verbal critique comes from someone you trust really cares about you—think of it as feedback. If the feedback is reasonable, then thank that person as their suggestions might really make a positive difference in your life.
  2. If the insult comes from someone who doesn’t know you well enough to offer such personal suggestions, consider what THEIR motive (conscious or unconscious) might be. It is often said that when someone like this insults you, that insult reveals more about HIM OR HER than it does about YOU. Hence, let it go; it has no relevance to you.

Second: if the insulter is just plain being mean and if you can’t think of something humorous to diffuse the situation (and thereby preserve your own tranquility), just walk way. According to Irvine (also a philosopher), walking away is another very effective method of sending a message that the insult means nothing to you. Silence, after all usually gives people the reflective pause they need to realize their wrongdoing.

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Copyright Raeleen D’Agostino Mautner, Ph.D. 20016. Dr Mautner is a Radio Host, Author, and Columnist for The Italian Tribune. For more on my work:

  • Tune in or stream in live to my radio show each Monday morning at 7AM EST wnhu.net or 88.7.
  • Read: Living la Dolce Vita: Bring the Passion, Laughter, and Serenity of Italy into Your Daily Life and Lemons into Limoncello: From Loss to Personal Renaissance with the Zest of Italy
  • Subscribe to The Italian Tribune to receive my Lemons into Limoncello column weekly ItalianTribune.com
  • Check out my Facebook pages: LemonsintoLimoncello, and ItalianArtofLivingWell

 

 

 

 

 

 

La Felicita’ E’ Qui…Yes it is.

la-felicita-e-qui-libro_54241

I love the work of Italian psychiatrist Raffaele Morelli. Mostly, because he reminds us that all we need to do when we are feeling ____________(bad, guilty, embarrassed, remorseful, sad, nostalgic, fearful, worried—fill in the blank with any negative emotion that overpowers you), is keep to the moment at hand, and let the rest fade away. When we are ruminating over a trauma from the past, or feeling trepidation about something that is coming up tomorrow or the day after, or the  month after—we are robbing ourselves of the time we were given today.  Time is the only commodity we cannot invest and make multiply. Make the present really count. Savor the hell out of it. The Ancient Roman philosophers believed that life is only too short when we live distracted. Don’t worry about the past or the future. Take that weight off of your shoulders and feel the lightness of il dolce fare niente right NOW. Find peace and happiness in THIS moment in which you sit back in the armchair and sip that fragrant camomile tea as the last stripe of afternoon light warms your face (Zia Bettina in Calabria made a magical steaming golden liquid from fresh camomile flowers).  La Felicita’ e’ Qui. It is the moment your two little pups put their furry heads  against each other and look up into your eyes waiting for a little surprise treat. It is when you put that last dish away after having made a great meal for your friends. It is the instant in which you look far up into the endless blue sky and hear yourself saying “Isn’t it great to be ALIVE?!”

No to Resolutions; Yes to New Paths

 

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2016 is the year to take the “bull by the horns” and forge a new path. The 2014 Bureau of Labor Statistics “American Time Use Survey”, revealed that in addition to work, caretaking, household activities, and the basic logistics of day-to-day living, on average, most adults spend 2.5 hours/day on leisure and another 1.6 hours on “other”. To me that means we have a little over 4 whole hours a day, in which we can detach from our “smart” devices, turn off the TVs and use that time to forge new paths that will help us reach those goals we have been frustrated by, in some cases for years. Some of us have tried to lose the same 10 pounds for decades. Others have realized long ago they needed to make changes to their relationships but never followed through. Still others have struggled with serious debt yet continued the same spending habits that got them there in the first place.

Well enough about common problems, what about possible solutions??

I don’t particularly like the term “New Year’s Resolutions”, but I DO like the idea of forging new paths. In each day, we ALL have the time to take a walk down those paths and do a little more to live up to our potential.

The life of Leonardo da Vinci provides us with one of the greatest prototypes for what it means to fully develop one’s talents to make the world a better place. Some label him as a genius, but in reality, he was human—just like you and me. Placing him in an unrealizable category only lets us off the hook in terms of facing up to what each of us needs to do to get unstuck and make our lives all they can be. In reality, Leonardo had the same raw materials that you and I have. He just spent his time focused on developing them and funneling them into concrete action. That is how goals are attained. Reflect on  Solutions. Spend the time it takes to put them into Action. That is how we make our own lives exemplary. That is how we can make a positive difference in the lives of others.

“Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must DO.”

—–Leonardo da Vinci

Happy New Path to my Readers,

Raeleen

Innamoramento and Getting Past the Exterior

Francesca Paolo

Photo: Wikimedia.org

We all try to present ourselves in the most positive light when first falling in love. We primp a little, shine our shoes, fuss with our hair, make sure our make up and outfits are just right.  All of this preparation as a good thing; certainly it shows we care  enough about our prospective partner to do what it takes to make a good impression, and let’s face it, we are all visual creatures. Yet most of us are not supermodels and often get bypassed for someone who is more handsome, prettier, thinner, younger–the list goes on. The downside is that pre-judging based on appearance may cause you to lose an opportunity with someone who could have ended up being the love of your life.

A good example is the tragically beautiful love story recounted by Dante in la Divina Comedia. Based on the real life story of two of Dante’s contemporaries, Francesca was fooled into marrying Gianciotto Malatesta, who was said to be “ugly and deformed”. She was promised to him as a peace concession between her father and the father of Gianciotto, after they had ended the war between them. The fathers knew that if Francesca saw Gianciotto before they were betrothed that she might refuse, as he was so physically unattractive. Thus, in his place, they sent Gianciotto’s handsome brother Paolo to sign the marriage contract before the ceremony. The two immediately fell in love (based on looks), but come the time of the ceremony, Francesca saw that the man she was about to marry was Gianciotto, and not Paolo!  By that time, she had already fallen in love with Paolo, and the two decided to continue their affair even after the marriage to his brother.

One day, Gianciotto caught wind of their affair and barged into Francesca’s bedroom just as Paolo was trying (unsuccessfully) to escape. In an attempt to kill Paolo with his sword, Francesca put her body between the two men and the sword plunged through her heart and killed her. Gianciotto was horrified, as he really did love her more than life itself. He could not save her and so ended up killing both lovers, who were buried together in one tomb.

When Dante meets Francesca in Inferno (after all she had officially committed “adultery”), she tells him that Love led the two of them to one death, and that there is “no greater sorrow than thinking back upon a happy time  [when one is] in misery”.  Dante was so moved by her story that he fainted.

One can only wonder what would have happened to Francesca if the powers that be at the time, hadn’t tried to deceive her? Did they not trust she would have been able to see past Gianciotto’s exterior to recognize a heart that tenderly loved her? Research shows that a person’s personality can  often make them seem more physically attractive (or unattractive in the case of negative qualities) than they are.

The bottom line is that love takes time. For your own sake it is important to get past the outside and allow yourself the time it takes to get to know someone on the inside.

Seduzione, as the Antidote to “Love at First Sight”

Photo courtesy Wikipedia.org
Photo courtesy Wikipedia.org

Yes, there is such a thing as un colpo di fulmine (love at first sight) and in rare cases, the smitten duo turn out to be all they claim to be as time marches on. Those are the success stories, albeit rare. More often a better description is chemistry at first sight, which is something that clouds our judgement. Don’t get me wrong, relationships can’t go beyond platonic if chemistry is lacking; however, there also needs to be the kind of substance and harmony that only comes with the time it takes for each person to reveal (through word and deed) who they really are.

Enter the art of seduction, the master model of which was Giacomo Casanova. While Casanova did teach us few positive strategies regarding winning another’s affection, his was mostly a negative model, because of his “usa e getta”, disposable approach to wooing lovers.  The longest he ever stayed with anyone was three months, and the reason was because she presented more of a challenge to him than did the masses.

Instead, I prefer the approach of Italian psychiatrist and author Giacomo Dacquino. In his book “Seduzione” he makes a compelling case for why the art of seduction is an important part of falling in love. The bottom line is–it gives us TIME. The time we need to really get to know one another through dialogue, creativity, niceties, the building of mutual respect and eventually a deeper kind of love. In short, that is what he calls “courtship”, the very phase we all seem to be bypassing these days in our hurry to find a partner.  The colpo di fulmine can cause us to skip this vital step of taking our time, and gives us a false step of intimacy (“I feel as if I have known you all my life”, etc). Once you have created an image of this instant chemistry person in your mind, you begin to discard signs that might pop up that go against this image of prince(ss) charming.

So when falling in love, remember Dacquino’s positive definition “seduction”–the magical gift of time through old fashioned courtship..

Mollare–let it go

Self-Portrait (photo courtesy en.wikipedia.org)
Da Vinci Self-Portrait (photo courtesy en.Wikipedia.org)

All right, I admit it–I have combed through the notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci. Of all the insights I have devoured like a student at the feet of a great philosopher,  the one pearl of wisdom that I found stunningly beautiful is what he wrote about how to live. This advice is especially poignant if you are getting over a break up, or have lost an important person in your life.

The water you touch in a river is the last of that which has passed, and the first of that which is coming. Thus it is with time present. Life, if well-spent, is long.

When someone you loved is no longer in your life, you have two choices: You can spend the rest of your days looking over your shoulder and sobbing at the part of the river that has already flowed past, or you can immerse yourself into the world of the present–where every moment, every thought, every beat of your heart holds new wonder and possibility. The glistening of the snow, the buzz of the honey bee on the tail of a warm breeze, the smile of a stranger, who just might turn out to be “the one”. Life can hold a surprise at any given moment. Don’t be the one who misses it, because of your longing for what is no longer your reality. “Be here now”, and keep your heart open to love.