My New Year’s Resolution: No More New Year’s Resolutions!

 

roman view

Pull Back and Reflect on How You Can Best Live Each Day

I know it is tempting to set aside a certain occasion to mark the intention of starting anew with some aspect of your behavior or thought patterns, but the truth is, very few of us can start or eliminate a habit if the only motivation we have is a number on the calendar—even if it IS the start of a New Year.

In the Italian culture, one tries to live a “dolce vita” (sweet life) every day, and make every day the best it can be.  Simple rituals that bring satisfaction are key: A healthy light supper with family; a leisurely chat with a friend while strolling through the town square; a visit to the art museum to lift a sullen mood; or stopping at your local grocer’s to exchange ideas about what to make for dinner that evening. The small joys of life create happiness. They also balance the less pleasant events that crop up for all of us.

If you consider each day a gift, you begin to pay attention to which aspects of your day support your well-being, and learn to discern what detracts from it.  Roman Emperor Marco Aurelio encouraged his readers to observe nature all around us and note how neither birds nor bees, nor any other plant or animal violates its nature; rather each respects their natural limits and avoids excess.   Unfortunately, humans have the ability to override what is healthy for them. Living excessively (over doing it with eating, shopping, work, sexual relations, etc) is often a non-productive reaction to internalizing stress, and then trying to numb your feelings with respect to what is causing that stress. If you stay in touch with your true human nature, as Aurelio suggests, you will begin to make better choices, and feel better about yourself.

Drawing up a list of New Year’s resolutions that you are not likely to keep yet another time around, is going to do nothing to put you on track for living the life you really want to be living.  Most people’s resolutions reflect a universal desire for vibrant health, love, prosperity and a connection to something greater than themselves. Don’t use the excuse of having to wait for New Years Day, or any other occasion to begin living each day in gratitude for the glorious celebration that it is. Take a moment to disengage from the everyday “tran tran” and reflect on what is important to you on a daily basis.  Then just LIVE those principles in small ways, and in as many instances as you can.

In my book “Living la Dolce Vita” (Sourcebooks) I give several suggestions of what the Italian culture emphasizes as the pathway to contentment. They include the following:

  • ·         Attending to important relationships with immediate and distant family members.
  • ·         Nurturing a network of great friends and eliminating false friends from your life.
  • ·         Bring romance back into view on all levels of your life, whether you have a partner or not.
  • ·         Make each meal a tribute to your body and soul: Focus on small portions of quality food, eaten in   company.
  • ·         Consider where your true wealth lies, beyond your worth in monetary currency.
  • ·         Live the “bella figura” philosophy, in what you say, do, and the way you present yourself.
  • ·         Communicate in a positive, uplifting way that inspires—not diminishes—the people you love.
  • ·         Reconnect to your spiritual side.
  • ·         Change your attitude if you want to change your mood.

I like to review each of these dimensions of a “dolce vita” when I open my eyes in the morning. If I adhere to these guidelines, I go to sleep at night with the feeling that it has been a day well-lived.

 Auguri di buon anno 2014,

Raeleen

On Loss, Life, and Your Ability to Celebrate

Portrait

Portrait by zio Michele DeFilippo

As I reflect in the trajectory of my life–the ups and downs, the people who have come and gone, the situations that gave rise to both personal tragedy and celebrations of victory, I cannot help but recognize the one thing that I know never changes: the human capacity—OUR ABILITY– to “arrangiarsi”; to make it though.

No experience is random. No person, place or thing that crosses our path comes without purpose; usually to teach us something we need to know, or to serve as examples of courage, inspiration, or even warning.

All in all, I look at the tapestry of my life and feel humbled. The parts that are shiny and new would not be as brilliant if they did not stand out against the duller, worn threads of my sorrows. I neither focus on one aspect nor the other. Both are important to a life well lived. The dark times teach me; the good times encourage me to go on.

Marco Aurelio said this: “Nothing can happen to any man which is not a human..nor to an ox which is not according to the nature of an ox, nor to a vine which is not according to the nature of a vine… If then there happens to each thing both what is usual and natural, why should thou complain? Nature brings nothing which cannot be borne by thee.”

It is natural to feel blue during holiday times when we think of the loved ones we have lost, or the situations that did not work out for us.  While it is important to remember those who no longer grace our holiday tables, those whose voices we can no longer hear , or whose eyes can no longer look back into ours in the flesh, it is also important to rejoice in the gifts that our losses have uncovered. We have the treasure of our memories, the personal development they inspired, the inner strength they have forced us to discover when we least believed we had it. Yes, we have the continued blessings of every day life.

I don’t want you to simply “tolerate” the holidays, but rather, find that place in your heart that allows you to celebrate them and give special meaning to each and every day. You can begin by accepting and embracing ALL of the threads of your personal Life’s tapestry, and giving thanks for how both the ups and downs have shaped you into the wonderful human being you have become and will continue to be.

May joy be yours.

Raeleen

Where to find PACE (peace) amidst the holiday frenzy

Ocean

For most of us, it is not easy to keep from internalizing some of the external chaos that happens around holiday time. We are bombarded with an overwhelm of stimuli–flashing lights, ramped-up commercials, canned elevator music, shopping, baking, parties…it is easy to lose sight of what is right and true and authentic.  Our thoughts are focused outward ,  preparing us to respond at a moments notice, as if our very survival depended on perpetual quick action.

The truth is, however, our emotional and physical survival is really more likely to depend on maintaining a soulful serenity that emanates from within and spreads calm to the people and events happening around us. It should NOT be the other way around.

But HOW TO GET THERE?

There is a passage in one of my favorite books by Susanna Tamaro (Va Dove Ti Porta il Cuore), and it goes like this:

“E quando poi davanti a te si apriranno tante strade e non saprai quale prendere….Respira con profondita’…senza farti distrarre da nulla, aspetta e aspetta ancora. Stai ferma, in silenzio, e ascolta il tuo cuore. Quando poi ti parla, alzati e va’ dove lui ti porta.”

“And when so many roads appear before you and you don’t know which to take…breathe deeply..not letting yourself be distracted by anything, wait and wait some more. Just be still in the silence, and listen to your heart. When finally it speaks to you, ARISE and go where it brings you.”

If  we let our hearts be the compass that guides us through each day, we will stay connected to the solid foundation we all have deep inside of us. Instead of jumping out of bed in the morning and throwing ourselves into the hubbub, take a few minutes and wait, and then wait some more. In that stillness, ask your heart what it needs today. Then, when it answers you, you can arise, and go then, where it takes you.

May all of my readers and fans have a peaceful, joyous, and extraordinary holiday season.

God Bless you and Buone feste!

Con tanto affetto,

Raeleen

Faith, as a Christmas Gift to Yourself

cobblestone roadsDo your holidays feel more commercialized than spiritually meaningful? Do you feel disconnected from the kind of faith you once had growing up with your ancestors religious rituals in the Italian American home of your childhood?

Belief in God is a personal thing, and the way people worship varies, according to the individual. Even Italians in Italy do not go to Church in droves as they did in years past. In fact results of a recent survey by the Patriarchate of Venice and reported in The Telegraph, found that only 23% of Italian worshipers admit to going to church regularly. This doesn’t mean, however, that Italians are not extremely spiritual, or that they don’t visit their local cathedral or church when the mood strikes. It doesn’t mean they don’t pray, or listen to sacred music, or write their prayers on little note papers and lay them at the feet of the town’s patron statue. In Italy, religious faith is an experience, not a cut and dried adherence to dogma.

There are many reasons for your longing to reconnect to your faith. Believing in God not only gives you a sense of meaning over the holidays; it anchors you all throughout the year.  Often, in this culture, we seem to have exchanged a belief in God for a belief in crystals, commercialized “ancient” rituals, or nebulous concepts of “spirit”.  Studies, however, have show that connection to religious faith may even be correlated to longevity. In my book Lemons into Limoncello: From Loss to Personal Renaissance with the Zest of Italy” (HCI)¹ ,I cite a study from the Istituto di Fisiologia Clinical del CNR di Pisa, which reported that praying and having and active faith in God may even increase our odds of survival during a health crisis. Italians rely on their faith to get them through all kinds of life crises, whether or not they attend Mass regularly on Sundays.

Religious rituals give us a sense of community, camaraderie, and a network of support, in addition to a set of guidelines to follow to strengthen our relationship with God.  Attending Holy Mass again may be a good place for you to start, if you want to rekindle your faith, but that is not the only way to go about it. Author Paul J. Griffiths, in his book “Religious Reading”, writes that the kinds of things we read become part of our identity. Thus reading religious materials, such as the Bible, a prayer book, a treatise on comparative religions, etc., when read regularly, can help you incorporate faith into your life naturally. Another suggestion is to begin to pray. Pray to the God whose image you can relate to, not necessarily to that vision of an old man with a long white beard, commonly portrayed in paintings. Talk to God in your own way, or pull out some of the more formal prayers you said as a child and see how they resonate with you.

Other ideas to help you rekindle your faith include visiting a church during the week, whenever you feel the need to find peace and meditate. Bring a few beautiful religious artifacts into your life, such as a statue of a saint whose life you can relate to. Keep a journal of conversations with God, and write in it regularly. Seek out some spiritual counseling, where you can ask questions and find further resources.

When it comes to believing, you already have the most important ingredient: The desire to bring God back into your life.

I wish you a blessed, holy, and spiritual natale.

1.       Lemons into Limoncello: From Loss to Personal Renaissance with the Zest of Italy (HCI Books) is available through Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, and wherever books are sold. Makes a powerful gift to yourself, or anyone you know who is dealing with loss or personal difficulty. When you order on line you have the book sent directly to their address.