Regrets From Living With No Regrets (or are they just teenagers?)

I have been thinking lately about choices I have made in my life.  Like my choice to leave my now ex-husband, my choice to dedicate my life (for nearly ten years) to leading the Wisdom Course for Landmark Education, my choice to retire from leading that course, my choice to marry my husband Rich and my choices around my work and creating a consulting business based on working with non-profit organizations.

Since they were born, I strived to live by example for my children. A core example I wanted to give them was one of living life to the fullest, following your dreams and honoring yourself as well as those around you.  I also wanted to give them an example of being accepting of their limits, though not being limited by them but using them as the edge you can push up against and move beyond.  I think I have done a pretty good job at doing all of this for them and my life has been extraordinary because of it.  Except… lately I notice that I have regrets.

A couple of days ago Rich and I were driving to Vermont for a week-long vacation in Stowe.  I felt very quiet and didn’t know how to explain it so I allowed myself to be quiet for the 6 hour drive.  “Are you ok?” Rich asked me at least twice, if not three times.  “Yes”, I replied, thankful for his ability to let me be even though he had some inkling that something was brewing.  I used the trip to observe my thoughts and my feelings associated with those thoughts. Much of what I thought about centered on my life as it is today and how it might have been different if I had made other choices in the past.

My children are now teenagers and I long for the days when they were young, soft and cuddly.  I long for the days when they were thrilled to be with me and to talk and share everything – but those days are gone and no matter how much I long for them they will never be back, at least not the way that they were.  As we drove, I wondered what it would have been like for them, and me, if their father and I had never divorced.  Would we have found a way to be happy?  Would I have been able to follow what was really important to me?  Would the way we worked or didn’t work together have changed?   I reminded myself that I’ll never know.  I wondered to myself if there were something that could have saved the marriage. Of course, I thought, I’ll never know.

Then I thought about Rich and our relationship and how lately I have been distant trying to get back to being connected and close.   We have such great lives and it is really something remarkable that he finds such joy in having me have what I want in life.  I thought about what I want and I notice that my longing for a past is something that not even he can give me.

Our relationship and our life together is so very important to both of us and to our children that I decided to dedicate this week’s trip to us, my love for him and what we are together now and what we will be together in the future.  We have something very special.  Thinking of this makes me smile.

Continuing on, I think about the level of training I have received and the skills I now have from years of leading the Wisdom Course.  Just last week I led a workshop for the Human Services Coalition (HSC) in Ithaca for 17 Volunteer Coordinators.  Scot, a seasoned professional in the non-profit world as well as the person accountable for the training programs offered by HSC commented when I asked him how he thought the training went that “I think you are amazing, I have seen many trainers and the way you handle a room is masterful.”  He continued on saying that I should tape myself and then sell the tape as a training on how to handle a room in a training setting.  My response to him was “I have been highly trained” which was a short response for the several years and hours I dedicated to being successful in my role with Landmark Education.  My ability is something I achieved from having worked hard, loved the experience and seized the opportunity, and yet, in the background was this lingering of regret…

Regrets…  My children grew during the time I gave my all.  They were four and six when I started and thirteen and fifteen when I finished.  Those years are gone.  Don’t get me wrong, they were good years but at the same time what I remember most of those years was my growth and development as I became more and more facile at leading programs as well as the difference I made for hundreds of other people who participated in my courses.  Secondary to this I remember the special times I spent with my kids.  I was on calls almost every night, traveling to deliver trainings for between 3 and 5 days at least once a month and my mind was often occupied with what I needed to do.

I am sure that this is much like many other mothers who work, but for me this is very personal.  Having my children and being there for them was and is one of the most important aspects of my life.  I did the best I could and my kids are great kids but somehow it feels as though I missed out on enjoying them.

Lately I have contemplated how to stop time or rather, how to go back in time which is obviously crazy making.  I cannot stop time, I cannot turn time back and I cannot push my children back to stages that they have grown through.  The years where they were so open and preciously excited to be with me, where they listened and shared everything with me are gone.  These times have been replaced with short responses, secretive actions, keeping things to themselves and once in a while letting me know what is happening.  They are teenagers.

Yesterday I realized that what I was doing in all of this pondering of regrets and suffering was losing the chance to enjoy my teenagers where they are now.  They need me here where they are today, not where they were yesterday or a year or two or five ago.  I need to let go of the past. I need to let go of the longing for a time that will never come again.  I need to forgive myself for not being a perfect mother, for getting swept away in something that I loved so much that my kids took a back seat for a while.  I need to forgiving myself for not having balanced my passion for my work and my passion for my children very well.  I need to forgive myself for not being able to say no when I needed to.  It is time to forgive myself for being human.

What I love about my husband is that when I shared all of my thoughts, feelings and insights with him over dinner once we arrived he listened.  He heard my pain, my suffering, my humanity and he heard my insight.  And in his own special way, without saying it specifically he let me know that I was on the right track.

Welcome to the life you have created Shirley Brown, it is a glorious life.


Tribute to a birdie

This past Sunday my dog Winston found a bird’s nest in the hedge by the garage.  I came upon him chomping down on the nest like he had found the most delectable thing to eat.  He was thrilled and, as happens from time to time, I was appalled by his actions and sheer enthusiasm at the destruction of another animal.  Dogs can do some really gross stuff but when it comes to attacking little defenseless birdies, mother nature rules but I would rather it be different.

After succeeding in removing the nest from Winston’s mouth I looked down and just under the hedge I spotted one of the little fledglings standing there looking at me.  Winston went back under the hedge going at the dirt and continuing his pursuit of the scent of bird.  I quickly grabbed the little bird and lifted him to safety from the jaws of death.

Winston in his kingdom

I took the little bird and went to the back of our house where in another hedge I knew there was an abandoned birds nest.  Winston had pestered a mother Robin so badly a few days earlier that she left the nest and somehow took two of her three eggs with her.  I placed the abandoned egg in a pot of plants on the deck, put the bird in the nest and then went into the fenced in area surrounding the pool where Winston couldn’t enter and sat the bird down to rest.

Meanwhile Winston was still going at it, tail wagging and dirt flying. I bent down to see what else he was after under the hedge and there is where I found it.  Another fledgling was on his back, covered in dirt and gasping.  I reached in and picked it up.  She was a mess.  Eyes covered in dirt, a small amount of blood seemed to be coming from its wing.  I gently took it to the nest and placed here in it with her sibling.

I watched them for a while and then left the nest sitting on the ground safe from Winston.  I checked on them from time to time and attempted putting them back in the hedge where they had come from which is when the healthier young one jumped out of the nest  — he was ready to move on.  I gathered him up again and then sat him on the ground inside the fenced area and left the injured bird in the nest to rest.

I noticed two other birds flying around and sitting in the tree above as I cared for these little creatures.  I concluded that it was their parents.  I went off to do some gardening work and when I returned the healthier bird was now in the middle of the pool deck chirping away and it’s mother was hopping around close by.  The injured bird was still in the nest resting.   I watched for a while and then left them again.  The next time I returned the healthier bird was gone and so was the mother.  I was happy to know that I saved the bird and that mother was once again caring for it.  I left the injured bird to rest thinking that most likely it would die.  This was early Sunday afternoon.

I went on with my day, out with friends and forgot about the injured bird until Monday around noon.  Suddenly remembering, I ran back to the pool area expecting to see that it had died.  What I found instead was a wide awake and alert little bird looking up at me.  He was clean, sitting up and seemed to be doing pretty well.  I picked up the nest and brought it into the house.  We found a dropper and I gave him some water, with which he seemed to perk up.  I then wondered how he made it through the night and decided to google information on how to care for fledglings in a case like this.

It was a Sparrow.  I knew this from having seen the mother.  As I read the information I discovered that if you find a fledgling (meaning that it is fully feathered, ready to be out of the nest but not ready to fly yet) the best thing to do is to put it back into the nest or into a basket and place it near where the nest was.  OK, I had done that.  Then it says that the mother will find it and will continue to care for it.  I thought then that most likely the mother had continued to care for it because it was in such better shape than the day before when I found it.  So, I returned it to the deck and continued to watch it throughout the day.

Yesterday which was Tuesday, I called the Cornell Vet School and spoke to someone from the wildlife section.  They confirmed that I had done everything that they would have suggested and they offered that I might bring the bird in to be checked for injuries.  If it had a broken wing, for example, it would never be able to fly and they would keep it and care for it.  I agreed that I would bring the bird in the next morning.

A rain storm was coming so I moved the bird to the ground under the cover of our barbecue so that it wouldn’t get wet.  We (my kids were now involved too) checked on it a couple of times after that and then this morning I got up early to take it into the vet school which opened at 7:30am and my daughter went out to check on the bird and he was gone!  When my son heard that he asked if I had left it on the ground and I replied, “yes.”  He said that probably another animal ate it.

I was struck by the thought that the bird may have been eaten and attention needed when caring for such a vulnerable, helpless creature.  I was reminded of caring for my children when they were babies.  For a few moments I felt responsible for the end of the bird’s life through my ignorance.  I even cried all the while thinking I was being ridiculous.  Yet, at the same time it was as if I lost the bird.  The bird that was never mine was gone and if my son was right eaten by some other night creature.  I envisioned the poor little thing trying to call out for help “tweet, tweet!” crunch…. dead.  All of those thoughts happened in a split second.

The truth is we don’t know what happened to the little bird.  The vet school staff assured me that the mother was close by or it would have been dead.  Perhaps it hopped out of the nest and went off with its mother or, maybe as my son suggested, another animal ate it.

Why write about this in my blog?  That is a good question.  As I have been writing some things have occurred to me:

  • One is that it may have been easier not to care and to have left the birds under the bush for Winston’s delightful Sunday Brunch.  And yet, I am just not that kind of person, I do care and I do get involved.
  • Second is how though we may care and care deeply our actions and shortsightedness may not give us the result we want.  Making mistakes doesn’t mean you don’t love something or care for it.  That is the stuff of learning and there are consequences for our ignorance.  If I ever care for a fledgling again I have learned something about it.
  • The third thing is that maybe that bird is alive and well and not in the belly of some passing by snake.  Perhaps all is well.  And then again perhaps all is well if he is in the snake’s belly.  Come to think of it how could it be anything other than all is well?

So, having said all of that, and at the risk of sounding silly, what is left to say is that I forgive myself for having left that little bird on the ground and for not having had the presence of mind to think of other animals that would want to eat it.  I also forgive my son for having said “it probably got eaten” which was the first time I even considered it as a possible result and lastly I forgive Winston for being a dog and acting like dogs do.

Little bird, I hope you are well and if you are gone I hope that in your next adventure you get to have the experience of flying and singing and all the wonderful things that birds get to do.

A gathering of the ordinary extraordinary

Tomorrow I am speaking at the Volunteer Conference hosted by the Institute for Human Services in Horseheads, NY.  Yes, that is really the name of the town :-).  Since the first time I heard “Horseheads” I have been trying to imagine how it came about and I must admit, I am a bit afraid to ask.  But that is another story.  I am so, very excited.  As of an hour ago almost 100 people from non-profit organizations all over the southern tier of NY State have registered to attend the conference and, it keeps going up.  Hmm…  120 anyone?).

If you are curious, as I was, check out a few of the mission statements from the various organizations being represented:   mission-statements   After you check it out, imagine a world where each of their missions is realized….  Wow.  I can’t think of a better way to spend the day than by being surrounded by people who make a living or volunteer a major part of their lives working to make the world a better place.

I have attached the conference brochure, too.  Pass it along if you know someone who might be interested. volunteer con brochure-final

I gotta pinch myself.

From The Mystical to Cliché and Back


Cliché:  an expression or idea that has become trite. (Webster’s)

Trite: worn out by constant use, no longer having freshness, originality or novelty; stale. (Webster’s)

“Follow your bliss” is a phrase that is commonly used today.  When I googled the phrase I got 5,980,000 results in .20 seconds.   When I hear this phrase being used my reaction is one of slight annoyance.  Don’t ask me why, it just is.  You won’t hear me saying “follow your bliss” very often – maybe I have said it once or twice in my life.  I also don’t listen very well when others use the phrase.  In fact, to tell the truth, I actually dampen my listening, pull back or maybe you could even say that a kind of filter overtakes how I listen and I become less interested in what the other has to say.  I check out. Gone.

I find my reaction to this phrase as kind of interesting, especially when you consider that the first entry in Webster’s definition for bliss is: “Great joy or happiness.”   So, why would I not like or listen to a phrase that means to follow my great joy or happiness?  Could it be my cynical, dark side or is it something else?  

Reading on to the second entry in the dictionary it says: “spiritual joy; heavenly rapture”.  Well, for me, that one immediately pulls up organized religion and oops, look there is my cynicism yet again – wars, killing, right and wrong us versus them.  Yikes. And then reflecting further, I know that spiritual joy and heavenly rapture are not the same as organized religion, the first two are an experience the last is an organizational structure to which people belong. None-the-less, religion is the first thing that I think of when I read that second entry of Webster’s definition. 

Does my automatic thoughts of religion have any underlying meaning in my lack of love for the phrase “follow your bliss?” I have no idea but, it is interesting to consider it all.  Then I think of  Buddhism, Hinduism, and other spiritual ideas or practices.  I can sit with bliss here, a bit.  The peaceful nature of these philosophies are less problematic when I think of bliss and yet I wonder.  I wonder why it is that when I am in a room of blissful spiritually connected people (outside of the confines of religion) do I feel so uncomfortable?  They gaze into each others eyes, smile, express their love and appreciation for one another and I am uncomfortable.  I can barely watch bliss much less be in it in those situations.  Alas, I believe my cynical dark side is showing yet again… 

Back to Webster’s and the third definition of bliss:  “any cause of bliss [slang] to experience or produce ecstasy or intense pleasure or satisfaction from or as if from a hallucinogenic drug, or a mystical experience…”  So, drugs for bliss, or maybe a mystical experience, all right then, one is easy to come by and the other seems elusive or perhaps the result of being in the right place at the right time or the result of several hours of practicing say, a spiritual ritual.

The other night I watched the movie “Pina” which is a dedication to German dancer and Choreographer Pina Bausch.  By the time the movie was over I was present to the beauty of following what makes me happy and I was reminded of expressing what is at the inner depths of my being.  As I sat there observing the dancers expressing themselves in ways that made no sense or had no inherent reason they each revealed a deep, inner unique expression which tapped into something belonging to all of us.  It was beauty, it was truth and it was goodness.  I watched and I became present to something that I wouldn’t call spiritual joy or heavenly rapture but I would say that it was an essence of my humanity that longs for expression. Sitting there watching, I suddenly realized that there are places in my life where I was doing what seemed the right thing or what made the most sense instead of following what captured my love, my passion and my joy.  In the middle of that movie I realized that many of my biggest current issues were in fact, small distractions from focusing my attention on that which touches my heart.  In that movie I let go of something small and drifted out into a place of excitement and joy. 


This, perhaps is what someone meant when they coined the phrase “follow your bliss”, I don’t know.  But who would have thought that watching a movie of beauty and profound human expression would reach in and rearrange my world. 

Wait… is it?  Could it be? I do believe that this just might be a mystical experience.  @ :-)~

Waiting for something to say…

The volleyball tournament was a complete success.  Looking from a coaches perspective all of the corrections I put in place were obviously noticeable   The girls were clear of what was expected of them and they all stepped up in a very amazing way… They handled the scorekeeping, down reffing (an assistant to the ref), and lines.  They were awesome!  Though I didn’t, I realized at one point that I could have even left the scorekeeping table and all would have worked.  They played giving their best.  They pressed up against the limits that each of them had.  We won two out of the eight games we played.  You should have seen us when we won.  We  Were  Thrilled…  In the next and our last two games we got stomped –  – bad. It was sobering and at the same time it was like the exclamation point of what was missing in our overall performance as a team. To play against teams of the caliber we are going against is what we came for.  Losing to them is the best place to learn what we need to be great. Yeah failure!

Now, about the title of this post.  It may not make any since to you but, I have been waiting for something to say since last Sunday when we finished the tournament.  I started probably 6 or 7 different versions of this post and just couldn’t say what there was to say. It seems that each time I started I wasn’t able to find the passion or enjoyment in what I was writing.  But when I thought about waiting for something to say as a possible title to the post I suddenly realized that there is something that is kind of bubbling in the background that I want to say yet, I don’t know what it is.  I know I may sound a bit crazy but really, it’s how it seems for me.  Has that ever happened to you? They happen in those times when you are ready to start something new but you don’t know exactly what it is.

What I really love about my title and that bubbling up thing is that by thinking about writing about waiting for something to say I could finally post an update on the Volleyball Tournament.

The writers mind…..  a great adventure.

When you screw things up…

I am sitting here with my daughter and one of her friends and volleyball team-mate in our motel room in Herkimer NY.  Herkimer is a little town near Utica in Central New York.  I guess it is most famous for the Herkimer diamond minds, a place where you can go and chip on rocks and come home with some pretty crystals.  Many of us who live in Central New York and have children have some of these famous “diamonds” somewhere in our house.  My son brought some home to me when he came here with a friend one Summer day.  He had a great time and that was when I learned of Herkimer NY.  I have no idea where those crystals are today.  I never thought back then that I would be here today nor that I would be coaching a girls volleyball team who is playing in their second tournament tomorrow.

Our first tournament was two weeks ago.  It was not only our first tournament but it was my first time as head coach and my first time participating in any tournament, ever.   My assistant coach wasn’t able to be there.  I really had no idea what I was in for.  Within a few minutes everything that was happening seemed as though it was coming at me at a hundred miles an hour.  Girls asking if they could go do their hair, referees asking me who the captain of the team was, scorekeepers asking for the line up and at the same time I needed to get the team on the court and warm them up for the game…. warm up?  What should I do.  Right then without looking up, in my mind’s eye I took in the rest of the coaches and their teams and they all seemed so cool and collected.  Doing warm ups, handing in their line ups, they all seemed to be handling everything with ease and familiarity and some of them were looking at me… That was when the panic began to hit.

Panic is a funny thing.  For me it seems to follow a thought.  There I was balancing, it all like a juggler at the circus, (except they skillfully make mistakes) and then wham, this thought runs across my mind that everyone else has it under control and I don’t and they are watching me! . . . . PANIC button!

Well, I made it through the day, I must say thanks to my generous husband who I recruited to help me after our second game. The number of mistakes I made is beyond being able to count but I also learned more about coaching in one day than I had learned in the several months prior.

I learned that I without the girls clearly knowing what I expect of them, they don’t have a place to measure themselves in how they are doing.  I also don’t have something to hold them to.

I learned that I am coaching the girls, not their parents.  I respect their parents yet they may or may not understand what it is that I am doing as a coach.  Having clear expectations of the parents and a clear statement of who I am and how I coach and what they can count on is important.

I learned how to substitute players, correctly 🙂

I learned all the particles that I have to manage in a day-long tournament.  Score keeping, line and down reffing, line up for each game, substitutions, breaks …and so much more.

When we met before this first tournament I talked to the girls about going beyond where they know that they can go.  I challenged them saying that them going beyond what they think is possible is what I wanted for them for that weekend.  I hadn’t thought that in challenging them that I was also challenging myself.  I had forgotten that when you set a bar for those that you are teaching or coaching or training that you also set a bar for yourself.  Set the bar I did.

Well, here I am heading into tournament #2 with these same girls and I am a different coach.  I have the line up for every game set, I have the working schedule set, I have the expectations written and ready to hand out and I have given parents the responsibility of making sure that their players eat and drink water on our breaks.  I have recruited Rich, my husband, to be my assistant coach and we have gone over all the play plans and other items so that we are on the same page.  We are ready!  I am ready.

Learn from your mistakes.  That is a sentence that I have repeated over and over to the girls at the last tournament and in our practices.  What really excites me about tomorrow’s games is that I have learned from mine and I can now guide them further into learning from theirs.

Game on.

Reverence for Life

The other afternoon I was driving to pick my daughter up from track practice after school.  We live in a small village in upstate New York and there is no traffic to speak of. This particular afternoon was stupendously beautiful and many young mothers were out walking their babies in strollers and accompanying their young children riding bikes along the main street I take to get to the school.

I slowed as I edged my way past the first Mom and stroller and then, with another car coming from the opposite direction, I had a split moment of trying to figure out the best way to maneuver around the upcoming children on their bikes.  As I slowed to a stop, and waited for the on-coming car to pass I was suddenly struck with how lucky I was to be in my car, stopping for these beautiful children on this amazingly wonderful day and I said to myself, “what if we lived and taught a reference for life.”

As I continued along the road to pick up my daughter I realized that having reverence for life is not just doing what was right so that those children would be safe or making sure that I obeyed the laws of the road or looked socially and/or politically correct.  Instead I was present to the preciousness of life all around me and including me.  Young mothers with their children out on a Spring day, walking in the fresh air teaching their kids to stay on the right side of the road as they wobbled down the street happily being alive and me driving my car happily on my way to collect my daughter.

I loved the early years of my children’s life.   On our walks I would pull my son’s radio flyer wagon down Via delle Mimose, the street we lived on in the Italian countryside.  At first both kids sat inside the wagon and later my son started to ride his “bicicletta di Superman!” and we walked down to the Coffee Bar to get an ice cream for them and an espresso or iced tea for me.  If we didn’t go to the Bar we would go the opposite direction to feed Solero, the horse.  I often wonder if we ever gave Solero a stomach ache for how many apples and carrots we brought him.  Still today, the kids talk about Solero.  Those days are gone.  Life is passing, my children are growing, they and I are fully emersed in their teen years and now I get to see others enjoy their young children and watch as a friend of mine goes through her first pregnancy.  All of this and at the same time observing and supporting my friend Betty as she deals with the reality of being in the nursing home doing daily rehab, fighting courageously to be able to dress and bathe herself as well as get in and out of bed alone so that she can go home.

I am, fifty.  Twenty years ago I was thirty and in twenty years I’ll be seventy.  When I am seventy my son will be thirty-six and my daughter thirty-four.  They will be around the same age I was when I gave birth to them.  Who knows, maybe they will be parents too at that point.  Where will I be?

My yoga teacher said something the other day which I really liked.  “We learn that we are not trying to get connected to nature but that instead, we are nature.”  We are born, we grow, learn and develop and continue doing so through our lives, just like the trees, flowers, animals and all that surrounds us.  Where were we before we came to this earth and where will we go when we leave here is a grand question.  I think it is an important question to consider and to thoughtfully answer for each person individually.  It is important because without an answer that fits for you, that inspires you, your life today is being lived in a context of something other than your answer.

For some the answer of where we came from and where we are going is an inherited answer that others came up with many, many years ago.  For others we are fighting against, or for an answer that resonates with what we truly believe and what makes sense for us.   I find that just asking myself the question and reading, studying and exploring the world and people somehow gives me an answer – today I would say that Reverence for Life is the best way to explain it for me.   So, if I say that it would mean that, we come from reverence and will return to reverence?  Hmm, maybe but what I find really  fulfilling is having reverence today, in this moment while I write this blog, and as I drive down the street and bring my car to a stop so the young children on their bikes can pass.  Maybe we come from reverence, are reverence and will return to reverence.  I think I’ll sit with that one for a while.