Through Giving We Are Truly Living

aunt angela

We all play many roles in life, sister, brother, wife, husband, doctor, lawyer, manager, director. . .  Sometimes there are roles we want to play and other times their are roles we get to play. Taking care of a terminally ill loved one who may not be the best version of themselves due to pain, anguish and fear is not an easy role to play. My brother and his wife have taken care of my dear Aunt Angela with grace, love and humility. She passed away from pancreatic cancer in January.

My Aunt taught me so much, not just by words, but by effort and example.

Her biggest lesson to me -to give is to live and through giving we are truly living.

I feel blessed to have been able to spend time with her and to have been touched by her inspiration, passion and immense love for life. She gave freely of her time, her advice, her thoughts and her talent, energy and heart. The time she spent here with us was spent meaningfully and connected with our hearts and souls.

If she was needed, she showed up, fully armed with the research, willingness and incredible desire to be as helpful and encouraging and as compassionate as she could be. Whether it was with her career (she learned how to code at age 50 so that she could keep herself relevant and be helpful to the company she was working with) or it was through her mother’s dying days and her husband’s long and horrific bout with cancer. Aunt Angela continued to give even supporting my daughter who suffered a traumatic brain injury through long patient phone calls, letters and loads of love.

Aunt Angela would do the work and become knowledgeable in the best way to help and support those she cared about. Whatever she did, she was all in. No holds barred.

Without leaving out a detail she gave fully and with this giving she was fully engaged in life. She knew how to create space for others through their pain and suffering when it was needed and she also knew how to encourage us to move forward.

Aunt Angela is truly unique and has an astonishing combination of creativity and discipline. Whether she was expressing her love of life through photography, ceramics, knitting, writing, baking, cooking, she dove into each project deeply to learn and practice with disciple and determination.

I was both fascinated and amazed at Aunt Angela’s ability to turn “pro” at whatever she put her mind to.

Aunt Angela gave so much of her time through listening for hours on end while not judging but holding space for the most vulnerable parts in all of us and at the same time she knew how to fight, to be strong and to persevere. She did this so well, that at first I found it extremely challenging to understand why she did not want to continue with experimental and alternative treatments for pancreatic cancer. However I have come to understand and appreciate her deep spirituality and connectedness to life that left her unafraid to move on and she has done so with dignity and courage.

Aunt Angela was like a second mom to me. So different than her sister, my loving mother, who is incredibly strong-willed, intelligent, wise and incredibly loyal. Together, the combination of these two amazing women, these spirited souls, I have been blessed to have the guidance and love to keep me on track, navigating life with gratitude and appreciation for each and every miraculous moment here on earth.

It is with Aunt Angela’s fantasy-filled, child-like mind that I have gotten through the saddest and most tragic events in life with faith and understanding that we learn and grow from it all.

Aunt Angela may not have had a huge network of friends and acquaintances but to those that she held dear she made certain to give all that she had. Her time, her energy and love.

I will always take with me her biggest lesson. To give is to live.


Inner Greatness

IMG_9229Last night I went to sleep soundly while meditating to Tara Brach’s Meditation: A Healing Breath (2015-10-28). This morning I awoke and observed my early morning mind. It was already creating weak thoughts about worries of the future. About five minutes after rising out of bed, I came to a significant point of arrival. I had an epiphany.

1. Meditation has helped me observe my nonsensical chattering mind. This “monkey mind” when left to it’s own devices wanders to the future in fear and to the past in remorse. Not a good monkey, a cute one at that, but not a thoughtful one.

2. In poor form, my worrying thoughts lead to a weak state of mind which leads to a wishy washy day. It all rolls out from the head. I don’t know about you, but I know this life is not a dress rehearsal and I certainly don’t want a watered down version of a great performance day. I want an astonishingly awesome day.

3. I’ve drawn the conclusion that a resplendent and sublime day, sui generis begins with a mind that serves me well. A resolute and steady mind.

mindReading The Tools: 5 Tools to Help You Find Courage, Creativity, and Willpower–and Inspire You to Live Life in Forward Motion

A quote: We’ve been conditioned to associate greatness with people who’ve achieved power or fame in the outside world. . .We place little value on an inner greatness that can be developed by anyone, regardless of his station in life.

Which got me thinking about Victor Frankl and his triumph under the most extreme conditions in a concentration camp in Nazi Germany and his powerful writing in Man’s Search for Meaning (an inspiring and epic read) and a great book to gift – Man’s Search for Meaning, Gift Edition

Inner strength and greatness begins with powerful and substantial thoughts. We have much to gain from a strong and disciplined mind.


Additional References

Additional Reference Reading
Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha


Roget’s Thesaurus of Words for Intellectuals: Synonyms, Antonyms, and Related Terms Every Smart Person Should Know How to Use



Too Small to Fail

“Be the person with embarrassing goals and impressive results instead of one of the many people with impressive goals and embarrassing results.”

Today’s thoughts inspired by a seriously smart book:  Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results

Mini HabitsI travel to Manhattan for work each day (some people call it commuting). I intentionally take my travel to New York City each day and I view it as a big adventure. The big apple, right here in my own back yard, a playground that I get to rediscover over and over again. The dreaded 90-minute “commute” has become a part of a mindful and magical journey. Well, sometimes not that “magical”, but you get what you put into it, okay?

467a65572f527359c3eb3172dbb9b0b7Lately I’m very sad about the growing number of homeless men and women I see while I am walking downtown to my office from midtown to Soho. Counting 5, 6, 7 people per block, I thank God I haven’t become numb to this sorrowful situation.

A homeless man rests under a blanket while sitting on a bench in a New York subway station, Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014. Monday night volunteers spread throughout the city to do an annual count of homeless people living on the streets. According to advocacy group Coalition for the Homeless, more than 50,000 people live in municipal homeless shelters, with thousands more living on the streets. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
A homeless man rests under a blanket while sitting on a bench in a New York subway station, Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014. Monday night volunteers spread throughout the city to do an annual count of homeless people living on the streets. According to advocacy group Coalition for the Homeless, more than 50,000 people live in municipal homeless shelters, with thousands more living on the streets. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

I became angrier and angrier at DiBlasio, at the system, at the crumbling world economy. I thought about creating a video and filming what others may not see. Heroin addicts, veterans, the mentally disabled lying down on the sidewalk with cardboard as their mattress and torn blankets as their cover. But other than devoting time to volunteering at a homeless shelter, what can I do?

Well a dear friend had a wonderful idea that helped me the other day. Bring them lunch. Pack extra lunches to hand out to those who are hungry as I walk to work.

Kevin Raleigh, of the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, works, Monday Jan 10, 2011, on homeless outreach trying to convince homeless to come in from the cold. Raleigh carries lots of gearÑjackets, blankets, socks, gloves and hatsÑbecause they are often unsuccessful at getting people to leave their camps, even in sub-zero temps. Raleigh gives a pair of gloves to D.J., a homeless man, who is known on the streets as One-Eye-Jack. RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post
Kevin Raleigh, of the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, works, Monday Jan 10, 2011, on homeless outreach trying to convince homeless to come in from the cold. Raleigh carries lots of gearÑjackets, blankets, socks, gloves and hatsÑbecause they are often unsuccessful at getting people to leave their camps, even in sub-zero temps. Raleigh gives a pair of gloves to D.J., a homeless man, who is known on the streets as One-Eye-Jack. RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post

And so I did. I started with one sandwich yesterday. I am thankful to say that it was well received and I made a real connection with someone.  A older woman who thanked me. A soulful moment of compassion in a very crazy city.

Starting Small

This act of giving is not a new idea, but for months I was so concerned about the huge homeless problem I didn’t know where to begin. I got caught up in the amount of time, effort and energy it would take to do something, anything. Whenever we are trying to solve a problem that is bothering us this greatly we sometimes tend to get caught up in the enormity of it.

Perhaps you want to lose weight, hit the gym, save money, develop a new skill, invest in the market. My recommendation to you, is to start small, with mini-habits, that when practiced daily and consistently really do work.

Think about it, your goals may be too lofty and setting you up for failure. Yes it’s okay to dream big, but if you are having trouble failing, take this tip and advice from the author of Mini-Habits.

Some ideas . . .

Big Goal: Travel the world by the time your 30.

Small Habit: Begin by saving $10.00 a day by making lunch. Research the economical benefits of a round the world ticket. Read:  Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel

51da8C8qg-L“Vagabonding is an attitude—a friendly interest in people, places, and things that makes a person an explorer in the truest, most vivid sense of the word. Vagabonding is not a lifestyle, nor is it a trend. It’s just an uncommon way of looking at life—a value adjustment from which action naturally follows. And, as much as anything, vagabonding is about time—our only real commodity—and how we choose to use it.” Quote from Vagabonding.

Big Goal: Lose 25 lbs by your 25th birthday.

Small Habit: Start with 1 less teaspoon of sugar in your coffee each day. Start with a 10 minute walk around the block.

Big Goal: Learn how to code your own website.

Small Habit: Start with a 5 minute session of a  class each day on, or

Big Goal: 100 pushups a day by halloween.

Small Habit: Do one push up right now. Maybe two tomorrow. Grow slow. Grow slow and steady.

Big Goal: Write the book.

Small Habit: Write one true sentence a day. (a wonderful piece of advice from Ernest Hemingway.)

Break it down. Do it daily. Be consistent.

Looking for inspiration? Check out the author’s Mini-Habit Ideas Mini Habits





The Art of Mindful Living and Challenging Your False Limitations

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Living mostly in our minds we notice that it travels constantly between the past and the future. It rarely ever stops for a visit in the present moment.

Questioning Your Limiting Beliefs
Training oneself to awaken to the moment right now, to just stop the  senseless, ruminating thoughts and mindless chatter in the brain for just a second can help us break through false limits we have created for ourselves.

How it Works

Here were some of my limiting beliefs this morning.

I can’t run. I’m just not a runner. (I have seriously told myself this my whole life).
During my workout on the beach I challenged myself to run 50 seconds at a time. Interval running. I did it.

By questioning my false limitations, I re-frame the story I am telling myself. Now I know,  I can run.

Second false belief, I’m not creative. I don’t have the talent. I can’t draw, paint or photograph to save my life.
I challenged myself again. I took out my phone and recorded some video and photographs and used a VSCO filter.

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Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset
Look at that, I can take a photograph.

Third  False Belief

I don’t have the time to do what I want to do today. I’m so damn busy.

And now, I challenge that belief. My plan today is to challenge the way I waste time. I am committing myself to asking the question about everything I have on my list today –

Will this activity bring me closer to my intention? One step nearer to my goal?  If not, I will replace that activity with something that will. As I become more mindful of what I am doing all day, I will find the time for what is most important to me.

Think about it. What limiting belief is holding you back from breaking through and becoming a better version of you today? I’d love to hear how you are challenging your false beliefs today.

Pro tip – As you challenge yourself, re-frame your questions –
Don’t ask Can I?  ask  How will I?

How will I find the time? How will I learn something new today?  How will I honor myself?

Inspired by the book Mindfulness by Ellen J. Langer


Read more here – Mindfulness, 25th anniversary edition (A Merloyd Lawrence Book)

Freedom from the Fear of the Unknown

Working Against the Tide
Every day felt like a meaningless and grueling grind. The 90 minute commute, the two hour calls, the craziness and directionless confusion. The frustration was becoming intolerable and unbearable. The harder she tried to accomplish her tasks the more difficult and challenging they became. She was working against the tide. She knew that it was very wrong to stay, she was so very unhappy, just miserable really, but she was entrapped by the sense of security of steady pay.
Soul Scraping and Mind Twisting
Days turned into weeks and weeks into long and tiresome months as they drowned her in mindless heaps of senseless work. She came with grand ideas and an astonishingly powerful vision but she stayed with her soul scraping the ground behind her, disempowered and disenchanted.
A Crazy Crew of Misfits
She realized they’d never change and their demise inevitable. The crazy crew of misfits, the bureau of imaginary problems, manufacturing crap that nobody needed. Oh and the office clan, you know the annoying cast of pervasive personalities, they playing starring roles in failing and crumbling companies around the world.
Weird Office Culture
Mad Mary, the desolate bookkeeper who bullies and snarls as she writes the checks. Sorry ass Sam, Operations “Director”, who squirms at the thought of having to deal with the world, always repeating but never contributing. The first one to whine during the long conference meetings in a stale, windowless room. And then there was timid Lucy, whose command of the English language was limited at best, making training a painful and arduous process. But oh how they loved her, because she yes’d them to death. Even as the ship went down.
Freedom from the Fear of the Unknown
She had enough with it all, it was time to leave. It was either security or her soul.  To take the leap, the dive, the jump. The fear of falling without a net, without a job, without the false sense of security scared her beyond her wildest belief.
 Saving Her Soul & Sparking Joy
But she did. And when she did, it felt wonderful, liberating and free. All was well with the world. Security could not buy the sense of splendor in her heart for having the courage to save her soul.
Onwards and upwards, she had a plan, a plan to build her own empire of inspiration. This next chapter entitled “Sparking Joy“.

No Cliffhangers

The Greatest Version of You


The Highest Version of Myself

“When you become too familiar with who you are,

you have become in fact a real stranger to yourself.”

Quote from –

Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom

Inspired by a morning meditation question, what does the best version of myself do today?

  • Frames everything I do with gratitude, appreciating my meals, family, work, friends and opportunities to inspire others and connect.
  • Spends time in the company of wise people while honoring their intelligence and wisdom.
  • Lives in a place and space that is good for me while attempting each moment to help myself and others and as I move in the direction of my heart and soul.
  • Learns daily, developing skills of communication and training with deliberate discipline using my words carefully and beautifully.
  • Takes good care of my mother, father and cherishes my husband, children and engages in a livelihood that is inspiring and uplifting with benefit to all.
  • Gives generously to others and lives with integrity.
  • Avoids doing harm and is careful not to over indulge while developing wholesome states of mind.
  • Respects life and others with humility and is content while appreciating the spiritual teachings brought into my life.
  • Is patient and compassionate with all of those on my path.
  • Lives simply and understands the deepest truth and the highest freedom and happiness of mindfulness.
  • Steadies my mind, never allowing my thoughts to be swayed by the ups and downs of life, free of sorrow and shame.
  • With this highest and humble version of myself, every where I go, I am at peace.

While my religion is not Buddhism, I respect and honor the wisdom of these teachings. I am also inspired by Steve Jobs and his advice for being the best version of you.

I would love to know what the best version of you would do today. Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Inspired by the Book Awakening Joy  by James Baraz


Awakening Joy: 10 Steps to Happiness

The Art of Not Panicking, Keeping Your Composure and How to Re-Write the Rules of Life

John Glenn“When America raced to send the first men into space, they trained the astronauts in one skill more than in any other: the art of not panicking.

When people panic, they make mistakes. They override systems. They disregard procedures, ignore rules. They deviate from the plan. They become unresponsive and stop thinking clearly. At 150 miles above Earth in a spaceship smaller than a VW, this is death. Panic is suicide.”

A quote from Ryan Holiday’s fascinating book

The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph

ObstacleDuring his orbit around earth, American astronaut John Glenn’s heart rate never went above 100 beats per minute. Consider that for a moment, he was in a tiny space ship miles and miles above our planet and he never lost his cool.

Every Day Work Day Panic and Anxiety

Flash to the average work week. Think about how some of us react to what happens throughout our day. Even some of the smallest challenges become ridiculously big obstacles (in our minds).

  • Our hearts begin to race while mind-ruminates and body tenses as we frustratingly fret over how to respond to a mean-spirited and snarky email from a co-worker.
  • Our stomach churning as we hold our breath before an important sales pitch presentation.
  • We run for the bar before we work the room at yet another after-hour “networking” event. Our minds not in the game and just going through the motions.

We become stuck, paralyzed by obstacles of and not of our own making. The daily struggle lies in turning trials into triumphs and the awful into opportunity. Want to dive deeper? Read more about the secret to handling pressure like astronauts, Navy SEALs, and samurai here.

Pause, Breathe and Take a Moment to Compose Yourself

xanaxIf you have read this far, I would imagine that you are not rummaging through your bag for another .5 mg dose of Xanax, but looking for a healthier and more mindful way to deal with every day panic and anxiety.

Research shows meditation-style breathing can make you courageous,increase your attention span, and even boost happiness.

Take just five minutes each day to watch your breath go in and out. While you do so, try to remain patient. If you find your mind drifting, just slowly bring it back to focus. Meditation takes practice, but it’s one of the most powerful happiness interventions. Studies show that in the minutes right after meditating, we experience feelings of calm and contentment, as well as heightened awareness and empathy. And, research even shows that regular meditation can permanently rewire the brain to raise levels of happiness, lower stress, even improve immune function.

What matters most is not what these obstacles are but how we see them, how we react to them, and whether we keep our composure.

Ambition with Meaning

Lately I have been listening to many a friend and family member share their concern and desire to change they way they are living now, moving away from the driving demands of a 14 hour work day to a more purposeful, peaceful and calmer life. Yes ambition is necessary and can even be wonderful but ambition with meaning, well that shit is sacred.

Navigating your life with Poise, Grace and Power

Some of these more mindful millennials that I refer to have the resources to enjoy a ten day getaway to discover meditation and mindfulness on solitude retreats. A ten-day stint in a tree house in the jungles of Tulum, Mexico on Airbnb with water cleansing massages and sun basked mud masks.


I have noticed a huge movement of those waking up earlier in life to realize, “not my rules, not my purpose.”  The intention: Re-write the rules, make more room for meaning in their lives. Make money, but with pleasure.

Truth be told, you don’t need to go away and remove yourself from your environment to make a change. You don’t need to quit your job right way either. What you can do, is change your perception to what is happening around you right now and focus on designing a life filled with daily habits that are more conducive to a meaningful life.

Ground Control

It all starts with controlling our perception. When something is happening to us we need to ask, How am I perceiving this? What meaning am I giving it? It is really a horrific experience or is it an opportunity for growth?

I have a big secret to share. A vulnerable moment for me. I  use to suffer from severe anxiety, panic disorder and fear. Movement, meditation and mindfulness have become my daily dose of medication.

Curious, how are you managing your panic, your anxiety? How are you adding more meaning to your life? How are you re-writing the rules?

Your Standing Ovation

Mick Jagger Oakland 1969
Mick Jagger Oakland 1969

We have all had this anxious moment. The split-second before you post. You re-read your writing, watch your video for the 50th time, re-work a paint stroke or study your sketch and ask yourself- – Is this authentic enough?  Does it stand out in a sea of sameness? Is it “unique” enough for the world to appreciate?

Michael Port, Author of Steal the Show, said it brilliantly in an interview the other day.

You don’t have to be different to make a difference.

Must Read
Steal the Show: From Speeches to Job Interviews to Deal-Closing Pitches, How to Guarantee a Standing Ovation for All the Performances in Your Life

Madeline Johnson's Top Book Picks
An inspiring read “Steal the Show” has great work and life performance advice.

In my mind, way too much cred has been given to creating “authentic” and original work in a “unique” way.  This thought can really stifle your creativity.  Worrying about the “authenticity” of your work will only blur your vision and mission. Instead, strive to create a higher caliber of work each day. Your best work. You see, the distinction is that you are already different from everyone else. You don’t need to focus on your authenticity, you are already unique, just as you are. Yes, you do stand out in a crowd, even if you do absolutely nothing.

It also really helps if what you are creating what truly inspires you. If you are bored doing it, then chances are someone else will be bored reading or watching it.

Driven to Perfection

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to tip toe to my grave safely. I want to take risks, chances, I want to soar through this life.

unicorn me

So I will let my fear be the fuel. The reality is, we all are afraid.

One of my favorite morning rituals is to listen to Brian Johnson’s Philosopher Notes. They are short, sweet, little bits of wisdom that can fuel your day. If you haven’t already, I highly suggest you subscribe to his YouTube Channel.

In one of my favorite mini-classes, he mentions taking a deep breathe when fear freezes you. Thinking back on my daily meditation practice, everything I have been learning and last night’s Vinyasa Flow Yoga class I find it funny and ironic, that the simple act of breathing has become such a “thing” in my new found intentional life.  Who knew something so mindful and simple could help so much.

Listen to Brian’s 10 minute video  for more tips on how to move through your fears. “How to Conquer Your Fear in 30 Seconds.