IMG_20200328_143854It’s here, there’s no doubt… it’s blooming, exploding, all around. I can see it, I can smell it, I can feel it in the warm, lush air. SPRING…  I am happy… How can I be anything but happy?

When I leave my small apartment to walk to the bakery and get my morning croissant (a gift of Corona), I suddenly notice a bustle of cars and… even people, not seen before in any of the days of this Lockdown. There are “dots” (the Corona version of lines) in front of every store that is open, and almost all the parking places are taken around the small Super Market close to my home. What is going on?

It must be SPRING… The LOCKDOWN has not been suspended and people keep dying from the pandemic, but I feel happy. I buy a coffee (also offered at the bakery), along with my croissant  and stroll over to a bench with Salomé in tow. There we sit, watching people come and go (it is soooo weird to see people come-and-go after … what is it? Four weeks??? of Lockdown) thinking: ‘It must finally be Spring’.IMG_20200326_144924

Sooo, what can I say? I am happy. Everyone I know is –so far- healthy; my son has completely recovered, the sun is shining, the unseasonal cold that crept in during the last two weeks has disappeared, and I feel like dancing down the sidewalk.

A neighbor is standing in front of her door. I wish her a cheery good morning. She immediately informs me –before anything else- that there are over 10,000 dead. I shake my head.

“Yes, and we are alive,” I say to her in my broken French, and, smiling, wish her a good day. I prefer not to dwell on things I can do nothing about. That might seem callous to some, but why would I choose to add more suffering to the planet if I don’t have to. Where can I make a difference? That is what I need to know, not where I couldn’t have anyway.

IMG_20200401_153436As I see it, Corona has given me a gift I never expected. Twenty-seven years ago, when I was pulling myself out of three addictions (alcohol, cigarettes and relationship), I needed the support and companionship of other women (after a life-time of thinking men were better company), so I formed a 12-Step Group for Codependent women in Mexico. Last year, when I visited my daughter there, I had the gift of attending a meeting of that group which still gathers and helps other women every Monday of the year. I was sad that I could no longer attend meetings regularly. So…. when Corona hit and everyone on this beautiful planet was confined to their quarters, it occurred to me that I could organize a Codependent’s meeting on line and therefore, could attend my beloved group’s gatherings at least as long as Lockdown existed. I proposed it and not only did they all jump at the opportunity, but also –as no one has a terrible lot to do these days- we now meet three times a week (in the morning for Mexico and the afternoon for Europe) and three friends from this side of the ocean have joined. What a gift!

So I am happy.

Yesterday I swept, mopped and dusted my whole tiny apartment (which seems much larger since I am doing the housework), and –even though I couldn’t see the dust before the cleaning- upon finishing, the rooms seemed to shine and wink in the afternoon sunlight.

As I write, a bee flies in the open window. I stop for a moment to watch it buzz around my plants looking for a flowering one… There is nothing sweet there and soon it departs through the same window. I smile and feel the happiness bubble up inside of me. Outside I can hear the birds singing (in spite of the fact that there are more cars today then I have heard in the past three weeks) and I begin singing along with them: “The sun is shining, Oh happy day… No skies are cloudy and no skies are grey… Oh happy day, oh oh oh lucky me.”  Won’t you join me today?IMG_20200325_143258

P.S. How can I be anything but happy…. This afternoon I left for our after-lunch walk at 3:45. One look at the sky told me that the heavens were going to fall any moment. My IMG_20200411_160745ears caught the rumble of thunder. I was not to be discouraged: I needed cheese. So -I decided- if the sky falls while I am in the Supermarket, I will just wait it out and walk home when the rain stops.

Well, I got to the Super without a drop falling and was on my way back when I crossed paths with one of the ladies that wait on people at the pharmacy. Just because there was no reason not to, I asked for the umpteenth time if there were any masks available. To my surprise she said “I can IMG_20200411_163326give you two”… Seeing as I had none and was not about to test my clumsiness trying to make one, two was a treasure-load of masks -and for free. I gushed my thanks and trotted off home with my bounty, arriving just in time to avoid a soaking. I mean… How can I not be grateful? What a life!


Jeff Foster, in one of his posts said “You can’t make others happy, but you can inspire others by living your own happiness more fully. (…) Sometimes you have to be more selfish to be truly selfless; so selfish that you devote your life to burning as brightly as possible, inspiring others rather than trying to fix them.”

I copy his words here because they are mine and he has said it so well. When I took off –just as my children were having their children- to live my own life I was consciously being selfish; I consciously took the decision to reach out for my own happiness rather than staying around and being a grandmother to their children. I did it out of love, love for me and love for them. Somewhere along the line I had learned that if I sacrificed myself for them, I would hand them the bill later on.  My guiding thought was: ‘If I want my children to be happy, I have to show them the way; this is the greatest gift I can give them and the most precious inheritance.’ I truly believed that then and have continued to believe it till now. Life has yet to show me I was wrong.

Today my two children are together, in Mexico (my son has flown down from Los Angeles), battling for the inheritance their father left them, which would have given them a nice amount of money if things had gone differently. Things didn’t, and what ensued is much too complicated to explain. Suffice to say it has caused them a great amount of anger, frustration and –in my son’s case- a large amount of money in lawyer’s fees. I do not know what the outcome of their struggle will be; they don’t either. But I sat here this morning contemplating the possibility of sending a wish to the Universe for things to go well, and then I realized I couldn’t possibly know what would be the best for them, for my children, so I simply turned it over knowing the Universe will give them what is best for them… but only always. Reality is kinder than my thoughts about reality –as Byron Katie says- but only 100% of the time.oznor

I don’t know why my two children are going through this at the midpoint in their lives (both are in their 50’s) but I do know that only good can come of it. I was 50 -well, 49 about to turn 50- when my life did a complete flip-flop that set me on the path I call “my second life”, so different from my first that the memories of that time seem to belong to a completely different person. In that first life, I searched for love everywhere wanting so desperately to be happy. Then that life died and, although I survived physically, everything I had believed I knew in those first 50 years was washed clean and I had to start learning all over again from scratch.

A few of the first things I learned were put very simply in Twelve Step meetings which became my new birthing family: “You can’t give anybody that which you cannot give yourself”; “God’s will is that you be you; if He had wanted you to be Mother Theresa of Calcutta, he would have made you Mother Theresa of Calcutta;” “you cannot control anything out there and when you try to your life becomes ungovernable.”

Recently, someone sent me a Ted Talk by Anita Moorjani where she explains her near-death experience (NDE). After listening to her, I bought her book on Kindle. Her story states over and over again in every way possible, that it was only one realization that made her come back to life and that cured her cancer: that she was here to love herself above all else. This sounds selfish and self-centered unless you put it the way Byron Katie does: “I am 100% responsible for myself”. That means I am responsible for taking care of myself, but also that I am responsible for loving myself: there is no one else that can do that; it is my job.

It took me a long time; I had no idea what it meant to love myself. Having spent my whole life thinking that I knew what love was and that I had felt it for others, I came to realize that what I had thought was love (physical attraction, passion, neediness, actually selfishness like in ‘be mine only’ ‘give me’ ‘love me’ ‘don’t leave me’, etc), all those confusing and sometimes painful emotions, had nothing to do with love. Eventually, I would understand that love is actually Being Present, Paying Attention and Responding: in other words, being Responsible.

oznorMy first lesson was learning to listen to me, something I (as a Leo) had always wanted everyone else to do. This was not an easy chore because –although I had demanded many things of others- I had never actually tried to listen to myself, so it took time and patience. I had to sit quietly, I had to ask myself and then wait. “Brianda, what do you want?” My first discovery was that I had no idea what I really wanted. It was like being with a small child who hasn’t a clue of what choices she has and therefore cannot answer the question. I had to be patient with myself and I had to try things out to see if they fit.

I would ask myself: Do I want to go for a walk now or would I feel happier reading a book? Then I would wait. I would check inside, first imagining walking and then imagining reading a book and waiting for my body to tell me which activity it actually would enjoy more in that moment. This was new. I had never really connected to my body before, much less known I could trust it to inform me of my needs, likes and dislikes. I had lived from the neck up, inhabiting a mind which became every day more obsessed, addicted and crazy. But my body –I would discover- knew exactly what it liked and didn’t like, what food it craved, what movies it wanted to see or not see, what people it wanted to be with.

For instance, one day the memory of how, as a young girl, I had loved coloring with crayons came to me and I felt my body respond with what seemed like excitement. My mind immediately said ‘but Brianda, you are a writer, an intellectual: what are you going to do with a coloring book and crayons at your age?’ But my body didn’t seem to give a damn about my mind’s opinion; it was already visualizing an enormous box of crayons, one with 48 different colors (there had only been boxes with 6 and later 12 colors when I was a girl), so I got myself up, went to the store and bought myself a big box of crayons and several coloring books.

And so it went. If someone invited me to their house or a party, was I really interested in going? I had to learn how to say ‘no’.  Did I want to see that movie, go to that restaurant or eat that food? Was I more interested in sitting around the table with my family on Sundays or going to an AA meeting (one Sunday, when I excused myself to go to the meeting, my son said “Mom, you’re getting awfully selfish,” to which I responded: “Yes, isn’t that wonderful!”)?

cofAnd listening to myself was only the beginning. Liking myself came second, and learning that it was all right if not everyone liked me as long as I liked myself. I came to see that my need to be liked by others was actually the long road to trying to like myself (the hidden belief being that if everyone liked me I would finally be able to feel I was ok). I decided to take the short cut and start with me. I dragged age-old photos of myself from the drawer where they were hidden (I hadn’t included them in the family albums because I didn’t like the way I looked) and pasted them all around my dressing room. Under each photo I stuck a piece of paper where I had written a quality that I could admire in myself (honesty, loyalty, generosity, etc.) and every morning while I was dressing I would look at the pictures and allow my body to feel acceptance and even love. It wasn’t long before I realized how beautiful I had actually been when I was younger, and started to feel sorry that I hadn’t known and appreciated it at the time. From there it was easy to see that when I reached 80 I would look back on my 50-year-old self as gorgeous and feel sorry for having missed it. I decided then and there not to miss another moment of my own beauty, notwithstanding extra pounds, wrinkles or bad-hair days. I was helped in this task by a very special teacher: my little dog. Supposing I loved, took care of and caressed my own body just the way I do hers? I asked myself: Am I going to stop loving her if she gets old, or goes blind, grows fat or loses her hair? If not, then why would I not treat my own body with the same love and care for as long as it lasts? Today, I mentally get on my knees to this precious body that survived my almost killing it with cigarettes, alcohol and misery, and has now carried me well into my 70’s as healthy and sturdy as ever.

With what are known as “negative” emotions, it was the same. Whenever I felt embarrassed or inadequate, sad or frustrated, lonely or bored instead of looking to others or the circumstances to find a culprit, I would stop and go inside. What I discovered was that the feeling had nothing to do with others or the situation and everything to do with my own judgment of myself and my circumstances. So I would ask myself what I was doing or believing that was causing the discomfort. I often discovered that what was making me uncomfortable was that I wanted something from somebody else (or from life itself) and that was making me unhappy with what I had (or was) at the moment. If I was being critical or judgmental of someone else or of my own life, that oznorcriticism or judgment made me dislike myself or my circumstances.

Little by little I began to realize that nothing I did or felt had anything to do with anyone or anything else: it was all me. Of course, some years later when I discovered The Work of Byron Katie and began to use the questions to undo my painful beliefs, it all became clear and much easier, and I at long last experienced real freedom and real joy as a way of being in the world.

So back to the beginning: Today my children are facing their own midlife battles, one of them being the fight to claim their father’s inheritance. I have no idea of what the outcome will be or what effect it will have on their futures. I only know I trust the Universe and am convinced that there are no mistakes… ever. And I know that if there were any way I could give them that trust, I gladly would, but it is something that each of us has to learn for ourselves by walking the walk. And for me, this learning is what life is about.WIN_20160731_155612 (3)


stone gratitudeTwo messages received during my birthday celebration have stuck in my mind: one said, “That’s right, be happy” and the other thanked me for reminding its author of the importance of gratitude.

I have often told the story of how I awoke to gratitude, so bear with me as I repeat it briefly.

After my divorce I couldn’t stop crying and I was so sick of feeling miserable when all I wanted was to be happy, that one day I fell to my knees and asked a God I didn’t believe in what it was exactly that was I doing wrong to feel so unhappy. Nothing happened, so I gotcrying up and began fixing my makeup. Then, I heard a voice –it wasn’t my voice and it wasn’t a thought- it was an unknown, somewhat masculine voice in the space I call my mind, and it said: Brianda, life doesn’t owe you anything. That was all, and it was enough. The realization that I had spent my whole life looking at what I didn’t have instead of being grateful for what I did have was immediate. My thought: ‘Life gave me life, all the rest is gravy’ sent me racing around my house like a madwoman thanking every object that I owned: stairs, roof, sofa, fridge, walls, rugs, tables, books… everything. When I finished, I was so happy I hardly fit in my own skin.

imagesSC3S7QKCSo, for me, the path to happiness is gratitude. Those five words (life doesn’t owe you anything) are the most important thing that has happened to me in my life, bar none.

This morning, as I walked to coffee with Salomé, I tripped over a cable lying across the path and went flying forward, falling with all my weight on my right arm and hip. A man rushed imagesIWIXEE3Aforward and, grabbing my arm, tried to pull me up. Why do some people think that pulling you right up is the best thing to do? Could it be that they are embarrassed for you lying there on the pavement? I was actually feeling very grateful for the solidity of the street that was allowing me to be very still for a moment and mentally check if there was anything broken. It felt so good to just not move and simply go from limb to limb mentally gathering myself together.

I noticed I had skinned my arm right below the wrist and it was bleeding. I showed the man (who was standing over me looking extremely worried) and said, “This is all that has happened, nothing broken … isn’t that good?” Actually, I didn’t mind at all being on the 20130718_173248ground (Salomé didn’t seem to mind that I was there either; she was just sitting on the side observing the whole scene) but the man seemed so upset about a woman fully dressed, with earrings and all, just lying there on the street that I thought I would try to ease his mind by making an effort to get up.

It was a very slow process, but every time he tried to help I discouraged him; something told me that it was important for my body to do this by itself, at its own pace. Slowly, I pulled myself together and up. The man looked less worried and actually smiled. Then he pointed to my arm that was bleeding a bit. I dug into my handbag (it had not even fallen off my shoulder) and, giving him a big smile, produced a kleenex with which to stem the bleeding (really not much at all). I thanked him for being so willing to help and walked the rest of the way to the Café for my morning coffee and a chat with my friends.pansement

Upon arriving, I showed Rose, the owner, my damaged arm and she produced a Band-Aid (in French, pansement, so I learned a new word too). All was well; I had my coffee and walked home again, this time without coffee-cups_00367940.jpgfalling. Ahh, so much to be grateful for!


Before, the only thing I thought of Old Age was that it was the better of two choices (the other being, obviously, dying young), but now that I am about a foot and a half (or more) into the Matter, things are looking differently.

Still aliveOld Age does not come overnight, at least not in my case. I remember clearly when I was about 50 things began to make noise, things -I mean- like joints and bones and what-not. I called it the “Rice Crispies Age” because everything went “Snap-Crackle-and-Pop”, and that reference might make sense only to persons reaching the same “ripeness” as myself who have heard the advertisement in their youth. After the noise subsided, the small occasional pains began: a joint here, a vertebra there… My second partner reminded me joyfully that, after 50, if you wake up in the morning and nothing hurts it means you died in your sleep.

But unless you have done the Dying Young thing, Aging is inexorably progressive, although there are many, many days when one is allowed to forget it (as long as you don’t look in the mirror).

The Powers that Be, however, are kind and they soften the way as best they can. They take your eyesight away as fast as they put the wrinkles on so, unless you are stupid enough to approach the bathroom mirror with your eyeglasses on, you really don’t notice all that flabby crinkly skin around your mouth and jowls. They diminish your physical energy at the same time as they add aches and pains and physical danger to exertions beyond a simple walk to the supermarket two blocks away.

Nevertheless, things do change and by “things” basically I mean the body. As my grandmother used to quip: ‘”If it’s not one thing it’s another” said the woman with the nosebleed.’ Things ache: if it’s not the ankle, it’s the knee; the neck gets stiff and cracks when you turn it too sharply; no sooner has the shoulder stopped hurting than you get a pain in the right hip before dawn that has you twisting and turning in bed to find a position that alleviates the twinge. Sometimes everything comes at once (the ankle, the hip, the shoulder, the knee) or everything suddenly disappears and you feel like 20 again until it creeps back in.

Photographs stop being fun, although for heaven knows what reason, Skype seems to improve one’s looks. Good hair days become fewer and fewer, and if you have my fine straight hair, you begin to feel “holes” on the top and sides of your scalp where the hair barely covers and you curse the Universe for not abiding by your belief that only men go bald. There is, however, the advantage of being blond which makes grey hair almost, if not totally, invisible… unless of course you look at my eyebrows which I have to color over every morning to hide the white ones everyday more numerous.

Hands are a good measure of how much you have aged. You can make up a face, brush over the balding spots on your head, pretend that your joints don’t hurt, but there is no way -except gloves- to hide the devastation of your hands. I remember entering my father’s studio one morning when he was in his late 70’s and suddenly noticing his hands and realizing that he was going to die some day in the not too far future. It was a shock and my heart squeezed into a painful ball at the thought. Today I look at my own hands and feel tenderness towards myself, for the beating I have given this body and the noble way it has not buckled under the punishment. Nothing is as wrinkled or splotchy as my hands, bless them: I do love them so.

So for quite some time I had the attitude of ‘grin and bear it’ in the face of advancing deterioration, but suddenly I realized I was making a very grave mistake.  This Getting Old business is actually very exciting. First of all, I have never done it before and I have no idea of what comes next. Everything is so new, from the wrinkles to the flab to the pains to the sun spots. Everything belongs to the This-Never-Happened-Before world.       no idea what is going to happen

I have become very conscious of my body and find myself dedicating much more time to its care and its observation. I catch myself feeling extremely grateful to it when a pain that has been around for a few weeks or months suddenly disappears as incomprehensibly as it had appeared. I talk to it alot more, making sure it understands how much I appreciate its capacity for endurance. I almost broke down crying with gratitude when it threw every fiber into allowing me to take all the walks and do all the climbs when we went on the trip to Machu Picchu. And recently, during the silent retreat with Jeff Foster in Belgium, when I slipped going down the slate stairs and my body flew into the air landing with a resounding thump on the pavement on my right hip which had been hurting anyway for the last 6 months, what a difference it was to think ‘Oh my goodness, I am sure this blow is going to knock everything into place and all pain will be gone’, instead of ‘Oh shit! Now I’ve really  messed up this time!’  I was so grateful that I hadn’t broken a bone, that the tearing of a ligament in my knee seemed a small price to pay for the experience of flying through the air with both legs flaying about wildly. Today, one month later, the pain is still there, although it doesn’t stop me from doing anything I want too. When I feel it as I walk into town or even through my apartment, I think to myself: ‘Well now, there is my body letting me know that I’m still alive.’

There is also a new liberty and a new comfort in growning Old. I allow myself to do things that I didn’t allow before like taking short naps when I feel tired or playing a few games of solitaire on the computer when I’ve worked for several hours or watching a tv series while eating homemade popcorn. I am kind to myself and exercise patience; I don’t push anymore; I have stopped believing that “I should be doing something purposeful”.  And I follow the wise advice of whoever created the following cartoon:

Today I will live in the moment

And there is something else: I am happy, happier than I ever thought I could be when I thought about being happy. I have no idea what I have done to deserve this, like María in the The Sound of Music, perhaps somewhere in my youth or childhood, I did something good. I know what serenity is, I am not trying to change anything, and much less myself. I live in a state of astonished, unending gratitude, absolutely in love with this incredible Universe that parades itself before my eyes instant by vibrant instant.


Who would you be if you could not think                                                                                          the thought “I am unhappy” ever again?                                                                                         How would you live your life if you                                                                                                    could no longer believe that lie?                                                                                                         What would your life be like if you knew                                                                                          you could never be unhappy ever again?                                                                                         (Mark Andrew Frey, Facebook)

There are mornings when it is ­good to remember that without a thought there is no such thing as “unhappiness”. Continue reading