November 2023

“There are only two days in the year that nothing can be done. One is called yesterday and the other is called tomorrow, so today is the right day to love, believe, do and mostly live.” –Dalai Lama

Photo by Elissa

Staying cozy on a rainy day.

Dear Friends,

I love you! Happy November!

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

Your immediate, enthusiastic, supportive response to my new video project is thrilling. You’ve expressed such an astonishingly positive reaction, I’m more determined now to make this a reality than I was when I began.

Please know that I’m deeply committed to remaining vital and want to pass on some of the lessons I’ve learned in my exhilarating 82 years of life. I’m all ears, wanting you to tell me what you want to hear from me in these videos. It was my daughter Alexandra who had an epiphany in a parking lot one day and called me with the idea. “Videos. You’re going to talk to your reader.”

My life blossomed when my first book, Style for Living: How to Make Where You Live You, was published by Doubleday in 1974. This was also the same time Peter and I married, when I lectured and met so many of my readers. I’m always warm-hearted to recall that some of you have remained my trusted friend for almost 50 years! I’m always deeply grateful to hear from you and realize we’ve touched each other in thoughtful, meaningful ways.

Photo by Elissa

The last hydrangea bloom before the frost.

Remember, I was in my 20s when I had something to say. I knew of no other way to best express myself than in the written form. Because I had the great good fortune to know a literary agent, somehow, miraculously, I eventually held a book I’d written in my hands. I remember how challenging it was to teach myself how to express myself to the public. My thoughts were all over the place. I threw everything on the table. The editor I was assigned to said my early drafts were a compost heap of ideas. Working full-time as a young junior decorator with two toddlers to raise, I was motivated to hone my skills and to succeed with my writing.

My energy in my late 20s and early 30s seems boundless to me now. The reason I was able to pack so much in a day is because I was passionate about my work. Both my literary agent and Peter were helpful and supportive. I was genuinely enjoying my life, continuously stimulated by the culture and intensity of working in New York City. I was a sponge to learn everything I could from all the resources at my fingertips.

Here I am, in autumn, with the leaves turning vibrant, warm colors, and I’m all aglow reflecting on these eight decades and what lessons I’ve learned along the way. This chapter in my time-arc is probably shorter than yours. My life’s experiences reinforce the critical importance of having mentors in our lives. I’ve been guided by a host of caring, talented role models and teachers. While my classroom learning was over at a young age, I was privileged to travel for pleasure and business, something that has greatly expanded my understanding of diverse cultures in all corners of the globe. No matter how different we are, we share a common humanity. I’ve had great teachers who have helped me stay on track to express myself in positive, life-sustaining, productive ways.

Photo by Elissa

I love seeing pink roses blooming in the autumn.

The best way to keep the light of truth, beauty and goodness alive in our souls is by honoring all of our revered teachers. There are countless sages, gurus and teachers that I only know through their written work or oral teachings passed on for generations from their students. Those who lived in my lifetime, who believed in me and passed on their knowledge and skills, I hold up in reverent esteem and gratitude. I am happiest and there is the most light on my path when these highly evolved, extraordinary human beings are still guiding my journey. I’m a perpetual student.

When I started writing for publication, I attempted to type to be “professional,” but I knew I needed to use a fountain pen to express my voice. The fact that I was able to have 28 of my books published without my ever touching a digital computer screen is amazing grace. I still write with a fountain pen, to my great pleasure.

These videos will give me an opportunity to continue to be relevant in your life in a new form. Elissa showed me the first video she edited after I’d seen her earlier cut. The difference was astounding. I was moved to tears. The videos are definitely going to materialize, but they will take time. The good news is I love what I saw so far, and I’m eager to continue this process of discovery.

To be continued. All I can say is that we’re off to a good start. Let me hear from you!

Being in the presence of the Dalai Lama was so full of love.

My Guru, His Holiness the Dalai Lama

I have been a conscientious follower of the Dalai Lama since the ’80s. He teaches us that our state of mind plays a major role in our day-to-day experiences. If we’re able to maintain a “peaceful and tranquil” state of mind, the external circumstances beyond our immediate control will deepen our compassion; we will be able to maintain our equilibrium even in the most brutal reality. With all the horrors in the Middle East and recent gun violence in our own country, it’s so easy to feel discouraged.

Discouragement has no usefulness when we choose to live with greater understanding, empathy and unconditional love. The Dalai Lama, a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, believed that we would be able to achieve world peace if everyone in the universe was taught to meditate by the age of eight. Peter and I were in his presence in New York City in the early 1990s at a conference on world peace, and it forever changed us.

The Dalai Lama’s French translator, Matthieu Ricard, is a Buddhist monk I’ve been reading through the years. His new book, Notebooks of a Wandering Monk, a memoir, is a humble tribute to the privilege of being transformed by enlightened Buddhist teachings. Inspired, he left France at age 20 to live in India. Ricard believes in “self-less love.” He is deeply concerned with helping in any way he can to liberate others from suffering. His caring and compassionate humanitarian efforts led to his being the recipient of the French National Order of Merit.

Photo by Elissa

Lorraine and I went to dahlia-picking day at her friend’s farm.

Eudaimonia is a Greek word Aristotle used to describe the happiness attained by people who base their actions on reason and morality. In an interview with David Marchese in The New York Times, Ricard was asked, “Do you ever feel despair?”  His answer: “There’s no point. We can feel sad if we see suffering, but sadness is not against a deep sense of eudaemonia, of fulfillment, because sadness goes with compassion, sadness goes with determination to remedy the cause. … Suffering comes from causes and conditions. Those are impermanent, and impermanence is what allows for change.”

Ricard believes that literally everyone deserves compassion. “Remedy suffering wherever it is, whatever form it takes.” We are responsible for our actions. What can each of us do to eliminate suffering and its causes? Like the Dalai Lama, he had developed a deep conviction in the law of cause and effect. Because of his wisdom and ability to love deeply, he’s thought to be the happiest man in the world. He feels that happiness is “more like a baseline. It’s where you come to after the ups and downs, the joy and sorrows.” With mindful daily practice, we can all elevate our set point of happiness for the benefit of others, as we experience greater and greater degrees of inner peace.

Photo by Elissa

Brooke and Cooper’s annual autumn decorations outside the cottage.

The best way for us to fulfill our own happiness is to genuinely want all of humanity to evolve to become happy. When our hearts and minds are clear and pure, we will have positive emotions, acting for the greater good. By enhancing benevolence, we will become more loving. I often quote teachings of brilliant thinkers, from contemplative science going back as far as 2,500 years. Their love of wisdom rings timelessly true in our collective humanity. It’s up to us to build on their foundation, having the extraordinary perspective of seeing and understanding moral principles perched on their shoulders.

Aristotle advised his students to seek out and study under the best teachers possible. I certainly chose well, taking on the teachings of the authentic teacher the Dalai Lama. I like to think of him as my older brother I look up to with awe. His warm-hearted, jovial nature of gladness is all inclusive. He has our best interests in his mind and heart. He passes on to us his insights into enlightenment.

In Matthieu Ricard’s chapter “What is an authentic teacher?” he so expressed my feelings in the several times Peter and I were in the presence of the Dalai Lama’s teachings.

“In my experience, we feel a sense of elation in the presence of a teacher that draws the best part of ourselves to the surface, then spreads throughout our mental landscape, bringing joy, serenity and confidence.”

Photo by Elissa

My kitchen window is the perfect frame for flowers.

One Perfect October Day

When my friend Claire called me recently to make a date to come for a visit, it was pouring in Stonington and she told me it was raining in New Canaan. Laughing, she pointed out that we’d had 10 straight weekends of rain. By any standard, that’s a whole lot of rainy weekends! This means families were spending more time indoors instead of enjoying the beauty of autumn. Because we can’t control the weather, we can control our state of mind, our disposition. Having a positive attitude goes a long way to eliminate unnecessary disappointment.

In order for me to experience my One Perfect October Day, I needed to have had a good eight hours of sleep. I cleared the calendar, free of obligations and conflicting responsibilities. The stars were in line. “Today.” This was a day of abundant sun and an ideal temperature in the high 60s.

Success has many meanings and definitions. As you may recall, my former boss Eleanor McMillen Brown’s favorite word of praise when we accomplished something well was “Success.” For me, on this day of late October warmth, I didn’t plan just how my day was to unfold. I was certain of one thing: I’d follow the light wherever I wandered, from first light until after sunset. I set myself up for a gloriously beautiful day.

Photo by Elissa

My begonias are still blooming and beautiful!

The sky was utterly cloudless until a little before two. I felt like a sunflower, intuitively, unconsciously being drawn to the warmth and brilliant light of the sun. There was zero rain in the forecast. I seized the day. Carpe diem. I seized the moment. Carpe momentum. I was in my element. I fled Stonington Village and landed in one of my many happy places in Mystic: Sift Bakery. The warmth on my back was a tender caress from the sun goddess I wanted to hang out with, anticipating the darker, colder, shorter daylight hours ahead as November drew near.

My perfect day was not a myth or a fairy tale or a denial of the real world’s problems; I was simply minding my own business, having a quiet day off, feeling intensely happy as I was a free spirit able to follow my bliss, focusing on my blessings. Being in a mild trance, free from active engagement with others, I felt I was crossing a bridge into having the entire day become a meditation.

Because it was a weekday, it wasn’t crowded in the places I chose to spend time. An adorable couple in their mid-80s sat next to my table enjoying some pastries and coffee in the sunlit cul-de-sac corner of the patio. They met in college and have been inseparable ever since. Even though Ben’s wife is hard of hearing, when he told me her smile brought him all his knowledge of personal happiness, she flashed a loving, caring, understanding smile with sparkling eyes that spoke volumes. Ben, a retired college professor, and I carried on about my love for Aristotle. Ben loves to relate to others, and I felt it.

Photo by Elissa

My white lilies neither toil nor spin.

My October day was a mini vacation where I was able to relax and work for a long stretch of thinking time. My Alexandra day gave me more than timeless moments of clarity. I felt empowered with an inner vitality as well as an outer calm. I deeply listened to the church bells chime, observed the glee of young children’s improvisational playfulness in kinetic motion. The sense of joy was palpable.

Bless Mrs. Brown, who reminded her young, eager design staff over 50 years ago that “living takes time.” Life in this half century has become far more complex. She knew there are no shortcuts to living well. She set an example of a great lady who inspired her designers to become excellent at improving the environment of our clients.

Time alive. That’s all we have. Because “living takes time,” we have to pay undivided attention to our soul, our spirit. While we live in our biological body in a material, outer-directed world, we need to take time to cultivate our nonmaterial spirit-energy, our God within.

We are literally and mythologically closest to the gods in contemplation. These are the moments of our greatest happiness simply because we are tapping into our true nature as creative, thinking, moral human beings. Whenever we calmly ponder, wonder or wander soulfully, serenity and clarity wash over us in tender grace.

Photo by Elissa

There’s nothing like putting my nose right to a fragrant gardenia blossom.

Savor these rare moments when our thoughts and feelings are in harmony with the timeless truths we awaken to in the deepest recesses of our mind. We ask ourselves: What will we do with these elevated insights, a sudden vision, a flash of light on our path? It is this sense of peace and stillness that guides our paths.

Value the time you spend thinking through how to live your best life.

I achieved far more than a day’s restoration. I returned home elevated with a feeling of élan. My body was infused with an enthusiastic vigor. I was full of delight. I felt I was carried away in one of those puffy white clouds. A bud had blossomed on my gardenia plant while I was away from her, from my home sanctuary, for nine hours. She was a hug, a kiss, a warm welcome. Mrs. Brown, my perfect day was, indeed, a success!

Photo by Elissa

I’m always in awe of the mathematical perfection in a dahlia.

October’s movies included Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour; I saw it when Alexandra was here with her daughters Anna and Lily. She’s a playful star who is a force for good. Killers of the Flower Moon, an American tale of greed and murder, is a powerful story with Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio starring under the direction of Martin Scorsese. I went to Goodspeed to see The 12, a new musical about “a hopeful message that challenges us to love one another, whatever the circumstances.”

On November 2 at 10 a.m. EDT, some of Lady Anne Gordon’s porcelain pieces and decorated Wedgwood porcelain plates I let go of will be on sale. (See the full auction link here, and the pieces from my collection here.) I know they’ll land in good, loving hands who will appreciate Lady Anne Gordon’s talent as her work uplifts our spirits. I have expansive memories of years of pleasure “at table” with her plates.

I wish you a most happy Thanksgiving Day, and every day. I am so deeply thankful to you for all the light you bring to me. To be continued!

Love & Live Happy,

This month, I’m letting go of a lithograph by Roger Mühl if anyone is interested in adding it to their art collection; please contact Pauline at Artioli Findlay (artiolifindlay@gmail.com) for more information.

Roger Mühl (French, 1929 - 2008)
Provence VII, Les villages sont construits sur les collins
Limited edition French lithograph
Image and sheet size: 16 3/8 x 12 1/4 in
Executed / printed 1986
Edition # VII/XX
A village on a hill in Provence has saturated light rooftops.
Photo by Elissa

A lovely little kitchen still life.