Wednesday, February 6, 2019

An Unexpected Visit

"Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones.
A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you."
~ Shannon L. Alder
A few months ago, I received the following e-mail via my website:

Dear Ms. Schiano:
I am writing you with the hopes that you are Rita Schiano, the daughter of my beloved piano teacher, mentor, and second mother Jane Marie Notarthomas Schiano of Syracuse, NY. I was on Route 20, heading to the Brimfield Fair when I saw your name on a sign. If it is indeed you, I would love to say hello. I moved to Boston 27 years ago and am a church organist, thanks to the inspiration and teaching of Jane.
Sincerely, Bobby DeRegis

It took a few months to coordinate our schedules (and I must be honest and admit I let this fall through the cracks of time at one point). However, we found a few dates and decided that Westborough would be the logical, halfway meeting point.

Bobby suggested Friday, January 18, as he had an appointment in Westborough that day. Unfortunately, I had another commitment that afternoon.

I responded, "Perhaps the following Friday, 1/25 or 2/1? Actually, February 1 is the is the 33rd anniversary of my mom’s passing," I wrote. "Perhaps that might be a nice remembrance.”

Bobby responded, "I think February 1st might be a sign from above. Let's do it."

The last time I saw Bobby was in 1986, at my mom's funeral. He was seventeen years old. Now a man of fifty, I was so heartened by the extraordinary detail with which he remembered her.

"She saved me in so many ways. Helped me through difficult times and losses," he told me. "She gave me a love for music. And she had such deep faith."

Over the next few hours as we talked of her passionate, loving and giving soul, Bobby would pause often to wipe a few tears from his cheek.

In my office at home I have a framed newspaper article written about her many years ago. The columnist described Mom as a ". . . big, warm-hearted woman whose delicious sense of humor dances in her dark eyes. She is also a woman of deep religious faith revealed through her music."

In addition to teaching private piano and voice lessons, Mom was the organist and choir director at St. John the Baptist Church in Syracuse, NY. Although a Catholic, mom shared her rich, dramatic contralto voice in the quartet at the Temple Society of Concord worship services every Friday night.
And she was extremely proud of her special choral group, the Out of Sight Singers. "They may lack eyesight, but not voices, and I love every minute I work with them," she said.

Bobby is not the only person to reach out to me about my mom over the years. Numerous people have contacted me via Facebook and shared their memories of her. And like Bobby, many have gone on to study music in college and work as professional musicians and music teachers. And each and every one makes it a point to say, "I loved her."

I loved her, too. I was blessed to have her as my mom and mentor in life. The greatest lesson I learned from my mom is to be mindful of how my words and deeds affect the people I interact with each day. Be it a friend, colleague, cashier, attendant, someone I pass by in a store or on the street.

"See them," she’d say. "Look beyond appearances. Be grateful for the smallest act. And always show the world your true self."

Words to live by, indeed.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Musings from a Recovering Worrywart

Unless you knew me when I was very a young girl, you might be surprised to learn I was quite the worrier. My mother used to say, “You’re such a Worrywart, Rita.” And the tag fit. I was a worrywart. I did tend to dwell unduly on perceived difficulties in my life that developed a pattern (habitude) of troubled emotions and thought patterns.

Then one day I saw a book on my mother’s nightstand entitled Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz. The book was a gift to her from her sister Vera. My Aunt Vera was a beloved, albeit feisty, woman ahead of her times. She lived in Hollywood, CA and she was always sending Mom books, articles, and such on personal development. (To this day I carry in my handbag the miniature, red leather copy of As A Man Thinketh by James Allen that she gave my mom back in 1968.) 

I devoured Maltz’s book in a matter of days. It seemed that with the turn of each page my mind opened and expanded to a new way of thinking about myself and how I move through the world. By the time I was done, it was crystal clear to me that my thinking truly did affect the outcome of my life.

Now I was about 13 years old when I read that transformative book. Being a voracious reader, I went to the library and began what became my lifelong journey to understand the cycle of how thoughts effect emotions and thus behavior. I gobbled up the writings of untold thinkers, beginning with the Ancient Greek philosophers up to modern-day thought leaders, all of whom had (and have) a very similar message: You are what you think about all day long.

My being a worrywart hasn’t truly dissipated. It is a pattern (neuro-circuitry) of thinking and reacting (habitude) that formed when I was quite young. When times get tough, when something is troubling me, I can feel that old worrywart downward spiral begin. However, what I now do is I recognize the habitude sooner and I put into motion the various strategies I’ve developed for myself to slow down the activity in my mind.

As I said, these habitudes took root and deepened and strengthened at an early. Those of you who have heard me speak, have come to one of my workshops, have heard me share my story of some of the events in my life that shaped my initial belief system.

Worrywarts habitually travel down a dark, long, narrow road replete with obstacles such as fear, all-or-nothing thinking, and other cognitive distortions. Yet, what I know is this. We can change our lives by changing our thinking. We can change our outcomes by exploring those habitudes that don't serve us and by be willing to do the work to strengthen the habitudes that do serve us and create more positive thought patterns.

We can travel a different road, enlightened by understanding and widened by a willingness and desire to explore the realm of possibilities. You can change your thinking, change your patterns, and change your life. I know this because I did.
~ Rita

PS Want to learn more about changing your Habitudes? VIsit my website:

Monday, January 29, 2018

Are You Feeling Challenged By Obstacles?

Are you feeling challenged by obstacles? Are you clear as to what that "thing" is that is preventing or hindering your progress?

I view any obstacle that gets in my way as an opportunity to learn something new. It's not always an easy lesson. And sometimes the learning of the lesson takes time, patience, and reflection.

Changing the way we think about obstacles effects our success rate for as the Zen Buddhists say, "The obstacle is the path." To begin, we have to identify the type and source of the obstacle. Ask yourself: Do you view the obstacle metaphorically as a pebble, a rock, or a boulder? Is it external or internal?

External obstacles are those things outside of your control, such as environment, money, physical limitations. Yet, because they are external does not mean you should give up. What is always in your control is how you choose to respond (cognitively) not react (emotionally) to the challenge.

Internal obstacles are things such as fear, self-doubt, and what I call your Habitudes -- Patterns of thought and behavior affecting our attitudes towards life; habitual ways of thinking and acting that may or may not serve you.

Our beliefs and thoughts about a situation affect our reaction to it. The way we think about things can actually give things more meaning than they actually deserve. By giving meaning to things, we give them power in our lives. That's why I asked you to think metaphorically about the obstacle. What is its size? How easily, based on that size - pebble, rock, boulder -- can you remove it from your pathway?

"Obstacles don't have to stop you," said Michael Jordan. "If you run into a wall, don't turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it."