Flourish Beyond 50: with Polly Leaf

by Judy Griffin on June 9, 2014



“For the world is not painted or adorned, but is from the beginning beautiful; and God has not made some beautiful things, but Beauty is the creator of the universe.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson


I love how Polly ageless vibrancy blooms just like the beautiful garden she nurtures.

I love how Polly ageless vibrancy blooms just like the beautiful garden she nurtures.











I met Polly Leaf in yoga class and I have always admired her beauty, grace, vibrancy, and youthful attitude.  Not to mention her flexibility. I am usually sitting behind her and am always in awe. We can learn a lot from Polly so I am thrilled to feature her story.  I am so impressed with her honesty, the vivacious way she embraces life and the fine example she sets for Flourishing at 50 and Beyond.

  • · There have been times in my life where I had to choose between sticking with the old ways, which may have been tried and true but not so fruitful, and taking the chance, making the choice to step into the unknown. Since I often came to the conclusion that the old ways weren’t working so well for me, I have tried to choose the more adventuresome route, the one that will open me up to more beauty, joy, and opportunities to love. For way too long I was hypercritical of just about everything, including other people. This attitude caused me to spend much time alone and be unable to take action until finally it dawned on me that the person I was most critical of was myself.  It has taken me many years, too many, to understand that the most important thing is to love oneself, and that once that begins, life becomes a positive, treasured experience. Sometimes this has worked out in terms of what I guess people would consider worldly success and sometimes this hasn’t. But in the long run, the lessons that I learned in every situation have helped me become more understanding of others and of myself, more compassionate.
  • · A specific choice I made to live more vibrantly evolved from reading Out On a Limb, by Shirley MacLaine, back in the 80s. In the book she mentioned a retreat in California that was extremely rigorous and that consisted mostly of hiking, which I had done on and off ever since I was very young, and yoga, which I had yet to experience. I was intrigued, so I signed up for The Ashram’s program. Those five days were transformative for me. I could barely finish the trial run I made the first evening I was there but by the end of my stay I completed an 18 mile morning hike in the San Gabriel mountains and a lesser hike that same afternoon. I felt totally renewed from the strenuous twice daily hikes, the sunshine and air, and of course, from the two yoga classes every day.
  • · I left The Ashram committed to maintaining some kind of exercise program and to facing challenges with a “can do” attitude. I returned to The Ashram three more times and have kept up with exercise even after ending my visits there. I know that exercise is key to my physical, emotional, spiritual well being and at this point in time, yoga suits me best.
  • · So many people have guided me and impacted me. I like to think that I can learn something from anyone.  Specifically, a teacher I had in grade school, Joe Huemer, brought to his classroom energy and enthusiasm the likes of which I had never experienced prior to seventh grade, and I am certain his love of teaching was what fired me up to enter the profession. My brothers, one a physician and the other a lawyer who became a member of the New Jersey Supreme Court, were role models for anyone to learn from, especially an adoring younger sister. The early childhood educator Caroline von Heydebrand strongly influenced how I understood and taught Kindergartners. My husband has devoted his life to inner growth and  his example and encouragement have consistently helped me stay on this path.   The family we are blessed with has given me so many opportunities to learn and grow.  Our sons have become wonderful fathers, each in his own way, and the seven grandchildren who grace our family continue to enrich our lives.  Writers, artists, musicians from all periods who express the aesthetic of wholeness, harmony, radiance, joy are appreciated by me.
  • · How can you live without love? That’s what the world is made of. So yes, I have loved and been loved. I hope I am still loved and I hope I never stop growing into more love.
  • · Friends give you a solid sense of who you are. Mine have supported me through thick and thin, and for that I am eternally grateful. I recently took a road trip with a college classmate, back to our alma mater, and it was so wonderful to just pick up wherever we left off, to feel comfortable and trusting with one another.
  • · Along the way I have learned that it is my own negative thinking that has blocked me from accomplishments, from maintaining relationships, from just about everything. When I believe in myself, I can do it! I also learned, fairly far along in my life, that it is part of the human condition to feel alone, at least at some points in one’s life. And for ages I thought I was the only person on the planet who felt isolated, left out!
  • · Over time I have become less critical of myself and of others. I have come to recognize that I have more to offer than I ever thought I could. I have the courage now to step into new ventures (hence this project) with joy, gratitude, and the hope that I can be of help.


  • · It is vital for me to experience beauty, in my home, outdoors in the gardens, wherever I may be. I try to remain committed to listening to my higher self, where I can then act out of love. To be in relationships with others, based on connecting with the highest in them, is essential to my feeling of well-being, to knowing that I am being true to myself.
  • · Eating organic, natural foods and preparing meals, practicing yoga, gardening, being outdoors, traveling, spending as much time as possible with family and friends, reading, listening to music, having a sense of humor, helping others-all contribute to my vibrancy.
  • · I flourish when I know I am doing all I can to make my home and gardens beautiful. When our family, which is scattered across the country, comes together and I can laugh with them even when the basement floods, beds break, the washer fails, all while I’m trying to set out a holiday meal, I flourish! Spending time with beloved friends, be it drinking wine and eating with them, or hiking, or taking crazy road trips together, that’s also how I have fun.
  • · Meditation and yoga flourish my soul now, as well.   When I was teaching, the very moment one of my kindergartners learned how to read flourished my soul and brought me joy. Whenever there is a family gathering, I experience joy not only because we are together but also because I have the opportunity to witness individual accomplishments.
  • · I nurture myself by daily meditation, the practice of yoga, reading, sometimes painting or sketching, improving the aesthetics of my home, gardening, remembering that taking care of myself, first, is the best way to be able to truly help others. I connect with my observing myself, which yoga has taught me, and at the same time by opening up and listening to my inner thoughts.
  • · I soothe my soul and reduce stress by stepping back to observe and recognize the patterns of behavior that have put me in an unhealthy place. I practice deep breathing and yoga to calm myself. I find gardening, listening to classical music, cooking, and spending time with my dog are ways I soothe my soul.
  • · The sweetness in my life come from doing all I can to “see with the eyes of the soul” in my interactions with anyone.
  • · My vibrant life has a lot to do with knowing I am helping others. Remember, I was a teacher!
  • · By consciously choosing to believe that by observing oneself, loving oneself the world can be a better place, I celebrate life. I also celebrate it by unceasingly planning family gatherings, trips and/or outings with friends.

The Fountain of You

  • I believe in myself now, and I think that makes me beautiful. Certainly, the joyful experiences I have with my family and friends make me feel beautiful as well.
  • I express my sensuality by maintaining a healthy diet, exercising to stay in shape, being honest with myself about how a woman of my age should dress to look her best, and maintaining a sense of humor about the aging process.
  • I believe in the uniqueness of every human being and that each of us is here for a purpose that we are challenged to discover. I hope my unique gift is that I can help others recognize their gift and honor it the way I do.
  • I am most proud of how honest I am about assessing myself as a wife, mother, teacher, grandmother, friend and how I try to grow into these roles.
  • Change and growth toward developing a more loving understanding of life keep me engaged. Being with people who share these convictions definitely keep me engaged.
  • · I had a career in publishing right after college. I created ads and wrote promotional copy for children’s books, in Boston. At first the job was extraordinarily fulfilling because of the people I worked with and my responsibilities. Just at the time when I was searching for something more, I married, then became a mother, and that job was, and still is, fulfilling. When the children were old enough for me to do so, I went back to work, this time as a teacher. Then all I had learned up to that point enriched this calling and I spent thirty wonderful working years in the company of 5 and 6 year olds, who have taught me almost everything I know about living life with vigor and imagination.
  • · I think my purpose in life is to honor people and address them in such a way that they can be receptive to the idea that we live in a loving universe.
  • · Passion means doing whatever I am doing with the loving conviction that I am serving a higher purpose. Pleasure comes from recognizing that job is well done. Play is where everything originates; it is the creative force that gets the passion going. Doing anything with purpose mean the choice has been made to incorporate Passion, Pleasure and Play into my commitments. 


When I was 5 or 6 years old I went to a friend’s birthday party and I noticed that his little sister was standing all by herself, as far away as she could from the noisy celebration. I had an impulse to go over to her and take her with me to a place where she would feel less threatened, which turned out to be under the party table. At that moment when I empathized with her I also had the feeling that I was responding to an inner calling to help young children, Years later, at the end of my senior year in college and while I was studying for comprehensive exams in art history, religion, and English literature I realized that the human consciousness is not on an unchanging continuum; it is constantly evolving, discovering itself. When I became a Kindergarten teacher these two insights merged into an understanding of how to work creatively with children. I saw ways to teach to their consciousness at that age so as to lay a foundation for future growth.

I don’t think I consciously designed the decades of my life as much as I have tried to follow my intuition. I will continue to live the next decade this way by being as open as I can to every blessed moment.

  • With the gift of wisdom I would tell the younger me to trust my intuitions and to think more independently, rather than follow others. I would not be as concerned about other people’s opinions of me. I would believe in myself.
  • I would say the same as above to younger women. I would tell younger and older women to look for patterns in their lives, and reflect on them in order to gain insights that will lead to further personal growth.

If I could go back and change one thing it would be to believe in myself in order to have self-confidence.

I am most grateful for my intuitions, which increasingly have allowed for personal growth in imagination and inspiration.

So what do you admire about Polly’s story? Please share a comment.

If you would like to contribute a Flourish  Beyond 50 story please sign up here

Learn more about  my upcoming Flourish  Beyond 50: Your Path to Vibrant Living here

Check out how Aunt Marie has flourished well beyond 50.














{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Janet Murphy June 10, 2014 at 10:40 am

That was such an inspiring story and definitely words to live by. I love Polly’s statement: “It has taken me many years, too many, to understand that the most important thing is to love oneself, and that once that begins, life becomes a positive, treasured experience.” This is not an easy thing to do at times, but it is the key to a good life. Thank you to Polly for sharing her story and thank you Judy for working on this project. I look forward to more wonderful stories that give us hope that life will just get better and better. =)


Judy Griffin June 10, 2014 at 12:41 pm

Thank you Janet for your insightful comment. I find this quote of Polly’s inspiring as well. Really it is a key to a beautiful life. I appreciate your support & encouragement. Yes, I like your idea about life getting better & better.

I invite you to consider sharing your own Flourish at 50 & Beyond Story.


josephine grover June 11, 2014 at 12:13 pm

what a refreshing and inspirational interview with Polly, she was one of the first neighbors I met when I moved in and I felt her good karma then. I love her description of loving herself but most of all her love for helping and connecting with people and places and even yoga!! We can’t do this journey alone and she exemplifies this.


Judy Griffin June 11, 2014 at 4:15 pm

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts Jospehine. How lovely that you are both neighbors. You are so right when you say we need each other. I appreciate you taking the time to read & respond.


Samyak Yamauchi July 1, 2014 at 5:24 pm

I appreciate Polly’s story. It’s very inspiring for me to hear about older women who have have and are living such meaningful lives. I can see how much she loves connecting and being in relationship with other. – family, friends, the children she worked with. I also really like how she talks about the importance caring about and taking care of yourself . All the change in the world has to start with individuals loving and caring about themselves. Yay, Polly!


Judy Griffin July 1, 2014 at 5:28 pm

I am so glad to hear that you were inspired by Polly’s story Samyak. I appreciate you meaningful feedback. You are so right about the amazing impact it can make if we begin with loving ourselves. Your 1st friend must be yourself right?


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