Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Time for self-care?

Are you one of the thousands of people who does a lot of care-giving? This is true of parents. It's true of the sandwich generation who cares for parents and children. And it's equally true for people who are by nature nurturers and always find someone to whom they can give time and attention.

This time of year can be a time of overwhelm. You can feel stretched very thin and just exhausted. Your compassion might have reached its limits. Don't feel guilty about that. It's normal.

Just remember that there's nothing wrong with self-care. In fact, it just makes sense. One cannot draw water from an empty well. Nor can we keep giving from a place inside that's gone dry and needs some refilling of its own.

Take time in this new year to deal with your own compassion fatigue. Take care of yourself. Not only will it increase your joy and happiness but you'll be far better able to give to others.

Monday, December 30, 2013

An opportunity for awareness awaits

Do you make New Year's resolutions? Or do you set an intention for how you want to live your life in the coming year? Or perhaps making choices about how you transition through change and live your life is an ongoing process for you.

No matter what your style, I encourage you to be awake and aware. Life can be so much richer when you and I don't sleep-walk through it. Look around you. Savor small moments. Live in gratitude not just for the big things of life but for small blessings as well. The new year offers many opportunities to live a life of awareness.

Choices, choices. Again, you and I have a choice of how we live our lives. We can live out of our own container of love and gratitude. We can live with an open heart and open mind. We can put our gifts out into the world—and experience lives filled with joy and happiness even while we serve others in a way that offers joy and happiness to them, too. Go for it!

Friday, December 27, 2013

If they only knew me...

Have you ever heard of the Impostor Syndrome? You may have felt it yourself but not known there's a name for it. Ever have this thought: If they only knew who I really was, they wouldn't hire me? Or love me? Or want me? You worry that sooner or later, someone will see through your masks and know that you're incompetent or unlovable. And they would reject you.

Apparently, even those with a long list of degrees, successful careers or an adoring public feel this way, too. Perhaps we're more aware of it in Hollywood stars than in those who are CEOs of corporations. We've heard about the needy star who craves attention and in private, deals with huge addiction issues.

However, it's also a garden-variety syndrome that plagues ordinary folks such as you and me. If you feel this way at times, don't ignore the elephant in the room. Take a good look at what it's really about. Talk about it with someone you trust (or with a life coach). Make a list your competencies and good qualities. I know, it's often easier for us to list our flaws than our positive qualities. Isn't that sad? But do try. Affirm yourself for those qualities and gifts. Know, too, that we all wear masks. They are necessary to some degree. However, some of us can do a bit of mask shedding and still be safe and secure.

If you are bothered by this syndrome, I invite you to make 2014 the year you deal with it. You don't have to let it drag you down. Don't let it steal your joy and happiness.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Vulnerable and authentic

This past year I've been intentionally working on being more vulnerable. I know I've written about that in blogs several times. I've spent my life as a strong woman "leaping tall buildings in a single bound, landing backwards and in high heels," as they say. While that's helped me through a lot of difficult life situations, it's not so good for connections and loving relationships. It can also be exhausting.

Recently I heard researcher, storyteller and writer Brene Brown speak of vulnerability as "the birthplace of joy and creativity." She speaks of it as the courage to be ourselves. "Let go of who you think you should be," she says, "and be who you really are."

I'm trying, I'm trying. I want to be strong in a different way—not necessarily by carrying around my shield of protection when I think I'll be hurt. But I want to be open and loving, even if means I do get hurt.

What's your experience of vulnerability? Perhaps it's easier for you than me. Part of that comes from my being an Enneagram 8, and part of it comes from my life experiences. But here's the wonderful part: I get to choose now.

Life really is a lot about choices, even though we think we're simply carried along on life's streams, bobbing about randomly. Choice. Vulnerability. Authenticity. These are some of the themes I'm going to carry into the new year. What about you? What themes are you carrying into 2014?

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Gratitude and giving

For what are you grateful on this Christmas Day? I'm spending it with some of my fiance's family—so as much as I'm enjoying connection, love, gifts, food and a warm home, I'm also thinking of people who don't know where their next meal will be, who sleep under a bridge or in a doorway—or if they're lucky, in a shelter—or who have absolutely no family or friends. And I'm grateful for the abundance in my life.

I want that gratitude to spur me to actually do something for those who have far less than I do. It's not enough for me to just think of them; I want to give in ways that will be helpful to (and respectful of) those who don't have all they need. Multiple possibilities exist for doing so. I want to never grow so complacent and unaware that a) I don't feel grateful for what I have, and b) I don't care for others who have far less.

That's what's on my heart this Christmas Day. What's on yours?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Open to love

Because the Christmas season spawns such a wide range of emotions, comments by one of my favorite poets and writers, Mark Nepo, caught my attention the other day. In his The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have, he says: "Perhaps the most stubborn thing that keeps us from knowing love is distrust. Certainly, we have more than enough reason in our world to be cautious, alert, and guarded against being hurt or taken advantage of....

"The question we must ask, that I ask myself every day," he continues, "is which is more debilitating: to be cut off from love or to be scarred by the pain of being hurt?"

It's so easy when life continues to leave its scars on our hearts and our lives to withdraw a bit further with each scarring and become a bit "gun-shy." However, that just removes us further from any possibility of healing. It reminds me of a time in my life when I'd been deeply hurt and feared going back into a situation where I thought I'd face more hurt and perhaps no small amount of judgment. My wise sister told me, "Go back there with your heart open and your head high." She was right.

For, as Nepo says, "... there is no other doorway into kindness and all its gifts but through the gentle risk to open ourselves, however slightly ...." Not easy. But worth doing!

Whatever you're feeling today, whether it's utter joy or absolute sadness and loneliness, be with the feeling. Be honest and real about it. If you're sad, be loving, gentle and compassionate with yourself. And try to open yourself, ever so slightly, to more of the gifts of kindness that are around you—perhaps in places you didn't expect.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Gifts with reach

Lately I've been thinking a lot about those who have no home, no job, no food, perhaps even no family—all the less advantaged here in our country and globally.

There are so many ways of sharing our love—and our gifts—with others during this season. For years when most of my grandchildren were little, we enjoyed pooling money and poring over a Heifer International catalog to choose an animal for a global family—a gift that meant income and sustenance for them. The kids loved hearing what a flock of chicks or bee hive might do for a family, or what a difference the gift of a goat could make to another family.

My church has a giving tree, and we're invited to buy gifts for those who otherwise might have nothing for Christmas. My congregation also is active with soup kettle and food pantry ministries. And almost daily in my mail I receive notices of wonderful organizations who give gifts to people in need.

So many opportunities exist for you and me to give gifts that have real reach, gifts that truly make a difference in the lives of others. Why not pick something out today, if you haven't already? You'll be giving yourself the gift of joy at the same time!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Expectations exceeded: What joy!

Earlier this week I blogged about the frustrations that come from unmet expectations.

Sometimes, though, our experiences exceed our expectations. Have you had that happen? Isn't it pure delight when it occurs?

That happened for me this week. My middle son, daughter-in-law and six grandchildren who live in the area planned to meet us at a restaurant for dinner to celebrate both my birthday and also an early Christmas, since my fiance and I won't be in town for Christmas this year. Because their kids are nearly all teenagers and have extremely busy lives of their own—and my son and daughter-in-law both have demanding jobs—I knew they had other activities going on. I knew we'd have a wonderful and fun time, but I thought it might be a bit rushed because of their schedules.

But the evening was just one of the most delightful ones I've had in a while. We packed a lot of great conversation, joy and laughter into the time we did have. An extra bonus for all of us was that we had an absolutely amazing waiter who was spot-on with recommendations and had a great sense of humor to add to his attentiveness. We each enjoyed our food, the setting and service; and we especially enjoyed each other.

Family time always is precious—and yet we know that at this time of year, our expectations (sometimes taken from Christmas cards, TV shows and other media images) can exceed reality. So it's a real gift when reality exceeds expectations. I intend to savor this experience.

What are you noticing these days about expectations and experience?

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Candles and chocolate

This is the first morning in more than a week when I have no appointments or activities and in which I had no baking projects (I'm writing my Thursday blog on Wednesday). So I've been savoring two of the birthday gifts I got this week: Lady Godiva chocolate truffle coffee (oh, yes!) and a lovely jasmine, lily of the valley and rose-scented candle. It's so wonderful to just spend several minutes relaxing and savoring both those things—flavored coffee and scented candles are two of my personal favorites.

It really takes so little sometimes, doesn't it, to bring us joy and to calm and relax us? As much as I've been enjoying baking for loved ones and the season's activities, I also had been looking forward to this morning of a more open schedule. Whew, a breather in the midst of the busyness.

You likely have your own equivalent of flavored coffee and a scented candle. Take a few moments if you can to just stop and enjoy whatever it is that will bring you joy and calm—whatever is your particular version of self-care. And remember, it isn't just the big things in life that need savoring. These small moments can brighten our day and lighten our step. And that has a ripple effect extending out to anyone with whom we interact.

What can you do today? Or tomorrow?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Kindness doesn't cost

These are such crazy-busy days for so many people. I understand how easily tempers can fray. Most people have to-do lists that are longer than a roomful of wallpaper. Money probably is running short as is time. The peace and goodwill of which we speak can sometimes be in short supply.

Recently I was in the grocery checkout line when the woman ahead of me lit into the grocery bagger with all the ferocity of a mother lion defending her cub—and all simply because she didn't like the way he was combining things in her bags. She said offensive things about his bagging ability and treated him like a child. I just cringed when I heard her spiel. She rendered the whole scene toxic, and several of us looked at each other and shook our heads. We were embarrassed by her behavior.

When I got up to the bagger, I said, "I hope you will just shake that all off. It wasn't about you. No one should treat another human like that. Just don't let that toxic stuff get inside you. Don't carry it home." He said, "I know. I try not to do that." But I could tell he appreciated the fact that I noticed and spoke a kind word to him.

What small things can you do today to just brighten someone's day or lighten their load? Sometimes all it takes is a smile. Or a kind word. Or just letting someone cross the street even if you do have the right of way. Opening the door for someone who is loaded down with bags. Friendly conversation with the salespeople and clerks in stores makes their long days more pleasant. It doesn't cost you a thing but it can really make that checkout person forget her tired feet!

Let's check our attitudes and see whether kindness can't be a habit—not just in this season but all year long.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Unmet expectations birth frustration

This is the season for high expectations, isn't it? Visions of a Rockwellian Christmas. The perfect family having the perfect meal and giving the perfect gifts, everything going smoothly and not an unkind word to be heard. All expectations met. Everyone happy. Right?

But it isn't that way, really. For many, this season is not at all pleasant, as I said in a recent blog. And for others, it may be a wonderful season but still include some (or several) unmet expectations.

I recently heard someone say, "All frustrations are birthed from unmet expectations." Yes, that is true. Try as we might, we can't completely refrain from hoping for things—from having expectations of how things will be, what people will do, what a situation will be like for us and so on. It's human nature. Nor should we. Hope is a good thing.

It's just a good time to remind ourselves that things don't always go as planned. We don't always get everything we want. Not everyone performs up to our expectations. We don't even perform up to our own expectations! It's a good time to inject some realism into our expectations.

And it is a season for grace, forgiveness and a little more of the saying, "It is what it is." I'm saying this to myself, too, as I often am wont to have idealistic and high expectations of how things will be. So let's allow for a few unmet expectations in this season. And have a care for those who are really depressed during this season, too. If you are one of those people, be gentle with yourself and plan things that do make you happy.

Monday, December 16, 2013

The gift of time

Perhaps you're already done with your holiday shopping. Maybe you've even got the gifts wrapped and under the tree.

If you haven't finished shopping, however, here's an idea: Don't overlook the gift of time. One of the best gifts can be spending time with loved ones and friends. Promise to take your children, perhaps one at a time, to a special concert or event. Or promise to polish your partner's shoes or bake her or his favorite pie. Or you might offer a month's worth of allowing your spouse to sleep late on Saturdays while you tend to the children and keep them quiet. What's something that would really put a smile on that other person's face—and wouldn't even cost you a penny?

If you want to spend money and still give time, that works too. One grandmother told me recently she'd taken each of her grandchildren, one at a time, shopping for their Christmas gifts. She'd given them a spending limit, but they could choose anything they wanted for that amount. After the purchases, they had stopped for hot chocolate. What special moments for both grandma and grandchild. I've done that for birthdays but hadn't yet done so for Christmas. But I like the idea. You can still wrap up the gifts if they want something under the tree.

Tangible gifts are such fun. But so are the intangibles of time and attention. Get creative and crazy. I'm sure you can come up with some great gift ideas that will blow the socks off your friends and family. And you'll experience such delight both in creating the idea and in spending the time with the other person.

It's all about savoring the season—and enjoying the people who are most important to you. It's not about wearing yourself out to give everyone else a wonderful Christmas experience. Time: It's a wonderful gift.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Feeling stressed?

Is your schedule completely out of control these days? Your to-do list long? And your energy and patience just a bit shy of what's needed to get everything on the list checked off?

Join the ranks. Busyness already is nearly a competitive sport in our country. But at Christmas it reaches Olympic levels.

If you're reading this, you've already taken one good step. You've gotten off the merry-go-round and stopped the frantic dance even if just for a moment. Take some good solid breaths. Deep breaths. Rest your head back in the chair. Inhale deeply. Hold the breath for a few moments. Slowly exhale. Let it all out. Repeat several times. Perhaps you want to add a few stretches, too. Stand up on tiptoes and stretch one arm at a time up into the air, pointing up as far as you can. Bend to one side and then the other. Bend forward and try touch your toes—or at least get down as far as you're able. Do some shoulder circles and knee bends. Do whatever will take a few of the kinks out of your body. When it's as cold as it is now in many parts of the U.S.—including where I live—our bodies tighten up and constrict. So stretching and deep breathing help you open up inside, and they really can help relieve stress as well.

At times when I'm super busy, I just run faster. But it really doesn't help me feel any better, and often it doesn't make my work get done any more quickly either. I'm generally better off hitting the pause button and stopping to do deep breathing, yoga stretches and enjoying a few moments of meditation or quiet time. Go ahead. Do whatever will reduce your stress level. You really will be glad you did.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

'Our deepest fear'

Yesterday I wrote about how inspired I was by Nelson Mandela. I discovered that a quote often attributed to him in his inaugural speech really came from the writings of motivational speaker and author Marianne Williamson. It comes from her book, A Return to Love.

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, handsome, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us. It is not just in some; it is in everyone. And, as we let our own light shine, we consciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

This writing contains so much richness that there really is nothing more I can say. It speaks for itself. I take it as encouragement to be all I can be. Face my fears. Let go of all that holds me back. And just shine.

I hope you will do the same. The world needs us all to shine right now!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Mandela inspired me

Last week the world lost a truly great man—Nelson Mandela. He was an amazing example of forgiveness, wisdom and grace—able to move beyond his own suffering to consider what was needed for the greater good.

Although he is known for many quotes of wisdom (just Google "Mandela quotes" and see what pops up!), two stand out for me at the moment. They are : "I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it" and "The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall."

Both of those speak to me of the fears I often have of moving forward, moving outside my comfort zone and fears of failure. Perhaps you've never had those fears. I surely have. And still do at times.

What I'm learning is that people of courage DO feel fear. They simply face it down (tough as that can be at times)—and then move on to do what they feared to do. Feel the fear and do it anyway. And I'm learning that life isn't about perfection; it's about progress. So when I fall, I just rise again and keep on going. It's not about never falling. It's about learning from the falls and getting back up again.

People such as Nelson Mandela inspire me. After all he suffered, if he could face down his fears, if he could rise up after falling (and after years of imprisonment), surely I can do so too.

What Mandela quotes speak to you today? Who inspires you today?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

We need darkness

For those of us in North America, this is the season of darkness. Days are shorter, much shorter. And for those of us who are Christian, it's also the season of Advent or waiting. No matter where you live or what your spiritual practices, this can be a good time to reflect on birth, growth and transformation.

Author Jan L. Richardson says in her book Night Visions: Searching the Shadows of Advent and Christmas: "We require darkness for birth and growth: the seed in the ground, the seed in the womb, the seed in our souls. ... journeying in the dark ... teaches us to rely on senses other than sight."

Much as we may not like the dark, we do need it for growth just for the very things Richardson cites. Seeds sprouting into beautiful flowering plants or fruit-producing trees. Eggs becoming embryos on their way to fabulous babies. Caterpillars becoming beautiful butterflies within the darkness of cocoons. So much transformation, so much growth and change in places of darkness.

It's true, too, that as you and I sort through life's deep questions in the darkness of our inner selves, we do best when we rely on "senses other than sight." Answers to those big questions of "Who am I now?" or "What do I really want to do?" are best answered using not just our minds but our hearts. It takes all our senses, all our being, to come to grips with how best to traverse this planet being who we were created to be and using all the talents and attributes at our disposal.

So what's trying to be born in you right now? What questions are burning inside? Let the darkness work its magic, and use your heart and all your senses to nurture whatever dreams and passions are awakening inside.

Or are you at a place of peace with who you are and what you're doing? If so, celebrate the darkness and all that provided the space and place for growth to occur.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Focus on the positive

Technology. I have a love-hate relationship with it. I am just thrilled with all the things made possible by technology these days. Yet when the bouncing ball on my Apple computer goes round and round, I roll my eyes and think, "Really? You mean you can't just open up this web page I want right now?" Or when my iPhone doesn't respond as it should, I get impatient. I've come to expect so much these days. Haven't we all?

Yet when I think back a few years to how life was, say before cell phones, I wonder how we managed! Of course, we did (and we did just fine). But remember when we couldn't let someone know that we were stalled in traffic and would be late to lunch—or that we might not make it at all? Remember when we actually wrote letters—or made calls on land lines?

I especially remember the five years my family spent in Papua New Guinea when my two oldest sons were young. There was no such thing as Skype. We didn't even have phones to connect us with our loved ones back in the U.S. All we had were aerogrammes that still took several days to arrive. Now, thankfully, even our service men and women can stay connected (even if not perfectly) with family back in the U.S. Amazing, isn't it? And although I won't be with my youngest son's family in Phoenix at Christmas, through the wonders of Skype, I'll be able to watch them each open their gifts from me. I love it.

So when my devices don't work as they should, I try to stay focused on all the things they do make better in my life. I try to be thankful for the positive experiences they bring to my life (even while I try to resist being completely plugged in all the time!). And isn't that true of so much in our lives? Lots of things drive us nuts even while we know how many good things are made possible by them. Life is so much better when we can stay focused on the positive. Let's keep that in mind in these busy and chaotic December days.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Connect your gifts & passion

Yesterday I told you about the 21-day meditation series by Oprah Winfrey and Deepak Chopra in which they encouraged us as participants to think about what gift we each have to offer our sister and brother travelers on this planet. Truly, you and I have multiple gifts we can put out into the world. But likely, there's one special gift you have that particularly makes your heart sing. That's the one you should focus on. Be sure that gets out into the world where it can be used.

It isn't difficult to see what things are needed in this world today: kindness, love, civility, compassion, even the gift of listening to one another—and much more. Lots of needs. No doubt about it. But what is your particular passion? What can you put out into the world that jazzes you so totally that you may not even see it as something you give away? Perhaps it's something you just have to do, something as necessary as breathing.

I love encouraging people. Perhaps that's why I was so drawn to life coaching. I get totally jazzed when I see my clients move from places of burnout, pain, confusion or "stuckness" into places of transformation, revitalization, healing, clarity and action. I love helping people access their own wisdom and begin moving forward in a positive way. When I know someone is discouraged or hurt, I love to send cards to perk them up. I know the value of a phone call, email or even a text message just to let someone know I'm thinking of them.

What I have learned, too, is that those who are most difficult to love are the ones who most need it. So I try move past my judgments and out of my comfort zone to encourage those who push me away.

That's my gift. What's yours? Who needs it today? Tomorrow? The next day?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

What if ... ?

The invitation came in my email inbox. It sounded intriguing, so I signed up for it. Besides, it was free. "It" was a 21-day meditation series titled "Desire and Destiny" with Oprah Winfrey and Deepak Chopra.

I've just finished the series this week. I really liked that 20-minute time of quiet each morning when I listened first to the inspiring thoughts of Oprah and Deepak and then to the quiet music that allowed time for meditation and for just being.

They sent a bonus, Day 22, which invited me to think about the gift I have to put out into the world. I was invited to picture every human on the planet side by side in a huge circle, to turn to the person on my right offering my gift—and see everyone doing so in turn—and finally to turn to my left with my hands open to receive the gift offered by the person on that side. I'm not always great at guided imagery and picturing things in my mind. Still, I could imagine offering my gift and then turning to receive one from someone else. It was quite powerful. Since I'm better at giving than receiving, the receiving piece was especially powerful for me.

I wonder ...
This was quite an amazing exercise—and after the meditation time finished, it caused me to wonder what our planet would be like if we each focused on using our gift(s) in the world and on receiving those that others offer us. What if we spent no time comparing ourselves to others, envying others for what they have, being angry about what we haven't had or what we've lost, and instead did our best to make sure everyone felt loved and appreciated? What if our goal really was love and abundance for all?

I know, I know. These are the illusions (or maybe delusions) of an idealist, right? Perhaps so. But, seriously, what if? Might the world at least be a better place if you and I made that a goal? And shared it with others in our circles? Hmmm, who knows what's possible?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Happiness is an 'inside job'

My birthday card from my sister has a wonderful message: "Don't go out expecting to find happiness. Bring it with you." The card sports a black-and-white photo of women decked out in hats and gloves with over-the-arm handbags, circa 1950 or so! You know the kind of card I'm describing. I'm sure you've seen them in card stores—or probably received one yourself.

Anyway, back to the message. What wise words. Happiness truly is an inside job, isn't it? It's not something outside of us.

How many times have you heard someone say how much happier they'll be once they move to a new state or new community—or once they find a new job or new relationship? Or perhaps you've said it yourself. I know there have been times when I thought that, too. I'll find happiness once this or that happens.

Now I know, however, that wherever I am and whoever I'm with, I bring all my baggage right along with me. That is, unless I've worked to let go of that baggage and make some changes in my life.

If you aren't content or happy right now, what needs to change within you to make that happen? Of what do you need to let go in order to feel happy and satisfied with your life? It's your choice—and your move. Go ahead. What are you waiting for?

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Grief as a doorway

I'm aware of so many people for whom this entire holiday season is painful. Some have only recently experienced major loss, whether the death of a loved one, job loss or an awful medical diagnosis. Others have no family or close friends with regular traditions at the holidays. And some have memories of holidays past when they did experience loss. My heart goes out to all who find themselves wishing they could wake up tomorrow well into the month of January. It's not an easy time for them.

Each one of us experiences loss, sadness and grief so differently. Some people bury it deeply inside and carry on in stoic fashion. Others wear their pain and hurt openly. Some cry and cry. Others don't shed a tear. Some move on without examining their loss and grief. Others work hard to experience it, let go and move on. There isn't a right or wrong way. There's simply your authentic way of handling it.

I was really struck by a comment on Facebook last week because it speaks to my particular way of dealing with grief. The writer said, "Grief is a felt experience of love for something lost.... That is an incredibly powerful doorway."

The image of a doorway resonated deep within me. I always want to believe that once I experience the pain and once I get to the point of letting go, the entire experience will have been an open doorway to me for I-know-not-what. I have no idea what lessons or new dreams lie beyond that doorway. Not until I walk through. But grief almost always has, eventually, provided that "incredibly powerful doorway" for me.

What's been your experience of grief and loss? How do you get through? Do the holidays exacerbate this for you? If so, be sure to find someone with whom to talk about it. You don't have to suffer alone.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Only one of you

There is no one else quite like you in the entire world—no one with your unique characteristics and gifts, no one called to do exactly what you do in the way you do it.

Isn't that absolutely incredible and amazing to think about? Only one of you. The mold was broken when you were made. Not another person on the planet exactly like you.

Even if you're a twin, you are not the same as that other person in every respect. Nor have you been given the same work to do in this world.

Several years ago I heard psychiatrist and author Jean Shinoda Bolen speak at a women's conference in Mobile, Alabama. She invited each of us to think of what our "assignment" on this planet was. "You each came with an assignment to do something specific," she told us, "and you've been given the gifts to accomplish that assignment." She sees her assignment as a "message carrier." On her website, here's what she says about assignments: "As one phase of life shifts into the next, energy becomes free to take on something that is personally meaningful, fun, creative and motivated by love—my definition of 'assignment.'"

I don't believe Bolen means that there's only one job or career that's right for us. What I recall her telling us at the conference is that "assignment" should be seen in a much broader sense. Personally, I think you can bring your passion and your gifts to more than one job (and surely also to volunteer positions) that is "personally meaningful, fun, creative and motivated by love." For example, I see myself as an encourager. So no matter what career I'm in or for which organization I volunteer, I will motivate others and encourage them. It's just what I do.

What's your assignment? What's authentic for you? Celebrate your uniqueness—and bring your gifts and passions into the world in a creative way that's just right for you. It will bring you joy, and the ripple effect will be amazing!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Black Friday: Your choice

Today is known in the U.S. as Black Friday. I don't know whether you see it as a good thing to follow our annual day of thanks with a day's shopping frenzy. But it definitely is a matter of no little controversy.

This year, the controversy was fueled to a greater degree by some stores declaring that they wouldn't even wait to open their doors to bargain-hunters until midnight of Thanksgiving Day. In fact, they would open their doors at 8 p.m., cutting short the Thanksgiving celebrations of many retail employees. 

I have no intention of weighing in on the controversy in this blog. I know what constitutes a good follow-up day to Thanksgiving for me. And I firmly believe that each person has to make a choice.

What I would do, however, is simply invite you to consider how you want to spend your time and energy. You have a choice, and it's completely yours to make. If you need to get going on your Christmas shopping and saving money is really important to you, today might be the day to hit the stores. If you need some "down time" or time with family and friends, you might want to claim that today. It's all about choices and priorities. There's no right or wrong ones here. You get to be "the decider"! 

While you're at it, however, give some thought to making gratitude a way of life rather than just a once-a-year observance. If you haven't already signed up for my once-a-month e-newsletter, sign up to the right of this blog. All I need is your email address, your first name and your preferred format—then click "subscribe." December's ezine (reaching inboxes this morning) is all about gratitude as a practice. And remember, I don't use your email address for any other purpose than sending the monthly e-newsletter.  

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Gratitude amid tough times

Happy Thanksgiving!

We typically think of the first U.S. thanksgiving as a 1621 celebration at Plymouth Plantation when settlers held a feast following the harvest, a feast shared by the settlers and Native Americans. We know not everything was rosy for the settlers, nor was all harmony and joy between them and the native population.

Did you know that we celebrate it in November because President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 proclaimed a national day of "Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens"? He did this during the Civil War. Despite the horrific casualties and the waste on battlegrounds, he thought Americans needed to stop and give thanks and that they needed to pray for healing of the nation's wounds. He named the final Thursday as the day of celebration; but years later, Franklin D. Roosevelt declared the fourth Thursday as Thanksgiving so merchants would have a longer period to sell goods before Christmas (the country was still in the midst of The Great Depression at the time). Previous presidents had declared various days of thanks but Lincoln made it one official day.

Interesting, isn't it, that President Lincoln proclaimed a day in war time? And President Roosevelt issued a declaration amid a depression?

Thanksgiving isn't just about everything coming up roses. It doesn't signal that everything in our lives is perfect. It is a reminder that even amid our tough times, we still have much for which to be grateful. Always, always, there is something for which to give thanks. Most times, in fact, there's an abundance of gifts for which to show gratitude.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanksgivings Past

If you are cooking a Thanksgiving meal, or even if you're simply taking a dish or two to someone else's house for Thanksgiving, today may be the day for food preparations. What memories do you have of Thanksgiving Past? Some good ones? All good ones? None good?

This year we are bringing food to the home of a friend. One of the things I'm preparing is my mother's recipe for cranberry relish. I have the recipe card written in her handwriting, complete with a splash or two of cranberry juice on it. Now that Mom is gone, that card (as well as others in her handwriting) is so special to me. Her recipe is, too, because it carries with it memories of times when she made the cranberry relish and my family enjoyed sitting at a table with her, Dad and my siblings.

I also have memories of some Thanksgivings that weren't spent with family or friends—times after my divorce when my sons went to their father's home or times when they've been with the families of their wives. So I'm extremely aware that not everyone experiences this or other holidays as times of joy. For some, this time of year is just a recipe for loneliness. I remember well one such year when I was working up to a huge pity-party because of the prospect of Thanksgiving alone. The night before, a friend of mine invited me to join her in serving up hot meals to homeless people in the city. I will never forget that experience: I was warmed through and through by the looks of joy and gratitude as I helped dish up food and warm smiles. I came home that night with a heart filled to the brim with gratitude, the pity-party completely over.

Is there someone you can reach out to this Thanksgiving? Do you need some warmth and compassion? Does someone else need yours?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

You as a work-in-progress

Have you ever stopped to consider who you might be today without the hurts and pain you have experienced? I know, I know. There's no way you and I can really know the answer to that question. I do think, however, that it's worth reflecting upon.

As I look back on my life—at the losses and disappointments—I see how those things have forged pathways into my heart that have filled in with tears, tenderness, compassion and a depth of love that I know I wasn't capable of feeling on my own. Experiencing a broken relationship when I was just a young woman opened me to others who experienced similar things. Years later, my divorce marked the first time I physically felt what it meant to have a broken heart. After the grief and ultimately, the healing, I grew in ways I never imagined. My sensitivity to others grew, too. Then after two huge career disappointments—career moves into which I had poured my heart—I was opened even further. And later, losing the position from which I thought I would retire someday pushed me way, way beyond where I thought I might be. Where initially that was devastating, it actually became something freeing deep inside me. Who knew?

Through all of that, and through other losses and disappointments, I have been softened. I have become more authentic. I'm still very much a work-in-progress. But I am learning to drop masks and behaviors that really don't fit me any longer. I am learning to express my love and my humanity openly—and to worry far less about what people will think. Now I wonder why I ever wasted so much time worrying about the things I did. In my deepened capacity to have compassion for others, I am also learning self-compassion; so I let go of the need to wonder why I thought and felt what I did in the past. I was who I was then. And now I am ever-evolving—and who knows where I will be in the future?

So many cocoons. So many chances to emerge as that beautiful butterfly all over again! Where are you today? Who are you becoming? Celebrate all the transformations: past, present and future!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Reach out with healing love

In her latest book Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair, Anne Lamott talks a lot about helping each other through life's challenges. It's a topic she often addresses.

In that book, she writes: "When you can step back at moments like these and see what is happening, when you watch people you love under fire or evaporating, you realize that the secret of life is patch patch patch. Thread your needle, make a knot, find one place on the other piece of torn cloth where you can make one stitch that will hold. And do it again. And again. And again.

"... in the cold wind, if you can lean against others, none of you will blow away. You keep each other from falling or help each other get back up. Someone holds out a hand, or even scared old you may hold out a hand, and a person in need reaches for it and hangs on."

Aren't those beautiful images? We aren't islands. We do depend on each other. It really does take a community, a village. Share the love. It's so healing. And don't we all need love and healing?

Do you need someone's hand today? Does someone need yours? Take action today. Make it from the heart. Take a chance. Reach out.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Spontaneity vs. planning

"Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." This quote by comic strip creator Allen Saunders is often attributed to the Beatles' John Lennon. No matter who first said it, it's a fascinating thought, isn't it? This quote takes us back to yesterday's blog about staying in the present moment.

When you are completely focused on plans for tomorrow, next month, next year and beyond, it's easy to completely miss the beauty in your life today. Does that mean you should not make plans? Of course not. But perhaps it suggests that you should not get so caught up in those plans that you don't even notice what's right there around, inside and in front of you.

I am a planner. So this is a challenge for me. But I love what happens when I really do pay attention to what's happening inside and around me. I love those times when I am completely spontaneous—something that goes against my Myers-Briggs "J-ness"! I have moved from being an ENFJ on that type indicator to an INFJ. But the "J" part always remains strong. The good news, as far as I'm concerned, is that I'm learning to be more spontaneous as I age.

An even better day
Just the other day I had plans for writing and working at my computer all day. I had a long to-do list. But my middle son, an attorney, called to say he had court cases and depositions out my way and wondered if we could squeeze in brunch together in less than an hour. Let's see: Stay at my desk or have brunch with my son? Hmmm, that was a no-brainer. And once he and I finished our time together, I decided to completely revamp my day. The sun was brilliant, the temperature was mild; and I had errands to run later in the week. Why not do all that today and enjoy the gorgeous weather? That's exactly what I did—and what fun I had! I even made a good dent in my Christmas shopping as long as I was out and about. That day turned into a fabulous day because I let go of the plans I had made.

A couple days later, when it was raining, I decided to schedule all the writing and computer work. If I had been rigid about my schedule, I would have missed time with my son and the beauty of being out and about on an absolutely fabulous day.

What can you do to savor your life today? The choice is yours.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Life: It's a journey, not a destination

Do you have trouble staying in the present moment? Me, too.

I so want to do it, however. I know people are correct when they say you can't change the past, and you can't predict the future. The present is the only time in which you and I can actually make choices and decisions. We don't know if we'll live until tomorrow. Now is what we have. It's really about the journey and not the destination. Savor the moments.

What does it take to "live in the now"?

It takes real intention—and attention. I don't know about you, but when I'm lacking sleep, not eating well, not exercising, not paying attention to my inner and spiritual life, I'm more likely to passively move through my days without lots of thought. So, mundane though it may sound, pay attention to those parts of your life: sleep, diet, exercise, meditation or quiet time and all the other things that help you feel your very best.

Living in the moment also requires that you let go, let go, let go—of regret, of limiting beliefs, of resentments and anything else that holds you back from fully enjoying the present moment. Learn to access your passion and your joy. Let yourself laugh more. Hang out with people who see life as a gift—not those who complain about everything. Savor small things: color, texture, the way the sun falls on your carpet, the scent of your lotion.

And remember, it's not about perfection. It's about progress. Just keep moving toward that goal of living in the moment.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

'It just takes time'

It's been a long time since I have talked about a book I dearly love: Hope for the Flowers by Trina Paulus. I first read the book back in the 1970s shortly after it was published. I have returned to it many times since. It has so much to say to me. Because it speaks of the letting go and transformational process of caterpillar to cocoon to butterfly, it is perfect for my website, too, of course.

Just yesterday I thought about the efforts of one of the story's lead caterpillars, Stripe. He saw a towering pile of caterpillars and, thinking that was the way to get ahead in life, climbed onto the pile and tried to move his way up to the top. It wasn't a pretty process. He was miserable and didn't really know what, if anything, was at the top anyway. He felt ruthless crawling on other caterpillars to get to the top. Eventually, Stripe follows the lead of Yellow, the other lead caterpillar, who realized she needed to simply let go and become what she was meant to be: a beautiful butterfly. Stripe finally knew he, too, needed to do the same. As the book says of the cocoon process: "It got darker and darker and [Stripe] was afraid. He felt he had to let go of everything...." That, of course, is when his transformation begins.

And, as it says earlier in the book, "... a cocoon is no escape. It's an in-between house where the change takes place. It's a big step since you can never return to caterpillar life. During the change it will seem to you or to anyone who might peek that nothing is happening—but the butterfly is already becoming. It just takes time."

Indeed, transformation takes time. So don't lose hope if you're still in transition and on your way to becoming that beautiful butterfly who can soar! It all begins with letting go.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Reason or desire?

In a recent conversation, I was reminded of the tension that can exist between head and heart, between reason and desire.

The man sharing his story had two wonderful career opportunities arise. He needed to make a decision within a few days' time. One option was a definite move up the ladder with more direct reports and a higher salary. It would look good on his resume—but it might dead-end him in administration, too (OK if you love administrative work). The other option meant stepping back to a place from which he'd just been promoted—but in a different area of the company. It was a step down and a lateral move from there. However, that latter option also kept this man in the area of work for which he has a strong passion! So there could be more possibilities for advancement down the road, depending on how that job developed.

What a choice, right? A smart career move up the ladder toward what society calls success. Or more of a lateral and slightly downward move toward what jazzes him and gives him purpose. When we talked, he was leaning heavily toward following his heart. Although such decisions can only be made by the one most directly affected, I did encourage him to follow his heart (especially since that's where he seemed headed). So often I've heard someone voice regrets. For example, a nurse comes to mind. She moved up into a high administrative position with a good salary—and much later, deeply regretted that she no longer had the direct patient contact that she so loved and which was the reason she chose that career in the first place.

Have you ever faced such a choice? Are you facing one now? It's always important to put out on the table all the logical reasons you should choose one or the other. It's equally important to list for yourself the reasons you should go with your deepest desire. Sit quietly. Meditate. Reflect. Journal. Talk over the choices with others. Then sit quietly some more—and listen. Listen to your head and to your heart. What has most resonance for you? Although we can never know exactly what lies ahead on any of the paths we choose, you can play "let's pretend" and do some imagining. See yourself having made one choice. How does that feel? Then see yourself with another choice. How does that feel? Then move ahead in confidence, knowing you have done your homework!

As always, if you would like coaching around such a decision, please contact me.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Welcome your tears

Tears. Are you afraid of them? Do you cry easily? Or not so often anymore? Are you embarrassed by your tears? Or do you wish you could cry more often?

I often hear it said that tears soften our hearts—our griefs soften us and make us more flexible. Or as poet Mark Nepo says, "The live bough bends. The dead twig snaps."

Tears are healing. Tears put us in touch with our humanity, vulnerability and compassion. That should be a good thing, right?

Although there are always exceptions to any rule, women tend to cry more easily and often than men. Perhaps it would be better for men if they could cry more easily. I've often thought it unfair that the "approved" emotion for men is anger and for women, sadness. It seems healthier that both genders are allowed the full range of emotions.

I used to cry quite easily; but it seems as I age, I cry less frequently. I don't know whether it's part of the aging process or simply a result of my having to be tough so I could survive divorce, work in a patriarchal and hierarchical workplace and ultimately, my job loss. However, I do believe that I am softened and more in touch with my vulnerable Sonia when I allow myself to feel my sadness and actually grieve even the small losses in my life. I see it as part of my journey to my true self—and as I've said here before, part of my attempt to access not just the strong Sonia but the vulnerable one as well.

I'm all for tears if they lead me to my compassion and vulnerability. What about you?

Friday, November 15, 2013

OK just as you are

I recently read a quote that speaks beautifully to acceptance of ourselves as we are—to loving ourselves at each stage of our life and growth. It is about overcoming self-doubt and raising our self-esteem and self-compassion levels. It's about more than the game of tennis and really requires little explanation.

The quote comes from W. Timothy Gallwey and appears in The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance:

"When we plant a rose seed in the earth, we notice that it is small, but we do not criticize it as 'rootless or stemless.' We treat it as a seed, giving it the water and nourishment required of a seed. When it first shoots up out of the earth, we don't condemn it as immature and underdeveloped, nor do we criticize the buds for not being open when they appear. We stand in wonder at the process taking place and give the plant the care it needs at each stage of its development. The rose is a rose from the time it is a seed until the time it dies. Within it, at all times, it contains its whole potential. It seems to be constantly in the process of change; yet, at each state, at each moment, it is whole as it is."

What would it take for you to stop giving yourself criticism and negative messages (if your inner critic is still alive and well)? How might you develop positive messages for yourself and come to this place to acceptance and self-compassion? See yourself as OK just the way you are—whole just as you are?

You are that rose. You are whole and beautiful just as you are. Know it. Accept it.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

An attitude of gratitude

Later this month we'll celebrate Thanksgiving. It's a good time to stop and reflect on all the gifts and blessings we have. However, do you, like me, wonder whether there isn't a way to regularly be grateful for what you have?

Researchers do tell us that people who are grateful are healthier both physically and mentally. And they are happier, too.

Are there some things you do to stay more aware of your gifts and then to express your gratitude? I invite you to share them in the Comment box below. I know the rest of us would love to hear them.

Here are some ideas:

• Write regularly, or as often as is possible anyway, in a gratitude journal.
• Keep a reminder note on your calendar daily or weekly that jogs your memory to list people and things for which you're grateful. You can just think about them, or you can write them on paper or in a computer document.
• Discuss with your partner, spouse or other family members over a meal: For what am I grateful today?
• Google "gratitude quotes" and enjoy what you discover online.
• Remember that you don't need to limit gratitude to the big things in life. Sometimes in my gratitude journal I list "sunshine today," "the ability to do my morning exercises," "the color of the flowers in my neighbor's yard," or "a good night's sleep."
• Challenge yourself to stay awake and aware and to notice what's around you. Just doing that will make you grateful for things you see and experience.
• When you're able to do so, reframe a negative experience to try find something positive in it. And be grateful that, even when you're unhappy or struggling, there's still something in that time for which to be grateful. It doesn't mean you are a Pollyanna and deny sadness or pain; it means that you can be a "both/and" type of person who sees both the good and the bad in something.
• Cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Giving thanks will become a habit.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Who are you? Where are you?

Who am I? And who am I now? Those questions are among those I mention elsewhere on my website because those often are questions women (and many men, too) ask at midlife or later.

You and I are changing constantly, whether we are aware of those changes or not. We know our bodies are changing. Our attitudes change. Our desires and dreams change. It's all part of the natural flow of things.

Have you checked in with yourself lately to see what's happening? If you were to describe yourself by email or phone to a stranger, what would you say? Would you use nouns (mother, friend, daughter) or would you use adjectives (contemplative, extraverted, funny)? Which ones would you use? Be nice to yourself now!

And if you were to reveal even more of yourself, what would you add? What is your deepest desire right now? Do you have passions and dreams that are as yet unrealized?

Are your relationships what you want them to be—or at least fairly closely aligned to your desires? Is your career where you wish it? Or is your retirement just what you had hoped it would be? What's still out there that you'd like to pursue?

If you have lots of large life questions that are as yet unanswered and you'd like to explore them, please contact me for a complimentary and absolutely no-obligation strategy session to see what you might want to do about those issues. These questions are good, and it can be exciting to live your way into some answers. Scary, too, sometimes. But filled with possibility as well.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Leaning into acceptance

No, no, no! I'm sitting at my desk looking out at falling snow. I am so not ready for this. Thankfully, because the weekend was relatively mild, the snow isn't sticking to either the grass or the driveway and sidewalks. Still, it's snowing.

I really do love fall—the incredibly stunning colors of it and the warm, sunny days with no mosquitoes swarming around. Ah, but too soon it's gone. And I always want to hang onto it just a little longer. This one was particularly beautiful. And I got to enjoy it a bit longer because my sister and I took a road trip to Tennessee almost two weeks ago—where the fall colors were at their prime.

Life is that way, too, isn't it? You just want to hang onto some experiences. And you want to avoid others.

It's normal.

I'm trying to quit grumbling about such changes and be more present and accepting of what is. There is nothing I can do to change what is and what's coming (at least in most cases), and I know I'll experience far more peace of mind by just rolling with it all and leaning into acceptance. Be flexible, Sonia. And be positive and thankful.

Hmmm, perhaps I'll even try to reframe this. I have gorgeous evergreen trees right outside my office window, and some trees with bright red berries, too. I have to admit the huge white snowflakes against that green and red backdrop do look pretty. Not as beautiful as the fall colors I've just enjoyed. But still ... there is a beauty here I can appreciate.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Rewire your brain with gratitude

Did you know that an intentional and regular practice of gratitude can change your brain activity? It can  change the way your brain neurons fire into more positive automatic patterns. Practicing gratitude can open your heart to give and receive more love. If it doesn't actually bring you more blessings, gratitude at least makes you aware of those you already have.

Housecleaning isn't my favorite way to spend time. I've been known to grumble about it occasionally. Well, actually, that's an understatement. I remember one particular day when I was especially annoyed that I had to spend a few hours cleaning my house before having visitors to dinner. In the midst of my complaining, it suddenly struck me: I am really blessed that I even have a home to clean! I thought of people who sleep outside under bridges, in boxes or in doorways. Or those who sleep in their cars because they can afford either housing or transportation but not both.

That was a good wake-up call for me. Sonia, focus on what you do have and be grateful for it. And once I started listing the things for which I was grateful, I was in a totally different place mentally and emotionally. My heart felt so open and joyful. I try to remember that.

For years I've kept a gratitude journal. I don't write in it every day. I would like to do that. But I do the best I can and write as often as I can. It does make a difference in how my day goes. We know that whatever we focus on grows larger. So if we're focused on our problems or on what we don't have, that's what looms large. But if we focus on our gifts and blessings, we see even more of them all around. Over time, our brains will gravitate more to the positive patterns. Isn't that a rewiring job worth taking on?

Friday, November 8, 2013

Just show up

This past Tuesday evening I was delighted to see and hear Anne Lamott speak about her most recent book, Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair. I have always liked her particular brand of spirituality and her openness when it comes to life and all its craziness and richness.

Absolutely unpretentious and unassuming, Lamott spoke of how we can find meaning in the chaotic life and times in which we live—of how we can be in this world even when we can't find answers to why things happen. She started by telling us that her latest book was conceived after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Conn., last December. She simply didn't have answers to all the questions raised by that awful event.

As the book cover says: "In this book Lamott explores how we find meaning and peace in these loud and frantic times; where we start again after personal and public devastation; how we recapture wholeness after loss; and how we locate our true identities in this frazzled age. We begin, Lamott says, by collecting the ripped shreds of our emotional and spiritual fabric and sewing them back together, one stitch at a time. It's in these stitches that the quilt of life begins, and embedded in them are strength, warmth, humor and humanity."

As Lamott told us, there aren't always answers. You and I don't need to offer each other answers and pearls of wisdom when tragedy strikes—we simply need to show up, she says. She is right. Showing up and offering our presence is gift enough! I will never forget the morning I received a phone call from my beloved sister saying her husband had been killed in a car accident. Some people offered up cliches or pious phrases; they meant well, I know. One woman, however, simply showed up at our door and hugged me. All she said as she held me was, "I'm so, so sorry." It was enough. I didn't want explanations or piety at that moment. I just wanted presence. It's a good thing for me to remember when I think I need answers or some word of wisdom for someone else. Just show up!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Aging is not about appearances

Are you becoming more comfortable in your own skin? Feeling more authentic each day? Finding your own voice?

One of the joys of aging is knowing who we are and accepting that. When we're younger, we try on different personas and sometimes copy others whom we admire. As we age, we're so done with that. It becomes more and more important to be exactly who we were created to be. Doing so is an ongoing process—and it can be a delightful journey as we come to enjoy who we are, what we have and what we're doing.

Yesterday I wrote about a book I really enjoy: Crones Don't Whine: Concentrated Wisdom for Juicy Women by Jean Shinoda Bolen. The author, also a psychiatrist, proposes reverting to the original meaning of the word "crone," which was a wise woman, an elder. Bolen proposes that we make becoming a crone "a crowning inner achievement of the third phase of life."

I like her description of a crone: "To be a crone is about inner development, not outer appearance. A crone is a woman who has wisdom, compassion, humor, courage, and vitality. She has a sense of truly being herself, can express what she knows and feels, and take action when need be. She does not avert her eyes or numb her mind from reality. She can see the flaws and imperfections in herself and others, but the light in which she sees is not harsh and judgmental. She has learned to trust herself to know what she knows."

All right. Sign me up. I'm enjoying this stage of life and truly like the increasing comfort of knowing and accepting who I am, flaws and all. What about you? Are you there? Would you like to be there? Why not take a step toward "crone-dom" today!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Becoming wise and juicy

Perhaps because I was a journalist long before I was a life coach (and am still a writer/editor at heart), I am fascinated by words. I'm especially interested in the life a word can take on, either negative or positive, because of how people use it over time.

One such word is "crone." Originally a word that denoted an elder, a person of wisdom, over time it became a derogatory word for an older woman. When you saw the word in this blog, you no doubt conjured an image of a witch-like, bent-over woman with warts on her nose!

Several women are trying to reclaim the word and restore its original meaning. Several years ago I read a delightful book by Jean Shinoda Bolen called Crones Don't Whine: Concentrated Wisdom for Juicy Women. The book cover promised 13 qualities to cultivate. Bolen didn't disappoint. I have underscored and highlighted passages to which I love to return for inspiration.

As Bolen says, the qualities that make women wise and juicy are not cultivated overnight. And as the book jacket says, "Crone years are 'growing' years, when women can devote their time, energy, and creativity to what really matters to them. Bolen offers us a blueprint: Crones don't whine. They're juicy, and they trust their own instincts. They don't grovel. They do meditate. They choose the path with heart. Crones are fierce about what matters most to them. They speak the truth with compassion. They listen to their bodies, reinvent themselves as needed, and savor the good in their lives."

So what's not to like about being a crone? Perhaps you'll want to reclaim that word, too. And no matter what you call yourself, try on some of those behaviors. Follow your heart. Pursue your passions. Devote energy to what you truly value. And savor the good in your life.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Break free

In 2008 I read a fascinating book done by The Transition Network and Gail Rentsch. Called Smart Women Don't Retire—They Break Free, the book includes the stories and experiences of several women. I also attended a workshop put on by The Transition Network on the topic. I was intrigued with the ideas in the book and saw new possibilities to consider whenever the day came that I decided to retire.

That decision was made for me, however, when I was Reduced In Force in October 2009. All the dreams, plans and options I'd considered suddenly needed to be revised. I couldn't imagine then what wonderful new things were ahead on my path. All I knew when it happened was the grief and devastation of a suddenly changed role and identity.

No matter which side of retirement you are on and no matter whether it was your choice or not, there are some lessons to be learned from the idea of "breaking free." In one chapter of the book headed "How Can I Scale Back on Work and Find Some Balance," I read: "Many students just graduating from high school take a 'gap year' before they go off to college. The year is seen as an opportunity for them to find themselves through nonacademic experiences in which they can learn and grow without risk to their long-term goals. Why can't we do the same? ... We need to breathe and just let go of all the stress and demands that rule our time. We need a free period in which to test out ideas and expose ourselves to new options."

What a wonderful thought: "Breathe and just let go of all the stress and demands that rule our time." Whether you work full-time, part-time, outside the home, at home or are retired, this is a good thing to do: Break free from the routines you've had and let go of the stress. See what's out there that you'd like to do now. Change up your routine. Pursue a passion. Follow a dream. Renew a relationship. Strike up a new one. Learn how to be comfortable in your own skin. The choice is yours. All you need to do is break free!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Play: Is it OK for adults?

Do we ever get too old to play? What does play look like for you these days? Or don't you ever play?

Being an adult can be serious work. Holding down a career takes time, energy and serious attention. Raising a family takes even more. Our lives can get incredibly complicated, chaotic and stress-filled. So  much so that we can completely lose any sense of fun, joy or playfulness. Play? Is that really allowed?

So when did we lose that desire to play? How old were you when you thought it was too childish?

I loved to play with dolls when I was a young girl. My sister is younger than I am, so I used to think that I played with dolls longer than most girls might because I was "doing it for her"—so she'd have someone with whom to play. Well, maybe. Truth was, I enjoyed the make-believe of it all myself. And honestly, I don't think it was until I had grandchildren that I played "let's pretend" again. What a shame.

Do you remember the last time you laughed till you nearly cried? The last time you got down on the floor and played with building blocks or a puzzle? The last time you read a children's book just for yourself? I knew a marriage counselor who kept a sandbox in her basement and played in it regularly because it was great therapy for her when she just needed to blot out all the cares of couples who came to her with their problems. I remember being impressed that she was still in touch with her inner child!

Now I try to access my zany, playful side more often—and not just when I'm with my grandchildren. I love to laugh—and it's so, so good for my health and attitude. I find children's books delightful and even have a few just for myself!

What can you do today to add some joy and play to your life?

Friday, November 1, 2013

Brokenness & transformation

When a worm is cut in two, each half grows another half; and there are two worms rather than one. Each half becomes whole again. Amazing, isn't it?

When you and I are cut or wounded, this doesn't happen to us. However, when we are wounded and hurt, we do have the potential for transformation—inner transformation. When broken, we do have the possibility of becoming whole again. It is often true that our pain and woundedness, when we allow healing and growth to occur, can become a point of our greatest strength. Have you ever experienced that?

It was Ernest Hemingway who said, "The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places."

What makes the difference? As I've said in these blogs before, there are some life experiences from which it is so difficult to rebound that it literally kills people, either physically or emotionally. Sometimes people can be absolutely broken by violent and horrific experiences, and we should never judge that (even if we've walked in similar shoes). But for those who do survive—or even go on to thrive—the difference is actually moving into that place of pain and dealing with it in an open, honest and completely vulnerable way. Going to a place of transformation means feeling the pain and brokenness and living with that reality until we can live our way into the healing answers. This is a process and means reaching out to others, admitting we cannot do this all alone.

When life breaks you, or threatens to break you, imagine what you can do with all the broken pieces. Gather them up and see how they can fit back together again. And don't be afraid to ask for help. Please contact me if this is something you wish to discuss.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

How real are your expectations?

"This isn't at all how I expected my life to be. What now?" Have you ever thought that? Is that where you find yourself right now?

The first thing you might examine is how real your expectations were. For example, if you grew up (as I did) when it was thought that a marriage partner would "complete" you—or if you had visions of marriage as "living in a vine-covered cottage happily ever after," you may want to examine the basis of any reality in those beliefs. Most of us see marriage relationships in a much different way today.

You also might want to question whether what you expected and wanted several years ago—or even a few years ago—is still what you want today. Typically, we go through stages as adults just as do children; and we are ever-evolving. We don't want the same things for ourselves that we did 10 or 20 years ago, perhaps not even five years ago. That's normal.

Then, too, you may want to do some deep reflecting and see what you want to do about how you feel: Can you come to a place of acceptance with what is rather than continuing to long for what you expected to be? Or do you wish to make some real changes in your life? If you wish to make changes, what do you want? And where will you start? Remember to start small and make your changes measurable and manageable.

It all begins with an assessment, however. And you are the only one who knows what you really want. Listen to your own wisdom. Trust it. Let what you want be your authentic dream and passion—not a copy of what someone else has.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The trap of advice-giving

Ever notice how much easier it is to give advice to a friend than to examine your own life and see what needs changing or tending?

Your friend or loved one discusses a problem she's having at work or in one of her relationships. What do you do? Do you just listen, give her a hug and assure her of your care and support? Or do you play armchair psychologist and come up with reasons for the problem and ways she could resolve it? I know, it's so tempting to do the latter, isn't it? You want to help, after all.

Think about it, though. When you pour out your hurt to someone, what do you most need? That's right. You need someone to listen. You want a friend to just validate you for feeling the way you do about the situation. If you want and need advice, you'll most likely ask for it. Or you may seek out a coach or a counselor, if that's what you need.

Listening is gift enough
To listen to someone is a true gift. It's enough. You don't have to have the answers to the life problems of others. By listening to them, you affirm their personhood. And often you give them the strength and courage to keep going and to dig down inside for their own answers.

I've heard it said that when we're busy giving advice to others, we're ignoring our own issues and "stuff." That's so true, isn't it? A wise psychotherapist I know says that it's arrogant to think we can fix someone else—she says we each have plenty to do just trying to navigate our own lives on this planet. Yup! I'm taking that to heart these days. Even as a life coach, I was taught to see and have always seen my role not as advice-dispensing but as helping clients access their own wisdom—helping them live their way into their own answers to life questions.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Are you doing what you value?

Are you doing what you really want to be doing? Do you have feelings of discontent stirring from time to time? Are you asking some of the big life questions we often do when we pass the mid-life stage?

I really like what educator and writer Parker Palmer says in his book Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation: "The life I am living is not the same as the life that wants to live in me."

Are you doing what really matters to you? Are you spending your career or your volunteer time, your retirement or your work years, doing the things you value and that hold meaning for you?

If not, why not?

It's so easy to fall into a vocation or career, do well at it and just stay at it because it pays the bills and perhaps even, at times, is enjoyable. It's easy to do the same with retirement years or with volunteer activities. Taking stock to see whether these things hold meaning for you takes courage. It might mean a change. But if it will align your values with your life, might it not be worth it?

Ask yourself today: What is the life that wants to live in me? Celebrate if it's the one you already are living. And don't despair if it's not—think of what you really want and create tiny, manageable steps to get there. Please contact me if you want to discuss this.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The power of love

One of my favorite writers, Paula D'Arcy, in her book Waking Up to This Day: Seeing the Beauty Right Before Us, describes her journey back from the grief of losing her husband and young daughter in a car accident that she herself survived.

Among other things she talks about the power of love. Love asked her to rebuild her life, she says, and to believe that healing was possible. Love told her to fight: "Fight to heal. Fight to recognize everything as gift. Fight to eliminate the thoughts that poison your system: unforgiveness, bitterness, regret, anger, guilt." 

Love also asked her to "stop focusing on what I didn't get and to focus instead on who I might become—how I might love more deeply."

Isn't that powerful? Love itself is powerful—and its power is something you and I have the choice to harness and use in our lives, whether it's healing from a hurt or simply a way of expressing ourselves in the world. As D'Arcy says, "A life fully open to love is unassailable."

I've heard D'Arcy speak, and I've attended a retreat she led. The love she brings into her presentations and into her work is palpable. I could literally feel the love in the room as she shared stories of lives transformed and as she reached out to draw all of us in, wounds, joys and all.

Is there something in your life that could benefit from the power of love? Are there people to whom you could reach out with this powerful gift? Let's try D'Arcy's idea of focusing on who we might become and how we might love more deeply. Just see what's possible!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Be honest about what you feel

Yesterday I talked about the gifts that are sometimes waiting for us in our painful experiences. Our struggles can be transformed into true learning experiences. The caterpillar, after its time in the cocoon, is transformed into a whole new creature—one that can soar after its previous life of crawling on its belly. We have lots of those transformational moments, too.

I recall work I did with a life coach some years ago when I was feeling pretty down. So many things seemed to be happening in my life, and I had that feeling of life "piling up on me." Ever feel that way? It's no fun, is it?

My coach encouraged me to really enter into that moment of vulnerability and see it as a doorway to the grief I was feeling; for, as she said, "it just could be a place to discover some gifts—and ultimately, be a doorway to come back with even bigger energy!" First, however, I had to be real and be honest about what I was feeling. No more masks. No more "strong, tough woman who leaps tall buildings in a single bound and lands backward in high heels and a straight skirt"! Just be real. Admit I'm grieving. Admit I'm sad. Work with that.

I didn't much like being in that place. I prefer to be positive and look at the glass half full. But this life coach was correct. I really needed to stay with those feelings of sadness. I needed to reflect on what it all meant for me. And then I knew when I'd worked through the grief and when it was time to let go. And indeed that time did open doors so that I could discover gifts and "come back with even bigger energy."

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The gift waiting

Earlier this month I blogged about the gift that is sometimes waiting inside a difficult experience or inside our pain—and how our hurts might be transformed into something positive.

This week I was drawn to an old journal of mine, one from the year 2010, just after I'd lost my job of 22 years. I often follow my instincts, and this one was fairly strong: Pick up that journal and read a few pages. I've said before in my blogs that occasionally I find real value in "harvesting my journals" to see where I was and what I was thinking and feeling at some point in my past. It's often instructive to my present and future.

In that journal, I'd written about my grief at being Reduced In Force and how my confidence was sapped by the experience. I'm an Eight on the Enneagram, for any of you familiar with that personality scale; and Eights like to appear strong. However, one of the points of Enneagram work is to move toward the true essence of self. I had learned as a child to be strong and responsible. And after my divorce, I needed to be strong. In my workplace, which was fairly hierarchical, my strength took on even more of a "tough woman" stance. I needed that. Strong always meant decisive, making my own choices and increasingly through the years, tough!

So what is strength anyway?
One of my 2010 journal entries included this: "Strength can be seen in many ways other than being tough. Perhaps this time, when it feels like I'm being broken down, I'm actually being built up—but in a new way that's congruent with my true essence."  A few weeks later my entries began to talk more about letting life flow, not fighting it, being open to whatever came, acceptance and even enjoying what was (rather than what I thought should be).

Now, three years later, I have a career I absolutely love and I am (finally!) learning to let life flow, to drop some of my attachment to outcomes, and to be more vulnerable—sharing not just the positives in my life but also those times when I struggled or even fell on my face. I think that's closer to the true essence of my Enneagram "Eight-ness." Discovering it has been and is the gift waiting in some of my pain and struggles. And I know there'll be more struggles ... and more gifts waiting.

What gifts are waiting for you?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Attitude is everything

Have you ever applied for a job and thought yourself to be either under-qualified or over-qualified? How did you present yourself when you were interviewed—with confidence? Or with an attitude that reflected how you felt (under- or over-qualified)?

Attitude makes all the difference, doesn't it? I have heard of many people who have gone into interviews knowing that they don't have all the skills listed in the job description but knowing that they are quick learners and knowing that they have what it takes to get up and running quickly. And they have landed the job. Of course, you have to possess enough of the qualifications to get you in the door to begin with—but presenting yourself with confidence that you have what it takes to handle and learn the job quickly can make the difference.

Anne Kohut, who's had a long and distinguished career in sales, recruiting and career development, now has a passion to help one million job seekers. Her website and seminars encourage you to see (and present) yourself as "absolutely qualified" rather than as over-qualified—an especially important distinction these days when so many are unemployed and are glad to have any position they can land. It's really important, too, because so many people over 50 and 60 have lost jobs and are seeking positions that will carry them to retirement or to an encore career. If you believe it yourself, you'll be able to say it convincingly to an interviewer. If you don't, that will come through in your words and your body language.

As I see Kohut's advice, I think it applies to many areas of life. A shift in attitude can make a difference in so many parts of daily life: how I see things that happen to me, how I tell my life story (with a positive spin or a poor-me attitude), how I hear what others say, how I look at life in general. What's your view today? Is there anything you need to do to change it?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Burnout & self-compassion

Have you ever felt burned out? It's not only people with busy careers who experience burnout. It can happen to anyone who gives and gives and gives, whether to others or to some career or project. If you feel hard-edged, overwhelmed, emotionally exhausted, fearful and cynical, it just could be burnout.

Joan Borysenko has written a practical book that comes from her own experience of burnout, Fried: Why You Burn Out and How to Revive. In it, she speaks of getting to the point where you lose compassion for yourself. When you feel no compassion (or love) for yourself, it's extremely difficult to gather up the resources to feel it for anyone else.

She recommends something she learned from Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN's medical correspondent. It's called "compassion meditation." You begin with sending blessings of loving-kindness to yourself—and after you've generated self-compassion, you move on to send those blessings of loving-kindness to others (family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, strangers, enemies and to all beings).

An open heart
Borysenko writes that a basic form of meditation is: "May I be at peace, may my heart remain open, may I be happy, may I be well." You can come up with your own form of blessing, which you send to yourself until you can feel its effects—and then you send to others. Send yourself the blessing for as long as you need until you begin to warm and soften. Feel your heart open up. You'll know when you're ready to send it to others.

This isn't only good advice for people experiencing burnout. We can all benefit from more self-love and self-care. It is the starting point for the love we give away.

Remember the 1960's song, "What the World Needs Now Is Love, Sweet Love"? Yes, it does. And it all begins with you and me.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The 'gold' in anger

Can anger be a useful and positive emotion? How should I see my anger?

I like what my poet friend Martha Adams says about it in her book Peeling the Rind: "Mine the gold in anger." Yes, there is gold in anger.

Your anger is telling you something. As writer Mary Murray Shelton says in her book Guidance from the Darkness: "Anger is our internal warning system that a boundary has been violated. It works like a smoke detector. Feeling angry makes us aware that we want, need, or expect something different from what we are getting, and that this is not all right with us.

"By making us aware that a need exists, anger opens the way for us to take responsibility for getting our needs met in a healthy way. But before we can move to that step, we must first recognize that we feel the emotion of anger and we must express it appropriately."

Awareness is the 'gold'
So there is the gold in anger: making us aware of a need. Pay attention. Bring your awareness to your anger. See what expectations weren't met, what boundary was violated, what you want or need but didn't get. Then make a choice about what to do—an appropriate choice and response.

Be careful to not get stuck in anger, though. Shelton says: "The value in expressing anger is in releasing it from our bodies and minds. Anger unexpressed does not just disappear. It settles into the body and causes stress to the system." She also tells us that anger can become "a corpse we carry around, expending today's energy and creativity in an effort to hold on to yesterday's experience."

Mine anger's gold—and then let it go. That's the positive side of anger.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Dreary days bring gifts, too

It's a cool, rainy and dreary day as I write this blog. We've had almost a steady stream of incredibly beautiful fall days—sunny and warmer than usual for this time of year. We've all been enjoying these days and exclaiming over them. So it's easy to be crabby today and wonder where all the fall beauty went.

I have to stop myself, however, and remember that I wouldn't appreciate the warm, sunny days so much if that were all we ever had.

I also have to remind myself that these dreary days have gifts of their own to bring me. This kind of day helps me slow down my pace ever so slightly. When it's sunny and warm, my energy level is higher; and I can forget to stop and smell the roses. On days such as today, I am not running quite so fast. I notice more. My awareness level is ratcheted up. I more easily remember to stop and pay attention. I can even appreciate the fall color in soggy leaves! I can stop and sip a cup of tea.

In fact, perhaps I should stop blogging and read a book for a while. It's a perfect day for that. Or perhaps a short nap might even be in order! Maybe I can even just concentrate for a while on staying awake and aware—perhaps even journaling with whatever bubbles up inside as I simply stop "doing" and try just "being" for a while.

What gifts do you find in dreary, rainy days? Can you let yourself enjoy them? Go ahead—give yourself a break. See what it does for you and in you.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Listen, really listen

Listen. Listen. Listen.

One of the most important gifts you can give to another person is the gift of listening to her. Really stopping what you're doing, letting go of your own "stuff" and listening to him. Deeply. What a gift.

You know when another person has really listened to you. You feel so heard. So validated and affirmed. So loved. To be heard is to be acknowledged in a profound way.

One of my friends used to say, "We listen one another into existence." I've thought about that a lot through the years—and see the truth of it more clearly with each passing year. When I've been heard and understood, I somehow am able to see myself more clearly. I understand what I'm thinking and feeling in a deeper, more complete way. And the choices I make as a result will come from a deeper and more authentic place within me.

It seems such a little thing, really. Listening to another. But, in fact, it isn't a little thing at all. It's a generous gift of time and presence—one of the best gifts of all.

To whom do you need to listen today? Try to stop all the background noise when you listen. Right at that moment, forget about the grocery list, the undone things on your internal to-do list, the driver who just cut you off or the mistake you just made in your checking account. Let go of those things—and just be present. Listen. Be present.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

What do you carry?

Stories are always so powerful for me. I am so inspired by the experiences and wisdom of others, and I never tire of hearing their stories. It isn't simply the experiences of others that intrigues me—it's how they view those experiences and what they've gleaned from them that scores in my book. It's the meaning behind the stories.

Yesterday morning I read again in a book I cite often in my blogs: Mark Nepo's The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have. I was struck by what Nepo wrote about a Holocaust survivor who said that two objects sustained her through her horrific experience: a piece of bread, which each day she hid somewhere on her person, and a broken piece of her comb. She carried the piece of bread in case someone else needed it more than she did, and she kept the broken piece of comb so she could daily comb her hair and affirm her person.

Isn't that powerful? She needed something to share with others, and she needed to remember that she still was human and do something to affirm that.

So Nepo asks: "What small thing do we each carry that we can give to others more in need than we, and what constant gesture do we each carry by which we can affirm our person?" What gift(s) do you carry for others? For yourself?

Again, it's the "both/and" of life and not the "either/or." Living life fully and richly is about reaching out to others and being present to your own life and self. Loving others and loving self. Reflect today on how you do that. Share your story and your wisdom with others—and pay attention to their stories and wisdom.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

5 tips to help when life piles up on you

What do you do when life piles up on you? You know the feeling, I'm sure. I've had several friends lately who have just had one thing after another come at them. Even people who are normally positive and happy get dragged down by such experiences. I've been there myself.

Reach out to others. This is not a time to isolate yourself or to be a macho "I can do this myself" individual. Your family and friends stand ready to listen, comfort and help as they can. Don't miss out on such a rich resource by trying to keep your worries and feelings to yourself.

Take one big issue at a time when you're seeking solutions. Although several things have come at you seemingly at once, it's impossible to handle them all at once. One at a time is enough.

Prioritize. Which of these things are within your ability to change? Which can only be accepted? Remember the Serenity Prayer: "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference."

Create plans for those things you can change, keeping in mind to make steps small and manageable. You don't want to get any more overwhelmed than you already are.

Seek professional help if you need it. Again, be easy on yourself. You have nothing to prove. You simply want to get through this tough time—and sometimes we do need the help of others. There's no shame in that.

If you prefer some coaching to get unstuck, please do contact me.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Listen and learn

I know I'm not alone these days in my impatience and frustration with the members of Congress. Can't they just please listen to one another, discuss civilly rather than shouting accusations at each other, and just try to do what's best for the country rather than what's best for their next election bid? The U.S. Congress is just one of the more visible examples of the type of behavior that passes for civil discourse these days. I find it rather exhausting as well as frustrating. As always, though, it makes me look at my own behavior even as I point fingers at the members of Congress!

I'm reading Adam Hamilton's Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White: Thoughts on Religion, Morality, and Politics these days. And in it, Hamilton says that as a pastor and pastoral counselor,  "listening and showing concern are the most important gift I offer." He adds, "I've also found that listening is not only important for the other person, it's important for me." Indeed.

All of that is true no matter what your profession and no matter what the relationship or context for the conversations. Listening is important for you and me as we let others speak, not just for the person doing the talking. You and I can learn so much more by listening, can't we?

So I'm trying to pay attention to how well I listen, to how well I set aside my own judgments so I can truly hear what the other is saying even when I might not agree, and to how open I am to learning from others. Perhaps if members of the U.S. Congress can't be an example to me, they can be a warning!