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!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Be a lap to others

Even as an adult, haven't you sometimes felt so sad or exhausted with life's events that you just wanted to crawl into someone's lap and have them hold you close and say, "There, there, it's OK. Just let me hold you." I think we are never too old to want comfort and nurturing. We may be ashamed to admit we want it. But, be honest now, don't you?

Rachel Naomi Remen in My Grandfather's Blessings: Stories of Strength, Refuge, and Belonging tells the story of a very small girl whose kitten died. Most of the adults in her life told the little girl not to cry because the kitten was in heaven. Of course, that did little to really comfort the girl. So one day she turned to her grandmother and asked "Why?" Rather than give answers and advice, the grandmother simply scooped the little girl onto her lap and held her tightly. The girl sobbed, and so did the grandmother. It was just what the little girl needed—a lap, a place of refuge.

When that little girl grew up, she became a doctor highly skilled at working with AIDS patients. And one day she told Remen, herself a doctor, "... what I really want to be for my patients is a lap. A place from which they can face what they have to face and not be alone."

That story really spoke to me. Most times when I share something scary or painful with a friend, I don't want advice. I just want to be heard. Sometimes I want to be held. I want a lap at times! That tells me that in all likelihood, others may want that same thing. You and I don't need to have all the answers. Often it's more important to simply be a presence. A loving presence. A lap. An ear. A shoulder on which to cry.

Who in your life needs a lap? Needs your loving presence? And when you need that, can you ask someone for it?

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Decisions require 2 essential foundational pieces

Discern: 1. to perceive by the sight or other sense or by the intellect; see, recognize, or apprehend. 2. to distinguish mentally; recognize as distinct or different; discriminate. That's what the Random House Webster's College Dictionary says about a process we use when it comes to decision-making.

Are you in a place right now where you face change? Are you trying to decide between one thing and another—or perhaps discerning among several options? When it comes to really large life issues, this discernment process isn't always easy. Several of my clients are thinking of switching careers. Some are making decisions about relationships. Whatever the issue, such discernment requires at least two essential foundational pieces: openness and attention.

First, it's important to stay completely open to all the ideas, thoughts, information and feelings that swirl in and around you. During that time of brainstorming, you don't want to rule out any options. Put everything out on the table. Make no judgments about anything initially; there's time enough for judgments and reality once the ideas are all laid out. Pay attention to your passions, your dreams, things others say, anything that can help inform your decision.

Second, pay attention. Notice what you're feeling as you gather information; your emotions are important clues. Get in touch with what jazzes you. What are your passions and dreams? While you may not make a decision based entirely on those, they are important pieces of the puzzle. And, honestly, at a certain stage of life, you might feel it's (finally!) time to follow your passions. Notice themes in recurring dreams. Pay attention to information that pulls you in unexpectedly. Clues are all around and inside you.

If you remain open to any and all possibilities—and you pay attention to all clues: thoughts, feelings, facts, dreams, values and all the rest, you might be surprised by what emerges from your discernment process. It could possibly be an option you hadn't even considered initially.

If you want help working through a discernment process, please contact me. Let's get you where you want to be in life!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Pay attention to fear

How do you deal with fear in your life? Do you dread that feeling of fear when you face the unknown? Are you ashamed that you feel fear? Or have you learned to face your fears and see them as familiar companions on the journey?

It's been said that fear is our "pay attention" or "wake up" emotion. That's a good description. Whenever we face change or something unknown and unfamiliar, it's natural to feel fear. That fear tells us that there's something on the horizon that we aren't sure will be bad or good. It's simply a sign that we need to stop and pay attention. Fear alerts us to stay awake and aware—and it's natural and normal.

When I spend time with my 2-year-old grandson, I see what appears to be his fearlessness. He will step off a high step into the empty air without understanding the consequences, perhaps just trusting that we adults will be there. We adults, however, see possible consequences even though we can't always know precisely what might happen as a result of any given experience. And so we feel fear.

What is important is that you and I meet that fear coming at us down the road and get to know it. If you can really take a look at your fear, you can remove the sting of it. You can discover the reality rather than letting your imagination go wild thinking of possible bad outcomes. What's the shape of your fear? What's the reality? What's needless and heedless worry? Is there anything you can do to change the outcome?

Once you have faced up to fear, you know that you can do it the next time you meet it on the journey. It doesn't mean you'll never feel afraid again. It simply means that you'll feel empowered to deal with it. You won't let it hold you back. Know, too, that you can feel empowered and scared at the same time! As we're told, feel the fear and do it anyway!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Are you burned out?

How's your energy level these days? Are you maintaining a positive attitude? And do you see yourself as in control (insofar as it's possible, that is) of your life—at least in control of your responses to what comes your way?

If you answer all of those in a positive way, good for you!

However, if you feel emotionally exhausted, helpless and negative, you just might be experiencing burnout. Burnout can occur for many reasons, and it's not because of one's job or career. It isn't caused by stress, says Joan Borysenko in her book, Fried: Why You Burn Out and How to Revive. She says it results from "learned helplessness."

Borysenko has first-hand experience with burnout and not only gives concrete examples of its effect but  gives practical help in dealing with it—help gleaned from her own experience and that of a community of nearly 5,000 Facebook friends. She says burnout is "a disorder of hope and will that sucks the life out of competent, idealistic, hardworking people" and what's needed is to take back your power.

I highly recommend this book if you think what you're experiencing might be burnout. It can look like depression, Borysenko says, but it cannot be treated with medication or stress management. As she says, "Revival from burnout is always about the recovery of lost authenticity. It's waking up to who we really are and realizing that heaven is not a destination, but a state of mind. If being fried can bring us to the point where we reconnect to our own true nature, then it's worth every moment of separation to rediscover the heaven that has been inside of us all along."

Monday, October 7, 2013

Relish time, don't 'kill time'

I often talk about reframing life experiences—finding the positive in something rather than focusing on the negative.

Recently I read something that encouraged us to reframe some of the phrases and sayings we regularly use. It's a good reminder. The one cited was "killing time." And the article said that we could "relish time" rather than view it as killing time. It said we could "spend it working if that work brings you joy. But you might also spend it relaxing, losing yourself in conversation with a cherished friend, or just blissfully doing absolutely nothing at all."

I really like that idea. Before I was a life coach, I was a journalist. I'm still a word-lover. I know how much our language affects our attitudes and worldview. So it really does matter whether we see time that isn't spent doing something we view as productive as time savored or time killed.

Is it really a waste of time to do nothing? To get down on the floor and play with a child? To talk on the phone with a beloved friend? To just be?

As a young girl growing up on an Iowa farm, I have wonderful memories of lying on my back in the grass watching clouds float across the sky and seeing animals, faces and things in those cloud shapes. I spent plenty of time working as a young girl because there was always lots to do on a farm. But how I loved those moments of free time to play or just do nothing. Those times of using my imagination and creativity no doubt contributed to who I am today.

In what ways do you relish time? What other phrases in your life could use reframing? I'm thinking more about that these days. I'd love to hear what you come up with, and I invite you to share with us in the comment box below.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Pain transformed

As you look back over your life so far, would you like to erase all the hurt, pain and bad times?

Mark Nepo says in his The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have: "From broken marriages, to losing a rib to cancer, to being laid off after eighteen years of teaching, there has always been a gift waiting once the ache and fear and grief have settled." He adds, however, that it isn't the disease or injustice itself that's a blessing. It's more that such injuries open us to new things.

I would agree with Nepo. I would also qualify it by saying I can only speak for myself. Some people have experienced unspeakable horrors and may never see a gift waiting on the other side. I have visited both the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Cambodia and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., and I have interviewed Liberians about the atrocities they endured during their civil war in the 1990s. I know there are experiences from which people may never come back. Having said that, most of us don't have experiences quite that traumatic.

As I look back at my own experiences, including a divorce and being Reduced In Force after 22 years on the job as well as other assorted deaths and relationship losses, I know that those things have made me who I am today. The pain was transformed into wisdom and a deeper appreciation for life. For example, as I've said in previous blogs and in my monthly ezines, losing my job led to a new and exciting career that I hadn't imagined. All of my painful experiences have eventually led to new insights and new dreams and have taken me to deeper  places on my journey.

The transformation didn't occur overnight, though. First came the anger and sadness—the grieving part. Then came the letting go process, and it is a process, definitely not a once-and-done thing. Then, finally, new dreams, new wisdom—the gift of transformation unfolding. And in each of those stages, fear showed up needing to be faced. It's all part of life's journey, isn't it? Transformation itself is a process. Think of the caterpillar/cocoon/butterfly process and draw hope from that. Picture yourself as that beautiful butterfly soaring among the flowers where once you crawled along with a much smaller view of the world!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Let go—and live free

What one thing have you learned in the past few years that's made a huge difference in your life?

Recently I read this question in a book, and I stopped then and there to reflect upon it. At another time my answer might be quite different. But right now I would have to say that learning about my need to let go and learning how to let go have been crucial in my personal growth and development.

And it all happened, as I have mentioned in previous blogs, because a complimentary book was included in my tote bag at a convention I attended several years ago. The book became a workbook to me—and it's underlined, highlighted and all marked up with margin notes. I refer back to it frequently. It's titled How Can I Let Go If I Don't Know I'm Holding On? by Linda Douty. 

The beauty of Douty's book is that she not only talks about the need to let go, she tells us how to do so! That's often the missing part in books on personal or spiritual growth.

There's so much that needs letting go. Old tapes that play in our heads from messages we received as children—or somewhere along the way, things that weren't even true then, perhaps, but surely aren't now and that hold us back from being who we were created to be. Resentments and grudges. Attachment to outcomes. Defensiveness when we're relating to others. Old, negative stories that just make us spiral downward rather than moving us forward into joy. The desire to control others.

Picture having a ball and chain attached to your leg and trying to move around easily. It's not going to happen. That's how it is when you drag around hurts and old messages, ways of being that aren't helpful. It is so absolutely freeing to let that stuff go. Forgiveness is a way of letting go—and you know how freeing that is. See whether there's something today that needs letting go in your life. Free yourself up—and soar!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Practice peace, bring hope

Do you remember the cellist of Sarajevo? Or perhaps you've never heard the story of Vedran Smailovic?

Smailovic lived near a bakery in Sarajevo during the Bosnian War. In May of 1992 that bakery, one of few that still had flour and distributed bread to the war-weary and starving people, was shelled as people waited in line for bread; and 22 people were killed. That incident pushed the then-35-year-old Smailovic past his limits. Already he had seen and heard too much carnage and violence. Because he had been a cellist with the Sarajevo Opera (and longed to return to his beloved career), he did what obviously took him to another place inside and what brought hope and courage to those who heard him: Every day for the next 22 days, he put on his concert attire, walked into the raging battle all around him, set up a chair and played his cello in memory of the 22 people who had been killed outside his window that day. He played Albinoni's "Adagio in G Minor," which if you know it, is beautiful but haunting.

He put his life at risk each time he sat in the street playing his cello. Somehow he was never hurt (physically, at least!). But he brought courage and hope to those who huddled in fear nearby—and to those of us who have heard his story in the years since then.

What do you do in the face of pain—yours or others? Perhaps you visit people in care centers. Or you send cards and notes of encouragement to people facing unimaginable illness or problems. Where you see fear, perhaps you do your best to bring peace and serenity—even when that fear is inside you, too.

You don't have to sit in a street with a cello as war rages all around you in order to bring hope or peace. You can find whatever ways fit your life situation and bring forth your gifts. Just know that in this crazy-busy and sometimes frightening world in which we live, myriad opportunities exist for you.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Different—not right or wrong

Have you noticed that in some of your relationships, whether it be a friendship or whether with your significant other, you have differing levels of need? For example, one of you may have a high need for connection and the other, a relatively low need. You may have a low need for separateness and your friend or partner a high need for it.

We definitely are not all created equal—not when it comes to our wants and needs.

It's important to recognize that you and the other person are simply different in your level of need. One isn't right and one, wrong. There's no good or bad about it. There's simply difference.

It's helpful to recognize these differences and acknowledge them. Sometimes that's all that is needed. Other times, the differences may be so vast that it's important for you to talk about compromises that help you get over some tough spots. If the level of need is causing arguments and difficulties, you may want to do more than just acknowledge those differences. You will want to find ways to work it out so you each get some of your needs met.

Some people think the differences are gender-related, but they aren't always. Some people explain such differences away by saying women are from Venus and men, from Mars. But it isn't that simple. As much as one gender jokes about the qualities of the other gender, it's extremely important that we respect one another and the differences even while we listen deeply to the other to hear what's important to that person—and hear what that person needs and wants. Doing so shows that you value each other and that the relationship is important to you.