Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Add wonder. Or delight.

Today is New Year's Eve. It's a time when many people make resolutions for what they'll change in the new year. We make resolutions. We break them. Always, of course, we have good intentions. But sometimes change can seem so daunting.

What if you decided this year to simply add something to your life that isn't already there? Something like wonder, perhaps? Or awareness? Or joy? Something like spontaneity? Fun? Delight?

Doing our inner work, making resolutions about change, letting go of ideas and beliefs that no longer work—these are all important. But sometimes we simply need more lightness, more fun, more delight and joy in our lives.

Do you have enough of those? Why not choose one to add to your life in 2015?

Tuesday, December 30, 2014


During the Christmas holiday, we saw the movie Unbroken. It chronicles the life of Louis Zamperini, who served in World War II and was captured by the Japanese and sent to various prison camps. I had read the book previously. Although it wasn't easy to read, I was impressed by Zamperini's spirit,  resilience and inner strength. One sadistic camp guard in particular, "The Bird," was laser-focused on breaking Zamperini's spirit. He was never able to do so—thus, the film's title.

What strikes me as a take-away from this is that each of us has some "inner song," some core belief, some image or mantra that we hang onto almost as a talisman. That inner core helps us survive outer storms of all kinds in our lives. Louis Zamperini carried an image of his family, particularly his brother who encouraged him to be more than he himself ever thought he could (thanks to that encouragement, he had been a successful runner and Olympic athlete prior to the war) and also his beloved mother. The words of his brother rang in his ears when he endured the most cruel and inhumane treatment at the hands of "The Bird." Those words were, "If you can take it, you can make it." And the image of his mother lovingly preparing food for the family warmed his heart during the lonely weeks and months when he was a POW.

What inside you helps you get through life's outer storms? What images and messages do you carry inside? What mantra do you repeat in difficult times that gives you a boost of strength? I remember a mantra I used (sometimes several times a day) following my divorce and throughout some difficult times in my job: "I am calm and serene, for I reside in God's love." I still call that to mind from time to time.

Since life can change on a dime, it's good to think about what "inner song" you have that just might give you the inner strength to get through a tough time.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Trust love

"I'll never trust again," she said. "I simply will not fall in love ever again."

I had a friend in high school who was deeply hurt by unrequited love—and said those words. She thought her pain would be reduced by closing the doorway to her heart firmly and keeping it closed. Our friendship didn't last past high school, so I often wondered how that worked out for her.

I've had times in my life, too, when I wanted to just shut the door of my heart tightly and keep out all comers. But I have learned again and again that doing so is just as painful as opening up to love again and again. In fact, for me it's more painful to close myself off to love than to risk and open myself to love.

There's no other way to experience the kindness, compassion and gifts of love but to take risks. Show love; be love; show compassion; forgive; share stories, laughter and tears; forgive again. Will you have scars and pain to show for it? Yes. And you'll also have all the gifts of love, too.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Boxing Day

Did you know that today, December 26, is known as Boxing Day in some parts of the world? The United Kingdom, Canada, South Africa (where it was renamed Day of Goodwill in 1994), Norway, Sweden and several other countries use this day to give gifts to tradespeople and others who serve. It was called that because a "Christmas box" was given to those who serve or those in need. It may go back to a time when an Alms Box was placed in a house of worship to collect donations for the poor. It also harkens to the time when servants, after waiting on their masters and mistresses on Christmas Day, received the following day to spend with their families and were given a box containing gifts and sometimes, leftovers.

Perhaps this might be a good custom to pick up? What if you used today to either personally deliver a gift (food or clothes) to a family in need—or even to find a charity of your choice to which you might donate? Most likely, you have just received gifts as I have—often things we like but don't really need. And perhaps you, like me, think of all those people who really need things, basics rather than another lovely piece of jewelry or bath products.

This just might be the time to do something new. Share the joy. Pay it forward.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Tune in to others

Merry Christmas!

If you celebrate Christmas, I hope you are doing something today that makes that experience come alive for you. If you don't celebrate it, perhaps you still find things to enjoy about the season. Or perhaps you celebrate Hanukkah or another religious holiday.

I'm so aware that for all those who absolutely love Christmas and the holidays, there are also large numbers for whom it's a lonely and painful time. It's important that you honor whatever is true for you—and it's really important that we are sensitive to those around us and what they are feeling about this season.

I know several people who draw into their circle of celebration anyone they know who doesn't have plans for the day. It's a lovely time to show hospitality in a generous-hearted way and include those who may not have family nearby or may not have family at all. We're all invited to increased awareness and generosity this season. Reaching out to others is always appropriate, but holiday time is an especially good time to do so. It will spread more happiness than you can imagine.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Sunshine on my shoulder

The sun came out yesterday! What a treat.

I had lost track of the number of gloomy, dark and sometimes rainy days we had experienced. And try as I might to stay positive, it was dragging me down. I could tell by Facebook comments and things my family and friends said in conversation that I wasn't alone in this. But all it took was one sunny day. Moods lifted—just like that!

Yesterday when I bought some last-minute grocery supplies, everyone seemed much more cheerful. Of course, it didn't hurt that a live pianist played lovely Christmas music while we shopped. But I suspect it was the sun that made the real difference. When I shopped on Monday, no one was quite so cheerful.

Try as we might to let our inner light guide us, we still have to admit that external circumstances can and do affect us. That said, it's important to do whatever we can to at least reduce the importance of externals. Or change those external factors over which you have control. For example, I obviously had no control over the sun. But I could, and did, leave my Christmas tree lights on all day to brighten my spirits during the dark and gloomy days. I could play cheery Christmas music on my CD player.

Do you pay close attention to your moods? And do you do what you can to maintain a positive attitude? It's a balance to do so—and still be honest and real with whatever hurt and pain you also experience. It's worth doing, though.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

I can do my part

One of the ways I receive inspiration is through all the reading I do. The words of others encourage, uplift and inspire me. I like to think these words draw out my better self.

On Sunday I read these words from poet Mark Nepo: "We cannot eliminate hunger, but we can feed each other. We cannot eliminate loneliness, but we can hold each other. We cannot eliminate pain, but we can live a life of compassion."

As one who is part romantic or idealist by nature, I always like to think we can solve the world's problems if we just apply ourselves. Nepo's words are a good reality check for me—while at the same time inspiring me to do the part that it is possible for me to do.

I cannot eliminate hunger. I cannot eliminate loneliness. Or pain. But I definitely can do what I can do. I can feed others, both with physical and with emotional/spiritual food. I can hold others. I can live a life of compassion. I can encourage. I can show love. Perhaps my words might even inspire someone.

At this time of year, when typically our hearts are more open, perhaps Nepo's words will strike home in your heart as well.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Nurturing compassion

Last Friday I wrote about vulnerability and strength. After I wrote that blog, I discovered some wise words in one of my favorite inspirational books.

In My Grandfather's Blessings: Stories of Strength, Refuge, and Belonging, Rachel Naomi Remen writes, "In attending to our own capacity to suffer, we can uncover a simple and profound connection between our own vulnerability and the vulnerability in all others.

"Ours is not a culture that respects the sick or the old or the vulnerable. We strive for independence, competence, and mastery. In embracing such frontier values we may become intolerant of human wholeness, contemptuous of anything in ourselves and in others that has needs or is capable of suffering. The denial of a common vulnerability is the ultimate barrier to compassion."

Ah, yes—a "barrier to compassion." So it is. When we can get in touch with all the ways in which we are vulnerable and get in touch with our fears, our pain, our weaknesses, our woundings, then we know how much we need others. We know how much we long for a kind word, a helping hand, a hug, the care of others. We know that we can provide that for others as well. And for ourselves.

Compassion and self-compassion. Those are sorely needed in our world today. And we get there by admitting our vulnerability. We do need each other. It truly takes a village to raise each one of us.

Friday, December 19, 2014

What is strength?

I've heard it said that we don't serve others through our strength but through our limitations. For me as an Enneagram 8 and a person who learned to be strong from a very young age, that's important to hear. I need to hear that admitting what I don't know and acknowledging my own woundedness is not a sign of weakness. In fact, it shows great strength to be honest about all sides of my personality. I have to remind myself of that often.

I serve best when I can bring my vulnerable, wounded, complete self to another person—not when I come from a place of superiority. If I am feeling that I have it all together and need to help some poor person who doesn't, I will communicate that sense of superiority. Not helpful!

But if I come to the other person as one who has some wisdom and who also has many questions and issues of her own, I will serve that person from a place of honesty and humility. Much more will be accomplished. And I will leave the other person with an intact self-image.

When I write about facing life's challenges and making tough decisions, you will relate more to what I say when I tell you about those times when I went through the wilderness. It will not help you to hear only about those times I spent on the mountaintop. Think about what this might mean in your life.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

In the shadows

It's so important to recognize our own shadow side, often in psychological terms associated with the dark, hidden and repressed parts of our personality. These are the parts of our character that we'd rather not see—and we certainly would rather no one else knew about them. We certainly don't want to admit to being capable of evil—or even to hurting others.

It's when we can be honest about that dark side, however, that we can be truly forgiving and accepting of others. It is then that we can more easily drop our judgments and criticisms of others.

When I catch myself passing judgment on the behavior of someone in a news story, for example, I have to ask myself whether, given the wrong set of circumstances in my life, I might also do the same thing. I need to be honest with myself. Once I've accepted my shadow side, I've fully accepted my self. My whole self. The good Sonia. The bad Sonia. And everything in between.

It is then that I can truly feel compassion for others, that I can accept them (even when I might not like what they have done) and, yes, even forgive them. Then I can know what it is to accept and to love fully.

It's not easy to look at our shadow side. It's not pretty. It's important work, and it's freeing. It leads to compassion toward others and to self-compassion. Isn't that a worthy goal?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Be who you are

I've said many times in these blogs that I'm a recovering perfectionist. I know first-hand how damaging perfectionism can be.

So the other day when I reread something I'd read several years ago, it spoke anew to me. "Perfectionism and blind duty can ravage a woman's body, spirit, emotions, relationships, self-respect, self-care and equanimity," I read in Coming Home to Myself: Reflections for Nurturing a Woman's Body & Soul. The authors, Marion Woodman and Jill Mellick, went on to say a couple more things that spoke to me: "Do not try to transform yourself. Move into yourself." And "It is easier to try to be better than you are than to be who you are."

Oh, my, that's a lot to digest. They are right, though, aren't they? It is not easy to be who we really are. To feel comfortable in our own skins and claim all the goodness right along with the shadow sides of ourselves. To truly "move into" our own bodies and personalities. To own all that we are and can be. It is easier to push ourselves to try for perfection.

The authors also wrote, "Perfection does not allow for feeling." And in the margins I wrote "... or for healing!"

Let's not accept society's ideas of the perfect woman. Instead, let's just inhabit our own lives, with all the good and bad of that. Moving into ourselves is a process. It may take most of our lives. That's OK. I'm fine with saying I'm a work-in-progress. How about you?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Such a balancing act

So much of life is a balancing act, isn't it? It's both/and and not either/or.

I was reminded of that again yesterday when I read in one of my favorite daily readings: "Rejection and opposition are painful, but being treated as if you don't exist is quietly devastating." Further on in the paragraph, I read, "Somehow our need for love gives tremendous power to the opinions of others, and so, we are required to guard against turning our lives over to the expectations of others." How true.

Yes, we do want and need the love of others. Sometimes that takes us places we don't want or need to go, though. I've heard people talk about twisting themselves into pretzel shapes just to please someone they love. No, we should not need to do that.

Yes, we do need love. And we also need to live our lives according to our own values, desires and gifts—not trying to simply meet the expectations of others. Sometimes those become competing forces. We need to find the point on the continuum where we can hold both things in balance: our need for love and our own expectations.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Bring it home

At this time of year, we hear a lot about peace on earth. Cards, songs, posters in stores and even gift wrap carry messages of "peace on earth."

I don't know about you, but the whole idea of peace on earth seems so enormous that I can't quite wrap my arms around it. And when I listen to the news, it seems like an impossible concept anyway.

So I am trying to bring it closer to home for myself so I can wrap my arms around it—and perhaps contribute to peace on earth.

What might peace look like in my life if I practiced it? Perhaps I wouldn't rush to judgment so quickly when someone says something with which I don't agree. Or when someone cuts in front of me in the check-out line. Perhaps I wouldn't be so critical of the actions of family or friends. And maybe I would actually let go of some of the resentments I still carry around. Perhaps I might forgive someone. Maybe I could look for ways to share love and joy and peace with all those around me—those I know and those I don't know. Can I approach others with an open heart and open hands?

I think it's worth a try. What do you think? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.

Friday, December 12, 2014

It's all in my focus

Yesterday afternoon, after several gloomy days without sunshine, the sun broke through. What a treat.

As I saw the sunshine stream through my windows, I noticed places on the windowpane where my attempts at cleaning were imperfect—smears here and there. And I noticed dust on my furniture that hadn't been noticeable when the sun wasn't shining.

Instead of dropping everything to re-do the windows and dust my furniture, I decided to simply enjoy the lovely sunshine streaming into my rooms. I continued what I was doing, stopping every now and then to look up and simply soak in the beauty of sunshine.

In the past I would have been more inclined to focus on what I hadn't done well and I would have missed the beauty. I think this is one of the bonuses of growing older—letting go of some things that seemed so important to me years ago and focusing on the beauty that's right there in from of me. Now I can be more present in the moment.

I can't do anything about all I've missed through the years by focusing so tightly on what I needed to get done. But I can surely begin to focus my awareness now on what's right here right now—the beauty right in front of me.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Act 'as if' it were true

One of the pastors at our church often says, "It's easier to act yourself into a new way of thinking than to think yourself into a new way of acting."

That takes some reflection, doesn't it? It not only takes time to digest that thought, it takes time to live into it. But so much is possible when you do.

That statement reminds me of what several people told me after my divorce. Act "as if" you're confident about the future, they told me. Act "as if" you see yourself as a successful journalist. Act "as if" your life will come together.

Know what? That wasn't easy—since I was filled with an immense amount of fear and trepidation. I didn't have much confidence at that stage of life. I surely didn't see good things ahead. But I took their advice and put on my most confident, successful face. Before long, life and career did begin to fall into place. Little by little, fears diminished. Confidence built. A career I could not have imagined began taking shape. And I began to think of myself as a successful journalist and a leader on my staff.

Have you acted yourself into a new way of thinking before? Or do you need to right now? If you want to talk about it, I invite you to contact me.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Who's happiest?

Last week I read an interesting column by David Brooks in The New York Times titled "Why Elders Smile." Brooks talked about research in which people of different ages assessed their well being. Those in their 20s see themselves as happy. Then there's a decline by middle age, no doubt due to stresses of career and family.

And here's the fascinating piece of that research: People aged 82 to 85 rate themselves the highest on the happiness scale. Brooks cites psychologists as saying that this is due to several factors including a more relaxed attitude as people lose the anxiety of earlier years, gaining more pleasure from ordinary activities. Brooks says he wants to think that this is because people get better at handling life's challenges.

I am intrigued by this research and by Brooks' thoughts. I suspect there are many reasons that people in their 80s are happier, but I wonder whether shedding might be one of them. I often write about the importance of letting go as we age—letting go of worry, letting go of anger and resentments, letting go of limiting beliefs, letting go of perfectionism, letting go of unrealistic expectations. There's just a lot to shed since we collect a lot of baggage as we go through life.

I don't know about you, but I want to travel lighter. Hmmm, what can I shed next?

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

What makes you come alive?

Poet and author Mark Nepo in a daily reading last week quoted African American author, philosopher, theologian and civil rights leader Howard Thurman, "Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it."

And then Nepo in his book The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have continued, "... finding what we love, though it may take years, is building a life of passion. For what makes you come alive can keep you alive, whether you are paid well for it or not."

Oh, yes! You and I know the difference between feeling passion for the work we do or just doing a job because it needs to be done or just because we get paid for it. There is so much more life and energy to be had when we follow our passion and our dreams. And that can keep us alive as well. I've also heard it said that we don't keep dreams alive so much as dreams keep us alive.

Granted, some people choose a job or career that holds no thrill or passion for them and then follow their dreams as a hobby or avocation. Either way, do what you love. "Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it." It will change your life, and it will change life for those around you.

What's exciting you these days? What are you going to do about it?

Monday, December 8, 2014

All-encompassing gratitude

Last month when I spent Thanksgiving with my youngest son and his family, I was so aware of all my blessings. My heart was full, and I was grateful for so much.

As I counted my blessings, though, I was also aware of those painful and difficult times in my life. Those are the times I really grew. It seems I have learned far more from life's challenges than from life's good times and blessings. And so I gave thanks for those, too.

I don't know about you. But when I experienced the difficult times, whether it was my divorce or losing my job or some lesser challenge, I wasn't always thinking about gratitude and how much I'd learn! It's later when I reflected on what had changed in me because of those things that I was able to give thanks. My obstacles really became my teachers, giving me learnings I would not have had otherwise.

I have heard people who have survived cancer and other difficult health issues say that they are grateful for the illnesses because their lives have been totally changed for the better by the experiences. That always amazes me. And yet when I reflect on my own life, I know that my most difficult times have made me softer yet stronger, more compassionate and more understanding of others, and far more resilient. In short, I've become a far better Sonia because of those tough experiences. So I give thanks for those, too. Without them, I wouldn't be who I am today.

How about you?

Friday, December 5, 2014

Self-compassion ripples out

The other day I read something about self-compassion that got my attention. "Compassionate toward yourself, you reconcile all beings in the world," wrote Lao-Tzu, a philosopher and poet in ancient China.

While I know all things are interconnected, I still had to think about that a while. But it makes sense, doesn't it? When you and I practice self-compassion and give ourselves the love and kindness that we would show to others, we feel so much more loving and generous-spirited inside. And when our hearts are open and loving, of course, we radiate that out into the world to all those with whom we come in contact.

And we know about the ripple effect when we throw a stone into the water. Just so, that love and compassion we put out into the world when we're good to ourselves reaches much farther than we can even imagine. It's contagious in a beautiful way. Who knows what lives it may touch—someone who really needed an act of kindness, a smile or a word of encouragement?

It's OK, really. Start with yourself. Show compassion to yourself. Don't treat yourself badly and then expect to be loving and kind to others. Self-compassion is not selfish. It's an act of reconciliation as Lao-Tzu said.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Changing up Christmas

No more slow dancing for a while, right? Now through the end of the year it's fast-dance time. Everyone is madly racing about shopping, writing on Christmas cards or composing their family Christmas letter, preparing menus, attending dinners and parties—and that's on top of regular schedules.

As I did some of my gift shopping yesterday, I wondered whether it might be time to make some changes in how my family does things. Several years ago one of my close friends and I decided to stop giving each other Christmas gifts and instead, give to a charity in honor of each other and our friendship. I liked that idea. I've begun doing that with a few other friends as well.

I am just about to the point of suggesting it to my three sons and their wives. I'll still give to my nine grandchildren, of course. But we adults really don't need much that we can't get for ourselves. It's the time together that's precious and important, not the gifts. And I love the idea of selecting a charity or two—perhaps some organization that feeds the hungry or shelters the homeless. So many people have little to nothing, and our money will be so much more helpful assisting them than buying yet one more item for our homes or closets. I'm so grateful for what we have, but I'd like to share, too. I'd like to focus on giving to people who really do need.

Does that make me a Grinch? I certainly hope not. That isn't my intention. I enjoy selecting gifts for my family. It's just that I'm increasingly aware of people who are sleeping outside while I'm in my house with a furnace that keeps me warm and a refrigerator that's full of food.

Do you have any ideas that have worked for you or your family and friends?

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Stress reduction

Now is a good time of year to polish up your techniques for managing stress. Peek inside your stress-reduction tool kit and see what's in there. It seems almost everyone is in high gear right now. If you weren't stressed before, just a few minutes with your friends and colleagues could bring it on. It seems to be contagious, doesn't it?

So what do you do to reduce your stress? We all know several techniques. Whether we actually stop to think about them—and then employ them—well, that's a different matter. So consider this your reminder! What are your go-to relievers?

Exercise can be one. So if you can squeeze in even 10 minutes of yoga, stretching, walking, weights or treadmill, do so. You'll feel much better.

Talking things over with your friends or your spouse can also reduce stress. It's just a matter of naming it, saying it out loud and getting it out of your body. Perhaps talking about what's stressing you might even surface some short-cuts to what you do.

Praying, journaling or taking a few moments for some deep breathing are also good ways to relieve stress. What are some other things you do?

Better yet: Consider dropping a few things off your to-do list. Does it all really have to be done? Would the world end if it weren't? Or can you even delegate some of your tasks? Remember, you don't have to live with all that stress. Make a choice to reduce it today.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Add in creativity

As you prepare your gift shopping list this year, remember to add in some creativity.

Think about the possibility of giving the gift of time. Perhaps you can promise to bake your son's favorite pie or sweet rolls. Maybe you'll give your spouse the gift of an evening out together at the symphony with dinner beforehand. Or perhaps you can promise to shine shoes once a month for the rest of the year. Possibilities abound.

There are so many ways to personalize your gift list, many of which are even more fun than something you've purchased from a store. Giving the gift of yourself and your time is a precious gift. It's a wonderful way to share your love.

Maybe you have some suggestions of things you've done in past years. If so, I hope you'll consider sharing them in the Comment box below. I would love to hear them, and I'm sure other blog readers would love the ideas you have.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Add this to your to-do list

It seems so simple. But because it's simple, it's often overlooked.

At this stressful time of year as the holidays approach, many of us fail to get sufficient sleep. Not only that, we often brag about how little sleep we're getting and how much work fills our to-do lists.

But as Bill Clinton, who used to get by on only five hours of sleep a night, admitted, "Every important mistake I've made in my life, I've made because I was too tired." I suspect you and I could say much the same. Running on fumes isn't a healthy way to live.

And as Dr. Michael Roizen, chief wellness officer of the Cleveland Clinic, puts it, "Sleep is the most underrated health habit."

Remember that as you make your to-do lists, your shopping lists and fill out your holiday party calendar this season. Carve out enough time for sufficient sleep. Add sleep to your to-do list. You'll be so glad you did. It can help you manage the stresses and strains you'll no doubt face this month. It's an essential part of self-care. And self-care only makes sense!

Friday, November 28, 2014

Negativity can be contagious

In my part of the country, the weather has gotten extremely cold quite early, earlier than we've become accustomed to in more recent years at least. And I've noticed my tendency, and that of others around me, to complain about the weather almost as a way of greeting each other. After saying, "Hi," often the first words out of our mouths are, "Can you believe this awful weather?" or "I'm sick and tired of this cold."

I've caught myself doing that way too much lately. It's not that the weather isn't a proper topic for conversation, it's more that I would rather not start conversations on a negative and complaining note. Knowing that a negative attitude is contagious, can I stop it before it even starts?

I'm trying to do so. Can I think of something else to say to the person at the check-out? To the receptionist in my doctor's office? To the person on the other end of the phone?

Certainly I could say something good about the weather. Or I could find a different topic of conversation. There are many good things going on all around. I'm going to try to focus on those. It's not that I want to be a Pollyanna. When difficult things need to be discussed, I'm not going to bury my head in the sand. But I wonder if, in these challenging and sometimes difficult times in which we live, we won't do better to focus on the wonder and delight that also fill our days. To focus on the positive instead of the negative.

What do you think?

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Awaken with gratitude

No matter how you plan to spend today, I hope you awoke with a list of things for which you're grateful today. Yes, it's Thanksgiving here in the U.S.

Because I keep a Gratitude Journal, I don't just see today as the one day in the year to be thankful for my blessings. Every day is a good day for gratitude.

What's on your list this year? Even if you don't write it down, it's a wonderful way to start each day. Once you begin a day by thinking of everything for which you feel gratitude, you start to really pay attention and to notice all the good things—many of which escape your notice and are taken for granted as you fly through your days.

And don't just think of the biggies such as your family and friends. Notice colors. Textures. Branches against the blue sky. Sunlight shining on your cat's fur. The sound of your granddaughter's giggles.

It's fun to really pay attention and see what you might have missed noticing before. Any surprises?

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Expectations & attitude

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving here in the U.S. For many people that means family gatherings. And family gatherings can mean both fun and dysfunction. For some families, it's either fun or dysfunction. And for others, it's both.

If Thanksgiving gatherings have been pleasant experiences for you in the past, no doubt you look forward to tomorrow with high anticipation. However, if you've had negative experiences in the past, you may be approaching it with at least some fear and trepidation.

Or you might even be one of many in our society who have no special plans, no family with whom to share the day—or perhaps family far away and unable to gather. Or perhaps you have what I call "chosen family"—friends who have become as close and as important to you as family and with whom you spend holidays.

Whatever your circumstance, your expectations and your attitude toward your situation can make a difference in how you experience tomorrow. If you are less than thrilled about what tomorrow will bring, is there one small change you can make to your attitude that will ensure a better day? Is there even something you can do to make tomorrow better for someone else you know—or maybe even for a stranger? As we know, reaching out to do good things for others has a way of coming back to us, too.

Here's wishing you a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Real freedom means letting go

I talk frequently about letting go. It seems to me to be one of our primary tasks as we age. By the time we reach midlife, we have experiences, grievances, hurts, habits and negative behaviors—just to name a few things—that we can well afford to shed. Not only can we afford to shed them, we will be far healthier and better off letting them go.

When Nelson Mandela was released from prison after 27 years, he spoke of the importance of forgiveness and letting go. "As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom," he said, "I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison."

What a powerful image. And isn't it true? When we hang onto old hurts, old tapes, and other negative experiences, we are imprisoned by them. Those things can hold us captive. And when we let go, how much lighter and freer we feel.

From what would you like to be free today? And what steps are you willing to take to let go and move toward freedom?

Monday, November 24, 2014

Changing habits

Have you ever tried to change a habit? If you have, you know how difficult it is—especially when it's one you've had for many years. It's not impossible. Just difficult.

Ariana Huffington in her book Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Happier Life refers to the work of Charles Duhigg and scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology who have mapped the habit genome.

Duhigg talks about "keystone habits" that, when changed, make changing other habits easier. He says, "Keystone habits start a process that, over time, transforms everything. Keystone habits say that success doesn't depend on getting every single thing right, but instead relies on identifying a few key priorities and fashioning them into powerful levers."

So Huffington says her most powerful keystone habit was sleep. And once she changed the amount of sleep she got, regularly getting enough each night, other habits became easier to change. Her discovery is in line with what psychological studies show: that willpower alone isn't enough because willpower is a resource that gets depleted the more it's used. Dr. Judson Brewer of Yale says the common signs of resource depletion are hunger, anger, loneliness and tiredness (HALT).

That makes sense to me. When I'm tired or any one of those other things, it's far more difficult to create positive habits. Now that I know this, I will pay more attention to the idea of resource depletion and to keystone habits.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Feel the difference?

Perhaps you've experienced it both ways, too.

I've been in homes into which I've been welcomed and even though I know the hosts are busy people, I've felt they had all the time in the world to spend with me. They've listened thoughtfully, shared of themselves and helped me to feel relaxed and very special indeed.

Conversely, I've been in homes in which I can feel the busyness and stress even when I've just put one foot into the door. Even though the welcome was genuine and the hugs heartfelt and sincere, I felt as though I were intruding on their busy lives. They took phone calls while I was there, whipped out emails and weren't really present in our conversations. Ever experienced that?

As I reflect on the differences, it raises my awareness about my own behaviors. Do I help others feel welcome? When I am with someone, do I make them feel there's nowhere else I'd rather be right then? Do I listen attentively? Or am I formulating my next response? Or thinking about all the work I have yet to do?

I often have to remind myself: Be here now, Sonia. Stay in the present. Be with the people you're physically with, Sonia. Make them feel welcome and special. I know I can feel the difference.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The power of presence

I will always remember the scene even though it occurred more than 40 years ago. My sister's young husband had just been killed in a car accident. I was preparing to pack up our youngest son, an infant, and drive up to be with my sister. My husband and two older sons would follow later.

My heart was breaking for my sister and my young nephew. The doorbell rang. When I opened the door, a friend from our congregation simply enfolded me in her arms and said, "I'm so, so sorry." It was just what I needed at the moment: a long, strong hug. No pious platitudes. Simply a loving, caring presence. I didn't need answers. There simply weren't any. I didn't want to hear any easy, simple phrases about why this happened or what good might come from it. This was tragic and sad,  and no words were going to make it right.

Sometimes all you and I need to do in similar situations is just be a presence. A loving, caring, silent presence. We don't need to have answers. We don't need to find just the right words. Just show up. Just hug or hold. Just bring a hot dish—or provide a service that's needed but getting lost in the unfolding situation. Just your presence. That's powerful enough.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Bless one life at a time

Have you ever wondered whether your life matters to anyone? Whether what you do makes a difference? Perhaps you feel that your work or your volunteer activities aren't a big deal and really don't matter. If so, let me remind you of the starfish story. Or perhaps you've never heard it.

A young man walked along the beach by the ocean and noticed thousands of starfish washed ashore. Then he observed an old man walking slowly and stooping frequently to pick up one starfish after another and toss them gently into the ocean. "Why are you throwing them into the ocean?" the young man asked. "Because the tide is going out, and they will die if I don't throw them further out into the water," the old man replied. "But don't you realize there are thousands of starfish and you can't save them all? Even if you work all day, your efforts won't make a difference at all," the young man said. The old man listened calmly, bent down to pick up another starfish and threw it out into the sea. "It made a difference to that one," he said.

Yes, what you do does matter to someone. Or perhaps to several someones. You don't have to worry about saving the entire planet. Bless the life or lives you touch today. That's enough. And it does matter! You matter. It's all in your perspective.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

8 things I've learned so far

Recently a group of friends and I talked about things we have learned as we age. I'm sure there are many more things, and I definitely plan to learn more in whatever years I have remaining, too. But here are some things I've learned so far:

• We live in a both/and world. Much of life is not either/or and clear cut. More of it is ambiguous and both/and. For example, I can be clear about my own values and beliefs and still be open to learning about those of others. I can let things be what they are and still be an agent for change, in my life and in the world. I can follow my passions and dreams and be with what's real right here and right now.
• Authenticity is important. I want to be true to myself and not be who others want me to be.
• Gratitude makes my life richer and better. I've heard it said, "Energy flows where attitude goes." An attitude of gratitude is a good start.
• I need to let go, let go, and let go some more. Old tapes, limiting beliefs, wrongs I've done or that have been done to me, behaviors that don't serve me or anyone else. So much to shed so I can live a clearer, more joyful life.
• Self-love and self-care are not selfish. They're essential if I'm going to love and care for others, too.
• Life is all about relationships.
• I am a better person when I stop to smell roses or watch butterflies. No one gets to their death bed thinking, "I wish I had worked harder" or "I wish I'd spent more time in the office." Breathe!
• I need my friendships with other women. I love the special men in my life, but my "girlfriends" are so essential to my well-being.

What would you put on this list for yourself?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Avoiding some disappointment

Each year I choose a word or phrase that I keep at the back of my mind (or sometimes, the front) so as to change some behavior and assist in my personal growth. This year I chose "non-attachment."

Sometimes I get too attached to outcomes; my expectations get in the way and cause disappointment when things don't work out the way I had envisioned. And don't we often find that life has a way of not cooperating with our best-laid plans?! That can lead to lots of disappointment.

I can also get too attached to ways of thinking and belief systems. I want to have my values, beliefs and thoughts—and also be open to those of others without judging those. So I am trying to practice more non-attachment.

Mind you, non-attachment is different from detachment. Detachment is more a way of ignoring my thoughts and feelings. When I do that, those thoughts and feelings seem to pop up anyway—and often in ways I don't like. With non-attachment, the thoughts and feelings are there and I can acknowledge them. But then I can also set them aside and not let them rule. By setting them aside, I'm not letting them ruin my day. I can go with the flow a bit better because I have acknowledged my thoughts and feelings and then made a choice about what I'll do with them.

This is difficult work. But it's worth doing for me. What are you working on these days that's difficult for you? Don't give up. Our habits and ways of being took years to develop—it'll take time to make changes, too.

Friday, November 14, 2014

A gratitude-joy connection

Is there a difference between happiness and joy? Sometimes in my blogs I use the terms interchangeably. But technically, I believe there is a difference.

In her book The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, Brene Brown says that she interviewed many people in research she did and many told her that "Being grateful and joyful doesn't mean that I'm happy all of the time." When she asked them to say more, she got similar answers that she described as, "Happiness is tied to circumstance and joyfulness is tied to spirit and gratitude."

That resonates with me. When good things happen in my life, I am really happy. It's sort of giggles, bubbles and sunshine time. However, when things become difficult and I am really challenged by the events in my life, I can still feel a deep-down joy—a sense that, ultimately, things will come right again. That's more of a kernel of hope, of a tiny light shining amid the darkness. It is different.

So how do we get to that place of deep joy? I do believe it's in our attitude—and it starts with gratitude. If I can receive what's given me and find something in it for which to be grateful, I will create a reservoir of joy that will build and carry me through the tough times. I will also notice so much more in my life for which to be grateful. It's about awareness and attitude. Perhaps it sounds overly simplistic. It isn't, however.

What do you think? Do you see a connection between joy and gratitude? Can you find joy amid the dark times?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Nature's lessons

Granted, many trees (at least where I live) no longer have many of their leaves. Lots of those leaves provide a blanket for the grass instead. But those that remain on trees are more muted shades of orange and gold now—more rust than orange, more shades of brown than gold. To me, however, they're still lovely.

I used to enjoy only the brightest shades of fall color. And I really still do enjoy fall colors at their peak. I am filled with wonder and delight at those bright colors, especially when the sunlight washes over them until they almost glow.

But now I enjoy the colors of late autumn, too. Is it because I am in life's autumn myself, I wonder? It might be. At last, I am able to appreciate each of life's stages and recognize that there's a beauty in each stage. I love the innocence and curiosity of the very young. I enjoy the confidence and brashness of teens and young adults. I'm enthralled by the energy and seeking of those just new to careers, parenting and mortgage acquisition. I am thrilled by the integration of values and experience I see in mature adults. And I soak up the wisdom and non-attachment of those who have lived many more years than I. Now I value and appreciate it all. I see the beauty in each stage. Perhaps that's why I can enjoy those stages in nature as well.

I want to be ever more open to what lessons I can learn in the stage I'm now experiencing—to what life brings to me now. Perhaps nature is one way I can better enter into the openness and possibilities being offered to me. Do you experience lessons through nature, too?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

'Life is no brief candle'

As much as possible, I want to make my days count. I want my life to count for something. I realize every day can't be a red-letter, amazing and totally productive day. But I at least want as many of my days to "burn as brightly as possible."

That's why this George Bernard Shaw quote really struck me when I came across it: "Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I am permitted to hold for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations."

Shaw's attitude of life as a privilege comes through—"... a sort of splendid torch which I am permitted to hold for the moment...."Yes, truly life is a gift. That said, how do you want to spend it? And what do you want to leave as your legacy for future generations?

It's always good to reflect on such big life questions so we can be intentional about how we want to spend our days rather than sleepwalk through life and get to the end with regrets.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

What can you learn today?

When you start your day, you have absolutely no idea what situations might arise or what you might learn. It's good to stay open and aware so you don't miss possibilities to learn about things you otherwise might not have discovered. Such opportunities open the doors to compassion and to wisdom at a level we can't imagine ahead of time.

Last Sunday at coffee hour following our worship service, we sat at the same table as a young man we'd not seen before. Through conversation, we discovered that he had only recently aged out of the foster-care system. He now lives in an apartment near our church and is job-hunting. And, oh, the stories he could tell about his experiences—some good and many of them just heart-breaking and sad.

I left the coffee hour grateful for the opportunity to get to know this young man just a bit and to learn more about a way of life with which I'm not very familiar. All I know about the foster-care system is what I've read. And I'm sure what he told at the table is only the tip of the iceberg. But it raised my awareness significantly.

What might provide a learning opportunity for you today? Stay awake and aware so you don't miss a chance for growth, increased compassion and wisdom.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Mind your boundaries

A client recently told me about difficulties with a person in her life who has real control issues. My client said she was trying to set boundaries but the other person wasn't respecting her boundaries.

That often happens. The boundaries we set are for us—it's to remind ourselves of what we will and will not accept in terms of the behavior of others. If others do not respect those boundaries, it's up to us to follow through on whatever we've decided we will do when others cross the lines we've set. For example, you might decide that you don't want anyone to yell at you; it's too upsetting for you. Others will need to speak in a moderate tone of voice, or you will leave the room. If it continues, you may even decide to leave the house or building—or even to leave the relationship. That's completely your decision—and you need to let offending people know this is your boundary.

Your action depends on how much a particular behavior upsets you. You get to set your own boundaries. They are not to punish others. They are simply your own rules for what you will do when someone crosses a boundary. If you don't follow through, of course, people won't respect your boundaries.

As I told my client, "You're only responsible for the effort, not the outcome." In other words, it's up to her to set and maintain her boundaries. If the other person doesn't respect them, that's not my client's responsibility. She isn't responsible for the outcome. But stating her boundaries and sticking to them is her responsibility.

If you have questions with boundaries or problems with maintaining them, I invite you to contact me for a complimentary strategy session. It's an important part of our life together in community.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Just this moment

I must confess that I don't always do this myself. But I'd surely like to try. And that's why I like to read books by inspirational writers. They spur me to become my better self.

Anyway, here's what suggested the above paragraph: "...ever since my cancer experience, I enter every meeting with another being saying to myself, 'If I only have this time on Earth with this person, if I may never see them again, what is it I want or need to ask, to know? What is it I want or need to say?' I find I come upon others now as if I have just crossed a desert and each of them is an oasis." This from author and poet Mark Nepo, whose writings always make me think.

Isn't that a lovely image? Each person as an oasis. Each experience as an opportunity.

I don't know about you, but I tend to live more as though I have endless time to do and say what I want. But I don't know that I have more time. I may have just this current moment. What do I want to ask? To say? How can I make every moment count? Can I spend my time with others wisely? Can I also do a better job of listening to them?

I take this as an invitation, and I'm going to live with these questions and this idea to see whether I can see others as an oasis, too. It's all about my attitude.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

You choose

Have you ever noticed how your mood can shift when you're around children playing and giggling? Or when you're hanging out with happy and optimistic friends?

An article by journalist Bhava Ram cites a study by the British Medical Journal in conjunction with scientists from Harvard University and UC San Diego that shows that happiness spreads through social networks. The study showed that knowing someone who's happy makes you 15.3 percent more likely to be happy yourself. And even a happy friend of a friend increases your chances of happiness by 9.8 percent.

Ram also cites research by the late Dr. Candace Pert, a neuroscientist and pharmacologist who identified what she called the "molecules of emotion." Ram said she "documented how our thoughts create an inner chemistry that either agitates and imbalances us, or helps us to heal and enter states of inner peace, calmness, and happiness."

That brings me back to what I often write in these blogs about making sure our environment supports our happiness and well-being. Make a choice to be positive and joyful, insofar as you are able to do so. I understand full well that clinical depression and other medical situations can change that. Live in gratitude. Surround yourself with positive people. Tune off negative radio and TV shows. Listen to inspirational music and talk shows. Expect good things and look for the miracles and beauty that always are there if we but notice them.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Work for your dreams

Since yesterday was Election Day, the saying that appeared on my calendar page a couple weeks ago is especially fitting.

William Arthur Ward, a writer of inspirational maxims, said the following: "Do more than belong: participate. Do more than care: help. Do more than believe: practice. Do more than be fair: be kind. Do more than forgive: forget. Do more than dream: work."

Taking advantage of the right and privilege of voting is right in line with that attitude. It's participating in the collective work in which we engage as a society. It requires being an informed citizen. It's more than belonging to this society. It's participating in it. Action is required.

As a woman, particularly, I don't take this right and privilege for granted. It sometimes stops me short to remember that in my own mother's lifetime, women did not have the right to vote. Because of the hard work and risk-taking of several women who marched, spoke out, withstood jail and a variety of abuses and endured other hardships, today I'm able to do more than belong to society. I am able to fully participate by voting for those whom I think will be responsible, just and wise leaders. Those women who went before me did more than dream. They put in the hard work to ensure that one day, women would have the same rights as men—and that our voices would be heard. I'm so grateful. And I, too, want to do more than just the minimum.

What about you?

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Savor this day you're given

I am so enjoying fall this year. The trees dressed out in brilliant and stunning color. The lawns blanketed with crunchy and colorful leaves. Crisp and fresh air. No mosquitoes. Sunny days.

I don't much like what I know will follow. I'm really not a winter person. When I was younger and my sons were smaller, we liked to go sledding, cross-country skiing and do other outdoor activities. I don't do that anymore. I'm not sure why, but I just don't.

So these days I'm trying hard to focus on each day—not on what's around the corner. I want to savor what is here right now and not cloud this time by unhappy thoughts of snowy roads, ice build-up on my roof, canceled dinners because of weather and more. No, I don't want to go there.

It's part of keeping awake and aware, isn't it? I want to sustain my awareness of what's in front of me right now. Don't let tomorrow steal the happiness and joy today can bring.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Obstacles & opportunities

I've said before that how we see things determines how far we can go in life. It makes a huge difference in how much joy, serenity and peace we feel, too.

Educator and author Marsha Sinetar puts it this way, "Life's ups and downs provide windows of opportunity to determine your values and goals. Think of using all obstacles as stepping stones." It's true. All those obstacles and opportunities mold and shape us, determining goals and values.

"Windows of opportunity." What a good description for the ebb and flow of life. I've heard it said that we wouldn't know the beauty of mountains if we never spent time in the valleys.

Sometimes it's important to just keep our seat belts fastened for this roller-coaster ride we call life. We can't know what's ahead. And it's far easier for us if we are able to accept the ebb and flow rather than fighting obstacles and missing windows of opportunity.

What might change in your life if you saw obstacles as stepping stones? Might it have made a difference in some past event? Do you think it's possible to begin seeing them that way now? What one small step could you take to help you see a current obstacle as an opportunity?

Friday, October 31, 2014

What masks do you wear?

It's Halloween today. Time for all the little ghosts and goblins to come knocking on your door. Often we know who's behind the little masks and costumes. But sometimes we get fooled.

It's a good time to think about our own masks.

We all learn from a very young age to cover up some of who we are and what we feel. We just feel safer that way. Sometimes we even grow up in families where our very survival depends on not showing what we think or feel, on not showing who we really are.

There comes a stage in life, however, when we realize that our masks hold us back. We don't feel real. We don't feel authentic. We want people to know us more fully—at least some of the people near and dear to us. It will always be true that we'll reveal more of our selves to some people than to others and that we'll always reserve some form of mask for certain people in our lives. But by and large, we'll feel better about ourselves and about life if we can shed some of those masks. Perhaps we can put on a much lighter, smaller one for those from whom we need some protection?

Little by little, as we shed more of those heavy masks, we begin to feel far more comfortable in our own skin. We trust that who and what we are is really OK. We believe that we can be loved for who we are—not for who we'd like to be.

Today is a good time to check out your masks. Anything need shedding?

Thursday, October 30, 2014

'I don't understand'

Last week I spent time reflecting on something I read in the Mark Nepo book I mention often, The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have. So often Nepo will turn a thought on its head or say it in a completely new way so I hear it as if for the first time.

First Nepo quoted Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, author and peace activist, who said, "If you tell me you already understand, I feel a little pessimistic. If you say you do not understand, I feel more optimistic."

And as Nepo said, "... there is no real bond with others until we share the evidence of who we are and not just our conclusions." Oh, yes.

As one who grew up thinking it was important to have answers, I always need to hear this. It's OK to not understand. In fact, it's normal. I can't know everything. You can't know everything. It's part of being human. It's being honest and vulnerable to admit we don't know. When I can admit that I don't know or don't understand, when I can ask you questions about how you see things and when I can avoid just giving conclusions, you and I can have a real conversation. We can have a give-and-take that will likely lead to more authenticity for us both.

I think I'll practice saying, "I don't understand."

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

When happy doesn't work

I've written several blogs on the topic of joy—and on the idea of keeping a positive rather than a negative attitude. I know how much better I feel when I see the glass half-full and when I keep a grateful and joyful heart.

It's important to say here, however, that I also firmly believe in being with whatever is real and true for you in your life at the time. If you find yourself in a bad place because of life events or because of depression or for any other reason, it's not helpful to stuff those feelings down and try to put on a happy face. At that point, accepting where you're really at is more honest and authentic. And in the end, that will get you where you need to go. Sometimes the idea of faking it until you make it doesn't work.

I have spent time in those dark places, those wilderness sites, before. That's the time to reach out for help. It's not the time to act as though everything's cool. It's definitely not. Do what you need to do to address the issues before you. And do what you need to do so you feel better. But don't simply put your mask back on and go on as though you're just fine when you're really not. It's OK to feel the way you do. It really is. And it's more than OK to ask for help. From friends, family, a counselor or a coach. Get the help you need—and perhaps the glass will be half-full once again.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

3 ways to boost joy

Want to ramp up your joy and pleasure quotient a bit?

Sometimes we're down in the dumps because difficult things have happened to us, and we're worn out dealing with them. Sometimes we experience depression and need help. Other times, we've just stopped noticing all the good things that really are there all the time. That's when we can use a little jump-start.

First, when you awaken in the morning, try spending those first few moments thinking about what you most look forward to that day. Derive the pleasure of anticipation, which many times is 90 percent of the joy anyway. This will awaken your senses to other pleasures that day. You'll be watching for things. Expecting them. My guess is that you'll notice far more than you usually do. At night, too, it's good to review the day to remember all the joys.

Second, pay attention to your senses. Many of us have gotten pretty good at ignoring the signals our various senses are sending us. When you eat food, really focus on the taste of each thing—even if only for one minute. Feel the texture of your clothing or that soft blanket or coat. See how pleasant that feels. Smell the clean, fresh fall air. Or literally stop to smell the roses—or whatever flowers are in your environment.

Third, knowing that we all rush through our days with little awareness much of the time, put post-it notes around your home or office to remind you of something pleasurable. Or check your phone's wallpaper if you have a photo there of someone you love. It will remind you of good things in your life, and most likely it will spur you to look around for other good things. Do whatever will serve as a reminder to you.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Technology & patience

Most of us have a love-hate relationship with technology and all our devices. Labor saving? Sometimes. Helpful? Yes, when they work. But when they don't, we end up spending more time looking for fixes than we generally have to spare. And there are other issues, too.

Last week, however, I heard an interesting twist on all that. A journalist and mother was interviewed on how the iPhone personal assistant Siri was helping her autistic son. Two fathers of sons with Asperger's syndrome also weighed in, agreeing with the mother. Her claim is that because Siri cannot understand questions or commands unless the phone user speaks clearly, her son is learning to be more careful with pronunciation. He's learning to go to Siri to ask questions about topics in which he's interested. All three parents said that it helps their children that Siri isn't judgmental when she continues to ask for clarity. And she is far more patient than these parents feel they are with their children's questions.

This gave me a whole new appreciation for Siri, who often drives me crazy when she reacts to a request with what I consider an off-the-wall response. It also reminded me of the importance of two things in human interactions: patience and non-judgment. I don't know about you, but I continue to work on those two. Because I am a passionate person and get jazzed (or upset) about things, I have to hold back sometimes on what I think about an idea or an outcome. These days, my mantra has been "Non-attachment to outcomes." Sometimes it's important to be invested in an outcome or even in a direction. Many times, it's not. I want to let go and let life flow more easily.

Who knew? Sometimes we can even learn from our devices.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Fun & function

Is there any law that says we can't have fun while waiting at a traffic light for the signal to turn green so we can cross the street? Apparently, someone thought it would be fun to design such a signal. It combines fun and function. I found a YouTube video of it.

So some person created a traffic signal with a dancing figure that has lots of moves to show you while you wait for the light to turn green. Not only does the signal encourage people to dance on the sidewalk in sheer joy while they wait, but the signal has been shown to be more effective—81 percent more people stopped at the signal where this was tested. So, let's see: people happily dancing on the sidewalk and most likely spreading joy during the rest of their day OR people crabbily waiting for the signal to turn, or worse yet, dashing across the street in front of fast-moving cars? Hmm, that's a no-brainer.

So, are there ways we can make ordinary, everyday—and sometimes irritating—tasks more fun? We can combine fun and function. I know women who dance in their kitchens while they're preparing meals. Good exercise. Good fun. And the meals get done. They may even taste better because they're made with more love and more joy!

How can you add some fun into your daily tasks today? Go for it. There's nothing that says the mundane can't also be enjoyable.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

An unexpected gift

Everyday experiences and objects can be our teachers. Have you discovered that, too?

In August one of my out-of-town granddaughters and I enjoyed another of our annual Grandma Days. One of the many fun things we did that day was each design a glass sushi plate at a glass-fusion art studio. We had great fun selecting the various colors of glass with which to decorate our plates, scoring and cutting the glass, and then laying out the design we each created. Our inner artists came out to play that day.

We didn't get to take the plates home since the fusing had yet to be done by the studio. Recently when I visited my son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter again, I got to see the finished products and bring mine home. Olivia's plate was perfect. Mine was beautiful, too, but it had a little bump in part of the design where a tiny glass bead hadn't melted down for some reason. Everything else was fine except for that little knob of glass (really, only about 1/8 inch in diameter). It bothered me at first, and I was upset that it happened.

The more I thought about it, however, the better I felt about it. I've decided that not only will this plate remind me of the wonderful day Olivia and I spent but it will remind me of the importance of imperfection. Perfectionism is a heavy load to carry around. I know—because I did it for years. I'm trying to be OK now with being imperfect, and I'm learning about the gifts in that. I more easily take risks (reaching out to someone I might not have before, for example) because I don't have to worry so much about being perfect. I am more compassionate because I acknowledge my own flaws and am comfortable in my skin. I can better accept myself—and others.

There are many more gifts, too. If you want to read more about imperfection, I recommend research professor Brene Brown's book The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Kindness comes full circle

Don't you love how when you provide a random act of kindness, you see its ripple effect—and often it comes full circle to bring you goodness as well? It works in reverse as well, and you get a chance to do something kind for a person who helped you—or even to just pay it forward to another.

I just read about a woman who was raising four children, working and also going to college. Her life was stressful and difficult. One day a customer entered the country store where she worked, and he bought a lottery ticket. He just knew it was a winner. Sure enough, he was a $100 winner. He asked her to give him two $50 bills, and he gave her one and gave her coworker the other. The lottery winner absolutely insisted they each take the money. That money meant so much to this frazzled mother who was having a tough time financially.

As a nurse 12 years later, she walked into a patient's room—and to her surprise, discovered it was the lottery winner. She was delighted to thank him again and tell him how much that $50 had meant, and in her words, "I was deeply honored to be caring for him when he needed someone."

Stories like this are so heart-warming. Who can I reach out to today? To whom can I show kindness and love?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Together we rise

It doesn't just take a village to raise children, I believe it takes one for us as adults, too. When we support, encourage and help one another, we do so much more than we can do alone.

I recently read about women around the globe gathering to help each other, thanks to a nonprofit begun by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. Lean In Circles are established in more than 70 countries already in attempts to empower girls and women to find their voices and achieve their goals. Participants gather monthly or more often to learn, encourage and share with one another.

Last year Sandberg wrote a book titled Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead that started discussion around those issues, and now her nonprofit is helping us join hands around the world. Reportedly, there's even a circle of men in Phoenix who want to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem and their desire is to make their law firm a better place for women.

There's so much power when we join hands and when we support and encourage one another. By sharing our stories, we inspire one another, too. Where are you finding encouragement today? And where are you giving it?

Monday, October 20, 2014

One small step at a time

Last week I saw a YouTube video of a little girl taking her first steps—and eventually learning to walk. Her father shot the video as a time-lapse so it chronicled all her baby steps, from learning to stand for a few seconds to much later, walking steadily on her own. He showed lots of falls, which always are a part of learning to walk, and even a few gentle pushes by her older sister.

This video reminded me that life comprises lots of stops and starts, lots of falls and recoveries, lots of helping hands along the way, sometimes a few pushes (both good and bad), and affirmation from those who love us most. What we need to remember is that taking baby steps toward a goal or dream is the best way to get there. One small step at a time—and before you know it, you're there.

And when we fall, just like that little girl, we need to pick ourselves up and get moving again. It helps to surround yourself with positive and affirming people, too. Although life often brings us negative people who are all too ready to criticize us (and our inner critics can do enough of that on their own), it's helpful to either tune out those voices or in some cases, drop those friendships. Develop relationships with those who can affirm and support you on your journey. Learn to love that inner critic, too. If you'd like to learn more about how to deal with your inner critic, I invite you to contact me.

For today, though, think of things you want to achieve—and what baby steps you can take to get there.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Try optimism

Are you a cup half-full person? If you are, you know already the benefits of a positive attitude. You most likely feel healthier—and are healthier, too. Because you have a positive attitude about your future, you no doubt put more energy into creating it. So your satisfaction level is higher. And your stress levels are lower because you produce less cortisol, research shows.

If you are a cup half-empty person, don't despair. Suzanne Segerstrom, a professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky who has studied optimistic vs. pessimistic people, says that if you act like an optimistic person, the benefits of optimism (satisfaction, health and lower stress levels) will follow. So it's again one of those "fake it until you make it" behaviors. Try to think like an optimist would. Act as though you are one.

I like the words of poet, philosopher and theologian Khalil Gibran: "Your living is determined not so much by what life brings to you as by the attitude you bring to life; not so much by what happens to you as by the way your mind looks at what happens."

See what can happen if you try to think more like an optimist. Begin by finding at least four things each day that are blessings—at least four things for which you are grateful. Gratitude is a good start to developing a positive attitude.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Take action

In its early days, the U.S. space program was an all-male bastion. Male astronauts. Male engineers. Females were secretaries and "computresses" (operators of mechanical calculators). That was it. But after years of speaking up and speaking out, including going before Congress, finally women were allowed in the doors. They took their place as astronauts and engineers, among other things.

As I watched a PBS program the other night that chronicled those years of the space program for women, it reminded me once again: We don't get anywhere with our hope and dreams if we don't take action. We need encouragement to find our voices. Once we find our voice, feel comfortable with who we are and with our right to make choices that we want, we can join with others to create an action plan to open doors that were closed before. Or, if the doors are open, we can create our own personal action plan to reach our dreams and goals.

What dream is still unrealized in your life? Is there some passion still buried inside you? Is it time to create an action plan for yourself so you can truly soar like that beautiful butterfly you are? Go for it. If you really want it, it's worth fighting for or working for.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Enlarge your view

Rain falling by the buckets. Wet, slippery roads. Snarled traffic inching along for miles for some reason I never determined. Darkness falling rapidly. Throw in 50 miles of road construction for good (or bad) measure. Now you have a recipe for frustration and tense muscles. That's what I faced as I returned home a couple nights ago from a long weekend.

By the time I neared my house, I was so ready to be out of the car and stretch my aching arms, legs and back. But just a block from my home, traffic came to a halt and I saw several flashing lights from police cars and emergency vehicles. As I felt my stress rising even more at the thought of sitting in my car even longer and not getting home soon, it occurred to me that several people's lives may have just been profoundly changed by whatever happened just ahead of me.

I still don't know details of the accident other than that it was a head-on collision. But I can imagine. I sent up several prayers for whoever was involved as well as for the emergency responders. The whole situation gave me a different perspective. Suddenly my stress seemed insignificant. I did get home safely. Whoever was in those two cars probably had a totally different outcome, however. At the very least their cars were likely ruined or at least badly damaged. Judging from all the emergency vehicles, it must have been far worse than that.

Perspective. It's always good to keep a perspective on things, isn't it? It's easy to get caught up in the everyday drama of our lives and not get the larger view of what's happening around us. But what a difference it makes. It doesn't mean we should diminish our own stress, sadness or feelings. It just means we should enlarge our view to include people all around us and across the globe.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Soak up all the learning you can

American blues musician, singer and songwriter B. B. King said, "The beautiful thing about learning is nobody can take it away from you." Yes! It seems so obvious when you hear it. But it hasn't always been so obvious—and we don't always value learning enough.

When I came of age, I remember hearing often that if a young woman wasn't going to have a career, higher education was wasted on her. That's silly, isn't it?

Now we know that learning can make us better people—more well-rounded, insightful, happier. It helps us in whatever roles we take on, from parenting to membership in any organization to whatever job or career we might choose. Our minds are a valuable part of us, and we do well to keep them active and engaged for as long as we're able to do so. That doesn't necessarily mean we have to attend college. There are many ways to learn. Developing awareness. Reading books. Watching thoughtful movies or TV shows and discussing them with others. Auditing classes. Learning a new skill or hobby.

The idea of lifelong learning really jazzes me. In fact, when I hear one of my grandsons talk about his college courses and what he's learning, I long to be back in a college classroom myself. But there are many ways to develop our minds. And, despite the threat of dementia and Alzheimer's as we age, there are many ways to try build up our memory and retain what we've learned. Why not stop today and pay attention to this important part of your life?

Monday, October 13, 2014

What you leave behind

Anne Elizabeth Denny has a wonderful blog in which she talks about preparing for death—ours and that of those we love. Her blog is not at all a downer. She has wonderful ideas that make final times easier and smoother.

Recently she talked about the legacy we leave. I'm certain that I've blogged on that subject, perhaps long ago. But it's not a once-and-done topic. It bears thinking about. When she talks about leaving behind a legacy, she isn't referring to the financial legacy. Most of us won't have millions to leave behind for our families. She means the impact we have on the lives of others. That's what I always mean, too, when I speak or write of our legacy.

In this recent blog, Denny talked about three "priceless, extraordinary gifts" we can give:

1) The gift of you. Your time, skills and abilities are a gift to others—and your influence and encouragement are amazing gifts.

2) The gift of forgiveness. How healing it is to give and receive forgiveness. It lightens the load for everyone involved.

3) The gift of peace. When you experience a broken relationship in your life, seeking reconciliation is such a gift. To you and to the other person. As Denny says, you can foster peace, too, by withholding judgment as you listen to the views of others whose worldview may be different from yours. She also points out that when we create plans for our end-of-life journey, we promote family peace. How much easier that will make life for our loved ones.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Say it now

My father was in a hospice facility the last few days of his life. His wife of 65 years, my mother, was by his side. My two siblings and I were by his side as were my sister's husband and children and my three sons, my daughters-in-law and grandchildren. We had a few days to say goodbyes and "I love yous" and anything else we needed to say. We sang, we cried, we laughed, we read, and we prayed. We all said what a good death Dad had. We were so grateful for that time together.

We don't always have that opportunity to say those things at the time of death, however. So why not say them now when we're living and our loved ones are still alive? Don't wait. Dr. Ira Byock, an international leader in palliative care, recommends saying 11 powerful words regularly to those you love. It will bring them peace, healing and a deep feeling of being loved; and it's guaranteed to do the same for you.

Here are the simple 11 words he says are important to convey:

Please forgive me. I forgive you. Thank you. I love you.

Go ahead—start today.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Life questions & ambiguity

So many people I know are going through what can be called a time of discernment, wilderness or desert time, or any of a variety of names for those times of deep questioning and uncertainty about what's happening in your life or what should come next. Each one of us experiences such periods at various times in our life, so this is not at all unusual.

How you choose to handle that time is what can matter, however. Try to be OK with the ambiguity. Seek to befriend whatever questions arise within you. Above all, determine to not rush toward resolution and answers. It's never comfortable to be in that in-between place—but usually it's a time of real creativity, and it can be the seedbed for new dreams and possibilities. Don't try to run fast to escape the questions and uncertainty. That could just prolong the process. Spend time with the discomfort and complexities to see what might emerge.

Journal with what's coming up inside—or find someone with whom to discuss your thoughts and feelings. If you'd like some coaching around this topic, I invite you to contact me. Remember, I always offer a complimentary, no-obligation initial strategy session before any coaching agreement is entered.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Encourage those around you

Yesterday I was fortunate to be part of a group of women (and a few men) who attended a brunch that was followed by a program featuring an impersonation of Zelda Fitzgerald. These programs are regularly offered by a set of shops in a nearby suburb, and each one includes a program in which someone impersonates a historical figure. Last time we got acquainted with Benedict Arnold's wife. It's a wonderful way to learn more about historical figures as those who do these impersonations spend lots of time researching the characters they play.

One of the things I learned about Zelda was that her husband, F. Scott, was threatened by her writing talents when she became more accomplished. And he regularly used her diaries for material for his own writing! What a shame. It made me think of all those whose partners or spouses hold them back because they don't want anyone to outshine them. If those who love you aren't your cheerleaders and encouragers, who will be?

It's just a good reminder to check out my life. Am I encouraging those I love? Those around me? Do I try to control anyone else? Does anyone else try to control me or hold me down? And if so, what will I do about that? Don't accept put-downs, and don't allow the discouraging voices around you to carry the day. By the same token, become an encourager yourself.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Giving brings joy

I'm not exactly ready to think about Christmas already (even though I have actually purchased just a few gifts). I like to enjoy the season I'm in and not rush too far ahead of myself. Right now I'm enjoying fall.

However, I just read in my new issue of Weight Watchers Magazine several ideas for favorite holiday traditions of the magazine's staff. One really struck me as a wonderful idea. Here's what that staffer wrote:

"My husband and I don't buy gifts for each other (we already have too much 'stuff'!), so around mid-December we go to a department store and pay down layaways for people who've got toys on hold. We love how it makes us feel."

Isn't that a great way to "pay it forward" and to celebrate the holiday season? And this in a culture where truly there is so much "stuff" and where there's such an emphasis on spend, spend, spend and me, me, me. I'm just imagining the joy such an act brings to this couple. And it takes no imagination whatsoever to think of the joy it brings to the children who will receive these toys—and to the parents who have been saving up money little by little to give their children some Christmas joy. It's just another reminder of how much joy can be spread when we reach out to others.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Together we rise

Last week the Today Show highlighted breast cancer survivors and those currently dealing with the disease. What really struck me as I watched women share their stories in the company of others was the strength they drew from each other. I saw a real sisterhood—though they spanned the country and came from a variety of races, age groups and lifestyles.

When one woman would share her fears, her experiences and her triumphs, I could see the hope light up in the eyes of those still going through the chemo, radiation and surgeries. There were hugs, tears, words of support and encouragement for each other—and I have no doubt that for the thousands of viewers who watched the program, that hope spread even further.

We do need each other. And it's in the sharing of our stories—sharing our fears, our dreams, our hopes, our losses and our triumphs—that we help one another. It's also through that same sharing that we experience healing and confidence ourselves. Through that, we can find the strength to face what comes our way.

Sometimes our fears draw us deeply down into ourselves, and it's difficult to reach out and tell others. It's also difficult to ask for help and support. But it's good for us to do so, and it's equally good for others to be able to offer support, hope and encouragement.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Slow down. Enjoy life.

Do you often feel harried and rushed? As though your life (to say nothing of your to-do list) is out of control? Find yourself inhaling your food rather than tasting it? Even in retirement these days, people are moving so quickly from one thing to another that there's no time at all to "stop and smell the roses." Names have even been coined for this dis-ease: "hurry sickness" and "time famine" (feeling that you never have enough time).

It's so easy to get caught up in this way of living. Those still in the workforce often are expected to pick up the work of colleagues who have been let go. Those on an upward career track feel pressure to keep moving and keep impressing the decision-makers. And those who are retired certainly don't want to be seen as slackers!

Would you like to get off this treadmill-going-nowhere? Would you like time to notice the beauty around you? It's not easy to slow down your pace when you're so used to a fast one and when everyone around you is in constant motion. But it is possible. In fact, I recently learned that there's a whole movement devoted to this: the Slow Movement. It began with the Slow Food Movement, an alternative to the fast food takeover. And it now includes slow travel, slow gardening, slow living, slow sex and more. It allows time for creativity, rest, savoring relationships and experiences. It's about living mindfully—living with awareness rather than sleepwalking through life. It's about moving at the pace that's needed, neither too fast nor too slow.

What changes and choices might you make today to slow down your life?

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Anger's up and down sides

Anger is an interesting emotion, isn't it? Most of us women were raised with the idea that it's an emotion we should avoid. It surely isn't feminine to get angry. Right? (And the corollary of that was that men were told to avoid sadness and crying because that was a female thing! They were allowed anger, and we were allowed sadness and tears.) Let's examine that, though.

Emotions are emotions. Pure and simple. They come uninvited and know no gender. They aren't right or wrong. They just are. How we use emotions matters, however. And what we do with those emotions may seem to be more gender-specific, largely because of how we're taught to react or respond.

What I have discovered about anger, for instance, is that there are times I want to keep it for a while. Anger contains an enormous amount of energy. And there are times in life when you and I need that energy to get through an experience. I certainly needed it, for example, when I went through my divorce years ago. Its energy fueled me to get through lots of fear and what otherwise might have been immobilizing negative thoughts. Anger gave me the energy to get through many tough days. I needed it when I lost my job, too.

Once it's served its usefulness, however, it should be dropped. Like a hot potato. For once you've mined the gold in anger, as a friend of mine puts it, anger will reverse itself and suck energy right out of you. It will become the proverbial ball-and-chain. So pay good attention to your anger—know when you need its energy and when it begins to take away your energy.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Stay the course

Do you get discouraged easily about your dreams and goals? Do you change direction when things get tough, even to the point of letting go of your dreams and passions? If so, you may like to consider this quote by author and motivational speaker Zig Ziglar: "When obstacles arise, you change your direction to reach your goal; you do not change your decision to get there."

You don't need to see obstacles as a sign that you're pursuing the wrong dream. Obstacles happen. Period. Is the obstacle something you can surmount? Is there a work-around? Can you change direction and still keep the same goal or dream? Sometimes obstacles are merely good pause-points—times to stop and reflect on what you're doing and whether you're going about it in the best way. Often, you just need to tweak something to better suit you.

When I received my training to become a life coach, the professor asked each of us to develop a HUB statement (Hottest Undeniable Benefit) that would say who our target audience was and what we offered them. I created several drafts and finally settled on one; so did my classmates. We were told to be very specific with our target audience (not "women," for example, but more like "middle-aged women in career transition" or something similar). I started out with a different target than I now have, and it wasn't working well. That didn't mean I had to give up life coaching. It just meant I needed to do some tweaking and think more about who my gifts might best serve.  And that tweaking made a huge difference. I absolutely love what I'm doing—and the variety of clients I'm now serving.

That said, there are times in your life when an obstacle arises and a pause-point may show the need for a left turn or a total shift in what you're doing. Know the difference. Know yourself.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Let go of judgments

Have you ever engaged in the comparison game? You've compared yourself to others—and found yourself falling short? Or you've compared others to yourself—and found yourself judging them harshly?

Neither of these is helpful, is it? Each one of us is unique. There's no one else on the planet just like you. Or me. No one who looks like you. No one who has my specific personality traits. No one who has the exact combination of skills and gifts you have. And no one with my particular experiences. And no one who's gained the specific wisdom you have.

How about if we give up comparison thinking? What if we let go of judgments? How might our lives be different if we let go of such thinking? If we focus more on acceptance, gratitude and love?

I think I'll put that on the top of my to-do list every day: Focus on acceptance, gratitude and love. I know it's a tall order. But I think I'll be the better for trying. So will the world! What do you think?

Monday, September 29, 2014

'Inhabit your moments'

These days we hear so much about the importance of living in the moment. It may sound trite after a while. But that doesn't mean it's not important.

Writer Jerry Spinelli put it this way: "Live today. Not yesterday. Not tomorrow. Just today. Inhabit your moments. Don't rent them out to tomorrow."

I especially like those last two sentences. "Inhabit your moments." Inhabit means "live in or occupy." That suggests far more than our body being in the moment, doesn't it? To really occupy something means to be fully present: body, mind and spirit. And "Don't rent them out to tomorrow." Yes, indeed. Our moments aren't for rent. Not to anyone else. And not even to us for another day. 

It's not easy, however. I'll be the first to admit that. Sometimes we're caught up in regret—or even in the delicious remembering of past events. And sometimes we're caught up in worry about the future—or even in the joyful anticipation of upcoming events. That's all well and good. But if either of those steals us away from the present, we're missing out on so much of life. All we can do is our best—trying to stay awake and aware so we can savor each moment as it happens. Focus on right now. Pay attention to all your senses. Be here now.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Forgive: Lighten up

There's nothing quite like forgiveness to lighten your load. Are you carrying around something today that requires forgiveness? Perhaps it's a wrong or slight by someone else. Or maybe you need to forgive yourself.

Whatever it is, I encourage you to do everything in your power to begin the process of forgiveness. Yes, forgiveness is a process. Some people say they instantly forgive someone who hurts or harms them. More often, however, it happens incrementally. You forgive someone for the harm they did to you. Then one day your anger flashes once again as you think of that act. So you forgive them again. You do this as often—and for as long—as you need until you feel free of the weight of it all.

Forgiveness benefits your health and well-being. Typically, it doesn't change life for the person who hurt you (though there are times someone really waits for that word of forgiveness from you). It profoundly affects you, however, as you let go of a heavy load of baggage that you've been carrying around. I cannot say it any better than does Mark Nepo in The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have. He says about forgiveness: "Forgiveness has deeper rewards than excusing someone for how they have hurt us. The deeper healing comes in the exchange of our resentments for inner freedom." Ah, yes. Inner freedom.

It needs to be pointed out, too, that forgiving doesn't necessarily mean forgetting. Some acts are so hurtful and horrendous that it's not possible to forget: such things, for example, as sexual abuse or murder. Forgiving such acts may require you to seek help from a professional. If that would help, I encourage you to do so. You'll feel so much lighter, even when you just begin the forgiveness process.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Aging & limitations

Have you experienced some loss of agility, mobility or capacity as you age? If you have, and if you're like most of the rest of us, you feel a sense of loss about that.

Our hearing and eyesight decline, new aches and pains surface, we are diagnosed with one ailment or another (or perhaps several)—and sometimes, we even face serious and difficult illness. We can't move as quickly as we used to do. We awaken in the morning a little more stiff. We may even have to give up some activities we used to enjoy because our bodies just don't cooperate anymore.

While we want to take the aging process and bodily changes in stride, it's also important to take time to grieve those losses that really affect us. If you keenly feel one or more of these losses, take time to do some grief work, whatever that may look like for you. Perhaps it means some sort of ritual or talking it over with trusted friends. It may mean drawing and/or journaling about it. What will help you pay attention to your feelings and then let go? What will help you move on to embrace what you can do?

Death isn't the only loss that's worthy of grieving. Many of life's losses need attention. Certainly aging and limitations that accompany it deserve attention. Once you acknowledge the loss and grieve it, you can more easily move on to a place of hope. Then it's easier to be with what is rather than constantly living in anger, resentment, shame or fear about what was and what's ahead. What needs attention in your life today?