Friday, February 28, 2014

Are you happy and content?

So today I'm off to a women's retreat, and tomorrow I'm giving a presentation at the retreat on the topic of contentment. "Explore the secret of contentment." I love women's retreats and all the good estrogenic energy I get from them!

For years I've thought about contentment and happiness. My blogs and ezines explore the topic, too. Knowing the topic could fill volumes, I worked hard to find a way to boil the ideas down to a few easy-to-remember tips.

In a nutshell, here's the bare bones of what my 45- to 50-minute presentation will say. To experience contentment and happiness in our lives, remember three "Be's."

Be authentic. That is, be who you were created to be—not what you think others expect you to be. That means you should know yourself, appreciate yourself, love yourself, forgive yourself—and live the life you have rather than worrying about the one you thought you'd have.

Be grateful. See life as a gift and do some things to open yourself to the gratitude—things such as taking time to grieve losses, both large and small; letting go of negative thoughts, outdated beliefs and old baggage; forgiving others; and celebrating successes, both large and small.

Be aware. Notice things inside and around you. Pay attention to what you allow inside you (through books, TV, friends, ads and more). Notice your emotions, particularly fear (the pay-attention emotion). Each night reflect on what went right in your day or what was life-giving in your day; that helps you be more awake and aware the next day and the next. Make conscious choices about how you respond to others and to your experiences.

What are your ideas on contentment?

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Face days in gratitude

How often do you head off into your day with the determination to embrace it for what it is? Or you jump out of bed with gratitude in your heart? Wouldn't it be a great way to live? There's no reason you and I can't at least try to have more days that start like that.

One of my sons told me about a 2013 movie he and his family had just stumbled across as they reviewed their TV listings to see what was available for rent. They really liked this movie. It was a real "upper" for everyone. Sure enough, I found it on my listings, too, and settled in to watch it a couple nights ago. I wasn't disappointed. I ended up going to bed with a smile on my face—and awoke the next morning with joy in my heart.

The movie included time travel for a father and adult son. But that really wasn't the point of the movie. The movie's real message, in addition to encouraging us all to savor relationships, is to live in the present—one day at a time—and embrace each day for what it is.

At one point the father gives the son a two-part plan to enjoy his life. Part I: Go through each day just as it plays out. That's complete with disappointments, stresses and all. Part II: Relive the day and embrace it for what it is. See the day with a positive focus. In that second frame of mind, he allows himself to really experience the joy, the giddiness, and all the feelings that come with his experiences. He ends up feeling so much more upbeat.

And in the end, the son says how much he's learning to relish every wonderful moment he has in life.

That's something I can sign on to! By the way, the movie is called About Time. I highly recommend it. Check your local library or TV listings.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Embrace changes as we age

Yesterday in my blog I mentioned Monday's Today show and the segment on "Love your selfie." The show will have a segment on that topic every day this week. Yesterday's show had more great advice.

Host Savannah Guthrie talked with Jacqueline Bisset and Jane Seymour about aging—and they all agreed that we are happiest when we embrace it all, the wrinkles, body changes and all. Avoid Botox and surgery to change appearance, they advised. In addition, they pointed out that we look younger when we smile. So happiness is a great beauty regimen! So is living in the present.

But here's the line I won't forget: "Forgiveness is better than any beauty cream!"

Wow! Isn't that the truth? Carrying around the old hurts and baggage when you and I are unable to forgive another just takes immense energy. It robs us of joy—and the load of it all can really age us. Their advice: Forgive yourself and others.

These are all good things, and there's really nothing I can add to what they said.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

'Love your selfie'

Yesterday's Today show had a segment on "Love your selfie." Each of the show's hosts talked about things they hadn't liked about themselves and briefly described their journey to either "deal with it or get over it," as Matt Lauer put it. The point of this segment was to invite each of us who viewed the show to better accept and love ourselves.

Do each of us have things about ourselves that we'd rather not have? Of course. Perhaps we're not happy about our weight or our shape or our height (or lack of it). Or we wish we were prettier or smarter or had better teeth or whatever else. As Lauer said, if you want to do something to change that, do so. If not, get over it and accept it. That may sound harsh. But he makes a good point—and the other show hosts did as well. Each one talked about true beauty as being inside—"what's behind the eyes," as Savannah Guthrie put it.

What's really beautiful is to see people who accept themselves, who love themselves—and who as a result, love others and enjoy life, meeting it passionately and with generous and open hearts.

When I ask people to list what they like about themselves, I get a deer-in-the-headlights look and few people start writing! However, when I ask them to write down what they don't like, hands start moving immediately; and the list gets built quickly. Why do we do that? We are so hard on ourselves.

What are two things you can do today to "love your selfie"? Ready to start? Or if you have started, are you ready to up the ante just a bit? Try it today. I guarantee you'll feel better. You get more joy from being kind to yourself and loving yourself than ever you do by beating up on yourself.

Monday, February 24, 2014

How may I serve you?

A few months ago I attended a wedding in which the bride and groom sang a song to each other. It was beautiful and so meaningful. It's called "The Servant Song." While the idea of being a servant has some negative connotations, in this song it contains a mutuality that I think is meaningful for any close relationship.

The first and last verse are the same: "Will you let me be your servant, let me be as Christ to you? Pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant too." The other verses describe the ways in which the two people will serve each other. For example, verse 4 says, "I will weep when you are weeping; when you laugh, I'll laugh with you. I will share your joy and sorrow till we've seen this journey through."

Isn't that beautiful? If you look on YouTube, you can hear it sung as well. The link I provided above is for the lyrics.

This song reminds me that there can be a difference between serving someone and helping someone. Serving, when done in the way implied in this song, is meeting someone toe-to-toe and with a mutual concern for one another. Helping can often imply a relationship of one-up and one-down, of one broken and the other as fixer, of inequality. Perhaps that's splitting hairs. But it does bear thinking about the differences when you and I set about to relate to others.

If I want to truly serve others with my gifts, it's not my strength that allows for the most effective service. It's really my vulnerability that reaches out to touch those lives who have touched mine. It's when I am as real as I can be, with my weaknesses and my strengths, that I best serve and touch the lives of others. I serve best when I share all of myself with another—not when I seek our brokenness and ride in as savior on a white horse!

What do you think about this? Is there a difference?

Friday, February 21, 2014

Care & feeding for mind & spirit

You can hardly pick up a magazine these days without seeing at least one article on the importance of healthy eating. Perhaps it's a response to the increase in obesity that we're told plagues our country.

I don't dispute the importance of watching what we put into our bodies. I have dramatically changed how and what I eat over the years, and I feel better as a result. It is important for our health and well-being.

What I also think needs some attention these days is what we feed our minds and spirits. Many of my clients want to know what they can do to stay positive amid all the negativity that surrounds them, from workplaces, the media and also from friends and acquaintances. It's not easy to stay positive and grateful in the face of all the bad news, bad attitudes and fear, is it?

We aren't helpless in the face of it all, however. We can make choices about what things we let inside our minds. What TV shows are you watching? What books are you reading? Magazines and newspapers? What's the focus? Are these things uplifting, or do they drag you down even further than any life experiences you might face?

What people are you hanging out with? Are they negative all the time? Or are they a healthy balance of positive and negative? We do have to be real about what's happening in our lives and can't possibly be upbeat and happy every minute of every day. Pollyanna isn't exactly the model. But we can choose gratitude and positive living more often than not. We can choose what messages we listen to and what voices we hear.

Check it out today—and make choices that are good for you. Remember, self-care when it comes to your feelings and your thoughts is as important as caring for your body.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Move away from "shoulds"

Do you "should" on yourself? Years and years ago my sister and I attended a conference where we first heard that term. The presenter encouraged us to stop "shoulding" on ourselves. This may hit us all where we live. I don't know. I know it really resonated with me.

How often do we do things because we think we should? Or think about things a certain way because that's how mature people should think of them? Or give up dreams we really would love to have pursued because we really should be more practical?

Perhaps it's time to follow your own passions, to choose your own path, to listen to your own life to see what's real and what's important to you rather than what you think you should do. Perhaps it's time to be authentic—to wake up to what's true for you.

I like how Jan Phillips speaks of this in her book No Ordinary Time: The Rise of Spiritual Intelligence and Evolutionary Creativity. She says, "Waking up is a process of finding ourselves, listening to ourselves, our thoughts, our bodies. ... We've been so conditioned to how we 'should' feel and act, that it's hard to separate what we 'should' be feeling from what we actually do feel. Waking up is the first step in turning that around. ... To be awake is to be constantly rearranging our inner attitudes, shape-shifting our thoughts as we become mindful of their power."

Develop awareness first of all—what are your thoughts, feelings, values, attitudes? Are they really yours? Or are they the result of shoulds? Once you're aware, you can make choices that are right for you. It's your choice.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

How like a rose we are

Many of the inspirational writers whose work I count on to keep me positive speak of being "opened up" by life experiences and by life itself. More and more I have come to resonate with that image.

What comes to mind for me is a flower—and because I enjoy roses so much, I tend to picture a rose bud. I really love roses when the bud has just begun to open and show a few of its petals but hasn't yet completely spread itself. I know the point is to fully open itself. When it's completely open and the petals are stretching far away from the center, I know that it won't be long and the petals will fall. That has a beauty all its own. But that signals the end of that flower. How sad it is, though, when a rose bud begins to open and then gets stuck in the process, dying before ever it was able to fully open and show its true beauty.

Is that not a metaphor for us? When we allow life to open us up, to live awake and aware, to fully experience all that is out there for us—the joy and the pain of it all—we come to our full beauty. That is life as it's meant to be lived. But when we stay tightly closed, rigidly refusing to feel all of what comes to us, not allowing life's lessons to get inside us and change and transform us, our full beauty cannot be seen or known. And sometimes we die before we ever really lived. How sad.

What would it take for you to feel that you're really alive and aware? To be opened up by all of life's experiences? There's a depth and beauty within you that needs expression. Please contact me if you would like to explore this for your life.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Toward healthy living

Are you in a workplace (or any other setting) where you feel completely devalued and unappreciated? From conversations with friends and acquaintances and from my work with coaching clients, I would say there's a lot of that going around these days. Sad but true! And so unhealthy!

If you cannot leave that workplace right now, you do have some choices to make. Can you at least find a way to keep the effects of the negativity and the toxins from getting to you? Can you find a way to deflect as much of it as possible? Your attitude and actions can make a difference. If you readily accept the negative messages about yourself that you're getting in that workplace, the damage will be done. If, however, you continue to believe in yourself and in your talents and abilities, far less damage will be done.

A friend of mine told me to always remember to wear my imaginary hardhat, flak jacket and invisible shield to work when I was in a workplace with large amounts of negative energy. Although her advice sometimes made me laugh, I followed it and was glad I did. It helped to imagine all the negative comments—or lack of any comments and feedback—just bouncing right off my gear!

I also did as many things as I could to nurture and feed my spirit so I could withstand the toxins of the situation. If you are experiencing that now, make as many choices as you can that are life-giving and nurturing to you. And then decide what your long-range plan will be. Can you take action to leave that workplace or that relationship? If so, create the steps to get you to that place. Imagine the life and work you really want—and then create a plan to draw that toward yourself. And in the meantime, do all the self-care you can to stay positive and healthy.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Numbing our feelings

Most of us have times that we numb our feelings. Often, we aren't even aware that what we're doing is numbing. Some people use alcohol or drugs. Some use TV. Others go shopping. For still others, spending time on the internet can provide that numbing effect.

Years ago when I attended Weight Watchers for the first time (this may be my third and, I hope, final time because I want to stick with it this time!), I recall a slogan our leader used often: "Feel your feelings; don't feed your feelings." That one hit me right where I live because food is my numbing device of choice. Not that I like having chosen it, mind you. But it appears that it's what I grew up doing—turning to food for comfort whenever I felt down. Now that I think about it, I turned to it when I celebrated, too!

Now I realize: When I numb and block my bad feelings, I'm also numbing my good ones. I would much rather stay awake and aware. I'd rather be conscious of what's going on in and around me. Yes, it can be painful at times to be conscious, to really feel what's happening. But at this stage of life, I know I can handle it ... with the help of family and friends, with strength from God and with the use of all the resources I've learned through the years. And when I allow myself to feel the hurt and pain, I'm also so much more open to all the good things. I can feel the joy and notice the gifts and blessings. I can savor the beautiful, warm sunshine streaming in my windows—even with the sub-zero temps outside. I can share the exuberance of my young grandchildren as they learn new skills. I'm present to it all—when I can be aware of it and not succumb to my numbing tactics.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Valentine's Day: Not just for couples

Valentine's Day is a good time to think about what it means to love yourself. What, you say, love myself? Isn't that selfish and narcissistic?

No, actually, it isn't. In fact, you cannot love others fully if you do not first love yourself. When you love yourself, your heart is so much more compassionate, open and generous-hearted toward everyone else. Think about it.

I've lived on my own for well over two decades. So I've spent many a Valentine's Day without being partnered up. If you find yourself on your own this Valentine's Day, here are some suggestions so you don't have to spend it having a Pity Party:

• Buy yourself a bunch of your favorite flowers, set out your nicest dishes and cook your favorite meal—or better yet, get your favorite take-out and eat it on your china. Oh, and don't forget the candles. Play your favorite CD while you're at it.
• Watch a movie you've long wanted to see. Enjoy your favorite snack with it.
• Create Valentine's Day baskets for people in your life who are experiencing a rough time of it right now. See how great that makes you feel.
• Pay for someone else's coffee at Starbuck's today and enjoy the smile you're putting on someone else's face.
• Get together with other singles and plan a fun evening.
• Journal about all the positives in your single life. Rejoice in its freedom.
• Write yourself a love note and list all the wonderful assets you've been given.

There's no reason this day that seems just for lovers needs to exclude anyone. Claim it and make it into a special day in your own unique way!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Are you happy and content?

What does contentment look like to you? Does it mean you're happy all the time? Does it mean you never long for a new job, newer car or replacement living room furniture?

Or is it more about having an attitude of abundance rather than of scarcity? Of knowing that what you have truly is enough—and that you are enough to handle what comes your way?

I heard a definition of joy that still resonates: "In times of sorrow, joy is a seed of hope. In times of loneliness, joy is a single ray of light. In times of success, joy is an avalanche of flowers, giggles, songs and hugs. Its value is the same on the mountaintop or at the depth of the canyon."

I think contentment must be similar. Sometimes it's the size of a seed or as narrow as a single ray of light. But it's still there. Other times it's an avalanche. Either way, its value is the same.

I see contentment as having a sense of abundance no matter what my income level and the size of my home. I see it as gratitude for all the blessings I do have. Having a feeling of contentment allows me to say, "I have enough." Would I have wished for more? Perhaps. Could I do with less? Certainly. Do I enjoy many blessings? Definitely.

Contentment doesn't mean I'm thankful for the tough times—the losses and hurts I've experienced. It does mean, however, that I can be thankful in the tough times as well as the good ones. And it surely doesn't mean I'm a perky and bubbly version of happy all the time. I can be grateful, content and at peace even when my life doesn't go the way I'd planned. That means I can enjoy the life I have rather than always longing for the one I thought I'd have!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Pick yourself up, dust yourself off

Have you ever had so many things go wrong in your life that you thought there was no way your life story would ever change? There seemed to be no end to good things turning sour? It can happen to any of us.

I know a woman who experienced that for more than a year. Her story included disrespectful bosses, two job losses in a short time, relationship disappointments, family dysfunction making her life miserable and so much more.  Some days she was so discouraged—and it all brought her to tears.

However, she's the kind of woman who not only survives, she finds a way to thrive—like the lone flower that pokes its head out through the rock and blooms. So somehow through all the clouds and gloom, she kept on keeping on. She prayed. She kept connections open with those friends on whom she could count for support. She made use of resources such as positive affirmations and mantras to keep her thoughts as forward-looking and positive as she could. And she kept reaching out to others who needed care, love and support, too. She's the type of person who is fed by helping others.

She has now landed a job that seems to fit with her gifts—and is reframing as many of the other negatives in her life as she can. She's shaking off what cannot be changed and instead, changing her response and her attitude toward those things. And she's choosing to stay positive about life even though not everything is just as she'd hoped.

It's another reminder to me of the value of choosing hope, choosing to stay positive. It's a reminder, too, of the truth of the Jerome Kern lyrics, "Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again." Life is so much better when we do that than when we wallow in our negativity. What's your choice today?

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Pointing fingers: Pointless?

Several of my friends and many of my clients tell me about their workplace experiences of being  disrespected and devalued. Or worse. Far too many supervisors and employers treat their most valuable resource—their employees—in a dismissive and at times, abusive, manner.

I have experienced this myself in some workplaces. Still, it always stops me in my tracks when I hear this. I wonder how this can happen. Even if the employer or supervisor were being purely selfish and wanting to look good or wishing to squeeze the last drop of work out of an employee, wouldn't they want to give that person all the tools, resources and encouragement they could to enhance productivity? It just seems so short-sighted, to say nothing of the cruelty and lack of compassion it demonstrates.

But when I hear these stories, I also have to look at my own life. How do I treat those whom I profess to love? How do I treat people around me? Those who perform services for me? Those I meet on streets and stores?

Do I treat them with respect? Compassion? When my "Hi" or my smile meets with a sullen look, a grunt or no response at all, does it occur to me that this person may well be having a very bad day—or week or year? Do I respond with compassion and understanding? I have a choice—in all my relationships and interactions.

I'm reminded of something I heard years ago: When you point a finger at someone else, you have several pointing back at you. Time to look in the mirror. What can I do to show understanding and respect today? How about you?

Monday, February 10, 2014

'Bless one life at a time'

I remember a time in my life when I worked so hard to change the world. I regularly took on struggles that often left me stressed and disappointed in outcomes. I have always cared about justice and about making the world a better place for everyone. So it's been tough for me to resist getting on soapboxes or taking up causes!

At this stage of my life, however, and particularly as I coach clients, I see that real change comes about when each of us catches a vision of what we want and need to do to change ourselves. It happens when we really touch those whose lives touch our own. I don't decide what change a client needs. I help her see for herself what she needs and what she must do to create the action plan to get there.

I just read something the other day that resonated deeply with me. I discovered it in Rachel Naomi Remen's book My Grandfather's Blessings as she told a story about another woman: "With tears in her eyes Harriet told me that she had somehow forgotten that every phone call, every letter, every form that she fills out matters. 'I was so caught up in the insanities of the system that I did not remember that my work is not about changing a world I cannot change. It's about touching the lives that touch mine in a way that makes a difference. I used to do this in one way; now I do it in another. But I am touching those lives just the same.'"

Then Remen added, "When it comes down to it, no matter how great or how small the need, we can only bless one life at a time."

I don't know about you, but I need to keep hearing that. I can't change the world. I can't change anyone else or engage in their transformation. But I can "bless one life at a time." That is enough. 

Friday, February 7, 2014

Love: 'weapon of the future'

I'm always so aware that when I'm really hurting, I am more susceptible to hurting others. So when I meet someone who seems especially angry or sad, I try to remember that and offer a smile, a kind word, an open door or whatever I can.

I saw this posted on Facebook the other day and just have to say Amen to it! It said:

"Hurt people hurt people. That's how pain patterns get passed on, generation after generation after generation. Break the chain today. Meet anger with sympathy, contempt with compassion, cruelty with kindness. Greet grimaces with smiles. Forgive and forget about finding fault. Love is the weapon of the future." The saying is credited to author Yehuda Berg, co-founder of the Kabbalah Center.

This is all easier said than done. But it's so worth doing. And it can make a difference—if not immediately to the other person, then to you.

And love—that has far more power than any anger, hatred or violence ever does for change and transformation. Let's add some more to the world today!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Humor helps

I am really grateful for my sense of humor. It has helped me through many a difficult time. I've often said I need two things to get me through this life: my faith and a good sense of humor.

Humor has helped me handle stress better. Laughter is healing, and we're told it keeps us healthier when we do it regularly. I'm all for that! Humor can help us keep a perspective about life and its challenges. It can defuse tension and anger. It can assist us in staying grateful and positive.

I always credited my father for my sense of humor. And, indeed, he had a totally engaging sense of humor and loved to make people laugh and enjoy life. Some of my favorite memories of him are around mischievous, funny things he did or said.

So imagine my surprise after he died to find my mother's much quieter, more reserved sense of humor grow and blossom. She had often yielded the floor to him as a teller of jokes and mischief maker! My siblings and I didn't really notice her good sense of humor until Dad was gone. But there it was—in a different form and style from Dad's. But humor nevertheless. That Dad was more extrovert to Mom's introvert probably made his humor more noticeable. Now I thank them both for their legacy (and a sense of humor is only one small part of that).

In addition to my gratitude for that funny bone I inherited, the experience also makes me even more aware of people whose gifts are quieter and less "out there" than those of others. They're still important gifts, and the world needs all our gifts. I try now to be more conscious of the variety of ways people's talents and gifts are expressed and lived out.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Letting in the light

Have you ever had something so momentous happen to you and felt so broken and hurt that you couldn't see any light at all? Me too. Most of us, if we've lived any number of years at all, have experienced illness, loss, death of loved ones, divorce, job loss and any number of other things that can take us down. Way down.

One thing I have noticed when I experience such pain, however, is that it can provide a time for others to reach into my life and help me. It's often a time when we are totally reliant on the love and compassion of others. And if we believe in God or a Higher Power, it's a time when we more easily let go of our illusion of control and let God help us as well.

I like what Canadian singer/songwriter/poet Leonard Cohen says, "There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in."

Indeed. The light gets in through the cracks in our facade—the holes and breaks in the masks we wear for protection. The light gets in when we're down to our core, to our vulnerable selves. The light gets in when we can't see any light on the inside.

Isn't that encouraging? I know I've often found out who my true friends are when I'm at a very low point and when I'm going through my toughest times. They are there, letting in light for me! What that means, too, is that when I'm in a good place inside, I can be the light-bearer and sharer to others. I just need to look around and stay aware to see the needs around me.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Wake up—to each other

If you were stopped on the street and asked to pose in an intimate position with a stranger, would you do so? Photographer Richard Renaldi has been using his camera and photography skills in New York City to bring people together in just that way—with fascinating results. By intimate, I don't mean X-rated film. I mean holding hands, hugging, standing together as if they had known each other a long time rather than just walking past on the street.

The resulting photographs reveal a genuine connection between two people who were willing to step beyond their initial comfort level. This doesn't happen with absolutely everyone he photographs but with enough of them that Renaldi has said, "Everyone seems to come away with kind of a good feeling."

People who have agreed to be subjects in Renaldi's photos have been surprised by how the experience opened them up to really seeing people they otherwise would walk right past. Several have said things such as "It was nice to feel that comfort," "I felt like it brought down a lot of barriers," or "It was a good feeling."

The success of this photographer's project makes me wonder how many of us in this country are starved for connection and for touch. It makes me aware of how much we simply walk past each other on streets, in stores and in the many public places we frequent. We don't even notice others much.

We are so connected via our devices and on social media. But are we really connected with each other? It's a good question upon which to reflect because professionals in the field of social work and psychology say that connection is one of our most basic needs. What do you think?

Monday, February 3, 2014

Good habits to learn

Weight Watchers teaches me the importance of focusing on the positive and of letting go and starting over. These are good habits to develop.

When I've gotten off plan for healthy eating one day—or even an entire weekend—I'm told by my Weight Watchers leader as well as by all the Weight Watchers materials to start over again the next day. Just get right back on plan, they say. Let go of any guilt. Don't beat myself up.

The organization also encourages us as participants to celebrate even tiny successes. Doing so keeps our focus on the positive and helps us to not focus on the one or two things we did wrong. Even the smallest success, such as resisting a huge piece of your favorite dessert at that birthday party and instead only having one small bite, deserves to be celebrated.

These are good habits for me to develop for life in general. Don't focus on where I goofed up; look instead at what I got right. In fact, celebrate when I get things right. And don't think engage in "all or nothing" thinking that says if I make a mistake, all is lost and I'm a failure. When I feel good about myself and how I'm doing, everything goes better. I'm more generous-hearted with others, too.

Whether it's sticking to an exercise plan, eating in a more healthy way, keeping a more positive attitude even during a winter that seems endless, or whatever, what can you celebrate today? And what do you need to let go? Be kind to yourself and face the day with gratitude and just see how much better you feel.