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!