Thursday, December 31, 2015

Compassion and living fully

"Waking up this morning, I smile. Twenty-four brand new hours are before me. I vow to live fully in each moment and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion."

Vietnamese Buddhist monk and poet Thich Nhat Hanh wrote this, and I discovered it this morning in a wonderful book given to me recently by a friend. The book is Painted Prayers: Inspiration and Comfort for a Questioning World by Jody Uttal.

What a delightful way to awaken each day! Vowing to live fully and to look on others with compassion.

I plan to put this thought on my mirror. I want to think of this each day. I want to be awake and aware. What a good way to begin my new year.

How will you start yours?

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Holding gratitude and grief together

Yesterday morning I awoke with thoughts of all the people on my prayer list. Many of them are dealing with illness, death of a loved one, broken relationships and loss in a variety of forms. As I reflected on all of those people and what they face—and on what I've been hearing lately on the news—I could feel my emotions sink. Sadness and grief set in.

So I did what I often write about in these blogs: I reached into my heart for gratitude. Tricky or impossible as it sometimes seems, one really can hold all those things at one time—all the cares and concerns of family, friends and self together with gratitude for all life's blessings.

A spiritual director once told me, "Sonia, you can carry those people in your heart without carrying their concerns and issues on your back." At the time, I wondered how on earth one did that. It's not always easy. It's all about that "both/and" kind of thinking rather than the "either/or" kind. And it is possible.

So if you have a lot weighing you down these days, too, try to find a way to also hold the gratitude for the good things you have. And please contact me if you'd like to talk about this—for it's a journey about which I'm still learning, too! Perhaps we can make discoveries together.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

From the old to the new

As you think about the New Year approaching, do you make resolutions, set intentions or think about what you want it to look like? Do you reflect on the year about to end to see what learnings have come for you from the experiences you had?

I hope you take some time to celebrate what you've learned—the transformation you've seen in yourself—any growth that has occurred. Take time, too, to feel the sadness and pain of any losses that occurred throughout the year.

It's always good to start the New Year with a clean slate. Start with a heart that's open and free. Deal with the emotions that might have accumulated before they become so oversized that they hit you between the eyes or temporarily knock you flat. Emotions that we push down and don't let ourselves feel have a way of packing a bigger punch than they would if we faced them squarely at the time we first feel them.

I encourage you to take some time now at year's end to reflect—and prepare yourself for the New Year. For a good New Year!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Life as adventure

Do you see life as an adventure? Or is it more of an endurance test—and you just hope to make it to the end?

I'm hoping you see it more as an adventure. Or even something between those two options above. For what we get from life depends so much on what our attitude is toward life and all its experiences.

How's your attitude these days? Do you mostly see the glass half-full? Or half-empty?

If you're a half-empty guy or gal, would you like to change that? It may not be quite as easy as clicking your sparkly red shoes together (like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz). But it is possible to change your perspective to a more positive one—over time.

Each day, focus on what's good about the day, what's good in the various experiences you have. Focus on those things for which you're grateful. Soon enough, you'll find that you notice those things more than you notice the negatives. You'll see what you look for!

Friday, December 25, 2015

You are worthy

Merry Christmas!

This may be a happy day for you. You might be with family. Or friends.

Or it may not be a happy day. You may be alone and feeling lonely and unloved.

Whichever of those is true, know that you are OK. You really are. You are enough. You are worthy. It is so easy to define ourselves and place value on ourselves based on how others respond to us. But our worth is intrinsic. It doesn't come from the approval of others, although not having that approval can certainly hurt us deeply. The saying, "Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names can never hurt me" really isn't true. It does hurt.

But no matter what anyone else calls you, you are worthy and valuable. And whether or not they  include you in holiday plans, you are still worthy and valuable. Know it. Believe it.

If you wish to have any conversation about this, please contact me. I'm always happy to offer a free coaching strategy session.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Do what you can do

It's Christmas Eve Day, an extra special day for those of us who celebrate Christmas. I hope it's a wonderful day for you wherever you are and whatever you celebrate.

A couple days ago I read in one of my favorite day books, The Book of Awakening by 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."

In these days when we hear the phrase "Peace on earth" more often than usual, this is a good thing to hear. Perhaps in many little ways, we can bring our selves, our families, our communities, our country and our world a little closer to that peace. We can "feed each other." We can "hold each other." And we definitely can "live a life of compassion."

We cannot eliminate hunger, loneliness and pain. We cannot bring world peace. But we can do those smaller things, can't we? That's within our power.

Let's start right now. Today.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

From gratitude to action

Yesterday I finished wrapping the last of my Christmas gifts. This year I really enjoyed it. Somehow I didn't feel as rushed as I do some years. So as I wrapped each gift, I had time to think about each person, what that person meant to me, how much fun I had picking out something special for that person, the joy I thought they might feel opening this gift and so on. It was quite fun!

By the time I finished all the wrapping, I was in a wonderful state of gratitude for all the people in my life. I was also grateful that I was in a position to buy gifts for my loved ones—something I don't take for granted. I know that many individuals and families aren't able to give gifts and have nothing to put under their tree. Many don't even have a tree—or a home in which to set up a tree. So, honestly, I have so much for which to be thankful. And yesterday I let that all wash over me.

Now the next step is to think of what things I can do in 2016 to help people who don't have all the things I take so for granted. Living in gratitude is wonderful—and it really changes my perspective. Now I want to challenge myself to go beyond that great feeling—to take action that will bring changes to the lives of others who don't even have their basic needs met.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Peace on earth?

Am I the only one? I found it strange and disconcerting to have political primary debates just days before our Christmas and holiday celebrations—debates that at times became shouting matches. I know, I know, what's new?

There's plenty of fear out there already. In fact, more than perhaps at most times—given the recent events in San Bernadino and in Paris and other parts of the globe. And there's plenty of anger, given government impasse at several levels, financial insecurities and company downsizings. And, I don't know about you, but I'm trying to focus more on peace on earth and goodwill toward all right now.

So such shouting matches, name-calling and put-downs just didn't work for me. I'm typically not one to stick my head in the sand. But right now I admit I'm trying to tune out as many of those negative voices as possible. Not easy. But I keep trying.

What are you doing to bring a sense of calm and serenity to your life these days?

Monday, December 21, 2015

The warmth of a smile

I'm a firm believer in the power of gratitude to change our perspective. So when my reflexologist gave me an idea for focusing attention on gratitude, I welcomed it.

Here's the idea: Seat yourself in a comfortable position, close your eyes and take some long, slow and deep breaths. Then return your breathing to normal and pay attention to it.

Next, imagine the face of someone you love smiling at you. Feel the warmth—and feel yourself smiling back at them. Find a place in your body in need of some healing energy. As you inhale, imagine you're breathing into that area. Follow your breath with your smile. Feel the smile penetrating that area and allow tension to melt away.

Be aware of yourself as the smiler and the one receiving the smile. Alternate if you wish. When you're finished, imagine that area of your body glowing with light.

See if this doesn't spur your gratitude and a softer attitude and perspective.

Friday, December 18, 2015

The holidays aren't great for everyone

As I wrap the last of the Christmas gifts I've purchased and prepare to bake my traditional Norwegian cookies, I think of all those for whom Christmas is not a happy and peaceful time.

Some people have lost loved ones during this past year. Their Christmases will be difficult this year—and that will leave not only an empty place at the table but a hole in their hearts. Some people have no family or close friends with whom to share Christmas. Still others have family, but there's division and conflict that keeps them separated. And some have just received a devastating medical diagnosis and are still reeling from that.

Many in our country are homeless. Many have no idea from where their next meal will come.

So many situations exist to make Christmas lonely or blue for some people. Some places of worship have "Blue Christmas" services and other types of experiences to recognize those for whom the holidays are not a happy time.

I want to stay sensitive to that myself. Let's all be a little extra patient, kind and forgiving with everyone we meet these days. We don't know what these days might be like for them. A little compassion goes a long way.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Apologize & forgive

A sign hangs on the wall inside my reflexologist's therapy room: "The first to apologize is the bravest. The first to forgive is the strongest. The first to forget is the happiest."

I really like that sentiment—and I do believe that it takes a lot of courage to apologize and forgive. I also believe that it sets us free when we do so. Carrying around anger, resentments and grudges takes an enormous amount of energy. And it sucks away our energy and our happiness.

The last part of that saying, while generally true, isn't always possible. Some things in life are so huge that we can forgive them but never quite forget. I think of someone I know whose brother was brutally murdered in the prime of life. He was finally able to forgive the murderer. But forget? No, that really isn't possible. Even the act of forgiving has set my friend free, however.

Actually, this is a good time of year to think about these things—and to let go of resentments and hurts so we can enter a new year as free and clear as possible. So be brave, be strong and be happy. Forgive and let go!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Subtract—don't add

I really love being exposed to the ideas from many sources and many centuries. So much growth and discovery comes from that, at least for me. This thought comes from 13th century German theologian, philosopher and mystic Meister Eckhart: The process of enlightenment is one of subtraction, not addition.

That is, growth and transformation result more from letting go than from adding new things into our lives. Sometimes we spend immense amounts of time and energy searching for that new idea, that new practice, that perfect answer to what's troubling us—when we could better look at what needs to be shed from our lives. That shedding includes old baggage, resentments, fears, anger, limiting beliefs about ourselves and the way we see others and the world "out there" and so much more. It's good to let go of of illusions and beliefs that no longer work (or perhaps never did).

I know I talk a lot about the process of letting go. It just seems essential to authenticity—to traveling light as we age. We seem to spend much of the first half of our lives adding things on as we seek to become the best we can be. And then at a certain age, we realize that it's far more important to boil down to the core of who we truly are. It's essential to become authentic and to stay grounded in what really reflects our values and beliefs. And we realize that we've collected a lot of unnecessary baggage along the way, so it's time to do some clearing out and letting go. Time for decluttering our lives.

This could be the new math for aging: up with subtracting and down with adding.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Love what you have

Here's one of the gems I saw on Facebook: "Happiness isn't about getting what you want all the time. It's about loving what you have and being grateful for it."

What a difference. Again, it's about attitude and perspective, isn't it? Rather than always longing for more, more, more—perhaps we can stop and see all that we do have already. And be grateful for it.

No matter what sorrow and hurts we have in our lives, we always have good things, too. Blessings are tucked in there somewhere—sometimes even right inside the painful parts. For example, a friend recently told me that when she went through a jobless and serious financial hardship time recently, she was heartened and amazed by those people who came forward to support and care about her. It wasn't necessarily those she expected to be there, but that didn't matter. There were people who were there with love, open arms and hearts and also with practical help to get her through until she could get back on her feet. Pain and fear, yes. And also blessings and gifts! And she could be grateful for those.

We don't get what we want all the time. Perhaps not even much of the time. But we still have a lot. And when we focus on gratitude, our eyes and hearts are opened to see what's there.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Let go of the guilt

Do you feel guilty when you take time for yourself? When you take time to just "be"? Or time to take a nap? Or read a book—gasp, in the middle of the day?!

Most of us grew up with an extremely strong work ethic. This can be a good thing, right? We've been productive and focused for so long. It's gotten us through so much—careers, perhaps raising families, volunteer opportunities and just plain getting daily tasks done.

But does it have to be either/or? If you actually take time out to luxuriate in just being, does that mean you're a slacker? Hardly. If you take a nap, does that mean you're lazy? No.

I still deal with some guilt over these things. In my head, I know this is crazy ... and I need to let up on myself. I need to let my inner "drill sergeant" move from being boss to simply being an employee! I need to move another aspect of myself to the head of my inner table—the Sonia who isn't into either/or thinking but into both/and thinking. I can be productive AND I can take time to just "be" and to luxuriate in that. And I need to let go of the guilt that still lurks.

How about you?

Friday, December 11, 2015

It depends on my focus

While there are many irritating things about Facebook, I will confess that I'm a fan. I learn a lot on Facebook when I see the news stories some people post, I learn about what friends and family are experiencing—good and bad—and have a chance to offer support and prayers, I have connected with people from my past that I would not have without Facebook, and I am introduced to many inspirational ideas and writings.

Lately, though, I'm noticing something about my use of Facebook. As I read through my home-page postings, I see snarky comments about something a presidential candidate has said, for example, or some action or quote by a public official or someone in the news. Sometimes I "like" those comments, and sometimes I comment on them because I, too, have strong feelings about what's been posted.

On the other hand, many postings are inspirational and include quotes that focus me on gratitude and hope. I comment on those, too. Sometimes I even download those so I can remember them.

But here's what I wonder: What if I ignored the negative news and snarky postings and focused far more on the inspirational content and the positive connections on Facebook? Wouldn't I find it easier to stay in a pose of gratitude and loving-kindness? What if I focused on that and also on those opportunities to offer care and support to others and also to share my own concerns? How might my daily attitude and outlook change? I'm going to try it and see what changes for me.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

You are enough

Have you ever said (or even thought), "I'm not good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, young enough, ________(fill in the blank) enough"? It seems to be human to have such thoughts—or let's just call them what they are: fears. We fear that because we're not enough, we'll be failures. We won't be loved or accepted. We won't be successful. We won't be able to face what comes.

But the one thing I am discovering in my coaching practice is that each of us IS enough. Sometimes coaching clients want me to give them advice or answers to their life issues. But the best solutions really come from within. So instead, I ask deep questions that bring out the wisdom contained within the clients—because who knows better than we do for ourselves what will really feel right for us to do? And the feeling of confidence and "enough-ness" when you actually discover your own solution just can't be matched!

Self-discovery is hard work. But it builds our confidence and self-esteem in a way nothing else can. Just remember: You are enough. You have more abilities and strength than you know. It's enough.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Anticipation? Or dread?

Yesterday I had a brief conversation with someone who confessed that she just hates New Year's. When I asked her why, she said it was because time is just moving by way too quickly. She isn't ready for another year to soon be over and a new one to begin. She dreads the start of another new year—already.

How do you feel about that? Do you look forward to the new year and all its possibilities? Do you anticipate what surprises it might contain for you? Or do you dread saying "goodbye" to yet another year?

I know the days, weeks, months and years just roll by in a blur. I thought it was true for me because of my age. But this woman was young and still feels time moves too quickly.

The dread was real for this woman. I understand what she's saying. I sometimes wish I could slow down time, but it doesn't work that way. So I really try to make the most of each day. Do I always remember to savor my moments? No, of course not. But I try as best I can.

Look around you today. Take it all in. Are there things you can savor and enjoy more fully?

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Come alive

I just love this quote from African American author, theologian and civil rights leader, Howard Thurman: "Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive."

Isn't that wonderful? Think of those people you know—the ones to whom you're likely most drawn—who are filled with energy, passion and positivity. Don't you want to spend more time with people like that? Aren't you inspired and energized when you're with them?

When we spend time with complainers and people who sleepwalk through life, we go away drained of our energy. And it's so easy to get dragged down into that pit ourselves.

Another Thurman quote that pairs well with this one is: "There is something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. It is the only true guide you will ever have. And if you cannot hear it, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls."

So be authentic. Find your passion. Do it. Don't let others pull your strings or take you where you don't want to go. Savor life. Live each day to the fullest—being who you were meant to be and doing what you love.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Go with the flow

Last week one of my inspirational readings asked me to identify the biggest obstacle in my life at present—and asked from what it was keeping me. The reading invited me to see obstacles in a new way.

First of all, I was asked to question whether what I perceive as an obstacle really is an obstacle. And second, I was invited to not expend large amounts of energy fighting or struggling against the obstacle. Rather, a different option might be to step aside from the obstacle and see the larger picture of where I am in the stream of life, moving with it—going with the flow.

I have to think about that one. I think I get in my own way much of the time, perhaps more than that outside forces are my obstacles. My own pattern of being strong and wearing a Wonder Woman cape gets in the way of being vulnerable. Perhaps I can find a way to lay the cape down and simply see where I go by just relaxing into life's flow, if that makes any sense. Maybe I'm struggling too hard to get this vulnerability thing right!

What's your biggest obstacle? What are you doing about it? Is there a different way to think about it? I'd love to hear your ideas on this. I'm a work in progress. Maybe you are, too. And that's OK.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Focus on hope

One of my favorite authors and workshop presenters, Paula D'Arcy, recently wrote about a visit she'd made to a local county jail where she was invited to give an inspirational talk. Before her talk, an inmate asked whether he could share his story.

The man's story was extremely moving, D'Arcy said, and he ended with a song that in her words "cut a path through the mind's usual chatter." All the inmates were on the edge of their seats, clapping and shouting encouragement to the man who shared his story. By the time D'Arcy gave her talk, everyone in the room was open and ready for a dose of hope.

The line that drew the longest applause that morning, D'Arcy said, was this: "Your pain and failures do not define you. What defines you is the spirit moving in life."

Such a message surely brought hope to those inmates. But it also can bring hope to you and to me. Our lives, too, have contained pain. Perhaps they still do. We've likely had our share of failures, too. So it's good to remember that those things do not define us.

To hear that message and remember the truth of it, however, we often need to shut out all the noise of the world around us—noises that play on our fears, on our greed, on our desire to buy more and more, and on our negative side. Tune that out. Remember you're defined by something much larger. And let hope fill your heart today.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Replacing wild oats

I often hear people over 50 say that they simply can't do the things they used to do. While that certainly can be true, it's also true that we know and do things we didn't when we were 20—and that's a good thing. It's part of the balance of life. We lose some abilities as we age, and we gain some  abilities. And surely, if we're awake and aware at all, we gain plenty of wisdom.

Yesterday I read in Sue Patton Thoele's The Woman's Book of Spirit: Meditations for the Thirsty Soul an idea that really resonated with me. She wrote, " keeping with the saying, 'Given enough time and nourishment, sage will replace wild oats in the garden of life,' midlife usually provides more opportunities for cultivating sage-filled wisdom than do the previous stages...."

Sage-filled wisdom replacing wild oats. Yes! Each stage has its necessary components for growth and for becoming who we were meant to be. What I really want to do is embrace each stage rather than looking back with regret and longing on what was. It doesn't mean my life is perfect now. But I am making choices based on life experience and gathered wisdom—mine and that I've gained from others.

What about you? Are you happy to be right where you are?

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Turn it upside down

I just love it when an aphorism can be turned upside down and surprise me with an entirely new thought. I remember when I first heard the saying, "Seeing is believing," turned upside down: "Believing is seeing." When I believe something can be true, I begin to see with new eyes.  The truth of that has stayed with me for years.

We've all heard the saying, "Bloom where you are planted." But have you ever thought about turning that upside down? "Plant where you are blooming." It's an entirely different prospect. The gifts we have—and use when we're blooming—aren't meant just for our own growth and transformation. They are meant to share.

Where are you blooming? In what areas do you shine? Perhaps you're a teacher, and your gift is helping others learn and grow. Maybe you're a writer, and words are your gift. And if you're a parent or grandparent, there are many gifts you have to offer right where you are. If you're retired, many options abound in terms of volunteering to serve—planting seeds.

Plant some seeds today—right where you are. That's where true joy is to be found.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Gratitude & health

So Thanksgiving is over. And everyone is moving on to the next holiday. For sure, the stores have moved on. Actually, they were pushing Christmas well before Thanksgiving—even before Halloween, in many cases.

But do we really have to move on from giving thanks? Isn't that something that can continue? Can't that be a regular part of our lives?

In fact, studies show that gratitude is even good for our health. One survey done by R.A. Emmons and M.E. McCullough showed that people who experience gratitude are in better physical health, sleep better and spend more time exercising. Another study showed that people with an "attitude of gratitude" had lower levels of stress hormones in their blood. And yet another one showed gratitude undoing the cardiovascular after-effects of negative emotions.

So giving thanks on an ongoing basis doesn't just make us more aware of all the good things that always are part of our lives—it is healthier for us. We can find many reasons to make gratitude a daily practice. One day a year really isn't sufficient.

Why not find a way to incorporate gratitude into your daily routine? You can find your own unique way to do so: write in a gratitude journal each morning or evening, think of five things for which you're grateful as soon as you awaken each morning, let the first red light you approach on your way to work be a cue to think of several things, or whatever creative practice you can imagine that fits with your lifestyle. Here's to your health!

Monday, November 30, 2015

Experience the full range of feelings

Nobody likes to feel pain and sadness. It goes without saying that we much prefer to experience joy and happiness.

Here's the deal, though: If you and I try to numb out the pain so we don't feel the sadness, we will also numb out the joyful parts of our lives—or at the very least, tamp them down. When we are intent on pushing down one emotion, it affects all the other emotions. It's really impossible to simply select to experience this or that emotion while shutting out others. We can try push down the sadness, but it's still there—and will either leak out in strange ways little by little or erupt in a big way some day. Emotions don't come with a control panel that allows you to select one over another.

Far better that we try to be real about all our emotions, experiencing them to the full extent. Of course, it isn't fun to feel sad. However, if we are willing to face the sadness and walk through the grief and pain, we most likely will learn some things. Perhaps we'll learn things about ourselves; for example, we might realize that we're stronger than we thought. Or we might learn who our real friends are—and be totally surprised at how wonderful it can be to be cared for by dear friends when we're going through a tough time. And, eventually, when we walk through the grief and sadness, we will come out on the other side. There will be a day again when the sky is blue and you can hear the birds sing again.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Making choices

So today is Black Friday. I don't pay any attention to it—and don't go anywhere near a store on this day. I think it would be lovely if we spent more time (perhaps the weekend?) living in that thankful state we experienced yesterday rather than rushing out to spend, spend, spend the very next day. And, actually in many cases, the consuming begins late in the day on Thanksgiving—taking retail employees away from their families.

As with so many things in life, however, this situation is nuanced and complex. I know that the extremely good deals that can be found on toys, electronics and clothes are helpful to many families who have little by way of discretionary funds for Christmas gifts. And a friend of mine told me that her son benefits greatly from the overtime pay he receives for working late in the day on Thanksgiving. (I wish it were a choice, but most employees have no choice in the matter.) So I know there's more to the story than my disgust at the marketing and consumerism I witness at this time of year.

Thanksgiving followed immediately by Black Friday (or Black Thursday Night!) is just another illustration to me of the mixed bag that is so much a part of our lives. There's a good side, and there's a bad side to so much of life. So perhaps what is called for more than anything is that we not judge each other for the choices we make. You get to decide what you do today. And I get to decide for myself. So Happy Black Friday to you!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Giving thanks—more than once a year

Happy Thanksgiving to you! It's wonderful that we stop one day a year to reflect on our gifts and blessings—and give thanks for them. Most of us have so much bounty and goodness in our lives—illness, job loss and death notwithstanding. We really do.

So perhaps this Thanksgiving Day, you and I can make a vow that we'll try to be more grateful each day. On the days when I awake with gratitude in my heart and think of even three or four things for which I'm grateful, I see what a difference it makes in my attitude the entire day. But when the first thoughts I have in the morning are complaints and grumbles, that too makes a difference—a negative difference. I set out on a completely different path than when I think of my blessings.

Sometimes I write in my Gratitude Journal. But even if I only think of the things for which I'm grateful and don't commit that to paper, I still set my feet on a positive path for the day.

Enjoy today, however you spend it—and see whether you can start all or most all of your days in a spirit of thanksgiving. And please don't beat yourself up if some days you don't remember. Just try, try again!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

What are we teaching?

We're more than a week out now from the atrocities in Paris, Beirut and Baghdad and less than that from the horror in Mali. Since those events, I've heard a good deal of rhetoric about hatred, anger and fear. I've heard a lot about retribution and vengeance as well.

So just a couple days ago I came across the lyrics from a song in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific. The song is "You've Got to Be Carefully Taught."

The lyrics include these words:
"You've got to be taught to hate and fear,
You've got to be taught from year to year.
It's got to be drummed in your dear little ear."

It might be well for each one of us to look at what we're teaching any of the young ones in our lives. And what are we passing along to other adults as well? What's our predominant attitude and view of life? Are we sharing love and peace? Or fear, anger and negativity?

I think it matters a great deal. I want to be more aware of what type of energy I'm putting out into the world and what I'm passing along to children in my life. So if you're a part of my life, feel free to call me on it if I'm teaching fear. I surely don't want to do so.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Check the inner violence

Several years ago I did some inner work with a spiritual director. I talked about how much I lived in my mind and said that I would like to get down into my heart and gut more. It's such a Western thing to live in our heads. And I grew up Lutheran, which also is marked by living in the head. All things done properly and in good order, you see! We don't tend to get emotional about our faith lives. I was beginning to realize the limits of that and wanted to make some changes.

When I said to my director that I probably needed to "blast through" to get from my head down into my heart and gut, she cringed. She thought that sounded like a violent way to make such an inner move. She was right. It really is.

Since that time I've thought a lot about the ways we might do "inner violence" to ourselves—by the words we use when we talk to ourselves, by the thoughts and images we have when we talk about changing the ways we do things (just as I had done that day) and in so many other ways.

Today is as good a time as any to think about how we treat ourselves. Are you loving and gentle with yourself just as you would be with a beloved partner, child or grandchild? Am I kind and loving when I engage in self-talk? You and I are just as deserving and in need of love and loving messages as others in our lives.

Think about it—and see whether you need to make any adjustments or changes.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Get to the core of your fears

The Roman philosopher and statesman Seneca once said, "There are more things to alarm us than to harm us, and we suffer more often in apprehension than reality."

Have you ever worried yourself sick about the possibility of something awful happening? Or one thing happens, and you're absolutely positive it will lead to a second and then a third awful thing. The dominoes are going to fall, and the result will be devastating, you are just certain of it. We all do this from time to time. It means far more suffering than is necessary. "...we suffer more often in apprehension than reality." Yes, it's true. And we're easily alarmed when, in reality, much of what we fear never will harm us or happen to us.

For that reason, it's good to examine your thoughts when such a process begins. As soon as you notice that you're building a strong case for disaster after just one small event, check your thoughts. Ask yourself what you fear most. Then ask what that would mean for your life. Why would it be so terrible? When you answer what it would mean, ask the same questions of that situation. If that thing also happened, what do you fear most as a result? Why would that be so terrible? Keep going with the questions, and you'll get to the real core of your fear. Then you can deal with the reality of your fear rather than possibilities. Try to avoid the "always," "never, and "devastating" words when you think of possibilities. That will do more to alarm you than harm you! It's all in how you view things, and your attitude and language make a difference.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Fertilizer & flowers

My former husband and I used to grow hybrid tea roses. They were simply beautiful. One of the secrets to lovely roses, we discovered, was fertilizing with aged cow manure. It seemed to make the plant hardy, and the flowers were large and long-lasting once cut.

I have often thought about how like those roses our lives are. We can take the challenging, painful and difficult parts of our lives—what we call the crap, the manure—and let that become the fertilizer that helps us grow in ways we might not have imagined.

Does that mean that when bad things happen to us, we immediately give thanks for it and start looking for ways it can be used in our lives? Probably not. We have to be real about what's happening and find ways to deal with it. And it's OK to do our share of grumbling, crying and being depressed about it. At some point, however, once we've actually gotten through it, it will be easier to see what lessons the whole experience might contain for us. How have we grown through that difficult experience? What transformation have we experienced?

Look for the fertilizer. Know that it can help you grow and bloom. Know that without fertilizer, we wouldn't have the lovely flowers we so enjoy.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Open up to others

I had planned to write on a different topic for today. But then in yesterday's inbox I discovered a beautiful message from Jennifer Louden (whose books and writings I've enjoyed for years).

In her message she spoke about not turning to despair after last week's horrific violence because she "saw people everywhere responding to the horror in their own noble way." She saw love, compassion and caring. She saw people, as she says, "with eyes wide open. Daring to see." And I thought of how true that is. We've seen it in the U.S., too, when horrible things happen: It brings out the best in many people—and they reach out to one another with compassion and caring.

Here's what she said that I found so beautiful: "You can answer to the call to be a citizen of the world. You can refuse this call—there are plenty of days I want to—but the cost of refusing is high. It means closing your heart to the wounded parts of humanity and thus the wounded parts of yourself—and so much breaks down when we do this. It means buying a story of separation. It means perhaps believing you have no voice and no ability to shape the world into a more fair and bright place, that your efforts don't matter. I don't believe that. I will never believe that."

She said that connecting with others can fuel real change. Yes, I believe that, too. And there's really nothing I can add to her wonderful words.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Transforming ourselves & the world

Media coverage continues on last week's killings in Paris. Although less attention is paid to them, Beirut and Baghdad suffered at the hands of terrorists as well. I'm finding it difficult to shake all this from my mind. And perhaps I shouldn't do so. Those most profoundly affected don't have the luxury of walking away and forgetting about it.

I had more conversations about it with friends at my book club Monday night. Those women were just as unsure as I am about next steps for us globally, as a country, as a people and individually.

I'm drawn to a quote in our church bulletin last Sunday from St. Augustine, early church father, theologian and philosopher: "Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are."

I'm not yet sure what that suggests in this case. It suggests that anger ("at the way things are") is appropriate. If that anger spurs us to look for ways to change what is, it's useful. And courage ... there's the action piece about which I spoke in yesterday's blog. Just what type of action isn't so clear to me. What can we do so that things "do not remain the way they are"?  As someone suggested last night, perhaps what we need to concentrate on is reaching these young men who are so angry that they are easily radicalized. Maybe so.

You may be asking what all this has to do with Way2Grow Coaching. I'm all about transformation, and that's what Way2Grow is about. My take is that the world badly needs some transformation right about now! What are your ideas?

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Finding a grounded place amid horror

Do you have lots of questions and few answers in response to last week's evil acts in Paris, Beirut and Baghdad? I know I do. For, sadly, it isn't just those three places that have been touched by horror lately. It's Syria and Afghanistan and Iraq and the Middle East and other places in Europe ... and our own U.S. cities.

How can we hold an awareness of all the fear that leads to anger and violence on the one hand—and on the other hand, hold out hope for love and peace to find its way into all our hearts? How do we come to grips with it all and find a grounded place to be? How do we not fall into despair? Or let fear, anger and hatred settle into our own hearts? How do we hold onto love, hope and peace?

My fiancĂ© and I had rich conversation with dear friends around these ideas last Saturday night. We talked about the importance of deep and open conversations—and not just with people with whom we always agree. We need to begin building more bridges. But we also wondered how you know when you're at the end of what conversation alone can do. Where does action come in? And what kind of action? Hatred isn't a good response to hatred. Escalation is the result of such a response. But what is a helpful response?

Let's at least get conversations started. And I'd love to hear your thoughts in the Comment Box below.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Dream big; embrace failure

American dogsled driver and explorer Norman Vaughn once said, "The only death you die is the one you die daily by not living. Dream big and dare to fail."

Read that again. Those words have huge impact. Are you dreaming big? Are you open to failure, seeing it as an opportunity to learn? Have you dreamed big? Have you experienced failure? What did you learn from it? What difference did that make in your life? What dreams do you have now?

It's so easy to "live small." To shut down our big dreams. To believe we really couldn't do what it is we'd dreamt of doing. To think we're not enough. To not believe in ourselves.

Yet how many times have we read or heard of people who overcame fears and doubts, perhaps even  failing several times, before succeeding in their plan? We have only to think of Thomas Edison, who tried and failed many, many times before his light bulb success. I have read that he and his team tested more than 3,000 designs before succeeding. He didn't see each of those attempts as failure but as learning ways that didn't work on his way to finding what would work.

Even without such big dreams as that, it's important to not be among the "walking dead"—those who are alive but mostly sleepwalk through life, not being aware of all the possibilities and blessings all around. Wake up. Dream big. Embrace failure.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Dreams & plans

Have you ever thought of the difference between dreams and dreaming or between plans and planning? At first glance, you might think they're the same.

Think about it, however. The process of dreaming means you live in hope. You're creating dreams that give purpose and meaning to your life. The dream itself, though, can become so hard and rigid as to cause great pain and disappointment if it doesn't work out exactly as you'd hoped. It's all in the expectations surrounding that dream. It's good to have dreams. It is also good to make them flexible enough that they can be reshaped. Dreams often have a way of shifting and taking new shapes. And rigid expectations can hook us and derail us.

It's the same with plans. It's a good thing to engage in planning, whether that's in your personal or professional life. But to have such a firm and rigid plan that you don't allow for life to happen can set you up for a fall. We need to allow for Plan B, C or D—sometimes even Z!

Do you see the difference? Engage the process but don't let yourself get hooked by rigid expectations. Let the process be the important thing. Stay open to surprise.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Oh, the possibilities...

One of my favorite poets and meditational writers, Mark Nepo, realized after his experiences with cancer that he approaches time with those he meets in a different way these days. Now he asks himself, "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've given a good deal of thought to his remarks because I notice that, in our busy lives, we often rush through our conversations with others with dozens of other things on our minds—often thinking ahead to the next six or eight things on our to-do list. But each exchange is important. Each bit of communication has the potential for insight, growth and deeper relationship. What might I learn if I really take time to be with the person who's right in front of me? What do I want to ask? What do I want to say?

We don't know whether we'll have tomorrow or the next day or the next. We have this moment right now. We have this person who's right in front of us now. We don't know whether we'll ever see that person again.

Such an approach is not meant to be morbid or depressing. It's meant to make the most of each moment, each exchange. It's how we truly show up in our lives. Each interaction is filled with possibilities. Show up with curiosity and openness.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Be here now

Yesterday I blogged about a Facebook post that struck me. Here's another one I saw there that resonates, too. It's titled "I Was Dying" and is attributed to that famous writer, Anonymous!

"First I was dying to finish high school and start college. And then I was dying to finish college and start working. And then I was dying to marry and have children. And then I was dying for my children to grow old enough for school so I could return to work. And then I was dying to retire. And now, I am dying ... and suddenly I realize I forgot to live."

Oh, my, talk about living in the future and forgetting to live in the present! How sad.

It's a good reminder, though, isn't it? It's easy to live in the past, going over things we didn't do and wishing we'd made different choices and taken different paths. Or it's easy to live in the future, as this writer did, always longing for that next stage of life, forgetting to enjoy what's right in front of us. It's also easy to do a bit of both—looking backward and looking forward—while ignoring the life that's right here, right now.

A lot is written these days reminding us to "Be here now." It's important to hear that message. Our lives are filled with so many opportunities and gifts, and it's easy to miss those if we're focusing on either the rear-view mirror or the road way up ahead.

What are you missing that's right in front of you? Savor it. Live it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Cut some slack

I just saw this mini-poster on Facebook: "Everyone makes mistakes in life, but that doesn't mean they have to pay for them the rest of their life. Sometimes good people make bad choices. It doesn't mean they are bad. It means they are human."

Yes, yes, yes. It just means we're human. It definitely doesn't mean people are bad when they make bad choices.

Sometimes we do make bad choices. We all do. We're not perfect. We're human. And those around us do the same. So it's important that we are patient, forbearing, forgiving and loving to others when they make mistakes—and, as we said yesterday, to ourselves when we make them as well.

It's good to examine our expectations from time to time—and do a reality check to be sure we're cutting ourselves and others slack, knowing that we're human and not perfect.

I'm a recovering perfectionist, so I need to remember this more often than most. I expect a lot of myself—and also from others. I'm trying to let that go. But I have had years of practice being a perfectionist, so I'm a work-in-progress on that count! No doubt that's why this particular poster caught my attention on Facebook.

Are you good at cutting yourself and others slack? It's not too late to start!

Monday, November 9, 2015

When you make a mistake...

What do you do when you've made a mistake? Beat yourself up with nasty internal messages? Laugh at yourself? Forgive yourself? Let it go?

It probably depends on the type of mistake you've made, right? If it's something extremely serious, it's a little tougher to laugh it off. Or let go.

However, even when we seriously mess up—and even when we unintentionally do harm to others—it is important to forgive ourselves. And to let it go.

If there's something we can do to make amends and to repair the situation, we need to do that, of course. But still, forgiveness and letting go are essential. No good comes from holding on to the mistake, chewing it over like an old bone and staying angry and unforgiving toward ourselves.

When you do make a mistake, assess the damage. See what can be done to repair the situation and any hurt feelings you have caused. Do what needs to be done. Forgive yourself (remembering that forgiveness is a process). And then let go. Move on. Learn any lessons that might be embedded in the situation.

If the situation isn't serious at all, it's good to learn to laugh at yourself, too. It can really help you move on and let go. It's healthy to not always take ourselves so seriously. Laughter really is good medicine.

Friday, November 6, 2015

We need difference

Have you ever noticed that the qualities that draw you to another person, be it your partner or a friend, can also be those traits that drive you absolutely crazy?

It's true. Opposites do attract. And it's actually a good thing they do. We don't need to hang out with clones of ourselves all the time. Difference is good.

My fiancé and I often remark that it's good we have differences. I'm a doer, and he's a thinker. Not that he doesn't "do" and I don't "think." We both do both those things! But John is more thorough than I am to think things through before acting. As for me, I'll think about something a while and then just move into action. My motto is more "Get 'er done." John's is "Let's get it right." When we go shopping, John will look at an item in several stores to really examine each product, taking his time to come to a decision. I'll look at a small sampling, make a decision and move on it. Afterward, I don't look back. But John will keep thinking about the decision well after it's made.

He is good for me. He helps me consider things in more detail than I might do. And I'm good for him. I help him move from research/thinking mode into action.

We can drive each other crazy with this, it's true. But mostly, we celebrate these differences—and laugh about them. Do you experience this in your life, too?

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Attitude can make the difference

Do you believe that attitude can affect outcomes? I have witnessed this in the lives of others, and I have experienced it in my life as well.

When I feel positive about life and project the confident, happy persona I feel inside, things go much better in situations than they do when I go into those same situations with a negative, down-in-the-mouth attitude, certain all will fail and all is doomed.

We've all heard of self-fulfilling prophecies. If we think everything will go wrong, it probably will. However, if we have an expectation of good, most likely we'll find it. Sure, there are exceptions. But, as a rule, attitude can make such a difference.

For me, it's just worth it to try keep my attitude as upbeat and positive as I can. Does that mean ignoring our feelings? No, it's important to be real about what we're feeling. But sometimes we can choose to adjust our attitude, to face our fear and do the feared thing anyway, or even to wait until we feel our confidence level rising and we're ready to face the situation from a more positive stance.

Like the Johnny Mercer song says, "Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative and latch on to the affirmative...." See what a difference it can make!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Letting go of 'stuff'

We live in such a consumer society. Ads and marketing urge us to buy more and more and more "stuff" until our closets and houses are filled to overflowing—and we even have to rent storage sheds to hold the overflow.

At the same time, there's a real movement afoot these days to declutter our homes and our lives. Perhaps that's in reaction to the ads and marketing with which we've been bombarded these past years. In any case, to me it seems a good thing to look at that with which we surround ourselves and ask whether we still want the stuff around—or whether that might be treasure for someone else.

I heard the other day about one woman who picks up each item in her house and asks, "Does this give me joy?" If it no longer gives her joy, she regifts it or she gives it to a charity that can sell it and use the money. She is letting go and clearing out so that she'll just be left with those items she really wants or needs.

I am intrigued with that question: "Does this give me joy?" And with the process, too. I regularly go through clothing and other things and give away what I don't want or need. But I haven't done as thorough a job as the woman I referenced above. The other question that occurs to me sometimes is, "How much is enough?" I really do have much, much more than enough. I don't need yet another sweater. Another pair of earrings. Another candleholder or knick-knack. Really, I don't.

What are your thoughts on all this? I'd love to hear how you handle "stuff."

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Emotions & health

Several months ago I saw the movie "Inside Out," which was an animated journey inside the mind of a young girl. Five personified emotions provided the film's interest—Joy, Anger, Disgust, Fear and Sadness—as the young girl met challenges in her life.

While billed as a children's movie (a Pixar/Walt Disney release), this really was an adult movie, too, with several levels of meaning.

What I took away most from it was how important is each one of our emotions. While each of us has a go-to emotion, one we display more than others, each emotion does have its place. We need the full range of emotions.

There are times when our anger is completely appropriate, for example, when we're faced with terrible injustice. Anger has energy to it that can carry us through a situation. Of course, the thing to know about that anger is that after a while, we reach a point where it becomes a ball-and-chain for us; and it's time to let it go. And fear? We know that can be important to alert us to possible danger ahead.

So don't be afraid of your emotions and feelings. Know there's a time and place for each one ... and that they can work together in a healthy way once you learn the role and appropriateness of each one. Notice what you're feeling and how that changes. Be aware when you're carrying anger around well beyond its usefulness, for example. Let go. Awareness of your emotional range is key. Then you can be sure to use your emotions in a healthy way.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Be peace

Yesterday I read something in a meditation book that quoted Trappist monk and writer Thomas Merton: "The frenzy of the activist neutralizes his or her work for peace."

It hit home with me. As someone who's passionate about justice, I've often been driven to push hard against the edges of what is—to challenge the way things are, to speak truth to power. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it can be a good thing.

However, Merton's caution about "frenzy" is apt. Frantically trying to put out every fire and right every wrong isn't exactly the way of peace. And sometimes ego can grab onto all those struggles as a way to be admired and revered. And that really isn't the way of peace, is it?

I'm trying at this stage of life to be a bit more calm and serene about the ways I address injustice. Mind you, I'm not saying we don't need the loud and frenzied activists. Many who were formerly marginalized and who now have rights know the power and value of those who march, take the big risks, speak out, fight the system and make change happen. As with so much of life, however, there's a balance somewhere in there. Work for peace—and somehow at the same time, be peace.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Healthy choices—it's up to you

Lots of discussion has erupted since the World Health Organization announced its findings that bacon, sausage and other processed meats cause cancer—and that red meat likely does as well. The 22-member panel of experts wasn't in total agreement. And, of course, the U.S. beef industry is preparing a response. Consumers have been arguing both sides of the coin, too.

Do you immediately change your eating or lifestyle habits based on reports and survey results? Or are you a wait-and-see type of person? Or a moderation-in-all-things person? Or do you ignore such reports altogether?

It's always fascinating to see how different personalities react to such information. I don't know that there's any right or wrong. Each one of us has to decide what, if anything, we'll do with new research findings such as this.

For me, personally, I take a moderation-in-all-things approach. I enjoy certain foods and would rather cut back on them than to cut them out altogether. That's just me. When butter was "out," I simply used less of it. Now, butter is OK and margarine isn't. For a while, we were told to cut out caffeine. I just cut back on the coffee I drank. Now coffee is good. Same with wine. And chocolate. Perhaps that's why I go with moderation.

The whole point, however, really is that you and I have choices. Whether it's diet, exercise, lifestyle, vocation, hobbies, friendships, life partners—whatever it is. You do have choices!


Thursday, October 29, 2015

Let go, walk away for a while

Do you sometimes work on a problem or issue in your life non-stop and feel as though you get nowhere? You can worry and work something to death, it seems. I've surely done that. It's frustrating.

Sometimes the best thing to do is simply let go. Shelve the whole issue for a while. Mentally lock it away in a drawer in your mind. Go on to something else, preferably something that can lead to results and a sense of accomplishment and achievement. Just walk away from the issue. Take a break. Do something physical—dance, do some yoga positions, exercise, take a walk in nature. Or do some deep breathing. Whatever will calm you down and help you focus.

You and I simply cannot be creative and do our best problem-solving when we're stressed up to the hilt. But when we walk away a while or when we do something physical, it's funny how that clears the channels and opens up more possibilities that we didn't even see before.

Try it next time you're pushing too hard for a solution.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Attitude is everything

I read recently about a woman who had been blind since she was 3 years old due to some illness she developed at that age. Fortunately, her parents encouraged her to do all she could with her life. She did. She went on to become a concert pianist and was married with four children. When she was asked about being blind, she answered, "It is a major inconvenience."

Inconvenience! I guess so. But isn't that amazing? Attitude is everything. Her acceptance of what life had given her no doubt allowed her to take her talents and gifts as far as she could. One could easily imagine her spending her entire life dependent upon others, complaining that there was little she could do with her talents because of her blindness. That wasn't her choice, however.

What have you had to accept in your life that you would rather not have had? We all have limitations. Experiences we'd rather not have faced. Some have chronic pain and illness. Others have faced losses that nearly broke them. But attitudes can make such a difference. This is where the Serenity Prayer comes in: "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

I should post that on my bathroom mirror. It's such a good reminder. Acceptance. Courage. Wisdom. Attitudes. Ah, yes, those things matter.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Fire in the belly

"Nobody grows old merely by living a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals. Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul."

Those words by humanitarian and poet Samuel Ullman graced our worship bulletin last Sunday in church. I'd not heard them before even though most of us have heard similar sentiments voiced in other quarters.

Enthusiasm is so catchy, isn't it? And when people stay true to their ideals and passions, it is infectious. Others want what they have!

About what are you passionate? What ideas put fire in your belly? Which ideals move you to action? And are they truly moving you to action? It's good to stop now and again to ask such questions—and see whether there are some new directions we need for our lives. Sometimes it's simply tweaking what we're already doing, whether that's in our careers and vocations or in our hobbies and avocations. It can be in our relationships as well. Sometimes it's an attitude adjustment so our enthusiasm can be revived. Living in gratitude helps with that attitude adjustment.

I don't mind wrinkles on my skin. But I really don't want wrinkles in my soul. I'd love to stay engaged and passionate right up to the end. What about you? If you answered in the affirmative, what are you doing about it?

Monday, October 26, 2015

Time as a precious resource

Ever think of your time as a checkbook with a specific balance from which you subtract time spent on this activity or that? For those who are totally over-spent and over-booked, it might be a useful way to see time. Time is precious and should be spent wisely. It's a resource—and you have choices on how to use it.

I have a dear friend who recently started a new job. She loves this new job, but it does have some long hours. So when she has her days off, she is extremely careful now about how she "spends" that time. She wants to conserve her energy. She wants to be restored on those days off. And she wants to prepare healthy meals that will be ready for her on those long workdays. She also wants to "spend" that precious time with people who are positive and life-giving.

Even for the retired set (and who really retires to simply lounge around eating bon-bons anyway?), time is precious. Perhaps you have lots of volunteer activities and several hobbies, in addition to family members and friends with whom you want to "spend" time. I don't see many retired people with lots of extra time on their hands.

It just makes sense that we all see our time as precious. It is. And we get to make choices about how we "spend" it. If we don't see that we have a choice, we can easily end up exhausted and resentful. That doesn't sound like a good option, does it?

How's your time checkbook balance today? If you're overdrawn, make some different choices. You'll be so much happier.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Simplifying isn't easy

How much is enough? How much is too much? Can I be happy with far less than I have?

Do you ever ask yourself those questions? Most of us have lots of stuff. And often when we get to a certain point in our lives, we think about getting rid of some of that stuff. It's called downsizing.

However, if you're like me, you can still easily get drawn into another purchase or two. Oh, that lovely purple jacket would look so great with my gray slacks. Those earrings are on sale—and, really, they're just the perfect touch. Why shouldn't I have this lovely Christmas centerpiece for my table? If I buy this book used, it really won't cost much; so why shouldn't I add it to my own library rather than borrow it from the public library? That way I can underline and mark it up. On and on it goes.

A friend just told me about a woman she knows who won't bring anything new into the house unless she takes something equivalent out of the house, giving it to Goodwill or some other organization that will sell it to someone else at a reduced rate.

I go through my closets on a fairly regular basis to clean out things I haven't worn in a long while. Others may as well have the use of them. But even if I didn't buy another piece of clothing in the next decade, I wouldn't be in trouble. I suspect that's true of most of us.

So what are we to do? How do you deal with this issue of too much stuff? Are you able to simplify? Can you resist the temptation to buy more? I'd love to know your secrets to simplifying and downsizing.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

You are a wonder

When you're ticking off all the things for which you're grateful, don't forget yourself. Remember to thank your body for all it's done for you through the years. And be grateful for the talents and gifts you've been given. Celebrate the wonder of you.

I have a Blue Mountain Arts book on gratitude, and today I read a reminder about this in a writing by Sydney Nealson. In part it said: "Acknowledge your talents and abilities. Realize what a beautiful soul you have. Understand the wonder within."

The wonder within. Yes, indeed. And the wonder without, too. When you stop to think of all the years your legs, knees and feet have gotten you around—up and down stairs, through miles of varied terrain, back and forth walking babies to sleep, getting to work, volunteering and more—it's quite amazing. Think, too, of all your arms and hands have done. And what about that brain of yours? Isn't it incredible how it has operated all these years to keep all your body systems running? And your heart? The list is endless.

You truly are a wonder. So am I. Let's stop and give thanks for that today. Living in gratitude will make today and every day extra special. And well it should. Each day is such a gift!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A courageous heroine

Yesterday I attended a program that centered around an impersonation of Eleanor Roosevelt. I've read a lot about this gifted and amazing woman, and I've seen the Ken Burns' TV series on the Roosevelts. So I already knew a fair bit about her life. But somehow yesterday's presentation—in which the impersonator dressed in clothes of that period and spoke as Eleanor about her experiences and what she felt as she lived through them—brought home to me in a deeper way the courage of this woman.

Eleanor grew up afraid of nearly everything. She grew up with no real affection or affirmation from her mother, who belittled her and made her feel plain and ugly. Although raised in a wealthy family, she experienced a lot of adversity and grief along the way. As we know, money doesn't protect anyone from pain and grief.

What stood out for me was what Eleanor said each time a new (and frightening, for her) situation or challenge arose: Yes, I'm afraid, she said, acknowledging her fear. Then she would do everything she could to rise above it. Her motto seemed to be: "Feel the fear and do it anyway," a saying we hear often today.

This was a good reminder to me. It's so easy to simply say, "I couldn't possibly do that." Instead, I want to remember to admit to the fear—and then find a way to overcome it, to go ahead and do that thing that seems so frightening. It's how we grow. It's how we expand on the gifts we've been given—and sometimes it's how we even discover gifts that have been latent inside us for years. So today I'm inspired by the courage of a woman who also had lots of fears but who made a real difference in the lives of others.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The lure of life questions

Ever notice that when your attention is brought to some life question or issue, you see that question or issue pop up often?

Not so long ago, I was asked by one of my pastors to give a short talk in worship services about my calling and how my particular gifts and talents are being used in my life. Since that day, I've noticed lots of writings and heard some conversations on callings and purpose. The subject just seems to pop up everywhere now.

Because I am seeing so much about that topic, it's making me look again at what I said in worship that day. I was fairly certain about my current calling when I spoke. Now I wonder if there might be more for me to discover.

Although life questions and the quest that follows them can raise my anxiety level, these things also intrigue me. There's always more to explore and discover. The lure is there. Yes, the fear and anxiety often are there, too. But I want to remain curious and open to new directions, too.

What are your experiences with life questions, with the idea of callings and purpose? This isn't necessarily about vocation or career. Our purpose may well relate to what we do in our family life, our volunteer time or in community activities. I'd love to have you share your experiences in the Comment box below. I need your wisdom to help me discover mine!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Celebrate aging

Some days my Mary Engelbreit calendar inspires. Some days it makes me smile. Other days, its message causes me to laugh out loud. Always it brings some pleasant response, and for that I'm grateful. It's a good start to my day. Last Friday it made me smile—and think back to when I thought 40 years of age was "over the hill." Now 40 seems almost like childhood!

The calendar spoke truth: "Being old doesn't seem so old now that we're old!"

I remember laughing when my father, at age 90 or 91, told me about delivering Meals on Wheels to people in the small Iowa town in which he and Mom spent their last decades. "I'm delivering meals to old folks," he told me one day. This was during a phone call, so I couldn't see his face. But I'm pretty certain his eyes were twinkling and he was wearing a broad smile when he said that. He might have been teasing, but his positive attitude did keep him young at heart, too.

I thank him for passing along that legacy. So I resonate with the calendar sentiment. The age I am now, which seemed so old a few decades ago, really isn't old at all. I really don't feel old. My age is only a number, after all. 

What about you? How do you feel about your age? Can you celebrate that you've gotten that far—and thank your body and mind for bringing you to this stage, too?

Friday, October 16, 2015

Friendships—what joy!

The older I get, the more aware I am of what friendships add to my life—particularly my women's friendships. When I was younger and in the throes of child-raising, I didn't have a clue how much I would come to depend on and value these relationships I have with other women.

I have male friends, too, but somehow it's those women's friendships that I come to count on. We live in the same kind of bodies; and, although we are different from one another, we have so much in common—and that helps me face all sorts of things. It helps me to know that some of the things I experience and the emotions I feel are normal. That's no small thing. And the laughter we share—wow, that's healing and just plain fun.

My Mary Engelbreit calendar yesterday said it well: "Friends make the bad times good and the good times unforgettable." Yes, indeed. They do. We get by with a little help from our friends!

I'm going to start telling my friends more often how much I appreciate them. Honestly, I don't know where I'd be without them. And they need to know that!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Life amid death

Thirteenth-century Persian poet Rumi once said, "Don't grieve. Anything you lose comes round in another form."

I don't take that to mean that we shouldn't face our grief and walk through it. When a loved one dies, when we lose ability because of chronic illness, when tragedy strikes, it's important to be real about what's happened and how we feel about it. It's important to grieve. I believe that's necessary before we can let go and move on (and by that I don't mean forgetting what we've lost).

What I take from Rumi's quote is that death is part of life, joy and sadness are often wound together, and life's "fertilizer" is capable of producing beautiful blooms. Death and loss don't have to have the last word. Transformation and new life are possible.

Even now in fall, when most of us focus on things that are dying, seeds are falling to the earth and in spring, they'll bring forth new life.

When I lost my job in 2009, I didn't imagine that it would lead me to another satisfying career—one that really fits where I am now in life. Many people who have suffered through cancer and treatments have said that it deepened and enriched their lives—and that they actually are grateful for all of it. I wouldn't presume to say this is true for every loss and for every person. You are the only one who can make such judgments about your life experience. But I will say that this quote is worthy of deep reflection.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

React? Or respond?

Someone said something to me recently that was quite hurtful. I made a decision to not react immediately. It was one of those times when I took my own advice—and pulled away from the situation for a pause to give myself time to think of a response that moved beyond knee-jerk anger or tears.

After the pause, I calmly said how I felt about what was said and done. I didn't get the positive response I had hoped for. So again, I paused before proceeding. In time, we settled things between us. But it was a reminder to me—again!—of what hard work communication can be. And a reminder of how important it is for me to pause sometimes before reacting. I think of it as being able to respond rather than simply react.

We all have choices, don't we? It doesn't always seem that way. In the course of a busy day, it's all too easy to just react and go on our way. Even when we take time to think through a response, it doesn't necessarily work out as we'd hoped. Still, for my money, it's worth it to slow down the reaction time and choose a better response.

Choices. Let's remember we do have them—and try to be more intentional about what we choose next time. I know I need to remember this. Daily!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The quiet ones among us

My brother is a quiet sort of guy. Never makes a fuss and never calls attention to himself. Ever. He still writes letters to people, sends cards and buys things to give to people "just because." He's extremely unassuming and generous-hearted.

So when he won an award at the homecoming banquet last weekend of a college he, my sister and I all attended, I was just thrilled! The award was designed just for him and is the first-ever one of its type: It was called an Encouragement Award.

Owen has been such a loyal and faithful supporter of this college through the years, even when the college went through hard times that threatened to close it down. And he's been an encourager of students, faculty and staff alike. Even with his small income, he's provided scholarships to help students in need.

I'm sure you can think of several people you know who always do behind-the-scenes work, whether it's in your workplace, your church or place of worship, some organization to which you belong or even in your family. Such people don't seek attention—and they seldom get it, too.

So it's especially sweet when an institution takes notice and publicly thanks someone—even presenting that person with an award complete with citation, a medallion and a wooden display piece. This is a reminder to me to be aware of others who may be introverts or for one reason or another, work quietly behind the scenes. It's a reminder to me to thank them and encourage them, too! The squeaky wheels may get the grease. But we need to pay attention to the quiet ones, too—and appreciate and celebrate them.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Finding a good fit

So much is said and written these days about reimagining life after 50, or after retirement. We are living longer than those who came before us, so it doesn't always make sense to retire at the age they did. Even if you do retire early, however, you have lots of choices ahead as to how you will spend your time.

Do you want yet another career? Have you always wanted to volunteer at some charity that's held your heart for years? Do you simply want to explore possibilities?

Many of my coaching clients deal either with switching careers or that looming question about what to do post-retirement. These are very real issues. And it can be extremely exciting to explore options. Yes, scary, too. But that's why it's good to talk about it and open your mind to more possibilities.

I like what author David A. Shapiro says: "There are jobs, which pay the bills; careers, which help us progress financially and personally; and callings, which really give us a full sense of fulfillment, engagement and energy that we don't have in the other two."

Shapiro and Richard J. Leider wrote a wonderful book I've used for years called Whistle While You Work: Heeding Your Life's Calling. Now they've written a new one titled Work Reimagined: Uncover Your Calling. In this new book, they talk about ordinary people who are reflecting on what's possible so that they can do work that's a good fit for them.

I think it's as important to find a good fit for your volunteer activities post-retirement as it is to find that good career fit. Are you happy in your career choice? Or in your retirement activities? What's calling to you that you'd love to explore?

Friday, October 9, 2015

'The place just right'

The other morning I awoke to the sounds of my favorite classical radio station playing a delightful version of the Shaker tune "'Tis the Gift to Be Simple" with Yo-Yo Ma on cello and Alison Krauss singing. The tune is so beautiful, and this version was clear, pure and simple. It fit the title of the song perfectly. It so caught my attention that morning that I looked at the words anew that day. I've known that song for years.

Do you know it? Google the lyrics or check out YouTube where there will be several versions. It's definitely worth a look and a listen.

"'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free
"'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be
"And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
"'Twill be in the valley of love and delight."

And that's just the first verse! There's a lot upon which to reflect just in those words. Simplicity. Freedom. Being where you're meant to be—"the place just right." Love. Delight. Gifts.

Are you in "the place just right" in your life right now? Do you know what place that is, first of all? And what would it take for you to get there?

If you'd like some conversation around this topic, please contact me for a complimentary coaching session. 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Your inner 4-year-old

It's Indian Summer where I live—and the days are so mellow and beautiful. As I thought about how much I always enjoy Indian Summer, I wondered where that term came from. I must have been channeling my 4-year-old grandson, who is so curious, asks lots of questions and is always checking things out. Somewhere along the way, we adults lose some of that curiosity.

Anyway, I Googled "Indian Summer" and learned that the term dates back to the 18th century in the U.S., although that reference indicated the term already was in use. However, it's not clear exactly why and how it originated. Some say it's because the early native Indians chose that time of year as hunting season (with winter coming on). Yet another theory is that ships plying the Indian Ocean loaded up their cargo most during Indian Summer (fair weather season). Some ships had an "I.S." on their hull at the load level that was thought to be safe for that time of year. So who knows? Anyway, it was fun researching that little tidbit.

My point here really isn't about Indian Summer so much as encouraging us to retain those marks of childhood such as curiosity, delight and wonder—those qualities that can add so much to life. What question or thought can you follow today down a path toward wonder, learning and delight?

It's good to stay in touch with that inner 4-year-old!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Passions at work

One of my pastors asked me to talk last Sunday about how God is using my passions. The time I spent reflecting on all my passions and how they've been used through the years was worthwhile. So the exercise was possibly far more helpful to me than to any of the listeners in the two worship services at which I spoke.

My passions have long been related to words, story, reading, writing and also to justice for the voiceless and the marginalized (and that includes women, who have been silenced for centuries). All of those loves came together in my journalism career—and they're still being used today in freelance writing, in my life coaching practice and in my part-time work as editor-at-large of Gather magazine.

The process of writing, whether it's for my daily coaching blogs or for a magazine article, is one of finding answers, gaining insights and real revelation. I like what priest and author Henri Nouwen said about it: "The deepest satisfaction of writing is precisely that it opens up new spaces within us of which we were not aware before we started to write. To write is to embark on a journey whose final destination we do not know. Thus, creative writing requires a real act of trust. We have to say to ourselves, 'I do not yet know what I carry in my heart, but I trust that it will emerge as I write.'"

Indeed, that is what happens. I learn so much in the process.

So what are your passions, your yearnings? How are they being used in your life? And what do you learn as you use them?

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Wholeness & sharing stories

I am a word-lover, a book-lover and a lover of stories. And sharing our stories is one of the best ways to get to know, really know, one another. Absolutely every person has a story. Have you ever thought about what your story is? It's more than just a chronicle of each important thing that's happened to you in your life—it's really about how you have been shaped by some of the major events of your life. It's about how you see these events.

Another believer in the power of story, author Gail Kittleson, in her book Catching Up with Daylight: A Journey to Wholeness shares some of her own story even as she tells snippets from the stories of other women whose paths have crossed hers. In so doing, I'm sure she found even more wholeness for her journey of healing. And in the reading of this wonderful book, I felt the power of healing and wholeness in my life as well.

Stories are powerful. By sharing our stories, not only can we come to know one another more deeply. We can also move toward healing and wholeness.

Today might be a good day to think about your story—and to begin sharing it.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Seasonal changes & other life changes

It's definitely feeling like fall here in the Chicagoland area. I love fall and its amazing color, but I'm less enamored with the winter that I know will follow. Each change of season is a good time to see the value of change, whether the approaching season is one you like or not.

So many of us resist change; some even fight it. However, change is simply an inevitable part of life. Sometimes it brings positive things into our lives, and sometimes negative things result. No matter what each change we face brings us, however, it's nearly always easier on us if we can ride the waves of change rather than wear ourselves out fighting them. What if we could actually embrace change? Or at the very least, stop resisting so desperately?

So as the season changes, you might want to make this a time to think about what changes are happening in your life right now. How can you best meet this change? What blessings might this change reveal? What disappointments are embedded in this change, and what can you do to grieve those and then move on?

If you would like some conversation about this, please contact me for a complimentary strategy session around the topic.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Staying grounded

I've heard it said that if your purpose is only about you, it doesn't have branches. And if it's only about others, it doesn't have roots.

When I reflect on this, I am reminded of the importance of staying centered and grounded. As always, it's not an either/or situation. It's both/and. We need both roots and branches, not just one or the other. We need to tend to ourselves and to others, not just one or the other.

As women, that's sometimes a difficult thing to remember. We can often become the world's caregivers, reaching out to help others and completely ignoring our own needs. That can lead to deep resentments and anger (and to a martyr complex). One of the images I often think of when I see this happening is putting on an oxygen mask in an airplane. Before any flight begins, flight attendants will demonstrate putting oxygen masks on—always reminding us to put our own on first before assisting anyone else with theirs.

The point here really is the both/and piece, however. Be sure to engage in self-love and self-care and then you'll be able to come from that centered and grounded place that will allow you to reach out to others in compassion and love.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Gathering wisdom

Sue Patton Thoele, an author whose meditation books for women I've read and loved for years, writes in The Woman's Book of Spirit about gathering wisdom at any age, not just when we're older. She urges us to imagine carrying a basket as we move through life's garden, filling it with blossoms of wisdom gained from each circumstance, experience and relationship. She says:

"Think about the wisdom that you have gathered thus far. Give yourself credit for the ways in which you have grown and blossomed and for the ways that you've helped others grow. Appreciating ourselves each day gives us the courage to gather the seeds and stomp through the fertilizer, both of which are necessary to keep our garden of wisdom growing."

That paragraph in her book is filled with so many threads we could follow—giving ourselves credit, gaining courage, gathering seeds, stomping through the "fertilizer" of our lives and so much more. I really don't need to elaborate; you can do that for yourself.

If you resonate with this as I do, spend some time with what Thoele says and see where it takes you. Then continue to fill your basket with blossoms of wisdom, stopping to give yourself credit and remembering to appreciate what you have in that basket!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Objects that bring joy

Several of us already have done it. Some are in the process. Yet others of us are thinking about doing it soon. And, of course, there are always those for whom it hasn't become a pressing issue yet. And there are even those who really fear doing this.

I'm talking about decluttering. Cleaning out. Shedding some of our possessions. Letting go. Downsizing. Some of our "stuff" simply needs to be tossed. Much of it probably can be given to an organization that will sell it, using the proceeds for a good cause. Still other items might be given to family members because they contain some sentimental (or real) value. And some we'll keep. It's a matter of choices.

A friend of mine recently said she'd heard a question that might help in that decision-making process. As you look at each item in your house and consider whether you use it or not, also ask: "Does this item bring me joy?" If it isn't being used, hasn't been used for quite some time and does not bring you joy, perhaps it's time to re-gift it, sell it or even toss it.

I like that image: things in a home that are either functional and used or a source of joy! Wow, that's fascinating. I'm going to remember that question as I go through objects in my possession, which I do from time to time. "Does it bring me joy?"

Ever tried that? What's your experience with decluttering and letting go? Please share with us in the Comment Box if you would. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The path to health

I've talked about our stories in these blogs before. In addition to telling our story to leave for children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews or others who might be interested, there's a whole other meaning to the idea of our stories.

You and I have a back story that we've been telling ourselves for years—a story that grew out of past experiences and that can color everything that happens to us now and in the future. Unless we examine it and see whether that back story still works, that is.

Here's what I mean: Since I was a young girl, my story has been that I need to be strong. I'm not even completely certain how this story came to live inside me. I have some ideas about that, but there's some mystery for me, too. In any case, because of that idea that I always needed to be strong (picture leaping tall buildings in a single bound, landing backward in a straight skirt and high heels!), I haven't developed my vulnerable side as fully as I could to be healthy. So in these last years, I'm trying to be more open and vulnerable. I don't always have to don my Wonder Woman costume. It's becoming exhausting.

What's your back story? Is it holding you back from being whole and healthy? Has it become a weight around your neck? What would you like to change? If you'd like to discuss this in a complimentary coaching session, I invite you to contact me. It's a fascinating journey of discovery.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Stories—what a gift!

Everyone has a story. You have one. I have one. We tend to think that the things that have happened in our life are just ho-hum and quite ordinary. But there are so many pieces that are unique to each of us. We have a story that includes lots of little stories within it.

In addition, there is so much about us that no one else knows. I often think that my best friends (and that includes my beloved sister) know a lot more about me than my three sons do. Or at least, my friends know some very different things from what my sons know; they see me in a different light, of course.

I'm at the stage of life where I'm thinking about what I might leave my kids and grandkids by way of a legacy—and by that I don't mean money or an estate. I mean that I'm thinking about what I'd like to leave behind for them of my story. I would like to have something written, perhaps with some photos, so they can know more about some of the events of my life and what those meant to me—and perhaps something about what difference that may have made in their lives.

As I reflect on my own parents, I wish I had asked so many more questions of them when they were alive. I know some of their stories. But there's a lot I don't know—and would love to know.

Have you done anything with your story? Do you want to do so? There are lots of resources out there to help us do this. Remember, sharing your story could be a gift to someone in your life.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Deep breaths. Slow down.

I've told you how much I enjoy inspirational quotes, and that's why I like my Mary Engelbreit daily calendar. Each day gives me a thought upon which to reflect. Having spent the past week rushing around because of being gone for a week, trying to catch up and then actually get ahead a little on my work, I felt real resonance with this quote by Indian philosopher and activist Mahatma Gandhi: "There is more to life than increasing its speed."

The thought brings to mind the children's story about the tortoise and the hare, too, doesn't it? Rushing madly about doesn't necessarily mean we'll get any more done—or even that we'll get it done before someone who's more purposeful and takes refreshing breaks along the way. And anyway, is that even the point of life?!

I try to remember that thought when I occasionally have to spend long days at the computer. Get up every hour or so, do some yoga stretches. Take some time away from the screen. Go for a walk outside. Talk with a friend on the phone. Do something relaxing for a while. Generally that actually makes me more productive because I've been momentarily refreshed and come back to my writing or editing work with a clearer head and a better attitude.

It's important to keep that perspective. Life isn't about who collect the most toys—but it also isn't about who gets to the end more quickly! Stop a minute. Take a deep breath. Slow down. Pay attention to your heartbeat. There now, isn't that better?

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Bring on peace

I really enjoy having daily calendars with inspirational quotes. It can make such a difference in my day. One day this week my Mary Engelbreit calendar included a quote from musician Jimi Hendrix: "When the power of love overcomes the love of power, there will be peace."

Ah, that's excellent. We surely see lots of signs of the love of power around us—particularly as the presidential campaign heats up way ahead of the 2016 elections. All the blathering and positioning as candidates try to claw their way to the top of a large pile are clear signs of this. That's not to say that some candidates don't care about their constituents. But, in my humble opinion, there are many signs of a real hunger for power.

We don't even need to look that far away to see the love of power. We can look inside ourselves, inside our families, communities and churches—and see power plays and political one-upping going on, particularly if we're honest with ourselves.

We may not be able to do anything about the love of power at the national political level. But we can make changes in our own lives and in our family life so that the power of love is what's strongest. Love means letting down our defenses with each other, being vulnerable, being willing to consider what's good for others, encouraging one another and providing support to others when tough times come calling. Love is extremely powerful. Hendrix was right: Love really can bring on peace. See what a difference the power of love can make in your life today!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Hold the stress level down

Ever since I returned home a week ago from my Oregon vacation to celebrate my youngest granddaughter's Golden Birthday, I've been madly rushing about in an attempt to catch up on things that needed to be done—not just in my home but with my coaching practice in addition to the contract, part-time work I'm doing with a women's magazine. So it's been rush, rush, rush.

For that reason, when I read a Robert Frost quote about rushing, it resonated deeply within me: "There's absolutely no reason to be rushed along with the rush."

What that means to me right now is that even though some things really do need to get done right now, there's no need to feel rushed inside. There's a difference. At least to me.

It's one thing to get what needs to be done finished in a hurry. It's another to internalize that rushing and feel rushed and stressed. Can you sense the difference?

Letting that rushed feeling stress me out simply adds more to the load. However, if I simply do one thing after the other, calmly, knowing there'll be time enough, what needs to get done will get done. And I can do it in a calmer, more serene state of mind—saving myself and those around me additional stress! Whew, slow down, Sonia. One foot in front of the other—and you won't stumble.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A gift to be alive

I remember clearly that after my maternal grandmother died, we found in her dresser drawers many of the gifts we'd given her in her final years—unused. Powder, lotions, clothes and many other lovely things. I am quite certain the items weren't unused because she didn't like them. In fact, I have no doubt that the opposite was true. She thought the items were special and was saving them for a special occasion. I can just imagine her saying that. "This is too nice to use for every day."

That taught me a valuable lesson. I don't save such gifts for a special occasion. I enjoy them, savor them and remember with gratitude the one from whom they came—each time I use the item. In addition, now I realize that simply being alive and being able to enjoy such gifts IS the special occasion.

It's just another way of being present right here, right now. Live in the moment. Don't save good gifts or good experiences for a special day. Today is special!