Friday, May 29, 2015

Raising adults

We often hear it said that it takes a village to raise a child. I completely agree; it does. Children can't have too many of us loving them and supporting them. That's why I take my role as grandma seriously. I think I provide something that's different from what parents can provide. I remember as a parent being so focused on the daily details of my children's lives; but now as a grandparent, I can enjoy my grandchildren relatively free of the care and detail to which their parents need to pay attention.

But I'd like to take that maxim even further and suggest that it also takes a village to raise each of us. I firmly believe that we each need as many loving, supportive individuals in our lives as is possible to cheer us on when we're doing well and to help pick us up when we stumble or fall.

Because I believe that, it hurts deeply when I see that sometimes we women cut each other down in our efforts to get to the top. It's sort of the "let's see who can get the best date to the prom" syndrome except that it's decades after proms! We don't need to compete with each other, whether it's for career advancement or for the attention of a specific male—or whatever we see as the desired goal. How much better off we all are when we walk shoulder to shoulder or hand in hand, working toward the well-being of us all.

Close friendships with other women provide a good place in which to practice that supportive behavior. If you have such friendships, be grateful—and nurture them. If you don't, perhaps you'd like to find such a caring, supportive friend.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Let go of worry

Well, here's something I need to hear. I don't know about you, but I spend far too much time worrying about things that in all likelihood never will happen anyway!

So when my Mary Engelbreit calendar page included this quote the other day, I took notice: "Worrying does not empty tomorrow of its troubles. It empties today of its strength."

Whoa, isn't that the truth? It helps me not one whit to worry about things that might happen tomorrow. But it surely takes away from today's powerful and wonderful experiences.

I think this little calendar page is worth hanging on my mirror—or somewhere that means I'll see it every day.

Particularly when I hear about lives changed instantly because of an illness or an accident, I'm more and more aware of the gift of each day—each moment. It's a gift, and we ought not waste it on worry. This is one more thing on my "let go list." Savor the present moment.

If you do well at living in the present and not worrying about the future, I'd love to hear some of your tips in the Comment Box below. I am sure many of us would benefit from your wisdom.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

What do you carry?

Simplify, simplify, simplify. We hear that a lot these days. And it can mean many things from downsizing our homes to cutting down our activities.

It means to engage the letting go process—in so many areas of life. I like to think of my stage of life as a time to clarify what's truly important to me. By now I have a pretty good idea of the things I value most. But I haven't always shed or let go of some of the nonessentials. That's just as important as clarifying what's essential to me.

One question that keeps arising for me these days is: What am I carrying? Again, that can mean physical things—perhaps I really do have too much "stuff" and need to carry less of it around. After all, our stuff can own us after a while rather than the other way around, particularly when we consider the time we spend tending to it, cleaning it up, worrying about it, storing it, etc.

But even beyond that, what things am I carrying inside that I no longer need? Am I carrying anger, resentments, old tales, drama that's gotten attached to some life events, pain, old ideas that no longer work (if ever they really did!)? So what am I carrying? That's one question. The next question is: What do I truly need? What's essential?

How would you answer those questions?

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Claim the role of wisdom-bearer

I've heard and read a lot about the place of elders or older adults in community life. More and more people seem to be aware of the importance of the role of an elder, a matriarch or patriarch with accumulated life experience and wisdom. It's good to reclaim that place of respect that used to be reserved in traditional societies for those who had achieved great age.

While you might be acknowledged by others for your years of wisdom, it's also necessary and important that you claim yourself as a vital resource to those around you, whether in your family, your congregation, your community or the wider world. This is more about being a presence in those arenas than it is about power.

This isn't about an either/or situation where you claim a seat of wisdom over against more youthful members of your family, group or community. It's both/and. The most healthy, thriving institutions and communities value both youthful energy, ideas and creativity and the wisdom that accrues after one has experienced the best and the worst life has to offer. We can learn from each other. Older adults can be energized and revitalized when they work with younger folks. And the youthful ones among us can become more grounded and purposeful as they interact with older adults, perhaps even allowing themselves to be placed in a mentoring relationship with them. There is so much to be gained that way.

Wherever you are in life, look for ways to tap into the energies both of those younger and those older than you. And claim your own place and role, whatever that might be.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Honoring those who serve

So today is Memorial Day. Does that just mean a day off work for you? A day to be with family or friends? A day for parades and picnics?

It's so easy to forget the real reason for some of our calendar holidays, isn't it? Unless you personally know someone who is serving or has served in the country's military, it's perhaps easy enough to forget that this is a day to remember—remember those who served and who died protecting us. It originally was known as Decoration Day and began after the Civil War to remember both the Union and Confederate soldiers who died in that war. Now it's a day to honor all who died while in military service anytime and anywhere.

It's a good time to stop and reflect on what that means, particularly to those families who have sustained such losses. I personally also like to think about those who serve in the military—and who have lived through wars but who are forever and irrevocably changed by that experience. Huge numbers return home but are never the same. More of them than we know carry deep scars and suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This has always been true; it's just that we didn't have a name for it until recent years. Even now, it's difficult for many who serve to admit to PTSD because it's perceived as weakness. But truly, who wouldn't be affected by experiencing things no human should have to face?

So, do take some time today to think about those who have died serving our country—and those who yet live but with scars, some that are visible but many that are not. When possible, take the time to thank those you know, too. Gratitude surely is an appropriate response.

How might we best honor them all? What do you do?

Friday, May 22, 2015

Basic boundaries

We haven't talked about boundaries for a long time. And it's easy to forget sometimes that boundaries are a way that we respect ourselves. It's a way we protect ourselves from unwanted or inappropriate behavior. It's really a form of self-care. And we know how important self-care is to good health.

Is boundary-setting automatic for you? If so, be grateful that you learned that lesson somewhere along the way. Perhaps you don't even have to think about boundaries any more. That's wonderful.

But if you find yourself resentful of others more times than not—or find yourself wishing that you'd said or done something to prevent yourself from feeling used, put-upon or stepped on—perhaps it's time to think again about establishing boundaries.

Boundaries aren't meant to be punishment for someone else. They're neither punitive nor manipulative. Boundaries simply tell others what you will and will not tolerate and accept by way of words and/or actions. You name the behavior you will not tolerate, you tell the person how the behavior makes you feel, and you say the action you will take to protect yourself should the behavior persist. It's that simple.

Of course, we know it really isn't simple. If it were, none of us would have boundary issues. Sometimes we let people walk over us or push us into things we don't want to do because we want their approval or their love. So we need to ask ourselves whether that love or approval is really worth what we suffer through with the particular behavior that bothers us. And then we need to decide what we'll do. For example, you might say to someone, "When you yell at me, I feel afraid both physically and emotionally; and when you do that in the future, I will leave the room (or the house or whatever)."

If you have questions about establishing boundaries, I invite you to contact me for a complimentary strategy session.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Straight to the center

One of my favorite inspirational authors, Jan Richardson, wrote: "You have looked at so many doors with longing, wondering if your life lay on the other side. For today, choose the door that opens to the inside. Travel the most ancient way of all: the path that leads you to the center of your life. No map but the one you make yourself."

That quote hardly needs an explanation, it seems to me. Especially as we get to the second half of life, these words are so vital: "...choose the door that opens to the inside." For there's really no more important journey than the one that takes us deep into the center of our life, is there? The path that leads straight in to our Source, to our inner navigational system, to the place where we are most truly who we were meant to be—without our costumes, without our masks.

And the map to get there is one we make ourselves. Advice from someone else won't help. The map of another won't help. You and you alone know how to get there and know what to do with what you find there. The choices are yours. Follow the goals and dreams that are in alignment with who you were created to be. Your choices need to be authentic to you.

Go straight to your center—find there the answer to your life question, "Who am I?" Make your own map. You know the way.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Take the long view

Yesterday I saw a wonderful impersonator enact Mary Cassatt's journey from Pennsylvania to Paris as she pursued her dream of becoming a professional artist. Even the male artists who became Cassatt's friends and compatriots in Paris (Monet, Manet, Renoir, Degas and others) could hardly make a living. A woman surely couldn't, and she had a difficult time just being accepted as a professional.

Today, however, we know about her wonderful paintings and consider her one of the greats. We also consider her Paris friends, the Impressionists, some of the premier artists—and yet they could barely feed themselves and their families unless they had wealthy families. Cassatt never married, and she came from a wealthy family; so that problem was one she didn't have. But many of the others did. She did have all the gender barriers other women faced in her time (she died in 1926 just after women got the right to vote in the U.S., something for which she spoke out).

Doesn't it give us a perspective to think that in their time, these artists could barely get their works into the salons of the day? Now those same works go for thousands and thousands of dollars. It's also a reminder that there often exist barriers of one kind or another when we pursue dreams. We also can remember to take a long view on some of the things about which we worry. Some things simply don't change overnight. Time often makes a difference.

Reading history or even historical fiction, seeing impersonations or watching period movies and TV shows—these can all serve as reminders of some of life's basic questions and lessons. It's good to remember this as we pursue our own dreams. Let's keep a long view.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Holding on

Is there something you're holding onto so tightly that you either can't enjoy it or you can't even feel the emotions surrounding it?

We've all heard the saying: "If you love something, let it go. If it comes back to you, it's yours forever. If it doesn't, then it was never meant to be." And often that saying is illustrated with a butterfly. That reminds me of a story I heard of a boy holding onto a beautiful butterfly that landed in his open palm—but he closed his hand so he could hang onto it. The problem was: When his hand was closed tightly, he couldn't enjoy seeing the beautiful creature. When he realized this and opened his hand, he enjoyed the sight of the beautiful butterfly fluttering off to the flowers.

Thinking of this again today makes me examine my life to see what I'm holding onto so tightly. Sometimes it's people I love. Sometimes it could be objects in my life that I'm not ready to shed yet. Still other times, I'm holding onto fears so tightly that I'm not even able to take a look at them and name them.

But when I do open my tightly fisted hand to examine those fears and call them by what they are, suddenly they don't loom so large anymore. And when I open that hand and loosen my grip on people and things I love, often they're still there but in a new and more open way.

Today is a good time for me to see what I'm gripping too tightly. How about you?

Monday, May 18, 2015

The upside to forgetfulness

Sometimes I get frustrated when I forget things. I walk into a room fully intending to do something and then can't remember what it was I went in there to do. Was I always like this? I don't think so. And just when I think it's a matter of aging, I hear someone far younger say they do the same thing. So is it a matter of stimulatory overload these days? I don't know. I just know it happens.

But here's a comforting thought I read recently: "I know I'm sometimes forgetful. But some of life is just as well forgotten anyway. And I eventually remember the important things."

I don't know about you, but that does make me feel better. It's true. Some of life is just as well forgotten anyway. Hurts and resentments that I really should have let go a long time ago. Bad memories. Things I did or didn't do that can still cause regret—or even shame. Really, now, is that helpful to continue carrying?

If carrying something around is helpful and still contains some life lessons, OK, then maybe we're not ready to forget just yet. Otherwise, perhaps forgetting is the wisest thing to do.

So, you see, forgetting isn't all bad!

Friday, May 15, 2015

Broken hearts & life lessons

During conversation with a dear friend the other day, we got on the subject of broken hearts. Each of us has experienced a broken heart. More than once, in fact. Who hasn't? That can occur in a significant love relationship, in a friendship—and it can occur as we hear tragic news about people we know or about people clear across the world enduring things no one should have to face.

But here's the thing: Broken hearts can open us to compassion, to our better natures, to deeper love and to acts of kindness.

My friend and I shared with each other some of the things we've learned from those experiences of having our hearts broken. We realized, not for the first time but once again, how much we are shaped by those things—how many positive life lessons have emerged out of those broken places.

I know without a doubt that I am who I am today because of those heart-breaking experiences. Life is so rich and multi-hued, and there are so many ways to learn and grow—most of them not found in a classroom!

What are your thoughts on this? I'd love to have you share them in the Comment Box below.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The blessings of aging

Just the other day I saw a quote that resonated so deeply. I think you'll like it, too. It sees aging through a positive lens rather than the one that often grinds us down in advertisements that tell us we should be thinner, younger, more beautiful!

"I like being old. It has set me free. I like the person I have become. I am not going to live forever; but while I am still here, I will not waste time lamenting what could have been or worrying about what will be. And I shall eat dessert every single day if I feel like it."

Yes, oh, yes. It does set us free. We can finally stop worrying about what other people think. What does that matter anyway? We can stop questioning ourselves about every little thing—and perhaps actually trust our own judgment and intuition. We can even let ourselves be wrong because we know there's much to be learned that way.

Isn't it all so liberating? And so joy-filled? Yes, body parts go south. We are more forgetful. We can't dance all night and wake up early the next morning ready for a day's work (or maybe we can!). But there's so much more. There is just nothing like authenticity. We can be comfortable in our own skin—at long last. And even like who we have become.

Another piece of dessert, anyone?

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Light amid darkness

I am an avid reader. Books take me places I'll never go in person. Books also give me life lessons and insights that are just invaluable.

Two days ago I just finished a novel that had come highly recommended by several people: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, a book about a blind French girl and a German boy whose lives intersect in occupied France as both try to survive the awful events of World War II.

My takeaways from this book are to once again be astounded by the resilience of people faced with violence and unspeakable events in wartime and to be reminded that even amid such situations, some people are called to their higher selves. Acts of kindness and graced moments occur even in the midst of situations of living hell.

It's good to remember both those takeaways, for when any of us face darkness and difficult times, we can remember that even then, even then, goodness and light can be found. And it's good to remember that very often we can survive such times.

Can you recall times of darkness when you saw goodness and grace? Remember that the next time you face a difficult and challenging situation.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Fertilizer & blooms

I love roses. There are so many flowers I enjoy, but roses are simply my favorite. We used to raise them, and I know how much their growth was aided by the cow manure we added to the soil.

I think we aren't so different from those roses—or from any other flower or plant. We are helped in our growth, blooming and transformation by more than a little fertilizer in our lives, too!

When you and I experience difficulties—what we might call the manure or crap in our lives—it just might help to remember not to get mired in it. Depending on what the situation is, we cannot always see that this experience will end up helping us grow and bloom. But generally, if we can keep things in perspective and not get stuck in the manure, those things become the fertilizer that allows us to bloom and grow. It does require some inner work to process what's happened and what it might mean. But the end result is real transformation and beauty in your life.

As I look back over my life, I see that it wasn't the successes and high points that helped me grow so much as it was those things I didn't like experiencing—those things that were, in fact, painful and sometimes downright awful. Does that mean I enjoy going through those difficult times? No, it certainly does not. It does mean, however, that I try to keep in mind that those times are part of the rhythm and cycle of life—that they won't last forever and that, in fact, they might just aid in my growth.

Anything in your life right now that could be fertilizer? Don't get mired in it—just keep on blooming!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Productivity and play

"What do you have to let go of to have more fun?" a friend recently asked my circle of YaYa friends. What a good question, I thought.

Each of us responded in slightly different fashion. But one of the themes running through those responses seemed to be that of responsibility. Each of us is a strong woman, used to grabbing hold and getting things done. We've been used to being productive and perhaps even over-functioning. Wonder Woman costumes aren't foreign to us! We're always so darned responsible.

Then in another group of which I'm part, a similar topic arose; and it was clear that most of us were highly geared to productivity and responsibility. We had learned as children, "Get your work done first. Then if there's time and energy, you can play. Fun comes after work." Old tapes can be difficult to let go.

Do you resonate with any of this?

So, is it OK to just let things be and play first? Can we drop our scheduled to-do list for the day and run off with a friend or our partner and just do something fun? Might that feed our souls and spirits more than crossing items off our to-do list? Might that bring more joy into our lives—and thus, into the world?

My friend asked a good question, and I plan to reflect more on it—and see what changes I might make in how I live. What about you?

Friday, May 8, 2015

Happy Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day to you. It doesn't matter whether you have children or not. It doesn't matter whether you gave birth to children yourself, whether you adopted children or whether you have none.

My idea of that day expanded when one of my sons and daughters-in-law couldn't have children in the early years of their marriage. It was so painful for them both, but I recall my daughter-in-law saying how painful Mother's Day was for her. All her sisters and sisters-in-law were having babies and celebrating that day. As it turned out, a few years later they did have a lovely family of their own. In the meantime, though, tears and sorrow dogged them on those special days.

That whole experience made me look at Mother's Day in a new way. Now I often send cards to women in my life who have nurtured and nourished me along the way. I send cards to and celebrate women who have given birth to dreams, hopes, projects, art, books, ideas and all manner of things. If you are a woman who tends the inner fires and works on her personal growth, you are also giving birth to your self. Surely that's worth celebrating.

And so I celebrate each one of you for all you've brought into the world—and for all you've nurtured and inspired toward growth and transformation. Kudos to you. Keep up the good work—for the world is full of people in need of nurture and ideas in need of birthing and creating.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Failure viewed differently

Were you taught that failure is a bad thing? I was, too. I'm not even sure by whom—but I know I learned to view it as a negative.

The dictionary says failure is "the condition or fact of not achieving the desired end or ends."

But isn't that how we learn? We try something. It doesn't pan out quite as we'd planned. We try it again, but this time with some changes or tweaks. Perhaps it doesn't work this time either. We continue trying with small changes. Then, voila, it works.

So, really, is "failure" a bad thing? I think it just might get a bad rap that it doesn't deserve. Perhaps we shouldn't even call it failure. It's more of an experiment, whether it's our life or it's some object we're creating.

It was Thomas Edison who said as he worked on developing the light bulb, "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." He also said, "Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up" and "Negative results are just what I want. They're just as valuable to me as positive results. I can never find the thing that does the job best until I find the ones that don't."

Hmmm, that puts a different perspective on failure, success, giving up, and trying again and again, doesn't it? Really, haven't you learned more from those failed attempts than you ever have from any successes? So let's celebrate curiosity and perseverance. Let's try, try, try again—and see how much we can learn in the process!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Letting go—into fun

Yesterday I quoted a line from the recent movie Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. I have yet another quote from that movie today that struck me so much that I had to write it down in the theater: "Let go. That's when the fun starts."

It's been said that we spend the first half of life building a "self." We gather things from our parents, classmates and peers, others around us, books, TV and society in general. Soon enough, we have the behaviors, habits, beliefs, tapes and messages that comprise us and lead us through our lives. However, when we get to mid-life and beyond, we see that some of those behaviors, beliefs and messages don't really work very well. So we have to unlearn some things. To some degree, we have to let go of old ways of thinking and being. We find ways that are more authentic to who we really are—often ways that are more healthy and holistic.

This involves a lot of letting go. That has sort of become my mantra these days, "Let go, Sonia, let go." "That doesn't work anymore. Maybe it never did. Let it go." And that's when the fun starts. It's fun to become more authentic, to drop some of the masks, some of the old tapes (for me, some of those were limiting messages about what girls and women should and shouldn't do) and behaviors. So that quote leaped right from the screen into my heart, and I resonated.

What do you think? Does letting go signal the start of good things for you? If so, let go. Let go some more. Let the fun begin!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Time is gift

 Sometimes when we get things wrong, we actually get them right. One of the characters in the recent movie Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was trying to say, "There's no time like the present." What came out instead was, "There's no present like the time." Good mistake, right?

Think about it. Yes, indeed, time is a present. It's a gift. And we ought not waste that gift.

And what does it mean to "not waste that gift"? Does it mean being productive 24/7? Does it mean there's no time to just "be"? No time to read a book and sip tea? Or journal? Or go for long, lazy walks in the garden or the woods? No. I don't think it means that at all.

Time is a gift. Life itself is a gift. Our bodies, minds and spirits are gift. We care for each of those gifts by taking time to be as well as to do.

You get to decide what that means for you. But as you're making decisions about that, please remember self-compassion and self-love. Be gentle and good to yourself. Treat yourself as you would a beloved friend or family member.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Caring—but not carrying others' pain

I'm still thinking about all those people in Nepal who were killed and/or injured by the massive earthquake more than a week ago. I find that kind of thing simply heartbreaking. I don't know about you, but I sometimes find it difficult to know just how to carry this kind of "global pain."

Sometimes we hear such stories and count our blessings that we live in the country we do. Well we should count our blessings—for we do have many. But we cannot just dismiss that kind of pain and suffering either.

Years ago I had a counselor tell me to "carry others in your heart but don't carry their pain." That's always been difficult to know how to slice and dice. How do I carry others in my heart without carrying their pain? I know she is correct, that I should not try to carry their pain. I can't do so anyway. But I also don't want to be the type of human being who hears these tragic stories and then simply goes on with the privileged life that so many of us in the U.S. have compared to the rest of the world. Does that make sense to you?

How do you do this? How do you care about our sisters and brothers here and around the globe but not carry their pain around in your heart? How can we show compassion without getting weighed down and being rendered helpless?

Friday, May 1, 2015

11 great tips for life

I wish I remembered where I saw this recently. It was a list of truths or advice from seniors to younger people. And I wrote down some of the ideas but, sadly, not the source. Anyway, here's some of what the more mature folks told the younger ones:

• Follow your dreams.
• Let go of what others want you to do; do what you want.
• Be true.
• Be yourself.
• Be honest.
• You are unique; never before has there been a person with your unique look and qualities—and never again will there be.
• Some days it rains; other days the sun shines.
• Keep boring people away.
• Care for others.
• Enjoy yourself.
• Slow down; there's more to life than picking up speed.

There's so much in this list. One could spend a long time discussing each item. And you don't have to be young to need to hear these tips. I'm taking them to heart. What about you? Anything here that speaks to you?