Monday, August 31, 2015

Garbage transformed

Sometimes the garbage in our lives can be turned into compost, can't it? Ever have the experience of something that seemed to be devastating or tragic eventually turned into something good, new or exciting in your life? Perhaps it led to a new career. Or a new relationship.

I have heard people who suffered through cancer and difficult treatments say later that they were grateful for the cancer because it led to amazing growth and transformation in their lives. And I have known people whose difficult childhoods led to deep awareness and learnings such that they now have careers that use what they experienced to help others and thus, fulfill them in the process. This is called redemption!

Perhaps in the throes of a painful experience, we're not feeling much gratitude. Sometimes, in fact, it can be years later before we see that life's fertilizer has produced a beautiful rose!

It's good to be open to the possibility—and now and then, to pause and see whether there are things in our lives that might be transformed, that might lead to new growth and opportunities. See anything now?

Friday, August 28, 2015

Lead with kindness

Somewhere recently I saw a message that went something like this: "Treat everyone you meet with kindness for every person is dealing with something sad, difficult or painful—even though you may not know that from seeing them." I wish I could remember the exact words. But I hope you get the idea.

It is a good reminder to me. If you're at all like me, you may look at others and think they haven't a care in the world. They seem to have life so together—and it appears that they live on easy street! We need to know it simply isn't so. Everyone, absolutely everyone, has sadness, pain and challenges.

We have only to look at the lives of the rich and famous. Often we think their lives are so glamorous. Yet how many times do we hear on the news stories about drug addictions, murder, betrayals and other mayhem in their lives? Would we want to change place? Probably not.

Each one of us is good at wearing masks and hiding our pain, so we can't tell by looking at others that they're suffering or hurting. We are each also prone to lashing out at others or having our pain come out sideways in our relationships and dealings with other people.

Knowing this, I'm trying to take a look at my behavior and treat everyone I meet with kindness. I so want to remember this—and respond in loving ways rather than reacting in anger or negative ways to things that happen in my daily life.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Love wins

We talked a few days ago about thinking our achievements might make us more loveable and valued. However, that simply isn't true. In fact, others typically either admire us or resent us for our successes. But never do they love us for them!

We are loved for our humanity. We are loved when we're real and authentic. We're loved when we're open and vulnerable with others. We're loved when we are willing to show our imperfections—and, yes, we all have them! We're loved when we show compassion.

And we really do have to begin with ourselves. If we can love ourselves, accept our imperfections as well as our gifts, forgive ourselves and show compassion to ourselves, it will be so much easier to offer those same gifts to others in our lives. Hurting people hurt others. And loving and compassionate people love others—and attract love back to themselves as well.

It's good to remember that when we're tempted to withhold love from ourselves—or when we're tempted to lash out at others or "really show so-and-so what I think of her." Where does that get us, really? In the end, love really does win.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Treasures—right where we are

How often lately have you heard the admonition, "Be here now" or "Live in the moment"? It's good advice, really. And not always easy to do.

I really like what writer and now-deceased Roman Catholic priest Henri J.M. Nouwen said about patience and being present to the moment:

"Patience is not waiting passively until someone else does something. Patience asks us to live the moment to the fullest, to be completely present to the moment, to taste the here and now, to be where we are. When we are impatient, we try to get away from where we are. We behave as if the real thing will happen tomorrow, later, and somewhere else. Let's be patient and trust that the treasure we look for is hidden in the ground on which we stand."

OK, if you're like me, you'll need to read that again. And perhaps yet again—to really get the depth and breadth of what Nouwen was saying. I'm as guilty as anyone of being impatient, of wanting to move beyond the present moment into one that I am just sure holds the "good stuff." But what if it's as Nouwen says and "the treasure we look for is hidden in the ground on which we stand" right now?

It's difficult, but not impossible, to live in a different way than our usual "get this done and move on to the next thing" style. I am going to keep trying to live more in the moment—and to do so more fully. I think it'll be worth the effort, don't you?

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Failure's lessons

For years I have liked the prose/poem titled "The Invitation" by Oriah Mountain Dreamer. It's about being real, and it's just rich with images and meaning. Read the entire poem sometime, and see whether it doesn't give you much upon which to reflect.

Part of the poem addresses failure, something with which each one of us is familiar. Here's what she writes, "I want to know if you can live with failure, yours or mine, and still stand on the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, 'Yes!'"

I don't know about you, but I've learned far more from my failures than ever I've learned from my achievements and successes. It's not easy to face failure nor to accept that one has failed. But it definitely puts it in perspective when you can ask what lessons your failure might have for you. What can you learn from the experience?

And can we be gracious and forgiving of the failures of others? It helps if we can offer ourselves that gift—then we'll be more likely to be accepting of the failures of others.

And if we can do that, perhaps we truly can "stand on the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, 'Yes!'"

Monday, August 24, 2015

Your younger self & your aging self

Do you sometimes wish that when you were much younger, you would have known the things you know today? Yup, me, too.

We can't go back, of course, nor would we really want to do so. At least, I wouldn't. But it can be helpful to reflect on what your younger self was like. How was she different from who you are now? If you could talk with her now, what would you say to her? If she could talk with you now, what do you imagine she would say to you?

What fears did your younger self have? Do those still hold you back? What dreams did she have? Were they realized? Might they still be?

And what talents did she possess then that you have used through the years? Which ones remain unused even now? Is there a way you can still tap into those gifts and talents at this stage of your life? How will your reflections on your younger self shape who you might still become? Know that it's not too late to grow and make changes. Unless we actively resist growth and transformation, we typically continue to evolve and change as we age. That being so—and knowing what we now know—we can still tap into unrealized dreams and use talents that have been dormant all these years. Go ahead, see what you yet want to be and do!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Forgive yourself—and start over fresh

A prayer/poem written by psychotherapist and author Belleruth Naparstek speaks to me today. See whether you find images or thoughts with which to resonate, too.

"Just give me this: ...A willingness to notice and forgive the myriad times I fall short, forgetting who I really am, what I really belong to. So I can start over, fresh and clean, like sweet sheets billowing in the summer sun, my heart pierced with gratitude," she wrote.

I had to read that several times to let the thoughts sink in—and to really enjoy the images. I used to love hanging out my wash to soak up the sun and fresh air, so I can just picture starting over "fresh and clean, like sweet sheets billowing in the summer sun."

And a "heart pierced with gratitude"—doesn't that sound wonderful?

It's often said that forgiving ourselves is the most difficult act of forgiveness of all. I do believe it. So an awareness of the times we fall short ... and the ability to forgive and truly start over "fresh and clean" is a real gift. A gift we give ourselves. An act of self-love.

Ready for that gift?

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Claim your space

It's often said that our culture celebrates youth—and that aging adults feel stigmatized and pushed aside. While that may well be true, as you and I age, we get to make choices about how we present ourselves to the world. We get to choose what type of role we're willing to accept.

Will you and I accept a victim role and apologize for taking up space, for staying in a job "when someone younger might need it," for believing that we still have much to offer in our families, communities and world? Or will we see that we really do have much to offer? Will we look for ways to claim a new place in all those areas we inhabit?

Richard Leider, co-author of Claiming Your Place At the Fire: Living the Second Half of Your Life On Purpose, says, "The place of respect that elders are accorded in traditional societies represents a sharp contrast to how older adults in our society are often seen.... It's not just that they are acknowledged by their people; that is a given. As important, they claim themselves as vital resources for their communities."

He also says it's time for us "individually and as a group of people in the second half of our lives—to create a new picture of vital aging."

What a wonderful challenge. What are you doing to "create a new picture of vital aging"? Are you asking some of the large life questions such as "Who am I?" and "About what am I passionate now?" It's great to ask such questions and see what your new life purpose may be once you've entered that new land called "retirement." That phase of life is being redefined, and you and I get to reinvent what that means for ourselves. Isn't that exciting?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

You are magnificent

For some reason, I grew up thinking that I had to do things to be worthy of love, to have value. If I was "good," I'd be worthy—if I helped others, if I performed well (say, at school or in my piano lessons, for example), if I did this and if I did that, then I'd have value. I have since come to realize that many other people have dealt with that issue, too: We do everything we can to show that we're deserving of love.

Ever felt that way yourself?

It took me several years to realize that wasn't true—that I was worthy, valuable and loveable just as I was. Of course, knowing that in my head was far different from feeling it in my heart, too. It's a process to move past ideas that we pick up when we're young; it doesn't happen overnight.

Know this: You and I are unique, magnificent beings. Our true value is in simply being who we were created to be. You are a gift to the world. I am a gift to the world. We each have distinctive and unique gifts to offer the world, too.

Let's let that truth settle deeply into our hearts, souls and very bones. And let's let go of any old beliefs about having to be good or perform well in order to be loved. Let's simply be authentic—be who we are and know it's enough!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Tend to relationships

Last Friday I wrote that I was attending my cousin's funeral (six months after he fell on the ice while retrieving the Sunday paper on their driveway, suffering severe head trauma in the fall). As I said in that blog, this was a huge reminder to me that life can change on a dime.

At the graveside service following the funeral, the pastor reminded us all of the same thing. He urged us to tend our relationships. If we have any grudges and disagreements, any things we need to forgive or for which we need forgiveness, take care of that, he said. Forgive others. Reconcile. Speak words of love. Be kind to others. Don't let things fester.

After the graveside service, some of us in the family talked about what great words those were. We all need to hear that. It's so easy to get caught up in drama, to carry resentments, to take offense (often at things that in the long run are relatively inconsequential)—and in the busyness of our lives, to forget the "good stuff." We forget to thank others, to say the "I love you's" and the words of appreciation and admiration. We don't always forgive easily.

I want to remember the words we heard last Friday—and tend to the lovely garden of relationships with which I'm blessed. How about you?

Monday, August 17, 2015

'The examined life'

It is said that we spend the first half of our life creating ourselves—observing others, learning from others and deciding what personas we'll take on, what masks we'll wear, how we will live our lives, etc. And we spend the second half of our life unlearning a lot of what we learned and discarding many of our masks and personas along with some of the ideas and beliefs we had accumulated along the way. The second half is more about letting go.

Interesting, isn't it?

The first years we build a container and fill it up. And in our later years, we empty it out—and, one hopes, get to the core of who we really are and were meant to be.

This doesn't happen automatically. Those who live what's called "an examined life" experience this. It takes real authenticity and intention to reflect on your life and see what things are no longer working for you, what belief systems take you away from your true self and who you really were created and called to be. It takes hard work to reflect deeply on all this and make the choices necessary to get to the core of who you are. It takes courage to let go of the limiting beliefs and fears you have accumulated. I know. I'm working hard to do this myself—and facing some real fears in the process!

Where are you on the journey? Are there things you wish to change and let go? What's your first move? As always, if you wish to talk about this, please contact me for a complimentary strategy session.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Life is precious—savor it

Today is the funeral of one of my beloved cousins. He slipped on the ice in his driveway as he went out to retrieve the Sunday paper in early February, sustained severe head trauma, was in a coma for quite some time, emerged from that and made a tiny bit of progress with hand movements. But before he could make much headway, he stopped progressing and eventually went backward. These past several weeks, he's been in hospice; and on Tuesday he died.

I tell you this because it's such a stark reminder, to me anyway, of the fact that our lives can change on a dime. One day you walk outside to get the Sunday paper, and your life changes forever. For his wife and children, life changed drastically after that fall, too.

What this tells me more than anything is to see each moment as precious. Speak from my heart. Be authentic. Tell my loved ones how much I love them. Tell people when I appreciate them, who they are and what they do. Savor life—all the small moments as well as the big ones. Listen to the birds. Smell the flowers. Follow my dreams. Don't wait until tomorrow. Live from my heart. Reach out to others. Treat others kindly—I have no idea what they're facing or feeling.

Ah, so many life lessons from this one tragic event. I want to pay attention to them.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Mindfulness, meditation & stillness

So much is said and written these days about mindfulness and meditation—how it can reduce our stress and open us up to greater creativity. Such a variety of practices exist for both these things, so it's wise to find whatever works for you.

Some mindfulness practices are physical. Some are not. And meditation practices differ. Some encourage you to simply concentrate on your (deep) breathing and keep your mind blank and free from thoughts. I don't know about you, but I've never been able to totally keep my mind free from thoughts. Attention to breathing and repeating a phrase, or mantra, reduces the activity of my brain for a time. But that's the best I can do.

So when I read this in Brené Brown's book The Gifts of Imperfection, I resonated: "Stillness is not about focusing on nothingness; it's about creating a clearing. It's opening up an emotionally clutter-free space and allowing ourselves to feel and think and dream and question."

She goes on to say: "Once we can let go of our assumptions about what stillness is supposed to look like and find a way to create a clearing that works for us, we stand a better chance of opening ourselves up...."

If you're able to go completely still (inside and out), more power to you. Keep it up. But if you're not, perhaps Brown's way of "creating a clearing" may work better for you. I can envision my mind like a room full of clutter—and begin to clear out some of the stuff to make room for dreams and questions. That works for me. How about you?

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Three choices ahead

I just saw something on Facebook that I really like—and I think you'll find it a good thought upon which to reflect as well.

"When something bad happens, you have three choices. You can let it define you. You can let it destroy you. Or you can let it strengthen you."

To make such a choice, however, requires that you pause. Take some time to think about what just happened. That makes choice more intentional. Otherwise, we tend to react to things that happen. Instead, it's far better to respond to what's happened.

Always remember that you have a choice about how to respond when anything happens. We often feel as though we have no choice. But generally that's not true. We make choices every day, mostly without even being aware we're doing so.

If you let what's happened define you, your narrative will be that of a victim. Poor me. That may feel good for a while, but it doesn't move you forward. It's pretty much a dead-end road.

You can let it destroy you. Again, not a good option—and definitely dead-end. But if you begin to ask questions about what can be learned from what's happened and about what it will take you to get through it, you can move on. Let it strengthen you. Perhaps it will take inner resources you didn't know you had. Perhaps it'll take the help of others. Don't be afraid to dig deep and to reach out. You'll be strengthened and transformed in the process.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Progress is a process

I just saw a wonderful cartoon on Facebook. It showed a series of eight steps with a little cartoon figure going up each step.

On the first step, the little person was actually sitting down, saying, "I won't do it." And ditto on the second step—sitting down, but this time saying, "I can't do it."

Progress occurs by the third step! The little person is standing up, saying, "I want to do it." By the fourth step, the figure is still standing there, now asking, "How do I do it?"

OK, now we're getting somewhere. So on step no. 5, the figure begins to climb and says, "I'll try to do it." And by the sixth step, the little figure says, "I can do it." So now we're up to step no. 7 where the figure is taking a big step, saying, "I will do it." And finally at the eighth step (the top), the little person is jumping up with a heel click and saying, "Yes, I did it!"

The question at the bottom of the cartoon is: "Which step have you reached today?" It's such a great visual to show the different steps and attitudes when we want to move ahead on something—and I'm sure each of us can resonate with each step, having spent some time on each of them. I would hope you also know the wonderful feeling of getting to that top one and celebrating with "Yes, I did it!" Doesn't that feel great?

What's facing you today? A project? A dream waiting to be reached? A fear to be faced? And which step are you on? Are you ready to take that next step? Come on, you can do it. You will do it. Soon you can say, "Yes, I did it!"

Monday, August 10, 2015

Build & recover self-esteem

If you're like most of us, you occasionally go through periods of self-doubt, times when your self-confidence flags. Worse than that, sometimes we as women don't even have a good solid dose of self-esteem to begin with.

If either of those things are true about you, don't worry. You're in good company. And the good news is that you don't have to stay in that place of low self-esteem or lack of confidence. You can change your perspective and your attitude toward your self. If it's simply that your confidence has fallen, for one reason or another, think back to times of success in your life—or times when you've been praised for who you are or something you've done. You've felt affirmed, respected and loved. Remember how that feels—and remind yourself that you're still that same person. Nothing has changed but your own perspective and attitude. Try a couple things to change that:

• Find photos of you in happier, successful days—or letters of praise and affirmation you've saved (I keep a file that I call "Good Letters" in which I keep some of those so I can look at them when I'm down and need a boost).
• Visualize yourself successful, happy and in your best frame of mind.
• Create some daily affirmations to post on your mirror as reminders. Some examples are: "I am worthy of all the good in my life." "I always do the best I can with what I know." "I am strong and able to ask for help." "No matter what others say or do, I am still a good person."
• Talk with a trusted family member or friend—that's where we can gain support and encouragement until we can give it to ourselves again.

If it's a matter of low self-esteem, that can be changed, too. Some of the above examples can help. Also try to change the messages you give yourself from negative ("Why did you do that, Stupid?") to loving and positive ("You are always so thoughtful of others"). And take care of yourself, knowing you are worth the time and attention. (If you don't believe that yet, act as though it's true, and soon enough, you will feel the truth of it!) Accept yourself and your body as it is. Say "No" to things you don't want to do without feeling guilty. And learn to accept compliments by simply saying "Thank you."

If you would like some coaching around this topic, I invite you to contact me for a complimentary strategy session.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Practice kindness and understanding

Have you ever been in a social situation where someone made a comment that you took personally? Of course, you have. I have, too. And sometimes I've gone home and stewed over the comment, getting more and more agitated. What I have learned through the years, however, is that nine times out of 10, I was being overly sensitive. Most often, critical or negative comments are more about what's going on with the person who said them than about anyone else. Generally it's a projection of their own realities and experiences.

I have also been on the other end of this—and have blurted out a comment that, only later, I realize might have hurt or insulted someone around me. At such times, I'm aware that the comment was more about what I was feeling at the time or experiences I've had around whatever issue was being discussed at the time.

Sometimes I've had to circle back and apologize to someone for making an impulsive comment and assure that person that I had no intention of hurting her or him. Such experiences help me to remember, when I'm on the other end of such exchanges, that I probably wasn't a target either. It's always good to remember this—and to learn to not take things so personally. Doing so will remove us from the possibility of being victims of needless suffering. It will also remind us to use our filters when we speak out in the company of others!

I'm reminded that I need to practice kindness and thoughtfulness in my words—and that I need to be patient and understanding when others make careless remarks or comments about which they're resolute and forceful.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Start your day off right

How do you awaken each morning? What are the first thoughts or first words out of your mouth? What do you typically feel when you first open your eyes?

Do you think, "Oh, no, another day of same-old, same-old"? Do you leap ahead with feelings of dread to an event that's coming up later that day? Do you place a black cloud firmly over your head (that most likely will stay in place all day)?

Or do you say, "Ah, another new day. I'm grateful to be here to experience it"? And do you truly feel grateful to be alive for yet another day?

Perhaps you blend your gratitude with realism—and say, "I'm so glad for another day of life ... even though I confess to anxiety about the meeting I have this afternoon with my boss."

You might face each new day with curiosity about what's ahead—and thus resonate with author and poet Maya Angelou who said, "This is a wonderful day. I've never seen this one before."

The way in which you start your day sets the tone for your whole day. If you begin in a bad mood, complaining about the day and what's ahead, you will have to work hard and be pretty intentional to turn it around into a good day. But if you begin by being thankful for the day and for the good things in your life, you have set a positive tone for what follows. It's worthwhile to think about this when you wake up: What kind of day do I want this to be? If I'm tempted to start out complaining, might I be able instead to think of blessings for which I'm grateful? Might I start my day with a smile on my face and "Thank you" on my lips? Try it tomorrow. See what a difference awareness, intention and a positive attitude can make.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Gratitude as a flashlight

Gratitude is one of my frequent topics. Perhaps I over-do it. But I'm not sure that we can talk too much about gratitude. It simply is a life-changing practice. And the more we do it, the more natural it becomes to start our day with it, sprinkle lots of it throughout our day, and end our day with it as well. That definitely can be transformational.

Recently I heard author and speaker Deepak Chopra say that gratitude is like a flashlight that can help us get out of the darkness when we find ourselves there. I had never thought of it in that way before, but I like that. For when we're down and things look bleak, light can be added to our day by thinking of some of the good things in our life for which we're grateful. Doing so does not eliminate the problems at hand. It doesn't change our situation. But it can shift our emotional state, even if ever so slightly. That isn't to say that we can use gratitude as a way to skip the process of working through difficult issues or even as a way to heal from depression. Would that life would be so simple.

However, at the very least it can help us remember the "both/and of life"—that life can be difficult and that at the same time, we do have blessings and things for which we can be grateful. Both can be true. Feeling gratitude for whatever we can at those low moments can truly serve as a flashlight so that the darkness doesn't completely swallow us up. And if you've built up your gratitude muscles, it will be far easier to use them when those low times come around.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Love: a true sign of grace

There are so many types of love—and so many sources from which we can experience love: family members, friends, members of our faith community and others. Being loved, especially being loved unconditionally, is a true sign of grace. It's an incredible gift.

Sometimes when we're in a difficult place in life, we turn away the very love we need and crave. Perhaps we fear rejection—and because of things going on in our lives, we're maxed out on rejection already. So we act in ways that deflect the love others try to lavish on us.

Perhaps we're in a place where we just want to isolate—crawl into a hole and pull a cover over the top. Close friends tell me that's what I did during my separation and before my divorce. That was an extremely low point in my life, and I really didn't want to hang out with others. When we isolate, no doubt we are in a place where we need love more than ever. But all our actions tell others, "Stay away."

If we can stay aware of what's happening inside and how we're expressing it on the outside, we can let others love us even when we're in those dark and difficult places. Love definitely can overcome those feelings of separation and the fears of rejection. Love is such a gift—and it's a wonderful sign of grace that we all need. Love is the sunshine and rain we need in order to bloom and grow. So open up to the love of others today. And be grateful for all the love that comes your way.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Sing your unique song

I came across something I'd copied from somewhere, and now I can't recall the source. I apologize that I don't know it. But these words so spoke to me once—and they still do. I think you'll like them, too.

"What of your wild song longing to be whispered at life today? What glee are you rejoicing in, what beauty are you creating, and why would you ever savor the shadows instead of pushing your creations out into the colorful light you dream of? It is time. It is time to roam free, to unleash the shackles, to stand proudly amidst your purpose, confidently staring down the fears and faces that hide you from who you truly are, who you long to be, and who you are slowly becoming. ...your song deserves to be sung, your voice deserves to be heard, and the authentic, majestic masterpiece you hold inside deserves to be revealed. ... It is time for you."

Isn't that great? No matter what stage of life you're in right now, you have purpose. Your life has meaning. There is some song that only you can sing. It might be in your workplace. It could be in your family life and your relationships. Your song might find expression in volunteer activities. I know of a woman whose career is behind her, her volunteering days are done, and who is now in an assisted living facility. So you might ask what song she might add to the world now. She can still send cards of encouragement to people who need it. That is the gift she offers to the world now. She also prays for people's needs—and her prayer list grows weekly, she says.

What's your song? What needs to be done that has your name on it? What beauty are you creating? Sing your song. Now.