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!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Women's lives matter

My niece, Carmen, gave me a book in 1999 that I still treasure today: Uppity Women of Ancient Times by Vicki León. I enjoyed that one so much that I bought two more books by that author: Uppity Women of Shakespearean Times and Uppity Women of Medieval Times. Although so many stories of women have been lost and never recorded, including in the Bible, this author has done an inordinate amount of research to recover several stories.

And as we know, stories are important. It's good for us to know our histories; and as women, we need both models and warnings to inspire us in our own lives. (Some people are examples to us, and others are warnings, in terms of their thoughts and actions!)

The first book profiled 200 women from ancient times, and I am fascinated to read their stories. As the author said of those ancient times, "...there were countless women who mattered.... Their deeds haven't been lost to us either; uppity women rocked as many cradles as the next gal, but they rocked a lot of boats as well. From different cultures, times, and social classes, they shared a common bond: these high-energy achievers didn't buy into what others said women should and shouldn't do."

What a good reminder. We definitely don't want to twist ourselves into pretzels to become what others expect of us. It's our own expectations we want to follow. It's all about authenticity, isn't it? We want to be and do what is right for us. We want to become our true selves. At the same time, it's delightful to have models from any time and age to inspire us as we make our way. If you're looking for models—or if you just want some delightful reading—I recommend these books.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Dreams and longings

I like the question, If not now, when? It fits for so many situations. When clients face turmoil over career changes and talk about their yearnings and the desire to follow their dreams and their passions, I often ask that. When women talk about longing for some "me-time" and some self-care time and in the same breath, cite their long to-do lists, I often ask it.

When I come up with excuses to not do something I really need or want to do, I ask myself that question.

We don't know whether we'll even have a tomorrow. All we really know for sure is that we have this very moment. Because of that, it just makes sense to make the very best use of this present moment that we can. Insofar as it's possible for you, allow yourself to listen to and follow your dreams, longings, desires, yearnings.

What's missing from your life? What is on your bucket list or thimble list that you really, really want to do? What's preventing you?

Think about what it might mean to you if you had that thing on your list. Think about what it would mean if you never got the chance. Now how much do you want it? Go ahead. If not now, when?

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Do you ask for help?

I've admitted to you before in these blogs that for too long I've been clothed in a Wonder-Woman costume, attempting to "leap tall buildings in a single bound," and doing the Ginger Rogers' thing of  landing "backward and in high heels." Many of us women are familiar with that routine. That show of strength may get us through some tough life situations but, in the end, doesn't always serve us well.

At this stage of life, I'm trying to shed that costume. I'm trying to admit what I need—and actually ask others for help. Asking for help actually is a way to be strong, I know that in my head. It's not easy to break old habits, however. It's a work in progress, for sure.

I like what poet Mark Nepo says about this in The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have: "Asking for help, whether we get it or not, breaks the hardness that builds in the world. ... One of the most painful barriers we can experience is the sense of isolation the modern world fosters, which can only be broken by our willingness to be held, by the quiet courage to allow our vulnerabilities to be seen. For as water fills a hole and as light fills the dark, kindness wraps around what is soft, if what is soft can be seen."

What an image. "Asking for help ... breaks the hardness" and "kindness wraps around what is soft." Hmmm, perhaps I need to put that on a post-it note for my mirror. You, too?

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Restore wonder and enthusiasm

Today I'm flying back home after spending a week with my youngest son, daughter-in-law and two youngest grandchildren. We celebrated my granddaughter's Golden Birthday—9 on September 9th. What a delightful time!

What I notice about these two young children is their boundless curiosity and endless enthusiasm. They truly jump into life with both feet, gathering all the new experiences and joy they can as they embrace in wonder the world around them. That stands out to me in contrast to so many of us as we age; we can too easily get stuck in routines and rituals that we've done in the same way for years. The mantra often can become, "But I've always done it this way."

So right now I'm challenged to look at my life and see what's getting a bit stale. What am I missing by doing the same-old, same-old? Might I restore wonder and curiosity to my life by truly being open to everything that's out there? Perhaps I'll ratchet up my enthusiasm. Are there some new experiences I can embrace that will re-energize me? And how much more will I bring to my relationships with others around me when I do?

Time for me to take a look and reflect on possibilities!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Shutting out pain

I remember when I was in high school, one of my friends was deeply hurt when her boyfriend dropped her like a hot potato. She swore she would never again let another person into her life in that way. No more love for her.

Although I lost touch with her through the years, I remember hearing that she did eventually marry. I hope it was a loving and fulfilling relationship. It had always made me sad to think she might close herself off from any future relationship because of one hurtful and negative experience. That didn't seem like the way to live, at least not from my perspective.

Then again, don't we all try to do something similar at times? We hope that we can fence up our lives against pain and hurt. However, there are no guarantees, are there? And when we try to shut out the hurt and pain, we also shut out much of the pleasure and delight. I've never heard of a way to let only pleasure into our life and barricade out the pain. And anyway, how would we know pleasure if we'd never known any hurt or pain? For don't we know what a valley is because of the mountains that surround it? Don't we know delight in its contrast to unhappiness or hurt?

What are you trying to shut out of your life right now? Might you find a way to open yourself up to all of life, knowing that much growth and transformation actually comes through the hurt, pain and disappointments?

Monday, September 14, 2015

What's worth remembering?

I know I'm not the only one who forgets things. Sometimes I walk into a room intending to get something and totally forget what I went there to find. Or I forget a fact or a name, often only temporarily. So many others around me complain of the same thing, most citing old age as the cause.

I don't necessarily think age accounts for this. I also believe our minds are crammed full of too much detail. We have more stimuli coming at us and from so many more sources than any past generation. If only we could do what we do on our computers: just hit "delete."

I don't know what the answers to this problem might be, although I do think it's important to be gentle and forgiving of ourselves for this. Nothing is gained by internally beating ourselves up for these memory lapses. But it may help to make some choices as to what we want to remember or don't want to retain. When I read novels, I don't necessarily have to remember all the detail of the book once I've finished it—unless I'm leading my book club's discussion for that month. I don't need to remember what I heard on the news about the latest scandal of a Hollywood star. You no doubt have your own list of what's unimportant to retain.

Recently I read a question that really struck me as one worth my reflection: If your mind were a suitcase and could only hold five things, what would they be? This is a good life question for me to roll around in my mind. I don't have my list yet, although I'm quite certain most of them would involve people I hold dear. What do you think? What's on your list?

Friday, September 11, 2015

Social media & choice

I'm big on connections—connecting with people I love and care about, connecting with meaningful organizations, connecting with others to share ideas and connecting my inner and outer selves. Because connecting is so important to me, I really enjoy that part of social media: Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Twitter—even though I do less on the two latter media. Through Facebook I have connected with so many people from earlier years as well as with family members who live far from me. I see their photos and hear about their lives. Through LinkedIn I get to connect with people with whom I had regular connections during my active career years.

There are downsides to social media, however. Our information can be tracked, and we can be even more bombarded with ads than we  are otherwise. In addition, people can be bullied and harassed on social media. It's not enough that children are bullied in school but now, with all manner of devices, there's access to others 24/7.

As with so much of life, the internet and social media are both/and: They contain positive aspects and outcomes as well as negative ones. And, as is true of much of life, the good news is that you get to choose. I get to choose what parts of the internet I wish to access. So do you. I get to choose when to shut down my devices. So do you.

As a teenager, I used to tell my parents, "But everyone else is doing it," an argument they never bought! I don't have to worry about that anymore. Now I get to choose what's best for me. You do, too. Remember you have choices. Be intentional. Do what's best for you—in all things.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The seasons of our lives

Where I live, it's that time of year when we're leaving summer behind (even though right now, it's still nearly 90 degrees) and moving toward autumn. Already I've seen some leaves that are changing color. I love the fall season, the somewhat cooler air, the disappearance of mosquitoes (!), and the beautiful color of leaves and other foliage. So I'm not complaining.

As the seasons change, though, it's always a reminder to me of the seasons of my life, too. Perhaps I think about it more these days because I've entered that autumn season and know that winter is ahead. I've already enjoyed my spring and summer seasons—and am left with many wonderful memories of those.

For so long I've loved the beauty of spring (everything coming alive), summer (flowers blooming) and autumn (the brilliant yellows, oranges and reds of trees and bushes)—but haven't been particularly fond of winter's beauty. My attitude is different now, however, and I see winter has its own particular beauty—not just when the landscape is covered in sparkling white snow but also when the trees have dropped their flaming leaves and are left with muted shades of rust.

I suspect my change in attitude has to do with where I am in life. I now appreciate the muted shades, the subdued colors of trees and bushes in winter. This is because, when I look at women older than I am, I see such beauty. I see grace and wisdom and composure. I see serenity, and I see women comfortable in their own skin. I see authenticity and openness. And this is an invitation to me to embrace all those qualities myself—and when the time comes, to move into that final season with joy and gratitude.

No matter which season you're in, think about what it means to you—and what's needed as you look ahead to the next one. It's time well spent.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Birthdays: a time to give thanks

My youngest granddaughter turns 9 today, and I'm going to help her celebrate. As this is her Golden Birthday, we're really going to do it up right, too! She's over-the-moon excited about this special day and our plans to celebrate. And isn't anticipation at least half the fun?

I love birthday celebrations. I always have. Several people have told me that birthdays just aren't that important to them. I suspect our attitude toward birthdays has much to do with how we were raised. Did your family make a big deal out of your birthday? Or not? Some families have a special plate the birthday child gets to use. Some have parties. Others take the birthday child out to dinner. Then there are the special gifts. Yet others do nothing but say "Happy Birthday" to the birthday girl or boy. Perhaps some families don't even do that.

It doesn't matter what customs you have—or don't have. In my view, what's important is that we take the time—whether the birthday is that of a friend or a family member—to be grateful for that person in our life. Or if it's your own birthday, be grateful for the life you've enjoyed so far and for whatever is yet to come. A birthday is a good time to stop and give thanks. And it's a good time to reflect on all the birthday person adds to your life.

Happy Birthday, Payton! I'm smiling as I give thanks for you and as I think about all the sunshine and joy you bring into my life and into the lives of all those around you.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Hang on to curiosity & wonder

I have heard that we lose our natural sense of wonder and curiosity as we age. It seems we gain so many things as we age—including wisdom and a comfort with living in our own skin. But we lose some things, too. Curiosity and a sense of wonder are two things I don't want to lose. They provide such a beautiful perspective on life.

Little children are our models here. We can let them be our guides. Watch their behavior as they notice even the tiniest things around them. Listen to their curiosity take flight. Why this? Why that? Each why leads to 10 more questions. And because of those questions, they learn so much. Because of that sense of wonder, children experience so much joy and enchantment.

It's true that they don't have the cares and worries we have. But what if, rather than constantly focusing on our worries, we set them aside from time to time and just noticed things around us? Tried to recapture some of that childlike wonder and curiosity?

Stop for a minute or two. What do you see around you that you hadn't noticed before? The richness of color in that picture hanging on the wall. The velvety texture of the flowers you just bought to grace your kitchen table. The sparkle in the eyes or smile on the lips of your loved ones in the photos hanging on your refrigerator door. The blue of the sky above. Ah, there's so much to see.

I like what poet Mary Oliver says: "I don't know exactly what a prayer is. I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass, how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields, which is what I have been doing all day. Tell me, what else should I have done? Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"

Monday, September 7, 2015

Fear need not have the last word

Fear and anxiety. Can't they just grab us by the throat and hold on for dear life? This has always been true. But these days with news 24/7 (much of it bad) and information coming at us from every direction, it's easy to get caught up in fear, anxiety and anger. There's so much "out there" to threaten our peace and well-being as we try to stay ahead of health issues, economic downfall, job insecurity, relationship problems and all the other things we fear.

It's important to not let those fears and that anxiety run away with us. I really like what educator and author Parker J. Palmer has to say: "I will always have fears, but I need not be my fears, for I have other places within myself from which to speak and act."

Isn't that a good reminder? Indeed, we do have other places inside from which to act. Places of grace. Places of deep joy and happiness. Places of gratitude. Places of serenity, of trust and of peace. But it takes intentionality to go to those places rather than take the path of least resistance—to fear.

Remember that when fear gets its grip on you next time. Take a couple really deep breaths—and think about those other places inside from which you can speak and act. And make a choice to go there instead.

Friday, September 4, 2015

How does self-care look?

Self-care looks quite different today from what it did a decade or several decades ago. From my point of view, that's a good thing. I often think about what my mother's life looked like, for example, or my grandmother's life. They were so focused on taking care of everyone around them that they seldom gave thought or time to their own needs. That's just how it was in those days. I began my married life with that model, but I've been blessed to live in times that see self-care as important. So I've made changes in my lifestyle.

And I look at my three daughters-in-law—and, although their lives are crazy-busy trying to balance careers with families, I also see that they fit in time for exercise, healthy eating, some spa time for things such as massages and pedicures, girlfriend time and more. Good for them!

That self-care means our medical care looks different these days, too. A National Institutes of Health survey from 2012 (NIH does these surveys every five years) shows that in 2012, 34 percent of adults used complementary health approaches, with most of that number integrating that with conventional health care. Complementary approaches can include such things as dietary supplements, deep breathing exercises, yoga, tai chi, acupuncture, etc. I do that myself—integrating conventional care with complementary approaches.

The wonderful thing is that you get to choose what your self-care looks like. What's best for you? For your body, mind and spirit? For your lifestyle? It's your choice.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Pay attention to beauty

I talk a lot on these blogs about living in gratitude, about savoring the moments of our days. Most of us lead active and busy lives, so that's not an easy thing to do, is it? We get on a roll with our activities and just keep moving from one task to the other, perhaps even grumbling as we go. Sound familiar?

I know what it takes for me to try live in gratitude—even part of the time. I need to just stop my train of thought, stop my frantic activity and pay attention. Pay attention, even if just momentarily, to the wonderful smell of my morning coffee. To its delicious hazelnut taste (yes, that's one of my favorite flavors, and, yes, I'm a flavored-coffee aficionado—about which my fiance teases me, saying it's not real coffee). Pay attention to the play of sunlight on the prisms of glass in my window. Pay attention and really listen to the music on the CD I have playing. Pay attention to the photos of my nine precious grandchildren scattered around the house—and really think about the special times I enjoy with them. Pay attention to all the other special people in my life and what blessings they are.

When I stop the Sonia-with-a-too-highly-developed-work-ethic and really look at and listen to the wonder and beauty all around me, I am grateful. My heart is overflowing. And then I can resume my activities with a very different frame of mind. Then I can access the Sonia-who-savors-life-and-its-blessings. Both of those Sonias are there. I just need to stop the one occasionally to let the other one out!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Walking in beauty

Turn on the news—you'll hear lots of negativity as stories of murder and mayhem unfold. Listen to everyday conversations in your workplace or in the mall—you'll hear lots of complaints and negativity. Plenty of times we hear it coming from our own mouths, too. Right?

So the other day when I came across what's called the Navajo "Beauty Way Prayer," I was enchanted. I like this a lot. I like its focus on beauty, for truly we are surrounded by lots of beauty. What we see often depends on where our focus is. So why not focus on beauty?

There are a few variations on this prayer, but they're all fairly similar:

"Today may I walk out in beauty.
"With beauty may I walk.
"With beauty before me, may I walk.
"With beauty behind me, may I walk.
"With beauty above me, may I walk.
"With beauty below me, may I walk.
"With beauty around me, may I walk.
"It is finished in beauty.
"It is finished in beauty."

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Authenticity—can't beat it!

I smiled last week when I read my Mary Engelbreit calendar page for the day: "All I can tell you about fashion and style is this: buy and wear what makes you happy," a quote by John Jannuzzi.

I smiled because more and more, that's my philosophy on more than just fashion. More often now, I want to do what's authentic for me—what's right for me. That pertains to what I wear, what I do, what I say, what I feel.

We spend a lot of years worrying about what others will think—sometimes twisting ourselves into pretzels to fit another person's idea of what we should be, how we should look, what we should do. How has that worked out for us?

Surveys show that one of the biggest regrets for people when they're dying is that they didn't live a life true to themselves. They lived a life shaped by the desires and opinions of others.

Take a look at your life today. Are you doing what is authentic for you? If so, savor it. Soak up the happiness it brings you—and that, no doubt, you're reflecting out to others as well. If not, think about what changes you may need to make so your life is truly your own.