Monday, November 30, 2015

Experience the full range of feelings

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

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

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

Friday, November 27, 2015

Making choices

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

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

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

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Giving thanks—more than once a year

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

What are we teaching?

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Check the inner violence

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 23, 2015

Get to the core of your fears

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

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

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

Friday, November 20, 2015

Fertilizer & flowers

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Open up to others

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Transforming ourselves & the world

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Finding a grounded place amid horror

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 16, 2015

Dream big; embrace failure

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 13, 2015

Dreams & plans

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Oh, the possibilities...

One of my favorite poets and meditational writers, Mark Nepo, realized after his experiences with cancer that he approaches time with those he meets in a different way these days. Now he asks himself, "If I only have this time on Earth with this person, if I may never see them again, what is it I want or need to ask, to know? What is it I want or need to say?"

I've given a good deal of thought to his remarks because I notice that, in our busy lives, we often rush through our conversations with others with dozens of other things on our minds—often thinking ahead to the next six or eight things on our to-do list. But each exchange is important. Each bit of communication has the potential for insight, growth and deeper relationship. What might I learn if I really take time to be with the person who's right in front of me? What do I want to ask? What do I want to say?

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

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

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Be here now

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Cut some slack

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 9, 2015

When you make a mistake...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 6, 2015

We need difference

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Attitude can make the difference

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Letting go of 'stuff'

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Emotions & health

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 2, 2015

Be peace

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

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

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

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