Thursday, December 31, 2015

Compassion and living fully

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

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

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

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

How will you start yours?

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Holding gratitude and grief together

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

From the old to the new

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 28, 2015

Life as adventure

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 25, 2015

You are worthy

Merry Christmas!

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Do what you can do

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

A couple days ago I read in one of my favorite day books, The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo: "We cannot eliminate hunger, but we can feed each other. We cannot eliminate loneliness, but we can hold each other. We cannot eliminate pain, but we can live a life of compassion."

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

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

Let's start right now. Today.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

From gratitude to action

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Peace on earth?

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 21, 2015

The warmth of a smile

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 18, 2015

The holidays aren't great for everyone

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Apologize & forgive

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Subtract—don't add

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Love what you have

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 14, 2015

Let go of the guilt

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

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

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

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

How about you?

Friday, December 11, 2015

It depends on my focus

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 10, 2015

You are enough

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Anticipation? Or dread?

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Come alive

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 7, 2015

Go with the flow

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 4, 2015

Focus on hope

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Replacing wild oats

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Turn it upside down

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Gratitude & health

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

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

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

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

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