Friday, December 30, 2016

Be ready for whatever comes

You still have a couple days of the old year to think about what you want to let go so you can enter 2017 as unencumbered as possible without old ideas, old grudges and old baggage. What would lighten your load? What things feel like a ball-and-chain that you no longer wish to drag around?

OK, here's your chance to shed all that so you can soar like the proverbial butterfly into a brand new year. If you do that, you'll be so much more ready for the adventure of new possibilities and opportunities. Who knows what lies ahead?

There's a second part to this. The first part is the letting go. The next part is to stay awake and aware so you notice the opportunities that show up in your life. It's so easy to be all tied in knots about old stuff and not even see what's on the path in front of us. We might be too busy looking in the rear-view mirror or looking straight down at the ground and not seeing what shows up on the horizon.

Let 2017 be a year of embracing opportunity and adventure. Happy New Year to you!

P.S. Remember, beginning next week, I will post blogs only on Monday, Wednesday and Friday each week. I invite you to tell me what topic ideas you'd like to see. Make your suggestions at:

Thursday, December 29, 2016

'Stay afraid; do it anyway'

So two days ago, Carrie Fisher, who played the iconic Princess Leia in Star Wars, died. She is well known for that role but may be less known as a mental-health advocate. Here's what she said about people with mental illness who might be afraid to pursue the dreams they have: "Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What's important is the action. You don't have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow." 

That isn't just good advice for people with mental illness. It's good for all of us to heed. It's pretty much like the familiar saying, "Feel the fear and do it anyway." Don't wait for the confidence to appear. Move to action.

As you look ahead to 2017 and wonder what's on the horizon for you, you may be feeling some fear and apprehension. That's OK. Feel it. And then proceed into the new year ready to embrace all the opportunities that come your way. Ready or not, here you come!

P.S. Remember that next week, I begin my new blog-posting schedule of three days a week (Monday, Wednesday and Friday). If you have topic ideas, I'd love to hear them at:

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

People of compassion and goodwill

If we just listen to the news, we might get the idea that the world is filled with evil and nasty people. News stories seem to focus on crime, murder, death and disaster—not that those things aren't part of the news. But really, do those stories have to be the only news we get?

So when I saw a video news story on Facebook yesterday showing a man filling a cart in a department store with all manner of gifts—and with multiples of many of the items, I was intrigued. What was he going to do with all those items—and with the rolls and rolls of gift wrap in his cart? The story continued with the man at home apportioning out all that he had bought, making several piles, and then gift wrapping those piles into several packages. He then loaded up laundry baskets and went out on the city streets dropping off a gift-wrapped package to each of several individuals who were on the sidewalks asking for handouts. I can only imagine the joy he brought with his compassion and goodwill.

As I watched the entire video news story unfold, I was in tears. I was just blown away by the kindness and generosity of this one individual—a sort of modern-day St. Nicholas.

It was a reminder to me that the world is full of compassionate, caring and good people. Just because most news broadcasts tell stories of those few people who set out to do harm, we should not be fooled into thinking that most people are wicked and uncaring. It simply isn't so. Look for some good news today. You'll find it—even if it isn't as predominant as bad news!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Goodbye, hello!

How are you feeling about another year coming to a close? And about ushering a brand new one? Now is a good time in which to reflect on what both the "goodbye" and the "hello" mean to you.

I recently read that, in addition to any personal trauma we may have experienced in a given year, we must add to that the collective trauma of bad news we've all absorbed throughout a year—the mass killings, terrorist attacks, deaths of beloved public figures, political fights, wars and rumors of war, etc. When we do that, we'll come closer to knowing the depth of any psychic blows we've sustained. And then we can decide what to do about them. At least we won't be in denial about what we're feeling.

It's also extremely important that we do everything we can to find things that keep us hopeful. Let's call forth our better angels. Let's carry the light for ourselves and each other—for the country and the globe—in ways both large and small. We aren't helpless. We don't have to swing in the wind or dangle helplessly over the canyon. Take charge of what we can—our attitudes and our behavior. Then perhaps we'll be more ready to transition into the new year.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Awareness is a gift

Last week one day when I ran into a store to pick up some last-minute Christmas dinner items, a mother and a young girl were pushing a cart in which sat what must have been the younger sister, perhaps 2 years old. The little one was happily singing songs non-stop. Some were Christmas songs such as "Jingle Bells" and others were children's ditties such as "Row, Row, Row Your Boat."

Several other shoppers just kept pushing their carts and rushing on their way. I don't fault them for that as I'm sure most people had long to-do lists once they got home.

However, for me, this was one of those times to stop and pay attention. I just wanted to soak up the delightful experience—a little girl so happy that she just sat in her mother's cart and sang one song after another. I was just enchanted. It definitely put a smile on my face and a spring in my step as I listened. After just a minute or so of just watching and listening, I continued around the store. And I could still hear her as I wandered through the various aisles gathering supplies. Even now when I think of it, it brings a smile; and a feeling of delight washes over me. It was all about awareness and attention.

How often I've just hurried on my way and missed moments such as this. I want to stop and pay attention more often. How about you?

P.S. Remember that beginning in January 2017 I will be posting three blogs each week rather than five (Monday, Wednesday and Friday). If you have ideas for topics you wish to see covered in these blogs, I would love to hear them at:

Friday, December 23, 2016

Holidays: Some glad, some sad

If Christmas is your holiday, I want to wish you a joyful and peaceful one this weekend. And if you celebrate Hanukkah, you'll begin this weekend; and I wish you a Happy Hanukkah. If it's simply a time of gift-giving and time with family and friends, enjoy.

Perhaps you celebrate none of those things—or perhaps, like so many, you don't feel like celebrating anything at all this year. It may be a blue and sad time for you. If that is the case, I wish for you people to whom you can turn for compassion, love and understanding. There are many reasons for people not feeling the joy others feel at this holiday season. Perhaps it's been a rugged year for you. Or you may have lost a beloved friend, family member or pet recently. It might even be the anniversary of a death or a job loss or some other painful memory. Or you may be facing a challenging health issue or difficult diagnosis. Please, above all, do not beat yourself up for not feeling in a holiday mood.

Whatever it is you're feeling right now, be with the truth of that feeling. Let it be what it is. And do what you need to do for yourself. Be gentle with yourself. It's a good time for self-compassion.

If you wish to talk about this, I invite you to contact me for a complimentary coaching and listening session. This is not the time to suffer alone or in silence—if that's where you are right now.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Sleep's trickle-down effect

I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that you're sleep-deprived these days. Did you know that nearly one-third of all Americans are? And now that the holidays are nearly upon us, even more people are suffering from lack of sleep. The to-do list is simply much longer than any normal day will allow.

What to do? Well, for one thing—try to be much more realistic about that to-do list. Does everything really need to be done? Does it need to be done now? Can it wait? Or can it go off the list altogether? Can someone else do it?

Then, too, be realistic about your daily schedule and be sure you get to bed earlier. Be disciplined and religious in your sleep habits, knowing that when you aren't and when you are severely sleep-deprived, your health suffers. You can't work at an optimal level. You aren't able to think and function as well. You open yourself up to illness. And everything that might ever cause you stress will increase exponentially. It simply isn't worth it.

Engage in good self-care. Start with a good night's sleep. That will make it easier to make good food choices and other decisions as well. You'll be kinder to others, and that will be returned to you. There are just so many good reasons to get sufficient sleep. And very few good reasons to deprive yourself!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Viewing stress in a new way

Yesterday we talked about the part stress plays in our lives, underscoring that we need a certain amount of stress to be revved up enough to perform and function optimally. We also discussed some of the ways we can de-stress when we are overloaded with stress. Too much stress isn't healthy.

In addition to finding ways to calm ourselves down when our stress is out of control or is chronic, we can learn to change our perception of things. We can challenge ourselves to see things differently so something we used to dread doesn't seem quite so threatening anymore.

Each of us has things that signal "danger" to us. Perhaps for you it's meeting people you don't know. Or it might be speaking up in a large group. Whatever it is, see whether there's a way to reframe the experience so it's less frightening—and eventually, perhaps not frightening at all. When you are able to change your perception and your thinking, you will be able to change the feeling that accompanies the experience. If entering a room of strangers seems frightening, try walking into that room with the idea that you might find just one person with whom you can converse—perhaps one new friend you haven't yet met! Search the faces to find the most inviting and least threatening one. That may seem less intimidating than thinking of an entire roomful of strangers. You might even walk over to that person and introduce yourself or ask a question.

If you are able to reframe some of your stress and build a toolkit for responding once stress overwhelms, you will help your body stay healthier. It's so worth it.

P.S. As I said yesterday, beginning in January 2017, I will post blogs three days a week rather than five. I'm happy to hear your topic ideas at

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Plan to de-stress

Did you know that stress can be good? Typically, when we think of stress, we think of its negative effects. Stress is that heightened sense of alert when the body prepares for whatever is happening or coming. Without any stress at all, we'd be comatose. We wouldn't have the energy to make it through any tasks, much less through an entire day.

Perhaps you can recall times when you were to give a speech, make a presentation at work or perform in a recital. Your hands got sweaty, and you felt butterflies in your stomach—perhaps even a headache too. That's stress. And that's OK. Such signals help keep us on our toes and tell us that something important is about to happen. Unless we totally freak out at such things, that type of stress doesn't harm us, although it's still smart to find ways to calm yourself. 

However, what wears us down and can even cause health problems and damage to our immune systems is too much stress, acute stress or chronic stress. And that's such an individual thing. What pushes you over the edge may not do the same for me—and vice versa. So it's good to know your own limits and also to know your stress triggers. What's really good, too, is to know what works for you to de-stress. What calms you? Meditation? Prayer? A walk? Exercise? Quiet music? Journaling?

Just be sure you have a plan for de-stressing—a tool kit, as it were. It's not good for your body (or for your relationships or anything else either) to let your stress stay at an acute or chronic level.

P.S. This is just a heads-up for you about something that will reduce my stress level. Beginning in January 2017, I will be posting blogs three days a week (Monday, Wednesday and Friday) rather than five days a week. If you have topics you would like to see addressed, I would love to hear from you at

Monday, December 19, 2016

Asking forgiveness is freeing

Forgiveness is such a powerful part of relationships. It's fraught with a lot of misunderstandings, however. The end result may not actually be forgiveness. At least not always. But if you apologize and are genuinely sorry, you have done your part. You have taken accountability for your words or actions. And you have set yourself free from the chains that hold you when you know you've wronged someone. Whether the other person forgives you or not is almost beside the point. Truly, it's gift when it happens. However, the important part is to do your part of the forgiveness dance. That is the only part for which you and I are responsible.

It's important when we do apologize to search our hearts and be sure we're authentic and genuine about it. Sometimes it's important to allow a bit of time to pass after our words or actions so we can process what we've done and apologize from a place of authenticity. We're not always ready to do that immediately after we've said or done something to hurt another. We might still be a bit self-righteous about what we've said or done. Or we might be angry at whatever preceded it. Take time to search your heart and be sure you're ready to apologize.

Let's remember, too, that forgiving ourselves is an important part of the equation. For we aren't truly free if we're laboring under a load of guilt either. There are so many parts to this forgiveness dance, aren't there? It's not as simple as it appears. But it's always worth doing.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Shine like a star

I just saw an optimism quote that really struck me because these days seem so dark all around. Where I live, it gets dark so much earlier in the afternoon now and doesn't get light till later in the morning hours. Add to that all the fear and anxiety that seems to fill the news, both domestic and global.

Here's the quote: "When it rains, look for rainbows. When it's dark, look for stars." Well, it definitely seems dark these days. So let's look for stars. Better yet, let's each shine like stars and bring all the light we can into this fearful, anxious world of ours.

What can you do today to shine like a star? What can I do? I'm sure we can find things every day that will bring starlight into the lives of those near and far. Kindness. Compassion. Love. Bring it on!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Let the crabbiness roll off

Have you ever let someone else's bad day rub off on you? Has their unhappiness wormed its way into your heart?

Yes, it can happen, can't it? Whether it's someone you love and perhaps even share a home with or it's a coworker or someone in a retail establishment, if we aren't aware and awake, we can be taken down a rabbit hole just like that.

If someone sprays their anger or bad day all over, don't let it soak into you. You do not need to carry their negative energy around.

As Melody Beattie writes in her daily meditation book Journey to the Heart, "If someone splashes your windshield with mud while you're driving down the road, what do you do? You wash it off and go on your way. ... Crabby thoughts and crabby emotions can be like mud. If someone splashes you, wash off your windshield, send them a blessing, and go on down the road."

What a great image! Yes, wash it off, bless them and go on your way. Let the crabbiness roll right off. You have a choice. Choose to stay happy.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Light up the world with love

I recently read a post on Facebook about a woman who's a writer. She'd done a column on how despondent she's been since the election—a sentiment shared by many people, from what I hear.

At any rate, since writing that column, this woman has been verbally attacked in the newspaper and on Facebook. She's been called fat, ugly and many other things and has been urged by several to commit suicide! What is going on here?

What I see is way, way too many people being driven by fear, anxiety, anger and hatred. And what that tells me is that each one of us who want to live in a different America than a fear- and hate-based one needs to step up and bring light, love and peace into the world. Every one of us has personal power and the ability to make personal choices about our behavior. First it begins with our attitudes and then from those flow our actions and behaviors.

Let's bring all the light we can into this dark world that seems so filled with fear and hatred lately. Let's show love. Let's carry peace in our hearts and reflect it outward in ripples that go and go. This isn't Pollyanna speaking. We really can carry the light out into the world. I firmly believe that. It starts with small acts of love. Smile at someone. Help them carry their groceries. Befriend someone. Pay for the car behind you in a drive-through eatery. Listen as though your life depended on it—because someone else's life may. 

Love really does trump hate!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Seek silence

While we talk a lot about peace at this time of year, we may not necessarily get a lot of it in our lives. It can be a noisy time of year! Advertisements are blaring at us from all directions, touting the newest toys and gadgets for our gift-giving lists. Holiday tunes blare from every street corner and in every store. There is no peace.

And most likely, our schedules are jammed with events and our own to-do lists. Sometimes, doesn't it make you want to run away or hide?

So here's a thought: Seek out some quiet, some silence, in the midst of all the hustle, bustle and noise. As author and public speaker Deepak Chopra says: "Silence is the great teacher, and to learn its lessons you must pay attention to it. There is no substitute for the creative inspiration, knowledge, and stability that come from knowing how to contact your core of inner silence."

Ah, yes, there is no substitute. So let's stop—and pay attention. Try a few moments of silence. You'll reduce your stress and increase your joy.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Goals & perspective

As we approach the end to another year, it's natural to begin thinking of what the new year will bring. What goals will you set? What new directions might be coming for you? Or will you stay the course? Where are you headed? What will that mean for who you are?

While goals are important, who we are becoming is even more important. How have we grown and changed in this past year? Have we become more of who we were meant to be? Are we increasingly comfortable in our own skin? Do we like—or even love—that person we're becoming?

I'm reminded of a quote from Henry David Thoreau: "What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals."

Are your goals success oriented? Or are they about who and what you're becoming? This is a good time to take stock—and be ready to walk into the new year with a healthy attitude and an appreciation for who and what you are.

Friday, December 9, 2016

A time for gentleness

December can be such a mixed bag, can't it? For many people, it's a time of anticipation and joy as they prepare for holidays with family and friends. For others, it's a time of incredible sadness and loneliness. Some will have lost their jobs this month. Still others have just lost loved ones to death—or have received difficult medical diagnoses. For those who suffered such losses years ago at this time, it's often a reminder of that time. There are so many reasons that this season is difficult for some.

So it's good to be gentle with one another—and with ourselves as well. Don't take it personally if someone doesn't return your hearty greetings or doesn't respond to you in the way you anticipated. You and I don't know what someone else is carrying around inside. This is always true, of course. But somehow at this time of year, emotions are a little more raw. If you're in pain, it seems as though all the rest of the world is excited and joyful. And if you're the one who's sad, please don't beat up on yourself. Just feel the sadness and let others hold you and care for you.

So let's all reach for more gentleness and compassion this season. It will go a long way.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Savor today!

A good friend of mine just learned this week that she'd lost a long-term friend to suicide. Such grief and pain. And I just found out yesterday that a long-term friend of mine has been placed in hospice care. I'm deeply saddened by this news, too.

These things are another reminder about how life can change on a dime. On a dime! We have this moment, right now—that's all we know for sure that we have. Things can change so quickly.

And that's our cue to enjoy this moment. Savor what's here right now. Live in gratitude for what we have this moment. Let's not live in the past. Let's not spend the current moment longing for the future. Look around you right now. For what are you grateful? What do you see and feel right now? Soak it up. Give thanks for it.

Let's not let yesterday or tomorrow steal today. This isn't mean to depress us. It's simply a reminder to savor today.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Widen the circles

I sense a good deal of discouragement these days as the country experiences moves toward isolationism, discrimination and bigotry. I am trying mightily to resist discouragement, tempting as it is.

Our task is to keep bringing the light, showing compassion, showing up, standing up and speaking up. Albert Einstein's words are relevant here:

"A human being is a part of the whole called by us 'the universe,' a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening the circle of understanding and compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty."

Yes, let's widen our circles of understanding and compassion. Let's keep reaching out—even to those who are most difficult to reach. I want us to keep encouraging each other and start a ripple effect that reaches ever further and further.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Open mind—open heart

"Light is in both the broken bottle and the diamond, and music is in both the flowing violin and the water dripping from the drainage pipe," says inspirational writer Mark Nepo.

That is so true. Good things can come in several different packages. So can bad things. It behooves us, then, to stop making judgments about everything. "This is good." "This is bad." "This is right." "This is wrong."

Things aren't often quite so clear cut. We simply need to remain open to possibilities. Important lessons can come to us from situations we consider negative or harmful. And they can come from some of life's most beautiful and precious experiences.

What might happen if we could drop our judgments and simply keep open minds and open hearts? How much more might we see and learn?

Monday, December 5, 2016

In charge or in control?

Larry Eisenberg, 96-year-old science fiction writer, said, "For peace of mind, we need to resign as general manager of the universe."

That made me laugh when I first read it. However, it contains more truth than poetry! We don't honestly think that we are the general manager of the universe. But sometimes don't we act as though we are? We think we have far more control than we really do have. We worry about things as though we really are in control. And yet, when it comes right down to it, we control precious little.

That said, we do have charge of some things in our lives. We make choices about whether we struggle against change or whether we accept it and move along with it. We make choices about our attitudes toward others and toward life in general. We make choices about our actions, whether to spray our anger and fears out onto others or whether to deal with them in a calm, less hurtful manner. So many choices. We are in charge of those and other choices.

It's good to know the difference between being in charge of things in our life and being in control. And it's good to know the boundaries of what's ours to manage and what's not.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Love is stronger

Is it my imagination or are more people operating on a shorter fuse these days than is typical for this time of year? Quite often, we see people in December trying harder to be kind and thoughtful, to start with themselves in bringing about peace on earth. Often we're happier because we're focused on doing things to bring joy to others—buying them gifts, giving to our favorite charities, baking for shut-ins, etc. We're living from a place of generosity and gratitude. But this year?

Lately I'm hearing about a lot of public displays of rage and anger—people going off on one another in restaurants, stores, at ballgames and in other public places. It's sad. It's hurtful. It doesn't speak well of us as citizens of what many call the greatest country on earth. Can we make that claim anyway?

As always, if we point a finger at others for this less-than-kind behavior, we remember that we have four fingers pointing back at ourselves. All we can do is begin at home. We can remember that love is stronger than hate. We can remember that the only person whose behavior we can change is moi. The song lyrics come to mind, "Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me."

I want to step up my game today. How about you?

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Bringing the light

I hear a good deal of pain and frustration from people these days about their workplaces. It seems most everyone is doing more than one job (and not getting compensated for the added work) as companies downsize but don't cut back on the work load. The workers who are left have to pick up the slack.

More and more employees simply have their heads down and just keep pushing through, attempting to "do it all," knowing if they complain, they will be told how lucky they are to have a job and that they need to just suck it up. And that's true. They are fortunate to have a job. But they don't feel so fortunate when they can't keep up with the work load and when the environment has grown so toxic and unfriendly. It reminds me of the cartoon I saw years ago where the boss was beating an employee. The caption read: "The beatings will continue until morale improves."

We can do better than this. I don't know what the answers are, but I do know we can do better. And I do know that this is not the type of motivation that causes people to do their creative and best work. I wonder whether we could actually begin a national conversation about this? I know, I know, there are so many things about which we need national conversations! But we do have to begin somewhere.

For now, perhaps we each simply need to do our part to add more light and love to the world since there seems to exist plenty of darkness and toxicity. Perhaps compassion for each other would be a good place to begin. What do you think?

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Our complex brains

A recent article in AARP The Magazine reminds us of the three parts of the brain and how differently they function. The limbic brain controls emotions and is that part that helps us love our young and connect with others. The reptilian brain is the control center for fear and aggression and runs on negative reinforcement; it's purely physical. And the thinking brain is all about thought and words.

Interestingly, the article says that research has shown that most of the time our emotions are in the lead, perhaps because we are social creatures. Staying connected is vitally important to us. Connections used to be for sheer survival but now they're also about adding joy and pleasure to our lives. Connections with others have been shown to extend life in humans, too. And we consider it a quality of life issue.

That said, it's important that we nurture those connections and relationships in our lives and maintain them, especially as we age. Fostering connections fosters positive emotions, and that reduces stress and loneliness.

To whom can we reach out today? And which relationships need some nurturing and tending? Let today be the day to put relationships at the top of the list.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Nurture peace

I continue to hear lots of pain, angst and confusion following our U.S. presidential election. So many fears were raised, lots of insults were hurled; and most of us are wondering how we can possibly heal the divide—much less know exactly where we as a people are headed.

So when I read these words in Pema Chodron's book, When Things Fall Apart, I took notice: "Right now—in the very instant of groundlessness—is the seed of taking care of those who need our care and of discovering our goodness."

Groundlessness. That does describe what many seem to be feeling these days. If Chodron is correct that the seed is there right now, it seems to me that our job will be to nurture that seed. Our work will be to do those things that don't sow division but rather that heal. We can listen to others. We can try to understand their fears and feelings. We can speak our truth—and do so in ways that simply owns our truth rather than beats up others with it. We can reach out to others who are especially vulnerable right now. We can commit to causes, not just with money but with time as well.

The following comments appear in Chodron's book just two pages after the above quote, and they are good questions to ask ourselves: "Every day we could think about the aggression in the world, in New York, Los Angeles, Halifax, Taiwan, Beirut, Kuwait, Somalia, Iraq, everywhere. All over the world, everybody always strikes out at the enemy, and the pain escalates forever. Every day we could reflect on this and ask ourselves, 'Am I going to add to the aggression in the world?' Every day, at the moment when things get edgy, we can just ask ourselves, 'Am I going to practice peace, or am I going to war?'"

In a season in which we think about peace on earth, perhaps this is a good time to think about how we might nurture peace.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Take some deep breaths

Thanksgiving is over. The insane shopping frenzy that used to follow Thanksgiving but now overlaps it is over. All eyes are focused on Christmas—and for many, that's all about shopping and gifts. Each day we hear how many shopping days remain.

Stop. Slow down. Take some long, deep breaths. Is this really how we want to spend the last weeks of this year? Is this really how we want to prepare for Christmas? Or perhaps Hanukkah is your holiday? How do you want to prepare?

Think about what's really important to you this season. Determine what is not important—and let that go. It's all about choices, after all. And you get to decide. Where is it written that you have to kill yourself with preparations to make holidays perfect for everyone? You really don't have to do it all. It's important to think about what's important to you and put the focus there.

It's too easy to get caught up in the frenzy. Make this year different and say, "No" to the craziness and the frenzy. Make it a meaningful and special Christmas for yourself and those you love by making choices that are just right for you.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Building community

It comes as no surprise to hear that we humans are a social species. And to those who are paying attention, it is also no surprise that these days many people isolate and experience a lack of community.

A new book by Sebastian Junger titled Tribe zeroes in on returning veterans and then broadens the view to point out how we're all losing our sense of community. In this book he talks about how returning veterans miss the close bonds they had in platoon life once they return home. This makes the transition home extremely difficult. They already have seen, heard and experienced things that none of the rest of us can understand. But because their very lives depended on each other while they served, they developed an intimate bond, which they miss on their return home. What they find when they return is a lack of community and a real disconnect.

My take on all this is that we surely can have a national conversation on how to regain a sense of community and how to better care for one another—and we definitely need one on how to better care for our vets once they return home. We're only just beginning to recognize PTSD and deal with that.

Perhaps it would behoove each of us to check our own lives to see how we're doing in both asking for help and reaching out to others. How are we building and maintaining community? And second, what might we do to help vets we know and care about?

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Gratitude—every day

Today in the U.S. we celebrate Thanksgiving Day. Whether you spend it with family, with friends, with a community group or alone, it's a good time to reflect on the gratitude you feel for your life and blessings. And while it's good to use today for gratitude, I invite you—and all of us—to make gratitude a part of everyday life. It truly can change our outlook.

I try to tend to the practice each day. But there are many days when I start out running as fast as I can—and never take the time to reflect. And, really, it doesn't take long. But I simply lose sight of it some days. Even spending two minutes each morning thinking about gifts and blessings—perhaps even just listing three to five of them—can change our attitude for the day.

Before we go to sleep at night is another good time to think of five of the day's blessings or happy moments. It will make sleep come more easily.

What's on your list today?

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Adding love to the world

There are so many ways we can add a touch of love and humanity to our world. Just look around. Opportunities abound in our homes, our neighborhoods, our wider community, in our schools and public institutions, in our country and across the globe.

I just read in the AARP Bulletin of one such effort, begun in 1948 when Air Force chief of staff Gen. Hoyt Vandenberg and his wife, Gladys, realized that some of the funerals at Arlington National Cemetery were attended only by the military chaplain. They felt someone else should always be present, too. Now each of the service branches has wives' groups that make sure others attend the funerals. They also reach out to families of the fallen in various ways.

Sandra Griffin, retired as a major after 23 years in the Air Force, writes sympathy notes to Air Force families she hasn't even met; and she attends funerals. "It's a way to still serve. It's a comfort to the families," she says. "Some reach out to hold your hand and say thank you."

Yes, it really doesn't take a lot. What needs are you noticing around you that might be calling to you? Sometimes even smiles to strangers in the public sphere can add joy to someone's day. So many possibilities. What will you choose?

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Wake up—just BE

I often forget to live in the present moment. I'm busy looking toward the future or dwelling in the past. Perhaps you do that, too? Or I'm so focused on my to-do list that I miss the wonder of now. I don't see everything around me—only the tiniest of things.

I want to move more toward living in the present. I want to stay awake and aware. I want to notice what's going on around me (and in me, too)! Perhaps this is a place where incremental progress is the best for which we can hope. As author Mark Williams says, "For most of us, a typical day involves hurrying from task to task, forgetting that there are other possibilities for us. Even a tiny bit of mindfulness, brought to any moment, can wake us up, thus subverting the momentum of doing for at least one moment."

So even if we can stay awake and aware for a few moments at a time, it's a good thing. And we can become human beings rather than merely human doings.

Monday, November 21, 2016

We have choices to make

In these days following the presidential election, I'm thinking about the choices each of us makes about how to respond. I've been thinking a great deal about what I will do to lift up the values I hold dear. What action will I take? What cause or causes shall I embrace? To what shall I commit?

I'm reminded of a quote from existential psychologist and author Rollo May: "A man or woman becomes fully human only by his or her choices and his or her commitment to them. People attain worth and dignity by the multitude of decisions they make from day to day. These decisions require courage."

These days as we sift through the debris left after months of angry rhetoric leading up to the election and that which is now accumulating because of multiple incidents of discrimination and hate crimes, we do well to think about the choices we make. To what shall we commit?

Let's take our time and think deeply about this. Who shall we be? What shall this country be?

Friday, November 18, 2016

Change and survival

Many of us resist change so strongly. And yet it's such a normal part of life. Perhaps change would be easier to handle if we were more able to take it as it comes and flow with it.

A Charles Darwin quote comes to mind: "It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change."

Perhaps each of us would do well to examine our thoughts and feelings about change—and be willing to make some adjustments in how we view it and face it. If you constantly struggle against change and fight it, think about all the energy you spend on that—especially if the change is inevitable anyway. See if you can approach it in another way. See whether you can lean into it and possibly even embrace it. Think about what might even be gained by the changes rather than simply focusing on what's lost.

I'm reflecting these days on what this means for me. What about you?

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Stay flexible

It's been one of those weeks—bobbing from one extreme to the other. I've spent time trying to process what last week's election means for the country and for me. I don't know about your thoughts and feelings regarding that election, and I don't wish to cast aspersions on anyone's party loyalties or votes. But I will just be open and honest and say I have been grieving the Electoral College's decision. I do so because to me the election was about more than the two candidates. To me, it was about who we want to be as a people and what we want to be as a nation. I hope and pray we can call on our higher selves to win the day despite the examples of discrimination that have followed.

Then on the other side of the spectrum from election results, I had two fabulous experiences. One was my annual "Thelma & Louise Road Trip to Tennessee" with my dear sister, Cheryl. Each fall she flies into Chicago, and the two of us take a road trip to the area where she and her husband have a retirement home amid the rolling hills of northern Tennessee. We had such a good time together—punctuated by those times of grieving and processing what just happened. And the weather was fabulous!

Then last Sunday she and my three sons really surprised me with an early birthday party at which they gathered family and friends. I really felt the love, and we all had a fabulous time. So my past week has gone from low to high to low to high. And isn't that how life often is? It's not often that we stay on a flat-line path for long. We generally have high moments, low moments and all the in-between ones that create the pattern of our days. It's good when we can stay flexible and go with the flow, knowing that those are all part of everyday life.

If you're having a bad day, know it isn't forever. And if you're having a fabulous one, savor it and stay in the moment. Keep the glow for those days that aren't so good. It's all in our attitude.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Let your journey unfold

Have you ever been in a place of just not knowing where you're going or what should come next in your life? You feel directionless and confused.

No doubt, each of us has been in this place at one time or another. Some of us have perhaps been there more than one time! Perhaps you're there right now.

I like what Melody Beattie says in her daily meditation book, Journey to the Heart: "Trust. Let go. Stay as peaceful as you can. Stay right here in the present moment. Sharpen your tools—your intuition, your inner voice, your consciousness, and your awareness. Do the little things, the small actions that appear right, the things that are right before you. Feel your feelings. Move through the fear. Wrap up in self-love. Then let the journey unfold. Trust that you are being guided and led."

That sounds so simple. We know it isn't. Still, it is good advice. And I like the image of a journey unfolding. That's typically how it happens. New directions don't often come in a great burst of energy. More often, they do unfold—little piece by little piece, in an incremental fashion. Just be open to the possibilities. And stay aware. Trust.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Broken hearts open to love

Yesterday I wrote about Parker J. Palmer's idea of the "tragic gap"—the gap between the way things are and how we know they could be. I mentioned the tension between reality and possibility, too.

In his book A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward An Undivided Life, Palmer says that people can "let the tension between reality and possibility break their collective heart open to justice, truth, and love."

I like that idea of hearts breaking open—open to learning and loving. When our hearts are open, so much more can get in.

Palmer tells about an old Hasidic tale that explains that: "The pupil comes to the rebbe and asks, 'Why does Torah tell us to "place these words upon your hearts"? Why does it not tell us to place these holy words in our hearts?' The rebbe answers, 'It is because as we are, our hearts are closed, and we cannot place the holy words in our hearts. So we place them on top of our hearts. And there they stay until, one day, the heart breaks, and the words fall in.'"

That needs no explanation. Enough said!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Between reality and possibility

Author and educator Parker J. Palmer speaks of living in a "tragic gap"—"a gap between the way things are and the way we know they might be."

I've read his thoughts on this and many other things before, and he makes so much sense. Somehow following a difficult presidential election cycle, the idea of a tragic gap is surfacing again for me. There most definitely does exist a gap between how things are and how we know they could be—or at least how we hope they might be. Sometimes we simply accept the way things are in a resigned ay, never believing that change is possible. We disengage, believing that nothing will ever change.

However, as Palmer says, " be in the world nonviolently means learning to hold the tension of opposites, trusting that the tension itself will pull our hearts and minds open to a third way of thinking and acting." Further, he says, "If we want to live nonviolent lives, we must learn to stand in the tragic gap, faithfully holding the tension between reality and possibility in hopes of being opened to a third way."

I like that image: holding the tension between reality and possibility. And I like the idea of a third way. You, too?

Friday, November 11, 2016

Examine your anger

Many people think that we simply shouldn't feel anger. We should avoid feeling it at all costs. However, anger simply is. Anger isn't good or bad. It's neutral. What we do with it is quite a different story. It pays to examine it. It will look different from one experience to the next.

We need to learn to take care of our anger. We don't want to shut it down or stuff it down. It will find a way to emerge somehow or other. And if we don't deal with it when it first appears, it will grow and grow until it erupts like a volcano.

Sometimes we feel anger toward someone; but as we dig down, we realize we're not really upset with that person. We're angry about something quite different. Or we're angry with ourselves. But that other person was a convenient target. See what's really going on inside you. There are lessons to be learned from your anger.

For example, author and Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh says in his book Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames, "When we embrace anger and take good care of our anger, we obtain relief. We can look deeply into it and gain many insights. The first insight may be that the seed of anger in us has grown a little too big, and it is the main cause of our misery. As we begin to see this fact, we realize that the other person is only a secondary cause. The other person is not the main cause of our anger.

"If we continue to look deeply, we see that the other person suffers a great deal. Someone who suffers a lot always makes the people around him or her suffer. ... One hour of watering the flower in the other person can make him or her begin to bloom. ... The moment you are motivated by the desire to return to the other and help, you know that all the energy of anger has been transformed into the energy of compassion."

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Let's work for healing

Last week my congregation held a healing and reconciliation worship service open to anyone. It was designed to try move us in a positive direction after the vitriol and hatred of a rugged presidential year. Perhaps we need many more of these—to continue on into the next several months. I was out of town and unable to attend, although I really would have liked to be part of it. But I really like the idea.

It seems we have a lot of healing to do. Divisions always have been there. But it feels as though the gap has widened during these past months as people have hurled invectives at each other in support or in opposition to one candidate or another. I don't remember when I've seen and heard such nastiness in a campaign before. I have heard of broken friendships and families not speaking to some of their members over this election. How sad is that?

We all need to be part of the healing. So let's take the time to do whatever we can to move us all forward to healing and reconciliation.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Of ends and beginnings

Where I live, many of the leaves have fallen off the trees and instead of clothing the trees, they now carpet the ground. So the greeting card I saw at Trader Joe's really speaks to me now: "The fall of a leaf is a whisper to the living. To make an end is to make a beginning."

We know that a leaf on the ground isn't the end of its usefulness. In fact, fallen leaves are nutrient-rich, soil-building treasures that contain 50 to 80 percent of the nutrients that trees extract from the soil in a growing season. Fallen leaves are a great source of nitrogen as they decompose. Interestingly, research conducted by Alexander Kowalewski at Michigan State University shows that maple and oak leaves used as mulch help control dandelions in Kentucky bluegrass! So what appears to be the leaf's end truly is also a beginning. Its usefulness continues but in a very different way.

So with us. When one chapter of our lives ends, something completely new is embedded within that ending. We don't always know what the next stage might be. Sometimes we may live in a transition time for a while—and, yes, I know all too well how uncomfortable that can be at times. But always, always, new challenges and directions emerge. We just need to trust the process, just as we trust the process of leaves falling to the ground and then adding nutrients to the soil.

What endings and beginnings have you experienced lately? Are you in a transition time right now? Let the falling leaf whisper to you!

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

What a gift to wake up today!

Something I read recently reminded me that while most of us are so busy each day focusing on our to-do lists and our problems and worries, we forget to bask in the joy of what a gift it is simply to be here. What a gift it is to be alive—to see, hear, smell, taste, feel!

That thought resonated so deeply within me. Yes, I thought, it's so true. It seems so profound, so basic and so important. You'd think we would all be reminded each day when we awaken: Wow, I'm glad to be here. I'm glad I woke up this morning and have another day of life. I'm so grateful. And yet, how easy it is to focus on everything else.

Really! Let it just soak in right now. One more day. Look around you. What do you see? As I write this in my upstairs study, I look out on trees that still retain some of their beautifully colored leaves. I see the sunshine shining brightly. And I know that the temperatures today (in November yet!) are to be in the mid-60s. I know that I'll see friends and loved ones today—and that many more are only an email, text or phone call away from me. I know that I have food in the house. I have a bed in which to sleep, a roof over my head. I have a car to take me where I want to go. And so much more.

I feel so, so blessed.

What about you?

Monday, November 7, 2016

We're better together

Last week, I was thrilled to watch on TV as our hometown baseball team, the Chicago Cubs, won the World Series ... after an 108-year drought! Fans of the Cubs are die-hard optimists and have said for years, "Maybe next year." No more next year. This was the year!

Everyone who knows anything about baseball attributes this long-awaited win to real teamwork. Even at the beginning of the season, many said that this could be "the year" for the Cubs because they saw something different in the current makeup of the team—real teamwork and less focus on individual stars. It probably didn't hurt that the game was interrupted by a rain delay, during which Jason Heyward, one of the players, had a little come-to-Jesus meeting with his teammates encouraging them and telling them how great they were. He reminded them that it was about the whole team—about everyone working together. They came out of the rain delay smoking hot and went on to finish the Series!

My point in sharing this is that the same is true for us. It's difficult to really shine when we're trying to do things solo. But when we work together as a team, we're so much better. Better together! For those of us who are vulnerability-challenged, that's a good reminder. Reach out to others. Admit what you can't do and find those who can do what you can't. Share the load. Work together. It's more fun. And it's more effective.

Friday, November 4, 2016

A giant support system on Facebook

Something powerful is occurring on Facebook these days. Again, whether you agree with Hillary Clinton's politics or not, this might be something you could applaud. A woman named Libby Chamberlain, 33, began a movement on Facebook because of Hillary's preference for wearing pantsuits. She created a special Facebook page titled National Pantsuit Day November 8. On this specially created page, I'm seeing an amazing support system develop right in front of my eyes.

What's happening on this social media site is that individual women are feeling safe enough on that page (and you have to be invited to join so not just anyone can see the posts) that they're telling their stories. Stories of abuse. Stories of threatening behavior by strangers. Stores of incest, parental denial, violence of all types. Stories of bad decisions and efforts to get back on track. Stories enough and tears enough to fill a landfill!And yet inspiring stories of courage and survival.

But here's the beautiful part: Hundreds of other women—and a few good men—are leaving supportive and encouraging comments on the site in response to those individual stories. It's like a gigantic support group where people feel safe enough to share their secrets and their pain—and in turn, they receive love, virtual hugs, support, encouragement and kudos for their courage and their ability to survive. When I scroll through the messages, I can just feel the energy flying off the computer screen and coursing through my body. It is incredibly powerful and inspiring!

This is how we should be. This is the best of human behavior. And, frankly, this is one of the best uses of social media.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Holding up half the sky

No matter what you may think of any of the candidates running for U.S. president this year, I hope you agree with me that it is significant that a woman is one of the major party candidates. It's a first. I think of the fact that when my beloved mother was born in 1911, women didn't even have the right to vote. And several women suffered greatly so we could, finally, attain that right. I think of the fact that some other countries of the world already have had a female leader, and we haven't. I think about the fact that none of us is free until all are free—and that in many parts of the world, girls cannot receive an education and they aren't free. In many places around the globe, girls are viewed as property and have no rights or voice. They are trafficked all around the globe, including right here in our own country. I think of the ancient Chinese proverb, "Women hold up half the sky" and its image of women fully bringing their gifts to the task just as do men.

Some days I just don't know what to make of all this. I rejoice in the victories women and girls attain. I celebrate with my five granddaughters that they're able to imagine and dream things I couldn't—and that my mother never dreamed possible. And yet I still carry the scars of women saying behind my back, "Who does she think she is?" as I tried to move from a magazine managing editor into the editor position. And I cringe when today I hear hateful comments such as, "Trump the _itch!" We've come far. And we have so, so far to go.

Where do we go with all of these extremes? How do we reach a point where all the world's girls and women receive education, respect and every opportunity afforded the other half of the world's population? What will it take? How might we ensure this? I am so passionate about the importance of this. I would dearly love to hear your ideas in the Comment Box below. Or if not there, send your ideas to me at:

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Don't let tomorrow steal today

Yesterday, the first day of November, temperatures reached 75 degrees here in the Chicagoland area. And today is pretty mild, too. These feel like bonus days of fall.

Some people already are grumbling about what a rough winter has been predicted. I've let my thoughts wander there at times, too. But I really don't want to let those thoughts steal the beauty that is today. I have a choice.

How often do we do that in other ways as well? If you're like me at all, you spend far too much time worrying about things that never happen. What a waste. I keep telling myself that such an exercise is stealing a perfectly good day. Worrying and looking down the road for trouble (as in snowfall!) sucks the pleasure out of the present moment.

Let's try to let today be today—and find all the good things we can in it. We can tend to those problems and issues that need addressing as they arise. And at the same time, we can live in gratitude for all the joys and pleasures of the day. Right now, I'm grateful for mild weather in November!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Breathe out anger

I talk with so many people who search for healing from difficult relationships with parents. The relationships were painful when these people were children, and they continue to be fraught with challenges as they grow to adulthood and the parents reach old age. It is no easy matter to make peace with such a past—especially when it continues into the present. Some people continue to accept the put-downs and manipulative behavior from parents. Others have had to shut their parents out of their lives.

Still others are able to find something between those opposites—and may need to learn a variety of spiritual practices and ways of reframing so they can get through life. So I was intrigued when I saw some breathing practices in Thich Nhat Hanh's book Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames.

Hanh suggests several options for releasing anger and doing breathwork:

"Seeing myself as a five-year-old child, I breathe in. Smiling to the five-year-old child, I breathe out." "Seeing the five-year-old child as fragile and vulnerable, I breathe in. Smiling with love to the five-year-old in me, I breathe out."

Or: "Seeing my five-year-old father as fragile and vulnerable, I breathe in. Smiling with love and understanding to my father as a five-year-old boy, I breathe out." (He substitutes the word "mother" for "father," using the same mantra as well.) Another one is: "Seeing my mother in me, I breathe in. Smiling to my mother in me, I breathe out." You get the idea. It seems as though such a practice might over time bring some insight and release.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Explore the feelings, too

I keep hearing about people who have ruptured relationships with family and friends over this year's presidential election. Obviously, there are many things over which we can experience conflict. But this election process has been especially pernicious.

So when I read last week in my copy of Thomas F. Crum's The Magic of Conflict, I found some helpful insights: "In creatively resolving those everyday fights at home or in the office, the willingness to understand the other side is essential. ... As long as we are involved at the level of the issue, we never understand the other side. ... Being willing to understand is your chance to embrace all aspects of a conflict, not just the positions, but also the feelings, the beliefs, and the interests that both sides have."

That makes so much sense to me. Our deeply held beliefs are so complex—and are about far more than the issue itself. They stem from feelings and interests and much more. So it's helpful if we can really listen deeply to another as they explain what it means to them to have taken the position they hold. And we need to fully examine our own position and be able to explore the many pieces that underlie that, too. If we can have respectful conversation around all those additional facets, perhaps we can actually hope to find common ground. After all, we are complex human beings. It follows that our positions and beliefs grow out of that complexity. Let's take the time to drill down and honor each other enough to learn what's under the positions of others as well as our own beliefs.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Let's bridge the divide

We've talked here before about the importance of finding common ground. It seems particularly important these days when that which divides us has been underscored far more than that which unites us. The political rhetoric and the media's use of polarism to boost ratings doesn't help us bridge the divide as we try to build connections.

In his book A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward An Undivided Life, educator and author Parker J. Palmer speaks of creating "circles of trust" (safe spaces where we can talk honestly and openly). He says one condition for such circles is the "creation of common ground on which people of diverse beliefs can explore issues of the inner life." Further, he says that "as we create open ground that welcomes diversity, we cannot allow people to wander aimlessly. The soul wants hospitality, but it also wants honesty, wants to engage challenging questions that we would prefer to avoid. How can we keep the circle open to diverse views while keeping it focused on difficult truths?"

Palmer uses the seasons as a metaphor for framing such explorations. In the fall, nature drops and scatters seeds. We, too, might think about the "seed of true self," as Palmer calls it. And in winter, we think about dormancy and what it might mean to name what's dead in us and how we might "winter through." He calls spring "the season of surprise" and invites us to look at the "both/ands" of life. Summer, of course, is a season of abundance and first harvest. He says it's a time to ask, "Whom is this meant to feed? Where am I called to give my gifts?"

Palmer's words and his metaphors offer much as we think about finding common ground. I highly recommend this book, in fact, as we work toward better listening and building bridges rather than fences.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

'Listen with your heart'

Yesterday we talked about listening with compassion. All of us need someone who will listen to us. Is there anything more wonderful than knowing we've really been heard? And understood?

To quote peace activist and Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh again from his book Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames: "We know that many people suffer, feeling that no one is able to understand them or their situation. Everyone is too busy and no one seems to have the capacity to listen. But all of us need someone who can listen to us. ... Listening with empathy means you listen in such a way that the other person feels you are really listening, really understanding, hearing with your whole being—with your heart."

To listen in such a deep way takes intention, and it takes practice. It means we have to learn to set aside our own agendas and really tune in to the frequency of the other. We have become far too accustomed to multitasking, even when it comes to our communication skills. This isn't good for relationships.

Perhaps today would be a good day to start by engaging at a deep level with someone you know—and listen, really listen, to them. Listen with your "whole being—with your heart," as Thich Nhat Hanh says.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Deep listening involves compassion

Listening, really listening, to someone else seems to be a lost art, doesn't it? So often, we hear what we think the other will say rather than what that person actually does say. Or we don't really hear at all because we're busy formulating our response. Or perhaps we're thinking about the next five things on our to-do list.

Buddhist monk and Vietnam refugee Thich Nhat Hanh in his book Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames says this: "Deep listening, compassionate listening is not listening with the purpose of analyzing or even uncovering what has happened in the past. You listen first of all in order to give the other person relief, a chance to speak out, to feel that someone finally understands him or her. Deep listening is the kind of listening that helps us to keep compassion alive while the other speaks, which may be for half an hour or forty-five minutes."

Most conversations don't involve the other speaking for that long. But still, we listen not to analyze. We listen to understand someone. We listen to keep compassion alive. That's a very different view of listening, isn't it?

We'll discuss this more in upcoming blogs. And I'd love to hear your views on listening, too. I suspect many of our conflicts could be avoided or at least settled if we could listen better—if we could keep compassion alive.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Mid-life: An open door

In her book Gift from the Sea, Anne Morrow Lindbergh talks about our middle years as a time of shedding. She writes: "One is afraid. Naturally. Who is not afraid of pure space—that breath-taking empty space of an open door? But despite fear, one goes through to the room beyond."

And when we go through to that room beyond, we can be free. As Lindbergh says, "Perhaps one can at last in middle age, if not earlier, be completely oneself. And what a liberation that would be!" She asks, "For is it not possible that middle age can be looked upon as a period of second flowering, second growth, even a kind of second adolescence?"

And then being able to concentrate on our inner life, on who we really were created to be, much freer of masks and armor than ever before, we move forward far lighter—like the caterpillar that has been transformed into a butterfly. This may look like a withdrawal from the world, an isolation of sorts. But it's not really that, as Kathleen Fischer says in her book Autumn Gospel: Women in the Second Half of Life. "...a strong inner life enables us to move outward with fewer conflicts and greater clarity. It solidifies our sense of self and our values. It is difficult to really love others if we cannot love ourselves, and hard to love a true self that remains deeply hidden. What feels like emptiness inside us may be a self that we do not know, one that has never been loved."

Wow! These middle years and beyond are so full of promise. This is not a time for despair. A time for boredom or hopelessness. Adventure awaits. Take the journey through that open door—into the room beyond!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Mentoring—mutual encouragement

I've been asked to serve as a mentor to one of my congregation's confirmation students. I did that a few years ago and felt so privileged to do so. I always see mentoring as a two-way street, and it never fails that I learn as much as the person I'm mentoring—perhaps even more. So I really look forward to this experience once again.

You do not have to be asked officially by someone else to serve as a mentor. So many opportunities exist these days. I have nine grandchildren, too. So right there I have nine opportunities for mentoring. Perhaps you have grandchildren? Or you have neighbors? Or children of friends? Or just someone that you'd love to take under your wing, encourage and support in whatever ways you think are important. The work place is another good place to consider mentoring relationships.

And it isn't only young people who need mentoring. People of all ages can use some support, encouragement, a loving and caring presence and more. It really does take a village to raise us all.

What are some ways that you can be there for others around you? Do you know someone who could benefit from your presence? Someone to whom you can pass on your values, your knowledge, your legacy?

It's a mutually beneficial relationship. You will both end up encouraged and supported. Look around you today and see who could use a helping hand.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Time to refocus?

We can all use an antidote to the negativity and fear these days. I don't know what helps you get through it all—or what helps you stay positive. Perhaps it's time to refocus a bit?

Many people I know practice meditation, contemplation or mindfulness. There are many different forms of each. And I notice that people use these terms somewhat interchangeably, so you can't assume that another person means the same thing you do when they talk about their practices.

Be that as it may, refocusing yourself can be simple. Many mindfulness practitioners recommend simply paying attention to your breathing. Breathe slowly and consciously. Really pay attention to your breath. If your mind wanders, simply notice that and return to your breathing.

Many people also repeat a phrase or a mantra, something such as:

Breathing in, I calm my body.
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment
I know this is a wonderful moment.

Other people recommend breathing in peace and breathing out love—or breathing in peace and breathing out stress as a way to let it go.

I encourage you to do whatever works for you. We don't have to fall prey to all the negativity, fear and hatred with which we're surrounded. Be positive. Be thankful. Be hopeful.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Ask some questions

On Tuesday we talked about the divisiveness in our society—and about how we might find common ground. We asked the Rodney King question: "Can we all get along?"

If we are to begin with ourselves in this endeavor, it means that we need to engage in some critical thinking about what we read and hear. We need to ask some hard questions about what others present as facts. Are there really only two diametrically opposed sides to an issue? Might there be a continuum of thought about any given issue? Might the writer or speaker have a high investment in their viewpoint or take on the issue? Do other people have a huge investment in it to the degree that they might be spending money to get that view out there? It's always good to ask who benefits from a particular story being told. Who wins and who loses? Do some fact checking and ask some questions.

We all like to hear things that are compatible with our own dearly held viewpoints. But it's good to at least hear—and try to be open to—other viewpoints as well. Even if you don't change your mind, you might gain some understanding of how the other arrives at her or his conclusion. That's worth something right there. 

This applies to our family and friendship relations as well. If your partner holds a strong viewpoint completely opposite of what you feel, can you see a continuum of thought between the two of you that might allow you to move closer to each other? Can you indeed find common ground? It's a worthy goal. And it's the start of building a more peaceful, thoughtful community and society.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Women's dirty little secret

 On Monday night my book club group discussed a lighter-weight book than we usually do. We'd had several heavy ones in a row, including a few World War II stories. This was more of a beach read:
The Girls of August by Anne Rivers Siddons.

I'm not sure what we expected from a light read such as this, but the discussion took us to interesting places. We talked about women's dirty little secret: the way we treat each other when we feel threatened or insecure. Some women shared painful experiences from childhood, when they were shunned or bullied by other girls. Others shared workplace experiences of the ways women can be vindictive—the ways we sabotage each other and fail to support and encourage. Some said they'd rather work for a man any day. Isn't that sad? But I understand the sentiment.

On the one hand, women are so relationship-oriented; and our friendships go deep. We'll do anything for a good friend—and we're there to comfort and encourage. At the same time, we sometimes get into what I call the "vying for the prom-date syndrome" and become competitive and vindictive, cutting each other down. We can be "catty," as one woman called it Monday night.

We kept asking why. Why are we women like that sometimes? Is it because we've never been taught how to compete like men do? Is it because we're conditioned to not show anger, to not be competitive—but instead to be "nice"? Is it because we're so relational? Is that why we carry grudges and hold on to things for so long, often nurturing the idea of revenge in our hearts?

We didn't have the definitive answer Monday night. But we came up with some possibilities—and it leaves us all more aware of how we treat other women. We need each other. We need to support and encourage one another. That's truly our best side!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

'Can we all get along?'

It has become quite clear throughout this election season that we live in an extremely divided country—if it hadn't been abundantly clear prior to this. Perhaps it's understandable, given that we are a country of such diversity. However, I don't think it's necessarily a predictable outcome of such diversity. And, honestly, the divide does seem to have grown over these past few months.

I often return to Rodney King's question, "Can we all get along?" (Remember Rodney King, the African American taxi driver who was beaten by Los Angeles Police Department officers following a high-speed car chase in 1991?) No matter the circumstances of King's situation, the question remains a good one for us to raise again all these years later.

Can we all get along? Although we represent different races, cultures, creeds, genders, sexual orientations, viewpoints and more, isn't it possible that we can find common ground somehow through our common humanity? Isn't there more that unites us than that which divides us? Is transformation possible?

Where do we begin to make that happen? The only place we can begin is in our own heart. We start with ourselves—and move out to our families and friendship circles, then to those other groups to which we belong—and on out as far as we can reach with our connections. But it needs to begin with us. No finger-pointing. No blaming everyone else. I'm responsible. You're responsible. And, like the stone skipped into the water, the ripples will begin to spread outward further and further. Like peace-making, it must begin with us. We must be about building connections.

So ... where can I begin today to build common ground with someone? Where will you start? After all, it is up to us if we want to see our communities and society transformed.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Stop. Switch gears.

There's simply nothing like gratitude for refocusing. Whenever I get caught up in negativity (and that's easy to do these days with all the negative news and political insults hurled back and forth between groups—and even between friends), I make an effort to stop. Take a few deep breaths. And think of three things for which I'm grateful right at that moment. Three things. That's not difficult at all. In fact, often I keep on going because there are so many more.

Right now as I write this, for example, I see brilliant sunshine outside. I'm so grateful for that. I can smell bacon corn chowder cooking in my crockpot for the guests I will entertain tonight. I'm grateful first that I have dear friends who will share food and conversation with me tonight—and second, that I have food to eat. And I'm grateful I have a home to which I can invite friends. And. And. And.

There's so much more for which I'm grateful. That's just for starters right now this minute. How about you?

Try that next time you get caught up in negative thinking. Switch gears. Soon you'll see blessings instead of problems.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Where's the justice for women?

Today I'm really at a loss as to what to write. This week has been a difficult one for us as women. So much talk about sexual assault. So much ignorance about it. Denial about how much it occurs in our society. Calls to repeal the 19th amendment. Women called liars when they report sexual assault and abuse.

I must confess it hits a lot of the hot buttons for me. I care deeply about justice and have spoken out for years on the issue of justice for women. So this is difficult for me. You, too?

I am a word person. So typically I'm not at a loss for words. But these days there simply are no words. No words! I'm heartbroken for all the women who won't be believed when they tell their stories of abuse and assault. I worry that they won't find safe places where they can heal. I'm frightened for what this says about us as a society. And I feel helpless. I honestly am not sure what to say or do that will shed light on the situation and not just heat.

Any of you have insights on this?

Thursday, October 13, 2016

A pile-up of losses

On Monday we talked about grieving a loss a little at a time, only taking it one step at a time as we can manage. Today I want to talk about how losses sometimes pile up.

A dear friend of mine had foot surgery not long ago, dealing with the pain of healing and the limitations to her mobility as she heals. She faces yet another surgery in a few more days, so she is far from done yet. There are losses embedded in those experiences. Meanwhile, she suffered the loss of a long-term friendship recently. And now her beloved canine family member (of 14 years) died. That's a lot of loss to handle at one time.

This is when incremental grieving is really important. Sometimes all the losses pile up and hit us upside the head. And it nearly bows us down to the ground.

Other times, we might be able to just pull out one of those losses and do some grieving. Feel the pain of loss. Be honest about your feelings. Pore over the good memories. Know they will always be part of you if you continue to cherish and nourish them. And only when you're ready, imagine new life—and move on.

Many books and articles have been written on grief. Find something that's helpful to you. Or talk with someone who is a good listener and has empathy. And take your time. Really! Take. Your. Time. Our culture tries to rush through grief so we can get back to "happy" again. But there really is no way to rush grief. It needs time to simmer and stew. You will need to be with it before you feel like moving on. And even then, pieces of it may return from time to time. It's OK. That's normal. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Talk to me! What are you thinking?

What's on your mind these days? What topics are absorbing you? What consumes most of your energy? What discussions do you and your friends have that engage you right now?

I counted up the number of blogs I have written for Way2Grow Coaching since I began posting them in 2012. Before I wrote yesterday's, I had done 1,246 blogs. The topics arise from things coaching clients have brought up, from conversations I've had with friends and acquaintances, from my readings, from current issues in my life, from issues in the news, from past issues I've faced and many other sources. But here's where you come in: I would love to know what topics you would like to see addressed in these blogs. What would be helpful to you? What questions are you asking these days? What's on your mind or in your heart?

You can post your responses in the Comment box below (no one will see your name or email unless you choose to leave your name or email within the message itself). Or you can simply send me an email at and let me know what's on your mind. Another option is to go to my contact page and send an email from there.

I'd love to hear from you! I'm listening.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Grounded & positive

It may not matter which political candidate you support for U.S. president. I'm willing to bet that you, like most of us, are ground down by all the negativity and offensive insults hurled around—including by some we call friends! Facebook, for example, is filled with nasty comments and heated disagreements. It can be exhausting and suck energy clean away from us.

I want so much to stay positive, to do what Michelle Obama said her family tries to do in the face of hurtful insults: "When others go low, we go high." I do so want to do that.

I will confess that it's really difficult, though. I have thoughts and feelings about what I see and hear. Sometimes I choose to just "pass on by" and let it go. And other times, I really feel the need to interject another viewpoint or express deeply held convictions.

Honestly, I will be happy when this is all over. But I'm also not stupid enough to think we'll all suddenly return to being positive, agreeable and happy individuals the day after the election. So it will be up to each one of us to make a choice as to how we'll comport ourselves afterward. Truly, we have that same choice now, too. Can we stay grounded and positive? Can we do that and still express convictions? Is there a way to do that? Can we listen to one another even when we have profound disagreements? Can we be respectful?

Let's just remember, we each have choices.

Monday, October 10, 2016

One step at a time

Loss. Grief. Sadness. These things come to us all, in one form or another, at one time or another, throughout our life. Multiple times, in fact.

Most times you and I cannot change the situation that brings grief. We can allow ourselves to be changed by the situation, however. How do we do that, you ask. One step at a time.

Say you or a loved one received a diagnosis of illness the treatment for which comes with no guarantee of healing. You cannot change what is. You can decide whether to move forward with the recommended treatment after weighing whatever options there are. But you or your loved one have no control over the illness or even how effective the treatment is. What you can manage, however, is how you face the situation—by acceptance or by fighting it.

It is important for you to be open and honest about your feelings as you face this. Talk with others about your fears. Reaching out to others helps tremendously—even though sometimes our impulse is to isolate. Grieve whatever losses are involved. Do that as often as necessary. Do everything you can to stay as positive and hopeful as you can. Not only might it help the healing process, but you will have so much more energy and strength to face the situation. And when you can't deal with the losses all at once, do so in smaller steps. Accept what you can, one step at a time.

If you wish to talk about something heavy that's weighing on you right now, I invite you to contact me for a complimentary coaching session on how best to face it.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Anybody listening?

Listening seems to be a lost art these days. And during this current political season, the ability to listen to one another seems more of a long-distant memory than a possibility. It's so discouraging.

What has happened to our ability—or even to our desire—to hear one another? If someone declares their political party, or their preferred candidate, we think we already know all we need to know about that person. And we quit listening. We've already judged them. And they, us.

And when people are in conversation, those not speaking at the moment are busy formulating their response or thinking about a similar situation that happened to them that they want to share next. But what about listening—and actually hearing what the other person has to say? And even more than that, listening to what's not said? Often, what's not said is as important or even more important than what is said. Reading between the lines is such an art. But these days, so is simply listening to what's said.

Why don't we each commit to improving our listening skills? Perhaps we can practice each day by at least listening attentively to one or two conversations a day. Then we can up it to three or four. And then five or six. And incrementally, we can improve our listening ability. It really is a matter of intention and building up to a habit. It would be so worthwhile to do so. What do you think?

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Share your gifts today

Do you have a sense of why you're here? Of what gifts you may bring to the world that the world really needs right now? Of your purpose in life at this time?

Perhaps that's really far more important to think about than the purpose of life in the macro sense. While interesting to ponder the purpose and why of the universe, perhaps it's more relevant to think about what you and I need to be about. That's something we can actually manage or control, to some degree anyway.

Each one of us has talents and gifts that can be directed to serve others—to serve a larger purpose. You may have a special knack for dealing with seniors. Or for nurturing children. Perhaps your focused attention to detail is needed by some organization that's desperately trying to tighten up and preserve its resources so it can better serve others. You may be an artist of one kind or another whose gifts inspire others and lift us above the mundane so that we can dream and fulfill our own higher purpose.

Whatever your gift is, don't be shy. Discover it. Name it and claim it. Be grateful for it. And happily share it with the world. Someone is waiting for what you have to give!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Boundaries, bullies & balance

I can't tell you how many people these days tell me about workplace bullies and boundary issues. The bullying problems that children have in grade school and that follow them all through high school and into college don't stop once they get into the workplace. Sadly, some people continue to harass and bully others even when they become adults. So we have to deal with this for much of our life. And it's downright painful.

Boundaries are essential borders each of us sets around what behavior we'll accept from others and what behavior we won't endure. They are crucial when it comes to bullies. Sometimes bullies don't even see the hurt they cause. Perhaps they are so tuned in only to themselves or they are emotionally unaware. It's always worthwhile to try confront a bully who has disrespected or mistreated you in the workplace. You need to do so calmly, however; otherwise, the message will be lost as a bully likely will escalate the behavior if she/he feels threatened. Calmly state your desire: "Please do not shout at me when you ask me for something you need," for example. You may want to add the consequence if the behavior continues: "When you shout at me in the future, I will need to leave the room. I will be unable to fulfill your request. However, if you can speak to me respectfully, I will continue our interaction."

Don't give up if the behavior persists. Continue to calmly state your desire. Of course, if the behavior continues for weeks and months, you will want to consider stronger actions, such as keeping a written record of the behavior and reporting to a supervisor.

There's no doubt that it's difficult to keep a balance between ignoring bullies and confronting them by setting boundaries. And it's especially tricky in a workplace where you fear reprisal either from the bully or from management. As we know all too well, sometimes the bullies appear to win the day. However, your well-being and emotional health matter. So you need to do whatever you can to stay in balance. If you would like to discuss this in a complimentary coaching strategy session, I invite you to contact me.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Time to shed the masks

When we were young, we tried on several masks and suits of armor so we could protect ourselves from hurts and disappointments. We tried on those different masks or personas until we found some that worked to keep us from feeling too vulnerable. And after several years, those masks and suits of armor became so much a part of us that we scarcely knew who we were without them. Or we didn't know where a mask ended and we began.

One of my masks to avoid vulnerability is the one of extreme competence and toughness. Vulnerability to me is when I don't know what I'm doing—or when I feel weak and helpless. I project the image of strength and act as though I know what I'm doing even when I do not. That's what I learned to do when I was quite young. I'm trying to drop those now.

Here's the thing: As we age, we realize that our masks or suits of armor keep us from being completely authentic and real. We begin to realize the value of vulnerability. When I can show that I, too, am afraid and don't really know what to do in a given situation, others can admit to their fears as well. But when I act tough and strong all the time, others are afraid to speak about their fears and inadequate feelings.

So, though we added masks and armor when we were young, we do reach a certain age when we want to remove them. Having said that, I must clarify and say that we don't want to totally rid ourselves of them or pack them away in a closet forever. We can't "let it all hang out" with everyone in our lives. That simply isn't safe. There are times we need our armor of protection. There are some people in our lives with whom we definitely need masks. It's not safe to be unprotected.

You are the only one who knows just which masks to remove, when and with whom. It's your choice. You're the one who knows what authenticity looks like for you.

Monday, October 3, 2016

A stance of curiosity and openness

Have you noticed that at this stage of your life, you have more questions than answers? And are you learning to be okay about that? Do you keep a list of your questions—or at least some of them?

One of the 38 women who wrote in the book I mentioned earlier this week, Women Confronting Retirement: A Nontraditional Guide, Carole Ganim, put it this way:

"I have examined my life and looked at its next stage and made plans to participate actively in its evolution. The future is alluring and the possibilities for that future are multiple. I have always wanted to know all the answers, especially the answers to the big questions: Is there a God? What is the meaning of life? What is goodness? What is truth? Who are we? Why are we here? I know I will never have the satisfaction of getting answers, but I am still excited about the questions and I still want to find ways to look for answers. I have enthusiasm for what comes next and I can't wait to see what it is. I was once asked to write my own epitaph in a group exercise. I wrote: She kept looking."

Are you still looking? Do you still have a strong sense of curiosity? Do you feel you're still open and searching?

Friday, September 30, 2016

How do you want to age?

Author May Sarton saw aging as a time of growth. Does that surprise you? In her journal At Seventy, she wrote, "I suppose I have always believed that one must live as though one were dying—and we all are, of course—because then the priorities become clear."

She also wrote, " is only when one is dying ... that one is allowed to shut life out and concentrate on 'the real connections'." Further, she said she loved being old because "I am more myself than I have ever been. There is less conflict. I am happier, more balanced, and ... better able to use my powers."

As you age, does that resonate with you? I do believe that, at least if we do our inner work, we reach that point where we integrate our inner and outer worlds. In other words, we want our actions to be completely compatible with our values and beliefs. That is how we get to be "more myself" as we age. That's how we have "less conflict" and how we're "more balanced."

It's all about choices. You and I get to choose how we age. True, we cannot choose whether we deal with illnesses. But we can choose whether or not we'll grow as we age. We choose our attitudes. We choose how much we wish to integrate inner and outer selves.

Do you have a vision for how you want to age? For who you want to be when you get older? Now is the time!

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Here's to interdependence

Yesterday I mentioned a book on retirement that's been helpful to me and to others: Women Confronting Retirement: A Nontraditional Guide.

Two of the 38 women whose stories of retirement fill the pages, Nancy Dailey and Kelly O'Brien, highlight one of their discoveries about baby boom women: "We rejected dependence and sought independence—through education, paid work and pursuits outside of the home, within our marriages, or through divorce. Ironically, what may serve us best in retirement is interdependence. Our economic progress through entry into the paid labor force has not guaranteed us financial independence by any means. Rather, what has been created is financial interdependence—with our spouses, our extended families, our children, and, for many women, with a close social network of friends. ...The notion of interdependence will be a dominant theme for baby boom women in retirement for every significant aspect of her life: economic, relational, physical, and psychological.

"The real risk for baby boom women is not in making bad investment decisions. Rather, our retirement prospects hinge on our ability to 'age successfully' by gracefully embracing interdependence and building relationships that will stand the test of growing old."

I like those thoughts. Interdependence may well serve us best as we age. It makes sense. And building relationships is something we women value anyway. The skills we have in that area will serve us well into retirement and beyond.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Do retirement your way!

Several years ago I bought a book called Women Confronting Retirement: A Nontraditional Guide edited by Nan Bauer-Maglin and Alice Radosh. This book contains the experiences of 38 women of different ages and professions as they reach retirement—or even after they've been retired a while.

What I enjoy about the book is that it reminds me that women are really making it up as they go along these days. Retirement doesn't occur at any set age. Some retire early. Some retire as soon as they are an age to collect Social Security. And still others work for many years after that.

Retirement also doesn't look any one way. It's as individual as the women who plan it and experience it. In fact, many women say they aren't necessarily planning their retirement. They're retiring and then staying open to the possibilities that rise up after retirement. That makes sense because if you plan your retirement while you're still knee-deep in your career, you might either create something that looks a lot like your work life (because you haven't yet learned how to slow down)—or you may go the other extreme and make it so different that it really doesn't suit you either, leaving you bored stiff.

It's extremely difficult to know just what you'll want until you give yourself some time to just "be" after years of a crazy work schedule. However, some women know exactly what they want—and it's a fit from day 1.

Either way, you get to decide. If you want some ideas of how your retirement could look, this book is an interesting read. Or you just may want some coaching time. I've had several clients for whom retirement questions have been the focus. Please contact me if you'd like to talk about it. And remember, I offer a complimentary initial strategy session.