Friday, April 29, 2016

Three mantras to shift your focus

Several years ago, I worked in a setting that felt toxic to me. For one thing, it was extremely patriarchal, and I felt invisible at best and dismissed and shut out at worst. I liked what I did but not where I did it.

As long as I decided to remain in that situation, I needed to do everything I could to care for myself and my soul. I engaged in self-care for my body and spirit, and it took many forms.

One of the things I learned to do was repeat a mantra when I found myself getting pulled down into negative thinking, anger and resentment—when I began feeling worthless. I don't even remember where I found the mantras I used, but I still have the little cards on which I wrote some of them. I took them along to work in my purse so I could pull them out and look at them whenever I needed. Some I knew by heart, of course. Here are three of them. And if they're useful to you, I'm happy to share them:

"I will live out of my own container of love and compassion, regardless of others' actions."

"I choose not to place my self-esteem in the hands of another person."

"I am connected to God and my own sense of wholeness."

Sometimes simply repeating such mantras can take our focus in a different, more positive direction. And that's worth a lot.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

What do you nurture?

What we water, grows. Think about it. What are you watering and nurturing?

There have been times in my life (and, no doubt, will be again) when I've nurtured and watered resentment and anger. Someone has hurt me deeply. And I want to feel justified in that anger and sink into self-pity and self-righteousness for a while. So I think about the situation and my hurt a lot. I might even tell someone else so I get validated for my feelings. I hold a big pity-party. And where does it get me? Only deeper and deeper into anger and resentment. It gets me nowhere good—nowhere that I really want to dwell for any length of time.

Most likely, it also ripples out to others so they feel the toxicity of my anger and resentment.

I'm human. You're human. So this is going to happen from time to time.

What I am trying to do instead these days, and what I invite you to do, is to be aware of this tendency. By doing so, perhaps we can catch ourselves early in the process and stop watering those negative attitudes. Perhaps we can show ourselves compassion—and also show compassion to those who hurt us. When someone hurts me, I might be better off if I ask, "What does this soul need?" As we know, hurting people hurt others. And most often, when someone lashes out at us, it's more about that person than about us. They need compassion. So do we.

So, what are you watering today?

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Toxicity & serenity: Making choices

Last weekend I attended a wonderful and soul-filling retreat that really focused on tending to our inner life, awaking to the beauty of life all around, reducing the toxicity and stress in our life and staying grounded and serene. After several days at a wonderfully slow pace that allowed time for a little (but extremely on-point) input from our retreat leader and a lot of time for walking, journaling, deep conversations with other retreatants, napping and just sitting in meditation, I came home so centered and relaxed.

The next day as I walked on my treadmill while watching the news on TV, I found myself getting all tensed up with stories about political fights (what's new, right?!), murder and mayhem. I could feel my serenity and groundedness slipping away. I wasn't ready to let that go and slip right back into the stress I feel when I get all caught up in the toxicity of news coverage. I opted to shut off the TV and just shake off the negativity.

I know I want to stay informed so at some point, I'll be ready to hear the news again. But for now, I just need to take a break. I need  a time-out! I want to keep this feeling of being centered and calm. I like the way it allows me to be more generous-hearted, loving, forgiving and compassionate. I want to be this way more often. Now to find the right balance for me....

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Preparing your soil

Where I live, it's soon time to plant gardens. Already I see people out in their flower and vegetable gardens, working up and preparing the soil. They probably also have seeds growing in a well-lit place inside. They're preparing everything for the planting.

This makes me think of our "inner gardens." What do we want to grow in our lives? Do we want a garden of negativity and resentment? Do we want to grow and nurture anger, jealousy and envy? Not likely.

If we want instead to raise blooms of joy, compassion, peace and love, that means we need to insure that the soil of our lives is the type of environment in which such things will grow. This means a check of our attitudes, a check of what we're putting into our minds and hearts, a check of our external environment. With what type of people are we surrounded? What TV programs are we watching? What books are we reading and movies are we seeing? What kind of thoughts are we thinking? Are they inspiring and uplifting? Or depressing and upsetting? Are we filled with gratitude? Or anger and resentment?

Are we doing everything we can to insure an inner garden of good and positive things? The preparation is important. So is daily watering and nurturing, whatever forms of inspiration provide that for you. Healthy, beautiful gardens don't happen by accident. They take planning, preparation and intention.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Choose life. Choose forgiveness.

Last week we talked about the restorative nature of forgiveness and letting go. After I wrote that, I learned the story of Jeff and Kirsten Corrigan and their son, Ryan, whom they adopted as a baby after his birth in 2001. They carefully chose a caregiver for their young son, someone they trusted. However, that caregiver ended up shaking Ryan when he was 9 months old, causing Shaken Baby Syndrome, leading to profound cognitive and physical disabilities. Ryan cannot walk or stand, has limited use of his arms and is non-verbal.

Can you imagine what his parents went through? I cannot. Would you be able to forgive the caregiver? That would be a challenge, wouldn't it?

Turns out, the Corrigans have forgiven the caregiver, someone who had also become their friend. They say that their faith allowed them to forgive. They wanted no sympathy and no revenge. They now use the experience to speak out about Shaken Baby Syndrome. And here's what Kirsten Corrigan says about forgiveness: "It's always a continual thing. Forgiveness is as much for you. We had a child who was joyful. We wanted to be happy, we wanted him to see that. To be focused on anger would be to miss days with him."

Yes! It's about choosing life, isn't it? Forgiveness is a choice.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Wounds & forgiveness

Forgiveness. It's such a difficult thing to do, isn't it? And no one really teaches us how to go about it. The older we get, however, the more essential it becomes—as we seek to let go of all those things that weigh us down and get in the way of a healthy, happy life. If we don't learn to forgive and let go, we'll be carrying more baggage than a diva headed to Paris for two months!

Forgiving others is tough. It can depend on the type and size of the wounding. Perhaps if we try to care for and nurture ourselves with the woundedness (rather than nurturing the wound itself and the attendant anger), we would be able to heal. And with the healing, we would be better able to forgive—and then let go. Self-compassion and self-care lead us to more compassion and care for others, and such an attitude sets the stage for forgiveness. We know that hurting people hurt others. And caring people care for others.

Forgiving ourselves is even more difficult. Here's the thing: Forgiveness is so good for us. It's restorative. It restores us to health, for when we carry around the guilt and shame of whatever it is we've done, we are in an unhealthy state. And, as we know, sometimes that guilt and shame can actually cause physical illness as well. At the least, our emotional/spiritual state is unhealthy until we can forgive and let go. Once we forgive, we are restored. We're set free from the shackles of guilt, shame, anger and whatever else has bound us in that state of unforgiveness. That definitely is worth all the hard work of healing and forgiving.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Let yourself be calmed

I've often said that attitude and perspective can make all the difference in how events and experiences impact us. A positive attitude doesn't change the situation. It changes us so we can better handle the situation.

Recently I came across notes I'd taken as someone was interviewed on TV about a controversial and difficult time in their life. The comment really struck me, which I guess was why I wrote it in my journal. Here's what the person being interviewed said: "Sometimes God calms the storm. And sometimes God lets the storm rage—and calms us."

Yes! It's just another way of saying what I often say about attitude. If you and I can let ourselves be calmed amid a stormy and tumultuous time, we'll face it with more strength and energy. Doing so may change the outcome—or it may be the same outcome. But we'll be changed. And that's the important thing.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Change & childbirth

I still remember the deep breathing I learned several months before my first-born was due in what were then called natural-childbirth classes. We were taught to breathe deeply, lifting the stomach with the in-breath and allowing it to deflate (as much as a pregnant woman could deflate her stomach!) with the out-breath. This was to allow a contraction to move through the body unimpeded. The idea was to work with a contraction rather than fight against it. If we breathed in the shallow fashion we often do and if we tightened up and fought the contractions, they would prove to be more painful than they would if we breathed with them.

I've thought of that often as I move through life's changes, too—trying to remember to roll with the waves of change rather than fight them. I remind myself to stay flexible. To breathe—and to do so more deeply. Change can be similar to childbirth in that something new is coming. Something new may be ready to be born in us. Resisting, tensing up and fighting it means even more pain than would otherwise be true.

Because I am constantly trying to make things better, I often embrace change. But not always. Sometimes I clench up and resist mightily. I know better. It just makes things worse. But I'm human. I don't always do what I know is best. Then it's time for some self-compassion and patience before I move into a place of accepting the change and going with the flow.

You, too?

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Here's to self-love & self-compassion

It's only been in the last few years that I've begun to learn more about self-compassion and practice it. I hear from many other women that they have a difficult time with that, too. Many of us have been raised to take care of everyone else—and let our own needs fall by the wayside. We are so good at taking care of others, showing them compassion and being there when they need us. But we aren't there for ourselves.

It's not too late to learn, however. A wonderful book of art and meditation, Journey of the Soul by Doris Klein, takes a look at this issue in a chapter called "Compassion: Companioning Ourselves." There Klein says, "We may minimize, deny, mask or simply ignore the pain that seems to be too much for us to bear. Yet, underneath all the denial, we are so hoping that someone will come and sit with us, listen to our heart, and fix what's broken. We cling to the lie that we would be free of this torment if only someone else would understand. We keep explaining, describing, sometimes exaggerating to others, all the while missing the paradox that we need to believe and understand ourselves."

She goes on to invite us to say to ourselves, "There, there. Yes, I hear you. Yes, I understand. Yes, this is really hard, isn't it?" She encourages us to name with compassion our pain and sadness, fear or anger. This is exactly what we do for our friends and for those we love, isn't it? And aren't we worthy of love, too? Yes, we are.

It's not too late. Let's try to be as loving and compassionate to ourselves as we are to others.

Monday, April 18, 2016

What to do with your anger

Does anger sometimes get the best of you? How do you handle your anger?

There's nothing wrong with feeling anger. It's a normal human emotion. The anger itself is neutral. It's what we do with it that can be either positive or negative.

When you have a situation that makes you intensely angry, stop. Feel the anger in your body. Notice what's happening with your body and where you're feeling it most. Just pay attention. Physically feel the movement of the anger through your body.

Once you've stopped to notice what's happening, you are far better able to make a choice about what you want and need to do to release it. Ask yourself: What do I need to do with this feeling?

Perhaps you really need the release of punching a pillow. Or you need to scream it out. Maybe just walking it off will help. Walk outside—or jog on your treadmill. Say, "I'm angry. I'm really angry" over and over as many times as you need to, perhaps raising your voice each time.

Do whatever will safely let off the steam and the pressure. Feel the difference in your body as gradually the movement and the words release the strong feeling. Then let go of it all—perhaps even with some deep breaths. By then you should feel much calmer and more peaceful. The problem may still be there—but you'll be able to handle it when you've siphoned off some of that anger.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Dance through life

What makes you feel most alive? What makes your spirits sing? And what puts a smile on your face that lasts a long time?

Are you doing those good things for yourself? I hope so.

Remember to carve out time for play, for joy, for things that just tickle you from the top of your head down to the soles of your feet! This isn't wasted time. It's good for body, mind and spirit.

Perhaps you learned to finish your work before you spent time in play (and somehow the time for play never came since to-do lists are seldom finished). You might feel guilty if you sit down and—gasp—read a book during the day. Or take a nap. Or color in your brand new adult coloring book. Or whatever brings you joy and makes your spirit dance.

But let that guilt go. Let go of those old messages and ideas about play being a waste of time and an extraneous activity. No, no, no—anything that opens you to wonder and amazement is good. Anything that makes you come alive is good. The world needs more people who are alive and awake—more people who are filled with joy. Think of how much more loving and compassionate you are to others when your spirit is full.

So what'll it be today?

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Feel the discomfort of change

As the late author and public speaker Marilyn Ferguson once said, "It's not so much that we're afraid of change or so in love with the old ways, but it's that place in between that we fear.... It's like being between trapezes. It's Linus when his blanket is in the dryer. There's nothing to hold on to."

Does that describe your feelings about change? I can relate.

Often, I can embrace change because I like to see things made better so they work for everyone. If I see that the change I face will do that, I can get through it. That said, there are some changes in my life that I haven't welcomed. So I know it can depend on the nature of the change.

But Ferguson is right, I think: It's that in between place we fear. The old is gone. We can't go there anymore. But our feet haven't yet landed on the new normal. There's nothing solid yet. The ground is still shifting under our feet. Our blankie is in the dryer, and there's nothing to hold on to.

When that happens, here's something you can do: Try to just be where you are. Try to be OK with the discomfort, with the dis-ease you feel in that in-between place. Try to remember that it's temporary. Soon whatever change was once coming will have arrived, and you'll settle into the new place. You can do it. You really can. Change can be like childbirth—if you fight it, the pain will be greater. But if you roll with the waves (the contractions), you'll feel less discomfort. Be with all your feelings around the change. Accept all of them. Move through them. Soon you'll be on solid ground again.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Recovering from perfectionism

Because I'm a recovering perfectionist, I am always alert to mention of perfectionism in my readings. In fact, a book I really value is Brené Brown's The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. I highly recommend this one if you deal with perfectionism.

Recently, I reread another of my favorite books, Kitchen Table Wisdom by Rachel Naomi Remen. She has a way of calling things what they are and does so with graciousness and insight. In this book she talks about the pursuit of perfectionism as one of the "major addictions of our time."

She reminds us that we're not born with it and because it's learned, says it's possible to recover. She says she, too, is a recovering perfectionist.

Here's what struck me: "Sometimes perfectionists have had a parent who is a perfectionist, someone who awarded approval on the basis of performance and achievement. ... Of course, love is never earned. It is a grace we give one another. Anything we need to earn is only approval."

She goes on to say, "Few perfectionists can tell the difference between love and approval. Perfectionism is so widespread in this culture that we actually have had to invent another word for love. 'Unconditional love,' we say. Yet, all love is unconditional. Anything else is just approval."

I'm still digesting those ideas and reflecting upon them. Hmmm, what do you think?

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Looking for meaning

It's said that millenials seek work and activities in their lives that have meaning. They don't want to settle for just anything.

I suspect that can be said of most of us. We search for meaning in our lives, in our work, in our relationships and in our hobbies and activities. It's important to think we're contributing in some way.

The story is told of three stonecutters who worked on a cathedral many centuries ago. When asked about their work of cutting stones for the cathedral, they each answered in a different way. The first man complained about the boredom and hard work of stonecutting. The second man said he was happy to have the work so he could provide for his beautiful family, whom he loved very much. And the third man spoke of the privilege he felt to be part of building a great cathedral that would stand as a "holy lighthouse" for thousands of years.

Isn't it interesting to see how each man saw his job from a different perspective? Each assigned different meaning to the very same task.

How do you see your life? Your work? Your relationships? Do you need to change anything? Or do you simply need to attach different meaning to some of the elements of your life?

Monday, April 11, 2016

The importance of connecting

Sometimes we take our loved ones so for granted. We may live side by side but never deeply connect. It's so easy to do because we're all so busy.

I remember when my youngest son told me after his father and I had divorced that it really changed how he experienced his time with me. "Before when we were together, I wasn't completely aware of you. We each did our own thing—our work or play. But now when we're together, we're really together, Mom. And I really pay attention to you," he told me.

I'll never forget that. Pretty good insight for a young boy (he was only 12 at the time!), I thought. I still think of it often today—when I reflect on my time with family and friends. Am I only half there? Or am I all there and present? It's so easy to be preoccupied with other things, isn't it? And then we miss precious opportunities for connecting.

Pay attention today to how present you are with others. Really try to be there. Try to really listen, to really savor the moments, to really appreciate the other. You'll be so glad you did. Your moments will be even more precious than ever.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Choose gratitude & joy

While there is much in life that we cannot control, we can manage our attitudes and our level of acceptance of what comes our way. And it's so worth doing.

Life is what you make it. It can be what you want it to be. Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that we get everything we want in life. I don't mean that everything is perfect and all that we dreamed it would be. But I do believe that what we make of what we have is the difference between misery and joy.

I confess that my life hasn't turned out anything like what I had imagined as a young girl growing up on an Iowa farm. Things have happened to me that have brought pain and sadness. However, I've also experienced things that I never dreamed could be part of my life. And through it all—the good and the bad—I've been transformed. As a result, my life is far richer than I might have imagined. And, honestly, I'm thankful for it all. I would not have grown in the ways I have without some of the more difficult experiences. I might not have met those who enrich my life today.

Is it time for you to do an attitude shift? To change your perspective? To be grateful for all the parts of your life, even those you didn't want? See whether you need to make some changes today so you can welcome gratitude and joy to be part of your daily life.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Don't put off wonder & pleasure

Life is too short to put off the good stuff until a later time. Do you ever say, "Once I get through this, I can breathe" or "Once I finish this project, life will get back to normal and I can relax and be happy again"? I know, I've done it many times myself.

But when I read inspirational books and poetry—and hear the invitations to live fully today and enjoy life to the fullest, I'm reminded that it's not good to put off joy and wonder and all the other good stuff! And when I hear that someone died at a young age, I'm reminded again that life is short. You and I have absolutely no idea whether we have years more of life, months, days—or just minutes. Now is what we have.

Celebrate each day. Live each moment fully. Open your eyes—and really see what's around you and who's around you. Notice the colors and textures. Savor the smells and fragrances. Enjoy the moments with those you love. Make the best of it all. Welcome the changes. See if you can flow with the surprises—and maybe even the challenges.

How different would your life be if you could do that? I know mine would be different. And I really do try. But I need frequent reminders. Otherwise, it's so easy to slip right back into just putting one foot in front of the other, doing what needs to be done and promising myself pleasure once I finish my to-do list! So this is a reminder to myself—and I'll be happy if it touches you, too!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Acceptance & perspective

Yesterday morning I awoke to a black-screened, stone-cold-dead cell phone. I had just charged it to 100 percent the previous night—and even sent some texts before I went to bed. But by morning, the battery was gone. I couldn't get a rise out of the phone.

So, of course, my day wasn't at all how I planned it (and I did have quite a to-do list yesterday). I checked online to see what models of iPhone were available and what the differences were. After doing some background research, I went off to the Verizon store—where I spent far more time than I ever intended. I did find a phone I liked, worked out a deal, waited while my old iPhone data was backed up and then transferred to my new phone; and finally I got home—to begin all the work I'd intended to start far earlier in the day.

At first I grumbled about all the lost time and the inconvenience. However, I realized that this could have happened when I was out of town. It didn't. I was here and could easily handle it. I also thought of the questions my sister often asks herself when she's upset about unexpected events messing up her plans. Do I have a life-threatening illness? No. Is this something I can survive? Yes. Will this disruption matter a year from now? No. Well, you get the idea.

I just had to grumble for a while. But asking those questions put things in perspective rather quickly. My focus shifted. I was able to reframe things and get on with it in a better frame of mind. Acceptance. Perspective. Those things make such a difference.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Where's the focus?

One of my granddaughters is in a high school exchange program in Spain for nearly two weeks, learning more about Spanish culture and deepening her use of the language. She is staying with a family there; they have a daughter her age. Other classmates of hers are doing the same thing, staying with other families. In May the Spanish youth will come to the U.S. and stay with the family of their guest. It's a great idea, and I'm so excited for Elizabeth that she has an opportunity such as this.

When I mentioned this to a friend of mine, however, she immediately asked whether I wasn't worried about terrorism in Spain. It isn't that I'm not completely aware of the threat of terrorism everywhere (including in our own country), but that hadn't been my focus. I had been focusing on the wonderful opportunity Elizabeth has and what that might mean in her life. I was (and am) excited for her.

But it's interesting to me how someone introducing a negative into the situation could shift the focus for me—even if only temporarily. Yes, of course, terrorism is always a possibility anywhere. But that wasn't what I chose to focus upon. It did throw me off balance for a while. And then I let it go, instead praying for her safety and well-being along with her ability to be open to all the new and wonderful experiences, smells, tastes, sounds and sights she is encountering.

It's good for us to be aware—aware of reality and also aware of the effects of positivity and negativity.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Speak your fear

We all have fears. It doesn't matter how tough our exterior, what age we are, what our circumstances or where we live—we're human and so we have fears. What we fear and how we respond to those feelings of fear differs, of course.

Depending upon the object of your fear, ridding yourself of it can be simple or it can be a long process. For example, if you are genuinely afraid you won't finish your project on deadline and you're the only one working on it, you do have some control. You can make a plan and stick to it, facing the fear and moving ahead anyway.

However, if you fear being in an enclosed space, for example, that will take a much more involved process to address. Even so, it's that first step that's important: speaking it, facing it.

Your fear will shrink if you get it out of your head and acknowledge it. Talk openly with someone you trust about your fear. Write it out on paper and really examine it. If it's something beyond your ability to address, I invite you to seek professional help. There's no shame in that—and it will liberate you in ways you might not imagine. Even if it's something you can address, it's still important to speak it or write it. Something about taking a look at fear (speaking or writing it out) brings it down to a more manageable size. Don't keep it locked inside where it takes on over-sized proportions.

So, what are some of your unacknowledged fears?

Friday, April 1, 2016

4 questions to ask before you speak

Facebook often is filled with negative messages these days in the midst of a raging political season, one of the most negative I can recall. But yesterday, this: "Be somebody who makes everybody feel like a somebody."

Ah, what a good reminder! It really doesn't take so much, does it? A kind word. A smile. Respectful conversation. Asking for clarification. Holding back any hurtful remarks. Encouraging others. Complimenting others. Saying thank you.

Here are some questions to ask before you speak:

1) Is what you are about to say kind?
2) Is it true?
3) Is it necessary?
4) Does it improve upon the silence?

I often hear people tell stories about conversations in which they share about an illness or a difficult time they're experiencing—and the other conversation partner drops a bomb about a similar illness from which a friend died or shares a story of their difficult time as though to one-up the original story. What? Really? Is that helpful or necessary?

I am trying to remember these four questions in my conversations. Then I can make choices that make others feel good about themselves.