Tuesday, May 31, 2016

'Take the long view'

Recently I had lunch with a friend so we could catch up on our lives. We go back nearly 50 years, and there was a lot of territory to cover. But it was so easy to pick up right where we left off nearly a year ago.

As we shared stories of volunteer activities, part-time and paid work, children and grandchildren and our latest book reads, we both agreed that this time of life is just the best. It's so wonderful to be able to shed some of life's unnecessaries and focus on the main things. Or at least most of the time. It's still easy to get caught up in life's trivia—in those things we cannot change. But more and more, at this stage of life, we can say, "That really doesn't matter anymore. It's not something I can change."

As my friend said, "Even though our remaining time is shorter than the time we've already spent on this earth, we can take the long view now. Most of what we used to worry about so much and obsess over either didn't happen at all or didn't really matter when it did." Oh, so true.

Perhaps I should post that on my bathroom mirror: Take the long view. Sometimes I remember to ask, "A year from now, will this matter? Can my worry make any difference? Is there anything I can do to change what's happening?" There are so many questions one can ask to see whether something is worth your time and energy worrying about it. Let's do less worrying and more focusing on the main things! Let go, let go, let go....

Monday, May 30, 2016

Decision-making simplified

"I'm just not sure," my friend said. "What do you think I should do?" I asked her how she really felt about the entire situation. What would she do if this happened? Or that happened? We talked a while, and I could tell she was processing as we talked.

At the end of our conversation I said, "I think you know what you want." She agreed. "Then," I said, "I don't think you need my approval." She said it helped to have my validation and affirmation for what she wanted to do. I totally get that. I like to run things by close friends or loved ones sometimes, too.

Thankfully, we have reached a stage of life where our decisions aren't based on what everyone else will think—or based on what others do with their lives. We get to decide based on how it seems best to us to proceed. It is so freeing. That type of decision-making still comes with responsibility to do no harm to others or ourselves. But it's so freeing to no longer worry: "But what will others think?"

Being authentic and living with integrity—it's a wonderful way to live.

Friday, May 27, 2016

How's your energy level?

As you think about all the people in your life—particularly those who are an important part of your daily life—are most of them people who enhance your life and give you energy? Do they invigorate you? Or do they deplete and drain you?

One always hopes that you have more people in your life who make you feel better, open your heart and make you come alive rather than those who suck away your energy and make you feel negative and worn out.

As you think about this, think also about your own attitudes. Are you staying positive? Are you encouraging and affirming of others? Or do you rain on your partner's or friend's parade when he or she has a new idea or wants to try something different?

Check your own attitude. And check those of the people around you. If you want to have energy and be happy and positive, start with your own attitude. And don't let others steal your peace, either. Sometimes it's a matter of tuning out the negative messages of others. And other times, we really need to just walk away from a conversation that's a real downer. And at yet other times, we may even have to leave a friendship that drags us down regularly.

Do an energy audit and see how you fare. It's important to your happiness.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Claim zen-time

Some days it's all I can do to stay positive and focused on gratitude. Do you experience that, too?

I want to be an informed citizen, so I listen to news. I read periodicals. But more and more, those things are negative. Please, someone, print and run the good news, too! Does it really all have to be conflict, murder and mayhem to have good ratings?

Lately, I'm hearing more and more about people who plant stories in the media to cause even more conflict and strife between, say, political opponents. They do so not because they support one candidate or the other but because they want to stir things up. In fact, often they support someone in another party altogether. At any rate, it makes me suspicious of so much of what I read and hear. And that isn't good for my positive attitude, either.

So what's a person to do? For me, it underscores the importance of claiming zen-time, quiet time, meditation time or whatever name you put to it. Zen-time can look different to each person. For some, it's meditation. Reading. Praying. Gardening. Sewing. Weaving. Painting. Walking in nature. Biking. Whatever allows you to shed fears and worries for a time and to be immersed in the joy of being—that qualifies as good quiet time. It's about renewal. Refocusing on the positive. Being rather than doing.

So what'll it be today?

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Give thought to what's ahead

If you're over 50 years of age, you're nearing the point where there are more years behind you than ahead of you. Since I'm well over 50, I'm fully aware of this fact. And it's okay.

Sometimes when I say this to others, they think I'm being morbid. I don't see it that way. It's realistic. And I actually see it as healthy and hopeful to be aware of this—and to think about what it means. What it means to me is that I don't want to lose time doing things that are meaningless to me. I don't want to waste time holding grudges and not speaking to someone I love. I want to be conscious about my choices.

I want to make good choices so that time will be as happy as it can be—and so the legacy I leave behind for my children, grandchildren and others I love will also be a happy one. I want to make choices about how my time is spent rather than simply sleepwalking through life. I want to live my life as authentically as I can, as true to myself as possible. It's really more than a simple bucket list. It's about how I live out this last stage: Do I want to see my glass half-full or half-empty? Do I want to live in gratitude? Or do I want to get agitated over every little thing that isn't how I think it should be? Do I want to let go and forgive? Or do I want to keep carrying old baggage? You get the idea.

Do you know what you want for your next life stage?

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Make healing a priority

Highly respected author and educator Parker J. Palmer once said, "Violence is what happens when we don't know what else to do with our suffering."

That's profound. Yes, there is so much violence in our world. War. Murder. Rape. Trafficking. Spousal violence. Child abuse. Angry, hateful and vitriolic language spewed in political gatherings. Even talk shows where participants yell or talk over each other.

What's underneath it all? Suffering. Pain. Fears. Those things in and of themselves don't need to lead to violence. However, if untended, they definitely can. Healing is so essential.

When you and I suffer, whether that's physical, mental or emotional, it's important to take the time and find the resources that will help us deal with that pain. If left untended, when the next painful event occurs, that hurt will pile on top of all the old hurts that were never tended. Soon you have an enormous rock-pile of stored-up pain and hurt probably frosted over with more than a little anger. The stage is set for violence, whether in words or actions.

Is there something right now that could use healing in your life? I invite you to tend to it right away. It's a gift you give yourself—and the world. 

Monday, May 23, 2016

Where's that laughter?

Last week friends and I treated ourselves to tickets to the Carol Burnett show in downtown Chicago. At age 83, she is still warm and funny and quite a remarkable woman—a reminder that our age really says very little about us anyway. A few selected replays of some of the funnier moments on her TV shows had us all in stitches. We laughed till we nearly split our sides!

What struck me was how different TV shows are today than back in the 1960s and 1970s when we watched her variety shows. We had variety shows that included lots of laughter and light humor in those days. Today we're more serious and cynical. Humor today seems to have a bite to it. Actually, in Burnett's Q and A with the audience last night (just as she used to do in her TV shows), that topic came up.

We could probably fill pages trying to determine the veracity of this and also delving into the reasons for it. But that's not my point here. What this does for me is to remind me to lighten up a bit and touch back into that sense of humor that includes splitting-your-sides laughter. Yes, life is serious and it's not for sissies. But perhaps we could use a bit more humor, wonder and joy in our lives. And a little less cynicism and anger. What do you think?

Friday, May 20, 2016

Follow your own beat

It's been said that we have a more difficult time of changing a behavior if it's something that's accepted socially. Stress is one example. Stress has become nearly a badge of honor. Think of all the conversations you've had lately. In several of them, were people simultaneously complaining and bragging about all the things on their to-do lists, all the things they'd done in a given day or week? Perhaps you do it yourself. I know I'm guilty of this at times, too.

As Cindy Jardine, professor of sociology at the University of Alberta, puts it, "It is seen as a socially desirable thing to be overworking. We don't seem to have the same respect for people who work a 40-hour week." Odd, isn't it?

Perhaps it's time to set our own standards of what's acceptable and not acceptable. Why not do all we can to reduce our stress, get sufficient sleep, find time for exercise, eat well and generally do what it takes to get healthy? Wouldn't life be better for us—even if being stressed out is not only socially acceptable but perhaps even admired? Even though it may prove more difficult, we can change behaviors that others may think acceptable. The choices are up to us.

It's time to follow our own beat, to be authentic and do what seems right to us.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Happy with your age?

Ask 10 women how they feel about their aging process, and you'll likely get 10 different responses. Several may say, "I'd give anything to be 20 (or another younger number) again." Others will say, "I like the age I am right now." And some responses will fall between those poles.

What do you think? Are you happy to be the age you are?

I love what Sue Patton Thoele, psychotherapist and author of The Woman's Book of Confidence: Meditations for Strength and Inspiration, recommends. So as to better focus on the positives as she ages, she adopts a new motto for each decade. For example, she coined "Fifty is Freedom" for herself when she reached that decade. In my sixth decade, I termed it "Sixty is Serenity." You get the idea.

Where are you now? And how can you frame the decade in a positive way? When you name the decade, it might be helpful to journal or simply jot down some of the joys and blessings you've experienced from living as long as you have so far. You just might be surprised when you see your list.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Sharing strength

Years ago I remember learning that the giant, majestic redwood trees we all admire really have extremely shallow root systems. I was so surprised to think that a 350-foot-tall tree would have such shallow roots, often only five or six feet deep. Not much for that height, is it? How do they withstand high winds and floods?

Do you know what makes up for the shallow roots? Redwood tree roots extend far out from the trunk, and redwoods cluster together in thick groves. That means the roots intertwine; some even fuse together, thus giving these tall, enormous trees a strength they would not otherwise have.

The redwoods contain some lessons for us: We are stronger when we can share roots, as it were—when we group together and share the journey. We can help each other carry the burdens, and we can celebrate the blessings with each other, too.

The image of the redwoods brings to mind the saying, "Friendship divides our grief and doubles our joy." Yes. We don't have to walk this journey all alone. It's so much easier when our "roots intertwine" and we can share our strength. That's how we survive—and thrive!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

This is your moment. Savor it.

My to-do list is longer than I'd like right now. And some of the items on it come with deadlines that are approaching more quickly than I'd like. In fact, I'm concentrating today on one 3,000-word piece I need to write and that is only beginning to form in my mind. Yikes, I am really feeling the pressure.

Because of this, I'm not feeling my usual inspiration for writing today's blog. Perhaps tomorrow will be better.

It occurs to me, however, that this isn't altogether bad. Perhaps you can use the time you would normally use reading my blog to instead reflect on what's going on for you right now. What are you feeling? Thinking? Worrying about? Longing for?

And what do you need to do about any of those things? Any changes needed? Or do you simply need to stop and appreciate what you have right now?

White space on a page is important. We would be put off by words that went from top to bottom and from the left margin all the way to the right margin. We all need some white space in our lives, too—time to think, time to savor what's right there in front of us, time to be awake and aware of the present moment. That's what I'm offering you right now. Use it however you wish.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Treat yourself lovingly

Do you allow others to mistreat you? To say hurtful or even abusive things to you? A good friend of mine always has said that she learned from her mother to treat herself well and expect that from others, too. Yes! It's called self-love. And it's true that the way we see ourselves, the way we love ourselves and the way we treat ourselves teaches others how to see and treat us.

In a book from which I gather inspiration, The Woman's Book of Confidence: Meditations for Strength and Inspiration by Sue Patton Thoele, I read the other day: "It is impossible to ask 'them' to treat us in ways we do not yet treat ourselves. ... We are the authors of our lives, and we can write new, healthy scripts that cast us as lovable and deserving women. As a result, we're more likely to be appreciated by those around us and our relationships consequently will be enhanced."

Perhaps you grew up judging yourself. Or even hating yourself. Calling yourself names or giving yourself spiteful messages (such as "You stupid thing, why did you do that?"). The wonderful thing is: We can choose at any age or stage to let go of those old tapes and messages—and to learn new behaviors, such as self-love, self-care and self-compassion. We can learn to love ourselves, to give ourselves kind and caring messages, to give our Inner Critic a vacation or teach her some new habits. It's never too late. As Thoele says, "We are the authors of our lives...."

Friday, May 13, 2016

Open doors & choices

Last Sunday I heard a wonderful sermon about doors. Opening doors. Closing doors. So many doors, literal and figurative. It reminds me of the quote from Flora Whittemore: "The doors we open and close each day decide the lives we live."

Think about it. Doors open up, or close, in relationships. In our careers. In retirement choices. In the thoughts we choose to think and what we focus on: negative or positive. In what we choose to read. Or watch on TV. Doors to what activities we choose. Attitudes we adopt. And so much more.

All of these choices make a difference to the kind of lives we lead.

For example, when I got up this morning, I saw no sunshine. It was overcast and appeared nearly ready to rain. I could have chosen to be grumpy. I have an extremely long to-do list today (this entire month, really). I can choose to be completely stressed-out about that (and to be perfectly honest, I have gone to that place more than once this month!!)—or I can simply take one thing at a time and get done what needs to be done. I can choose to enjoy the simple fact that I'm breathing in and out, that I have a home that's warm and beautiful, that I have a loving and amazing family and several pretty wonderful friends. Or I can choose to shut the door to such gratitude and instead choose to complain about those things I do not have. Choices. Always lots of choices. Each day we open doors and we close doors. And thus our lives move forward either in gratitude and joy or in disappointment and pain. What we do with these doors we face determines the path we follow and how that path feels for us.

What will it be today for you?

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Live with passion

Recently I heard someone talk about the importance of living life with passion. I've been thinking about that a lot since then.

To me, that means not sleepwalking through life. It means being awake and aware, at least as much of the time as is possible. It means noticing the people who cross my path and people my daily existence—really noticing them. It means really listening. Savoring the moments. It means living in gratitude for all the gifts I'm given each day. And it means looking for the beauty that's there every day and just needs me to notice it.

Living with passion also means feeling deeply the things I see, hear and experience. It means being open to all my experiences—letting them soak into me. And being open to others.

There's so much more I could say. But this is a blog, not an ezine! What does living with passion mean to you? You might have fun thinking about this yourself.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Where do you store your stress?

Today I read this in one of my daily readings from Melody Beattie's Journey to the Heart: Daily Meditations on the Path to Freeing Your Soul: "Our bodies act like sponges—they can soak up healing energy or they can absorb and trap the negative energy of stress and tension."

Beattie says that when we really connect with our bodies, we will notice the tension right away. Each of us has different places of our body where tension tends to gather and get stored. Mine is my neck/shoulder/upper back area. Yours might be your arms. Or your legs. Or perhaps your head, which you'll recognize by frequent headaches.

She also says that once we recognize that tension, we can find ways to relax and let go of the stress—ways that are just right for us. Perhaps you have a yoga practice. Or meditation, therapeutic massage, reflexology, healing touch, visualization or even exercise that removes the tension from your body. Whatever helps you—give yourself that gift. It's a good way to love yourself and exhibit self-care. Your body will soak up that healing energy. That won't only help you—it will make a difference to all those with whom you have contact!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Are you under construction?

We can't travel very far these days without incurring orange barrels and construction signs. It's a necessary part of our lives because of heavy traffic and crumbling roads and bridges. In Illinois this past year, road signs encouraged us to "Embrace the orange." I suspect the state was trying to tell us to be grateful that roads were being repaired and inviting us to just chill out and go with the flow. Accept it. Quit fighting it and complaining all the time. In the end, this will be better for us all.

Do you ever feel that your life is a bit like that? Often under construction? Tweaks and changes either needed or coming unwanted and uninvited? Perhaps we should take the state of Illinois' advice and simply embrace it all. Go with the flow. Be grateful that things can be updated, improved upon. Get over our fears or frustrations with change. Quit fighting it.

Next time you see orange in your travels, let it remind you to ask the question: What's under construction in my life? What changes am I facing? Or what changes should I be undertaking right now? And what will help me get through them and come out on the other side?

Monday, May 9, 2016

Fear of transition

Author and educator 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."

Actually, I do think we're afraid of change, too—at least some types of change. But I do think Ferguson was onto something. We do fear that transitional phase, that in-between space—the time when we've let go of one trapeze and haven't yet grabbed hold of the next one. We're not sure who we are or what's coming. Will we like that new trapeze? Will we be able to adjust to it? Will we miss the old one? How long will the transition take? Or will we fall after we let go of the old one and before we get hold of the new?

Uncertainty can be one of our biggest fears. We like to know exactly how things will be, exactly how we will be. However, as you and I know, some of our greatest growth and transformation comes when we've let go of an old trapeze, to continue Ferguson's metaphor.

What changes are you going through at the moment? Don't ignore any fears associated with the change. Face them head-on and know that transition times are by nature filled with uncertainty. Know too that you can live with uncertainty until things do fall into place. You really can. Be sure your friends and environment support you in those times.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Choose to be centered

Much is said and written these days about the importance of staying centered and grounded. And I do agree, it is important. It is so easy to get off-center and off-kilter because of the crazy schedules and lifestyles most of us keep. It's easy, too, to let the behavior of others affect how centered we remain. That's when we need to remind ourselves that we can make a choice to not let others' behavior change how we feel or how we act.

There are many ways to get centered: meditation, prayer, yoga, walks in nature, or whatever helps you clear your head and rid your body of toxins that may have settled inside because of angry drivers or an abusive boss.

The book I mentioned the other day, The Magic of Conflict by Thomas F. Crum, has some important things to say about the choice to be centered. It says, "Being centered: allows you to be more authentic, sensitive, and open; produces emotional and physical stability; has a positive effect on relationships and the surrounding environment; has great impact in developing trust; brings you to a point of clarity, the point of power; and is always your choice, at any time."

I think we could add many more benefits, too. But that's surely a good start—and some good reasons to develop and maintain those practices that center us. Let's do it!

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Compliment or criticism?

So many of my clients have dealt with low self-esteem. Most of us as women have struggled with it at one time or another—or perhaps even all through the years. There's a lot of it going around.

Because of that, I think it's really important to be careful with our words and messages to one another lest we do more damage. It doesn't cost us any more to give a compliment than a criticism, but it can change everything: the atmosphere around us, the other person's self-esteem, and our own frame of mind.

A study was done in Iowa with graduate students following a 2-year-old throughout the day. The child was told what not to do 432 times as opposed to 32 positive acknowledgements. And it's said that the national average of parent-to-child criticisms is 12 to 1 (12 criticisms and 1 compliment). That doesn't speak well for us, does it?

Perhaps it might be good for each of us to really take notice during an ordinary day to see how often we give out compliments, encouragements and positive messages versus criticisms and negative messages. We won't make any changes until we start to notice our behavior. We just might be surprised by what we see.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Discovery & possibilities

Years ago I bought a book to help me deal with some workplace conflicts that were happening among staff I supervised. I picked it up the other day and remembered that it has a lot of good life lessons in its pages. I came across a segment on "discovery."

Here's what author Thomas F. Crum wrote in his book The Magic of Conflict: "The power of discovery encourages us to explore solutions rather than spend excess energy on blame and justification. The energy saved is now used to create and develop projects and ideas that work and, just as important, to have fun and to grow in the process."

Crum goes on to say discovery: "is a place that doesn't know, doesn't evaluate, and is willing to see what is; sees beyond the fight to an open realm of possibilities; enables us to let go of the filters of our past and the blinders of our expectations; perceives no right or wrong, only inquiry and creativity; turns frustration into fascination and work into play."

Those few sentences are loaded, aren't they? One thing is certain: Worrying about blame, right and wrong, and expectations doesn't move us ahead into the land of possibilities. I know I need to hear that. So I'm going to guess there will be others of you who may as well.

Focus on the possibilities—on discovery.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Uncomfortable? Own it.

This quote from TV's Mr. Rogers just nails it, I think: "People have said, 'Don’t cry' to other people for years and years, and all it has ever meant is, 'I’m too uncomfortable when you show your feelings. Don’t cry.' I’d rather have them say, 'Go ahead and cry. I’m here to be with you.'"

It's so easy to project our feelings onto other people, whether it be discomfort or whether it be the arrogance of thinking that what's good for us will definitely be good for everyone else.

Ever had someone say to you that you absolutely must go to this or that doctor or try this or that experience because it was great for them and they think everyone would benefit just as they did? I'm sure it's all well-intentioned. But I think that what works for me may not necessarily work for someone else. And vice versa. We are unique in our tastes and in how we respond to things, too.

And when it comes to showing our emotions, we definitely are unique. I remember when my father was dying in a hospice facility. One of the caregivers urged our family members to be gentle and patient with one another because, as she said, each one of us would experience his dying differently. She was so right. So it's always a good idea to check what's really going on for us before making a remark such as, "Don't cry." Is it our discomfort? When someone is crying or showing any type of emotion, the important thing is to be present to them. Be there for that person. Affirm. Validate. Support.

Monday, May 2, 2016

From discomfort to growth

Author M. Scott Peck once said, "The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers."

Have you found this to be true? Although I haven't much liked being in those uncomfortable and unhappy places, I see that much of my growth has come from such times.

There is something to be said for asking deep questions at those times: What might need changing in my life? What do I really desire? Are there things I need to let go? Parts of me I need to embrace in order to be my truest self? 

And there surely is something to be said for stepping out of ruts! Once you move out of a rut, so many possibilities present themselves. Who knows what might be ahead? It's OK to feel uncomfortable for a while. Let yourself open up to something new!