Friday, July 29, 2016

Acceptance is so important

Recently I heard a brief presentation that cited a study done on world leaders. The study found that 75 percent of the leaders whose lives were examined had been abused, raised in poverty or had some type of physical impairment. Those things hadn't held these leaders back.

That raises the point for us that it's less about what happens to us—and more about what we do with what happens to us. It's more about how we accept life situations and where we take our lives because of those things.

What cards have you been dealt in your life? Have they held you back? Or propelled you forward? Are you who you are despite those things—or perhaps because of those conditions?

It's worth reflecting on what we do with what we have—and how we face those things that appear to be negatives in our lives.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Anxiety: It's part of life

Anxiety. It's a common malady. And truly, don't you wonder whether we wouldn't all be better off simply accepting that we'll always suffer from some level of it?

We all have fantasies about how we'll rid ourselves of anxiety. Getting away. Travel to a beautiful location. Or a serene location. Finally having that beautiful home filled with labor-saving devices and all the lovely art objects to fill us with delight. That perfect job and perfect work colleagues. Maybe even a perfect boss. (Or is that too much of a dream?) The perfect spouse who completely understands us and with whom we never argue. Oh, and, of course, perfect children. Sure, right!

While it's a good idea to find ways to reduce our anxiety where possible, it may simply increase our anxiety to think that any of the things suggested above (or any other fantasies) will rid us of anxiety.

Why don't we simply accept that anxiety is part of being human just as is a certain amount of loneliness? Then we can get on with stress-management techniques that really do help us face the anxiety we experience and bring down the level. What works for you? Find some practices that reduce your anxiety, if it's higher than you'd like. And simply get on with life, knowing perfection isn't possible. Be okay with being human!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Time for renewal

We've just returned from a few days in the north woods of Wisconsin. After a month of family deaths and funerals and my own oral surgery that included a wait for biopsy results (it wasn't cancerous!), we really needed time away to just "be." It was just what the doctor ordered!

We have come home replenished—even though we could have used more time away. Both of us spent time just watching birds come to the feeders and listening to their songs and calls. Watching chipmunks scamper around the deck and flowers. One early evening, we listened to the rain fall gently on the leaves of the dozens of trees that surrounded the cabin in which we stayed. We read. Napped. Had good conversations. And just relaxed.

Now I wonder if it isn't possible to schedule something that is that renewing more often? Why not just build that into the schedule once or twice a year? Or more, if needed. In this crazy-busy world, most of us don't take much time to just be still. To just be. It's so restorative, however.

When did you last experience that type of thing? Do you regularly find times and spaces for renewal? If not, why not? I'm asking myself questions like that now, too.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Stress and the heart

Recently I've mentioned the stress I'm feeling. Sue Patton Thoele in The Woman's Book of Spirit speaks of first becoming mentally aware of the stress and of also physically releasing the pent-up energy. And then she takes it a step further when she writes:

"Allowing our hearts to transform stress is the third step in siphoning it out of our bodies and souls. Move your awareness to your heart and visualize a symbol for the stress. Let the light and love of Spirit pour through you onto your symbol. Allow it to be transformed into peaceful energy. If it won't change, encase it in a container and put it on a remote shelf, and then surround yourself with a protective shield of light."

And she adds a mantra: "I take stress into my heart, and bless and transform it with love and light."

If you're a person who can work with images such as that, I highly recommend trying this. I definitely intend to do so. Telling myself to let it go simply isn't working this time!

Monday, July 25, 2016

Staying grounded in the chaos of life

Life is so complicated these days, isn't it? Little things become bigger and trip us up. I definitely discovered that last week.

I made plans for an overnight stay on our way from home in the Chicago area to Iowa for a beloved aunt's funeral. I called a motel in a town near where the funeral would be. I used the number listed on that motel's website. When we arrived at the motel, the desk clerk found absolutely no record of our reservation. What? I had even received a confirmation email, which in my haste I hadn't even checked carefully nor printed out (big mistake!). Anyway, the place had a room and at an even better rate, so all seemed to be well.

But once we were home again, I decided to check the confirmation email and discovered it was from an entirely different state. However, it listed the same phone number that was given on the other motel's website in the state where we did stay. So a motel in Minnesota lists the same number as one in Texas? What? After more than an hour on the phone both with my credit card company (yes, I was charged for the one in Texas, too!) and with the hotel group's customer care department, I still had no clarity. I'm supposed to get a call back. We'll see.

My point in this complex mess is that life's small details can sometimes pile up and bring more headaches than the larger events of life. There really is no way you can foresee some of these little things piling up until they hit. But it points out to me the importance of daily grounding—of doing everything we can to keep our balance, our centeredness, our equanimity. Sometimes that really gets tested, as it did for me last week. My stress level was already pretty high—and then I had to deal with this crazy confusion that no one else could explain either. I'm still hoping for recompense. In the meantime, deep breaths. Keep the larger picture, Sonia!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Life: Approach with care

I like this quote by Oscar Wilde: "Life is too important to be taken seriously."

It's a reminder to me (and I hope, to you) to leave room for playfulness, wonder, delight and a good dose of humor. Of course, that doesn't mean everything in life is fun or funny. We know better than that. But no matter how bad things get for us, it's good to remember that's not all there is. There's more.

And the "more" becomes noticeable and obvious when we approach life looking for the gifts and blessings. Look for the humor in everyday events. Look for the bright side and the light side.

Above all, don't take yourself so seriously!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Selfish? Or self-care?

Most of us women tend to be nurturers who take care of everyone else—but don't always take good care of ourselves.

So when I read this in Sue Patton Thoele's The Woman's Book of Confidence, I took notice:

"The fear of appearing (oh, horrors!) selfish can lead us to give ourselves away until we are exhausted and drained absolutely dry.

"Make a list of the things you would like to do for yourself but haven't because you thought it would be too selfish. If you do these things, will your life be richer? Will you be happier? Will you have more peace of mind? Will you be able to let go of some resentment? Will you feel more supportive of yourself? If you answered yes to any of these questions, your life and your relationships will benefit from the infusion of a little selfishness. So give yourself permission to be selfish!"

So what will it be today?

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

We all need breaks sometimes

This will be an extremely short post. I'm attending the funeral of a beloved family member, the third member to die since July 1. That coupled with some oral surgery of my own (and waiting for the biopsy results) has left me without much extra energy.

So I decided you might need a break today, too. If you need some inspiration for the day, I invite you to pick an old blog from my archives ... or go to one of your favorite inspirational books and choose something positive to focus your day.

I'll be back. Meanwhile, I hope your day is blessed and beautiful.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

What's your life purpose?

Studies show that those who have a solid sense of purpose for their lives live healthier lives and add years. Interestingly, studies also show that the U.S. does not rank in the top five countries whose citizens feel a strong and consistent purpose in life. You will be surprised at the top five: Panama, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Brazil and Denmark. Don't fear, however. You don't have to be discouraged by that. Make some choices for yourself.

Research also shows that meaning in life generally develops in adolescence for most people and continues through life. It also takes time so that people in later stages of life report greater meaning than those who are younger. Perhaps that's no surprise. We grow more comfortable with ourselves and our experiences as we age.

Also no surprise: We help ourselves by helping others. This gives our immune systems a good boost.

If you're not quite sure about your purpose, think about what lights your fire. Just try new things. You'll learn what fits. Go with your skills. Or you might try picturing yourself as a very old person who's looking back over your life. What did you do that truly gave you joy? Or what do you regret not doing that would have brought you joy? And if you'd like to discuss this, I invite you to contact me for a complimentary strategy session.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Let yourself be still

It's really tough to be still these days, isn't it? Both still on the outside—and also on the inside. Even if you get yourself to actually sit and do nothing (and how often does that even happen?), your mind is probably still racing in several directions. I know my mind does that. It's often called "monkey mind" because it jumps from one thing to another just as monkeys leap from one tree to another.

However, in this crazy-busy world that can often cause our stress levels to go off the charts, it's important to occasionally (and I would even say, regularly) do nothing—to observe sabbath or quiet time. It's healthy and transformative to put down our phones, devices and, yes, even our books. Just sit and try to quiet your mind. When thoughts come, just notice them running across your mind as though an airplane with a banner message were flying by. Let it come. Let it go. If you practice this for enough days and don't give up, soon you'll be able to go still at least for a time. And you'll be able to extend that time gradually.

Don't start with high expectations. Even if you sit for 3-5 minutes at first, that will probably seem like 20 or 30! Just be forgiving with yourself and don't give up. See if stillness and sabbath-time don't make you feel better—healthier, more creative, more compassionate, loving and forgiving. We all need to create some space in our lives where all the world's and our own cares don't crowd in and threaten to drown us. This helps us to stay centered and grounded.

Friday, July 15, 2016

What's important in life?

I keep hearing this from different sources and reading it in several books: When we approach life's end, we won't care at all about the job we had, the trophies or awards we got, how much money we made or how many important people we knew.

We'll care about the connections we have with people we love.

That being the case, we want to tend to those relationships now. I'm asking myself, What am I doing to nurture and tend to those most important relationships in my life? Am I building connections with others? What's really important to me, and does my life reflect that?

What about you? How would you answer those questions?

Does that mean any changes for you right now?

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Cocoons are messy

Change is messy. It can be painful. It doesn't matter whether it's a huge change or something smaller. It's not easy. Sometimes we get there through a decision we've made. Other times, change is thrust upon us. It can be frightening either way. We experience all the shifts in the way things were.

Then there's that transition period. That's really messy. It's like the caterpillar inside the cocoon—in the process of becoming a beautiful butterfly. The inside of the cocoon is a soupy mess of the caterpillar broken down. No shape. Messy. Scary. That's OK. It's a necessary part of the transformation. If you're in a transition phase, just be with the discomfort and the anxiety. It won't last forever.

Soon, you'll be that beautiful butterfly, soaring above the flowers—and on to the next stage of your life!

If you'd like to discuss this at all, I invite you to contact me.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Keep dreaming

Don't ever think you're too old to dream. Long ago I heard that we don't keep dreams alive—dreams keep us alive. Until we breathe our last, we will want to have some dream to give us hope, something to work toward.

I just coached a woman in her 80s who said she'd pretty much done it all. But she's looking for some changes, something new in her life to get her jazzed again. How inspiring is that?

As Sister Joan Chittister says in her book The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully, "To stay alive, fully alive, then, we must open ourselves to life's eternal dream. We must dream to be better people tomorrow than we were today. ...we must be willing to rethink all the ideas that have kept us bound until this moment."

Further, she says that "the dreams that determine the ultimate quality of our lives never die, are never too late to be grasped. It is the ability of humans to change their minds, to begin again, to start over, to be someone else."

We can continue changing, evolving—right to the end. That's the good news.

What dreams are keeping you going right now?

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

We're all doing the best we can

Research professor and author Brené Brown says in her book Rising Strong that her work has taught her that people are doing the very best they can. She maintains that it's far healthier to see the world through that lens than seeing everyone with a suspicious and judgmental eye.

"As miserable as resentment, disappointment, and frustration make us feel, we fool ourselves into believing that they're easier than the vulnerability of a difficult conversation. The truth is that judgment and anger take up way more emotional bandwidth for us. Beyond that, they are often shaming and disrespectful to the person who is struggling, and ultimately toxic to the entire culture."

Wow, that's a lot to take in. Perhaps you have done what I've done: Moved from 0 to 150 mph to judgment when someone has made a remark or done something that we took as a slight. And where has it gotten us? Generally, nowhere helpful and positive. I like the assumption that we're all in this together and we're all trying our best just to survive and thrive. Compassion and self-compassion are essentials in our daily lives.

That said, Brown doesn't advise that we let go of boundaries and integrity. We don't want to be suckers or doormats. But perhaps we can lay down the assumptions that some people are out to hurt us or that they're jealous of us or that they intended to be mean and hurtful. It could make a difference in our day-to-day interactions. And surely in our attitudes!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Volunteering brings gifts

Volunteering is one of those wonderful acts that appears to be all about giving to others (and it does)—but that, often surprisingly, contains as many or more gifts for the person doing the volunteering.

When you volunteer, you add new people to your circle of acquaintances and friends. Every person has a story, so you are exposed to so many more narratives, each one with something to teach the rest of us, it seems. You also often learn new skills and hone some you may not have used for years. What you do may seem small but it can be significant in impact for others.

Volunteering often helps you develop a deeper appreciation for all you have in life. That's always a good thing. It's easy to take for granted all the gifts and blessings we have in life, and we each need reminders from time to time that not everyone enjoys those same blessings and privileges. It grants a different perspective and can help you notice small things and those moments that bring joy.

There is nothing like the deep satisfaction and fulfillment you feel when you know you're being of service to others. You have made a difference, and that feels great, doesn't it?

Friday, July 8, 2016

Slowwww down!

Since my return a week ago from my trip to visit my youngest son and his family (with all the catch-up that any travel entails when we return), I've had two deaths in the family and today I have some minor surgery of my own. So I've been a bit stressed lately. The last couple days I found myself pushing even harder to get more done.

Then yesterday I read something about unhelpful thinking and working harder when under stress. I needed to hear this. What I read was that when we're in overwhelm or high stress mode, we tend to use the terms "must" and "should." The article suggested changing to gentler self-talk, using words such as "want" and "choose" that help us feel in charge and maintain perspective. Say you have a project you want to finish while you're in high stress mode. Instead of saying, "I must finish before the day is over," it might be more helpful to say, "I want to get it done today so I can spend some time relaxing with my family this weekend." It lowers the feeling of overwhelm and it invites you to think of a carrot at the end of that stick!

The article also said such thinking styles (must and should) can easily lead us to believe that we can do whatever we want to do (Superwoman rises again!) so we tend to push harder when under stress. Slow down, the article advised. It's what our bodies want when we're in overwhelm. Performance psychologist Jim Loehr says that our bodies and minds work best in sprints rather than marathons. Take some breaks. Connect with others. Connect with yourself. Do some mindfulness practices. Breathe deeply. Hmmm, perhaps it's time for me to listen to that good advice!

Thursday, July 7, 2016

A menu of possibilities

I am trying to be intentional about how I spend my time these days. I'm extremely conscious of being in the final third of life. Knowing that I have many more years behind than ahead of me, I want to be sure I spend them in ways that are congruent with my values and my hopes.

Yesterday as I thought about this topic again, it occurred to me that it might be good to create a menu of sorts—and then study it to see exactly what I want right now. I don't just mean a bucket list. Those are great to do for the large and extraordinary experiences or trips we want to have before we die. But I'm talking more about just how we want to spend our last days and years. What things do we want to be doing? What do we want our focus to be? Our attitude? How do we want our ordinary days to look and feel?

We do have choices to be made about such things. If we want to be positive and happy, we need to fill our hearts and minds with good things. We need to stop focusing on negative people and situations. Let go of that remark someone made that you didn't like. Stop dwelling on what you didn't get to do last week and look at the wonderful things that did happen. You get the picture.

Why not create your menu or possibilities? Study it as you do a restaurant menu. And then order up just what you want—and make it happen!

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Self-compassion goes a long way

Do you ever feel totally overwhelmed by life situations? Sometimes things just pile up until your stress level is off the charts. And it's easy to go into high-anxiety mode and overwhelm.

When that happens, you might wish you were a child again and could just climb into your mom or dad's lap and have them comfort you and make everything better. We don't have that option at this stage of life, do we?

But we definitely can turn to self-compassion and learn how to soothe ourselves. What helps you reduce your anxiety and stress? Deep breathing? Walking your dog? Petting your cat? Be sure to give yourself some positive messages to remind yourself that you're doing your best and that you can handle whatever you're facing. Post inspirational quotes around your house if that helps in times of stress and overwhelm. Keep inspirational books around. Do whatever will bring you back down off the ledge, as it were.

Self-compassion is an important component of modern life. In addition to learning how to care for and comfort ourselves, when we are compassionate to ourselves, we find it easier to feel compassion for others, too. Let's hear it for self-compassion!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The art of savoring

Did you know that savoring is linked to optimism, self-esteem, life satisfaction and happiness? Research shows that people who savor report greater well-being.

So what is savoring? It's paying attention—being mindful and spending time thinking about the positive experiences from past, present and future. Lingering in our minds on the good stuff. It extends the "shelf-life" of our happy and positive experiences.

Right now I'm savoring all the precious and fun times I had with my youngest son and my youngest grandchildren when I visited them last week. This means the good times I enjoyed when I was there will last even longer. I let my thoughts linger on those experiences. That doesn't mean I'm living in the past. I'm still present to what's happening in and around me right now. But I grab a memory or two from those days in Oregon and savor them before returning to the present again.

Why not make a conscious choice to do more savoring? Give thanks for what's good in your life. Pull up some good memories and relish them a while. Take a mental picture of good things that happen so you can savor them later. Share the experiences with others—that adds an extra sparkle to your savoring. Pay attention to all your senses. That boosts your ability to savor.

Let the good times roll. And linger on them from time to time to add to your happiness and life satisfaction.

Monday, July 4, 2016

A day for gratitude

Happy Independence Day to you!

Today is a day for gratitude—a day to reflect on all the freedoms and blessings we have in this country.

Can we find flaws in our country and our system of government? Of course. Perhaps especially during this highly charged political season, we see many flaws. However, we have only to look at places such as Syria, Afghanistan or the Mideast; and we can see what our freedoms mean.

So today, give thanks for what we do have in this country—and make a commitment to do your part to make it even better. We should never think that our actions and behavior make no difference. They do.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Childhood innocence & wisdom

I've just returned from more than a week with family—with my youngest grandchildren, aged 4 and 9. I am filled up again!

Is there anything like the innocence and the wisdom of little children? Is there anything like their hugs and unconditional love? And their enthusiasm and sense of wonder? Their questions that show a depth for which we don't always give them credit.

I find so much to learn from these younger ones. They help me open up to things I had long since stopped noticing. And I need that. It's all too easy to, figuratively at any rate, keep my head down and just keep going so I can get done everything I think is so important to get done! Children aren't like that. They notice things. The ladybug crawling along the window sill. The small stone with an interesting shape. They take delight in such things. I could use a good dose of wonder and delight from time to time!

So today I feel grounded again—and a renewed sense of wonder at all that's around me. And that fills my heart with gratitude.