Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Values and energy

I've had a lot going on in my life in the past several weeks—and it's not nearly over yet. However, I've been thinking that when I get through the experience that's been consuming my time and energy, I'd like to take time to re-evaluate my priorities again.

Every now and again, it's a good idea to look at how we're spending our time and energy. Are the things you say are your top priorities really those areas where your time is spent? Am I putting my highest level of energy into those things that best represent my values? We can all afford to ask such questions of ourselves from time to time.

Who am I now? What's important to me now? If I only had six months left, how would I spend that time?

I don't know how you feel. But I am of the mind that none of those questions is a once-and-done deal. Our priorities can change as we move through life. They can change depending on what experiences we've had that have deeply affected us. Further, we sometimes do what's placed in front of us without regard to what we truly hold dear. The things we value most can sometimes take a back seat to what others think is urgent and put on our plates. We might be reactive rather than proactive.

So stop a while. Take some time to examine your life, your values, and how your time and energy are spent. If you're happy with that, wonderful. If not, it's time for tweaking—or even for substantial change.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Focus on beauty and compassion

Are you just coasting along, one day melting into the next, not depressed but not really excited about anything either? Sometimes we can get so overwhelmed by events in our lives or by the events in the world around us, both domestically and globally; and we simply want to revert to sleepwalking through our days. I completely understand that impulse and that desire.

But there's so much beauty and so much good all around. And life is too short to sleepwalk through our days.

Let's help one another to wake up—to notice things, to be open to wonder and awe and beauty. Listen for the bird songs in the morning. Notice the turning of the leaves—yes, already I see some signs. Don't miss the flaming color of those flowers still bravely blooming even after summer's heat.

And despite the noisy and angry rhetoric that overwhelms us these days, listen for those voices that speak calmly and lovingly, calling us to our best selves. Look for the stories of people responding to hatred with love and kindness. For example, I just read about a young man in line to pay for the gas he'd just filled into his car when the woman ahead in line hurled nasty insults at him after both her credit cards were refused. Instead of responding in kind, the man asked the cashier whether he could pay $20 of her bill! And yet another man in line said he'd pay the rest of her bill. Turned out, the angry woman had finally gotten a job but hadn't yet received a paycheck. She needed gas to get to work. She was overwhelmed with the kindness and apologized profusely.

As the man who paid $20 of the woman's bill said, "We never know what's going on in the lives of others." That's right; we don't.

Kindness. Compassion. Love. Beauty. Wonder. Why don't we focus on these things for a while?

Friday, August 18, 2017

Keep hope alive

These days our country seems so divided. Everywhere you turn, people are hurling invectives and displaying their anger to others. Fear is carrying the day. All you need do is read some Facebook posts and see the comments that follow. Or read an online news story and see the snarky comments that inevitably get posted.

But, wait, there are also so many good people doing and saying inspirational and positive things. Are you paying attention to that, too? I just read a blog yesterday about not giving in to hopelessness, about keeping hope alive—and sharing it with others.

When I've read or watched too much news coverage, I need to turn to something more uplifting—whether it's a positive blog, a conversation with a friend or loved one, an inspirational book, a good news source or whatever. And we all need to remember that self-care is so important in the midst of all this hatred and negativity, too. It's all too easy to let the toxic and negative emotions get inside us and pull us down.

I encourage you (and I'm talking to myself here, too!) to do all you can to stay hopeful and positive. We each have a voice and can speak out against the hatred and violence—and we can also share hope and love with others. Don't give in to the hopelessness and negativity. Keep hope alive!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Job loss and grief

Another friend just lost her job. It was little more than a month ago that another good friend lost hers. There is a lot of that going around these days. Positions being eliminated. People being downsized, rightsized and whatever else it's being called these days!

My own former career field, journalism, is in free fall. I was reduced in force in 2009. And in 2015 there were 40 percent fewer journalists working in America's daily newsrooms than in 2007. That's only one career field. This is happening in many fields.

So if you have lost your job—or know someone who has—think about the loss that represents. And what do we do about losses in our lives? That's right—we grieve them.

Take time to think about all the losses that one large loss represents. For example, when I lost my job, I also lost status, some identity, a forum for my voice, a friendship circle at work, income and so much more.

Grieve each loss appropriately. It is difficult to move on in life if we don't take the time to grieve all sorts of losses. What happens when we don't is that when a truly large loss, such as death of a parent, spouse, child or dear friend occurs, all those other ungrieved losses roll up into the most recent loss. And now we're hit with an even larger blow.

I can't encourage you enough to take the time to think about each loss as it occurs, cry, talk with a friend or trusted person—a coach, if that's what you need! Grieve that same loss as often as the pain comes up again. Grief isn't a once-and-done thing; it's a process.


Monday, August 14, 2017

About those regrets

It's been said that 90 percent of people say they have a major regret about something in their lives—and regret is the second most frequently mentioned emotion after love.

Research shows that the more choices we have, the more regret we have about what we chose. It also shows that we feel the most regret about missed chances: We regret things we didn't do rather than things we did do.

Researchers from Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management found that regrets revolve around romance, family, education, career and finance, in that order. The top two involve relationships. So it makes sense that we want to do all we can to get relationships right.

Use this information to think about the choices you make. Do the things you really want to do—and perhaps some things that aren't in your comfort zone but that you'll look back on with pleasure and pride. And do those things that will make your relationships deeper and stronger. That means tending to such things as compassion and forgiveness. That means asking the question when in an argument with someone, "Would I rather be right—or would I rather be in relationship with this person?"

Think about your choices today, and think about those things you already regret. Let those things inform your decisions going forward. It's never too late to learn from either mistakes or regrets!

Friday, August 11, 2017

Take time to be fed

The other day when I was feeling a bit overwhelmed with life's details, I knew it was time to read a bit in one of my Mark Nepo books. Nepo, a poet and inspirational writer, through his words always encourages me to look up and see the larger picture—and to look deeply inside to see what that picture might mean for my life. I always feel well fed when I've read his words.

Sure enough; that day was no exception. I opened my copy of Nepo's Seven Thousand Ways to Listen: Staying Close to What is Sacred and read this: "We are never far from the need to let in beauty while we're suffering and to listen to loss and what it opens. These two ongoing tasks exercise the heart and make us resilient, when we can engage them."

After just reading a chapter in his book and reflecting on the questions and thoughts in it, I felt more at peace—better able to cope with whatever came that day.

Sometimes we just need to step away from our tasks and engage in something we know will feed us. For you that might be exercise or yoga. It may be a walk with a friend. Or a movie. Whatever it is, take the time. And do so without guilt. Self-care is essential if we are to face all that comes our way.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Look for the beauty

I've been busy, along with my sister, tending to details of a loved one's medical condition. So it would be easy to miss the fact that these last many days have been incredibly gorgeous. Incredibly gorgeous for August. And just plain incredibly gorgeous—period!

Isn't it easy sometimes to get so caught up in the details of our lives, whether it's the ordinary, day-to-day routines or something extraordinary, and completely miss the wonder and the beauty that surround us?

When I awake in the morning, now with open windows and lovely cool air rather than with the hum of my air conditioner, I can hear birdsongs just outside my window. I love it. When I look up from eating my breakfast or my lunch, I can watch the hummingbirds come to my feeder to sip the sugar-water I've prepared for them.

And just a couple nights ago when we enjoyed a full moon, I awoke in the middle of the night to see it shining through my window where I had the top part of my window shade pulled down. Ah, yes, moon tracks on my bed and on my face. I have long felt drawn to the moon—so this, too, was a source of joy and wonder.

Let's try to pay attention to those small (and not so small) bits of beauty that are there for the savoring every day. It only takes noticing. It means lifting our eyes from the quotidian details of our lives. Pay attention!

Monday, August 7, 2017

Control or cope?

As my sister and I deal with medical issues for a loved one in these last weeks, I have again been reminded of how when we face unexpected circumstances, we call on resources we didn't know were there—both our own and those outside of us. We don't know until we're tested just how many resources are there for us.

Suzanne Braun Levine says in Inventing the Rest of Our Lives, "Inner resources are what we find when we are called upon to cope with what we can't control."

There's that "c" word that many of us confront time and again. We like to think we have control of much of our lives. But do we really? So much is out of our control. So instead, we cope. We find the resources to do what we can—and we lean on others to fill in some of the spaces. We also lean on God (or whatever you name your Higher Power) because we know we simply can't control so much of life.

Levine also says that "...taking charge isn't about control at all; it's about coping with the unexpected." Indeed, it is.

We're all better off if we can shed the idea that we control everything. I need to remind myself of this often: Let go, Sonia, let go. Ask for help from others. Trust. Cope as best you can. Let go, let go. And some days, I do OK with this. Others, not so much.

How about you?

Friday, August 4, 2017

Making peace with aging

I can't tell you the number of conversations I've had lately with various people in a variety of places in which the topic of aging has come up. Along with that topic, invariably the issues of illness and decline emerge. And nearly always someone will quip, "Aging isn't for sissies." Indeed, it isn't.

So when I read today in Suzanne Braun Levine's book, Inventing the Rest of Our Lives, that sociologist Pepper Schwartz had said the following, I was reminded that this is the other side of the coin:

"The only reward for aging is a sense of some honest friendship with yourself, where you get to know yourself—you make peace with the things you are and you aren't." She added that you see your life "filtered through a unique lens rather than a cultural one."

Levine then adds, "In other words, intimacy begins at home. Before you can establish your authority, you need to know the sound of your own voice. Before you can take up space, you must be aware of your boundaries—and your reach."

Sometimes we need those reminders that aging isn't all about decline and new illnesses we never wanted. It is also a wonderful stage of life when we are comfortable in our own skin, where we have become friends to ourselves and have made peace with our experiences and how we've faced them. It's a time when we can own what we can and can't do.

So, yes, aging isn't for sissies—and it also isn't a time to long for the "good old days" of youth when we lacked confidence and a knowledge of ourselves. Stand tall in the truth and beauty of who you are now. Name it. Claim it.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Stop and THINK

I just saw a fascinating poster on Facebook. It said, "Before you speak, THINK.

"T: Is it true?
"H: Is it helpful?
"I: Is it inspiring?
"N: Is it necessary?
"K: Is it kind?"

Oh, my, this really is good. Perhaps each one of us should post it on our bathroom mirror. I know I surely could use it as a reminder. I start each day with good intentions. Then I hear the news. Or something disturbing happens in my life or in the life of someone I love. Or someone else takes the conversation for a negative turn—and off I go. My positive thoughts go out the window. Woops, there I go again.

Thankfully, there is forgiveness and there is grace. But I would be even better off if I could stop and THINK before speaking. How about you?

Monday, July 31, 2017

To retire or not retire, that's the question

I have friends who are retired, and I have friends who aren't retired. I have friends still in their careers who are anxiously awaiting the time they can retire. And I have some friends who really dread thinking of retirement.  Such a variety of feelings about retirement!

There's a lot about which to think when it comes to retirement. Some people get to plan when they'll retire and what they want to do. Others of us have retirement forced upon us for a number of reasons. Either way, it's good to think ahead and dream a bit about what it might look like if you're not yet there. And if you're already there, you may want to stop and evaluate what you are doing. See whether what you're doing works anymore. If not, what would you like to change up?

Give yourself the mental and emotional space to consider new ways of being. Try new things. Let yourself dream about how you really want to spend your time. Try to let go of some of life's "shoulds" too. Have some fun with it, whether you're there already or just thinking about it.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Self-care and the brain

A recent report published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine says that there's some evidence that the following things may help prevent age-related dementia and cognitive decline: staying active, keeping your blood pressure under control and stepping up cognitive training (exercises that try to improve reasoning, problem-solving, memory and processing speed).

The findings underscore those of the Alzheimer's Association two years ago when it was learned that increasing physical activity and improving cardiovascular health could help minimize the risk of cognitive decline.

While there's no guarantee and both organizations say further research is needed, they also agree that there are things we can do to reduce the risk.

Such actions are simply part of good self-care and tending to our health and well-being. It's good to be as proactive as we can when it comes to health. We do as much and more for our cars with regular maintenance! Why not for our bodies and minds?

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Free up your energy and forgive

So Monday we talked about forgiveness. Really, we can't stress it too much. It can be a difficult part of life for most of us, depending on the circumstances. But it's such an important part of life—and of relationship.

Interestingly, I had written Monday's blog last week. Then on Sunday, our pastor preached about forgiveness too. He talked about how we imprison ourselves when we refuse forgiveness to others. That is so true. When I was young, I'm not sure that I heard about that human element of forgiveness. I learned that we forgive because God forgives us. If that's your belief, and it's still mine, that is true. But there's so much more to it—and that is the freedom and release it brings us when we do forgive others. It frees us from a prison and it leads to greater emotional health, peace and joy. I didn't hear about such benefits either at church or at home when I was young, but they are a real and important part of forgiveness. Forgiving also improves our relationships, not only the one(s) directly involved.

Even if, when we forgive a person for some hurt or harm, we can no longer stay in relationship with that particular person, we are emotionally clear and healthier in the rest of our relationships because of that forgiveness. When we carry around anger and withhold forgiveness from one person, it can affect all our other relationships as well.

The benefits of forgiving are immense. Who doesn't want to be freed from the prison of anger and the loss of energy that entails? Carrying around the hurt and anger take more energy from us than we can imagine. It feels so good to let it all go.

Monday, July 24, 2017

No to revenge. Yes to forgiveness.

Forgiveness. Is there anything so important to human relationships? To our emotional health and peace of mind?

We know that hanging on to grudges and wrongs only hurts us. It's like carrying around a ball and chain forever. It consumes so much of our energy.

Author, lecturer and social reformer E.H. Chapin pointed out the strength it takes to forgive when he said, "Never does the human soul appear so strong as when it forgoes revenge, and dares forgive an injury."

Oh, yes. Revenge is so tempting. And it may even feel so good—for a short while. But in the end, it's an empty satisfaction that is as fleeting as the spent dandelion when it meets up with the wind. Remember the saying, "Living well is the best revenge"? Living well doesn't include expending energy nursing hurts and carrying hurts in our heart.

Forgiveness, on the other hand, while difficult at the time, brings a deep peace and lasting satisfaction. It releases you to move on with your life and to spend your precious energy in other, more life-giving ways.

What cries out for your release today? Whom do you need to forgive? What are you waiting for?

Friday, July 21, 2017

Take time out for joy

A few blogs ago, I mentioned that my sister and I are helping my brother with some medical issues lately—and doing so from a distance, except for those times when we drive the many hours it takes to be there with him. Sometimes it can feel overwhelming. One day when this was true for me, a friend reminded me to do something for even an hour that day that simply brought me joy.

Ah, yes, when we're stressed out and knee-deep in problems, it makes sense to carve out a little time for joy, for play or simply for deep breathing! How many times have I invited others to do so?

Because I have always loved coloring, I keep a few coloring books and colored pencils near my desk. However, these past months, they have done nothing but gather dust. So when my friend urged me to do something that brought me joy, I dusted off one of my favorite coloring books (in fact, it had been a gift from my sister last year) and let myself become completely absorbed in creating beauty for an hour. I felt so much better after that ... and I was able to return to the tasks at hand.

When you're feeling completely overwhelmed, stressed out or emotionally exhausted, try to carve out a little time for some joy or play. It really does make a difference. It's known as self-care. And it's easy to forget to do this sometimes—even for those of us who spend time reminding others to do so!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Let your body play

I won't forget the wonderful moments we spent nor will I forget how truly relaxed and free I felt at the time—and later as well!

I'm part of a small but close-knit group of women that we call the YaYas. A couple months ago we rented a small house for a long weekend together. Each of us planned activities for the weekend, and together we did some cooking. We also ate out and spent time exploring the lake-side city nearby. It was a fabulous, fun and relaxing weekend.

One of the in-home activities I remember so well required each of us, ahead of time, to send the name of our favorite dance tune and artist to the woman who planned this segment. She put together the play list, and she was the only one who knew each of our favorites. We didn't tell each other ahead of time.

When she went through the play list, we each just danced free-form, spreading throughout the open space of the living area in the house. We just moved our bodies, letting go of any "shoulds" and embarrassment. No one else was watching. Pure play! What fun we had letting our bodies move to the music! When the entire play list finished, we tried to guess who had picked which dance tune.

This experience came to mind today as I read from Marion Woodman and Jill Mellick's book, Coming Home to Myself: "Allow the body to play. Give it space. Let it make whatever movements it wants to make. Just as a dream is an invitation to the unconscious, so releasing your body into spontaneous movement or play is an invitation to the unconscious."

We could all use more of this, right?

Monday, July 17, 2017

Of peace and change

Recently I read some words spoken by Mairead Maguire that speak deeply to me:

"Change will only come about when each of us takes up the daily struggle ourselves to be more forgiving, compassionate, loving, and above all joyful in the knowledge that, by some miracle of grace, we can change as those around us can change, too."

If you know who Maguire is, you'll know how deeply she feels these words—and how she lives them. Three of her sister's children were killed in Northern Ireland in the violence between Catholics and Protestants. So she organized massive demonstrations and other actions calling for a nonviolent end to the conflict. In 1976 she and Betty Williams together won the Nobel Peace Prize. Maguire still speaks out against oppression and violence, working for peace—currently standing in solidarity with people in Syria.

Change is possible. Peace is possible. And it is up to each one of us to do our part to bring it about. And, yes, it is a daily struggle for us to be more forgiving, compassionate, loving and joyful. There is much that can drag us down, wear us out and make us angry. Let's keep coming back to that north star of forgiveness, compassion and love. And let's help each other stay true to those values, too. Then, by "some miracle of grace," we can be change and bring about change!

Friday, July 14, 2017

Here's to your health

Do you exercise regularly? We keep hearing how important it is for all of us to do this on a daily basis if we want to remain healthy. For several years, I've fairly faithfully kept up an exercise regimen. But lately, with some additional stressors in my life and a couple of aches and pains that meant a change of my regular routine, I've become more lax.

So it was good news when I read something in a magazine that reminded me that exercise need not come in 30-minute or 60-minute segments to be helpful—but that intervals throughout the day still help our bodies. It's said that we may get the same blood pressure, cholesterol and waistline benefits if we sprinkle bits of exercise throughout the day.

So if you're waiting on the phone (perhaps listening to the awful elevator music some companies play while you wait for customer service!), do some stretches, tighten your stomach muscles 10 times or rise up on your toes and squeeze your calves 10 times. When you're watching TV, do some leg circles or get on the floor and do some leg lifts. While cooking, do a few knee bends as you stir the pot.

You get the idea. Give up guilt and work in what you can. It'll be healthier all around for you!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Acceptance is a key

Yesterday I mentioned actor Michael J. Fox, his attitude toward living with Parkinson's Disease and his tips for surviving adversity.

One other tip he gives is to accept what's happening. Here's what he says about that:

"It isn't resignation, and it freed me to actively deal with and endeavor to change my situation. I like to say, 'My happiness goes in direct proportion to my acceptance, and in inverse proportion to my expectations.'"

Wow, that's a mouthful, isn't it? Acceptance is important. But so are expectations—keep them realistic even while you still live in hope.

I really can't add to what Fox says. I simply want to take it to heart myself.

Monday, July 10, 2017

No more shame or silence

Actor Michael J. Fox has lived with Parkinson's disease for more than two decades already. Recently AARP The Magazine featured an article about how he's thriving as he lives with the disease.

Fox himself gave six rules for surviving adversity. One especially struck me:

"Don't remain silent or ashamed about illness. Once Fox went public with his condition, he says, 'it was empowering to have people understand what I was going through—I immediately felt better.'"

Empowering! Yes! Sometimes our tendency is to keep such things to ourselves or tell only those in our most immediate circle. But the more Fox shared with others, the more support and love he got. The stronger he felt, and the more agency and personal power he took back. And the more it encouraged others to share their illnesses or woes and find support as well. So much is to be gained by openness.

When it comes to removing the stigma of some diseases—and particularly of mental illness—this is especially true. Until we bring them out into the light of day, they'll live in the darkness of secrecy and shame. No one wins when that happens.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Let's hear it for love & kindness

I live in the Metropolitan Chicago area, and it's easy to forget how life in rural and small-town America can differ. I grew up in rural America. Once my parents left the farm in their later years, they moved to a small town, where my brother lives to this day.

Just recently I've been reminded of the ways in which people in small towns look out for each other and take care of each other. My brother has needed some medical attention; and since my sister and I both live hours away from him, neighbors and members of his congregation have been tending to his needs. My sister and I pondered ways to repay these kind people when one of them told her, "No repayment needed. This is what we do in small towns."

Of course, it is. And sometimes we see such care and kindness in large cities, too—from people other than our close friends and family. But we don't really expect it there. We're more often just another face in the crowd.

My sister and I both are profoundly grateful to those who have stepped forward and gone out of their way to be family for our brother when we could not. And I must say, the experience restores my faith in humanity. So much of what we see and hear in our country in recent months is anger, hatred, acrimony and conflict. But what we've experienced in the past week or two in our family is just the opposite. Love and kindness still abound in this world. That's something to celebrate!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Broken—and loving

I have had my heart broken more than once in my lifetime. I'm sure you have, too. Until a couple years ago, I'd never given a lot of thought to the difference between having my heart broken and having my heart broken open. But in 2015 when my youngest son and daughter-in-law experienced marital difficulties and eventually ended up divorcing, I was broken-hearted. For them. For their two young children. For myself and all who loved them.

In tears, I told my healing touch practitioner how I was feeling about the situation. She encouraged me to let my heart break open. I did some reading on that concept and lots of journaling and reflecting. I realized that when a heart is broken open, more love can enter in and more love can flow out. I tried to focus less on the hurt, sadness and pain—and more on simply loving. I focused on sharing all the love I could with my son, my daughter-in-law, each of my two beloved grandchildren. And with others, too. It did make a difference. I opened myself to see what new possibilities there might be for them—and for me, too.

Two weeks ago I visited my son and grandchildren. I shared the beautiful experience of his engagement to a loving and amazing woman, who loves his children as though they are her own. I had dinner with my former daughter-in-law and heard about the joys in her life as she now experiences a new, fulfilling love relationship, too. I never dreamed an outcome like this. Because each of them is happier now, they are better parents and work together for the children's well-being in a healthier way. I could foresee none of that in 2015 when my heart was breaking.

Not all life situations work out so beautifully. But this I know: If we let our hearts be broken open, we can keep on leading with our hearts and loving as passionately and outrageously as possible. That makes all the difference!

Monday, July 3, 2017

Life in a both/and world

There is so much to be said about life in a both/and world rather than an either/or world. But most of us have learned to live in an either/or world. So we need to undo that if we wish to see and experience life differently.

In their book Coming Home to Myself: Reflections for Nurturing a Woman's Body & Soul, Marion Woodman and Jill Mellick remind us of this:

"Most of us have grown up in a culture that divides things into two piles, into dualities: spirit or matter, feminine or masculine, alive or dead, male or female, adult or child, good or bad, light or dark, joyful or painful. We believe things cannot belong in both piles.

"In other cultures, this assumption is not experienced as true. ... What if we were to consider the possibility that things are light and dark, good and bad, joyful and painful, spirit and matter? We might learn to entertain the notion of paradox.... In so doing, we shall be more able to experience the richness of life, the truth of its beautiful complexity."

If we stop and reflect with any honesty and depth at all, we know the truth of this. Many of our life experiences contain joy and pain. Much of life really is both good and bad. Again, it's all about our attitudes and how we choose to see things.

It's never too late to make changes!

Friday, June 30, 2017

Of passion and joy

Last Sunday our pastor preached a sermon using themes from the movie LaLa Land. One of the things he said was, "Don't follow your passion. Take your passion with you" in whatever you do and wherever you go. He added, "And find your joy wherever you are."

It may be a matter of semantics, I'm not sure. I've often spoken and written about following our passion, meaning that when we do what we love, generally we really throw ourselves into it and are successful and joyful.

That said, I do see what he was saying. Sometimes we are called to things that may not be our first choice—and still, we can bring our passion along with us. Life circumstances may change what we do or how we spend our days, either temporarily or permanently. That doesn't need to mean we cannot find passion and joy there. It doesn't mean we need to slide into passivity and resign ourselves to a miserable, unhappy life.

It's all about attitude and choice. Choose to bring your passion with you. Choose to find joy wherever you are.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

An up-side to illness?

Generally we don't think of illness as a good thing. There are so many down-sides to it. That said, I have heard some people say that they were grateful for their cancer because it taught them so much about themselves and ended up being life-changing. That always amazes me.

So several days ago when I read the question, "What if the symptoms of my illness are trying to heal me?" in a meditation book, Coming Home to Myself: Reflections for Nurturing a Woman's Body & Soul by Marion Woodman and Jill Mellick, it wasn't a complete shock.

It reminded me of a dear friend who had spent several weeks in bed last winter. She was ill with pneumonia; and because her husband has Alzheimer's, she carries much of the responsibility for running the household and all other matters in their life together. Later, when she was well again, she said those weeks taught her many things. The lesson with the most impact, however, was that she had to stop trying to do it all. She simply couldn't keep up the pace she had without losing her health or dying. Something had to give. Bottom line is that she decided they needed to sell their home and move to a continuing care community where there would be options for care. She would get some relief in terms of meals available in the facility's dining room, and she wouldn't be responsible for gardens and other home maintenance—only for an apartment. For repairs in the apartment, she has only to call the facility maintenance department.

They've made the move now, and life is so much easier for my friend. She's still worn out from all the house-selling and moving, but that's temporary. She is so relieved—and slowly but surely, she's regaining her energy.

Ironically, this would never have happened had she not gotten pneumonia.  It's a reminder to me about how easy it is for me, too, to just go merrily along doing what I've always done. Often I don't stop to think about what might need changing until something stops me in my tracks as it did my friend. You, too?

Monday, June 26, 2017

Closed doors, open doors

Have you ever missed an opportunity because you've been focusing your gaze on the past? It was Alexander Graham Bell who said, "When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us."

When a door closes and a loss occurs, whether a friendship, a job or some other opportunity, it certainly is important to grieve it. We need to take time to reflect on what that closed door means.

What Bell's quote tells me is that we don't want to get stuck focusing on that closed door because we can completely miss another opportunity in the present or the future. It can also happen that we might completely miss any lessons that might be learned in that interim period between a closed door and an open door or window. All of that time following a closed door is valuable. There are lessons to be learned, and there are potential opportunities ready to materialize if we are paying attention.

What have you learned through doors closing? I'd love to hear.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Let's hear it for friendships

We women are known for developing deep friendships that help sustain us through all the ups and downs of life. I cannot say enough about the value and importance of the friendship circles I enjoy with other women. I'm not sure I could have gotten this far without them.

It's important to remember to befriend oneself, too. I like what Eleanor Roosevelt said about that: "Friendship with oneself is all-important, because without it one cannot be friends with anyone else in the world." It's the same as with love: to truly love others, we must begin by loving ourselves.

Family therapy pioneer and author Virginia Satir underscored the value of our friendships when she said: "I believe the greatest gift I can conceive of having from anyone is to be seen by them, heard by them, to be understood and touched by them." Isn't that what friendship does for us?

If you have a circle of friends (or perhaps more than one circle), consider yourself blessed. And be sure to thank these people for being such a crucial part of your life. If you don't have such a circle, see whether it's possible to find one or start one. It's been said that friends divide our grief and double our joy. Yes, indeed!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

You set the boundaries

As women, we often say "yes" when we really would like to say "no." That's where good boundaries come in. Just as property ownership requires good boundaries to mark where your land begins and your neighbor's ends, so too in our relationships, we need good boundaries.

Perhaps you've experienced someone stepping over a line for you—or you've said "yes" way too many times and are now angry and resentful. Boundaries are a cure for that.

It's not always easy to learn to set boundaries if you've been used to doing whatever others want and disregarding your own wants and needs. But it's never too late. First, you need to determine what you want and need. Second, you need to (gently) let others know. I say "gently" because boundaries aren't about punishing others. They're simply like fences to let others know how far they may go.

Say you don't want to serve on the hospitality committee any longer. You've done it for years. It really is okay to say, "It's time for me to step away from this." You don't need to offer an explanation—unless you wish to do so. But saying "no" doesn't require it. Or say you don't like when a friend always assumes you're going to drive when you go places with her. You get to say "no" to that. It's okay to suggest that you take turns.

Perhaps someone speaks to you in a way you don't like. You get to say that it's not acceptable.

Finally, you determine consequences if the behavior persists. It's okay to say that if this behavior persists, you'll walk away when the negativity occurs. If it doesn't stop at all, you get to decide whether you need to even walk away from the relationship. You're the only one who can decide where to erect your fences or boundaries and what will happen when they're breached. Again, this isn't about punishment. It's simply about maintaining your boundaries and staying healthy.

Monday, June 19, 2017

You are beautiful!

Following up on last Friday's blog on self-esteem, I like what the authors say in Queen of Your Own Life: Grown-Up Woman's Guide to Claiming Happiness and Getting the Life You Deserve:

"Wouldn't the ultimate gift to yourself be to believe that, no matter what your age, size or circumstances, you are beautiful and then go out into the world reflecting that feeling inside and out? ... Your laughter, struggles, courage and determination up until this point all combine to make a powerful source of energy within you that illuminates your face so that the world can see the remarkable story painted there."

Yes, authors Kathy Kinney and Cindy Ratzlaff have it right. We each have a remarkable story, unique to us; and it's right there in our faces and in our bodies, too. These stories make us who we are—the tough things in our lives and the joyful moments, all of it. What a sense of energy we can draw from that.

No matter what size, weight, age, circumstances, IQ or any other type of measurement, you are beautiful. I am beautiful. For beauty is so much more than what society measures.

Remember that today. Stand tall. Be confident and happy just remembering this!

Friday, June 16, 2017

Self-compassion and self-esteem

Perhaps I've used this quote before, but it really does speak to me—especially as someone who grew up with a lack of confidence and struggled for several years to gain a solid sense of self-esteem. The quote comes from Eleanor Roosevelt: "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."

The onus is on us, not on the other person. It's our job to do those things that will build our self-esteem. That begins with an ending: Stop already with the negative messages inside your head! If you (even occasionally) say negative things to yourself, just stop. Years ago whenever I caught myself saying, "Stupid, fat, whiny or ugly" or anything negative about myself, I pictured a stop sign going up inside my head. That was enough to stop me from going any further with the negative tapes. And soon I realized that I wasn't saying such things anymore. If I goofed up, I didn't need to call myself "stupid." If I gained a pound or two, I didn't need to call myself "fat."

Then—absolutely do not allow others to say nasty and negative things to you either. It simply is not acceptable. You have the right to speak up and say that. And you have the right to just walk away if someone persists in negative talk to you.

Then take a look at all the positive things about yourself. What do you do well? What are your real gifts? Do you have a big heart? A gift for numbers? A talent for writing? Are you nurturing and loving? Be honest—and admit to yourself all those things you do and do well. Own it; claim it. Often, when women are asked to list 10 good things about themselves, they are stumped for a long time. But ask them to list 10 negative things, and they begin writing immediately!

Learn to look on yourself with self-compassion and love, just as you see your loved ones and friends. Don't say to yourself things you'd never think to say to someone you love. And remember Eleanor's words. Don't consent to let anyone, including you, make you feel inferior.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

What's behind the procrastination?

Do you ever procrastinate? While some people may have more of a tendency toward procrastination than others, we all can do this from time to time. It might be a phone call or an appointment we need to make. It could be a project. It might even be a conversation we have to have with someone—and we know it won't be an easy one.

Generally, some type of fear or anxiety is behind procrastination. "I don't know how to do it, and I don't want to appear stupid and ask someone for advice or instruction." "If I don't even start the project, I can't fail." "I'm worried what others will think if I do this." "It's going to end up taking too much time ... or too much money." "This could even make things worse. I don't know what the outcome might be."

That's just a tiny starter list of fears. I'm sure you can make a list of your own.

The best thing is to just dig down and take a look, straight on, at those fears and anxieties. Sometimes it takes a while to determine what's really holding us back. You may need to ask yourself several times, "What's the real reason I'm not doing this?" The first response may not be the real one. Just keep asking the same question and drilling down until something really resonates. You've likely hit pay dirt then, and now you can begin to address the issue(s).

In the end, the procrastination and fear can become teachers. We may learn something new about ourselves that will help us move forward when we face similar situations in the future. That's not a bad thing, is it?

Monday, June 12, 2017

Be good to your body and brain

Several months ago the AARP Bulletin featured a cover story with 50 ways to live longer. It was filled with suggestions such as cutting back on pain pills, getting sufficient sleep each night, reducing sugar intake, etc.

One of the suggestions jumped out at me. It followed the suggestion to drive less, and it was "Better yet walk." Reminding us that a great prescription for longer life is to exercise, the article said that doctors are actually prescribing walks instead of medication. Wow, what a great idea! There are so many benefits to walking—particularly now when in most parts of the country, weather is lovely and permits walks in nature. We get the health benefits of movement, and we get to soak up the beauty of nature as well.

Claude Bouchard, director of the human genomics laboratory at Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana said, "There is no pill that comes close to what exercise can do." It benefits our brain, heart, skin, mood and metabolism. And that's good self-care.

I've heard it said that sitting is the new smoking. And many of us sit at computers, sit in a workplace, sit in cars, and sit some more! So I'm talking to myself here—and to you, too: Let's be good to our brains, hearts, skin, moods and metabolism and fit in some walking (or other exercise) today! Your body and brain will thank you.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Add positivity to the globe

What are you doing to stay positive these days? What's helping you see the glass half full rather than half empty?

It's not helpful to see the past with rose-colored glasses since there never has been a perfect time when everything was good for everyone. Some periods of history in the past may have been good for some but at the expense of others. And always, always, there have been challenges and bad things happening.

Having said that, however, now seems like such a contentious time. It's not just that there are things about which to worry such as auto-immune diseases, terrorists or Lyme-disease-carrying ticks, but add to that the fact that there seems to be an extra amount of anger, anxiety and fear out there. Layer on top of that the lack of patience, the distrust, the partisanship and the incidents of racism and other angry encounters. It can quickly lead us all to despair.

So why don't we help one another somehow keep a balance—being an informed and engaged citizen of our community, country and world while at the same time staying positive and as serene as possible? Find what helps you. Some people I know take sabbaticals from Facebook or listening to news. Some meditate more often. Others talk things over with friends. Still others find play and more laughter help to ground them. Do whatever it takes. We must stay hopeful, and we must do our part to add more positivity to the globe!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Pain and joy connect

We get a lot of societal messages these days telling us we have a right to a happy and perfect life. Ads show happy, clappy people. And even when we're grieving a loss, many folks around us encourage us to get over it. Perhaps it makes them more comfortable to see us happy. In any case, there's a lot of pressure to "don't worry, be happy" these days.

But how realistic is that? Every one of us faces challenges, pain and loss. Facing them and working through them takes time. And it should take time, for there are ever so many lessons to be learned from each of those things. As singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen said in his song "Anthem," everything is cracked and that's how the light gets in.

We don't need to take the opposite approach and glorify pain and suffering. But we need to allow both pain and joy into our lives. I like what inspirational author Mark Nepo says about this in his book Seven Thousand Ways to Listen: Staying Close to What Is Sacred. He speaks of letting in beauty and listening to loss. He reminds us that pain and loss open us up. Further, he says: "This lifelong conversation with love, wonder, and truth in counterpoint with pain, loss, and obstacles is how we dilate and constrict our way into the essence of our aliveness."

I love that: a lifelong conversation between the two. Yes! Think of the width and breadth of such a conversation and how our hearts would expand.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Too busy? Stop it—right now!

In the summer issue of The Magnolia Journal, guest columnist Shauna Niequist talks about being so busy that she "was in grave danger of becoming someone I didn't recognize, someone I didn't want to be." She says she "allowed busyness and work and achievement to edge out some of the best parts of me."

Do you relate to that at all? It doesn't matter whether you're still knee-deep in a career or whether you're retired. It doesn't matter whether you have children at home or you don't. It's all too easy to get caught up in the busyness. Being too busy is almost a badge of honor in some circles.

But is that really how we want to live? Does that allow the best parts of us to show through? Or do we stand in danger of becoming people we don't want to be?

Here's the deal: There is some choice that is possible. Granted, there are some must-do things on the to-do lists of all of us. But there are plenty of other things that are a matter of choice—including things that can be delegated as well as things that really don't need to be done at all. It's always good to stop and reflect, if we're edging close to burn-out: What really needs to be done—and what of that do I personally need to do?

It's unlikely that we'll get to the end of our lives and on our deathbeds wish we had done more work. Rather, it's more likely that we'll wish we had better tended our relationships. Most likely, we'll wish we'd stopped to smell more roses along the way—taken time to savor our moments and days.

So let's start right now! What are we waiting for?

Friday, June 2, 2017

Compassion, not perfection

On Wednesday of this week I sent out my monthly Way2Grow Coaching ezine. Generally, I have the ezine written several days, if not at least a week, ahead of when it will be distributed. My schedule this time was such that I didn't get it written until the night before it was to be distributed at 5 a.m. I proof-read it a couple times, and everything looked good. Or so I thought.

The next morning when I looked at the ezine in my inbox, right away I found an error. Since I'm a perfectionist, albeit a recovering one, the error jumped right out at me as though it were rimmed in flashing red lights. It was too late to do anything about it since the ezine was already in the inboxes of all subscribers.

In days gone by, I would have obsessed over the error and beat myself up for it. This time, I'm happy to say, I told myself that it did me good to make an editing error once in a while ... and then to let it go. It's good practice for a recovering perfectionist! That doesn't mean it's easy. But I want to learn to unhook my self-worth from the things I do or don't do. I want to be more gentle and compassionate with myself when I make mistakes. I want to acknowledge that I'm human! I definitely am a work-in-progress.

Do you have things that hook you up like this? Can you use self-compassion to handle it?

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Self-care for your neck

If you sit at a computer for great lengths of time, you may want to try these tips that I've learned from yoga to stretch out your neck. I spend a considerable time at the computer and as a result, deal with neck and shoulder issues. Actually, any type of sitting can lead to tightening up of neck and shoulder muscles. It stresses our bodies, particularly if we allow our posture to slouch or our heads to drop down. So good self-care is important. Here's something you may want to try. Do it after sitting for 60 or 90 minutes and repeat as needed:

• Stand up and inhale while lifting your chin up toward the ceiling. Exhale while dropping your chin to your chest.
• Inhale as you bring your head back to center and exhale as you turn your head to the right.
• Inhale as you bring your head back to center and exhale as you turn it to the left.
• Inhale as you bring your head back to center and exhale as you drop your right ear toward your right shoulder.
• Inhale as you bring your head back to center and exhale as you drop your left ear toward your left shoulder.
• Inhale as you bring your head back to center.
• Do a few deep breaths in and out before resuming your seated pose. 

There, don't you feel a bit more stretched out and open now? Self-care is a good and necessary part of life—with more benefits than we can imagine. Go ahead and treat yourself.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Compassion, friends & enemies

I've been reading and thinking a lot these days about the role of compassion in my life—and the concentric circles in which I want to express it, from self to family to friends to community to country and to the entire world, including those I see as enemies.

As I think about the incivility that seems to have worsened in these last years, I realize that I cannot simply point outward and complain about all the intolerance and anger around me. I need to look at my own role in this incivility and lack of compassion. And I do have a role! I confess that much of the appalling rhetoric I hear lately about women, rape, childbearing, reproductive health and more raises my anger level. This makes it difficult for me to feel compassion for those (mostly male but some female) who make pronouncements on such topics. Not only do I not feel compassion for them, but I have been known to say some pretty harsh and snarky things about them.

If I want to see more compassion in this world, I have to start with myself. And I wonder just how I am going to do that with those who most challenge my beliefs. It's a challenge, but it's one I want to tackle.

Perhaps I need to begin with self-compassion, for then my heart will open wider to all others. What do you think? What helps you in this endeavor?

Friday, May 26, 2017

Of loneliness and connection

Just as I did on Wednesday, I'm going to give you some of Mark Nepo's words from Seven Thousand Ways to Listen: Staying Close to What is Sacred because they speak to me so deeply. I suspect you may resonate, too.

"As a vulnerable human being, I still want to be seen and heard and understood for who I am. When bestowed without agenda, these are the gifts of love. I don't think we ever lose this need, but the absence of these affirmations no longer rules my life. ... We are like tall leaning trees. We sway in our humanness every which way, while our spirit roots firmly in an ever-deepening connection to the Earth.

"Without a felt sense of this connection to the web of life, the need to be seen and heard can rule us, overwhelm us, and even devastate us. ... To be sure, this felt lifeline between our very core and the Universe won't eliminate loneliness, but it will right-size it. This felt presence of everything larger than us won't eliminate pain, but it will absorb it.

"And though it feels like I will end each time my heart is broken, my heart only breaks into a larger version of itself. When I am present to this process, I am broken open."

There is so much in Nepo's words that I really feel no need to add my own. I encourage you to spend some time with them as I have been doing.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

'Stay in the center'

I'm always struck by the fact that the absence of conflict doesn't always mean peace. Peace is so much more. So when I read poet Mark Nepo's words from Seven Thousand Ways to Listen: Staying Close to What is Sacred these words, I resonated:

"...the absence of agitation alone is not necessarily peace and the presence of such difficult feelings does not mean we are necessarily off-center. Rather, the task of being fully alive challenges us to stay in the center while feeling the full range of life on Earth. This is quite a task, which I'm not sure how to do. Nonetheless, listening way inside to these two teachers—the truth of things as they are and the experience of being human—I find myself here.

"... I'm not trying to run from the agitation in the name of peace, but trying to relax my being until I'm spacious enough to be a container for both: the peace and the agitation."

What images does that bring to your mind, to be a container for both? How do you manage to "stay in the center" even amid agitation and challenges? Can you hold things as they are and still feel at peace?

Some days I manage to do this; and other days, it's a real challenge. Actually, most days, it's a challenge. But I do find it so worth the effort when I can feel the balance. That's OK. We are each a work-in-progress, so there's no need to beat up on ourselves when we can't be "spacious enough to be a container for both."

Monday, May 22, 2017

Surprise, there's still more

Last Friday we talked about letting go. I've worked on doing this for years, and one thing I know: When you think you've done all the letting go you need to do, there's always still more. And it will arise to confront you when the time is right for you to do so.

I had that happen again last week. I think I've let go of so many old attitudes, beliefs, resentments, ways of being, masks, etc. And still several more emerged last week in a healing touch session I had. The time must be right, and I don't want to miss the opportunity to shed some more unnecessary baggage.

Have you given any thought to what might be holding you back these days? Would shedding some old tapes or resentments lighten your load and get you unstuck so you can fly free? Would forgiving someone else—or yourself—free you to be more authentic and loving?

It's worth doing an inner check, not unlike a physical exam, after you've come up with a list of things to shed. Here are some starter ideas:

• Shame
• Expectations
• Fears
• Anger, grudges and resentments
• Behaviors that aren't authentic to you
• Masks that hide who you really are (but remember, we do need some safety and can't completely let it all hang out). Generally, we wear far more than we need, however.
• Worry
• Attachment to physical strength as you age. See the opportunity and not just the loss of limitations.
• Perfectionism
• The need to be liked
• The "shoulds" of life

Like spring housecleaning, this isn't a once-and-done activity. Repeat as often as necessary!


Friday, May 19, 2017

Shed the baggage. Soar like a butterfly.

I talk a lot in these blogs and in my ezines about the letting go we do as we age. I don't just mean letting go of external "stuff" such as possessions and belongings. While that's also important, I mean letting go of inner baggage. It seems to me the essential task of the later stages of life.

Are you still carrying around grudges and resentments? Unforgiven hurts, either those done to you or those done by you? Old beliefs and ideas that no longer work, or perhaps never really worked but somehow you picked them up in childhood or somewhere along the way and tried to conform? Toxic friendships? Expectations, many of which are unrealistic? Views of yourself or others that simply aren't true? Obligations that don't interest you or feed you anymore (perhaps it's someone else's job to do now)? Illusions?

There's so much inner "housecleaning" we need to do as we mature. It feels so good to let go, to be able to travel more lightly—to soar like a butterfly.

Forgive. Touch into your compassion—for others and for yourself. Open your heart and let the love flow in and through. It's a much happier, freer way to live.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Be here. Now.

Are you holding onto things from the past? Are you angry, bitter, disappointed or resentful about what has happened in the past? If so, much of the power of now will evade you. It will simply be out of reach.

Or are you anxious and worried about things that may or may not happen in the future? If so, you will miss the opportunities in this powerful present moment. Who knows what you might create right now if you concentrate on the present?

Or are you doing both—holding onto the past and worrying about the future? That's a double whammy (at least!).

Let go, let go, let go. Be here. Now. Bring yourself into the present. Look around. What do you notice? What opportunities are right in front of you? Opportunities to engage with people and activities that might add meaning to your life and the lives of others? What wonders are you not noticing around you because you're living in the past, the future or both—but not in the present?

It's not too late. Start noticing. Keep pulling yourself back when you discover that you've moved into the past or future. Soon, you'll find yourself more in the present. There's tremendous power in that!

Monday, May 15, 2017

You deserve compassion, too

An author who trained as a Buddhist monk, Jack Kornfield, said, "If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete."

Simple but profound. And so right on. Often it's easier for us to show compassion and lovingkindness to others even while we're extremely hard on ourselves. We expect more of ourselves than we do of others. And we beat up on ourselves when we feel we haven't done our best. The self-talk in which we engage is something we'd never say to a dear friend. And forgiving ourselves? That's tougher, too.

While it can be helpful to examine just why we do this (do we, for some reason, not feel worthy of love or care?), sometimes we just need to change this hurtful habit. Interrupt the behavior pattern. When you begin beating up on yourself or talking unkindly to yourself, stop. Just stop. STOP. Perhaps visualize a stop sign going up in your head. Take a few deep breaths—and then look at yourself with eyes of compassion, just as you would at a loved one in a similar situation. Speak kind words to yourself. If the situation warrants it, forgive yourself for saying what you said or doing what you did.

Do that again and again—until self-compassion becomes a habit ... because you, too, deserve compassion.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Here's to women

This weekend is Mother's Day here in the U.S. It's a wonderful time to celebrate the roles of women, whether they have biological children or not.

Many women raise children born to other mothers. Many women nurture and nourish children who may not share a home with them but who live in other homes. Perhaps they're neighbors or children of friends. Perhaps they're students.

Many women give birth to things other than babies—books, art, projects, songs, ideas and creative pursuits of all kinds. Here's to those who birth dreams that nourish us all.

This weekend, give thanks to and for those women who raise children. And remember to give thanks to all those who in any way nourish you and help you grow, too!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Hand in hand, face challenges

When you're facing a challenge, remember not to isolate yourself. Granted, sometimes we need to pull away for just a bit to think something through, to sort out how we really feel and what we might want to do about it. But we do need the support of others to get through life, more often than not.

One of the Mothers of the Disappeared in Argentina, Elisa de Landin, said, "Here we are, Jews and Catholics, all religions and all classes and we all work together as one. We all respect each other and this is something wonderful. ... When one weakens or gets disheartened, there's always someone standing by her side to give her strength. ... A Mother who comes to the House can find the strength to continue the struggle. It's the one who stays at home, who only comes occasionally to the square, who gives up. ... Together we give each other a strength which I think is unique in the world."

That's powerful—particularly when you think of what these mothers faced: husbands, children and other loved ones who simply disappeared and the women had no idea what had happened or where their loved ones were.

No matter what our struggles, we face them with more strength when we stand together—when we help hold each other up. Hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder, we'll get through.

Monday, May 8, 2017

You are worthy

I've often heard it said that we train other people how to treat us. When I first heard that, I had to spend some time thinking about it. At that time, I was so accustomed to thinking almost solely about the needs of husband and children. I didn't give much thought to what I wanted or needed. That felt selfish to me.

Now that I'm much older and my sons have their own children (some teens and beyond, in fact), I have more experience to understand the truth of that statement. I came to terms with the fact that it isn't selfish to expect some of my needs to be met, too. I actually thought about what I wanted from life—something that, in fact, removed some of the resentment that was beginning to build when my needs weren't considered. I had to look at my own part in the whole dance. I had to recognize my own worth, too.

When we grow so accustomed to thinking about the needs of others to the exclusion of our own needs, we do train others to think that way, too. Have you seen women who, even when their children are older adults, continue to put aside their wants and needs and jump to the tune of their children? Or of their spouse or partner? It's become a habit. And spouses and adult children, not necessarily doing so with "malice aforethought," continue to let them do so.

Mind you, I'm not saying it's wrong to be of service to others or to do kind things for those we love. These are good things. But we also want to do good things for ourselves and see ourselves as worthy of having our needs met, too. It's not either/or. It's both/and. And it's also a matter of making choices—choosing to do something for another rather than being expected to do so ... and letting them do good things for you, too!

Friday, May 5, 2017

Stages & ages

Today my second oldest granddaughter turns 18. I love hanging out with her (and with each of my grandchildren). Several of them are teens already. And I'm so aware that each stage of their lives has been precious and such a joy. I loved when they were small, and I could snuggle them and read to them. Then when they were toddlers, it was fun to see how their personalities developed. Soon they were old enough to go with me, one-on-one, for day-long "grandma days" and overnight visits. What fun we have had with those times. Now that several are teens, we can discuss all manner of topics and talk adult-to-adult. I treasure each stage.

It isn't only children who go through life stages. We do, too. At my age now, I think about all the stages of my life thus far—and I reflect on what's ahead. I want to stay alive and vibrant, savoring my days and not focusing on the negative parts of aging. I have heard people say they wish they could go back to their 20s or 30s before body limitations and some forgetfulness set in. But we'd give up other things at the same time—all the wisdom we've gained through life experiences, both good and bad, for example.

One of my favorite books these days is The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully by Joan Chittister. With chapter titles that represent qualities such as agelessness, loneliness, forgiveness, limitations, success and wisdom, Chittister calls us to see the blessings of aging even while being honest and real about its burdens. This book is such a positive one; and when I need inspiration about the aging process, it's one to which I turn regularly.

How do you feel about your aging process?

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

We support one another

Some days it's really a challenge to remain positive, isn't it? People close to us and around us facing health challenges, sometimes of major proportions. Or perhaps we have our own challenges, health or otherwise. News that is frightening and depressing. Problems everywhere we look. Aaargh. What are we to do?

Even though sometimes we may need to take a break from the news, we can't forever hide our heads in the sand. And we don't want to be MIA from family, friends and others we know who are facing difficulties.

This is when it's good to remember that we have each other. That we need each other. When you are in need of inspiration and a pick-me-up, no doubt someone you know is feeling strong and positive. Seek out others to get what you need to keep on going. It truly does take a village. And our relationships really do give us the support and courage we need to keep on going. So let's be sure we don't neglect our relationships. Nurture and nourish them, knowing you always get back far more than you give.

Monday, May 1, 2017

You do have some power!

How often have you said something such as, "But I'm just one person. I can't really do anything about that." Most likely, every one of us has said or thought this from time to time.

However, I was just reminded again the other day that we need to take what power we have, join forces with others and bring about the change we seek. I read about the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina. I've heard stories about them before. They gathered by ones, by twos and in time, by larger numbers to call attention to those they loved who had been "disappeared" in the years of military rule that followed the ousting of President Isabel Peron. In the eight years after her ouster, an estimated 30,000 people became the "disappeared ones." Kidnapped, arrested, imprisoned, murdered. And their loved ones had no idea where they were or what had happened to them.

So the mothers gathered—in increasingly larger numbers, supporting one another and calling attention to the injustice. The government attempted to silence them, threatening them and even killing some of them. But the mothers didn't give up. They were taking what power they had to name what was wrong in their society. What they did brought life to others throughout Central and South America when similar atrocities happened in other countries there.

I'm reminded, too, of the women in Liberia who gathered week after week until finally, they forced the various sides in that country's civil war to stop their killing and fighting. Peace at long last.

Let these women be our inspiration, no matter what it is that keeps us chained and feeling powerless. We do have choices we can make. We have personal power. We have each other.

Where do you need to take charge today?

Friday, April 28, 2017

Open mind, open heart

Unity. Compromise. Dialogue. These are such important words, but something in the air these past months seems to work against them.

Last night I heard an interesting interview by Judy Woodruff on the PBS News Hour as she talked with Governor John Kasich about his new book, Two Paths: America Divided or United. The entire interview was fascinating. But what really struck me was when Kasich said that he recommended that each of us take 10 minutes a day to read something with which we do not agree.

Wow, that's a tall order. Most of us tend to read things with which we agree—even if not with everything in the book, magazine or newspaper article, at least with the general tone or thrust. And we do know that Kasich is right and that we should expose ourselves to ideas that might be foreign to us or to which we're diametrically opposed.

Now, after an extremely contentious election cycle, it would be a good time to heed his suggestion. I have several friends and family who voted for a different person than I did, and I have tried to have open conversations with them about what they were hoping for and what they're seeing. But I confess I still continue to read things with which I'm more likely to agree.

Time for a change. It's good to be open. Listening is always good. And exposing myself to other thinking can only broaden my thinking and idea pool, right? An open mind can lead to an open heart. Sounds good to me!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Victim or hero?

If you haven't engaged in "victim thinking" yourself, I'm sure you have heard friends or acquaintances do so. Every one of us no doubt has a story or stories about things that have happened to us where we've felt like a victim or been a victim. Of course, we talk about such things with others. There is nothing wrong with telling someone about what happened. That's one thing.

It's quite another thing to keep living in that victim mentality, however. You can tell the story. Or you can make it your story—and keep telling and retelling so that this is how you see yourself eventually.

Here's what medical anthropologist Alberto Villoldo says about that, "Although the mind resists it, the fact is that, like me, you have a choice between having the life you want or the reasons why you can't. You can luxuriate in joy and peace, or you can continually be burdened by that big black bag full of all the sorrowful incidents and accidents that happened to you in your childhood or last relationship. You can endure your wounds or you can enjoy your glory. You can live the life of a victim, burdened by the traumas of your past, or you can live the life of a hero; but you can't do both."

That's pretty direct. And it's true. You and I do have a choice: Victim or hero? What's it going to be? How will you tell your life story? Where is your focus? You can choose between having the life you want or dwelling on the reasons why you can't have it.

If you'd like to discuss this, I invite you to contact me for a complimentary, no-obligation strategy session.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Mentoring helps us soar

I wish I knew what book I copied this from, but I have a little slip of paper with the word "Mentor" at the top. Of course, that would've caught my eye. I have been mentored by other women (and a few men), and I have long done my own mentoring of other women and girls. So I like what this copy says:

"Take another woman under your wing and help her learn to fly. Share what you know—and how you learned it. Show her whom to watch out for—and precisely why. Lead her through an initiation, and guide her through the pitfalls you've already survived. Tell her what she'll never read in the manual. Maybe she's younger than you, maybe she's not. Maybe she reminds you of you, maybe she doesn't. ... Stay close enough to hold her gently by the arm if she needs it—and far enough away to give her room to fall if she must. Tell her you believe in her and you want to see her soar." (I just regret that I don't know the source of this so I can give credit.)

Yes, oh, yes! "Help her learn to fly." "Stay close enough ... and far enough away...." " want to see her soar." Each of us needs all the help we can get. It matters not whether we as mentor are older or younger. We can each learn from the other. Most often, mentoring is a mutually beneficial experience.

Think about who has mentored you. Give thanks for that. And who are you mentoring now? Who might you mentor? We need all the help we can get so we can truly soar.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Repairing what's broken

Mending. Does anyone really do any mending anymore? I remember my mother mending clothes that had tears and holes. There wasn't a lot of money to just go out and buy new things. So she patched and mended—in addition to sewing clothes for my sister and me. She darned socks to repair holes in them, too.

We're such a throwaway society these days that most people probably haven't heard of mending or darning. Or if they've heard of it, they wouldn't consider doing it. I will confess, I don't do either of those things myself.

That said, I am definitely conscious of other important ways we mend these days. When life comes apart for a friend or even for ourselves, we are in need of tending and mending, right? We need help, love and support from others to put together what's come apart. That's how we heal.

Do you have a relationship in your life that could use some mending? Is your heart broken and in need of mending and tending? Find those people and things that will nurture you back to wholeness again. Engage in self-care and in care of others. Express your compassion—and find room for self-compassion, too. The world can surely use more compassion—and more mending!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Who is your tribe?

These days we hear women talking about their "tribe." Have you heard that term? They're generally referring to that group (most often other women) that "gets them." Your tribe is that group of people with whom you feel completely comfortable and at home, with whom you can be more authentic and real than with anyone else.

While we don't want to limit our time to only our tribe because we do grow by being exposed to as much diversity as possible, it is wonderful to have a tribe and to spend time with that group. Often, that's where we get our acceptance, validation and affirmation.

I love what Oprah Winfrey says about community and friendships: "You need friends who want nothing from you but everything for you." It's the words "from" and "for" in that sentence that are important. How wonderful is it to have friends who are for you?! They are the gold-star members of your fan club. They are your support system. They will be there in the good times—and in the bad. We all need friends like that.

When you have such a tribe, do everything you can to nurture and nourish those relationships. Treasure them, for those relationships are a gift.  Give gratitude for such friends.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Retirement & other life changes

Not long ago I facilitated a discussion for women who are on the cusp of retirement and who had some concerns and questions about it. If you are facing retirement or if you have friends who are, here the some open-ended questions for exploration:

• What my heart really longs for in retirement is:
• Things that make me jump out of bed in the morning:
• Fun, playful things I want to do in retirement are:
• What makes me most anxious about my retirement is:
• Resources I have to deal with those anxieties:

Anytime we move from one phase of life to another, even when it's something to which we look forward, we are only human if we also feel some anxiety. Even good change in our lives can include losses. When we move to something new and exciting, we also leave behind some things that we liked and will miss. It's good to be honest about that. New beginnings always include some endings, too.

What helps you face this, no matter what stage of life is next for you, is being real about it all. It helps to talk it over with others. It also helps to consider what resources you have to face this—including those people in your life who will help you work through whatever anxieties or losses you have.

If you are in the middle of some transition or if you're facing retirement and wish to talk it over, I invite you to contact me for an absolutely no-obligation, complimentary strategy session.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Take charge of emotional eating

On Wednesday I talked about emotional eating—and about the idea of being comfortable with some discomfort. For example, if we're sad, we might reach for our favorite food (cookies, chips, chocolate or whatever is our go-to food). Or if we're anxious or bored, the same is true. "Maybe I'll feel better if I have some chocolate!"

Even when we are happy, we might think we should celebrate with a favorite snack. "I deserve it!"

So a recent issue of WeightWatchers magazine gave 5 tips on how to take charge of emotional eating:

• Figure out what you're feeling.
• Practice putting space between thoughts and actions. (See if you can hold off 5 minutes, for example. That time just might mean you'll have moved on and not feel the desire anymore.)
• Take a long, slow inhale. (People often encourage us to take "deep breaths" for a reason.)
• Mind your thoughts. (Remind yourself they're just words, simply fleeting experiences.)
• Keep some distance. In other words, don't identify with the thoughts. Remind yourself that you are not your thoughts. You have the thoughts.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Get comfortable with discomfort

I really enjoy food—different flavors, textures, colors and cuisines. At the same time, I try to eat in a healthy fashion and keep my weight within reasonable bounds. That said, I do at times engage in what's called "emotional eating." It doesn't matter whether I'm sad or whether I'm happy. Sometimes food is either for comfort or for celebration. Have you ever done that?

I remember years ago at Weight Watchers hearing the phrase, "Feel your feelings. Don't feed them." That makes sense. Even so, many of us have learned somewhere along the line to turn to food for a variety of emotions. In fact, I read in a recent issue of WeightWatchers magazine that research shows that more than half the people who are overweight are regularly affected by emotional eating.

The suggestion in that issue was rather than play mind games to get past emotional eating, instead to learn to live with uncomfortable emotions. As I think about that, it makes a good deal of sense. I often tell clients (and myself) to learn to be comfortable with discomfort from time to time. This can apply to transition periods between careers or between relationships. Anytime we leave a comfortable spot and move into something new, we may spend some time in that neutral ground or transition time that causes anxiety.

Instead of giving in to the anxiety, we can see what we might learn from it. So it is with those emotions that can lead us to grab for our favorite foods, too: Ask what the feelings might have to teach you. Ask what values might be under threat. You just might learn something new about what's important to you. And then you can make different choices than you might have by simply reacting to the feelings.

I plan to try this myself. We'll have to return to this at another time and see how it works. I'd love to hear from you if you try a new approach, too.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Just say "No"

It really can't be said to often: Letting go is an essential theme for the last half of life. There is so much that has stuck to us as we've gone through life—ways of being and of doing things, old tapes and messages about who we are or how we act, old beliefs that don't work for us anymore, even some friendships that have really gone bad but from which we haven't known how to disengage.

At a certain age, it's time to take a look at who we really are. How do we want to define ourselves? What do we want to do and be? What simply doesn't work any longer? What would free us up to be who we were meant to be?

It's a good time to learn to say "No" if you haven't already. Say "No" to things that are unsatisfying but use up your time. Say "No" to relationships that are abusive or that aren't life-giving. Say "No" to negative beliefs about yourself—things that someone long ago said to you often enough that you adopted them for your own. (You are stupid. You are ugly. You are a failure. Etc.) Say "No" to tending to everyone else's needs and ignoring your own.

And say "Yes" to authenticity. Say "Yes" to life on your terms, to living in a way that feels healthy and right for you. Say "Yes" to believing you are worthy. You are! Say "Yes" to self-compassion and self-care; that actually puts you in a space where you're better able to show others care and compassion.

You get the idea. It all starts with "No" and with letting go.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Sshhh, what's your body saying?

For most of us, our minds are so busy with chatter all the time that we don't even hear what our bodies are saying. We are used to our minds running the show. Ever think about that?

But do you ever stop to ask what your body—or various parts of it—might want or need? And then really stop to listen? Sometimes our bodies are practically screaming out to us for some attention: Please slow down. I need more sleep. Help, don't keep making me jump on this hard surface; this pounding hurts my knees. The Advil didn't really help the headache; I just need you to get quiet for a while.

And sometimes, when our bodies have cried out for attention and we've paid none, they'll break down. We get sick. We sprain an ankle, break a leg.

I am just as guilty as the next person when it comes to pushing through and ignoring the body's signals. But I am trying these days to notice more, to stop and listen. Why does my knee hurt lately? What's it trying to tell me? What type of care does it want? These frequent headaches—what are those telling me? Am I letting the stress of this situation get to me?

Check in with your body from time to time. See what your body needs. And don't forget to thank your body for all it has done and still does for you. It's a pretty incredible machine—and, no doubt, has seen you through a lot in life already!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Dream, play & savor life

You've heard of Bucket Lists. But have you ever heard of making a Thimble List?

Whereas a Bucket List is about the large things you want to do before you die (walk in the wine country of Italy, ride in a hot air balloon, see Arches National Park in Utah, for example), a Thimble List is a list of very small ways to savor life. Mindfulness plus gratitude equals touching your essential goodness, says writer and retreat presenter Jennifer Louden.

Creating a Thimble List begins with mindfulness—and can also lead to mindfulness. Let yourself get quiet and think about what would really help you notice things in your life—what would really help you savor and enjoy those small things. Tending to those small things leads to gratitude as well. Once you notice, you feel thankful.

So my Thimble List has several things, including:

• Slowly sip my morning (flavored) coffee without thinking about my to-do list
• Give at least one compliment each day to someone
• Journal more often
• Find a few times each week when I can read during the day—without guilt (not a newspaper!)
• Do some spontaneous things with my "besties"
• Buy flowers for my table—even when no visitors are coming

There's a lot more, but you get the idea. You'll have some things unique to you. See if you can come up with a list. It may need revising from time to time. Don't be productivity-oriented when you create it. Let yourself play, dream, have fun with it. Savor.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Relax and renew yourself

Are you one of those people who feel you need to be productive and busy at all times? We Americans can often be a bit Type-A about productivity—unlike people in some countries such as Spain where they take time in the middle of the day to rest and rejuvenate.

Do you have a form of relaxation that also recharges you? And do you give yourself permission to stop what you're doing—gasp, even in the middle of the day—to engage in that activity? I hope so.

Some people love the challenge and also relaxation afforded by 500- or 1,000-piece puzzles. Some love adult coloring books. Or painting. Or drawings such as Zentangles. You might like to knit or crochet. Reading fiction or books that don't require heavy thinking can be renewing, too. It's good self-care, really.

If you haven't yet given yourself permission to engage in something relaxing and rejuvenating, let me grant you permission right now. See me waving my scepter in your direction now!

Find something that delights and relaxes you. And give yourself a break to enjoy it. Daily, if you wish. If you feel guilty, ride that wave all the way through to the end—and discover that the sky didn't fall because you took out some time for pleasure and recharging!

Friday, March 31, 2017

Transition times are rich

One of my dear friends has been moved to do some real clearing-out in her life. She's cleaning files and rooms in her home and rearranging things. She's clearing out things in her inner life as well. She feels she's on the verge of something new happening in her life. She's not sure just what.

I reminded her the other day that we sometimes go through a transition period between the old and the new—and to not be worried if that does happen. That period can sometimes bring with it a bit of discomfort. We aren't sure what's on the other side, but we've already left the safety of the old shore. However, that transition period can be extremely important.

Writer Suzanne Braun Levine calls this transition time "the fertile void." I really like that term. It implies what really is true about such times: They are not empty times. They are rich with possibility. They are fertile. Such times remind me of growing up on a farm: We knew that every so often, some of the land needed to lie fallow in order to recharge. You cannot keep growing crops on a piece of land forever and ever. The soil nutrients will be depleted. The soil needs to rest and replenish.

So do we. We need recharging from time to time, too. So if you're going through any kind of change in your life, try not to fear a transition time. See it as the "fertile void" that it can be. If that's uncomfortable, learn to be OK with that for a while. And then be ready for the new life that will surely emerge for you.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Miracles, gratitude and awe

So much seems crazy all around us these days—in our country and in our world. And so, as always, it's great to focus on gratitude and the wonders around us. I don't mean that we ignore and stop addressing what needs our attention. Rather, I invite you (and myself) to remember each day to look for the positives and be grateful.

That's why Monday morning when I picked up my copy of A Daybook of Gratitude: How to Live Each Day with a Thankful Heart and found this poem by Vickie M. Worsham, I read it several times. I want to share part of it with you now. It's called "Believe in Miracles."

"Every morning, wake with the awe of just being alive.
Each day, discover the magnificent, awesome beauty in the world.
Explore and embrace life in yourself and in everyone you see each day.
Reach within to find your own specialness.
Amaze yourself, and rouse those around you to the potential of each new day."

There's more, but you get the idea. Awe. Embrace life. Potential. Your own specialness. Amaze yourself. Isn't this just rich with wonderful images and thoughts?

Let this be your focus today. Perhaps even make it your focus for the week. Or more!

Monday, March 27, 2017

Be your own friend

Self-compassion. Self-love. Were you raised to think such things were selfish and ego-driven? Many of us received such messages from a variety of sources when we were younger. Perhaps it's time to shed those messages. It's time to realize that when we show ourselves compassion and love, we are far more open and loving to everyone else in our lives, too.

If your partner or a dear friend is down and discouraged, what do you do? You feel great compassion, and you reach out with loving-kindness. You encourage. You listen. You support. You walk with them through whatever tough times they're facing.

It's important to show that same kindness to yourself when you're down and discouraged. It's also okay to ask your friend or mate for compassion and support. You deserve care and loving-kindness, too.

Treat yourself as you would treat someone else. It isn't helpful to berate yourself or to withhold love, forgiveness or support from yourself. You know how those things make a huge difference to others. It can make that same difference for you, too.

You are worth it. If you've gotten messages in earlier years that say you aren't, it is time to shed those. Let go, let go, let go. Show yourself some love and kindness. Your life will be better for it!

Friday, March 24, 2017

You set the limits

We hear a lot these days about setting boundaries. These are like fences that let others know what you will and will not accept by way of behavior from them. Mind you, boundaries aren't walls that shut others out. They are more like fences—and you can have gates and openings for people to get through. But you have conditions on who's let in.

If you have trouble setting limits for others or making boundaries, you aren't alone by any means. Many people have trouble with boundaries—and many people let others walk all over them and end up angry and resentful when it happens. You can change that, however. It's your choice. You get to set limits.

Boundaries aren't punitive. They are simply straightforward. For example, you may tell those close to you that you will not accept name-calling or put-downs from them. You also let them know what you intend to do if they continue the behavior. If they persist in calling you names or putting you down, you follow through with what you said you would do. You may tell someone, "I will not allow you to call me names anymore. If you continue, I will leave the room. If you persist long-term, I will need to leave the relationship." That's pretty straightforward. The thing is: You must follow through with what you've said you will do if the behavior continues. If you do not, expect more name-calling.

Boundary-setting takes practice. But it does get easier in time. If you would like to learn more, please contact me for a complimentary, no-obligation strategy session.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Who are you really?

Authenticity. It's an extremely important part of the aging process, in my humble opinion. At long last, we become more comfortable in our own bodies. We become more confident. We know what we know, and we're okay with that. We know our gifts, and we also know our shortcomings. We're human. And we're fine with it all.

I read this in a magazine recently, "Being yourself is the prettiest thing you can be." I like that. Yes, it really is. Just be yourself. Be the best you that you can be. Be all you were created to be.

When we're young, we try on different personas, not yet knowing who we really are and wanting to receive approval from some of the adults in our lives. Soon enough, we live a life that takes into account what others think we should be and do—and we don't realize that it could take us far from who we really were meant to be. We may never think about what we want to do.

It's not too late. Think about what you most long for at your very deepest levels. Think about those times when you feel most you. And think about your passions, your gifts. Keep moving in the direction of those things—in the direction that feels most life-giving to you. Go for authenticity.

If you'd like to discuss this, I invite you to contact me for a no-obligation, complimentary strategy session.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Come out and play

One of my dear friends and I were talking about how serious we become through the years. Of course, it isn't surprising. We have heavy responsibilities that are serious and call forth our practical, intense selves. That's as it should be if we are to be responsible adults—parents, employees, citizens.

But does it have to be either/or? Do we have to be so responsible that we forget how to play? I don't believe it.

Play can unleash our creativity. It can open our hearts to our more generous and loving selves. It just may erupt in joy and delight. Just watch little children at play for a while. You will notice all the joy and delight. You will also see how creative they become as they engage wholeheartedly in play.

Perhaps we could try to recapture some of that as we mature. There's nothing wrong with getting in touch with wonder and delight once again!