Friday, December 29, 2017

Can we learn the art of civil conversations?

In recent days I've seen this posted on Facebook: "Being taught to avoid talking about politics and religion has led to a lack of understanding of politics and religion.

"What we should have been taught was how to have a civil conversation about a difficult topic."

And my response to that is this: "Yes. And it's never too late to learn the skill. We can bring that gift to the world."

So as we approach the end of yet another year—an extremely divisive year filled with increasing levels of hatred and violence, it seems—let us do everything we can to either learn that skill or brush up on it, if we already know how to have such conversations. It's so sorely needed right now.

I know many people who have lost friendships or refused to spend holidays with family just because of this inability. They simply couldn't talk about politics, religion or any of the difficult issues that confront us without fighting or name-calling.

So let's do everything we can to bring more light, love and peace into the world. That starts with respect and civil conversation.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Keep it simple

A book that I regularly return to for its wisdom and inspiration is Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift from the Sea. My sister gave me this book in 1995 when I first became a grandmother, and I still pick it up often to see what I highlighted and wrote in the page margins.

Just last week I reread what Lindbergh wrote about shedding hypocrisy and living in authenticity: "The most exhausting thing in life, I have discovered, is being insincere. That is why so much of social life is exhausting; one is wearing a mask. I have shed my mask."

Further, she speaks of simplifying our lives, noting "what extraordinary spiritual freedom and peace such simplification can bring."

As we near the end of this extraordinarily busy time of year—and think about how we want to enter a brand new year—it's a good time to reflect on letting go of masks, living in authenticity and simplifying our lives.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Peace and joy to you!

I don't know which of the December holidays you celebrate. I celebrate Christmas today—so I will keep this short and sweet.

Whichever holiday you celebrate, I send you my very best wishes for a meaningful, peaceful and joyful time of year—and wish you a multitude of moments in the new year that take your breath away!

Friday, December 22, 2017

Be watchful—and sensitive

I'm writing this on December 21—the start of winter and the shortest day. My congregation is having a "Blue Christmas" service tonight for those who may not experience Christmas this year as a joyful event. There are so many reasons that might be true: illness, business setback, job loss—and in our congregation, two deaths just this week in addition to others in the past few months. This service will be more subdued than the others this weekend.

It's always good to remember that not everyone experiences happiness, joy or feelings of peace and serenity at this time of year. It's a good time to be respectful of where others are in their life journey and what's happening with them.

Just yesterday, in fact, my fiance and I had lunch out. We were served by a woman who has served us many times before. When we asked how she was, she appeared near tears. I asked what was wrong, and she told us how her mother-in-law had just died suddenly. Her husband's mother was an essential part of their family's life and had been expected to pull through the diagnosis she got only two months earlier. Now they were facing a funeral and a huge gap in their lives ... all just days before Christmas.

Stay tuned in to what people are feeling. Pay attention. We cannot assume this time of year is a warm, fuzzy or joyful time for everyone. It's a good time to show compassion and love to all those we meet. Who knows what even a smile can mean to someone you see on the street or in a store?

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Embrace the questions

I find such joy in reading the words and wisdom of others and then running it through my own experiences and filters to see what it might be saying for me—and what I might even pass along to others from that endeavor.

Mark Nepo is one of my favorite authors and poets. He is so honest and real, and that helps me dig down beneath any masks and beliefs that really no longer work but that I may not yet have shed.

In his book Seven Thousand Ways to Listen: Staying Close to What is Sacred, he says: "So being here involves more than just reacting to the things that come at us. It requires that we initiate a love affair with all that calls to us, seen and unseen; that we run with open arms into questions and moments of living as urgently as we do burning buildings to retrieve who and what we love."

Despite my best efforts to stay awake and be truly present each day, I often feel that I do too much reacting to what comes at me. I sometimes avoid the questions I should be asking because deep down I know they'll be uncomfortable and may lead me somewhere outside my comfort zone. So I like the image of running "with open arms into questions." Hmmm, what might that lead me to?

How does that strike you?

Monday, December 18, 2017

About those dreams...

Have you ever lost a dream? Perhaps you lived it for a while and then it slipped away. Or maybe it never came to fruition at all.

Yes, I've surely had that happen, too. That is why when I read the words of Wendell Berry last week, they stopped me in my tracks. I'm still reflecting on them. Here's what he said:

"It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work; and that when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey."

Might it be that sometimes we are so focused on a dream and what we think is our real purpose that we lose sight of the bigger picture? That we see a dream as an end point rather than as a state of being?

Years ago I heard that we don't keep dreams alive; dreams keep us alive. So perhaps it's the act of dreaming itself that's important.

What do you think?

Friday, December 15, 2017

Love & peace at the center

Even in the midst of this season when we think about peace on earth, we see and hear so many signs of hatred and violence—even in the comments on social media and in news programs.

Again, I'm drawn to those who have been peace-makers throughout history. So the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which I recently saw in a series of quotes upon which to reflect, definitely spoke to my heart:

"Non-violence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him."

Oh, my, that hit me where it hurts ... because I will confess that some of the things I read and hear lately have brought angry and violent thoughts into my mind. I don't want to become that which I intensely dislike. So King's words are a good reminder to me.

You, too? Let's help each other keep love and peace at the center of our lives.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Such riches we each have!

I recently came across this Henry David Thoreau quote and absolutely loved it. It seems so appropriate for this season, too, when the focus can easily be on consumerism. Buy, buy, buy. Here it is for your enjoyment and reflection, too:

"It is surprising how contented one can be with nothing definite—only a sense of existence. My breath is sweet to me. O how I laugh when I think of my vague indefinite riches. No run on my bank can drain it, for my wealth is not possession but enjoyment."

Isn't that wonderful? Stop for a moment today and reflect on the indefinite and infinite riches you have: body parts that operate (even if we slow down as we age!), sunshine, beauty in nature, family and friends, life itself, our very breath and so much more.

Savor it all. Give thanks for it all. Remember that no run on a bank can drain it!

Monday, December 11, 2017

A peaceful path

One of my favorite inspirational authors, Jan L. Richardson, in her book In Wisdom's Path: Discovering the Sacred in Every Season wrote this prayer/poem:

"The path before me: may I walk it in peace.
"The path behind me: may I leave it in peace.
"And the path within me: O God, may it be peace indeed."

I really love that. This is a time of year when we hear a lot about "peace on earth" and we talk a lot about it. But I have to ask myself: What am I doing about peace on earth? Most days, I don't feel so peaceful inside—particularly if I'm trying to be an engaged U.S. and global citizen!

So I really should post this prayer/poem on my bathroom mirror so I see it regularly. If you like it, you may want to consider doing that as well.

Here's to more peace in our lives—for if several of us can live out this prayer/poem in our lives, we'll be putting that peaceful energy out into the world. That can only be a good thing, right?

Friday, December 8, 2017

Thank your body

Earlier this week at my yoga class, when several people complained about aches and pains, our instructor reminded us of how much all the parts of our body do and have done for us. Take our feet, for example, she pointed out—think of the miles and miles they've taken you, think of how they've supported you, and think of how they continue to serve you as you get done what needs doing.

Look at your hands and consider the joy and comfort they've brought others, all that they have done and continue to do. Take time to consider your whole body, inside and out, and what each part does. Amazing, right?

She reminded us of how much we take every part of our body for granted, and she encouraged us to thank each part and take good care of our bodies.

What a great reminder. The yoga session that day was enveloped in the gratitude each of us felt for our bodies. Yoga is always a good start to my day and to my week. But that Monday morning session was exceptional and got my week off to a good start. I don't want to forget that.

Take time today to consider all your body has done and continues to do for you. Find ways to care for it and thank it!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Change is afoot

Some of my friends have had experiences recently—ranging from job loss to loss of dear friends (too young to have their lives over) to jobs going sour to confronting the aging process and its losses along with its opportunities.

Each of these women admits to asking the questions that originally caused me to create my Way2Grow Life Coaching practice:

• Who am I now?
• Where am I going?
• What do I want to do with the rest of my life?
• What's my purpose now?
• What does successful living look like for me?

These questions and more are part of this stage of life where we have accumulated a wealth of experiences, some good and some difficult, but all of which have taught us a thing or two. It seems we're never done learning, however, particularly if we're paying attention. It's always a good time to stop and ask the questions above and others—to re-evaluate where we are and where we're going. It's also a good time to consider what needs to be shed, whether that's old ideas, resentments, personas that don't fit, friends who aren't good for us, jobs that are toxic, etc.

Where are you now? And what might you need to change? What losses do you need to grieve or tend to? If you'd like to talk about this, I invite you to contact me. I offer a complimentary coaching session; all you need to do is let me know and we'll go from there.

Monday, December 4, 2017

You are not alone

I'm sure your email inbox gets packed just as full as mine does. A few days ago I noticed another email from Gabby Giffords, the former U.S. Congresswoman from Arizona who survived an assassination attempt in 2011, asking that I contribute to help fight gun violence. In her email she talked about how most of the goals any of us set require the support and help of others. Our accomplishments and those times we've overcome adversity have no doubt been undergirded by support from others.

Giffords quoted Althea Gibson, the first African-American to win a Grand Slam tennis title, "No matter what accomplishments you make, somebody helped you."

We do well to remember that. It really does take a village—not just to raise children but for adults to get through life, too.

What are you facing right now? Are you feeling alone? Are you tapping the human resources around you to help you face this? Remember, you don't have to go it alone. There are always people in our lives who stand ready and willing to support and help. It honors them when we allow them to help, too. We don't need to leap tall buildings all by ourselves!

If you would like to discuss this, I invite you to contact me for a complimentary strategy session.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Accentuate the positive

So on Wednesday I talked about committing to writing and mailing a thank-you note to someone each day for 30 days. I haven't started yet but I do want to try this. I know it will be good for my attitude!

That brings me to my Thimble List, which I noticed pinned to my office wall. It's been there for a while, but I must confess that I hadn't read it over for some time.

Do you know what a Thimble List is? It's different from a Bucket List (those big-ticket items you want to do before you die). A Thimble List is a list of very small ways to savor life.

Anyway, one of the items I have on mine is: Give at least one compliment each day to someone.

That seems to go hand-in-hand with the idea of a thank-you note to someone each day. It's the idea of noticing the good things others do, isn't it? Complimenting them. Thanking them. It's all about putting good energy out into the atmosphere. It's about building each other up. And it's all about shifting our focus to the good in the world rather than always focusing on the negative things (and there are plenty of those without training our focus on them!).

I've decided it's time to get back to my Thimble List, particularly the compliment-a-day item. What might you put on your Thimble List?

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

An attitude of gratitude

Last Sunday our pastor threw out a challenge to us as she talked about the place of gratitude in our lives. She has committed to writing and mailing a thank-you note to someone each day for 30 days—and she invited us to do the same. Not email. Not voicemail. But a hand-written note by snail mail.

I haven't yet picked up on the challenge even though I often send thank-you cards to people who do special things for me. This seemed like an especially full week of commitments, so I didn't add that to my to-do list.

However, it's something I'd like to try. If developing an "attitude of gratitude" can change how we see the world around us, it definitely is a worthy cause. These days there are so many bad-news stories coming out of Washington, D.C. and across the globe. It's tough to stay serene and calm. I find it difficult to find the balance between being an engaged global citizen and maintaining a serene, peaceful and grateful existence.

Our pastor cited a man who actually committed to one year—yes, 365 days!—of sending thank-you notes to people who had said or done something good. And he did it. That's a tall order. But the man discovered how much difference that made to his life and his attitude.

What do you think? Is it worth a try to commit to even 30 days?

Monday, November 27, 2017

Learn to befriend change

"Life is expressed in a perpetual sequence of changes. The birth of the child is the death of the baby, just as the birth of the adolescent is the death of the child." These are the words of French author Arnaud Desjardins, who was educated in a Protestant Christian environment but who made television documentaries from a variety of spiritual traditions, many of them Eastern.

Reread what Desjardins said. Then consider why we are so frightened of change. It's so much part of life. It's like the air we breathe. Why then are we so afraid of it?

Perhaps you might consider today one or two ways that you could befriend change in your life. We encounter change on a regular basis, after all. Without it, there would be no life at all. Consider again Desjardins' words above. We can't remain infants. We don't want to remain children. Everything around us is in constant flux as well.

Perhaps by taking change to its basic level, we can come to terms with how important a role it plays in our lives and our development—and we can remove some of the fear from it. Surely we don't want everything around us to stay the same—our children forever babies, one season with no change, perpetual daylight or perpetual darkness, plants that don't grow or yield fruit, etc. Can you imagine?

Consider what about change frightens you and see how you might reduce or remove that fear. Change is here to stay, so we might as well get used to it!

Friday, November 24, 2017

Give more time for gratitude

Do you engage in the typical U.S. Black Friday frenzy? If you don't, consider carrying yesterday's Thanksgiving Day gratitude over for days—or weeks. It's always a good thing to focus on the many gifts and blessings each of us has. Most of us have more than enough and definitely can use more than one day a year to give thanks!

If you do really get into Black Friday, consider making this year different. What would happen if you didn't run out to all the shops and line up in the middle of the night or before dawn? What would happen if you didn't even step foot inside a shop? Or order online that day? Would the sky fall? Or your world crumble? Doubtful!

Sometimes it's good to change up our patterns and see what opens up inside us when we do. Focusing on all the good things in our lives and thanking for them enables us to see even more positives. It shows us the truth of the saying that whatever we focus on gets larger. If we focus on accumulating more and more, we will get all caught up in acquisition and not notice all the blessings we already have. If we pay more attention to all we have, or to the fact that we have enough, we'll feel satisfied and happy—with gratitude for what we do have rather than focusing on what we do not have.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Pay attention—and give thanks

Close your eyes. Breathe deeply three to four times, exhaling slowly. Place your hand to your heart and feel your heart beat. Keep it there for several minutes. Feel your gratitude for your heart and its work on your behalf. Feel gratitude for all the parts of your body that work on your behalf every day. So much happens internally that we take for granted daily, so it's good to stop and pay attention occasionally.

Then move your thoughts of thankfulness outward to other parts of your life: heat, light, food, shelter, family, friends, work or retirement and so much more.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day. It differs from person to person. You might be spending it with family or friends. You might be with only one significant person. Or you may be spending it on your own. You might have a huge feast. Or you may be enjoying a simple, quite ordinary meal.

No matter what your situation, no doubt you have much for which to be grateful. Take the time to reflect on all those gifts. Sitting quietly and paying attention to your body is a good way to begin that process. And don't let it just be a once-a-year practice. An attitude of gratitude opens our hearts to so much generosity and love!

Monday, November 20, 2017

Pain and delight

I have family and friends who refuse to be on Facebook for any number of reasons. Goodness knows, that and other social media can be complete time-suckers. You think you're simply going to check whose birthday it is on a given day so you can send wishes and the next thing you know, you've wasted 30 minutes reading posts that range from newsworthy and interesting to totally inane—or worse, to cruel and insulting to someone or other. So I totally understand the reticence of some to join in.

One thing I confess that I do enjoy, however, is when Facebook puts in my morning feed a post or photo from a year or two or three ago. One day this week when I opened Facebook, several photos of my youngest son, youngest grandson and my sister popped up. These were photos taken when they spent time with me exactly a year ago, and what a smile they brought to my face as I recalled the wonderful times we had during that visit. The reason for their visit was a surprise birthday party for me, in itself a fun and wonderful memory. But the day we four spent in a park walking around, seeing the deer and bison there and watching then almost 5-year-old Ayden play on the playground was so relaxing and fun. And recalling the memory of that visit was a wonderful start to my day earlier this week.

So even with those things in life that can hold irritation and negatives, we can also often find joy and delight. It's always a reminder to me that so much of life is both/and rather than either/or. Facebook can be a real pain and can be a time-sucker. And it can also bring lots of smiles and joy.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Let your soul catch up with your body

I recently heard a story about the Himalayan Sherpas who help climbers to the summits—sometimes they simply stop climbing and put down their equipment. Impatient climbers ask why they can't keep moving and pushing on, but the Sherpas calmly reply that they're waiting for their souls to catch up with their bodies.

As soon as I heard this, I resonated with the idea. Lately I've been running so fast—gone from home more days than I was home these past several weeks, and often a week at a time. Many but not all of the events that took me from home were fun and happy occasions. Still, it was just too much running for me, at least at this stage of life. I have been missing my quiet times, my times of reflection and inspirational reading, time to quietly sip more than one cup of coffee! I missed making my own schedule and finding time for reading.

Right now I need time for my soul to catch up with my body. I love that idea! With gratitude to the Sherpas for the phrase, this is exactly what I need. Do you need that, too, at times?

Each one of us will have different ways we help our souls catch up with our bodies. Now I need to make sure I carve out time and engage in practices that will allow this to happen. Think about what helps you do that—and be sure you do those good things for your body and soul!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Cultivating gratitude

Yesterday when I searched for some inspiration, I found this wonderful advice by Barbara Cage in A Daybook of Gratitude: How to Live Each Day with a Thankful Heart (a Blue Mountain Arts collection):

"Ten Ways to Cultivate Gratitude

"1. Realize that life isn't always fair. Accept what you must, and change what you can.
2. Think before you act. A moment of carelessness or anger can cause years of anguish and regret.
3. Look for the beauty in life, in people, in nature, and in yourself.
4. Appreciate what you have: the people, the opportunities, the material possessions.
5. Make the effort to have fun. It's a great way to bond with others, and it makes some of the best memories.
6. Set aside some time for yourself. Do something you enjoy without feeling even a little guilty.
7. Accept others without judgment. Everyone is unique, and it's okay to be different.
8. Forgive. Bitterness and resentment hurt you more than the person you direct them at.
9. Learn. Open your mind to new ideas and activities, and don't be afraid to try.
10. Dream. Make plans, believe in yourself, and go for what you want."

I wouldn't change a word of this. I couldn't have said it better myself. So I'll let it stand on its own for you to ponder.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Those darn expectations!

Letting go is such an essential theme as we move past age 50. Letting go of outdated ideas of who we are (many of us lacked confidence and self-esteem at a younger age, so it's time for an updated version as we age). Letting go of old belief systems that don't work any longer (or perhaps never did). Sometimes we even need to let go of old relationships that no longer work—say, a friendship in which there's really nothing in common any longer and which seems more of an onerous "to do" than a pleasure. Letting go of old resentments. Even letting go of "stuff" and de-cluttering our homes and lives!

One more essential letting-go piece that I still struggle with is letting go of expectations and letting go of attachment to outcomes. Both expectations and attachment to outcomes always set me up for a fall. I'm far better off going into a situation with an open heart and mind. But, oh, that's tough for me.

Do you have trouble with this, too? In her book What Really Matters: 7 Lessons for Living from the Stories of the Dying, Dr. Karen M. Wyatt says: "One of the benefits of releasing expectations is the experience of a calm and even mind: equanimity. ... This quality allows you to tolerate stressful situations without getting lost in emotion and projecting yourself into the future or getting trapped in the misery of the past."

Yes! That makes so much sense to me. Now if I can just learn to live that way more often than I live with expectations and attachment to outcomes.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Facing life's intersections

I have so many friends right now who are facing momentous changes: job losses, new jobs following job loss, family members dying, deteriorating health for self or a loved one, other changes in health status, adjusting to a new living situation and more.

Changes such as those always seem to lead to questions about what we can handle, who we are, where we've been and where we're going. Such changes also lead us to re-evaluate our values. What's important to us? Are we spending time on what's most important to us? Or are we spending it on things that are less important—and waiting until "we get around to it" for the big things in life?

When we come to those intersections in our lives, whatever leads us to those points, it's a good time to stop and reflect on any and all of these questions—and more. It's not too late to tweak a bit or even change course so we better live out of our values.

Even if you're not facing any big life change, it might still be a good time to stop and reflect on where you've been, where you're going and what's consuming most of your time and energy these days. See if this is where you want to be. If not, make some different choices. You get to decide!

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Remember to breathe

I've been on the go far too much for my serenity lately. Many of the trips I've taken have been fun, and the activities are good. I just haven't had enough time to breathe. When that happens, it's too easy to slip into a state of overwhelm.

It reminds me of my days as a journalist. When we laid out the pages of our magazine, we made sure to leave a lot of white space around the words and the photos, too. Our eyes can only take so much and we need white space to break up the stimuli greeting us (or attacking us, if it's too much!) on each page.

Our lives aren't so different. We need white space in between all the activities and events on our calendars. We need to be able to breathe. To reflect. To assess. To limit our stress.

Are you getting enough white space in your life? If not, try to create it.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Face fear; look it in the eye

Does fear ever get in your way? Yup, me too.

I remember back in 2011 and 2012 when I was just getting my coaching practice up and running. My oldest son and I were talking about how my fears sometimes got in the way of moving forward. Since he had started his own HVAC business years ago and knew all about fears being immobilizing, he gave me this good advice, "Move the needle a bit each day."

He was right. Each day I could take one or two small steps toward the larger goal. Soon enough, I would have confronted my fears and realized that I could do the thing(s) I feared. That knowledge was so empowering.

I still try to touch into that feeling whenever fears stop me now. And I try to "move the needle." It's so energizing and empowering.

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

Friday, November 3, 2017

Friendships & letting go

Have you ever had to let go of a friendship for one reason or another? Perhaps the relationship was too toxic or negative and was dragging you down? Or perhaps your former friend betrayed you? Maybe you just didn't have much in common anymore.

Friends mean a lot to most of us. It's difficult to let go of old friends with whom we have deep ties and connections. When situations arise when you need to consider whether to keep the friendship or let go, spend some time before making a decision. Check in with your heart. Would you really miss the friend if you let go? What things would you miss? Do you get those things elsewhere? How important is that in your life? There are many more things to consider. Take your time.

Once you make a choice, move ahead decisively, knowing you've done your discernment work and that you're taking care of yourself. Although you may feel sadness about the loss of what once was good, you will also feel empowered knowing you have made a tough decision. It is true that sometimes friendships have seasons, and they come and go in our lives.

If you would like, I invite you to share an experience you've had around this.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Loving & accepting yourself

As you age, are you becoming more comfortable in your own skin? So many of us as women lack confidence when we're young. We try so hard to fit in, to conform to society's standards for women or to what others in our life say we should be. Many of us learn later in life how to love and accept ourselves.

Finally, finally, we learn that it's far better to be authentic! To just be ourselves and feel great about it.

I've long liked what author and psychiatrist Jean Shinoda Bolen says about that in her book Crones Don't Whine: Concentrated Wisdom for Juicy Women. Bolen is trying to resurrect the original meaning of the word "crone," which is a wise woman or an elder.

Here's what she says: "To be a crone is about inner development, not outer appearance. A crone is a woman who has wisdom, compassion, humor, courage and vitality. She has a sense of truly being herself, can express what she knows and feels, and take action when need be. She does not avert her eyes or numb her mind from reality. She can see the flaws and imperfections in herself and others, but the light in which she sees is not harsh and judgmental. She has learned to trust herself to know what she knows."

Yes, oh yes. I love this stage of life with its increasing comfort of knowing and accepting who I am, flaws and all. Doing so also leads us to be more gentle with others and to feel compassion. What about you? Are you feeling it?

Monday, October 30, 2017

So what's next?

Last Friday we discussed the exploding "Me too" movement that followed the allegations of sexual abuse and harrassment by film mogul Harvey Weinstein over decades. Thousands and thousands of women are coming forward with similar stories across career fields and venues.

As someone said on Facebook, "There can't be a woman alive who hasn't experienced abuse, harassment, or intimidation, whether it be sexual, verbal or psychological." It happens in workplaces, in the military, in the church and in a wide range of venues. As we watch the explosion of "Me too" comments on social media, we can see the prevalence of abusive behavior in our society.

Now that we're more aware of how widespread this is, the next question is: "Now what will we do about this pervasive predatory behavior—and the climate that has made it OK?"

Awareness is essential. But now what? This must lead to change. It is way beyond time to put focus on the victims (and keep re-victimizing them by shining the spotlight on them)—and high time we focus on the predatory behavior that's so pervasive. It's time we look at the reasons we tolerate this outrageous behavior. Why has it been allowed to go on for decades—or really, for centuries?

As women and, I might add, also men of good will, let's add our voices to the mix and push for real change. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. Please feel free to find your voice and add it to the comment box below.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Women finding their voices

If you've been awake at all these past few weeks, you will have heard of the "Me too" movement. When victims of movie producer Harvey Weinstein began coming forward with their stories of his sexual abuse and harassment, social media exploded. In huge numbers, women came forward with their own stories of abuse not only in Hollywood but in every career field and venue imaginable. What courage this takes!

Women began posting on their social media profiles that they had been victimized, and they encouraged others to simply put the words, "Me too" in the comment box and on their profile pages. The idea is simply to raise awareness of the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault in our society—to get women (and men, too) to raise their hands and say they have been affected. As The Atlantic put it, "There's a monumental amount of work to be done in confronting a climate of serial sexual predation—one in which women are belittled and undermined and abused and sometimes pushed out of their industries altogether. But uncovering the colossal scale of the problem is revolutionary in its own right."

The problem of sexual predation is an old one and runs deep in our society. It has been allowed to continue because of shame and secrecy. Victims are afraid to come forward because they'll be re-victimized, whether that be in the media, in the court system, by police or even by friends and family. Years ago in my life as a journalist, I interviewed dozens of victims of clergy sexual abuse. I was amazed by the number of church leaders and also church members who defended the abusive clergy and who blamed the victims. "She must've led him on." I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard that! Abuse is never all right. 

It's time for all this to stop. We women are finding our voices. That is powerful! We need to support and encourage each other in this. We need to empower each other. This absolutely needs to end. Women's lives do matter. And we need to add our voices to the huge chorus being raised these days. Me too!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Another self-care tip

Whether you take several medications or just a few, it's a good thing to add to your self-care list the habit of annually throwing your meds in a bag and showing them to your primary care doctor—or to your pharmacist. It's important to have someone who's "in the know" look over the meds you're taking and see how they can interact with each other. It's important, too, to know whether you still need to be taking them—and whether they're the correct dosage. (You might also learn whether a generic is possible as that might save you money!)

This is also true for over-the-counter supplements and drugs. Make sure your doctor knows just what you're taking and how they work together, too.

Self-care includes such a wide range of things. It's much more than eating well, exercising and getting plenty of sleep. Those things are important to your well-being. So is what you put into your mind! Be sure you are careful with what you read and what you watch on TV. Negativity can be as toxic to you as some medications!

I just learned that October 21 was "National Check Your Meds Day." If you didn't know that last week, it's not too late to engage in that particular form of self-care! This is one place where awareness really is essential. We can't afford to be complacent about any of the medications we ingest, prescribed or over-the-counter.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Social media is exhausting

Recently I read an interesting article in USA Today that told me this: "Exhaustion. Weariness. Fatigue. Whichever phrase you prefer, recurring tiredness seems to be the new normal for a growing number of people, regardless of their age or background."

The article went on to say, "Causes range from illnesses such as anemia, depression, hypothyroidism, diabetes and heart disease to the increasing use of technology and its implications on our mental well-being."

That's right. It said that Facebook, Twitter and Instagram wear us out. It's not just the time we spend on those social media but also the stress of the urgency of social media and the feeling of overwhelm at knowing what's happening all over the world. The chair of a behavioral health service pointed out the complexity of our society and said, "We are dealing with perceived threats from everywhere, economic uncertainty; and we are in a constant state of fight and flight."

So if you're feeling run down and worn out, it might be more than your schedule. It could be that social media might be part of it. Does that resonate with you at all? If it does, a solution surely is within reach—cut back on social media time! Again, it is important to engage in good self-care. Reducing stress and knowing when to let go or say "No" are important pieces of self-care.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Brain health—keep it

What have you done for your brain health this week?

We have become more conscious about taking care of our bodies—eating well, exercising, getting regular physicals and generally caring for our health. But we may not often think about our brain health. We should.

According to the University of Michigan Health System, by the year 2050, about 30 million Americans are expected to suffer from Alzheimer's disease. And right now the Alzheimer's Association says about five million people in the U.S. have some form of dementia. They expect that number to increase dramatically as baby boomers age and more people live longer.

Exercising your brain with mentally stimulating activities does appear to help keep cognitive decline at bay. Read books, put together puzzles, work crosswords and other mind puzzles and engage in a variety of mental activities. In addition, exercise seems to help—as does a diet high in vegetables.

Don't take brain health for granted. Be proactive and care for your mind—and your body. Good health is best not left to chance. If you have good health, enjoy it, be grateful for it and do what you can to keep it.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Add laughter to your day

In an article on health for people in their 70s and beyond, AARP The Magazine included a segment on the value of laughter in which it said:

"Whether you giggle politely or guffaw till your face hurts, don't miss out on a daily chuckle. Laughing can give your immune system a temporary boost, east pain, relax arteries and offer your torso a mini-workout. In a study of people in their late 60s and early 70s, memory improved and stress levels dropped for those who watched 20 minutes of the TV show America's Funniest Home Videos."

The article recommended trying laughter yoga. Never heard of it? Google it and see what comes up. It's a practice that has spread across the globe. Perhaps you can even find a laughter club near you. If not, there surely are YouTube videos so you can do this at home or with a friend. Doing it with others has the greatest benefit, but doing it at home is better than no laughter! 

Watch comedy shows on TV—or catch a funny movie either at the theater or on Netflix or cable TV.

So if laughter is good at that stage of life, why wouldn't it also be good at any age? Do whatever you can to add laughter into your day—and into your life on a regular basis. You'll feel healthier and happier.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Time to refuel?

Author, speaker and workshop leader Arnie Kozak wisely once said, "Like trying to cut wood with a dull axe, trying to take care of others without taking care of the self first is a counterproductive strategy."

And yet ... and yet, don't we often try to do that? We see someone else in need of care, and we dive in, often letting go of our own self-care practices. This can be especially true of full-time caregivers, for whom time is an extremely precious commodity. It's so easy to not carve out time for yourself in those situations. But it truly is counterproductive.

We hear this every time we fly on an airplane, too: In case of emergency, put on your own oxygen mask before you put on someone else's. That's always a good reminder.

If you think self-care if selfish and that the above advice is wrong, just imagine trying to pour water from a pitcher that hasn't been refilled or trying to drive a car with an empty gas tank. We can't run on empty either. Something has to give.

Take time today to refuel or fill back up if you're feeling worn out, run down or depleted. It's OK. More than OK, it's essential!

Friday, October 13, 2017

Respond with love

I'm really torn. I want to be an informed citizen of my country—and of the world. And yet so much of the news is seriously disturbing—and involves events upon which I can have little to no impact. Of course, some of the things we hear in the news, we can influence or address. We can give aid to those affected by hurricanes, for example. But the rest? Not so much.

One Monday morning at my yoga class, our instructor urged us to simply bring those things we'd heard on the morning news that we found disturbing into our hearts and with deep breaths, feel our love enveloping the globe. That seemed a better response than allowing the news to spur negativity, anger, fear or hate on my part. It's so easy to go to a place of fear and anxiety—or to turn to blaming someone else.

We don't need more toxicity in the world. We don't need any more hate or anger or fear. So I'm going to try what my yoga instructor advised: Respond with love.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Question expectations

Last Monday I wrote about Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg's book on surviving the grief of her husband's sudden death. In that same AARP The Magazine interview, she also addressed the topic of questioning expectations.

"Studies of 'affective forecasting'—our predictions of how we'll feel in the future—reveal that we often overestimate how long negative events will affect us. This was certainly true for me. Every time I tried to tell myself things would get better, a voice inside my head insisted they would not. It seemed clear that my children and I would never have another moment of pure joy again. Never. So, just as I had to banish 'sorry' from my vocabulary, I tried to eliminate 'never' and 'always' and replace them with 'sometimes' and 'lately.' 'I will always feel this awful' became 'I will sometimes feel this awful.' I also tried a cognitive behavioral therapy technique where you write down a belief that's causing you anguish and then disprove it. I wrote, 'I will never feel okay again.' Seeing those words forced me to realize that just that morning, someone had told a joke and I had laughed. If only for one minute, I'd already proven that sentence false."

This may sound simple, but it isn't. It is effective, however—and over time, you can train yourself to change your language and thus, change your negative thoughts into more realistic expectations. The extreme vocabulary becomes more tempered—and much closer to the truth.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Share your grief

Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, lost her husband to sudden death after only 11 years of marriage. Together with her psychologist friend, Adam Grant, she has written a book about grief and recovery. It's entitled Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy.

In an interview with AARP The Magazine, Sandberg advises people who have faced a trauma such as the death of a loved one that they not isolate themselves.

Here's what she says: "You have to find ways to break the isolation. I found it very hard to tell people that I wanted to talk. It felt like I was imposing my sadness on them. When someone asked, 'How are you?' I kept saying, 'I'm fine,' and then people wouldn't ask me any questions. But I learned to say, 'I'm actually not doing that well.' One of the most common things about grief, about loss, about adversity, is silence. So what happens is, you go through this adversity or trauma, and then what piles on top of that is the isolation of no one talking about it."

Have you experienced this, too? Yes, it's pretty common that people in grief pull into themselves and isolate. I remember doing that after my divorce, too. However, Sandberg's advice is helpful. Isolation only prolongs the grief and makes you feel more alone than you already feel. If you are grieving something now, try Sandberg's advice. Be honest about where you're at in the process. Let friends and family help you. And if you know someone who's grieving, gently continue reaching out to them.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Be extravagant!

It's often been said that the deepest and most precious things in life cannot be seen or touched, and isn't that true? As Helen Keller said, "The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart." Although those we love are precious, what is deep and true and meaningful are the things that pass between us in those relationships. The looks, the shared moments, the deep conversations, the special touches.

Author and motivational speaker Leo Buscaglia put it this way: "Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around."

What that reminds me to do is to be generous and completely extravagant with my touch, my smiles, my kind words, the way I listen, my compliments and all kinds of random acts of care and kindness. If I stay focused on how grateful I am for all the precious gifts in my life, it will be easier for me to be extravagant with all the priceless and precious things that cannot be seen or touched.

Let your heart be filled with love—and be generous in spreading it around!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Let go of worry

There are many wise sayings and proverbs. The Chinese have left us with a fair share of them.

One of my favorite Chinese proverbs really speaks to me because I can spend too much of my time and energy in worry, a habit that seldom produces anything worthwhile for me. It does use up time that I'll never get back, however.

Here's the proverb: "That the birds of worry and care fly over your head, this you cannot change. But that they build nests in your hair, this you can prevent."

Do you like that one, too? Yes, worry and care will flit around us and fly over frequently. Let's try hard to let go of worry—and not let those worries and cares find a landing strip in our hair!

Thinking about our problems in order to find solutions is far different from worrying and stewing in the juices of our cares. Let's not confuse the two. Let go, let go, let go of worry.

Monday, October 2, 2017

It's a brand new month

We've just turned the calendar to a brand new month. What will the month of October hold for you? What does this season of the year mean to you?

For me, this particular October is absolutely jam-packed. Some of the things on my calendar represent wonderful times with family and friends. Other things are necessary tasks that must be done. Some are even heavy-duty commitments I need to fulfill.

However, the bottom line is that I absolutely love the fall season. I enjoy the vibrant and beautiful colors in which the trees are dressed this time of year. I love the crisp air and the mosquito-free days to walk in the woods. I really enjoy the Indian Summer we often experience here in the Midwest. I even like the more subdued colors of leaves that follow later in the fall.

And beyond that, I'm grateful to be alive. Grateful for family and friends. Grateful for health, home and safety. There is so much for which to be grateful.

What's on your gratitude list in this brand new month?

Friday, September 29, 2017

THINK before speaking

Have you ever found yourself in conversation with friends and heard words coming from your mouth that horrified you? Perhaps you said something snarky about another person, passed on a bit of gossip or said something unkind and hurtful to your conversation partner. I think we all have had that experience. It's not something we like to admit. But it is something we can think about and try to avoid.

Here's a helpful acronym that might be worth posting on a mirror—or perhaps even several places around the house. It was given to me by a friend a couple days ago and has really caught my attention:

Before you speak, THINK:
• Is it True?
• Is it Helpful?
• Is it Inspiring?
• Is it Necessary?
• Is it Kind?

THINK. True. Helpful. Inspiring. Necessary. Kind.

Enough said....

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Stress & self-care

I'm rediscovering how easy it is to neglect self-care when our plates are loaded and overflowing with tasks and stressors.

I often blog about the importance of self-care because I do feel it's important. And yet here I am, still knee-deep in a more-than-full plate of tasks and feeling depleted and totally stressed out. And what things are falling off my daily routine? Yup, the good things that could feed me.

Yesterday my massage therapist reminded me about self-care. Oh, yes, there's that. I know better. And yet it's so easy to just keep on pushing, tackling the next item on the to-do list and then the next one—or worse yet, multitasking so I can get even more done at once (something I've heard really isn't efficient after all!).

Whew, deep breaths, Sonia. Take time for a walk. Do some journaling. More deep breaths. Chill for a while with some beautiful classical music. Remember to do my bone exercises and my yoga stretches. Call my beloved sister or another dear friend. There are so many options. And somehow the work always gets done anyway. In fact, it may get done more quickly and better if I actually take better care of myself.

How about you? Are you taking good care of yourself even in the crazy times?

Monday, September 25, 2017

Self-esteem and control

We women especially often grow up with lots of issues around self-esteem and confidence. Sometimes it takes us many years before we feel a strong sense of self and develop the confidence we need. It's been said that women apologize far too often—for things we haven't even caused or that need no apology. Further, we are so hard on ourselves—judging ourselves harshly for things we'd never judge in our dear friends.

And whether it's a spouse, a parent, a friend or a boss, we can often succumb to efforts at controlling us in one way or another. That's why the words of my friend Gail Kittleson in her book Catching Up with Daylight: A Journey to Wholeness spoke to me:

"In the process, we can become beneficent to ourselves. It's a long road from harsh self-judgment to merciful kindness. Many of us consistently show kindness to others and refrain from judging, but when it comes to our own attitudes and actions, rude condemnation reigns. Cutting ourselves some slack takes time and practice. Unfortunately, each encounter with a controller reinforces the tendency to discount and dishonor our own autonomy.

"Manipulation and abuse have a cumulative effect. Controllers know how to angle us off-center a bit more with each confrontation. With enough time, we feel helpless and can't even put into words why we feel confused or upset. Of course, this looks like evidence that the controller is right about us, but we can learn to recognize that off-kilter sensation as a warning sign, our body telling us that something is wrong."

If this resonates with you, please talk with someone about it. You're welcome to contact me if you wish. And if you have a friend who is controlled by someone, don't be afraid to gently broach the subject. We all need and deserve self-love and self-care. We all are capable of agency and making our own choices.

Friday, September 22, 2017

'No feeling is final'

Bohemian-Austrian poet and novelist Rainer Maria Rilke said the following:

"Let everything happen to you
"Beauty and terror
"Just keep going
"No feeling is final."

Rilke penned many thoughtful poems, the lines of which provide us a good deal of inspiration and food for thought. This particular part of his work reminds me of things I have read that encourage us to enter into life, its play and its work, with all our heart and soul—and at the same time, to do so without any attachment to the outcome.

I hear Rilke saying to simply ride the waves of what comes to us in life and just keep going. Whatever we experience now will not last forever. Don't get hung up on what's happened today. Some days it's beauty. Some days, terror. Keep a balance.

His words make so much sense to me. However, that doesn't mean it's easy. I get as hung up on things as the next person. I get attached to outcomes. I forget to ride the waves and simply say, "It is what it is."

I would like to live that way more often, though. So Rilke's reminder is a good one for me. How about you?

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Let go of judgmentalism

We all want to see ourselves in the very best light possible. And we definitely hope that others see us in that light, too. We'd prefer that others not even know we have a shadow side or any flaws. Sometimes we're even extremely good at ignoring those things ourselves.

But it seems to me that the more we get in touch with our own shadow side and what we're capable of doing in our worst moments, the less judgmental we'll be of others—and the more forgiving we'll be of them when they hurt us or let us down.

Judgmentalism isn't pretty. It's not nice to be on the receiving end of it. And it's not nice to spend our lives sitting in judgment of others, either. It can ruin relationships, and it won't move us in positive directions either.

Pay attention to those times when you do, say or think things that you'd rather you hadn't done, said or thought. Be honest about those times and acknowledge it all as a part of your shadow side. Forgive yourself because you're human. Then extend that same acknowledgment and forgiveness to others. Liberate yourself and let go of judgmentalism. You'll be so glad you did!

Monday, September 18, 2017

Feed your spirit

I wish I could remember where I found this, but tucked into one of my inspirational books is a copy of some advice on escaping from things that imprison us or hold us back.

It says, "Escape from a dull and boring routine that's slowly but surely killing your spirit.

"Escape from any job, no matter how lucrative, that holds your creativity hostage and demands you pay with your physical and emotional health.

"However you must, escape from the constant needling of people who live their lives under a perpetual storm cloud. Get away for an hour or two, for a month or three. If you must, leave the marriage. Or the country."

That's a lot about which to think. But the bottom line, it seems to me, is to seek out those things that are life-giving and get as far away as possible from things that break your spirit and are death-dealing.

Do today what feeds your spirit. You know what those things are.

Friday, September 15, 2017

See that glass half-full—or perhaps full!

On Wednesday we talked about the difference gratitude can make in our lives. I don't know about you, but I seem to need frequent reminders of this. It's so easy to slip into seeing the glass half-empty, especially if you're a consumer of the daily news!

I've noticed something about myself, however, and I wonder if you find it true as well. When I let a negative attitude prevail and see the glass half-empty, I find that discouragement dogs my heels. It's way too easy to spiral down until I find myself grumbling about everything. And it's difficult to be creative and find solutions to daily problems. My focus then becomes all things negative, and I don't even see the beauty and goodness around me.

However, when I focus on the good things going on around me and see the glass half-full, opportunities abound. I see solutions more quickly. I feel creative. I access my ability for wonder and awe. And I'm far happier besides. Gratitude is my natural response at those times.

When we are in grateful mode, others want to be around us. We even like being with ourselves then! The happiness ripples just keep extending out further and further. Imagine the impact on the world around us.

Let this be your reminder today. It'll serve as mine, too!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

A life of gratitude

How do you begin and end your day? Do you wake up thinking, "Oh, no, I'm not ready to get up" or "Nuts, I didn't sleep well last night"? Or do you wake up with gratitude—thankful that you did wake up, thankful that you have a bed in which to sleep and a roof over your head?

And at night, do you let yourself unwind a bit, perhaps with a good book or some restful music so you can go to sleep with pleasant thoughts filling your mind? Do you mentally run through your day and give thanks for all the good things in it just before you drop off to sleep?

Such things can make such a difference, a difference in how you live your day and a difference in how you sleep. A life of gratitude changes everything. It's all in your attitude.

I've noticed that some of the hurricane victims interviewed on TV lately have expressed their joy and thankfulness to be alive—even while they're standing in front of the remains of what once was their home. It always amazes me. So many of them have said of their homes and belongings, "It's all just stuff. It can be replaced. Our families can't be, and we're still alive."

How true. They are a reminder and an inspiration to all of us to look at what we do have, not at what we don't have ... and then live a life of gratitude.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Give up worrying

Are you a worrier? I confess that I am. I really try to do less of it as the years roll by. I know in my head that it doesn't do a thing that's positive. It's just a habit—not a good one either. I don't think it really helps me come up with solutions.

Here's what self-help author and motivational speaker Wayne Dyer said about worry: "It makes no sense to worry about things you have no control over because there's nothing you can do about them. And why worry about things you do control? The activity of worrying keeps you immobilized."

Isn't that the truth? It really does make no sense, as Dyer says. That doesn't often stop us from doing things that have become habit. But Dyer's words are a good reminder to us to take steps toward a more worry-free existence!

I read an online piece about how to stop worrying that listed 6 tips for doing so:

•  Create a worry period. Tell yourself you won't do it now, but you'll worry about it later. Just postpone it.
• Ask yourself if the problem is solvable. If so, start brainstorming. If not, check out your feelings and embrace them. Worrying and problem-solving are very different.
• Accept uncertainty. That's huge!
• Challenge anxious thoughts. Identify those thoughts and check their veracity. Chances are good you could be jumping to unrealistic conclusions.
• Be aware of how others affect you. It's easy to "catch" moods from other people. Definitely spend less time with people who increase your anxiety.
• Practice mindfulness. Quietly observe your thoughts without judgment and stay focused on the present.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Choices of the heart

Are you at a crossroads where it's time to make some choices and decisions? Even when we don't have huge decisions to make, we often come to a point where some type of choice must be made. Some of these choices are more difficult than others, and it can be difficult to know what you really do want.

One question I often tell clients to ask is: For what does my heart really long right now? And I encourage clients to say what first comes to mind.

Then I urge them to ask it of themselves again and respond quickly. Repeat several times.

Generally, after doing this in fairly rapid succession a number of times, you will have gotten to the core of your longings. At first, it's easy to answer with things you've been thinking about most recently—and you may not even be close to what's near and dear to your heart. The real choice may be buried a bit more deeply. Chances are that it will rise to the surface, however, when you consider the question several times.

Try it sometime.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Each day is precious

Some kids have been back in school for a week or two, and most of the rest went back yesterday. When I think of my nine grandchildren, some off to college and others at various stages of middle school and high school with the very youngest one just starting kindergarten, I think of how quickly time passes. Honestly, it doesn't seem that long ago I was rocking them to sleep or playing on the floor with them.

Inevitably the thought of time's swift passage leads me to the idea of savoring each day, of telling those I love that I do, in fact, love and cherish them. You probably hear this a lot. And I know I say it a lot. But I really don't think we can have too many reminders of it. It's so easy to get caught up in life's quotidian tasks and lose sight of the precious nature of each moment and each day.

So here's just one more reminder—for me and for you both!

Monday, September 4, 2017

About Labor Day

Today is Labor Day here in the United States. Several other countries celebrate such a day in May. The first Labor Day in this country was held in 1882 and was created as a holiday for workers by the Central Labor Union. Originally, the day was filled with a street parade meant to appreciate the work of trade and labor organizations. The parade was followed by a festival of some type to entertain local workers and their families. It wasn't until 1894 that the U.S. Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September a legal holiday.

Now we can use it to remind ourselves of the social and economic achievements of Americans. But we should also be aware of how all workers are treated—and support good working conditions and wages for everyone.

A little-known piece of Labor Day history is the Pullman railway worker strike in Chicago that occurred just after Congress passed its act in 1894. Railway magnate George Pullman laid off workers and reduced wages, causing workers to strike and eventually to resort to violence, tipping over railroad cars and setting them on fire. Troops entered the scene with bayonets and bullets. Dozens of people died in Chicago and elsewhere.

This is a day for most Americans to relax and hang out with family and friends. But it's also good to think about what the day really meant through history and means today for workers.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Bound together as women

I used to wonder why women sometimes sabotage one another, turn on each other and generally treat other women in ways they'd never treat men in their lives. Then years ago I read several articles and books on the topic and learned about "horizontal violence," "the female face of patriarchy," women who are "male referented" and similar topics. I learned there are many reasons for this phenomenon. It's what I often call the "vying for a prom date" syndrome in women. It's not pretty, and it definitely feels horrible to be on the receiving end of this. I know—I've been there. And it isn't helpful to us moving forward as women in this culture or globally.

So when I re-read the words of Renita J. Weems from her book Just a Sister Away as repeated in Jan Richardson's book Sacred Journeys: A Woman's Book of Daily Prayer, they really caught my attention. Again.

"As black and white women in America, as Israeli and Lebanese women, as white South African and black South African women, as Asian and European women, as the wives of terrorists and the wives of victims of terrorists, working for righteousness in splendid isolation from one another is a luxury we cannot afford. Injustice in our lands relies upon the perpetual alienation of women from one another and upon relentless hostility between women. Indeed, our estrangement from one another continues to compromise the integrity of our witness as God-fearing women."

Wow! Yes, yes, yes. May we all learn how to care for and support each other as women—for as Heather McVoy says in a litany also found in Richardson's book, "...each woman's struggle is everywoman's burden."

Let's stand together and turn this around!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

See the good—and give thanks

I've talked often about the difference it makes to my life when I focus on thankfulness and gratitude—on what I have rather than on what I don't have. I know I've mentioned in blogs and ezines that one time in particular when I was cleaning my house, I felt extremely grumpy about it. I was muttering to myself and complaining about all the work and how things just get dirty and dusty all over again. And then I stopped short when I realized that thousands of people in this country (and millions elsewhere) are homeless. They would love to have a house to clean!

I can't say I love housecleaning, but I do have a better attitude about it. I am so grateful to have a home that needs cleaning. I am grateful for a roof over my head when it rains or snows. I'm grateful for the warmth of my home—or in hot, humid summer, the cool air circulating in it. I am thankful for a bed in which to sleep, for a shower, a refrigerator and food to put into it. And so much more.

That reminds me of what I just read in my latest Magnolia Journal by its editor Joanna Gaines (of "Fixer Upper" fame on HGTV) when she talks about feeling gratitude in life's ordinary tasks such as cooking, gardening, driving and laundry:

"Laundry: This is and always will be a hard one for me. It seems as though I am washing enough clothing for a small nation. And yet in the mounds is a clear blessing. The fact that we even have such an abundance is enough to stop any griping. Beyond that, there is something about the smell of fresh laundry, the hum of the washing machine, and the warmth of linens straight from the dryer. These are small things, but the daily recognition makes them less small. They become a way of seeing the world, a way of acknowledging all of life with thanks and eyes to see the good."

Yes! I want to "see the good." I want to acknowledge "all of life with thanks." I'm trying to do more of that. How about you?

Monday, August 28, 2017

Self-care for the brain

I'm hearing a lot about brain health these days. It's important to tend to full self-care, care for our bodies, for our spirits and for our minds. What I hear is that while there we may not be able to prevent dementia, we might at least keep our brains as healthy as possible for as long as possible by continuing to learn new things and staying engaged in a variety of ways.

Recently I also learned that research has been done on something called Super Brain Yoga that shows its salutary effects on students and others who practice it. Teachers, doctors, occupational therapists and neurobiologists are touting it. Here's a YouTube video to show you more about it.

Essentially, you place your left arm across your body and put your thumb on your right ear lobe, your left index finger behind your ear lobe.  Then cross your right arm across your body with your right thumb on your left ear lobe, right index finger behind your ear lobe. Be sure your left arm always is underneath your right. Then connect your tongue to the roof of your mouth. Now squat down and stand up 14-21 times. Inhale as you squat and exhale as you stand up. Do this once or twice each day.

This is a simple practice to enhance your brain function ... another good method of self-care.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Why am I here?

Do you have purpose in your life? If you were asked what meaning your life has, how would you answer? There's what we might call transcendent Purpose (a large over-arching meaning for your life). And then there's what we might call small-p purpose: that which gets you up each morning because it's what you do each day and why you do it.

Research has found that people who had no purpose or who had a weak purpose in life were 2.4 times more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease than those who had a strong purpose for their lives. People with strong purpose appear to live longer and healthier lives. It has even been shown that people who have strong purpose are more likely to be willing to make changes in life.

Because of the wonderful side effects of having purpose, it is well that we regularly take some time to ask ourselves what purpose we have, both in terms of large-P Purpose and of small-p purpose. The large meaning for your life may be that you're an encourager, for example. Perhaps you affirm and validate others regularly. That purpose runs as a larger thread through all of your life.

Daily purpose can change. For example, you may have had a career as a teacher. Now you are retired and you volunteer at the local library and spend time with your grandchildren. Your daily routine has changed and what gets you up in the morning now looks different than it did when you were in the midst of your teaching career.

Why not do some thinking, or journaling, today about purpose and meaning? It's an easy prescription for better health!

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!