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!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Acceptance is a key

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 10, 2017

No more shame or silence

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 7, 2017

Let's hear it for love & kindness

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Broken—and loving

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 3, 2017

Life in a both/and world

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

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

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

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

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

It's never too late to make changes!

Friday, June 30, 2017

Of passion and joy

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

An up-side to illness?

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 26, 2017

Closed doors, open doors

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 23, 2017

Let's hear it for friendships

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

You set the boundaries

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 19, 2017

You are beautiful!

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 16, 2017

Self-compassion and self-esteem

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

What's behind the procrastination?

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 12, 2017

Be good to your body and brain

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 9, 2017

Add positivity to the globe

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Pain and joy connect

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 5, 2017

Too busy? Stop it—right now!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 2, 2017

Compassion, not perfection

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Self-care for your neck

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

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

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

Monday, May 29, 2017

Compassion, friends & enemies

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 26, 2017

Of loneliness and connection

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

'Stay in the center'

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 22, 2017

Surprise, there's still more

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, May 19, 2017

Shed the baggage. Soar like a butterfly.

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Be here. Now.

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 15, 2017

You deserve compassion, too

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 12, 2017

Here's to women

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Hand in hand, face challenges

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 8, 2017

You are worthy

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

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

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

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