Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Self-care for your neck

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

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

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

Monday, May 29, 2017

Compassion, friends & enemies

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 26, 2017

Of loneliness and connection

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

'Stay in the center'

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 22, 2017

Surprise, there's still more

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, May 19, 2017

Shed the baggage. Soar like a butterfly.

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Be here. Now.

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 15, 2017

You deserve compassion, too

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 12, 2017

Here's to women

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Hand in hand, face challenges

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 8, 2017

You are worthy

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 5, 2017

Stages & ages

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

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

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

How do you feel about your aging process?

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

We support one another

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

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

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

Monday, May 1, 2017

You do have some power!

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

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

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

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

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

Where do you need to take charge today?