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!