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?