Friday, April 20, 2018

About what do you wish to be more intentional?

In the same issue of Magnolia Journal that I referenced on Wednesday, several people answered the question, "What is one thing you want to be more intentional about?"

I am really taken with some of their responses—and am giving some thought myself to the question as well as to the desires they expressed. There's nothing wrong with appropriating someone else's intention!

One woman answered, "My words. ... I want to pause, think, and take the time to use the right ones." I definitely could benefit from this as would all those around me!

Another woman said she wants to "really see" people with whom she's interacting—"whether it is the waitress who is serving me, the cashier at the checkout, or the salesperson assisting me." How many times have we completely looked past the person serving us? I know I'm guilty of that at times. What a loss for me—and for the other person.

Yet another woman responded, "...I hope to laugh more and find more humor in life and in daily circumstances." Definitely. Humor is an important essential to getting through life, in my humble estimation.

Does anything here catch your eye? How would you answer the question?

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Spring—and intention

Winter is still hanging on (with a vengeance) here in the Midwest. However, there are wonderful signs of new life, too—blades of iris plants poking bravely out of the cold earth and birds singing with abandon.

In my latest issue of Magnolia Journal: Inspiration for Life and Home, editor Joanna Gaines clearly is looking forward to the arrival of spring, too. Here's what she says:

"As new life is turning all around us, I feel a similar sensation prompting me to grow some things and shed others. Whether it's the readying of my garden or the airing out and freshening up of our home, this season always stirs within me a desire to consider what I have outgrown or need to weed out in order to make room for what I hold most dear."

Yes! That's a wonderful thought, I think. Gaines goes on to talk about living intentionally and making conscious decisions about how we live our lives and fill our days. I like that idea, too.

As you think about living intentionally—and about growing some things and letting go of others, what comes to mind? What changes might you make? Why not start with one today?

Monday, April 16, 2018

Compassion is not pity

Back to the subject of compassion again. Many people seem to confuse the word "compassion" with "pity." And most people absolutely do not want to be the objects of pity for others.

However, compassion does not mean feeling sorry for others. It actually derives from the Latin patiri and the Greek pathein, meaning "to suffer, undergo or experience." So compassion really means enduring something with another person or putting ourselves in somebody else's shoes. We're feeling the pain of others as though it were ours. We then can enter into that person's point of view. See the difference between that and pity?

Taken further, this means that we know what causes pain to our selves and we really don't want to cause that kind of pain to anyone else. We will do what we can to avoid causing that.

While compassion isn't pity, it is concern for the pain and misfortune of others. It is sensitivity to the feelings of others. That then might motivate us to relieve the suffering of others, insofar as that's possible—or at the least to walk beside the other on the journey of pain and suffering. As we know, friends can double our joy and divide our pain. So that accompaniment piece is not insignificant. Think what a difference compassion (and self-compassion) can make in our world today!

What other thoughts do you have about compassion? I recommend exploring the work of Kristin Neff, who does a lot on the power of self-compassion.

Friday, April 13, 2018

90 days to a new habit

Here's another suggestion from the article on staying healthy as we age from the February/March issue of AARP: The Magazine:

"GIVE A NEW ACTIVITY 90 DAYS. Research shows that most life changes take at least three months to become a habit. That was true for me. When I started running, I pledged to stick with it for three months. Sure enough, in that time I saw my health and life markedly improve."

I don't know about you, but I can so easily give up on a new habit before it's really become a habit. I think, Well, I tried long enough and it really didn't work. Or I drop it without even consciously thinking that I'm doing so—simply slipping back into old (and perhaps unhealthy) habits!

Mostly, I must confess, it's the latter. Perhaps it's just the path of least resistance—returning to the way I did things before.

Being reminded again that it really does take a while—three months, in fact—for a habit to stick is good for me to hear. And notice the words "at least" that precede "three months" in the quote. So that 90 days is a minimum, not a maximum.

What change or new habit would help you toward healthier aging?

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Health and aging

I read this advice in the February/March 2018 issue of AARP: The Magazine in an article on taking care of ourselves as we age: "BEEF UP YOUR BRAIN. Although cat videos may be addictive, they don't improve your focus the way puzzles or knitting or woodworking projects can. And if you don't have the energy to do more than watch TV, stream an online course or TED talk—to feed your mind."

Now that dementia and Alzheimer's are hitting large numbers of Americans, there is a lot of focus on brain health. And surely as we age, it is a good thing to be sure we continue to challenge ourselves mentally with puzzles, word games, learning new things, hobbies and projects, reading books and more. There are so many ways we can introduce healthy brain habits into our lives.

One book I might recommend for you is Brain Changers 365: Build a Better Brain with 7 Activities Each Day by Lorene Lenning, Oscar Lenning and Alisha Solan. This wonderful book contains a short set of brain exercises for each day of the year that can be done in as little as five minutes. Each of the seven short daily questions or exercises calls on a different part of the brain from memory to problem-solving and more.

It's all about aging well and self-care. What are you doing today to stay healthy and age well?

Monday, April 9, 2018

We treat others as we treat ourselves

Last Wednesday we talked about strengthening our compassion muscle, and we mentioned how much easier it is to feel compassion for others when we have self-compassion.

In her book Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life, author and religion historian Karen Armstrong says:

"The Golden Rule asks that we use our own feelings as a guide to our behavior with others. If we treat ourselves harshly, this is the way we are likely to treat other people. We recognize flaws in some of our closest friends, but this does not diminish our affection for them. Nor should it affect the way we value ourselves. Before we can make friends with others, we have to make a friend of our own self. Suffering is a law of life, and it is essential to acknowledge our own pain or we shall find it impossible to have compassion for the distress of others."

This quote contains so much truth about love of self and compassion toward self being the starting point of loving others and showing them compassion that there's really not much more to add. Armstrong has put it succinctly and honestly, and I can't improve on her words.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Action required!

How do you respond to tragedy and injustice? Do you stay silent? Do you speak up? Do you consider yourself an activist? A helper?

Are you sometimes so overwhelmed that it's easier to just flow through life as though you're sleep-walking? Or do you try to make the most of every moment and do what you can to make life better for others and for yourself?

Admittedly, some days we simply need to cut ourselves some slack and not jump into every situation that needs some help! And, too, sometimes we're the ones who need the help. It's a gift to others to be receivers and let them help us, too!

But once we look around with gratitude and count our blessings, we often do feel moved to action of some type or another. So many situations cry out for us to either pitch in and help or to speak up and take a stand.

I always remember what Mr. Rogers said his mother taught him: When tragedy occurs, look for the helpers. They're always there. And here's the deal: We can be those helpers, too!

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Develop our compassion muscles

I'm quite sure no one would disagree with the thought that there's a lot of unkindness and harsh rhetoric swirling around in our society these days. It's on the news programs. It is rife on social media. And in our personal interactions, there's plenty of yelling across a chasm of different beliefs and views, too.

So I especially like what the Dalai Lama said: "Only the development of compassion and understanding for others can bring us the tranquility and happiness we all seek."

I am sure we'd all love to live a more peaceful, serene, tranquil and happy existence.

That being the case, we can tend to our compassion-quotient—strengthen our compassion muscle. Just how understanding are we of others? How much compassion do we show them? Can we be open enough to see the viewpoints of other people? Can we grant them the same forbearance and understanding we ourselves would like from others?

I have found that if I can develop compassion toward myself and be forgiving of my own foibles and failures, I'm far more likely to be forgiving and compassionate toward others.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Failures are our teachers

I have often said that I've learned far more from my mistakes and failures than ever I've learned from any achievements or successes in life. It's not a fun way to learn—but somehow it seems more effective. Do you find that true in your life, too?

That is why it's good to ask yourself—either when you're in the midst of a situation that is going south and is about to fail or later when you pick up the pieces—what can I learn from this? What is this experience trying to teach me? So many lessons can be embedded within our failures. So don't be discouraged by your mistakes and failures.

As our last president, Barack Obama, once said, "The real test is not whether you avoid failure, because you won't. It's whether you let it harden or shame you into inaction, or whether you learn from it; whether you choose to persevere."

Yup, it's called lifelong learning. The school of hard knocks. Whatever you want to call it, there's just always more to learn. Let's open ourselves up to those lessons. 

Friday, March 30, 2018

Living between two delights

Letting go is one of the primary tasks of people in the second half of life. By that time, we have gathered so much material "stuff," and we have also gathered a good deal of internal "stuff"—anger, old resentments, things unforgiven and held tightly for years, old behaviors that no longer work (perhaps never did) and so much more.

Letting go is easier for some people than for others. But it's not necessarily easy for anyone. Take a look today and see what you might be holding onto that could be weighing you down or holding you back. Think how great it will feel to let go of some of that—to simply let some things fall away. 

Author Phillip Harnden says this: "We take delight in things; we take delight in being loosed from things. Between these two delights, we must dance our lives."

Yes! It is both/and, isn't it? And somewhere between those two things, we live. Perhaps today is a good day for you to examine where on that line between you wish to cast your lot for now! From what can you be loosed?

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Turn the switch to positivity

Are you having difficulty staying positive these days? Are the details of your life dragging you down? Or perhaps it's the news coming from outside you that's depressing you?

I encourage you to not let the situation continue. It's not good for your health, for one thing. Also, the longer you allow negativity to continue in your life, the tougher it is to change. It's all too easy to get stuck in a rut of negative thinking. But you can create new pathways. One way is to think of five or six things for which you're grateful when you first awaken each day. Another is to think of a role model in your life—someone who inspires and uplifts you. When you find yourself getting down, think of that person. Call them and get a positive-energy fix, if that's what you need!

Look for opportunities to help others. I guarantee that will bring you out of yourself and your negativity. It always feels good to be of service to others and to have purpose in your life.

Try meditation. Even just taking time to relax, breathe deeply and exhale your stress will help you create a more positive frame of mind.

Find things to savor each day. Pay attention. Notice the green shoots popping up through the ground now. Listen to the birds. Take time to stop and notice the sunset—or the sunrise. Appreciate it all. Try to not sleepwalk through your days. Live awake and aware! You'll be so glad you did.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Why do you do what you do?

You may be among those of us who have taken the Myers-Briggs personality test. I found that test somewhat helpful in understanding some of my behaviors, and I've taken it several times through the years—sometimes in work settings and other times in less formal settings.

However, there's another resource that, for my money, tells me far more about myself; and that's the Enneagram. The Enneagram sorts people into one of nine personality types but also includes side wings so offers more possibilities. In addition it shows what people are like at the unhealthy end of their type, in an average state and also at the healthiest end of the spectrum. Most books on the Enneagram offer lots of pointers to help you move from unhealthy to average to healthy. Personalities are seen as more fluid, and there's more possibility for growth and transformation, which is why I am so fond of it.

Many books are available, but there's also a quick online test you can take to give you some idea of what the Enneagram is like before you invest in a book. If you just want a quick-and-dirty idea of the Enneagram, here's an online test to try. If you're intrigued by what you learn here, look online for resource books. My favorite is The Wisdom of the Enneagram by Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Don't let expectations hook you

Have you heard it said that, "Every expectation is a resentment waiting to happen"?

Think about it for a minute. I don't know whether you're like I am—but I often have an expectation of how a situation will unfold, how a conversation might go, what an event will be like or what an experience will be from start to finish. And just how often is the real thing even close to how I'd imagined or hoped it would be? Not often, I fear.

I can too easily get hooked by this. I am disappointed when things went south in a way I hadn't foreseen, when someone reacted so differently from what I'd expected, when a given conversation took a nasty turn. And, yes, that's when resentment settles in for a nice, long visit. I hate when that happens!

Does that ever happen to you? Have you found a good way to deal with it? A way to avoid it?

We can surely deal with the resentments on the back end. But it would be far more effective to avoid feeling resentful in the first place—much better to avoid unrealistic expectations or even avoid expectations at all. I'm trying to practice staying at a remove from outcomes, difficult as that is. I would love to be a little less attached to the outcome of either a given situation or a conversation—to just stay open to whatever unfolds. It's not easy as I've had years of practice creating expectations! But it's worth staying alert to this and trying to avoid attachment to outcomes.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Acts of kindness

With all the bad news I hear every day—school shootings, ongoing war brutality, arrests, and political wrangling, just for starters—I am always delighted when my news sources deliver a story of an individual or group of people who are helping in ways small or large.

So I cheer when a big-hearted restaurant chef cooks thousands of meals for the people of Puerto Rico who are still recovering from a hurricane. And I cheer when I hear about what a custom-suit designer for men who can afford such things is doing for ex-offenders trying to start over after prison life: He is part of a larger program to help get these men back on track, and his part is to collect gently used, high quality men's clothes into a store where ex-offenders can come and get fitted for an expensive (though free to them) interview outfit: suit, shirt, tie, shoes, socks and the whole deal. To see how these men feel about themselves once they're all dressed up in clothes they likely never had before was just so uplifting. They stood taller and seemed filled with a new sense of possibility. And from what I've read, the recidivism rate for this program is far, far lower than the typical rate in that state.

Then there's the Muslim man who takes in orphans with serious, untreatable illnesses and cares for them until they lose their battle to illness. He just holds them, takes care of their needs and lets them know they're loved. Amazing!

Such stories remind me that there really are lots of good people in this world. Sometimes we really do need that reminder. And that leads me to ask myself: What am I doing to remind people that there are good folks around? Does my life reflect that? Can I do more acts of kindness?

What about you?

Monday, March 19, 2018

Good enough!

Winston Churchill once said, "Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm." Most definitely, there were many times during World War II when he was uncertain about the outcome. But he kept moving ahead—and kept Britain moving ahead.

In a book titled Keep Calm and Carry On, author Mark A. Reinecke describes the most disabling of distorted thinking, perfectionism, as "the belief that there's a best solution and that nothing less than the best is acceptable."

He goes on to say that as we face our problems, "We need to find the solution, the approach that brings only positive outcomes and has no negatives or downsides. Expecting nothing less than the best brings more security and guarantees a positive result, doesn't it?

"Actually, it's quite the opposite. Seeking perfect solutions can magnify our anxiety as the future unfolds. ... Because we can't predict how events will present themselves over time, there are no perfect solutions. If events don't develop as planned, you may believe you have failed, which leads to feelings of disappointment and regret and to a reduced sense of efficacy and control."

By now, I think we all realize that we should not let perfect get in the way of good. Seeking perfection can keep us from finding perfectly acceptable and workable solutions to our problems. Or as some people say, "Many things worth doing are worth doing badly!"

Are you a perfectionist? I'm a recovering one—still working to be satisfied with good! Good is good enough!

Friday, March 16, 2018

Don't let social anxiety get you down

Most everyone wants to be liked, loved, admired, respected and treated well. Some of us want it too much, however. Have you ever experienced that? And when that happens, are you angry with yourself for wanting approval too much? Angry that you haven't stood up for yourself or shown more self-esteem and self-confidence? Upset with yourself that your fears got the best of you?

Let go of the anger at yourself. Drop the shame. Instead, take a look at your patterns of behavior in a variety of social or work situations. What are the situations that most trip your triggers? And what are your responses? What are you thinking at the time? What fears are driving your behavior? Do you "awfulize" (everything is absolutely disastrous)? Do you overgeneralize (this always happens to me)? Do you magnify (blow things way out of proportion, similar to awfulizing)? Do you compare yourself, always coming up way below average and below everyone else in the room?

Challenge those thoughts and see whether there aren't more reasonable ways of seeing the particular situation(s) in question—and of seeing yourself.

Then develop some mantras or self-statements that you can repeat whenever you find yourself in a situation that might trigger your social anxiety. For example, "I'll be just fine. Others here are anxious, too. We are all in this together." Or "I am calm and serene, and I won't let my fear and insecurity rule me." "Everyone has baggage and insecurities. Some just hide it better. I will be friendly and show compassion to all I meet."

Over time, you just might see your anxiety reduced. It takes time, attention and intention to make changes like this. But it's so rewarding.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Sharing brings strength

 A daily devotion I read recently discussed the fact that many churches don't have what's called "testimonies" from members. But, as a pastor, she wondered whether it might not be a good idea. She said this, "I sometimes wonder what testimonies the people in our pews need to hear. Do they need to hear someone say that there is life after the marriage implodes? Do they search for an assurance that chemo was hard for everyone else too? Do they long to know that everyone is a little afraid of growing older and depending on others more?"

It raises an interesting point: Are we vulnerable enough to share those fears and stories that can reassure each other? For it's in sharing our stories (and our fears) that we receive support, compassion—and, yes, even hope.  That's why support groups are so valuable for all manner of situations. We gain strength from each other's stories.

Who needs to hear your "testimonies" today? And who might reassure you if they told theirs?

Monday, March 12, 2018

'Love more'

Even though I'm a Norwegian, I have to hand it to those Swedes! One of their proverbs goes like this: "Fear less, hope more; eat less, chew more; whine less, breathe more; talk less, say more; love more, and all good things will be yours."

I can't argue with that. And, of course, I'm just teasing about the Swedes—even though this really is touted as a Swedish proverb.

More hope and less fear would be a good thing right now. So much of what is happening in our country (and around the globe) these days is fueled by fears of all sorts. We'd be far better off truly facing these fears and addressing them than to lash out at others because of them.

As for chewing more, yes, one of the things I learned in Weight Watchers was the benefit of chewing more slowly. By doing so, I was told I would eat less. True enough. It's still something I'm working on, however!

And whining? Yup, we know how unattractive that is in children—and in adults, well, that's truly disgusting. As for making our words count—I'm sure we can all agree with that.

And love more? Yes, the world truly does need more love. If each person truly felt loved, how different might this world be? So let's each do our part—and add more love to the world.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Stories are life-giving

American author and essayist Barry Lopez once said, "Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive."

Interesting thought, isn't it? Think about it: Don't our stories tell us who we are? Where we've been? Even perhaps who and what we might become?

When someone listens, really listens, as I tell my life story, I feel heard. I feel real. Alive. And when they affirm what I've been through and how I've come through it, I have truly been listened into existence.

Sharing our stories with one another is a pretty intense and deep way to get to know someone, especially when we don't hold back. Sharing your story is a gift. Hearing another's story is a gift, too.

Can you think of a time when you reminded a friend or loved one of a part of their story they'd forgotten? Do you recall their joy at being given that gift? I've had friends say to me, "Thank you so much for reminding me of that part of my story! I'd completely forgotten that. That helps me know that I can get through this situation, too!"

Yes, it's true: sometimes we really need our stories to stay alive.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Staying on good behavior

Most of us really do want to be our best selves. We try hard to take responsibility for our lives. We try to help others in whatever ways we can. We want to be good parents, good mates, good friends, good employees. And we're extremely disappointed in ourselves when we mess up.

Because of this, it's important to identify those things that trigger us to be less than our best or ideal selves. Are there certain behaviors in others that really set you off and pretty much guarantee that you'll come out with guns blazing? Not literally, of course. Behaviors that bring out the petulant child in you?

It's good to know your own triggers. Knowing what they are empowers you to make better choices when such situations occur.

A speaker recently reminded those of us in the audience that, in addition to any specific triggers we each have, an acronym expresses triggers common to us all. She encouraged us to think of the word HALT and tend to the needs expressed by it so we could avoid sinking into less-than-ideal behaviors.

HALT reminds us to ask these questions: Am I Hungry? Am I Angry? Am I Lonely? Am I Tired? Those four things are issues we're able to tend so we don't get triggered into bad behaviors. I know I'm paying more attention to those these days.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Barriers to self-love

A refrain I hear repeatedly from women is that it's so difficult to love themselves. We have been conditioned so well to care for others and to put the needs of others before our own. Doing so ought not push love and care of self to the back burner or to the very bottom of the list. It should not be a case of either/or. Either I love and care for my children, my spouse, others in my life OR I love myself. No, it doesn't work that way.

If this is an issue for you, I encourage you to try identify what barriers are specific to you when it comes to self-love and self-care. Do you find self-care difficult because of shame, because of fears, because of excessive responsibility or inferiority? Or is there some other barrier?

Once you identify the barrier, you can begin to work through it—perhaps by journaling, talking with a trusted friend or counselor. Should you wish, I invite you to contact me for a complimentary strategy session on this issue.

Once we can truly love our selves and care for our selves, we have so much more compassion and love for others. And then our own light and love can emerge and shine brightly!

Friday, March 2, 2018

Share the good news

I just read a post on Facebook by a woman who said she'd gone to a local grocery store for a few items. When she got to the checkout, the cashier told her, "Your money isn't any good here today." My friend thought, "What?!" Then the cashier told her that the person in line ahead of her had paid extra for those following behind. It just made my friend's day!

Well, guess what? It made my day, too. It's sometimes easy for me to get caught up by the negative news—school shootings, deadlock in Washington, wars and murder in so many parts of the globe, etc. And although I want to be aware of world and domestic events, I also want to stay positive. So reading about a random act of kindness really made my day. It's so easy to forget about the good people in the world and think the world is populated with evil, nasty folks.

Somehow, I need to maintain perspective and balance. I want to do what I can to help bring justice and peace into the world. At the same time, I don't want to get bogged down in all the negativity and pain. Most days, this can be a real challenge!

My friend's post reminded me to share good news when I hear or experience it. The good things that happen to us boost our attitudes. And when we share those stories, others receive a positive boost too.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Notice the gifts

As I write this, it's 63 degrees and sunny. Sixty-three degrees in February! This is such a gift—to experience such beauty in the midst of winter. It's a lovely reprieve.

Of course, I want more of this. One or two days are never enough. I know in the Chicago area, we'll definitely have more winter before spring truly does arrive. So I need to simply accept today as the gift that it is and savor it. I need to be grateful for this.

This reminds me to do that with the rest of life, too. Every single one of us has problems and challenges to face. Illness. Job loss. Workplace conflicts. Relationship challenges. Caregiver problems. Death of loved ones. How to make the money stretch each month. And more.

But—every single one of us also has miracles and gifts and good things dropped right into our lives amid all the challenges. And do we stop and say thanks? Do we feel gratitude and savor those moments?

Let's be sure to do so. I need to be reminded of that myself, which is why I often write blogs that I need to hear! I know that when I've stopped to notice the gifts and feel the gratitude, I begin to notice even more things for which I am thankful. My focus has shifted. Ever notice that? Funny how that works!

Monday, February 26, 2018

Let retirement unfold

I know several people who are contemplating retirement in the near future. Several of them are worried about what retirement will hold. They're worried about having no purpose and no structure to their days. Some are afraid they'll grow lazy and soft.

Since I was reduced-in-force from my job, I didn't get to choose my own retirement date. However, what I found was that it was really important to simply let go of control for a while and let the process unfold. I discovered, too, that I needed time to grieve what was before I could move on to what was going to be. And that isn't just true if you have lost your job. It's also the case when you've made your own choice about when to leave. Grief work is just as important when you lose things by choice as it is when it's not your choice.

Some people know exactly how their day will look on Day One of their retirement. For my money, that's a tad too much control. Just as farm land needs occasional fallow time between plantings so it can replenish, so we need time to be re-energized and replenished when we make major life changes such as this. We need time to process where we've been, who we were in that other life and career, who we will be going forward and how we truly want to spend our time.

Some things simply need to simmer a while before they're ready. Retirement planning is one of those things, in my humble opinion. If you are facing retirement and wish to discuss this, I invite you to contact me for a complimentary strategy session.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Speak from the heart

Whether you agree with their take on school shootings and violence in our society or not, you really do have to admire the courage, articulateness and resilience of the Parkland, Florida, survivors of last week's horrendous school shooting. They are speaking out, and they are putting their money where their mouths are by traveling to the state capitol to ask for a ban on assault weapons. They're doing this just days after having lived through a frightening experience that most of us will never have to face.

I don't know about you, but I draw courage from this myself. If young teens who have only recently survived a near-death experience can find their voices, I ought to be able to find mine when it comes to speaking up for justice when and where I see the need for it.

Researcher and author Brené Brown says that the root of the word "courage" is "cor"—a Latin word for heart. So in an early form, the word courage meant "to speak one's mind by telling all one's heart." I do believe that's what these young survivors are doing.

Can you and I do the same? If there are things we deeply believe and on which we hold back from speaking out, can we find the courage to tell what's in our hearts?

It's worth trying, isn't it? These young people can model courage for us all!

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

A 'wild heart'

I've written before about the difficulty of walking the tightrope between caring deeply about what's going on in our country and the world (all the deep divisions and inequities) and staying calm, serene and positive.

The book I referenced on Monday, Braving the Wilderness, by researcher and author Brené Brown, speaks to that, too.

Brown talks about having a "wild heart"—meaning to have a strong back and a soft, open front (strong and vulnerable at the same time). She says, "The mark of a wild heart is living out the paradox of love in our lives. It's the ability to be tough and tender, excited and scared, brave and afraid—all in the same moment.

"A wild heart can also straddle the tension of staying awake to the struggle in the world and fighting for justice and peace, while also cultivating its own moments of joy."

That really resonates with me, especially right now, as I continue to vacillate between deep sadness and intense anger at yet another school shooting last week—and the murder of more of our innocent children. I want us to all wake up and DO something about this. At the same time, I'm trying to maintain my sense of gratitude and grounding. It's exactly what Brown is talking about: trying to "straddle the tension."

What are your thoughts on this?

Monday, February 19, 2018

Beliefs about vulnerability

I've long struggled with the concept of vulnerability. Oh, not in my mind. I think being vulnerable is a great idea. It's just that I don't do it so well myself. For some reason, I learned to equate vulnerability with weakness. Is that because of messages about women being weak, messages I have long rejected? I don't know. It doesn't matter why. What matters is that I keep trying to be more vulnerable. I don't need to keep leaping tall buildings in a single bound, landing backward in a slim skirt and high heels! And I don't need to wear that "tough woman" facade to show I can handle whatever comes my way either. I can admit that sometimes I simply don't know what to do. I can admit that sometimes I'm really afraid.

As researcher and author Brené Brown says, vulnerability isn't weakness; and the barrier just might be our beliefs about vulnerability. Yes, she's right—at least in my case. In her latest book, Braving the Wilderness, Brown asks two good questions about vulnerability:

"Are we willing to show up and be seen when we can't control the outcome?"

And "Are we willing to create courageous spaces so we can be fully seen?"

I'm reflecting on those questions for myself. I don't have so much trouble speaking truth to power or truth to BS, as she recommends in her book. But admitting that I really don't know what to do—and admitting to my weaknesses, flaws and fears, well, that's tougher. But I keep trying.

Friday, February 16, 2018

About that cocoon...

The caterpillar-cocoon-butterfly transformation process is quite amazing. What seems like dying really is new life. But here's the deal: It wouldn't be new life if the butterfly didn't work its way out of the cocoon when the time is right.

We, too, have things in our lives that represent cocoons. And you simply cannot fly and be your best self if you don't leave the cocoon behind.

What's your cocoon? Are you stuck in a situation that you really should leave behind and from which you should fly away? It might be a job that is killing your spirit or a relationship that's dragging you down or doing you harm. It might be your own unhealthy behaviors, things that need changing. Or it could be old tapes and messages that hold you back and keep you stuck. It might be your negative attitudes about yourself or about life in general. It could even be losses that you haven't ever grieved that are piling up inside and constricting your heart.

There are so many things that can become a cocoon. It's good to check periodically and see whether you are stuck and need to break free. Now's a good time to do so! Let go, let go, let go.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Focus on love

Today is Valentine's Day. The focus often is on couples. But really, let's just put the focus on love in general—love of others (which, I might add, is made far easier when you learn to love yourself first).

One of my favorite inspirational writers, Mark Nepo, says some good things in his book Seven Thousand Ways to Listen: Staying Close to What is Sacred. He writes:

"And the work of love involves holding nothing back and being with other living things in a way that lets them grow, that affirms their sense of safety in the world. ...there is no substitute for going through things together. And it is often through an unexpected empathy that we become a conduit for the human struggle until one person's humanity reveals the whole of humanity. In this way, kindness itself is a way of life.

"All of this is the work of love, the most personal and crucial teacher we will ever meet. ... How is love asking you to grow?"

Later on, Nepo asks "Which is currently stronger in you: love or fear?"

There are two good questions on which to reflect right there. How is love asking you to grow? Which is stronger in you: love or fear?

Monday, February 12, 2018

Bringing the light

For some time now, I have felt a strong pull to be a light-bearer. I am living my way into just what that means. In all honesty, sometimes when I get caught up in beliefs and opinions I so passionately hold, I am guilty of doing the opposite! I'm not proud of that. But it's true. A snarky comment on someone's political post on Facebook definitely doesn't bring more light to the world.

Years ago, I was fairly regular with a practice of asking myself questions at the end of each day. One series of the questions was: Did I bring more light than darkness into the world today? How did I do so? What will I change tomorrow? Perhaps I need to return to that practice.

A friend gave me a wonderful book, Cloud Walking, by Steven Charleston, an Episcopal bishop and a citizen of the Choctaw Nation. One day this past week Charleston wrote about the power of words:

"I am amazed at the power of the kind word, the pinpoint of grace. ... We are all sages of the kind word, the holy word of simple love and caring. No great torrent of great thoughts, but just a cup of water. When we speak what we can, as humble as it may be, we lift a soul to find its light, and set it flying free."

Yes, we have the power to "lift a soul to find its light." I want to use that power more often. What about you?

Friday, February 9, 2018

Vulnerability & strength

Can we be both strong and vulnerable? It's something I've grappled with for some time now. So when I read in Brené Brown's latest book, Braving the Wilderness, a quote from Dr. Joan Halifax, Buddhist teacher, Zen priest, anthropologist, activist and author, I was fascinated.

This quote from Halifax opens Brown's chapter entitled "Strong Back. Soft Front. Wild Heart." This is what Halifax says:

"All too often our so-called strength comes from fear, not love; instead of having a strong back, many of us have a defended front shielding a weak spine. In other words, we walk around brittle and defensive, trying to conceal our lack of confidence. If we strengthen our backs, metaphorically speaking, and develop a spine that's flexible but sturdy, then we can risk having a front that's soft and open. ... How can we give and accept care with strong-back, soft-front compassion, moving past fear into a place of genuine tenderness? I believe it comes about when we can be truly transparent, seeing the world clearly—and letting the world see into us."

These words are especially important as we find ourselves in such a divided country. Brown goes on to say, "If we're going to make true belonging a daily practice in our lives, we're going to need a strong back and a soft front. We'll need both courage and vulnerability as we abandon the certainty and safety of our ideological bunkers and head off into the wilderness."

How do you see this?

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Giving support and help

Do you remember how Mr. Rogers (Fred Rogers, children's TV program host) used to talk about when he was a boy and saw scary things in the news, his mother would say to him, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping."

I think of Mr. Rogers and that comment so often when I see hurricane devastation and watch those who wade right into the midst of things to help victims—or when I hear stories of mass murders and those who move right in to push people to safety, endangering their own lives at times.

Now that I'm trying to help a family member collect insurance to which he's entitled for a long-term chronic illness, I'm so aware of the helpers! I make phone calls to request information and the person on the other end of the line offers even more help than I'd anticipated. I email a request and get an immediate response—and often, a caring and sympathetic attitude.

Occasionally, I'll be met with rudeness or a not-so-helpful attitude. But mostly, I'm uplifted by so many helpers out there!

This makes me ask myself: Am I a helper?

Are you?

Monday, February 5, 2018

Grief and self

A couple days ago as I read through a booklet of retreat offerings, on a page offering a series of weekends on the topic of honoring grief and healing from it, I saw this quote by author and speaker Charles Eisenstein:

"Grief is a way of gathering our lost parts."

Somehow it really resonated with me. I haven't had a good deal of time since I read it to really reflect on it nor to think about why it so called to me. But I do want to spend some time with the quote. It seems to contain riches.

I suspect what Eisenstein means in that quote is grief work. It's the work that gathers our parts and makes us whole again. This I do know: Grief work is extremely important work. When it's not done, the pain and grief do not go away. They get buried inside us at a deep level. The longer they remain buried, the more difficult it is to access in a healthy way. In fact, it tends to get released by us in unhealthy ways—as anger, irritation, depression and sometimes, physical illness.

And, yes, it does mean we lose parts of our self—parts that are difficult to access until we take the time to do the grief work. Grief is a process and not to be rushed. And grief occurs with all manner of losses: friendships, identity, job, dreams, death, illness and so many more. Spending time in the grief process is good self-care.

I invite you to join me in exploring the quote above and see whether it might hold any insights for you.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Souls that blossom

French novelist, critic and essayist Marcel Proust once said, "Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom."

Yes, indeed. Isn't that a lovely thought?

Proust is reported to have been a frail and nervous child whose first asthma attack at age 9 nearly killed him. So no doubt, his words took on deep meaning for him. Such an experience would make a lasting impact, I'm sure.

It's a reminder to you and to me to surround ourselves with people who are caring, compassionate and joyful people who help "make our souls blossom." We all have some people in our lives who bring us down and definitely don't make us happy. Sometimes we can walk away from them, and other times they're in our lives to stay. Then we need to try limit our time with them. At the least, we need to make huge efforts to stay positive in the face of their negativity. It's also a reminder to us to be "charming gardeners" ourselves!

Remember to say thanks to all those who make your soul blossom!

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

One step at a time

I am so stressed right now. It seems that a few people near and dear to me need major help with life issues, and I want to be there for them. In one case, it involves lots of detail work, phone calls, letters and emails—plus some huge on-site tasks, too. It means long-distance drives, arranging for doctor appointments, cleaning out a house to sell and more. Yikes.

My sister reminds me to "take one crisis at a time." She's right. That's plenty. And even at that, I've always advised people to break major crises or tasks into smaller, achievable pieces. It's that old question of how you eat an elephant—one small bite at a time!

So I'm trying to heed my sister's and my own advice. One thing at a time—and break that down into an action plan of small chunks. One step at a time, and I will be able to help those I love deal with these big things that have so affected their lives.

Meanwhile, I need to remember to breathe. And I need to engage in self-care such as my yoga class, massages and time with dear friends.

How do you handle stressful times?

Monday, January 29, 2018

Of storms and roots

"Storms make oaks take deeper roots," said Welsh-born poet and Anglican priest George Herbert. He likely knew whereof he spoke, too, since he suffered from poor health for most of his short life. He died of consumption at the age of 39.

His point is well-taken, however. I don't know about you, but it has been the painful and difficult experiences in my life that have deepened the roots of my faith, strengthened my voice and my resolve to do more about the injustices I see, and kept me grounded. I have grown and transformed far more through life's storms than through the good times. Those times have fueled my compassion, too.

All of us would no doubt rather have more sunshine, rainbows, joy and beauty in our lives—and give a pass to the storms. We don't get to check boxes for such preferences, however. Storms will come. And the good news is that we will survive them—especially with help. This is where your faith comes in and where your connections to others play a huge role.

If you're in the midst of life storms right now, take heart. Reach down deeply into your soul, reach up to whatever you name your higher power, and reach out to those people with whom you share your journey. Watch those roots deepen. Watch your wisdom and strength grow. Know you can survive this.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Moving on

Last week I learned that someone is leaving a group of which I'm part because she no longer feels comfortable, accepted and heard there. I'm really sad about that—and want to do all I can to be sure this group that I so value is open to all voices.

All of that said, however, I do also firmly believe that there are times when a person has to follow her heart and conscience and move on. I've had to do that myself on occasion. It's always a tough decision to let go of something that once was meaningful—and particularly, of the people who once felt like my tribe. I also know the new opportunities that can arise once I have let go of a situation or group and moved on.

Do you have anything in your life right now that requires a second look? Or that might lead you to let go and leave a person or a group? Don't be afraid to step out into something new. Or even to step out into the unknown temporarily.

A caterpillar can be our example: When the caterpillar enters a cocoon, it seems like dying. However, as we know, it's simply the gateway to an exciting new life form—a butterfly that soars above the flowers rather than crawling along the ground or among the leaves. Think of it!

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Asking for needs to be met

Do you have some unmet needs that are pretty important to you and that you're hesitant to ask someone (spouse, children, friend) to help fulfill? If you were raised like I was, you likely didn't learn how to ask for what you need. In fact, many of us were raised to ignore our needs and tend to those of others instead—particularly if we are women.

It's great to be of service to others. What's not great is when so many of our really important needs go unmet and we end up resentful of others. The desire for those needs comes out sideways and in peculiar ways, especially to those closest to us. We may be angry or irritable and others have no idea why. Better to be direct and simply ask.

Check yourself to see whether there's something you really want someone else to do or say to you. Don't be afraid to ask. We don't always get what we ask for. But we surely won't get it if we don't ask! In fact, it can make for a good conversation if we ask a good friend or partner what that person needs and then say what we need from them. Go ahead, take that first step. This also gives permission for the other person to ask for needs to be met, so it may be a new behavior for you both to learn.

Old dogs can learn new tricks!

Monday, January 22, 2018

Don't be afraid of grief work

I just heard about a person who experienced a huge loss in her life and who can't seem to deal with the grief of that loss because she's still stuck in deep grief over a different loss some 10-15 years earlier.

This is a reminder to me of the importance of grieving each loss as it comes into our lives. That said, grief isn't a once-and-done thing either. Still, it's essential to do whatever grief work is needed in our lives—and not just for the huge life losses such as death, divorce, debilitating illness, job loss, etc. We also need to grieve for  what some see as lesser losses: losing a friend for one reason or another, losses of ability as we age (hearing, eyesight, mobility and more), and other things such as favorite places when we move from one city to another or even from one neighborhood to another.

Life can be filled with losses, large and small. It's important to stop and take the time to feel the sadness and do whatever you need to do that will allow you to move on. Because grief is a process, you may need to spend some time again later working on the sadness you feel. That's OK. Just don't skip over your feelings as though the loss didn't matter. It does. And your feelings matter.

Stay clear and cleaned out as much as possible by facing things as they occur. If this is something about which you'd like to talk, please contact me.

Friday, January 19, 2018

For those who want to be more

A book I first read when I was just in my 30s is still one of my favorites. Hope for the Flowers by Trina Paulus, illustrated like a children's book, is a book for adults who want to be what they were meant to be—who want the "more" of life.

I have so many favorite passages. Here's one part I especially like:

"Butterfly—that word," she thought. "Tell me, sir, what is a butterfly?

"It's what you are meant to become. It flies with beautiful wings and joins the earth to heaven. It drinks only nectar from the flowers and carries the seeds of love from one flower to another.

"Without butterflies, the world would soon have few flowers."

So here's a thought for you and me as we look out onto cold or snow-covered landscapes that are momentarily free from flowers and butterflies: How are you carrying the seeds of love? How do you see yourself searching for the "more" of life? How are you moving toward becoming all you were meant to be?

What might you need to do to soar like a butterfly and "join the earth to heaven"?

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Purpose and simplicity

Have you thought about simplifying your life at all? Several people I know are talking about it. Some are downsizing. Some are cutting back on activities, creating more open space in their lives. A few are cutting back to part-time work. One friend is even reflecting on the time she spends with friends to be sure these really are the people with whom she wants to devote her precious time.

Here's an interesting quote from French writer and Buddhist monk, Matthieu Ricard: "Simplifying our lives does not mean sinking into idleness, but on the contrary, getting rid of the most subtle aspect of laziness: the one which makes us take on thousands of less important activities."

I just came across that quote recently, and I admit that I need to really think more about it. It's surprising, isn't it, to hear the term "laziness" used for a life that is filled with an over-abundance of activities?

And yet, a multitude of "less important activities" can keep us from the most important work in our lives—the real purpose of your life or mine. If you feel that's true for your life, what are you willing to do about it? What changes would you like to make? Do you know what your really important work is right now? What would it take to focus on that? Remember, purpose is much more than your job or your career.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Diversity and fitting in

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr., Day—a great time to think about diversity and creating a bigger table. I love that image of a larger table and the idea of setting a place for all who show up.

I'm bothered by what seems to be a growing attitude of who's in and who's out. Unfortunately, it recalls for me the painful days of grade school when girls were so cliquish. One day, I'd be in and someone else would be out. A few days later, I might be out and that girl would be in. It was painful. That behavior occurred in high school, too. In fact, as I reflect back, there was plenty of it even in the workplace! That behavior isn't confined to children concerned about acceptance and how they fit in. Apparently, such fears follow us all the way into adulthood.

Do you still worry about your place within a group? Or within your own family, perhaps? If you do, this might be something you'd like to work on. I like the thinking of researcher and author Brené Brown, who says she doesn't negotiate her self-worth with anyone. It took her years to feel her own worth, she says, and she's not giving that up just because someone or other doesn't like her or approve of her. Yes!

Once secure in your own worth, you will be far more likely to spread the table for everyone. You'll no longer need to think in terms of who's in and who's out. Give it some thought today. If you'd like to have a conversation about it, I invite you to contact me for a complimentary coaching session around that topic.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Banish fears, one by one

There isn't a human on the planet who hasn't felt fear—and I venture to say, on a regular basis. Each one of us fears a number of things, whether that be losing connections with others, speaking in front of a group, facing illness, death or being pushed outside our comfort zone, to name just a few.

What we choose to do about our fears is quite another matter, though. Fear doesn't need to have the final say. I like what Maya Angelou said about it: "Hope and fear cannot occupy the same space. Invite one to stay."

Isn't that wonderful? As difficult as it may be, let's choose hope as often as we can. Invite hope to stay—and then take even one small step toward whatever it is you fear. One step will lead to another and another, and soon hope really will prevail.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Each day is gift

I'm not sure whether it's my age—or whether it's the times in which we live—but each week seems to bring more news of someone facing a serious life issue. Friends dying, receiving a harsh medical diagnosis, losing jobs or having their job go sour in a big way, facing financial distress and more. Some days it gets really heavy, doesn't it?

A dear friend of mine always reminds me to not let this drag me down as I support those experiencing these issues. Instead, she says, let these things remind you to be present to the current moment. She's right. Let's not live with our eyes in the rear view mirror. And let's not live with our heads so far in the future, making plans that may or may not happen. Rather, let's be right here right now. Let's savor our moments. Tell people we love that we do love them. Listen to people with attention. Feel more compassion. Give out more smiles and hugs.

Each day is a gift. Open it with gratitude. Spend it wisely and lavishly!

Monday, January 8, 2018

Watching life unfold

We're a week into the new year already. Did you make resolutions? Or do you just step into the new year with some vague hopes about what might come? Perhaps you pulled out your Bucket List or even your Thimble List (small ways to savor life)?

Each year, I do a review of the past year to see what's happened, what I've learned and what I've noticed about the word I chose a year ago. And then I select a word or phrase that I hope will fit for my new year. I chose the word "serene" for 2018. The reason I did so was because I seemed to be pulled in too many (often negative) directions by the news I heard. I so want to be an informed and active citizen of this country and the world. At the same time, I want to keep calm and hopeful. I don't want to be dragged down by every news headline or tweet I read about.

So far, one week in, I'm doing relatively well on this. But the real test is ahead. Can I keep this up for 51 more weeks?!

How about you? What are your hopes for this new year? And how do you see things unfolding for you so far? Let's encourage each other to stay positive and hopeful as we watch life unfold and plan how we will participate in it.


Friday, January 5, 2018

Hard conversations are needed

Last year was an extremely difficult and contentious year in our country. In this brand new year, I'm hearing more conversations about finding ways to talk with one another across the great chasm that seems to divide us. We are divided by race, gender, class and political party, to name just a few. That won't change unless we learn to talk with people who may not necessarily see life through the same lenses as we do.

Doing this involves us all learning how to listen better than we typically do. It means really listening—not just hearing what the other is saying while preparing your own comeback!

I like what Brené Brown says in her latest book, Braving the Wilderness: "We're going to need to intentionally be with people who are different from us. We're going to have to sign up, join, and take a seat at the table. We're going to have to learn how to listen, have hard conversations, look for joy, share pain, and be more curious than defensive, all while seeking moments of togetherness."

Right on, Brené!

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Exhale—and rest

As you begin a new year, are you starting it with a long to-do list, a list of projects and shoulds? Or have you built in some time for rest and restoration as well? Those don't necessarily have to be in opposition to one another. For example, as one man said, "My wife finds working in the garden restful. I prefer to simply rest in my chair, enjoying the fruits of her labor."

Many people think that rest is for children, old people or the sick. Perhaps you grew up, as I did, with the message that you should not sit and not relax until the work was done. And, of course, since I grew up on a farm, the work never was done!

But here's a thought from 20th century Trappist monk Thomas Merton: "To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects ... is to succumb to violence." And, as many people point out, even God rested after creation activities (see Genesis 2:2). In an Exodus version (31:17), it says, "In six days God made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day God rested and was refreshed." According to pastor, speaker and retreat leader Jane E. Vennard, the Hebrew word usually translated "refreshed" in that Exodus passage literally means "and God exhaled."

That's good for us to remember as we start a whole new year: Breathe in, breathe out. Remember to breathe. Take time to exhale!

Monday, January 1, 2018

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to you! No matter how you spend your New Year's Day, whether you make resolutions or not, whether you are into reflection or introspection or not, here are a couple questions that might be worth some thought.

What was last year like for you? For what are you hoping in the year ahead? Carl Jung said that "where you stumble and fall, there you find pure gold." Did you stumble at all? Did you find gold? What did you learn about yourself through those experiences? Did you encounter roadblocks or get stuck? Did you meet someone who helped you? Did you let go of any inner (or outer) "trash"—things you no longer need, believe or want to carry around? Letting go can set you on the bridge to new freedom if you let it. And don't we love new beginnings?

Here's to a serene, beautiful year for you—filled with moments that absolutely take your breath away!