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!