Monday, April 30, 2018

Let go—let life unfold

I have spent way too much of my life worrying about things that never come to pass. It's generally a waste of good time to worry about things. That said, it's not easy to completely let go of worry. However, it's worthwhile to keep trying. I often have to remind myself: Sonia, let it go. Your worrying about this will not change the outcome. Most likely, your fears will not come to pass, Sonia.

More and more, I've come to like the word "unfold." Life will unfold. Situations will unfold. That doesn't mean that we don't face choices on which path to take or how to react to life situations. We do have choice in several matters. But we really are not in control of most things, much as we want to believe that we are.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, American professor emeritus of medicine and the creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, said this:

"Non-doing simply means letting things be and allowing them to unfold in their own way. Enormous effort can be involved, but it is a graceful, knowledgeable, effortless effort, a doerless doing."

What do you think about this? Are you able to let go and let life unfold?

Friday, April 27, 2018

Avoid dwelling on problems

When you face a problem in your life, do you tend to dwell on it, obsessing constantly and worrying about it? Do you become so anxious that you can't even see solutions easily? This can cause sleeplessness, either overeating or not eating at all, irritability, depression and isolation.

Dwelling on our issues tends to make us even more anxious. It can seriously impair our ability to think of and create solutions, and it can damage our decision-making capability. Anxiety does not make for creativity and clear-headed thinking.

Try just walking away from the problem for a while. Give yourself some diversionary time. Move on to something else. Spend time with a hobby. Take time out with friends or loved ones. Engage in a physical activity you enjoy. Just let the issue go for a while.

Generally, you'll return to the problem with fresh eyes and far more creativity to seek solutions. And most likely, you'll have renewed energy to move into action toward a solution. You might even think of enlisting the help of someone else to seek a solution.

Let go of anxiety and fear. Be good to yourself—and refuel your brain in ways that refresh and renew you. Try self-care instead of worry!

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Hard work and sweet memories

So much of life is both/and. Experiences aren't good; they aren't bad—they often are a mix of each. So with people—not good, not bad, but a mix of both. And life: not good, not bad, but both/and.

So two weeks ago when my sis and I spent a week cleaning out our brother's home for him, that realization was underscored for us in a big way. His home had been our parents' home, too. So it was full, extremely full; and cleaning it out was exhausting and hard work for the two of us. Neither one of us is 20 anymore, so our muscles complained every night after morning-till-early-evening lifting, bending, carrying and hoisting.

However, that week also was filled with many sweet moments—several trips down memory lane, the joy of sister-time, lots of surprising discoveries of items we either had never seen before or hadn't known were still around, and a reminder that friends and neighbors in small towns are so kind and helpful, going out of their way to assist us. Strangers in that small town became friends by week's end, too.

Now that the huge task we'd dreaded for so long is in our rear-view mirror, my sis and I more easily remember all the sweet moments contained in that week. Ah, the joys of a both/and world. I'm grateful this is so!

Have you experienced some of this lately, too?

Monday, April 23, 2018

From hatred to love and listening

Do you ever wonder how we will ever bridge our differences in this country, whether they be political, religious, class, economic, racial or any other form? It seems to me that we do a lot more shouting at each other than listening these days.

For that reason, when I heard about this TED talk by Megan Phelps-Roper, I just had to listen to it. I was deeply moved by her story of growing up in a hate-filled family and hate-filled church—and then learning to move beyond that hatred to love and listen. Her message is all about really listening to people with whom we strongly disagree. And it seems that's what our world needs right now: the ability to listen even when we don't agree!

It hit home with me particularly since I experienced the hatred of her family and church when as a religious journalist, I attended a church convention where the inclusion of gay clergy was under discussion. When the convention broke for lunch and my staff and I walked outside to find a restaurant in which to eat, we had to walk through a gauntlet of members of that church. The assembled protesters ranged in age from toddlers all the way up to the elderly. From the children to the grandparents, they were all yelling at those of us exiting the convention hall, shouting things such as, "God hates you" and "You're all going to hell." The hair on the back of my neck stood up at being surrounded by such deep hatred. So I can only imagine what her life was like until she reached a turning point.

Take a listen and see if you aren't moved to listen more deeply to those with whom you disagree!

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.