Monday, July 30, 2018

Authenticity & happiness

As we age, it seems that authenticity becomes more important than ever. We want to shed masks, roles, ideas and beliefs that no longer fit for us. We don't care as much about what other people think. We simply want to enjoy life and be who we really were meant to be. ...and perhaps not conform quite so much!

This can mean doing things we were too reserved to do before. Perhaps we felt restricted by needing to provide guidelines for our children. Or it may have been because of a job or our position in the community. It's not that we completely throw caution to the wind—but it simply isn't quite so important anymore if our neighbors (or even complete strangers) think we're odd for doing what we do!

Because of this, I really loved what I read about comedian, actress, writer, producer and fashion designer Melissa McCarthy (remember her from "Saturday Night Live" and her Sean Spicer parodies?) in a spring issue of AARP The Magazine.

In the article, McCarthy is quoted as saying, "I've never minded getting older. ... The older you are, the more interesting you are as a character. ... You become more you." She goes on to answer the question of what kind of woman she'd like to be when she's her mom's age: "I hope a crazy one. I always say, 'Once I hit 70, it's going to be all caftans and turbans and big wacky glasses.' I'm more than halfway there. I see these years ahead as a time to say, 'What does it matter? You want to wear daisy prints? Who cares!' Getting older means knowing yourself, and if you know yourself, express it. That ripples out. It makes the world a happier place. When you're in line for coffee and the older lady in front of you has a daisy-print blouse and a smile on her face and something to say about the world, you feel the magic of it."

Yes! I love it. You don't have to wear a daisy print, a caftan or a turban. Just be yourself—and don't be afraid to be different from the crowd. Be happy. It'll be catchy ... and make the world a happier place. At the least, you'll be happy!

Friday, July 27, 2018

Be an example!

A dear friend I've known for 50 years died recently. She and I often referred to each other as "soul sisters." We've seen each other through many ups and downs in those 50 years, so I will miss her terribly.

However, Carol's joyful, positive and beautiful spirit lives on in me and in her beloved family members and the other friends who loved her and benefited from her sunny personality. She faced many difficulties in her life, including health issues, the loss of her beloved husband and partner nine years before her own death, trials and tribulations with other family members, and much more. But she always kept her strong faith and her positive attitude. She considered herself blessed and lived a life of gratitude and of service to others. She retained a great sense of humor and a creative spirit that just didn't quit.

She and her husband, Jim, were role models to me in so many ways—not the least of which was in the role of grandparent. I learned so much from watching them, taking their examples and adding several of my own touches. I will ever be grateful for that.

Do you have people who were or are your role models or mentors? Are you aware of being a role model for anyone in your life?

It's important to be aware of those people and be grateful for their presence in your life. It's equally important to remember that someone may be watching your behavior and seeing you as a role model, too. As my sister often says, "Be an example, not a warning!"

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Be intentional. Live awake and aware.

AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins has written a book titled Disrupt Aging: A Bold New Path to Living Your Best Life at Every Age. She opens the book with a challenge that's worth thinking about:

If you knew you were going to live to be 100, what would you do differently today?

Would you eat differently? Exercise more?

Would you repair some broken relationships? Spend more time with those you love and who are supremely important to you? Reach out to make new friends?

Retire earlier? Or find a gratifying way to spend retirement, whether volunteering or in a third-stage-of-life career or simply playing more?

Would you write your life story for your children and grandchildren as a way to pass on your legacy?

Or would you travel to those places you'd always wanted to visit?

Do the things on your bucket list? Or create a bucket list, if you've not already done so?

It's worth reflecting on this if we want to be intentional about how we spend the moments, days and years that are given to us. Let us not sleepwalk through life and reach our final days with regret for the things we haven't done. Today is the day to start making any changes you desire.

Monday, July 23, 2018

'Live the questions'

I have a dear friend who has just been diagnosed with breast cancer. Someone told her that this is an opportunity to live as though all bets are off. It is really causing her to reflect on questions such as what to change, if anything, in her life. She's asked some of us, her friends, to reflect with her on that and other questions, such as: What are the most delicious parts of your life? What would you like more of? Less of?

Another thought she's had is what if the manifestation of her tumor were all the tears never cried and laughter never laughed? How can one add more laughter and tears into life? It's important to be honest and real about our emotions. Many of us have learned to hide them and carry on as though everything's just fine, thank you very much.

The journey my friend didn't sign up to take but has been drawn into also pulls those of us who are her friends onto a new path. It is a privilege and an opportunity for those of us who love her to also delve more deeply into our lives, to look more closely at why we're here and to live life more awake and aware.

It's time for me to dig out my journal and pose some of these questions as discussion starters for myself. At the same time, I'm aware of what poet Ranier Maria Rilke so wisely said:

"Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer."

Friday, July 20, 2018

Celebrate—early and often!

American operatic tenor Robert Brault has gifted us with many memorable quotes, one of which is: "Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things."

We can be so busy chasing the Big Dream that we don't even stop to notice the dozens of small miracles and moments that might take our breath away along the way. Let's remind one another to wake up and stay attentive and aware. For it's just as Brault said, we may realize that what we thought were simply little things really were the big things. They just might be the whole point!

Brault has also said, "There are exactly as many special occasions in life as we choose to celebrate." I love that one, too. Again, those small things we sometimes so easily overlook can be cause for celebration. Don't wait to light the candles, cut the flowers for the vase and pull out the best dishes for only birthdays or anniversaries. Celebrate the sunshine! Celebrate a friend's visit. Pull out all the stops and find lots of reasons to celebrate. Those little things ARE the big things and should be celebrated!

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

We can do more than we think

Have you ever thought or said, "I'm just one person. I can't really do anything about that problem." Yup, me too.

So here's a good quote to remember when you feel that way:

"I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I can't do interfere with what I can do."

Isn't that a lovely positive spin to the idea of just being one? Those words were penned by U.S. author and Unitarian clergy Edward Everett Hale. They are as apt today as they were when he wrote them in 1902.

In fact, I think these words would make a great wall hanging as a reminder to do what I can. If like me, you are trying to stay as positive as you can in the face of what seems to be an oppressive atmosphere of negativity these days, at the very least, these words might merit a Post-it note on our mirrors!

Monday, July 16, 2018

What's inside fear & loss?

I've often mentioned in my blogs that one of my favorite inspirational authors is Mark Nepo. I have read several of his books—and only recently, bought a couple more. One of those is Things That Join the Sea and the Sky: Field Notes on Living.

One of the things Nepo wrote in that book is:

"I don't know why, but for all I've been through—almost dying, almost living, seeking love till I've become love, seeking truth till I've become a question—for all of it, I'm certain that inside every nut is a seed. Inside every fear, a pin of light. Inside every desperation, a drop of being. Inside every loss, an inch of what can never be lost. And inside every burden, a pearl of worth. I don't know why, but I'm certain that the pearl of worth is waiting for us to dive to the bottom of all trouble, to pry the shell of burden open, and to bring the gem we were born to carry to the surface."

One of the images that come to mind when I read this is that of the Russian nesting dolls. When you remove the top of the largest doll, another doll is nesting inside. Take off the top of that doll and yet another smaller doll nests inside. This continues until you reach the tiniest doll of all, hidden inside all the others. And she doesn't come apart.

For certain—"inside every nut is a seed." I ask myself, do I take the time to look inside my fear? My desperation? My loss? My burden? If I do, that's where the riches can be found.

And what is the gem I was born to bring to the surface?

What about you?

Friday, July 13, 2018

Grandparenting as a role

My time with my 11-year-old granddaughter is nearing an end. She will fly back home to Oregon tomorrow. This two weeks with her has been such a joy.

It has been a reminder to me of the importance of various roles in our lives. The role of grandparent is one I take seriously. It's far different from being a parent—for in that role, we're responsible for the care and feeding of our children. A grandparent generally doesn't have that day-to-day responsibility but can enjoy the younger generation in a way we were too busy to do when we raised our children. Grandparents are role models and mentors, historians (telling the family stories and offering a window into their parent's childhood) and more; and we can spend more time having fun than one is able to do when one is busy parenting. We can love unconditionally, giving while expecting nothing specific in return. We worry less about discipline and, yes, we have the privilege of spoiling grandchildren. We can be the champions of our grandchildren.

If we have reached retirement, we have more time to play and do the activities we may not have had time for when we raised our grandchildren's parents! We may even have gotten our priorities straight after having lived several years! For example, I wish I had spent less time housecleaning when my sons were growing up. I like a clean house, but it didn't really have to be as clean as I felt it needed to be!

If you don't have grandchildren but have young nieces and nephews or have children of dear friends who could use some extra attention and love, I encourage you to get involved. There's so much to be gained by you and the child. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The eyes of another

I've been thinking a good deal these days about how to counteract the increasing sense of tribalism in our country and culture. It is all too easy to fall into it ourselves since we're so surrounded by such attitudes daily. It's too easy to hang out with those who think and feel as we do and to not listen to those who differ. It's easy to disregard viewpoints and people who don't agree with us. But that doesn't make us stronger and healthier. It doesn't make us better people, and it most definitely doesn't move this country forward.

I just read something that Henry David Thoreau said, and it really resonated: "Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each others' eyes for an instant?"

A miracle, he calls it! Yes, that really is a miracle. If I stop and look through the eyes of the other and see the world from that perspective, I will have a deeper understanding, not only of that person but undoubtedly also of myself—and perhaps of the entire universe. It's all in my attitude—and can make such a difference. I need to listen to those who differ from me.

I'm often struck by the term "Namaste" we say at the end of every yoga class I take. It's a beautiful and meaningful word. It means something like "the divine in me acknowledges the divine in you."

What if we approached everyone we met with such an attitude? What if we acknowledged the good in each person rather than approaching others with suspicion or even hatred? What if we took time to see the world through their eyes—even for just an instant, as Thoreau suggested?

Monday, July 9, 2018

Spend time with young people

My youngest granddaughter, who will be 12 in September, flew from Portland to Chicago as an unaccompanied minor more than a week ago to visit me for two weeks. We have been having so much fun together, and we still have the rest of this week to enjoy each other's company.

This time with Payton allows me to access the young girl in me again. It's a reminder that we still have inside us every age and stage we've ever been. The young girl is never totally gone, even when we're grandmas! Unfortunately, sometimes the stresses and strains of life cause us to forget the playfulness and wonder that we so easily accessed when we were far younger. Hanging out with young adults and young children helps us get back in touch with those qualities, however. It reminds us of the hope and optimism we felt before becoming so jaded.

If you have young children in your life, try to spend time with them whenever you can. It's good for us to embrace our playful side. It's healthy to see the world with awe, wonder and amazement. It's just plain fun to feel the joy and exuberance of even the most ordinary things in our daily life.

You're never too old to embrace your Inner Child!

Friday, July 6, 2018

Fears & confidence

I have long admired Eleanor Roosevelt. As a child, she had received strong messages about her flaws—to the point where I often wonder how she was able to eventually develop the sense of confidence that allowed her to take a public role. She definitely overcame many odds and was a woman before her time. Whether you agree with her politics or not, I am sure you can admire her for overcoming those old negative tapes and speaking out for things in which she believed.

One of the things that allowed her to do this was facing her fears. This is difficult for us all. Fears hold us back from so much in our life. The only way to move past fear is to look at it straight-on.

Here's what Roosevelt said about that: "You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I have lived through this horror; I can take the next thing that comes along.' You must do the thing you think you cannot do."

Yes, it's true. When you can look back at how you faced your fears and did something anyway, you tell yourself, "I can do this again."

What's holding you back today? What fears do you need to look in the face? Go ahead! You can do it.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Back to compassion again

A couple weeks ago, I heard a sermon about shame—urging us to let go of it so we can walk freely and fully as the people we were created to be. It was a good reminder to not get bound up in any old (or new) tapes that make us feel badly about who we are.

Then just a couple days ago, someone pointed out that Monica Lewinsky (remember her as the White House intern who was involved with President Bill Clinton?) had done a TED talk about that very topic. It is about shaming and bullying, both of which she experienced in a big way. Clearly, she has done a lot of inner work since that 1998 experience.

Among other things, Lewinsky said, "Public shaming as a blood sport has to stop. ...We need to return to our long-held value of compassion." Amen to that. Today there is so much name-calling, so many put-downs, so much bullying that's done 24/7 because of all the digital access we have to one another now. Incivility is rampant.

But here's the deal: Each one of us can do something about it. We can stop reacting with our own form of bullying and shaming. We can call it out when we see or hear it. We can restore compassion to our lives so that it ripples out to all those around us. We can have compassion for ourselves when we mess up, and we can show compassion to all others we meet (and those we don't meet but with whom we have access via digital means).

If you would like to hear the full TED talk, which is worth watching, click on the link I've provided here.

So here's to more compassion and less shaming and bullying!

Monday, July 2, 2018

Regaining balance

 My sister and I have been battling since last fall with a financial institution over a long-term care insurance claim for a family member who has dementia. The first two attempts at a claim were denied on the basis of this not being a "chronic illness"!! Seriously. We were not about to give up, however, since the contract clearly stated that assisted living costs were covered for "cognitive impairment," which dementia certainly is. Sorry, folks, but it is chronic.

We provided all manner of proof—doctor's statements, neurologist reports, results from a battery of neuropsych tests, a care plan by the assisted living facility stating all the staff needed to do to assist with daily living, etc. By the third time we made the claim, we even involved a lawyer. Even so, we had to wait for nearly 3 months to finally receive notice that the claim was accepted. Not only did the company finally agree to pay but, per our request (though we dared not hope for this), made it retroactive to the time of our first claim.

So let's hear it for tenacity and persistence. That said, however, I was reminded a few days ago by a care practitioner that when we have fought so long for something, it's difficult to let go and get out of the "fight or flight" mode. I am definitely learning that. I celebrate this win and at the same time, I am still feeling that sense of high alert. This practitioner said it can take a while to reach homeostasis after such a long struggle. That was a good reminder.

If you have some ongoing stressful situation that's required you to struggle for something or against something, just remember this. Don't think something is wrong with you if you can't immediately let go of the situation. Take some deep breaths ... and slowly, let your body and mind relax again. You will regain your balance. It just takes time. And it does help to talk about it with others. Please contact me if you need to discuss this type of thing with someone.