Friday, August 31, 2018

Gifts & gratitude

Do you have someone who's a real light in your life? Someone whose life and words shine brightly and inspire you? Have you told this person how their light brightens your path?

It's so easy to take for granted friends and family—or even a coffee barrista or service professional—who provide positive examples for us and who inspire us. But we shouldn't.

With so much negative energy and incivility rampant all around us, it's really important to express our gratitude daily for the gifts we receive. It's good for us, and our hearts, to do so. And it's so important to tell others the ways in which they matter to us—to say "Thank you" for the light they shine on our path. You can make someone's day or week just by doing so!

I love sending cards via snail mail. It always surprises people to get mail that isn't a bill or a donation request. But there are many ways to express your gratitude these days: a phone call, a text, email, snail mail, flowers or even a box of fruit accompanied by a note.

Who would you like to say "Thank you" to today? How will you do so?

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Less talking, more listening

We've talked before in these blogs about all the shouting across an ever-widening chasm that's occurring in our country and our world. Who's listening? Where will it all end? Is it possible to reintroduce civility and respect to our culture again?

So it was with interest that I read the following in Karen Armstrong's wonderful book Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life:

"There is much talk of the need for dialogue as a way of improving international relations. But will it be Socratic [where listening rather than winning a debate is important] or an aggressive dialogue that seeks to humiliate, manipulate, or defeat? Are we prepared to 'make place for the other,' or are we determined simply to impose our own will? An essential part of this dialogue must be the effort to listen. We have to make a more serious effort to hear one another's narratives."

Can we hear one another's stories? And do so without judgment, knowing that the emotional component of someone's story can hold deep pain and meaning that impacts behavior in ways we can't always understand. As Armstrong said, "We need to listen to the undercurrent of pain in our enemy's story. And we should be aware as well that our version of the same event is also likely to be a reflection upon our own situation and suffering rather than a dispassionate and wholly factual account." Cut others some slack. Be gentle with one another since we don't know all that's going on for the other. And listen. Really listen—whether you see this person as enemy or friend.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Wake up to wonder

Sometimes I wonder whether we have to face crisis or illness before we wake up to the wonder of all that life offers. Can we not live fully without the threat of losing our life, our health or loved ones?

Mark Nepo, in his book Inside the Miracle: Enduring Suffering, Approaching Wholeness, speaks about his cancer and says:

"Each significant death to this point has made me reassess who I am and what I'm doing. The shock of life's fragility has made me change so as not to waste the thread of time I have. But after my own illness, I am living fully, not wasting a moment, not squandering a chance, not racing toward tomorrow or burrowing in the past."

In this same book he says:

"There is no question that the experience of great breaking brings with it a terrible knowledge that is life altering. And whether that breaking comes about by accident, injustice, abuse, or disease, suddenly and irrevocably we become forever aware that out of nowhere a force can come at any time without warning to remove or damage whatever it is that we hold dear."

Yes, for sure these things are true. And despite that—or perhaps because of it—we can and must open to the wonder and beauty of life. Live each moment. Gratefully.

Friday, August 24, 2018

What have you learned about life and yourself?

I'm intrigued with a question that I just saw raised earlier this week: What is the most important thing you've learned about life and about yourself in the last 10 years?

Do you need time to think about that one? Or do you know right off the top of your head what your response would be?

My response might seem like a "duh" response to you—but I would have to say that my answer would be that I really have no control over much of anything! I can control how I respond to life events. But try as I might, I cannot control my environment and the things that happen. I don't wish to control others, but I realize how much I try to manage things in my life so that I know what will happen and when. And it really doesn't work. So what I need to learn is to be comfortable with letting life and events unfold as they will. I can't know what's coming. It just doesn't work that way. I want to learn how to ride the waves more easily, trusting that somehow things will all work out.

It sounds utterly ridiculous when I write this down. But it's true, so I may as well admit it and work on being more flexible and open to process and unfolding!

Have you thought about your answer(s) yet?

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

'Argue to learn'

Recently I heard some interesting thoughts on the concept of arguments. The speaker urged us to not avoid arguing. Rather, he said that we need to model for children and others that there are, in fact, many valid viewpoints. Arguing or debating them is healthy and normal. Having said that, there is a difference between healthy debate and angry, argumentative discussions!

The speaker gave some good advice that touched on this point, though. He said: Don't argue to win. Argue to learn!

Think about that. What a difference that makes to a discussion or a debate, doesn't it? If we approach such arguments with an open mind to learn a) how the other person views the subject, and b) what new information we may learn about the topic, how much better our relationships would be and how much more we would gain from debates. This is a whole new perspective on arguing.

It's definitely advice I'm going to remember ... and try to employ more often than not.

What do you think?

Monday, August 20, 2018

Life lessons & laughter

Recently a friend sent me a list of witticisms that make so much sense. Today all we need are a handful of these to ponder—and send us on our way into a new week! I hope they make you laugh, too—or at least smile.

—Always keep your words soft and sweet, just in case you have to eat them.
—Never put both feet in your mouth at the same time because then you won't have a leg to stand on.
—Nobody cares if you can't dance well. Just get up and dance!
—Birthdays are good for you. The more you have, the longer you live!
—A truly happy person is one who can enjoy the scenery on a detour.
—Accept the fact that some days you're the pigeon, and some days you're the statue!
—Never buy a car you can't push.
—Drive carefully. It's not only cars that can be recalled by their Maker!

And, for a chocoholic like me, this one is really important:
—Save the earth. It's the only planet with chocolate!

Friday, August 17, 2018

Grief in all its forms

Two of my close friends died during the month of July, one older than me and one younger. So I have entered the world of grief again. I know that if I don't tend to the grieving process now, the grief will simply stay buried inside me until some new grief comes into my life—and then I'll have to deal with the whole lot of it at once. And that can really pack a punch.

There are so many causes for grief and so many types. I've long said that each loss contains multiple losses embedded within it. For example, if you have lost your job, you also have loss of income, loss of identity, loss of colleagues and perhaps even friendships, loss of meaning, loss of focus—and so much more.

Recently, in a retreat center's catalog of offerings, I saw a seminar listed that would take a look at how to find one's way through loss. It had a name for all these smaller losses within the big loss: It called them "secondary losses" or even "loss of the assumptive world." I'd never heard those terms before but they really fit.

Years ago I wrote a resource on grief for the women's organization of my church body, and I talked about these other losses. I didn't have a name for them then. If you are interested in this resource, click on this link.

And if you face any type of loss right now, I encourage you to face it and grieve. Remember, death isn't the only loss in life. We lose friends, jobs, homes, physical and mental abilities and so much more. All of it requires a grief process.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

How do you want to live? And die?

I'm reading a book titled Being Mortal by Atul Gawande, and it's definitely resonating with me. Why am I reading it? Over the past couple years, it's been recommended to me two or three times by people whose judgment I trust. When that happens, I generally take notice. I'm really glad I did. Last week, when it was recommended to me again, I went straight to my local library.

Gawande, a practicing surgeon, opens up the world of end-of-life issues and in the process, talks about how to improve life itself. He looks at the type of decisions that need to be made when one faces cancer, for example. Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, he argues that people want quality of life and that will differ for each individual. So he says we should consider questions such as: What are my fears? My hopes? What do I want my last days, weeks, months and years to look like? What are my goals as I age? What's most important? What am I willing to give up to have what I want?

If we can answer questions such as those, we can work together with medical staff to come up with treatments that are right for us. And, if we can answer those, we can improve quality of life right now!

I have a dear friend facing breast cancer, and I also have several other friends in various stages of cancer treatment. Some choose experimental drugs. Some go the traditional route. Yet others want to try alternative therapies. If I were facing some form of cancer today, I honestly don't know what I would decide to do. But I think these questions are excellent ones to consider. In fact, I would argue that we shouldn't wait until we have some medical issue or emergency to ask (and answer) such questions. We should give it some thought now, record it and keep it in an accessible place—and we should let our loved ones know. It's never too early for such conversations with family and/or friends. And it's never too early to change our lifestyle and make choices that improve our quality of life right here, right now.

Monday, August 13, 2018

'A life well loved'

I may have mentioned before that I like the Magnolia Manifesto that's printed in The Magnolia Journal: Inspiration for Life and Home magazine I receive. This is done by Joanna and Chip Gaines of HGTV fame. Forgive me if I've already quoted from it before. I don't recall. Even if I have, some things bear repeating!

The Manifesto says, in part:

"We believe:
—that failure needn't be a negative thing; rather, we learn from our mistakes and fail smarter next time.
—in courage, in cartwheeling past our comfort zones and trying something a little bit scary every day.
—in subtle beauty, the kind that doesn't deteriorate with age or wear.
...and of all heroic pursuits large or small, we believe there may be none greater than a life well loved."

What more can I even add? Learning from mistakes? Definitely! Beauty that goes much further than skin deep? Oh, yes! And a life well loved? Indeed. Love wins!

Friday, August 10, 2018

Making our time count

I just read a beautiful poem by Brazilian poet, novelist, essayist and musicologist Mario de Andrade, and I want to share a couple of lines. They are worth hearing and pondering, in my humble opinion.

Andrade says, "I counted my years and realized that I have less time to live by than I have lived so far. ...I have no time for endless meetings where the statutes, rules, procedures and internal regulations are discussed, knowing that nothing will be done. ... I want to surround myself with people who know how to touch the hearts of those whom hard strokes of life have learned to grow with sweet touches of the soul."

There are many good lines in between those two. If you want the entire poem, do a Google search for "My Soul Has a Hat." It definitely is worth a read.

This is about making whatever days remain to us quality days, not just filling them up with fluff. What a great reminder!

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Control & fears

As I watch a beloved family member struggle with dementia, I am getting in touch with my own fears about just how I will age. Will I, too, have to face what he and millions in our country deal with in the last quarter of life?

Try as we might to keep our minds sharp, eat well, exercise our bodies, get sufficient sleep and do all the other things we're encouraged to do to stay healthy for as long as possible, we know that there are no guarantees. That doesn't mean we shouldn't do those things. It does mean, however, that even as we do, we should be realistic about the fact that we aren't really in control. Sadly, we don't get to check boxes of what we'd prefer to have or not have as we age!

I'm an Enneagram Type 8, and the basic fear of this type is of being controlled or harmed by others. So control is a key issue for my personality type. The basic desire for an 8 is "to determine their own course in life," and the superego message is, "You are good or okay if you are strong and in control of your situation," according to Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson in their (wonderful) book, The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

But, of course, that's unrealistic, isn't it? I'll never be completely "in control of [my] situation." And that's where letting go comes in. Control is an illusion and I need to let go. At the same time, I need to directly face my fear about whether I will face dementia at some point in my life. There's really nothing I can do about it—at least not beyond the usual efforts to stay sharp and healthy.

Do you have something you fear? Are you able to confront it head-on? And does it conflict with any desires or fears that are basic to your personality? These are all questions worth pondering. If you wish to discuss them further, I invite you to contact me for a no-obligation, complimentary coaching session.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Begin with a thankful heart

How do you begin your day? Do you wake up and think (or say), "Oh, darn, I have so much to do today! How will I ever get it all done? I wish I could just skip to the end of this day."

Or do you awaken, grateful that you made it through the night and now have a brand new day ahead of you? Are you thankful for the ability to do the things you need to do?

Do you face the day with grumbling—or with gratitude?

You may think it doesn't make a difference. Why should it matter? But just experiment a little. Try it both ways and just see how your day goes.

Personally, I find my days much better when I start them with an attitude of gratitude. It doesn't necessarily change what happens in a day. I still have the same to-do list. I still have the same list of events on the calendar. But what it changes is me. A spirit of thankfulness changes how I see the events of the day. It changes how I view my tasks.

Rather than grumble because I have to clean the house today (a job I really don't enjoy), I try to switch my attitude to one of gratitude that I have a house in which to live and that I'm physically able to clean it. I'm human; so, of course, I still grumble more than I should. But I really am trying to live more in an attitude of thankfulness.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Values & time

Last month two of my dear friends died unexpectedly. It's a poignant reminder to me that each day is gift—and that those who grace my life are also gifts. It reminds me that I should say "I love you" whenever I have the opportunity and that I should savor my moments and days.

I already miss Carol and Sandra and know that as time passes, I will miss them even more. The grief is fresh now so it doesn't yet seem quite real that I'll never see them again. Yet at the same time, I'm extremely grateful for the legacy each of these women leaves behind. I'm so thankful they were part of my life. I have learned much from both of them, and I have wonderful memories of times spent in their company.

Whose legacy makes a difference in your life today? For whom are you grateful in your life right now? Have you told them that?

It's easy to get caught up in to-do lists and the "shoulds" of life and neglect time with the people in our lives, whether that be family or friends. In the end, it really won't matter that all our tasks got checked off some to-do list and our house was kept spotlessly clean. What will matter is how we tended the relationships with which we were blessed. I've always said that I seriously doubt on my deathbed that I'll regret that I didn't do more work. I'm pretty sure any regrets I do have at that point (and I hope to limit those as much as possible!) will be more about not giving enough time and attention to those people I love and treasure.

I want to be present to those who grace my life and to those whose path crosses mine. I want to savor my days and make the most of whatever time yet remains to me. I don't want to spend my time on those things that really don't reflect my true values—and what I value so deeply are my connections with others.

What about you? Are you living your values? Are you savoring your moments?

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Thank you's are so important

It's a beautiful thing to live with gratitude in your heart. It makes each day more pleasurable—for you and for all those around you.

Here's a question, though: Do you ever feel gratitude about something someone has done for you and
think it would be a good idea to write a thank-you note expressing that? And then you don't follow through?

Yes, I've done that, too. I'm trying to be far better about that lately. I am aware that when we're extremely unhappy about something, we'll tell others—and most likely, even that person who caused the unhappiness. So how much more should we follow through when we're grateful for what someone else did?

People love to get mail—so a thank-you card or letter is even better than a thank-you email. Still, a thank-you phone call or email can go a long way to making someone's day even better, too!

Who do you need to thank today? Don't put it off. Sit down right now and take care of it. If that's impossible, be sure to add it to your to-do list. And don't forget!