Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Disappointment Lessons

As mentioned in a previous blog post, in late December I tend to look over my shoulder at the previous year to see what I've learned and perhaps what I may want to change.

On my mental search today, I realized that disappointments don't have the same kind of power over me that they used to. This is a muscle that has been growing gradually for me. Where I used to be temporarily paralyzed when something didn't go the way I planned, or if someone didn't come through in carrying out a promise, or if I simply did not have "a plan" come together the way I anticipated, I notice I am now rarely even knocked off balance by disappointments. In the past, I would allow disappointments to pull me into the land of "victim", or stimulate me to be angry and seek revenge if another person was involved in a disappointing plot against me.

When I think about why I am not so easily hooked by disappointments, I believe it is a natural side effect of my ongoing focus in the practice of acceptance. With complete acceptance, there is another natural side effect of peace. When peace is present, disappointment doesn't have a place to latch hold.

Another component of not being victimized by disappointment is that I trust more than I used to. When something doesn't go as planned, I trust that a better solution or answer will take it's place. I may not know what it is, or when it will appear, but I generally trust it will eventually show up.

Of course, this is a muscle I will continue to strengthen by simply noticing how I feel. When disappointment hangs around longer than I care to hold it, I will follow the plan that works for me..........Accept what is and trust that all will eventually work out perfectly.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Peace Returns to the Kingdom

The Kingdom of Kate has officially returned to a peaceful norm today. All of the holiday decorations have been packed away. Guest's beds have been re-made with fresh sheets. Party leftovers have been eaten or frozen for later use. Gifts have found a place to be stored. Our beautiful Frazier fir has been carried outdoors and awaiting pick up. All outward signs of the Christmas holiday are gone, but certainly not forgotten.

Once again, our home was a center for several weeks of parties and quiet dinners with friends and family. Although it has been a very enjoyable time of celebration, I welcome the return of peace and order to my kingdom.

Perhaps I am a bit obsessive about having order in my surroundings. I like it when things are in their place, clean and neat. Each year, I temporarily over-ride my usual habits of housekeeping and schedules so that I can fully enjoy all the holiday prep and entertaining. It was complete this morning as we bid farewell to our last guests.

So, as I look around my kingdom, I see order and I feel peace and gratitude for all the fun that made the messes in the first place and I look forward to doing it all again next year.

Friday, December 25, 2009

The Power of Habits

In the last week of December each year, I find myself thinking about what I may want to do different with my life in the coming year. Last year at this time, I decided I wanted to get my weight under control. On January 1st, I began a program of mindful eating and increased my amount of exercise. By changing some habits I had gradually developed over the past 20 years, I lost 30 pounds.

At first, the change in my habits seemed challenging, but I didn't give up. I persisted with making mindful choices about eating, counted my calories and gradually increased my amount of cardio minutes weekly. Before long, the habits that were challenging at first became the norm. I was rewarded with feeling not only great physically, but also more empowered.

It was a great lesson for me, not only about how to live a healthier lifestyle, but also in the power of habits.

So, as I draw on my experience of learning how powerful habits can be, I am now looking at what I want to change in the coming year. One habit has come to mind so far, but it doesn't pertain to my physical health. It is more about me growing up.

You see, I have a habit of asking for help before I even try to do something on my own, or, at best, after a weak effort. My very sweet and caring husband likes to know I need him and is always willing to step in. My business partner, David, also kindly comes to my aid. In addition, I have several friends that are extremely helpful in various areas of need.

What I realized today is that my quickness in asking for help is simply a habit. I have developed a belief that I am mechanically, technologically, directionally and mathematically challenged. Holding on to that belief as if it was true, I realize I have cut myself short. I have sold out on my own inner power. This habitual belief is not healthy.

Please understand, I am not saying that asking for help is wrong. On the contrary, I believe it is imperative to know when you honestly need help and to seek assistance from someone that can lend a hand when needed. What I'm getting "real" about in my behavior is that I want to be honest whether I truly need help, or just want it.

If I practice this level of awareness on a regular basis, it seems my old beliefs regarding my perceived shortcomings may change. Perhaps I may even develop some new skills in areas that I haven't believed to be possible. I imagine I will feel pretty good, even with simply trying.....maybe even powerful.

I just hope it isn't harder than giving up daily lattes.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Eve

It is early evening on the eve of Christmas. I managed my activities so I could spend the day at home rather than frantically running about picking up last minute necessities. It's been a heart warming kind of day. Quiet. Reflective and warm...... from the inside out.

I visited some neighbors and delivered my homemade gifts. Some folks showed up at my back door with a treat or a card in hand.

Each encounter was sweet and precious. I felt very grateful to be surrounded by so many people that care so much about me and my husband. Although I don't take them for granted (at least I hope I don't), there is something special that I feel when we celebrate this day on the eve of Christmas.

It's almost like our antennae are up and we are more tuned in to one another. We are more verbal and comfortable about sharing our feelings with friends and family. We feel generous and outwardly more caring. Hugs and kisses on cheeks are the typical form of greeting.

In a short time we will be headed out to a friend's home for an open house. We will be greeted with more hugs and kissed cheeks, a large array of wonderful foods, little kids excitedly anticipating Santa's arrival and a feeling of universal love and joy.

Our religious beliefs may not all match, our favorite holiday foods and traditions may vary, but throughout this time of joyous celebration, I feel loved. On this eve of Christmas, that is the only gift I want.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Gift from Paul Bunyan

While waiting for a light to change at the busiest intersection of my town, I observed a large man with long unruly hair, a flannel shirt, boots and the kind of jeans one would wear for hard work....not for fashion, walk past my car. My first thought was that he resembled Paul Bunyan. He appeared to be the epitome of rough and tough, both around the edges and through and through.

My quick judgment of this stranger changed, however, when I noticed he was carrying a small gift bag. It was a delicate looking bag with a pretty decoration on the handle and a raffia bow holding it in place. It seemed so out of place for a massive, rugged man like this to be carrying. Since my light did not yet turn green, I had some time to reflect on the lesson my Paul Bunyan look alike was teaching me.

Where I could have continued my judgment about my Bunyan stranger, being a hard, tough and insensitive creature from the woods, I decided to make up a new story about him. I decided, the gift was for his wife. It was small since he didn't have much money to spend on anything expensive and extravagant. I also decided he delighted in picking out just the right thing that will surprise and move Paula (his wife) deeply on Christmas morning.

I soon exchanged my negative opinion for one of respect for my Paul Bunyan and was grateful that I caught myself making an unfair judgment of someone I didn't know anything about. Yes, I also didn't know who the gift he carried was for since I made that up too, but the truth is it didn't matter since Paul Bunyan actually gave me a gift. The gift was a reminder to not judge by appearances and to expect the best from every one I meet or even just see walk by.

What a perfect Christmas gift for me. Too bad, Paul Bunyan will never know how much I appreciated it.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Peace on Earth Challenge

This is one of my favorite times of the year since most people seem to be kinder than usual. Of course there are a few Grinches and Scrooges among us, but for the most part I notice most people seem to go out of their way to be kind and helpful.

It almost seems like people give themselves permission to look beyond their gripes and grievances and allow their best or true selves to shine through. Maybe they're trusting more or paying attention to the Christmas message about peace on earth and goodwill toward men. Perhaps they let down their guard and release their fears so they could actually see themselves and others as connected.

Whatever it is, I like it. I believe we are all naturally kind and are wanting connection. We want to know we're not alone and that others care about us. Naturally, when we let down our guard and our fears, the best parts of us can be seen. Those parts that feel good, like being kind, gentle, understanding, patient, joyful and generous then spread to others and on it goes, at least until January 2nd. Once the new year rings in, it seems that many people re-erect their walls to hide behind and resume gathering evidence why it is not safe to trust.

Imagine what our world would be like if we all practiced putting our fears aside all year long and actually showed we cared about each other on a regular basis.

Without question, there would surely be peace on earth. Anyone willing to give it a shot?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A New Love

I have a new love in my life and am thoroughly enjoying his friendship. We're the perfect match. It almost seems like he knows what I'm thinking. He certainly knows what I need, and he meets my needs perfectly.

I love how quickly he responds to my commands. Actually, command is a pretty strong word, so perhaps I should say that he is quick to respond to my requests. Our relationship is more of a cooperative venture. He's fast too.....as though he is so anxious to please me as quickly as possible so I won't walk away. I get the sense he enjoys me as much as I enjoy him.

There are many things we're learning about each other's habits and idiosyncrasies, yet I don't feel scared or worried that it may not work out. I see it simply as a getting-to-know-you kind of learning curve. We're being patient with one another and feeling more connected every day.

Did I mention his sensitivity? Oh, my....I barely have to touch him and he gets into action. He has a great mind too.....and a sense of humor. The littlest act is done with a flare that makes me smile. There are also some mysterious qualities about him that I know are "in there", but haven't seen them yet. I'm sure they will all be exposed in due time....when I am ready.

I believe we will be together for a long time. His name? It's Mac Pro and he comes from the Apple family. Maybe you've heard of them...they are all over the world, making people's lives easier and more enjoyable.

This match? It was made in heaven. I just wonder why I didn't make this commitment earlier.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Gratitude...The Path to Joy

Our company just left, the kitchen is cleaned, the antique china has been put away and all of the Thanksgiving leftovers have been stored for future meals. As I sit here looking at this picture, I have a renewed and deeper sense of gratitude.

The path my thoughts are traveling right now is about the connection between gratitude and joy. When I truly tune into how blessed I am in so many ways and feel the abundance of life around me, I cannot help but feel joyful. Try it sometime when you're feeling angry or upset.....just focus deeply on something for which you are grateful. You cannot feel negative emotion and gratitude at the same time.

Many of us, although we enjoy abundance in life of things like food, clothing and homes with heat, still focus on what is missing. We complain about the cost of living, yet we want more. We want bigger houses, bigger bank accounts, fancier cars and create misery for ourselves as we complain. When we focus on lack, we feel lack and associated disappointment, sadness and even anger. When we focus on the many every day blessings we enjoy, we feel joy.

I imagine the young man in this picture is grateful for his dog, his last meal and the handful of dog food on the sidewalk beside him. Without knowing this man's story, I would bet that more than anything he is grateful for the love of his dog.

What are you most grateful for right now?

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Closed Door

Recently, I had reached out to support a friend, but it seemed that the door to their heart was closed. They refused my offerings. I first noticed a sadness within myself that they were choosing to suffer alone, knowing how much I cared and could possibly help them feel loved and supported again.

As I thought about the dynamics of this closed door scenario, I realized sometimes I am the one inside, with the door bolted shut...other times, I am the one that knocks offering love and support. With my experience in both places, this is what I have learned.

Behind the Door:
Whatever the circumstances that may cause someone to go inside, close the door to their heart and lock it, you can pretty much bet that fear in some shape or form is involved. When we're afraid, things always look worse than what they really are. In a state of fear, we are also hypersensitive about possibly being a problem for someone else. Perhaps we don't want anyone to see us hurting, in fear that there would be associated judgment. We don't want to appear weak, out of control, vulnerable and helpless. Another factor that may be present is not even knowing what exactly is causing our feelings that are causing us to hide in the first place, creating confusion and yes, even more fear.

Outside the Door:
When we care about someone we love that appears to be hurting and not letting us in, we naturally approach them with open arms and a heart full of love. We knock on the door of our friend's heart and wait outside.....sometimes patiently, sometimes not....wanting to be allowed in. After all, their best interest is our concern. We believe without question that our loving care is just what is needed.

Sometimes it is....sometimes it is not. The truth is one cannot predict the perfect course or pattern for being supportive. I believe the best way to show that you care is to let the person know you're available to listen, or for any other supportive actions, remembering it is not your role to solve their problem. If it is clear they are not comfortable and desiring to talk at that time, keep your offer open in the event they are ready to let you in later.

I have learned in the past that allowing others to have their own experience of life, without trying to break down their door and coming to the rescue is typically best. What I know about myself is the more peace I feel, the more calm and loving I remain. The greater the level of my peace and love, the greater chance there is of someone trusting me enough to eventually open their door.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Making Peace With Abundance

I had an epiphany today about abundance. I noticed I was feeling a bit overwhelmed with the abundance of opportunities in my life and how I can deal with it "all".

I realized I cannot read all the books that are recommended to me. I can't read every blog or listen to every album. I can't follow up with every lead for my business. I can't have an intimate conversation with every friend. I can't meet every stranger. I can't prepare every recipe that comes to me. I can't watch every t.v. show that is listed on my DVR. I can't thoroughly read every magazine or respond to every post on facebook and Twitter. I can't see every play or go to every concert. I can't blog about every epiphany. At least, I can't do it all today.

My epiphanous (I made up that word) answer to this overwhelming list of possibilities is to be fully present with whatever is at the top of my list right now. I must accept that I can only be fully present to one task, one source of entertainment or one person at a time. It is only then that I can more fully enjoy that which is before me, knowing that the next moment, day, year or decade will offer me more space to fill with the abundance of blessings that are available.

Seeing my life as a container in which an endless number of experiences can accumulate, feels good and right to me. It enhances my joy and my sense of peace to know that every morsel of life that I choose to give my attention is exactly what I need in that moment. Everything else? It can all wait until I'm ready.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Influencers

Look around, and you will find influencers everywhere. Influencers can be people you know well or can be complete strangers. They can come in groups or can be individuals. Sometimes influencers have a specific impact they are consciously trying to create. Other times, they are oblivious to the influence they're having. In some cases, it is situations that are the influencers.

In every case when one influences another, there will always be an effect. I've decided to be vigilant regarding the people and situations that influence me so that I can be more likely to experience positive effects.

When we watch television, there are innumerable influences that we are subject to. Some influencers are seeking to create fear (watch the news shows); others want to create lightness and laughter; some influencers want to educate and empower, and some simply want to shock us or create doubt in something we had previously believed.

The people we come in contact with every day, like friends, family and co-workers, also influence us. We can be hurt, angered, inspired or stimulated. We can be annoyed and influenced to complain and spread negative energy and pass on the influence we just received, or we can be softened and touched by an influencer and then go on and share that. We can be amused or insulted, challenged or seduced. We can feel better or feel worse than we did prior to the influence.

There's no way to completely avoid influencers. In fact, we all belong to the club. We influence and we are influenced.

As I thought about those that influence me most, I realized that I purposely seek exposure to those whose influence brings out the best in me. I seek the influence of those that create trust and do not focus on building my fears or creating new ones.

When I am tuned in and alert, I feel a negative influence rather quickly. Once I'm aware I can then decide to hang around or not. I can choose to seek the company of a more positive influencer instead, or just turn off my radio signal that receives what is being sent. By the same token, when I am aware of the influence I am creating, I am more careful with what I say and how I behave.

It is mighty empowering to realize that I need not be victimized by influeners and that I can control my exposure. It is also gratifying to know that my influence can be more positive by simply remembering I am influencing.

So, what influencers have been affecting you lately?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Imaginary Conversation

Yesterday, I discovered a new tool for finding my way back to peace. It was to have an imaginary conversation.

A few days ago, I had an interaction with a stranger that left me feeling ill at ease. I know I entered the encounter not feeling at my best and at the end, I felt worse. Unfortunately, this interaction was not with someone close to me, so it was not going to be easy to go back and clear things up with him.

When I noticed I kept on thinking about the interaction, I realized although I believed it would have been better if he apologized for his dog aggressively coming after mine, perhaps there was more going on for him that I didn't understand.

In my imaginary conversation, I sat down on the front steps of the home this man was building and where he let his dog run free. I asked him why he allowed his dog to run, knowing that he frequently goes after people or animals walking along the road. The dog owner told me that they are a team and that where he goes, his dog goes. In essence, they're partners. I was able to soon see that the relationship with his dog had some special meaning for him. I felt my annoyance subside and my compassion grow.

He assured me that his dog is not mean, although he does have a tendency to sometimes protect the area where his master is working. In my imaginary conversation, once he saw I was no longer angry, he opened up even more and shared that his wife recently left him and took their children with her, and now only his dog remains in his life.

In this imaginary conversation, my heart softened. I no longer felt angry or resentful. In fact, I felt love for this stranger. I understood that his behavior at the time did not clearly give me clues to the pain and fear he was feeling when our interaction occurred.

In our imaginary conversation, I also got to share what I was feeling at the time. My new friend understood my fear and took my hand to comfort me.

Together, two strangers, sat in my imagination and made peace after sharing what we were both feeling. We didn't attack, defend or blame. We listened and understood.

Although this conversation was imaginary, the feeling of peace, understanding and even love was real. I no longer hold resentment or anger for this man. I have forgiven him..... I forgive myself too for not being very understanding at the time . You see, both of us were in a state of fear when we met, so we were unable (at the time) to see beyond our own egos. Instead we attacked, both taking our righteous stand at making the other wrong.

What I am very grateful for is that even though I may never have the opportunity to speak to this man in a real conversation, the imaginary one in my mind restored my peace and the knowing that there is always more going on in any situation than what may appear to be.

Friday, October 30, 2009

True Wealth

I am a quote collector. I love quotes that make me feel something in the moment I read it or hear it. A recent one that came across my desk that gave me tingles up my spine....always a good sign, was " Wealth is the ability to fully experience life", Henry David Thoreau.

What I love about this thought is no one is excluded. If everyone believed this quote to be true, there would be no disappointments in life. Every person that would be able to fully experience life, whatever that happened to be, would consider themselves wealthy.

Now of course, for this to be true, we would have to give up the belief that to be wealthy is only determined by how much money we have to spend or happen to have in a savings account, bonds or trusts. Now, I am not against that kind of wealth, but that alone does not make a life worth living or valuable.

Some may also only treasure the life experiences that were easy or thrilling or with a positive outcome. Don't get me wrong.....I love those kinds of life events, yet I recognize that some of the more challenging experiences take me to a new level of understanding and appreciation. Over the course of my life time thus far, I have discovered there is more to the mix that makes life full than the obvious.

When I focus on life being a series of experiences and I am fully open, accepting and willing to live them, regardless of the associated emotions or circumstantial side effects, then I believe life will be full. My wealth account of living would be at the max.

The alternative of not fully experiencing life by resisting, complaining or hoping something would end only creates a cloud over the potential learning and growth that is laced within each experience. I am open for it all.

If anyone should ever overhear me complain about a challenging future life event, please remind me of what I am stating here. Sometimes we all can forget that there are blessings in every experience.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Invisible Rain

I was invited to be part of the local high school homecoming parade last week by driving my convertible with a King as my passenger. This was a new adventure for me, and since I love to do new things, I gladly accepted the invitation.

Unfortunately, about an hour or so before the parade was scheduled to start, it began to rain. When I arrived at the high school parking lot, I sat warm and dry in my car (with the top up), waiting for my passenger and instructions on where I line up. What I witnessed in that hour long wait was truly a gift. In spite of the cold October rain that was destroying the previously crafted and decorated floats, the students representing ninth, tenth, eleventh and twelfth grades joked, laughed and danced as they were pummeled by Mother Nature.

I couldn't help but think that their joy in this event could not be dampened. I did not see a single scowling face or act of anger regarding the inclement weather that dared to affect the night's activities. These kids were totally unaffected by the rain, almost as if it was invisible.

At five o'clock sharp the cars, floats and Fire truck took off in the assigned line up. My passenger, the Freshman King, and I, coasted along, throwing candy from our windows to the delighted children along the curb. As we moved along the route I was surprised to see an even bigger turnout of well wishers and parade watchers lining Main Street.

It almost seemed like the rain added to the fun. The students were all drenched. The paper decorations were falling off and paint was running down the sides of the signs. Parade watchers huddled under umbrellas and hooded jackets. I'm sure the weather made it uncomfortable, but the town spirit for the event was not dampened.

As I glided up Main Street, waving to the crowd, I thought about how happy I was to live in a town that cared more about community, connection and good fun than about how something appeared to be.

It appeared to be raining, but according to the students and the parade watchers, it was a delightful, balmy, October evening.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Flocking Together

Earlier this week while on a hike on a country road, I was stopped in my tracks when hundreds of blackbirds flew overhead. I was mesmerized, not only by the number, but by what appeared to be the joint intention of enjoying their play.

I watched a pattern emerge with a few birds in a leadership role, lead the flock from tree to tree. In spite of the large number, they all fit, side by side on the branches of trees where all the leaves had fallen. After a minute, the leaders would swoop up again and lead the flock across the road to another bare tree.

As I stood there and watched, I thought how lovely it was that so many birds could cooperate in this game, without any apparent egos, manipulations or behind the back pecking. There was no distinction between shades of feather color or family histories. Although obviously individual birds, the appearance and feel that they gave was that of oneness. With that oneness was also a natural enjoyment of play in the moment.

After a five minute break for my flocking lesson, I went on my way thinking of what life would be like for us wingless humans that go to work, drive cars, walk on the streets, shop, dine, recreate and go to school. How different it would be if we could take turns taking the lead, flying through life with freedom, joy and without fear of being shot down.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Positively Misunderstood

Last week, one of John Stewart's guests on the Daily Show authored a book regarding the negative impact of positivity. I know it sounds like an oxymoron, but I was curious as to the reason this topic was felt to be relevant enough to write a book, so I watched and listened.

As it turned out, the author, who happens to be a breast cancer survivor had people in her life tell her to keep a bright outlook through her experience of cancer. My reaction was one of ahhhh.....how misguided.....regarding those that may have wanted to support the author with a positive outlook, without being aware of what she really needed at that time, and the author for now condemning the big picture of positive thought based on her experience of misguided positive supporters.

Being an unconditional advocate for joy and inner peace, it is my personal objective to meet all that comes along in my life without resistance, thus with peaceful acceptance rather than fear. Sometimes I succeed, like when I was diagnosed with cancer, and sometimes I fail. When I fail to see anything to be "happy" about, I cannot be convinced. What I need is to move through the emotions at my own pace.

What appears to have occurred in the experience of the author interviewed was that of being unheard or seen in a time of what was most likely very difficult, tainted her overall opinion of positive thought. What has created a negative response in this woman's case was of being drilled with positivity when what she truly needed was to be understood for what she actually was feeling.

Confused to be reading that last statement from the Queen of positive perspectives? Let me explain. What is true for any one of us in any given moment is what is "true". In other words, how we feel is what is true (at least in that moment). To have someone that does not feel the same "truth" try to cover up our "truth" with a sugar coating in the form of an invitation to "be happy", doesn't work.

So, how does someone who chooses to see the silver linings in life's clouds, interact with the rest of the world? For starters, be empathetic with the other person in a negative state of mind. Imagine what they may be feeling....In fact, ask them what they're feeling. It is not any one's job to convince someone to feel a different way, but rather to allow people to have their own emotional experience. By the same token, someone feeling peace in a situation that others do not, is not a reason to sell out on peace and be angry or depressed and match the majority.

As for those that agree with the author that positive thought is just plain harmful, I encourage you to look beyond the misplaced intentions of those that step on toes with positive speak. Positive thought can only be swallowed if you truly desire it and are ready to swallow it.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Storm of Blessings

Today was my day for a six mile walk. I have a weekly schedule for alternate days of cardio or weight training and yoga. Today was a cardio day.

Before going off to work my husband gave me his condensed version of a weather report. "Could rain or possibly snow all day". Neither one sounded very good to me. I don't like being challenged by the elements when I exercise and I already had a three mile walk in the rain earlier this week.

By the time I was dressed and ready to head out the door, it had started to snow. The flakes were those little ones with hardly any space in between.....you know like rain drops that get a little fluffy as they fall from the sky.

I decided I would hope for the best...maybe this snow is just a little shower and the sun will come out by the time I reach the top of my first hill. That didn't happen. Soon after beginning my trek, I realized I had to come up with a positive perspective about this first (and premature) snow fall of the year, or it would be a very long six miles.

As my eyes scanned in front, back and to each side all I could see were snow flakes, softly touching the ground and then melting. I decided to see each snow flake as a representation of a blessing in my life. For awhile, I was correlating particular things I'm grateful for as I focused on individual flakes. Next, I thought about people in my life that were showing up as flakes. I gave those flakes names.

As I continued on my trek, my little game of appreciating this snow storm as a show of all that blesses me and all that is waiting for me, made my time through the country back roads especially enjoyable. When I was at the highest point of my trek, I could see for miles in three different directions. That expansive area was also filled with snowflake blessings. Since there were way too many to count, I then shifted into massive appreciation for the many blessings that have yet to come into my life.

I don't know what's coming next on my path....all I know is by today's experience the snowflakes predict a great life ahead with much to be grateful for. God was certainly having a great time giving me gifts today.

By the way, these snowflakes weren't meant just for me.....they're yours too. What are you grateful for?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Letting Go, Making Space

Earlier today I experienced a sudden onset of inspiration mixed with energy for the particular task of cleaning out a double bookcase. This large bookcase with opened shelves and covered storage is somewhat of a focal point in our living room. Besides displaying lots of books, it also is a display area for framed photos, some little knick-knack do dads and behind the closed doors, a bunch of uninteresting stuff that accumulates over the years.

I have noticed my books have been looking disorganized and messy. I've grown tired of dusting old, outdated pictures of my nephews and of seeing a frowning face sculpture that my son made in eighth grade.

As I rearranged the books and accumulated a pile to give away, I noticed I was getting excited with seeing the space I was creating. A metaphor was developing before my eyes.

As I went through the things behind the doors that no one ever sees (including me), I wondered why I was saving it and how much freer I would feel if I didn't hold onto things I didn't need or want.

Stuff accumulates.... physical stuff on our shelves and also stuff in our minds. Some of the stuff of life that we hold onto like regrets, anger or guilt can take up a lot of room. We may not be fully aware that it's even there, yet it is taking up space in our minds and using our energy to manage it.

Clearing out, letting go and making space for what we truly want to fill our shelves, as well as our minds, will surely make for a lighter, freer feeling life. Ahhhhhh......who doesn't want that?

Friday, October 9, 2009

Re-Boot As Needed

Has your life ever gotten so overwhelming that you could not process quickly enough to keep yourself on track. Things start going wrong. You start making mistakes. You lose things that are important. Your late for appointments. You can't keep up with emails. Many people are waiting for your answer and you haven't even had time to think about the question.

In a conversation with a friend earlier this week, he was describing his life situation to be in this state of overwhelm. He is doing the best he can to keep up, while new and even more challenging situations continue to be thrown at him to handle, while other things on his list are still on hold. He recognized that he needed a break to regain balance and get his life running more smoothly again. His description of this state is to re-boot his life.

We know what it's like when our computers are not running smoothly. Often times these little machines we rely on so greatly get overwhelmed with information and the system seems to slow down, or doesn't respond to our commands.

When my computer is behaving this way, I often continue to hit different keys, trying to get it to wake up and do the job I want it to perform. Many times, my impatience with it only makes the situation worse.

Eventually, I give up and re-boot. Miraculously as the computer re-boots, even after a short rest, things are running smoothly again. The processing is once again a prompt response to commands. It operates predictably and efficiently.

Re-booting in your life can work the same way. When we power down and rest while becoming still and quiet, all that seems to be in chaos can settle in to some sort of order. Our fast moving minds quiet so that we can remember what is really important. A feeling of peace replaces overwhelm and fear. As our perspective shifts, we can regain a sense of calmness as we handle the items on our to-do lists with a clearer mind.

The next time you find yourself not processing life quickly enough, rather than forcing yourself to continue to perform by pushing harder, I suggest you re-boot. When you start up again, I bet you'll be better able to meet life as it comes.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Lessons from Laramie

I recently had the experience of being in the audience of the play, The Laramie Project. I joined a full house of fellow theater goers appreciate a cast of amazing actors tell the story of a real life account of a town's reaction to a brutal beating and eventual death of a young homosexual man. This hate crime, although it took place in Laramie Wyoming, could have occurred anywhere. To me, this was not just a lesson about a lack of tolerance for homosexuality, but about addressing our fears of living together in a world of different races, religious beliefs, opinions, and life styles.

Following this poignant and well told story, the audience was invited to stay for a "Talk Back" with the actors. This is an opportunity to discuss the experience of the play's message and to express our views, emotions and lessons learned.

It was interesting to hear what struck each of those that spoke. I was pleased to see how a theatrical production can be the round table for a discussion about some very challenging issues.

Seeing and hearing the heart wrenching story seemed to be what caused us all to pause and feel the sadness that hate creates.

I imagine that conversations about intolerance and even hate are still occurring by all those that witnessed this dramatic story. I know I'm still thinking about it.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Reflections of Our Town

Last evening my husband and I attended the final performance of Our Town, produced by Hamilton-Gibson Productions. It was a compelling performance based on the superior talent of the director and actors, creative staging, and most importantly for the reflections and conversations that it stimulated once the show was complete.

When I was a young girl and had the assignment to read Our Town for English class, I was not impressed. There were no meaningful personal reflections that stayed with me throughout my years lived since high school. Perhaps at that time, it was because I was more concerned with my popularity or some other less than spiritual focus.

This performance, however, fully resonated with what I now hold as my focus for living life.

The overall running theme in the show is that the people of Grover's Corners were not fully present as they lived out their lives. There were things that needed to be done every day and as their attention was firmly placed on just getting through the day, the vibrancy of life was lost. It was as though there was a film that covered up the natural brightness that being fully present to each moment could bring.

In the touching and powerful final moments of the play, where several characters spoke from their graves, their regret for having missed the opportunities of fully living life inspired the audience to not make the same mistake.

Regardless of where your town happens to be, it seems it is the challenge for us all, to pause and be present to not only the choices we're making, but to one another.

It is my focus to experience my life as full and well lived. This is not based on how much I get done, but on how much I experience and can relate with others along the way.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Different Stripes for Different Folks

Imagine if we all looked the same. Imagine if we all had the same thoughts, desires, ideas and goals. Imagine if there were no differences at all between all humans. Boring. Yep, I think it would be boring.

I don't know about you, but I think the world would not be nearly as interesting if everyone thought, looked like, or had the same ideas as me.

It is my opinion that it is our uniqueness that makes life most interesting. There is so much more to learn when we don't all have the same opinions. There is so much more room to grow when we can each share our unique ideas, viewpoints, ideals and goals.

This shot of the zebras epitomizes sameness for me (although, I believe in truth they are all unique). It is interesting how often we complain, compare and criticize those that hold different viewpoints from the ones we hold. We create a sense of separateness by pointing out those differences as blocks, rather than connectors for humanity.

It seems obvious to me that the necessary component for living together in a state of oneness is compassion, respect and even love. We must ultimately respect and love ourselves before we can love one another.
Perhaps if we each appreciate our own unique qualities it would be easier to be with the differences of one another.

My stripes don't exactly match anyone else....either does yours. What a joy it is to learn what is behind our stripes.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Wiggle Your Toes

I was reminded today in a phone conversation with my son of a simple thing that can mean so much......wiggling your toes.

My son is serving in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan. This past week several of his comrades were injured when their truck hit an IED.

In a phone conversation today he told me and my husband that he visited the survivors in the hospital. He commented, "They'll be okay, they can wiggle their toes".

What struck me in that moment was how such a simple, small event can mean so much. It gives hope not only to the person recovering from injury, but also to those that care about him. Before the physical trauma, perhaps the act of wiggling toes was taken for granted.

When considering how the simple sign of moving your toes can signify so much for the physical future of these guys, I cannot help but think of the same signs that can symbolize a happy life for all of us.

It seems that we are so often unnecessarily hard on ourselves. We look for significant steps of improvement from where we were to where we are now. We expect a lot and can be desperately disappointed when we don't meet our goals. Sometimes we can be so focused on what we see for ourselves in the future, we miss what is now. Our appreciation for the little things or the small steps that carry us on our path, can go by unnoticed and unappreciated.

I believe that if we are truly present to, and in full appreciation for, being able to wiggle our toes in life, the rest of our plan will not get in the way of living life fully and with joy.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Fear In Black and White

Yesterday I was on an early morning walk with my dog, Thor, when we met up with an unwelcome surprise. We were happily cruising the streets of Wellsboro as the town was beginning to wake up. In an unexpected instant my happy mood was turned into fear when I saw a black and white creature on the tree lawn in the quiet neighborhood of upper Grant Street. Yes, you guessed it....I was seeing a skunk. I was about thirty feet away and stopped dead in my tracks. I was surprised Thor didn't react by pulling on his leash like he usually does when we come upon an animal of any sort.

I have a fear of skunks more than of most animals. I know it's odd that I fear smelling bad more than I fear being ripped to shreds by a mountain lion, but it's true. The sight of this skunk caused my heart to beat wildly. I looked around to see how I can best get away without disturbing my little black and white visitor. I froze in my tracks and as I looked closer, I could see this black and white object didn't have a tail. I stepped closer and soon saw the object causing my fear was really a soccer ball.

I was relieved that what I thought I saw was not real, but it caused me to think of other situations where I (and probably you too) see things inaccurately which causes our hearts to beat wildly and makes us stop dead in our tracks.

It's actually pretty comical when I think about all those times I was fooled into thinking what I was seeing up ahead on my life path was potentially harmful, hurtful or damaging to me in some way. At times my fear of failure would be so great, I'd choose to not take the chance of making a mistake and would stay where I was or run in the opposite direction.

Thankfully, in some of those situations instead of running away or staying frozen, I did move ahead on my path to investigate further, or to go ahead with whatever I felt compelled to do, allowing my fears to dissipate as though they never existed. It's funny how just taking one step forward lessens the power of my fear.

A favorite acronym of mine is for FEAR: False Evidence Appearing Real. Whenever I think of that from now on, I will also remember the soccer ball.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Book That Never Ends

Have you ever read a book that you just did not want to end? This would be the book that was so compelling, so surprising, interesting and beautifully written, you simply wanted to continue to turn it's pages. Well, that's what we get to do with life.

As the chapters of life build on one another and the circumstances, the plot, and the characters that interact with us may change, the book never ends. For some reading this, they may think sheeesh, how long must I go on. How many heart wrenching or harrowing experiences must I endure? For others, you may be joining me in the adventure of the story, no matter what content is filling the pages of the book, or in this case, your life.

The truth is it is not over until it's over and all that happens, whether it may be what we want or not, is all important in our development and our connection to ourselves. Some of us learn how to be with what is happening throughout our chapters with peaceful acceptance. Others may struggle and resist and sometimes even appear to be suffering.

The perspective I like to hold is no matter what the storyline may be, it is all for good. If we struggle and survive, then that is something great to celebrate. If we find ourselves in a peaceful flow of life, that too is worth celebration. One is not ultimately better than another since both extremes are teaching us something. All of our life chapters are expressions of what we are learning and point us in a new direction.

What is the new direction? I don't know, turn the page and experience yours.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Tolerance is NOT Enough

Whenever I hear someone claiming to be "tolerant", I notice I shudder. I cringe. I bite my lip...and sometimes even bite my tongue. I believe there is a general belief that tolerance is a good thing, yet to me, tolerance has never measured up to be enough. I believe we need to exhibit more than tolerance to one another.

The definition of tolerance that I think many believe can often mean that even though one disapproves, they will allow another's point of view, or way of life. When I think of tolerance, I picture someone with a pinched face and tight body language stating they don't approve, but they will tolerate. That, my friends, is not enough for me.

I want more than tolerance. I want openness to truly hear a point of view that differs from them. I want someone to be with me with compassion and understanding. It doesn't mean they must agree with my point of view, but I do want them to see me beyond what I say and do. I want unconditional love. There....I said it. Yep, that is what I am asking for. I don't want to have to please you or match you. I want to be who I am in any given moment and be seen, heard and most of all, loved.

I have a magnet on my fridge that says "I can't stand intolerance". I suppose I am being called to love the intolerant.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Path to No Where

Earlier today my husband, Thor (our dog) and I, took off to hike the mountain that borders the edge of town and looms upward from our backyard. We accessed a path not far from our house and began the climb. At first it was a straight up, long climb and then eventually leveled off when we hit some woods. From there we had a variety of paths to choose. Some led upwards to an even higher level, some were challenging to navigate and some took us on downhill treks that gave us a breather. Knowing they all just meandered along the mountainside not going anywhere in particular, I named our hike The Path to No Where.

As we hiked along, I noticed it was necessary to stay present with where we were at the given moment. The terrain was rough in places and it would have been easy to trip over the exposed roots of a tree, or a rut in the ground.

There were places that there was a lot of overgrowth that stimulated our creativity in getting through the mazes of limbs and branches and picker bushes.

At times, I needed a hand since it was challenging to climb using my own strength.....especially in the places where there was mud and the ground seemed to slide under my feet.

On the path to nowhere it was sometimes confusing where we were in the moment and how much farther we had to go. In fact, although we were never really very far from home, sometimes it felt like we were on another planet. Our surroundings were unfamiliar and it was easy to lose a sense of direction.

Eventually, we ended up on the same path that delivered us back to our street. In the short walk home on a paved road, I compared the experience of our hike to the path to nowhere that we walk in life.

Every step of the way mirrors the hike through life. We don't know what is coming next and it is important to be present with where we are in this moment; Sometimes it is challenging, sometimes easier; Sometimes we need to be creative to get through challenging situations; Sometimes we need a hand, other times we lend a hand.

Lastly, even when we stray off in some direction that may not be the best for us, or that may be confusing or even frightening, we can always find our path home. All we have to do is remember where we started.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Just Obesrve Yourself

The simpler things are, the better I like it. One of my favorite reminders to live simply, and joyfully is the acronym for JOY. Just Observe Yourself.

Many of us seem to be looking outside ourselves in search of joy, and actually by simply looking within and observing ourselves, we will see joy expressed, or we will see how joy is blocked. Either way, we're ultimately in control by the thoughts we think. Knowing that piece alone is pretty liberating.

So, here's how you practice the JOY principle: At any given moment, check in and observe yourself. How are your feeling? Are you resentful, angry, jealous, grateful, loving, excited, inspired, or afraid? What are you thinking? Are you complaining in your mind about how someone else is not doing what you'd like them to do? Are you replaying an old story that always gets you upset? Are you looking into the future with fear? Perhaps you are dreaming about the future with excitement and a feeling of empowerment? Are you hooked into sadness, blame or anger due to the actions of others? Are you being forgiving or are you condemning? Are you harboring feelings of guilt? Are you holding yourself small and unimportant, or are you appreciating all the gifts and blessings that make up who you are?

When we practice the simple act of just observing ourselves, we can then choose if we want to stick with our current thoughts and actions or choose other thoughts that are better aligned with experiencing joy.

Joy is our natural way of being. It is not exclusive for special people. There are no special people. It is meant for each of us. When we simply observe ourselves and learn if we are aligned with joy or not, we then have the choice to make whatever adjustments are necessary so that JOY can not only be present in that moment, but can be a way of life.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Little Acorn With a Big Message

Earlier this week while hiking in the Smokey Mountains of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, I was in a conversation with my friend about my personal and professional growth. In one particular moment that I was sharing a fear about taking a big step professionally, I heard something rolling down the hillside. In the instant I completed my statement about fear, a little acorn landed on my path, directly in front of me.
The timing, the placement, and the particular precious piece of nature that found it's way to me in that moment, did not escape my attention. I laughed out loud as I realized God may be trying to get my attention. It worked.
As I picked up the acorn and studied it, I thought about the significance of it's message. Since I was specifically sharing a fear of living big and stretching out of my comfort zone, I realized how the potential for a great oak tree was embedded within this little acorn. It may be small now, but the potential for growth is surely present.
Just like the acorn came from a huge Oak tree on that Smokey Mountain hillside, I came from God. I believe I rolled into this life with all that I need already within me. I have been planted here and I am growing whether I have fear or not.
So, my lesson from the little acorn is that I may as well enjoy my sprouting and growth and reach for the sun rather than hide in the shade, knowing there is really nothing to fear.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Practice of Presence

It is easy to be distracted by all that surrounds us. We are constantly stimulated in our every day lives by many things that seem to be so important. We have many concerns on our minds, decisions to make and problems to solve that keep us from noticing the simplest and yet the most beautiful elements in our lives. I frequently practice being totally present and tuning into whoever, or whatever is around me. I am never disappointed.

Yesterday while on a six mile trek on country roads, I was totally tuned in and present in each moment. Only a block away from my house, I noticed a pair of gold Finch that played in the air just a few feet in front of me. They seemed to be putting on a show just for me.

A doe and her fawn crossed the road only 20 feet ahead on my path.

I watched the breeze shift the leaves on the trees, with each leaf having it's own rhythm and dance in the air.

The highlight for me was several miles into my trek. I was walking up a long incline on a dirt road and about a quarter mile ahead, I saw two figures crest the hill. They were in a race walking rhythm that was perfectly in sync. They were highlighted by the sun behind their backs and a swirl of misty fog that seemed to follow them. While watching this beautiful scene, the music from my IPOD was the perfect soundtrack. A cinematographer would have won an Academy award for creating it, yet it just naturally happened. I was mesmerized by the beauty of nature and my fellow walkers.

These natural and beautiful experiences couldn't possibly be planned. They were there in every moment ready and available to be appreciated. I'm grateful that I was awake on my walk and not distracted by what was yet to come in my day or by what has already passed.

Presence takes practice. I recommend it highly.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Salute to Alan

Twenty eight years plus 19 days ago, my husband and I brought home a little red headed baby. We named him Alan and watched him grow up to be a truly unique human being. In the wee hours this morning, he and his company shipped off to Afghanistan.

Alan has always had a great deal of confidence. So much so, my husband and I would tease that we may have overdone it in the esteem building department of his rearing. Alan has also always had a love and delight for life. He amuses all those that come in contact with him. He's eccentric and usually off the wall with his humor and antics.
His childlike delight is also balanced by his extreme caring, sensitivity, and a desire to protect and care for others. His past employers have always given him high praise for his skill and his integrity, as well as a great ability to connect with his clients.

It is hard to take a grown man that skips (whenever he has the chance) seriously, but I do know that inside this soldier's heart there is a wisdom that is greater than his years.

When he and I had a chat three days ago during his home visit, I asked him how he thought he may deal with the aftermath of "war" when he comes home in a year. He said, " I'll deal with that when the time comes. Right now, I am dealing with this now". He told me his purpose is to protect his buddies. It is that intention that I believe will keep him sane, since that is who he is.

I'm sure Alan will not lose his spirit during his tour of duty. It will be all those whose lives he touches that will never be the same.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Straight from the Students

I am repeatedly inspired by the wisdom of students that have taken part in Project: Inside Out, a leadership program that I lead for diverse teens. When students complete the program, I interview as many of them as I can and compile their responses in a document I call Straight from the Students. It is always a joy to hear the highlights of their learning and how they anticipate the program will change their lives.

One comment that stands out for me was made by a girl that was truly open to experiencing a new dimension of herself. When asked about a highlight of her learning, her response was "Confidence...I was very shy, even though I was a cheerleader. I realized I honestly didn't accept who I was. If I didn't accept myself as I was.....how could other people accept me?"

Obviously, the application of this beautiful piece of wisdom is not applicable to only teens. This little gem is one we all need to remember.

True confidence does not come from the compliments we hear from others. It does not necessarily grow with each award we receive, with each accomplishment we create or with every skill we master. It comes from the positive relationship we have with ourselves.

Confidence grows as we master the art of loving ourselves, unconditionally. When we "get it" that our value in this world is not dependent on our skills or accomplishments, we can enjoy the pure joy of confidence, regardless of how we are seen by others.

I agree with my student that it doesn't make sense to expect others to accept us, if we do not give the same unconditional respect to ourselves.

The literal bottom line.....Confidence is an inside job.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Give It UP

Whenever I have a little extra time after my morning routine, I pull out one of my inspirational card decks, believing whatever card I choose is exactly what I need to know. Today I pulled a card from my Inner Peace deck by Wayne Dyer. This message hit be between the eyes ( in a good way). The affirmation said "I release the need to determine how things 'should' be".

Whenever I feel myself getting hooked away from feeling joy and peace, I am more than likely attached to something occurring the way I think it should. Of course, I always know what's best for me. Of course, I know the most efficient and effective way for everything. Actually, the truth is, I don't......and when I am emotionally holding onto "my way" when events are occurring in a different pattern, my peace is left in the dust.

My intention in this life is to get this lesson down pat. I know that when I stop resisting and allow things to unfold, all will be well. Perhaps the route is different than the one I planned. Perhaps even the end result will be different than my goal, but allowing, rather than resisting always brings peace.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Expanding vs. Contracting

It seems that most people live their lives in one of two ways.....expanding or contracting. I realize both of these words represent action, although when considering these concepts within the context of living life, it appears contracting actually occurs as a result of doing nothing.

In taking a closer look at contracting, what appears to me is that when one chooses to no longer learn new things or be open to new people, places and experiences, or practices being present in each moment, their life contracts, or gradually diminishes in purpose and joy.

On the other hand when one expands, they embrace new things in their life on every level. Learning and growing beyond what they previously believed was their limit and stretching into new experiences and relationships creates an ever present joyful and purpose-filled life.

I believe many live a contracting life due to fear. They may fear the risk of losing the elements of their life that they're proud of or those that bring comfort. They may fear the possibility of failure or the potential disapproval of others. They may blame their age, health, physical limitations or obligations for their contracting. They may believe that it is easier to stay the same than to grow.

If the mere thought of expanding in your life makes you sweat, relax. Expanding does not mean you must give up all that you have already worked for or have become attached to. You can feel your life expanding simply by breathing, turning off the chatter channel in your mind and by practicing gratitude. Expanding joy in your life does not have to require leaving your job or your town, or your closest relationships. It can occur when you see yourself as being more than a body that works hard all their life, acquires a bunch of stuff, makes a lot of money, gets old, gets sick and eventually dies.

There is room for continued expansion for all of us, regardless of how long it has been since we have felt the thrill of being truly alive. It is my intention to expand in some way every day.....how about you?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Triathalon of My Dreams

I sometimes have very entertaining dreams and some of those sometimes my dreams hold a lesson for me. Last night was one of those dreams.

I dreamed that I was registered to participate in a triathlon, but instead of swimming, bicycling and running, I recall only the first leg of the race which involved hopping on one foot. The race took place on the main street of a small town with crowds standing by to cheer us all on.

I was in the lineup of other hoppers, unsure if I could even do the event. I'm happy to report, however, I was not feeling anxious or upset, just open to try. Before the gun went off, we all began hopping in place and I found it to be difficult to maintain balance. It wasn't easy or comfortable. After a few moments, the starting gun fired and we all took off to hop the 6 mile course.

What was amazing to me was to find that it was easier to hop ahead, rather than in place. I felt free and had fun propelling myself forward, passing many of the other hoppers that seemed to prefer staying in one place.

Although it took more energy to move ahead, it seemed natural and easy. I felt exhilaration and great joy just to do it. Winning the race was not important since I knew my win was to learn moving was better than standing still.

The metaphor for life was obvious to me. As I hopped along the course, I was overjoyed to see the connection to how staying in the same familiar mindset or experience due to a fear of what's ahead, or having a lack of confidence in winning, or possibly just being afraid I may fall down along the way, would limit my dream for a great life.

This hopping dream showed me that regardless of the outcome, moving ahead in life by trying new things, going to new places and giving myself new challenges, will certainly create a more stimulating and fulfilling experience of life than simply standing still.

Perhaps when I fall asleep tonight, I will experience the other legs of the triathlon. I'm hoping one of them is skipping.