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A Mindfulness Community

Sitting comfortably in my cozy chair in front of the warm glow of my crackling fireplace, I was curled up with a cup of tea and my newest favorite book, Peak Mind. Each page revealed such fascinating stories to support the research on mindfulness that neuroscientist Dr. Amishi Jha wrote about.

I knew from personal experience that mindfulness and meditation were game-changers for my own life over the past 5 years. Yet reading these compelling stories about the dynamic impact mindfulness practices had on military leaders, as well as medical and business professionals had fully captivated my attention.

My mind drifted (with my permission) to another book, The Four Pivots; Reimagining Justice, Reimagining Ourselves by Dr. Shawn Ginwright. The four transformative pivots are: Awareness, Connection, Vision and Presence. His book is grounded in cutting-edge research and Dr. Ginwright’s insight and lived experiences. He addresses the power of doing our own mirror work to help us uncover hidden biases and discover new perspectives. He stresses the importance of our need for connection with each other.

These same attributes are found in mindfulness – they are the very premise of Peak Mind. It was becoming more evident with each page of Peak Mind that “owning our attention” through mindfulness practices could bring about dramatic results not only in our personal lives, but also in our communities. Dr. Ginwright’s book and Dr. Jha’s book fit together like puzzle pieces for what is possible — and what is so urgently needed.

I allowed myself to “mind wander” imagining communities where skillful practitioners of mindfulness were woven into the fabric of our neighborhoods, schools, hospitals, businesses, law enforcement, etc.

I returned my full attention back to my book to make a most surprising discovery.

At the bottom of page 251 of Peak Mind, Dr. Jha begins to unfold the story of Sara Flitner, a strategy and communication consultant who decided to run for mayor in 2012 — in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. For those of you reading this who are not aware, I live on the other side of Jackson Hole, across the Grand Teton Pass, in Victor Idaho.

My curiosity went on high alert — what is Sara Flitner’s story? If she is featured in Dr. Jha’s book, mindfulness must be a key component of her story. Is it possible that someone running for mayor in a neighboring community had a transformational mindfulness experience embedded in her story? My full attention was captured. I read on.

Here’s the excerpt from Peak Mind that begins Sara’s story:

Sara Flitner enjoyed running her own company, and she loved applying her skills, like critical thinking and empathy, to solving complex problems. She saw a lot of issues in her community –Jackson Hole, Wyoming, which is adjacent to the tourist meccas of Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. Jackson had one of the highest socioeconomic divides in the nation, and with that came issues of high rates of depression and substance abuse, homelessness, high stress and more. Sara thought she might be able to make a difference through her leadership and by influencing policy. She felt passionate about trying to move the needle from inside the system. Her goal, she says now, was to “infiltrate positions of power with compassion, civility, and basic decency and regard for fellow humans.” (Excerpted from Peak Mind)

I stopped reading to let all that wash over me. I allowed myself a little “mind wandering”…..

In my creative imagination, I conjured Sara Flitner calling Brene Brown at some point in the past and over coffee and a few hearty laughs, they brainstormed a new kind of leadership. While Brene Brown didn’t publish Dare to Lead; Brave Work, Tough Conversations, Whole Hearts until 2018, it certainly seems as though both Sara and Brene were on a similar wavelength about a growing need for a daring new approach to leadership.

Sara Flitner decided to test the waters with her mindfulness-based approach to leadership — and she won the Jackson Hole mayoral election in 2012.

When Dr. Jha was researching Sara’s story, she asked the pointed question — “how did it go?” Sarah laughed, “I walked right into the eye of the storm.” She discovered the reality of just how divisive politics are, even on a local level.

It seems evident that the community (the voters) wanted the same things that Sara offered in her platform. Perhaps they were using their own imaginations to envision something better for their community, their neighbors, their children. Maybe they did have a deeper realization of the interconnectedness of everyone that contributes to making Jackson Hole and Yellowstone a “bucket list” destination for the millions of tourists who visit every year. There may have been a growing awareness that socioeconomic disparities could no longer be ignored.

I’ll interject that when you live here, you come to personally know the young people who comprise a large percentage of those that make our successful tourism sector run so smoothly. These enthusiastic hard workers operate ski lifts, provide childcare, give ski and snowboard lessons, are the clerks, wait staff, maintenance and cleaning staff of stores, restaurants, hotels and more. In the summer months, they are outdoor activities guides and national park employees. We know from conversations that these young adults struggle with limited affordable housing, rising gas and food prices. Our interactions expand the awareness of the disparities right in front of our eyes within our communities.

In her book, Braving the Wilderness, Brene Brown urges us to move closer to each other and says that “people are hard to hate close up”. I’d add that people are hard to “ignore” close up. I’d like to think that this was happening organically here in Jackson Hole when Sara Flitner ran for mayor. That there was a growing awareness of how interdependent the entirety of the population was and how it was possible, even necessary, to do better.

Yet a big roadblock to implementing change was the impediment of politics. Does a loyalty to party and resistance to change create blindspots to common ground and civility? Or could it be that not using our incredible brains to their fullest potential is the real roadblock?

“It’s heartbreaking to see the kind of suffering we’ll lay on each other when we act like there’s some kind of budget for compassion or empathy. We have this attitude of “I’ll save my compassion for the people I like, not for you. It’s primitive brain reasoning, when we have — right here in our own heads — much more advanced technology available to us.” — Sara Flitner

Throughout her two year term as mayor, Sara relied heavily on her mindfulness practice to help her navigate through painful, difficult and disillusioning times. She shared with Dr. Jha that “her mindfulness practice threw her a “lifeline” because of the way that it helped her connect with others and get things done – especially when those interactions were adversarial and fraught with conflict.”

Sara Flitner was on to something big when she recognized that “primitive brain reasoning” was a major roadblock. This is profoundly true not only for the community challenges we face, it is emphatically true for us as individuals. We are often unconsciously “stuck” on the default mode of our most incredible brains.

To fully unpack the default mode of our brain and how our implicit biases get embedded in long term memory — and how quickly they get retrieved when we are in high stress situations — I urge you to read Peak Mind. Here are some key takeaways:

The brain is in “simulation mode” at all times. Simulation mode gives us the mental models that guide our thinking, decision making and actions. The key ingredients of simulation mode are memories of events of our past, fragments of those memories, plus everything else we have learned and remembered. Then we add our capacity to think, reason and forecast! All of this happens fast — in the moment as events are unfolding.

Dr. Jha explains that part of the reason our simulations (i.e stories) are so powerful is that they become a kind of shorthand for framing a current situation or problem. This shorthand efficiency frees up cognitive resources to do other things. BUT these simulations/stories constrain information processing. They capture and keep our attention locked onto a subset of data. The result? Our perceptions, our thinking and even our decisions are constrained.

Why does this matter? When our simulations/stories are wrong, then our resulting actions and decisions can be skewed wrong too — because of the way our simulations/stories interacts with our attention.

One final caveat — our simulations are so effective that we get fused and persuaded by them. If a key ingredient of our simulation is a stressful memory, our brains and bodies react as if it is a real and current event — and we will experience the release of stress hormones. We will actually begin to “feel” we are currently experiencing the simulated event.

If you let all of this sink in, you can comprehend how crucial it is for first responders, law enforcement, surgeons, military personnel, firefighters and others in high stress jobs to not get caught in “simulations.” The life-saving and life altering real life stories of these very types of professionals will have you on the edge of your seat when you read Peak Mind. One bad decision made because it is based on a wrong simulation can have devastating results.

It should be easy to comprehend how using our brains to their fullest potential — as the highly advanced technological operating system it actually is — would be a game-changer for our individual lives and for our collective problem solving.

The two biggest roadblocks to tapping into all the functions and features of our brains is (1) Being unconsciously stuck in default mode and (2) being unaware of how we are wasting our attention. It would be like having dynamic safety and navigational components in your new car and never using them.

The reality is that many of us are going through life on an outdated auto-pilot. Lots of tiny dysregulated emotional responses can erode our most valued relationship. They also spill out into our workplaces and communities.

As humans, we are hard-wired to co-regulate each other — and we are wired for connection. The key to getting us to operate at a higher and more rewarding efficiency level is to “upgrade” our most amazing brain. Neuroscience is providing us with the knowledge and the tools to install the upgrade. Mindfulness practices are the foundational core.

Over a year ago I blogged about how so many invaluable diversified resources were intersecting in the personal growth arena. It is becoming evident that those same resources are melding together to forge an evolving infrastructure for socioeconomic change as well.

I see this unfolding organically with my friends who are committed to personal growth, self-awareness and mindfulness. I’ve seen the positive impacts their inner work has had within their families, their careers, circles of friends and their community involvement.

It is also evident in the books and podcasts that feel like pieces of a bigger puzzle — each subject offering insights and knowledge that fit together with an improved framework for coming together to address complex, nuanced issues with clarity, compassion and creativity.

Right here, in my own community, there is yet another meaningful example of this positive change. Sara Flitner, former mayor of Jackson Hole, continues her mindfulness influence and outreach:

Sara founded Becoming Jackson Whole, an organization dedicated to training leaders across all arenas — community service, health, education, business, law enforcement and more – in the kinds of evidence-based mindfulness skills that help build resilience and enable people to thrive personally and accomplish more professionally. (excerpted from the book, Peak Mind)

The Becoming Jackson Whole website has a blue banner across the top that reads “We’re on a mission to make mindfulness second nature in Jackson Hole.”

A coordinating banner on the About Page shares this: “Helping our community respond to the challenges of our times with focus, compassion and resilience. Empowering leaders to create change.”

Guess who provided the training for these local community leaders? Dr. Amishi Jha, author of Peak Mind. I’ve come full circle with my story of how I discovered that a subject near and dear to me — mindfulness — was actually making a difference in my own community. It might explain why I’ve discovered so many people at the local book store and coffee shops who are reading similar books and who readily engage in the deeper conversations I thrive on. What I know for sure is that the more people become discerning about where they are placing their attention, and the more skilled they become at tapping into the full potential of their brains, the better for all of us.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

Peak Mind will open your eyes to how you utilize your ATTENTION and how to take control of it.

The best primer I have found for revealing the incredible benefits of mindfulness and mindfulness practices.

The Four Pivots connects the dots between the personal growth work we do for ourselves and how it shifts our awareness and perspectives when thinking about — and engaging in — meaningful social changes

For anyone transitioning into a new chapter of their live, this insightful book will help you discover how purpose can be both a source of groundedness and fulfillment.

THIS IS PART OF MY LOCAL COMMUNITY — THE GRAND TETONS

Visit this Website – Becoming Jackson Whole https://becomingjacksonwhole.org/about-nav

The Magic of a “Good Enough” Parent

When I was a little girl, a guidance counselor once asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. My answer — “A good mother”.

A better goal might have been to be a “a good enough” mother. Not only is this a great bar to reach for, it is grounded in the reality that we will make mistakes and that learning never stops. I wish I had known just how much my children were going to teach me — about myself, about their uniqueness, and about human nature.

Like most of my friends, I went into motherhood striving for perfection. But parents are messy, babies are messier and life doesn’t go on pause during child-rearing years. This reality is precisely why I find Dr. Dan Siegel’s research so reassuring.

What a relief to know that there is no such thing as “perfect parenting”. It is a figment of our imaginations! Dr. Siegel tells us that the emphasis should be on “showing up”, being present for our children, making them feel seen and safe.

In The Power of Showing Up, Dr. Siegel explains how parental presence shapes who our kids become and how their brains get wired.

My book club friends and I had a good laugh about the truth of his findings. We could all relate to “old school” parenting styles that explained how we got “wired”. And why it’s taken us so long to unravel the resulting consequences.

We are so grateful for all that we are unlearning and relearning — about how a child’s brain develops, how emotions show up in our bodies and the importance of providing supportive resources for children to process their experiences and emotions. Even (and especially) if their emotions and experiences are much bigger than our own in any given moment.

As grandmothers, we are now showing up for our adult kids and our young grandchildren in much better ways. We often lament that we wish we had known then what we know now. We are having a lot of “aha” moments as we attend to our own personal development; especially when we share our childhood stories with each other.

This morning, I came across Nedra Tawwab’s post about motherhood and it touched my heart in a big way. Nedra is a beautiful soul, a noted expert in setting boundaries and a “lead-by-example” therapist.

Nedra’s insight that “parenting others is re-parenting yourself” resonated deeply with me. I do believe that we often treat our children with greater sensitivity around the very parts of ourselves that are most fragile. In that way, we are offering them protection and a safe place while also taking comfort in our awareness that this is what we’d hoped for — and what we needed when we were young.

As we become more attuned to the needs of our children, we begin to better understand ourselves and how events of our childhood impacted us. This introspection comes when we look at the world through our children’s eyes.

Self-awareness and self-compassion go hand in hand when we are “walking beside a younger version of ourselves” and reparenting ourselves to heal and grow from the insights.

It is an invaluable opportunity to discover more about ourselves and a launchpad for showing up for our children in healthier ways. Often this inner work makes our parenting job a lot less stressful. We can let go of our own fears or misconceptions which gives us more space and clarity for addressing what our child’s unique needs are.

This is an exciting time to be a parent – we know so much more now than we ever did about a child’s brain development, about their limitations for emotional regulation when they are young, and about healthy attachment styles.

Based on the latest brain and attachment research, The Power of Showing Up, shares stories, scripts, simple strategies, illustrations and tips for honoring the 4 S’s effectively in all kinds of situations – when our kids are struggling or when they are enjoying success; when we are consoling, disciplining or arguing with them; and even when we are apologizing for the times we don’t show up for them. Demonstrating that mistakes and missteps are repairable and that it’s never too late to mend broken trust this book is a powerful guide to cultivating your child’s healthy emotional landscape. –– Amazon Books

Now we know — the goal is not to be perfect — The goal is to be present, to offer a quality of presence that makes a child feel safe, seen, soothed and secure. That is the definition of an outstanding “good enough” parent.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

HOW A DEEPER SELF-UNDERSTANDING CAN HELP YOU RAISE CHILDREN WHO THRIVE – Dr. Dan Seigel shares that knowing your own attachment style created in your childhood can help you be a better parent for your kids.

Parenting isn’t easy. Showing up is! One of the best scientific predictors for how any child turns out in terms of happiness, academic success, leadership skills and meaningful relationships is whether at least one adult in their life has consistently shown up for them. This book is parenting magic.

Try Some Self-Compassion

We are flooded today with confusing messages about toxic positivity, memes of self care that look more life self-indulgence, and labels of all kinds that limit not only how others see us, but how we view ourselves. We spend a lot of time trying to live up to expectations, curating a persona that looks good on social media, and checking off the boxes of what we believe equals a successful life.

What we are learning is that the demands for our time and attention are greater than ever — and that we have unwittingly succumbed to a new age “peer pressure”.

It’s increasingly hard to be our “authentic selves” — and what does that even mean?

I think it means “being comfortable in your own skin” — intimately knowing yourself — and meeting the moments of your life in a wholehearted, genuine way. It’s hard to do that when outside influences are so strong.

We get little inklings throughout the day that we are a bit untethered from ourselves, when we realize we are wasting time on things that don’t matter much (like doom scrolling or hopscotching from one website to another), losing our patience over something minor, and feel like we are treading water rather than making forward progress on a legitimate goal. We say “yes” when we want to say “no”. We walk on eggshells or white knuckle our way around people and situations.

Then we let our inner critic chime in, reminding us that we are falling short;

This ramps up our anxiety levels;

And to counter it all — we try harder.

We push through all of it without a moment’s thought to one compelling question: Is this working?

It turns out that “trying harder” and “focusing on the positives” may be doing more harm than good. Powering through our states of exhaustion and hard emotions is not the answer. All that accomplishes is a stockpiling of unresolved issues that contribute to the stress cycle. Our bodies keep score and we get further away from being our authentic selves.

There is an ever-evolving body of scientific evidence that is coinciding with the practices of mindfulness revealing some hard truths. Stuffing our emotions, not processing adversities, and numbing our pains are clearly detrimental to our overall well-being. Trying harder and pushing through does not make us stronger, more resilient and fearless. It makes us sick, clouds our thinking and keeps us stuck in old narratives.

It turns out that self-compassion is the rudder we need.

I can almost see the eye-rolls now… Self-compassion probably sounds like a bubble bath, being alone with a book on a sunny beach, or indulging guilt-free in a pint of Ben & Jerry’s.

Actually, self compassion requires really getting to know ourselves. It is hard work AND the benefits are game-changing for improved quality of life. Kristin Neff, renowned resource for self-compassion, offers the three elements that comprise self-compassion practice:

  • Self-Kindness vs. Self-Judgment
  • Common Humanity vs. Isolation
  • Mindfulness vs. Over-Identification

It becomes very evident as you take in this list, that a different lens shifts our perspective. Self-judgment, isolation and over-identification take us down a very narrow path; one that often creates blind spots, insecurities and disconnection from our true selves.

Why is it that other people often see us much differently than we see ourselves. Those who see our potential or know our true hearts are using much different lenses than the limited ones we use.

I’m discovering that the mentors, coaches and guides I am drawn to are incredibly skilled at self-compassion, and in turn they are then more compassionate and empathic toward others.

Those people who impact my life in positive ways inspire and encourage me because they have overcome hard things, and yet they grew softer, wiser and kinder from those adversities.

Self-compassionate and self-aware mentors are the best teachers because they don’t give us the answers — they encourage us to find our own.

Each of us has a vast array of different experiences and emotions — and an even more complex menagerie of how we’ve coped with them. Our lives may not be exactly the same, but we do see parts of ourselves and our experiences reflected back to us in the stories that others share with us. This is the strong foundation we need when we are undertaking self-compassion work. We get the support, education and encouragement we need from others who have done, or are doing, the work.

The many experiences and emotions we have accumulated over our lives shapes the narrative of who we are. It is the “narrative” of who we are that limits our self view.

In a recent interview on the Typology podcast, author Aundi Kolber asks an insightful question to help us dive in to the current story we are telling ourselves that has roots in our childhood: “What type of accommodations did you need to make in order to get your needs met?”

Think back to your childhood environment. How did you make sense of your world as a small child?

While many people had relatively good childhood experiences with loving parents and fond memories, a lot of people did not. Some grew up with uncertainty and chaos due to alcoholism, mental health issues, financial instability, grief, emotional and physical abuse. It’s really hard for little children to make sense of their world when there is no co-regulation, no consistency and no return to safety. As a result, those children grow up being hyper-vigilant, people pleasers, harmonizers or bullies.

Even kids who grow up in stable home environments are not immune to experiences that shape their narratives in profound ways; divorce, loss of a parent, grandparent or friend, changing schools, big injuries or serious illnesses. Every single one of us has dealt with the inevitable realities of life. Some of those realities are super hard. If we did not have the resources we needed as kids to process our emotions and the events, they get lodged in us.

They get lodged in two distinct ways: In our nervous system — and in our memory.

Remember that this is happening unconsciously when we are young, with a brain that is not fully developed and an equally limited ability to regulate our emotions. This is the birthplace of emotional triggers and behavioral patterns.

So when author Aundi Kolber asks what type of accommodations we needed to make in order to get our needs met in childhood, she is also asking us to become aware if we continue to make those accommodations as adults.

What we are learning now thanks to neuroscience, psychology and neurobiology is that we can do a lot better job at supporting our bodies, our brains – and each other — by processing these hard emotions and experiences as they are happening to us. We can shift the narrative that shapes us because of these life adversities but we must be proactive.

Now that we know better, we can do better. Start with experiences and emotions that are unfolding right now. Help yourself, and your children, to acknowledge and accept reality, to honor all those big emotions and to hold space to process them.

“Even though trauma is becoming more normalized to talk about, there is a BIG disconnect. Just because you go through an experience that has the POTENTIAL to become a traumatic experience, doesn’t mean it will. It is what happens AFTER that experience that will have a really big impact to the extent that it stays stuck in your body.” — Aundi Kolber, Author of Try Softer

Everyone of us needs resources to support us through the challenges of life and the emotions that accompany them. Stuffing our emotions or powering through them is no longer an acceptable way to deal with the really hard parts of life. If we have everything we need for our bodies and brains to complete a stress cycle, it does not need to become lodged as trauma in us.

This is how we develop emotional chronicity — by providing calm co-regulation and a return to emotional safety. This is how we proactively attend to those developing little brains and bodies. This strongly influences childhood narratives in a much healthier way. We can hang a “no vacancy” sign on the place we once lodged unprocessed, painful memories.

When we have a greater self-awareness AND a toolkit to resource ourselves, we become better teachers for our children. This is the path to breaking generational cycles of poor emotional regulation and unprocessed traumas.

Because kiddos don’t have a fully formed brain and their nervous system is not able to regulate through especially really overwhelming experiences, things that might not be traumatic to an adult have the potential to be highly traumatic to kids…..especially if they don’t get the support that they need.” –Aundi Kolber, Author of Try Softer

This work feels a lot like the messages we get onboard an airplane before takeoff. “Put your own oxygen mask on first, then assist your small child.”

Changing how we attend to ourselves in the face of hard, painful experiences starts with self compassion. Self-kindness, common humanity and mindfulness. Imagine you are parenting yourself; picture yourself as your child — and you will be transported to that place where you organically offer these very comforts to others. Give them to yourself. Put your oxygen mask on first.

Aundi Kolber says that a basic understanding of our nervous system is profoundly empowering — “it’s like having the keys to your car.” She enthusiastically explains that our bodies are “freaking amazing” and that we are designed to get through difficulties and survive. The more we understand how to tap into both our brains and our bodies to assist with its full capabilities, the smoother a ride we will have. Self-compassion is like regular maintenance. The repair work we need to do requires us to “get under the hood.”

Aundi introduces us to the Window of Tolerance: the zone of arousal in which a person is able to function most effectively. Our “window” is that range where we can feel our feelings or have an experience and are able to tolerate it.

When we are in our “window of tolerance” we are typically able to receive, process and integrate information; we can respond to the demands of everyday life without much difficulty.

It is when we move out of that window that our body takes over and sounds the “all hands on deck alarm” in order to protect us — we fly out the window and go up into Fight, Flight or Fawning. Aundi says that anytime we go outside our window of tolerance, the highest part of our brain – the executive function – goes offline and is not available any more. We no longer have full access to our brain.

It’s like a rollercoaster….we go up into the danger zone of fight or flight and if we can’t resolve things there, we head down into dissociation. This state of dissociation will be very familiar to many — it is where we feel disconnected from our body, we might feel numb and we definitely are not fully present.

It’s easy to see that a little child starts out with a small window of tolerance. Any childhood experience that took us out of our window of tolerance (without support or resources to process it), becomes stored, like all our other memories. Anytime something reminds us of that experience (a smell, a raised voice, a facial expression, a car accident, an ambulance, something breaking, etc), that sends the trigger to our body that it is happening again. Lots of little unresolved traumas, or big T trauma will cause our window of tolerance to narrow. Our bodies are on red alert all the time.

Our stories live in our bodies. Our childhood experiences that were not processed and integrated, get stored into our nervous system and memory and we created a story to go with it. In doing so, the size of our window of tolerance may be too small for all that we are dealing with as adults. There may be times when daily life stressors push us out of our window of tolerance and we find ourselves overreacting to things that shouldn’t bother us so much. We wish we had more bandwidth.

The good news is that we can expand our window of tolerance. As an added bonus, in doing the work to expand it, we can also do some serious housecleaning in the process. We can process and purge ourselves of old narratives. We can change the story we wrote as kids and enjoy one better suited for adulthood.

It all starts with self compassion and self-parenting. We gather the resources we need, including safe people who can support us – and we do the hard work. We attend to unprocessed trauma. We neutralize it, integrate it and gain more safety, more agency over how our bodies and brains respond to triggers.

Our bodies are designed to move through pain. The reason we hurt so much, get triggered by old stories and get stuck is that we haven’t let our experiences and emotions move through us. That’s how it is supposed to work. Accept, feel, process, neutralize, integrate and let go. It’s only hard work now because we have waited so long and it’s fossilized in us. When we take proactive steps to deal with our current life experiences and emotions, it actually takes less time in the long run.

Most importantly, we extract the life lessons that guide us rather than the stories that misdirect us.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

Kristin Neff, one of the world’s leading experts in Self-Compassion
https://self-compassion.org
Hosted by Ian Morgan Cron, Enneagram Expert & Author of The Story of You https://www.typologypodcast.com/podcast/2022/31/03/aundikolber

TRY SOFTER: A Fresh Approach to Move Us Out of Anxiety, Stress & Survival Mode and Into a Life of Connection and Joy, by Aundi Kolber
A compelling and relatable understanding of the positive impacts of mindfulness practices. Gain control over your attention!

Intuition Whispers….

“If you want someone’s attention, whisper” — Skip Davis

Thirty years ago, for no apparent reason, I decided that I needed to get serious about my physical health. I committed to working out on a daily basis. As a busy mom of three kids, ages 5, 15 and 16, with a full time career, I’d let myself slip into a “I’ll do it later” mindset and never really made the time to exercise. It wasn’t a New Year’s resolution, not a workplace challenge, or even a sense that I didn’t have the strength and stamina for yard work like I once did. In that decisive moment, I can’t really say what it was. Whatever it was, I heeded the nudge and began lifting weights and running. I might have wondered silently if my impending 40th birthday was the impetus for getting in shape.

The last thing I expected on my 40th birthday, was the discovery of a lump and soon thereafter the diagnosis of breast cancer. What I do recall ever so clearly is the awareness that intuitively my body had known in advance that I needed to be ready for the fight of my life and it had cajoled me in to doing the necessary prep work.

Intuition and instincts….what gifts they are.

My intuition and instincts had gotten buried under the daily demands of a busy life. Like many moms of my generation, I believed the advertisements and theories that we could have it all, do it all. I learned a hard lesson though — you can’t really give your best to others if you aren’t taking care of yourself first. There is a very big hidden cost to juggling too much, sacrificing often, and burning the candle at both ends.

It was somewhat revelational to me that when I started carving out time for a 5 mile run or a 45 minute weight training session, I actually felt more energized, a little more patient and sillier with my kids, and I was paying more attention in general. In fact, it may be the very reason that I discovered my lump in the first place. I was paying attention.

Brene Brown often asks her guests on Dare to Lead “what is one lesson that life teaches that you just have to keep learning over and over again?”

In my case, it is “trust your intuition and your instincts.”

It was 2015 and I was 63 years old, taking my two granddogs for bedtime walk under the hazy full moon rising in the darkening Arizona sky. I noticed my shadow on the stucco wall and in that moment, my intuition spoke to me. My life was feeling just like that flat, one-dimensional grey shadow. What happened to that happy, sunny, energetic girl who embraced life with enthusiasm and resilience? I missed her.

This time, I was more attuned to my intuition and instincts and if I was truly honest with myself, I’d been getting little signs, navigational buoys and even flashing warning lights for quite a long while. Glennon Doyle, in her book Untamed, calls these nudges “the knowing”. My friend Judy and I call our nudges “instinct and intuition”. Judy often reminds me of the importance of acting on our “nudges”.

I have a few friends who have come into my life since 2015 who also felt their own “knowing” in various ways — wanting something a little more out of life, needing to find deeper connections, or feeling a sense of complacency that nudged them to find a new interest. One thing we discovered that we had in common was a genuine desire to be at our best for whatever unfolded in this chapter of our lives. Judy and I often remark that in our wildest of imaginations we would never have envisioned a global pandemic would have been on the horizon. I do remember telling her that because of all our inner work over the prior 4 years, we were far better prepared to face it.

Over this past week, I have been fortunate enough to have long conversations with most of those friends who are on this personal development path with me. When we take stock of the many events that have unfolded in our lives over the past few years, we are deeply grateful for the ways in which we met these moments with greater awareness, calmness and improved navigational skills.

My late husband Skip would often say “The future belongs to those who are prepared for it.” That was the very message that my intuition and instincts were sending to me back in 2015 — “be prepared for the future; be strong, resilient, compassionate and resourceful. Be your best.”

It is no surprise that my good friends were receiving similar intuitions and instincts.

It is no wonder that we felt motivated and supported by each other.

The sharing of stories, books, podcasts and other resources has contributed to our growth spurts in meaningful ways.

My friends and I recognize that we turned down the volume on our intuition and instincts by accident. We’d gotten so busy with the “doing” that we forget about “being”.

This is just one of many benefits of living a more mindful life — paying attention to our attention –– helps us rebalance and rediscover what is most important in our lives.

I am deeply grateful for the friends who link arms with me on this journey, for their warm hearts, their open minds and intricate, intimate stories that become the mirror for all of us to see our own lives reflected back in each other’s experiences.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

I THOUGHT IT WAS JUST ME by Brene Brown
UNTAMED by Glennon Doyle
CLARITY & CONNECTION by yung pueblo

Spring Cleaning

Spring is my favorite of the four seasons because it is so rich with fresh starts, new beginnings, awakenings and growth. As a young girl, I loved the fact that my birthday (April Fool’s) coincided with spring. Bluebells and lilies of the valley bursting through the ground felt magical to me, like anything was possible. Being able to open the windows and let fresh air fill the nooks and crannies into each stuffy room felt so revitalizing. Warm sunshine and cool, crisp air became a “hot fudge sundae” moment to be savored.

Back in the day, April signified a time for a major refresh indoors — the annual spring cleaning tradition. It meant some serious deep cleaning and purging of toys and clothes we’d outgrown. The house was infused with sunlight, more space, a lighter energy and a clean, appealing scent. A soft spring breeze would make gauzy window curtains dance. A vase of pale purple lilacs was the finishing touch. I can still smell their delicate fragrance and be transported back to the “fresh start” feeling associated with spring cleaning.

Recently I listened to Michael Singer’s podcast “Taking Care of Your Inner Environment”. His message was chock full of relatable metaphors including one that reminded me of spring cleaning.

We tidy up our homes, declutter and deep clean them. When we step back and admire our work, we find a deep sense of satisfaction and a pride in our abode. It’s like we have waved a magic wand and transformed our home into a blissful place to entertain, recharge, unwind.

Michael Singer invites us to do the same with our internal self. Why not declutter inside and create an inner self that can move with greater ease through the realities of life?

“Very few people work with themselves on the inside. If we don’t do that inside work, then what is going on inside can be a real mess. People don’t even understand what a mess it is, because they aren’t aware that it doesn’t have to be that way. They are moody, sensitive, they don’t get what they want, they are afraid. It’s an uncomfortable commotion inside. Just as it is our responsibility to keep our house clean and make our bed it, it is also our responsibility to take care of our inner environment. It’s the exact same thing.” — Michael Singer, from his podcast

We live from the inside out. Whatever is going on inside of us, consciously or unconsciously, is going to be impacted by something that happens outside of us.

“Because people are not straightening up inside, they accumulate an entire collection of stored things from the past that bothered them. This is unfinished business. As a result, events that unfold outside come in and stir up discomfort, disturbances and fears. Anything that is stuck inside of you is going to drive you crazy.” — Michael Singer, from his podcast

Picture this – we might be hoarders! We just might be hoarding old memories, past experiences, unresolved conflicts and that beat up cardboard box of insecurities our inner critic likes to rummage through. This is the unfinished business Michael is talking about — the multitude of things we’ve stuffed in the basement and attics of our inner self.

The ironic thing is that many people spend a lot of time and effort trying to keep the outside world from getting any glimpses of all that accumulated junk. As Michael points out, this strategy is not the least bit effective.

We simply cannot control outside events. The reality of life is that things will change — and some of those changes will be uncomfortable, even painful. We cannot build a life that has only good things and none of the discomforting things.

Maybe this is why I find Spring to be so meaningful. After all, Spring is fearless when it comes to pushing through once frozen ground, stretching both fragile roots down and pushing delicate leaves and buds up. Spring does the hard work. She knows it is worth it. Spring welcomes paradox — the hot fudge sundae moments of warmth and cold. Spring can hold two opposing moments and value them both. Spring rushes head first into the fullness of her season, bursting with color, textures, scents. She goes softly when it is time to hand the baton to Summer with a wink and a promise. It is this ebb and flow of nature that Spring reminds us of…take the good and the bad together — it is life. We can do hard things and we can grow.

If we had our way, we would never grow. We would build a little life that is in a box filled with all the things we are comfortable with, hop in and lock it up! Growth comes from things that are not comfortable.” — Michael Singer, from his podcast

Michael compares this inner housekeeping to physical training we might undertake. The motto at the gym is “no pain, no gain.” Yet we shy away from adopting that same motto for our emotional and mental well being. Brene Brown reminds us that people will do anything not to feel emotional pain — even causing pain to others. Offloading our pain onto others is a horrible strategy. Hoarding it is an equally bad option.

We can’t let our fear of feeling some emotional pain prevent us from doing the inner work. Taking care of our inner environment is doing the heavy lifting of accepting reality, fully experiencing what is happening and honoring the right to learn from it. No pain, no gain.

What we have been learning in recent years from Brene Brown’s research, neuroscience and psychology is that powering through big hard emotional experiences is NOT strength and it surely is not in our best interests long term. It is exactly why we end up with a basement and attic full of accumulated discomfort.

We need to fully experience and process the hardships and losses in our lives as they unfold. When we learn to do this, we grow. We only bring into our inner world the invaluable residue of what we have learned from the experience. That’s the rich compost for a grounded, meaningful, more peaceful life.

“Working on yourself means learning from the realities of life, learning from our discomfort. Honor what has happened, accept it, experience it and become a greater person because of what you learn and how you grow from the experience.” — Michael Singer, from his podcast

Michael Singer offers a powerful reframing that helps us approach emotional processing in a whole new light. Rather than thinking of how painful it is, think of it as a challenge — like training for a marathon or mountain climbing experience. Or you might approach it like a game of chess — what strategies can you employ to win?

People go out of their way to challenge themselves in other areas of their life. That’s why we love a good competition. What if we changed our mindset about life’s difficulties?

Right now I am feeling a bit like the mom that sneaks veggies into the Mac and Cheese. Is anyone shying away from a good old fashioned challenge? A chance to win? To move from victim to victor?

Michael’s reframing changes not only our mindset; it also changes our energy from resistance to receptivity. We get excited about a challenge, we get motivated. We get it and we own it. We say to ourselves, “I’ve made a mess inside and I am going to clean it up!”

Here’s another refreshing insight. Michael says we can ease into this new paradigm by dealing with the realities of life that are unfolding in the present moment. Set yourself up for success by working on the things that are causing you discomfort right now. In other words, don’t be putting more “stuff” in the basement. Step one is stop adding more clutter.

Lead with this new mantra when you are practicing genuine emotional processing as it is unfolding: “I want to be open and receptive, to be able to handle the reality that is in front of me — and finish it off.” (credit to Michael Singer)

Once you are more nimble with processing current experiences, you may want to get into that attic or basement and pull out the dusty older stuff. Learn what you can and then toss it. I have found Brene Brown’s Atlas of the Heart to be invaluable for this deep clean. With an expanded emotional vocabulary and a better viewing lens, I can go back and revisit old experiences in a healthier way. I keep the treasures and discard the cobwebs.

Imagine how much lighter you will feel emotionally, how much more expansive your inner world will be and how much more discerning you will be about what you keep inside.

Now…get to it! It’s time for some major spring cleaning!

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

Michael Singer (author, journalist and motivational speaker) will motivate you to grab some tools and begin your inner Spring cleaning. I’m recommending this podcast episode for his wise, grandfatherly pep talk. You can skip the intro and fast forward to 2.45 minutes in to get your juices flowing https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/michael-singer-podcast/id1573483082?i=1000557932460

Under the Surface..

For quite some time, I have been thinking about all the stratifications that we each have under the surface — the ones that are hidden not only from others, but even from ourselves. These stratifications are biology, biography, behavior and backstory — and they can snag us, keep us stuck or sometimes even pull us under when the seas of life get tumultuous. If you’re curious about how to move through life more fluidly, with less drag, read on.

This image of an iceberg seems fitting for what I’ll be unpacking. The surface is where we believe we are operating each day. The reality is that the stuff below the surface is always present, either consciously or unconsciously. The more self-aware we are, the lighter the undertow of what’s below the surface.

In Atlas of the Heart, Brene Brown defines these stratifications as the layers of our biology, biography, behavior and backstory. We are continually adding to these layers as we go through life. Brene implores us to to examine them so that we can become more self-aware.

If we pull back the layers and tease apart the entanglement that occurs as we drag these layers unchecked and unconsciously through life, we begin to more clearly understand the weight and the complexity of all that lies under the surface of each of us. Why wait for a mid-life unraveling as Brene calls it?

I marvel sometimes that we human beings can have a meaningful, interactive conversation with each other, let alone be in relationships, be parents, friends, co-workers and leaders. A peek under the surface at another’s stratifications would be revelational — and even daunting. The buried treasures are the very things we need to make deeper connections, build resilience and move through our lives with greater ease.

In my most recent post, I shared some of the game-changing insights about our superpower, ATTENTION. The entire time I was reading Peak Mind and writing that post, I was thinking about something very profound: If we are already losing 50% of our lives because we aren’t really “paying attention”, what happens when we numb our pain, hide our true feelings and needs, walk on eggshells, and react to false narratives and beliefs? How much of the remaining 50% do we lose with armor, addiction, baggage and unconscious patterns of behavior?

Is it any wonder that there is an urgent call to “find your authentic self?”

Picture Jacob Marley, dragging around that long and heavy chain for most of his life.

The chains are intended to represent his sins in life, accompanied by his guilt for failing to help his fellow man. His lack of compassion.

He forged the chain himself.

This image seems an appropriate metaphor for the stratifications we have under the surface. Quite honestly, some were not of our own doing, but just ways in which we learned to make sense of our world.

Other parts of our stratifications can be attributed to baggage we’ve collected over our lifetime, unprocessed emotions, insecurities and triggers. Hidden underneath all that heavy stuff are the very things we want to be more aligned with — our innate gifts, our strengths, resilience and joy.

Let’s take a deep dive under the surface and explore how biology, biography, behaviors and backstory impact us today. We operate unconsciously because we simply aren’t fully aware of how we are showing up and why. Armed with self-awareness and introspection, we can make informed choices about personal development.

BEHAVIORS:

Outgrown behavioral patterns originated in childhood when our brain development did not yet able us to operate in a “top-down” fashion. We were using immature brains to make sense of our lives. Not only that, we had limited language which hampered our ability to articulate complex emotions. All too often, as children we were told to suppress emotions or get over it. Bottled up emotions are bound to explode at some point. So, we developed both behavioral patterns and reactive responses. This hampered developing emotional agility and good coping skills.

Here’s a sampling of typical behavioral patterns: Conflict avoider, people pleaser, shape shifter and perfectionist. We may go through life withdrawn, hyper vigilant, overly anxious or temperamental. We may have a fear of abandonment or of not being worthy; or we may be confrontational or overly complacent.

The coping strategies we relied on to navigate our childhoods rarely serve us well in adulthood. In fact, these “go-to” behaviors hold us back from growing emotionally and psychologically. Very often, these behavioral patterns are some form of armor that we use to protect us from feeling vulnerable. We were most vulnerable as children, especially if the very people we relied upon to keep us safe, did not do that. So, we armored up. We found creative ways to navigate and mitigate.

While they may have worked in childhood, they do not help us function in a healthy, proactive way in adulthood. They become the “drag” that shows up as resistance, a lack of confidence or not even knowing what we really want from life.

BIOGRAPHY:

Our behavioral patterns are interconnected to our “attachment style”. Simply put, attachments styles are expectations we develop about relationships with others based on the relationship we had with our primary caregiver.

Our attachment style is a great place to start when pulling back the layers of our biography. It offers insight into how we are showing up in our most important relationships.

This chart highlights the attributes of the primary caregiver for each of the 4 attachment styles and the corresponding ways a person will respond in their adult relationships.

The huge benefit of coming to terms with both our behavioral patterns and our attachment style is that we free ourselves from things that no longer serve us. We often go into adulthood with concrete ideas about the things our parents did that we will NOT be doing. But we are unaware that unconsciously we are bringing along the patterns — both our own and those of our family. We lived in a Petri dish of family dynamics for nearly two decades. We won’t shake off old habits overnight — especially if we aren’t paying attention to them.

We can take affirmative steps to untether ourselves and find a better way to go through adulthood. This work starts with self-awareness. It is also how we break unhealthy generational cycles. Dr. Dan Siegel is a great resource for parents who want to understand their own attachment style and develop healthy, secure attachments with their children.

There’s a little more to biography than attachment styles however. Our feelings arise from an emotional experience — and we surely accumulated many emotional experiences during childhood and adolescence (and all with a brain not yet fully developed).

The study of moods and emotions helps reveal the porous boundaries between conscious and unconscious mental processes.

What gets stored consciously in our memory banks are the tangible details of our experience – the one we can articulate with clarity years later. What gets unconsciously stored is the nuanced physiological and emotional responses associated with that story. This is where we find ourselves “triggered” by a present day experience that is quite different from a past event yet feels familiar.

Did you know that our brain might not distinguish between an imagined stressful situation and one that is actually happening? Our brain will produce stress hormones — adrenalin and cortisol — in both situations unless we help it to make the distinction. As Dr. Amishi Jha explains in Peak Mind, our brains are trainable.

New brain imaging research shows that “imagining” a threat lights up similar regions as “experiencing” it does. This research confirms that imagination is a neurological reality that can impact our brains and bodies in ways that matter for our well-being.” Tor Wager, Director of the Cognitive and Affective at CU Boulder, senior co-author of Your Brain on Imagination, White Paper published December 10, 2018.

If we could take a cross-section of our accumulated emotions and experiences, we would see clearly how the layers formed – from our childhood environment, to how we made sense of it; to the behavioral patterns we adopted and the armor we used for an added safety measure; to our brain and body’s responses, and the memory banks we filled. This is also a heavy “drag” on us as we go through life. These stratifications are our own Jacob Marley chains.

BACKSTORY:

All of this brings us to backstory. Biography, Behaviors and Biology are all intertwined in the narratives we created as children to help us make sense of things; they are equally intertwined in the stories we tell ourselves today when we are feeling insecure, shamed, triggered, uncertain or vulnerable. Our inner critic often engages as a co-author in our stories, much to our detriment.

There is a shadow being cast from our backstory onto the experience we are having today. Most of the time, we are completely unaware of it.

Imbedded in the layers of our biography, behaviors and biology is our history. Brene invites us to get inquisitive, to ask “what brought this on? Because the clues we need to unravel the present moment from our entangled past, lie in this deeper exploration of our layers – the stratifications of emotions and experiences we have accumulated over our lifetime.

For decades, I have combed the shelves of the “self-help” section of libraries and bookstores. I even stumbled across Jon Kabat-Zinns book “Wherever You Go, There You” are back in February, 2000 — but I wasn’t ready to “receive” all the wisdom imbedded in his book about mindfulness and meditation. When I was reading Atlas of the Heart, I marveled that Brene Brown included his work in her own research and writing.

In fact, as I have written in prior blog posts, so many of the resources I have cultivated for my own personal growth work over the past decade are now intersecting. The tool box for self-discovery and personal development is chock full of readily accessible, integrated resources.

One inspiring difference are the game-changing breakthroughs in neuroscience that have become the foundation — and the impetus — for all of us to take self-awareness seriously.

And the serious work of cultivating greater self-awareness begins by pulling back the layers, performing a “Marie Kondo-like” purge of patterns, armors and coping skills that are not sparking joy and harnessing the power of our most phenomenal organ — our brain.

What has me so excited and energized these days is witnessing young parents leaning into all that we are learning from neuroscience, incorporating personal growth and mental well being as a part of their overall self care, and proactively teaching their children to express and process their emotions in healthy ways.

Here’s a toast to smoother sailing ahead!

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

The Enneagram Academy – Behavioral Patterns https://enneagramacademy.com/behavioural-patterns/

The Verdict is In — the Case for Attachment Theory

https://drdansiegel.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/1271-the-verdict-is-in-1.pdf

Science Daily Article: Your Brain on Imagination; It’s a lot like reality

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/12/181210144943.htm

UNDERSTANDING STRESS: CAUSES, BIOLOGY & HOW TO BECOME RESILIENT
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KsPtfBYkgeA&t=50s
RUMINATION: HOW TO DISRUPT OBSESSIVE THOUGHTS
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U2tnf8q7GMk

YouTube Video with Dr. Dan Siegel: THE IMPORTANCE OF PARENTS’ ATTACHMENT TO CHILD’S BRAIN INTEGRATION https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TsGOyX9WY4k

Want a personal viewpoint? Check out this conversation with Steve Tyler, Aerosmith’s Lead Singer and what his own personal growth journey has been like. https://podtail.com/en/podcast/oprah-s-supersoul-conversations/steven-tyler-pt-1/

May I Have Your Attention?

This morning, I was sitting in front of my fireplace with a cup of piping hot peppermint tea while a confetti snow fell over the mountains and canyon. In my hands, I held a book, a yellow highlighter and hot pink post-it notes. I heard the gentle sloshing of the water in the washing machine and the distant bark of the neighbor’s playful dog. I was practicing using my brain’s flashlight to focus my complete attention on each and every thing I have just described, one at a time.

The book I am reading is Peak Mind; Find Your Focus, Own Your Attention, Invest 12 Minutes a Day. I confess that I am so into this book that I find myself giggling, gasping and nodding in agreement with each and every page. This book with all its revelations about our brains and our attention has me captivated.

I stumbled into mindfulness and meditation six years ago in an attempt to cultivate self-awareness and an ability to stay in the present moment. I had a hard time articulating to others, in a succinct way, what I was discovering with both. I often used an analogy involving yoga or golf to attempt to explain how the small daily practices, done consistently over time, led to quite noticeable positive changes months later.

And now, in my hands, is the most incredible reference book I could ever dream of having — and it is so relatable, so captivating that I cannot imagine anyone not wanting to read it. Even if you have no interest whatsoever in mindfulness and meditation, the knowledge you will gain about your brain, and most importantly about your incredible superpower –ATTENTION — should be more than ample to spark your interest.

Your attention determines:

What you perceive, learn and remember;

how steady or how reactive you feel;

which decisions you make and actions you take;

how you interact with others;

and ultimately your sense of fulfillment and accomplishment. (Excerpted from page 4 of Peak Mind)

If that list isn’t enough to pique your interest, consider this: Your attention now has a commercial value. “If you aren’t paying for the product, you ARE the product.” As Dr. Amishi Jha states, more precisely it is your attention that is the product — a commodity that can be sold to the highest bidder. Did you know that we now have attention merchants and attention markets? And this forecasts the possibility of trading in human “attention futures” along with metals, oils, grains and currency.

I’m guessing that you might be paying more attention now…..

If our attention is so invaluable that it has become a commodity, perhaps that will be the wake up call that compels us to take control of what is rightfully ours and attend to it much like we would our physical health.

We tend to accept that, to improve our physical health, we need to engage in physical exercise. Somehow, we just don’t think the same way about psychological health or cognitive capacity. But we should! Just as specific types of physical training can strengthen certain muscles groups, this type of mental training can strengthen attention — if we do it. (Excerpted from page 15, the Chapter entitled A Mental Workout that Works, from the book Peak Mind)

Go back and re-read that list above in the blue background. Everything on that list is what we are striving for when we talk about personal development. It encompasses emotional regulation, self-awareness, good decision making, learning from past experiences, gaining knowledge and wisdom, changing behavioral patterns and cultivating gratitude. It all gets boiled down to one simple yet profound factor — attention.

Dr. Jha is a gifted writer who uses her personal experiences, decades of fascinating research and relatable metaphors to walk us through the operations manual of our complex brain, how attention gets hijacked, how we can de-clutter our minds and strengthen our focus so that we fully experience more of our lives.

“What you pay attention to is your life.” (Excerpted from page 26, Chapter entitled Attention is Your SuperPower, the book Peak Mind)

Just sit with that for a few minutes — What you pay attention to IS your life. Check your daily screen usage if you dare. Ponder that on average we have over 6,000 thoughts per day. Think about all the things you routinely juggle on a daily basis. Dr. Jha points out that the problem is not all the things that are vying for our attention every single day, it is that we lack internal cues about where our attention actually is — moment to moment. The solution? Pay attention to your attention.

Dr. Jha reveals that attention is both a superpower AND it is fragile. She identifies 3 main things that are “kryptonite” for our fragile attention: stress, threat and poor mood.

Stress: That perceived feeling of being overwhelmed can jettison us into time travel: rumination about the past or worry about the future. These only aggravate and accelerate the amount of stress we are experiencing.

“When you experience too much stress for too long, you get caught in the downward spiral of attention degradation; the worse attention gets, the less you are able to control it; the less you’re able to control it, the worse the stress gets.” (Excerpted from page 47, the chapter ….But There’s Kryptonite, the book Peak Mind)

Threat: Whether real or imagined, threat makes it nearly impossible to focus on any task at hand or even stay on track in a heated conversation. Our ability to direct our attention at will is gone. Threat vigilance increases (we are triggered to protect ourselves) and our attention become stimulus-driven (we are on keen lookout for anything that is threat-related.) No matter how hard we may try, the threat becomes the focal point of our attention. Think back on a disagreement you had where you felt that your integrity or intentions were under attack, and even now you may feel heat rising in your body. Was it hard to focus solely on the content of the disagreement?

“Even if you have the highest IQ on the block, here’s a truth about human brains: in some ways, they haven’t changed in thirty-five thousand years. If the brain believes it’s under threat, it’s going to reconfigure attention accordingly, regardless of whether what’s actually in front of you is a threat.” (Excerpted from page 50, chapter ….But There’s Kryptonite, the book Peak Mind)

Poor Mood: “Everything from chronic depression to how you feel after receiving bad news can constitute poor mood” explains Dr. Jha. No matter the source, the effect can send us into loops of repetitive negative thoughts. Performance of cognitive tasks that involve both attention and working memory worsen in the midst of poor mood. This worsening of attention and working memory affects accuracy, slows the speed at which the task is accomplished and inhibits varied responses to the task at hand.

Dr. Jha says that once we wrap our heads around the 3 components of kryptonite, might say — “ok, so, I’ll simply reduce my stress, be on the lookout for a bad mood and make sure I’m not feeling threatened by stuff that isn’t a real threat.”

There’s just one major problem – kryptonite is not only good at sabotaging our attention, it is SNEAKY!

“The fact is, we’re really bad at identifying forces that degrade attention, even when we’re immersed in them. We often aren’t able to recognize them for what they are. And further, without training to gain a stronger awareness of our own minds, we simply aren’t very cognizant of the effects. Excerpted from page 51, the chapter ….But There’s Kryptonite, the book Peak Mind).

Let’s stop right there for a moment and take in some good. Attention is our superpower and while it is fragile, it is also trainable! Did you just breathe a sigh of relief?

“It is possible to change the way our attention systems operate. This is a critical new discovery, not only because we ARE missing half our lives, but because the half we’re here for can feel like a constant struggle. (Excerpted from page 6, Introduction to the book, Peak Mind.

As I read Peak Mind, and share these insights with you in this post, I find myself feeling so incredibly grateful. I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that this book will change lives. This “critical new discovery” is combining the wisdom of centuries old meditative practices with groundbreaking neuroscience discoveries. It feels like the beginning of a new era of discoveries for mental health, Alzheimer’s, dementia, cognition, emotional intelligence and resilience.

In the past I did have a hard time conveying to others just how game-changing mindfulness and meditation can be. I’d talk about neuroscience and neuroplasticity and people would glaze over. I’d talk about being in the “present moment” and eyes would roll.

Even more challenging was being able to give someone a concrete plan for cultivating mindfulness and starting a daily meditation practice of their own. I’d suggest books or podcasts but in the end it really was a DIY approach.

Lastly, it was hardest still to really get across to others how transformational mindfulness and meditation had been in my day to day life: How I stopped ruminating and needless worrying, how I am able rather effortlessly to bring my full attention back to the present moment when I notice it drifting off. I am now able to be in the midst of a lot of negative energy and remain detached from it, rooted in my calm center and much more capable of observing with clarity. I have freed myself from old emotional triggers. I am more resilient, more rested, and definitely more relaxed. Even when I am dreaming, my mindfulness shows up! I am a strong testament for everything that Dr. Amisha Jha offers in her book, Peak Mind.

In her book, Dr. Jha offers the 12 minute daily exercise that will put you on a path to reclaiming your attention and all its superpowers. Over the course of just 5 short weeks, she will guide you through Core Training for the Brain. It’s the beginning of a daily and lifelong practice that will undoubtedly change the quality of your life in remarkable ways.

It’s exciting that a resource like Peak Mind is available. The more we know, the more we grow!

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

FINDING FOCUS & OWNING YOUR ATTENTION WITH DR. AMISHI JHA, PhD https://brenebrown.com/podcast/finding-focus-and-owning-your-attention/

Nuggets of Wisdom – Insights from Others

I’m changing things up a bit for this Nuggets of Wisdom post. This time, I am sharing insights from some of my favorite inspirational resources along with my reflections on how their wisdom can show up in our daily lives. Let’s jump in:

You know that old adage that “time heals everything“…..well, it simply is not true. As yung pueblo so wisely shares in the above quote, it is not time that heals — it is the courage we muster to stop ignoring and hiding from the obvious. When we know we are not showing up as our best selves, when we keep having the same argument or miscommunication, when we lose our cool or opt to shut down — those are the little warning lights telling us that we need to pay attention to the root cause. From my experience, the pain that yung pueblo refers to has two sides — the unprocessed pain that we bottled up because of a past bad experience AND the pain of showing up now in an inauthentic way. Often we regret how we are showing up in the present moment, because we are “acting out” rather that “working through”. Stuffed emotions, ongoing resentments, and bottled up pain never go away with time alone. Heed the warning lights and lean into your courage. It’s the faster path to self awareness and supporting the better version of who you really want to be.

This quote from Fred Rogers echos the same sentiment that yung pueblo expressed, so I thought it a fitting P.S. to his nugget of wisdom.

Boundaries sometimes conjure up an image of limitations or walls, but they are actually the gateways to treating someone with respect and integrity – in a way that feels very tangible and supportive to them.

Nedra Tawwab is my go-to resource for deeper understanding of the importance of boundaries in healthy relationships of all types. In this post, Nedra provides clear cut examples of what it looks like to respect and accept another’s boundaries.

I’m working on helping my grandchildren learn the benefits of boundaries by using the word “respect” when I respond to their request for privacy, specific help, or even not helping. If my granddaughter tells me that she does not want help with something that I believe may be frustrating her, I respond by telling her that I respect her wish to do it all by herself. This may seem like a small matter yet it is planting the seed of what it feels like to be respected. Here’s an interesting twist that she’s teaching me — She prefers to work through things on her own even if they are a little daunting; then she feels good to have successfully accomplished it independently. This invaluable lesson of resourcefulness, tenacity and personal agency that comes from respecting her boundaries is not lost on me.

At the onset of 2022, I shifted the focus of my blog to helping others discover tools that would best benefit their own self-discovery and personal development journey. The concept of a toolbox really resonates with me and I like the idea each of us customizing our individual toolbox. Just like the toolbox you have for home repairs, you might have some you use often and others that are for speciality jobs. The same is true for the tools we rely on to help us build resilience and emotional agility, cultivate greater self awareness and inner peace, and those that heal and bridge us through times of great adversity.

Yet there is an important caveat that must be mentioned here. We are all better skilled at using these tools and achieving meaningful results if we take the time to understand neuroscience and how our brains operate. It is the very reason I was drawn to Dr. Hanson’s work at the onset of my own personal growth journey. Fortunately there are understandable and relatable resources to help us better understand and utilize the potential of our brains. Check out Peak Mind by Dr. Amishi Jha, Flourish by Dr. Martin Seligman, You, Happier by Dr. Daniel Amen, Hardwiring Happiness by Dr. Rick Hanson and of course, the Being Well Podcast. My recent post entitled Mindfulness: A Brain Game Changer might be a good primer if you want to dip your toes into learning more about neuroscience.

One of the phrases that Dr. Rick Hanson often uses that I find so encouraging is “how are you resourcing yourself?” This question encompasses what we do on a daily basis to support our overall mental well being and what tools we turn to when we hit a rough patch, are overwhelmed or in deep struggle. Our customized toolbox can be chock full of diverse tools to resource ourselves throughout life.

I’m wrapping this post up with yet another nugget of wisdom from yung pueblo because of an uplifting, inspirational conversation I had with my friend, Judy Chesters. It’s no secret that we have supported in each other in many ways over these past 5 years of personal growth work. Mindfulness has been a cornerstone of our inner work and that’s where we both became much more self-aware of armor and baggage that was getting in our way of living in alignment with who we really are. In our recent chat, we were both sharing how much lighter and more expansive we feel now, how we have more clarity, more resilience and inner calm. We have more energy, more fun, more creativity and deeper relationships. Because we know each other so well, it becomes very evident as we swap stories that we are most definitely showing up in much healthier ways these days — and yes we even chuckle at how the former versions of ourselves would have responded.

What got my attention in this quote of yung pueblo’s is how he emphasizes that when we “find ourselves” (and are operating with more mindfulness), we connect with people that add to our radiance (love that word), and move with bold and genuine energy. That is exactly how Judy and I are feeling these days.

In her book, Peak Mind, Dr. Amishi Jha highlights that when we are living mindfully and are more skilled at focusing our attention in the present moment, our experiences are amplified (another awesome word). Things feel brighter, louder and crisper. Judy and I have discovered that memories of our experiences have been enriched with smells, sensations, the feel of a tiny warm hand in ours, colors and textures, the twinkle in someone’s eye. You cannot capture these sensory details in a photo….but they are strongly imprinted with our experience when we have been fully present in the moment.

All these nuggets of wisdom may seem to be unrelated, but they are actually stepping stones on the personal development journey. Time doesn’t heal, doing the work is what heals. Boundaries help us show each other how we want to be treated, and serve as a reminder to ourselves of our value and what we need to flourish. We benefit from having a toolbox to resource ourselves with daily self-care and to support us through challenging times. And the light at the end of the tunnel — well that is where you find yourself living more mindfully, more present and engaged, in alignment with who you truly are. You will find friends and like-minded souls on your self discovery journey. They will scaffold you, hold space for you and celebrate your progress.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

Understanding Stress: Causes, Biology, & How to Become Resilient

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KsPtfBYkgeA

Dr. Daniel Amen – TEDxOrangeCoast: Change Your Brain, Change Your Life

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MLKj1puoWCg

Mindfulness: A Brain Game-Changer

Before I got seriously committed to personal growth, I had this growing curiosity about resilience, coping skills and an ability to sustain some level of overall satisfaction with life. Why did some people seem to have this in spades and others really struggled? Little did I know that my search for answers would end up changing my life in the most remarkable ways.

Back in 2014, I found myself in the psychology section of the book store and discovered Dr. Martin Seligman’s book, Flourish: A Visionary Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being.

Dr. Seligman offered a game-changing theory in the field of psychology about what really makes a good life — and his focus was on optimism, motivation and character. Simply put, flourishing was defined as feeling good and functioning well. That sure seemed like a great place to start for answers to my questions. Here’s what drew me in:

While certainly a part of well-being, happiness “alone” doesn’t give life its meaning. Seligman asks: “What is it that enables you to cultivate your talents, to build deep, lasting relationships with others, to feel pleasure and to contribute meaningfully to the world. In other words, what is it that allows you to “flourish”? (Kirkus Reviews)

Dr. Seligman was flipping traditional psychology upside down — rather than focusing solely on efforts to relieve human suffering, his focus was to look at what was going well in our lives. It was a straightforward, understandable way to “re-wire the brain” and provide balance for the brain’s negativity bias. I was intrigued by this because I had noticed that some of those folks struggling with sustained contentment in their lives often had a lot of things in the “plus” column. Yet that alone did not seem to be enough to have them adopt a “glass half full” perspective. A simple exercise that Dr. Seligman recommended was to identify 3 things that went well at the end of every day.

That simple exercise had a very relevant link — often the very reason that things went well was related to something that the person actively did to facilitate a positive experience.

Agency, action and positive reinforcement all wrapped up in a simple gratitude practice.

It was then that I had a “aha” moment. My brother is the poster child for resilience, strong coping skills and a contagious enthusiasm for life. Yet my brother has had more than his fair share of setbacks and adversities in his life and frankly he has a lot more “minuses” in the column than most. Could it be that his immense gratitude for the small, good things was the key to his ability to be so upbeat and resilient?

Whenever I spend time with my brother, I just bask in his effervescent reviews of the best cheeseburger he just enjoyed, the thrill of the round of golf we just played (even if he lost most of his golf balls) and the miraculous beauty of a sunset. He is the most appreciative, grateful guy I have ever known. Is this his secret sauce for living life with optimism, motivation and resilience?

About a year after I read Flourish, my friend gave me several issues of Mindfulness Magazine. It was my initial introduction to mindfulness and I was fascinated. Little did I know that mindfulness practices would become an integral part of my life. There’s no doubt in my mind that because I had read Flourish, I was extremely receptive to learning all that I could about mindfulness.

Flipping through those issues, I discovered Dr. Rick Hanson, an expert in positive neuroplasticity. I was so intrigued by this remarkable concept: Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to modify, change and adapt both structure and function throughout life and in response to experience. What I had already been learning from Flourish was that shifting the brain’s negativity bias simply by focusing on the good things in our life can have dramatic impacts on our quality of life — and on our ability to cope, build resilience and squeeze more joy out of life.

I began to see where psychology and neuroscience were complementing each other. It was through Dr. Hanson’s work that I began to find some of the answers to my earlier questions — we can get caught in the negativity bias, create deep trenches in our brain where we stay stuck…and have a very hard time overcoming — even when our life circumstances have changed dramatically for the better. Negative emotional cycles can lead to self-fulfilling prophecies, rumination, apathy, anxiety and depression. It can be very difficult to break these cycles, especially if you’ve been prone to lean heavily into the negativity bias for most of your life.

About the same time that I was digging deep into neuroscience, I was also soaking up all that Brene Brown was revealing about shame, vulnerability, courage and empathy. One of her findings was that when we “numb” pain, we also “numb” joy. This insight led me to think about the ways that people numb their pain and its correlation to negativity bias. When we numb, we dial down our awareness. So, we are now operating unconsciously and before we know it, we have consumed an entire bag of potato chips, the carton of ice cream, or binged two seasons of a Netflix program. When we have slipped into auto-pilot, our brains are naturally going to default to the negativity bias if that’s our “go to” familiar place. See the connection?

When we numb pain, we numb joy. We aren’t able to see the good things right in front of us, because we are back in the negativity loop and we don’t even realize it. When the numbness wears off and we “awaken” to our consciousness, we look around but still have blind spots to the good stuff. It’s incredibly hard to sustain joy and happiness when our focus and awareness are lopsided due to the negativity bias.

The correlation I was making from all of this inter-connecting research is that mindfulness is an incredible tool because it anchors us in “awareness”. Mindfulness keeps us present so we can take in the good and stops us from slipping into unconscious auto pilot. Meditation is an interactive tool to help us break the cycle that feeds the negativity bias. Meditation helps us to avoid getting “stuck” by our thoughts and pulled into old negative cycles.

Putting the pieces of this puzzle together became the foundation for my own self-discovery and personal growth plan. While I was an upbeat person, wired much like my brother, I was having some difficulty breaking free from rumination. I realized that this was holding me back from the life I really wanted to be living. I wanted to “flourish” – feeling good and functioning well.

At the onset of both my mindfulness and meditation practices, the best I could do was small doses of each. I committed to doing the best I could and to doing it every single day. When I would find myself “living in the past” rather than being fully present in the moment, I would make a note of it — “ruminating” or “thinking”. This is a basic tool I learned from my Headspace mindfulness app. A little trick that can be used throughout the day. I also used another trick of “substitution”. If I would find myself thinking about a person or event that caused me discomfort, I would substitute a person or event that brought me joy. I recall Dr. Hanson offering a mindfulness practice of “flipping it”– which was basically the same premise that Dr. Seligman introduced — “look for the good, not the bad.”

I will readily admit that meditating was so incredibly hard in the beginning. I had these unrealistic expectations that I would sit for 5 or 10 minutes and be blissfully thought-free. Just the opposite happened — hundreds of thoughts streamed into my mind the moment I sat down and closed my eyes. After I embraced the idea that meditation was more about letting thoughts come and go, I bought into the theory that I was “breaking the cycle” of getting attached to my thoughts. My meditation practice become more productive and honestly I came to enjoy it. Maybe not in the moment if I am being honest, but when I realized that I was able to tap into these tools throughout my day, I knew I was making real progress.

Mindfulness and meditation became the foundation for my processing, my healing and personal growth. I was able to end a long cycle of rumination and curate greater self-awareness. I often wonder if my keen interest in resilience, optimism and emotional regulation was really a springboard for what I myself needed. Would I have been so drawn to neuroscience, mindfulness, mediation and Brene Brown if not for this curiosity?

I will share with you what prompted me to reflect on all of this and to make the connections I may have missed five or six years ago. It was a dynamic and insightful Dare to Lead podcast that Brene Brown recently had with neuroscientist, Dr. Amishi Jha. It is entitled Finding Focus and Owning Your Attention.

Here’s the introduction for this episode: “a game changing conversation about attention, focus, concentration and mindfulness- specifically how mindfulness can literally change our levels of attention “……Brene Brown

Naturally I was captivated the moment I read both the title and the introduction for this episode. A huge smile came across my face as Brene Brown shared Dr. Jha’s credentials before the conversation — She is the Director of contemplative neuroscience for the Mindfulness Research and Practice Initiative. Wow — contemplative neuroscience is a real thing!

This podcast episode will illuminate all the ways that mindfulness can have a profound impact on your quality of life. Yes, I chose that word illuminate on purpose because Dr. Jha is witty, light-hearted and possesses a gift for metaphors. Her flashlight metaphor will totally illuminate things you never knew about your brain and your attention.

Dr. Amishi Jha is the author of Peak Mind: Find Your Focus, Own Your Attention, Invest 12 Minutes a Day and she has a Ted Talk entitled “How to Tame Your Wandering Mind”. I highly recommend both if your interest has been piqued. Imagine what a small investment like 12 minutes a day might just do to amp up how you are “flourishing” in life.

I am so grateful that neuroscience, mindfulness and meditation are becoming mainstream, relatable and user-friendly. Those of us in the everyday world who are practicing both and reaping the benefits can be so helpful and encouraging to others.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

To contend with the stress of our current world, we need to properly equip ourselves to cope. Neuroscientist Dr. Amishi Jha teaches you how to use mindfulness to train your brain to pay attention differently and provides scientifically sound alternative to panic: presence

TEDxCoconut Grove – Dr. Amishi Jha on How To Tame Your Wandering Mind

https://www.ted.com/talks/amishi_jha_how_to_tame_your_wandering_mind

Two Peas in a Pod

One of the things I love most about this enlightening journey of my personal growth is the reconnection with friends from my past. Who knew that my blog and my social media posts about my experiences would be the spark that rekindled old friendships?

It turns out that parts of my stories resonated at a time when my friends found themselves in a similar place, contemplating what wasn’t really working in their lives, struggling with relationship issues, or trying to find their way forward after a major adversity or loss. We often discover common ground when another’s story reflects parts of our own life back to us. There are elements of our experiences that are so relatable, we feel safe to reach out for connection and support.

That is exactly what unfolded as my friends were processing their own lives and happened upon my blog or social media posts. I am so grateful for these reconnections because these are friends that I have shared so much of my earlier life with and it feels so good to reminisce, to laugh and to discover all that has transpired since we last saw each other. What we valued in each other way back then is what we still value in each other today. Often, we help each other blow the dust away to see the hidden treasures deep inside of us that we may be having difficulty finding in the present chapter of our lives.

I marvel at the very different paths that each of our lives have taken and yet there are so many common threads that run between our stories of careers, marriages, parenthood, family dynamics, major life events and choices we have made over the decades. There have been a great variety of reasons for each of us to take a step back from our lives and give serious consideration to things we wish to change.

When we take in another’s story and recognize that we have had similar experiences, we feel a sense of relief. We feel less alone. It reminds me of Brene Brown’s book, “I Thought It Was Just Me” where she emphasizes that our imperfections are what connects us to one another and to our humanity. Our vulnerabilities are powerful reminders to keep our hearts and minds open to the reality that we are all in this together.

In the case of these rekindled friendships, there was also a reminder of our shared values and the comfort we found in each other when we first forged our friendships years ago. All these things combine to create a bridge from the past to the present and a knowing that it is safe to share our full stories.

I was both humbled and deeply touched that my friends would reach out to me because something in my blog resonated with them. While I had always hoped that what I was learning myself would in turn help others, it was an unexpected gift to discover it was meaningful to my friends — women that I knew, loved and respected; women who in turn knew me so well.

One of those rekindled friendships has evolved into a deeper, more encompassing relationship than either of us could have ever imagined.

My dear friend, Judy Chesters, and I met when we were just 18 years old and starting our first job right out of high school. We worked for a small law firm in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. At that time, we bonded over our Lancaster roots, humble beginnings and hopes for our future. We were two peas in a pod. Eventually our lives took different paths – though in a small town like Lancaster, we’d run into each other and pick up right where we left off. Some friendships are just like that — no matter how much time and life fills the spaces in between seeing each other, it is easy to catch up and reconnect. As often happens however, we fell out of touch as we both got so busy with growing families, juggling jobs, health issues, and life. I had also moved to West Chester, PA and then later to Florida. I did see Judy once in Lancaster before I moved to Florida when we ran into each other at the Park City Mall. We exchanged mobile phone numbers and friended each other on Facebook. That chance meeting turned out to be very fortuitous.

Just a few years later, Judy was reading my newly launched blog and decided it was time to call me rather than just hit “like” or offer a supportive comment on Facebook. Not surprisingly, we picked up right where we left off, chatting with ease to each other. However, this call took a sharp right turn and a deep dive — turns out we both were doing some soul searching and personal development work. It was one of my blog posts that really hit home with Judy and prompted her to call me.

Looking back, I can still picture where I was sitting that day, the Arizona sunshine warming me — but not as much as the heartfelt conversation that Judy and I shared. While our lives had taken completely different paths, so much of what we experienced over the past few decades had remarkable similarities. Even though our circumstances were polar opposites, the personal development discoveries we were making were nearly identical. Judy and I became trust buddies committed to helping each other on our inner work/personal growth journey. Two peas in a pod once again.

I recently asked Judy if she’d be willing to be a guest writer on my blog. I wanted her to share from her own perspective what it was that prompted her to do some re-evaluation of her life five or six years ago. Her insights are so impactful and I am so grateful that she agreed to share them here.:

I have known for a very long time I am an individual who thinks and feels differently than most people — many people would say that I am just “too sensitive” as if I have control over how I am wired. I feel deeply, I love deeply, I care deeply and I feel others’ pain deeply. I have a strong intuition and a result of these, I can hurt deeply.

I have a tendency to put others’ needs ahead of my own, often times not realizing that I too have needs. Emotionally, I became worn down by others who would embrace that part of me for my sensitivity and how it served them, but criticized me when my “sensitivity” did not serve them. As a result of this pattern of behavior and feeling exhausted and defeated, I had to accept the fact that I needed to embrace who I was to survive — and I had to find the balance to stay true to myself while protecting the heart that was given to me.

I worked tirelessly, reading and practicing some behavioral changes and it was a very difficult journey.

I was blessed to have my dear friend, Amy, and a few very close friends who were going through similar personal growth to help me stay on track.

I had to look deep inside of me and accept the fact that some of my own behavior patterns were keeping me trapped and getting in my way of moving forward. One of the biggest things I had to do was set some healthy boundaries to protect my heart. When boundaries were set, some embraced it while others did not. I realized that I did not have control over how others accepted my “change” and I could respect that.

I had the ability to live my life in a way that kept me true to myself for my intended “purpose” in life, using my God-given gifts to help others and I was no longer tethered to those who felt I needed to become “less sensitive” because it somehow made then feel “less than”. I have learned to respect myself and embrace the number of people who are in my life that understand my heart – they know my “core values.” I am far from perfect and I remind myself daily that I am ok with keeping distance from those that don’t understand my heart — and quite honestly, if others feel that way, why would they want to be a part of my life anyway? This has nothing to do with my love or caring for others. It is just a healthy boundary for self-care — and sometimes means loving “from a distance”.

I am so energized by living a life that aligns with who I am and not being burdened by anyone that doesn’t understand me. I am OK with that. I encourage others to look inside of themselves to align with who they are.

We are all different and have different purposes in. life. We all need to be the healthiest version of who we were meant to be — and discover that for ourselves. No one else can do it for us.

I love having women over for coffee just to chat and encourage each other to keep growing and to share resources for that growth. It is then, when we are able to have peace and contentment of knowing who we are, that we are able to “serve” others in a way that aligns with our individuality. ” —- Judy Chesters

My dear friend Judy is a born empath. I have known this about her since I first met her and it was likely the very reason I was drawn to her. As she shares, being an empath meant that she often took on others’ pain as though it were her own. There is no doubt in my mind that Judy’s young life experiences influenced her as a deeply compassionate, intuitive empath. She is one of those very rare people who can sit with others in their darkest hours without flinching. She has even done this for total strangers and somehow seems to find the words of comfort they so urgently need. I often tell her that she is God’s airbags for others when life is crashing all around them.

Perhaps the most noteworthy transformation that I have seen in Judy through all the personal growth work she has done, is that she is no longer overwhelmed physically and emotionally because of her gift of deep empathy. She has discovered a rare ability to stay grounded while also being a source of great comfort, support and healing for others. The people who come into Judy’s life are often in need of the most intensive care. It is not all surprising to me that Judy frequently forges meaningful, long term friendships with people she has supported through some of their hardest trials.

What Judy and I have both learned is that having a “study buddy” for personal growth work is truly invaluable. We are sounding boards for each other; we share resources and tools that we find helpful. We are honest and open about the patterns and responses we are working on. We cheer for each other when we make real progress and we support each other when the work gets challenging.

It is so gratifying today when we have our long conversations and witness the positive changes that have occurred in each of us. We are discovering that as we have shifted into the healthier, better versions of ourselves, we have more energy, more joy and a broader scope of awareness. We both feel more in alignment with our values and our life purpose.

We do have a few good laughs about how the old versions of ourselves might have shown up and the repercussions of that. Without a doubt, this is better!

When Judy shared with me that she was setting up a little library in her home for the books and resources that we have found helpful – and would regularly be inviting small groups of women over for coffee, I was overjoyed. I can just imagine the friendships that will be created, the stories that will be shared and the personal growth that will emerge.

In our wildest dreams, I don’t believe either of us thought our personal growth journey would be so rewarding. Over the past few years, we have both grown our circle of marble jar friends — and we are delighting in seeing each of them tap into their potential and share their unique gifts with the world.

I will close this post with a giant thank you to my lifelong friend, Judy, for being so genuine and so supportive.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

Judy and I found the enneagram very useful. We both read The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron. We discovered we are both dominant enneagram type 2 – and I told her she would laugh and cry when she read about us in this book. The enneagram puts a spotlight on behavioral patterns that hinder us. The best part of the enneagram is that it helps you move toward the healthy end of your spectrum. Check out The Enneagram Institute online for an introduction to this worthwhile tool.

Brene Brown’s books, both her podcasts (Dare to Lead and Unlocking Us) and her Ted Talk all served as great resources. The Gifts of Imperfection is a personal favorite.

Both of us have journaled most of our lives. Judy and I find journaling one of the best way to process our emotions, do deep reflective work and get to know ourselves better.

I’ll be updating this post with Judy’s recommendations for books on being an Empath; and on her favorite Daily Devotionals.

Broken Open by Elizabeth Lesser is another remarkable book – and is great for discussion with a good friend.