Evolving or Revolving?

There has been a golden thread running through my recent conversations with good friends that has really lifted my spirits in the most astounding way. What I am marveling at is this beautiful paradox of acceptance and awareness. As we reflect on our past, we recognize and accept that we were doing the best we could with what we had, or knew, in that moment in time. Now we possess better tools, wisdom borne from experience, and a reconnection with our most authentic selves.

The gift of old friendships is that we remind each other of the younger version of ourselves — and the magnetic attributes of our personality that became the bond of our lifelong friendship…..long before they got camoflaged or diluted by life. The treasure in new friendships is finding common ground through our life stories that help us see ourselves in others. In both cases, we can extend a helping hand and encouragement to help others evolve. As Maya Angelou so wisely expressed – “Forgive yourself for not knowing what you didn’t know before you learned it.”

I have long believed that those who have overcome adversities in life and became good role models for perseverance, resilience and positivity were such guiding lights to all of us. These beacons of hope are not just those who have attained celebrity status or reside in in our history books, they walk among us. They are our family and friends who are survivors and thrivers.

I recently listened to Brene Brown’s podcast with Dr. Edith Eger and found myself captivated by her observation that we are either “evolving” or “revolving”. Dr. Eger is a 93 year old inspirational dynamo, a Holocaust survivor, who drew on her personal life experiences in her career as a clinical psychologist to help others free themselves from the prison of their own minds. Just last fall, she published her latest book, The Gift: 12 Lessons to Save Your Life. What I love most about her short, yet oh so impactful book, are the questions she poses in each chapter that really stop you in your tracks and make you take a good hard look in the mirror. Questions like: “would you like to be married to you? You can’t heal what you can’t feel. Are you evolving or revolving?”

In her first book, The Choice, Dr. Eger wrote an inspirational book of overcoming the trauma of her Holocaust experience and healing the pain associated with it. She truly believes her purpose is to provide encouragement and support to help others overcome trauma and live a meaningful enriched life. In this second book, she expands on her message of healing and “provides a hands on guide that gently encourages us to change the thoughts and behaviors that keeps us imprisoned in the past.”

One silver lining that has arisen from the uncertainty and upheaval of 2020, is the deepening of friendships. My friends and I have leaned in, opened up and found so much help and hope amongst each other. Not surprisingly, it has unearthed a lot of the messaging we received from our past experiences that informs our decisions and lives as we go forward.

My friends and I are embracing an “evolving” mantra as we go forward in our lives. We take with us the hard-earned lessons that life has taught us and we are owning the blind spots and old reactive behavior patterns that no longer serve us well. We support each other in this evolution, because it does require a lot of hindsight, insight, hard work and new practices. Oddly enough, for many of my female friends it also requires getting very comfortable with setting boundaries. This is probably the one area where we offer to each other the greatest encouragement.

Dr. Edith Eger offers a touchstone for those of us who struggle with speaking our truth when someone crosses a boundary that is rooted in our core values. She teaches that freedom is having choices. We have the choice to say “no” and we have the choice to say “this response or behavior is not helpful to me”. We can free ourselves from the unconscious choice to ignore bad behavior or poor emotional regulation from others. Dr. Eger makes clear that we sacrifice and suffer when we accept the unacceptable. She encourages us to find our personal empowerment and break free. It is our choice. When she shared that fear and love cannot co-exist, it really resonated with me. We think of love as soft and mushy but it just the opposite– it is the super glue of life. Love is supported with accountability and trust. It forges a strong foundation for all our relationships. We shouldn’t be afraid to tell those who love us what we truly need to heal, to survive and to evolve.

Fear of repercussion kept me from holding boundaries many times in my life. But that fear also meant that I made a lot of sacrifices and suppressed my true self to either please others or avoid their disapproval. The path of least resistance was not the path to happiness or wholehearted, authentic living. How can we possibly be the best version of our true selves if we are operating from fear?

My friends and I have been having some really good discussions about fear and about the power of perspective and reframing things. As we hold ourselves in both awareness of our own behavioral patterns and a renewed accountability to change our responses, we realize that we have more empathy and clarity for others. I do believe that this is one of the greatest insights we gain from our own personal growth work. It truly enables us to “walk in another’s shoes”. We gain a better understanding of other’s “soft spots” and “trigger points”. We can respect that their history has created these bruises, not us. We can then choose to find a more caring approach for challenging discussions. Imagine how it would feel if someone took great care to understand the root cause of your deepest emotional wounds.

In her book, Dr. Eger offers some incredible real-life examples of people who have endured major adversities and chose to shift their perspective to see the silver linings and the gifts that can be found even in our darkest moments.

Here is Dr. Eger’s inspiration for shifting our perspectives:

What a beautiful reminder that the things that interrupt our lives, that stop us in our tracks, can also be catalysts for the emerging self, tools that show us a new way to be, that endow us with new vision. That is why I say that in every crisis, there is a transition. Awful things happen, and they hurt like hell. And these devastating experiences are also opportunities to regroup and decide what we want for our lives. When we choose to respond to what’s happened by moving forward and discovering our freedom to, we release ourselves from the prison of victimhood.” —From the Gift: 12 Lessons to Save Your Life

It’s been cathartic for my friends and I to share our personal stories and hard life experiences that helped us evolve and discover something new about ourselves. Many of us have had similar experiences such as the death of a beloved spouse, a divorce, a job loss, being single moms, and cancer.

It is in the shared stories of our grief and recovery that we find footholds for our own journeys in life. Over this past week, I have heard so many touching stories from friends about the words of encouragement that they have given to others, or the space that they held sacred for others in the deepest grief. They are offering to others what they themselves would have most appreciated in their dark moments. And they are doing it better than ever because of their conscious personal growth work.

A meaningful benefit of doing any self-discovery and personal growth work is that you will be a source of encouragement and hope for others who are also seeking to “evolve” through their all their life experiences. Life happens….how we respond is our choice and our strength.

Recommended Resources:

A special credit goes to my son in law, Ted Larsen, for the t-shirt image I used in this blog post today — when I saw him wearing this shirt recently, it brought a huge smile to my face.

Filled with empathy, insight, and humor, The Gift captures the vulnerability and common challenges we all face and provides encouragement and advice for breaking out of our personal prisons to find healing and enjoy life. (excerpted from Amazon.com)

https://brenebrown.com/podcast/brene-with-dr-edith-eger-on-recognizing-the-choices-and-gifts-in-our-lives/

Being Well Podcast with Dr. Rick Hanson and Forrest Hanson How To Change for Good https://www.facebook.com/rickhansonphd/posts/1869119006584107

A Meaningful Gardening Metaphor

Many who know me, know that I am an avid gardener. My love of gardening started early in life and has brought me so much joy over the years. One of my greatest pleasures is taking an overgrown jungle and turning it into a lush, textured and colorful retreat. Years ago, I nicknamed one of my shaded garden paths Nature’s Chapel for it was full of majestic Jack in the Pulpits and large-leafed variegated hostas that held raindrops like sparkling jewels. That graceful garden offered both calm and wonderment. Gardening has always been therapeutic for me. It brings me joy and a deep sense of satisfaction to transform an eyesore into a treasure for the senses.

Over the past few days, I have had to sit with some heavy emotions from my past. The images of my many gardens kept intertwining with my thoughts. Suddenly I realized that there was a meaningful metaphor emerging. I recalled a piece of raw land covered in thorny brambles and thick underbrush. At first sight, it looked like a daunting task to clear it all. But my vision of a lush garden with blushing pink bleeding hearts and emerald ferns spurred me on to tackle the clearing process. It took nearly a week of manual labor, blood (in spite of thick gloves), sweat and even a few exasperated tears. Eventually I was gazing at that thick rich composted soil, eager to plunge my fingers into it and inhale the promise of a dense flourishing garden.

I used this gardening metaphor as my anchoring point to revisit an old emotional wound. It has had a profound impact on my mindset to continue on — digging deep and clearing away thorny emotional brambles. I know that it will be hard work, but in the end I will have a clear, clean healthy space in my heart and life story.

Perhaps one of the most revelational transformations that happened during this clearing is that I am able to use tools I did not possess at the time of origination of the painful emotional trauma. It could have been one of many incidents in my childhood where a parent shred any hope of trust and protection through uncontrollable abusive responses. It could have been occasions when I was pleading for help for myself or my daughter and was completely ignored, even dismissed. It could be the innumerous times a former partner stripped me of self esteem and self-worth in spite of facts that proved otherwise. In those moments, I was not strong, lacked confidence and believed I was unworthy. Too young and insecure, too mired in dysfunctional circumstances others were unconsciously creating for me, for us.

Today when I stand facing the thorny brambles of revisiting those old traumas, I am an older, wiser and more self-compassionate woman. My tools are knowing my own value and self-worth. I recognize that I have overcome some really painful, challenging life experiences and am still standing. I also know that in spite of mean, spiteful and deeply hurtful actions of others, my tender heart remains unchanged. My loving heart may be bruised, scarred and creviced, but it is capable of deep love and true warmth. In fact, I am certain that my brokenness is what allows more light and empathy into the deepest part of my very being. I have an innate understanding of the human condition precisely because of the pain I have endured.

In some ways, it is like having a crystal ball. I envision my crystal ball look as a snow globe. I can look at my young granddaughter as though she is in a delicate glass snowglobe, shake it and watch the fairy dust of snowy white sparkles drift over her. I can hear her laughter and I can wrap her in my arms when life hits her hard, offering comfort and assurance that she is loved, safe and protected. My wish for her, and all my grandchildren, is that this is their true foundation.

My improved self-awareness in my 60’s means that I am a better advocate for my innocent and vulnerable grandchildren. Of course, I will not be able to protect my grandchildren from life’s hardships, but I will hold space for them, I will honor their true feelings and I will be a source of comfort and strength. Awful things happen in life — how we show up for others in there hour of need is paramount. This is how we help our young people grow their character, their values and their resilience.

I am a crusader for my grandchildren. I will never watch silently as an adult carelessly and unconsciously strips a child of their worthiness or their need to feel safe and protected. While much of life’s challenges and heartbreaks cannot be changed, how we treat others is fully within our power. I have zero tolerance these days for adults who expect more from their young children than they do themselves. How can you expect a little one to have emotional regulation and patience if you are not role modeling that for them? Let’s face it, we are all imperfect and we will make mistakes but even then we have precious teaching moments and an opportunity to restore trust and worthiness. Our greatest tools in these moments are personal accountability and sincere apology.

These transformational tools must be used swiftly. I cannot stress this enough. We can circumvent serious emotional damage and development of unconscious protective behavioral patterns by owning our mistakes and hurtful actions and offering a sincere apology. Not just I am sorry, but a true commitment to change.

Imagine a fiesty preteen girl being told by her birth father that she’d be pregnant by the time she was 16. For three years she’d carry this in her heart like a heavy rock weighing her down. On what should be a very happy milestone 16th birthday, she bounds down the stairs and asks her mom if she should call him and tell him he was wrong — very wrong — about her on so many levels. It is caustic, toxic actions like this that plant the seeds of unworthiness in an innocent child. This young woman will carry this with her all her life – it is her emotional baggage packed and handed to her by a careless adult.

This is another example of a sliding door moment in life. That birth father could have realized what an awful thing he said to his daughter and he could have immediately apologized. Perhaps he was angry about something else and directed all that pain at his daughter. But years go by and he’s long forgotten he ever uttered those words to her. Yet she carries them buried in her heart and they will shape her through the years. She will always have a nagging inner voice telling her she is “less than” and there will be days she believes it. When people let her down, she will see it as proof of her own unworthiness. It will make recovery from life’s blows all the harder. When she becomes a mother, she will make every effort to ensure her own child feels completely loved and accepted, just as she is. It will take this woman years to undo the silent messaging that she is unworthy of love and belonging. And this is precisely why swift action is needed when we screw up.

I do believe that each generation becomes better at parenting in a healthy way by learning from our own parents what we do not want to repeat. This has been a guiding principle for me and many of my friends, and we are seeing that unfold with our adult children as they raise their own families now. I am also grateful for the work that Brene Brown has done to bring out into the wide open just how these very real life experiences impact us emotionally and psychologically throughout our lives. Which is precisely why we need to do our own “clearing and excavating” work. In my viewpoint, Brene has been a leading catalyst for making very public the critical need for all of us to dive into self-discovery and to support each other in a wholehearted way when we find the courage to do so.

It is my hope that my gardening metaphor will become a strong visual for consideration should someone ask you to help them as they are pulling weeds and emotional brambles from their own stories.

Almost a year ago, my lifelong friend, Judy Chesters, told me that we still had a lot of deep diving to do into our work of “emotional excavation”. Admittedly she caught. me by surprise because she and I have worked so hard for over 5 years supporting each other through a lot of processing of archived traumas and self-discovery. All I can say now is that she must have had a crystal ball of her own — for after a year of pandemic and unprecedented uncertainties she was so very right. Both she and I have gone much deeper into our own stories. The healing and empowerment that we have gained is almost hard to explain but how we both feel is much more grounded, expansive and light. I shared with her one day that I describe it as “rare air, deep water.”

When I am in that space of “rare air and deep water”, I let my imagination run free and wild. I envision my grandchildren traveling through their incredible lives without emotional baggage and scarred hearts — no limitations on their creativity, worthiness and ability to live authentic wholehearted, free-spirited lives. I imagine a world where we give to each other an enriching environment and nurturing support to be our best selves. Amy Davis

Helpful Resources:

RISING STRONG by Brene Brown.

Check out this overview: https://www.meaningfulhq.com/rising-strong.html

RADICAL ACCEPTANCE by Tara Brach

Read this summary by GoodReads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/173666.Radical_Acceptance

Check out this recent Typology Podcast with Ian Morgan Cron for some personal insights on the value of doing your own “shadow work” and the rewarding personal evolvement that grows from doing that self-discovery work. https://www.typologypodcast.com/podcast/2021/11/02/episode04-034/audreyassad

My Coat with Many Pockets

When I was in my late teens, I heard Dolly Parton’s song, Coat of Many Colors and it landed softly on my heart. I was captivated by the message that it conveyed about the love that was woven into that patchwork coat and one’s perspective on life.

That song spurred my imagination and I conjured up a “Coat with Many Pockets.” It was an imaginary coat, pale pink in color and floor length. The coat was adorned with pockets of all shapes, sizes and colors inside and out and even on the sleeves and collar. Each pocket was intended to hold a memory or words of wisdom that would help guide me through life. Just creating this coat in my mind brought me a tremendous amount of comfort and hope. You see, I’d spent my childhood and teen years in constant turmoil and I sorely needed some reassurance that one day I would have a stable, happy life. I also had a very real awareness that I’d have to seek out the guideposts and encouragement that would help me achieve that. I was in search of good examples and worthy role models.

In a heart-shaped pocket on the inside of my coat, I placed warm memories of my beloved Aunt Betz. I chose to carry her close to my heart because she was the epitome of a loving mother in my eyes.

I was so blessed to have Aunt Betz in my life as I was growing up. Each visit to her home was like being in a fairy tale and a welcome reprieve from my childhood dysfunction. She would run a warm bath for me, scented with Calgon and leave me two big fluffy pink towels, a bathrobe and slippers. She’d make me tea and cinnamon toast cut into thin strips and play board games with me. She taught me to cook and bake and always had a cute apron at the ready. She is the one who instilled in me a love of word puzzles. She’d write Pennsylvania across the top of a sheet of paper and tell me to make as many words out of those letters as possible. All the while, she’d be preparing dinner and humming a tune. She would marvel at the long list of words I compiled and place shiny colored stars on the top. Once a year, I would get to stay with my aunt, uncle and their two sons at Rehoboth Beach for a whole week. It was the most magical vacation, full of love, laughter and sun-drenched days on the beach. This easy flow of a happy family became the image for my own future.

Throughout my twenties I tucked many words of encouragement and nuggets of wisdom into the pockets of my imaginary coat.

Harry Stacks, the editor of the Intelligencer Journal (local Lancaster County newspaper) and my first boss saw that I was capable of more than the minor secretarial duties he had for me. He offered me an opportunity to write articles for the women’s section of the daily newspaper. I never forgot his generosity in allowing me to explore my potential. I tucked that in a pocket of my coat and gave it a hearty pat.

Sometimes I would meet a person on the train from Lancaster to Philadelphia when I would take my infant son for his eye appointments at Children’s Hospital. That kind person would offer me some advice or assurance just when I needed it most. What anxious young mother doesn’t find comfort from an older mother offering hope and support? You bet — I tucked that in the very pocket I would warm my shaking hands in.

By now you can probably tell that my coat with many pockets is filled with love, encouragement, comfort and hope — random acts of kindness from people I have loved and from total strangers. Little did they know that they made a lasting impression on me. For many I am sure that they had no idea what I was facing in my life when they offered me their words of wisdom.

I met a Indian gentleman named Patel on a plane years ago that spent a generous hour sharing with me that “If you do good, you will get good. If you do bad, you will suffer.” He stressed that it was possible to meditate anywhere and to always be respectful of others.” I jotted down everything he said to me on the notes section of my iPhone and yes, tucked the memory of our time together in a pocket of my coat. It was at the onset of my mindfulness and meditation journey and his conversation felt like a nudge in the right direction. I remember a feeling of such peace as we chatted on that plane.

Once I was sitting alone having dinner on birthday and an older gentleman stopped by my table and told me I looked beautiful and to “keep care”. He had the same blue eyes that Skip had and I have never anyone other than Skip say “keep care.” That brief encounter touched my heart in a very tender way.

I’d been thinking a lot about my coat with many pockets recently and the comfort it has brought me over the years. People come in and out of our lives — some briefly and some much longer. If we are lucky, some leave an indelible impression that will carry us for a very long time.

Random acts of kindness may not be so “random” after all. Perhaps others can feel when we need a little life boost, or some emotional glue.

A few weeks ago, I shared this story of my coat with many pockets with a young woman I have befriended at my local grocery store. She was about to embark on an exciting new chapter of her life and was so happy to see me to share that news and to get some words of encouragement from me. It’s been our “thing” through the pandemic to offer each other inspiration and uplifting thoughts. Naturally she was a little nervous about taking this leap and following her heart to pursue her dreams. The image of my coat with all those pockets really resonated with her. As I reflect on it now, I think that my imaginary coat is a metaphor for being present, paying attention to others who have traveled life’s bumpy path and taking their words of encouragement to heart.

Happy Valentine’s Day to all. I hope you will tuck some of the love and joy of this day in your own pockets.

In loving memory of my buoyant, generous and sweet husband, Skip Davis, I share this, his favorite quote:

The Magic of Holding Space

Last year I was reading Alicia Keys book, More Myself, and found myself captivated as she described her husband “holding space for the magic” as they worked on music compositions together. It brought a smile to my face to think of the magic that unfolds in holding space — for ourselves and for others.

Holding space” was not a new phrase to me. I had come across it numerous times in mindfulness and meditation practices. A basic tool in these practices is to pause — to be aware of those racing thoughts and return to the present moment. For me, to pause was simply a reminder to stop. Holding space was introduced as a more expansive way of pausing. I learned that holding space is an invitation to not only stop but to create some space to fully be present with thoughts, emotions and circumstances.

When I hold space for myself, I get more in touch with specific emotions that arise in various situations. Now I am more able to discern what those emotions are trying to tell me. Over time, I discovered what I was feeling was not necessarily directly related to the situation at hand, but residue from my past. With patience and practice, I learned to acknowledge those emotions and let them go. Then I could more clearly focus on the current situation and respond in a healthier, calmer way. The magic occurs from paying attention to the messages our emotions are giving us. Brene Brown calls the body’s responses to our emotions our “warning indicators” much like you’d find in a car. It is so much healthier to deal with these emotions with awareness than to act on them unconsciously. Its is empowering to no longer be held captive by old patterns.

Holding space for myself when I am in a discussion with others means that I give myself a few moments to check in with myself before responding. If I feel I need more time to actually process a sticky problem, I will say so. Even my young grandchildren are learning to use this technique and will often go to their rooms to think things over when they are feeling overwhelmed. Just this little break can shift the energy in a positive way. Reframing things with a fresh perspective invariably leads to more creative problem resolution.

One major observation I have made is that the better I know and understand myself, the better I am in meeting others with greater empathy, understanding and acceptance. While hard conversations can’t be avoided, they can be more productive with mutual respect.

The most compelling place to “hold space” is when someone is in the throes of real struggle, when life is hard and the circumstances are heartbreaking. The best balm that we can offer to someone in their hour of greatest need is to hold a safe space for them. We create that safe space with non-judgment, empathy and a willingness to fully listen

Brene Brown defines it like this: “When we are looking for compassion, we need someone who is deeply rooted, is able to bend, and most of all, embraces us for our strengths and struggles.”

There have been times in the past when I was well intentioned, but lacked the knowledge to skillfully, compassionately help someone in great need by simply “holding space” for them — and with them. One of those examples was a few years ago when my daughter was overwhelmed. So many parts of her life were going sideways. Instead of sitting quietly with her and truly listening to her, I wrapped her in a momma bear hug and softly said, “Oh honey, you shouldn’t feel that way. Look at all these positives in your life.” The truth is, she was well aware of the positives in her life but they did not negate all that she was truly feeling. And in that moment, she was dealing with a lot of stress and a boatload of very real emotions. My attempts to diminish her pain dismissed all those raw emotions she was processing. This proved to be an invaluable lesson for me.

The lesson that I learned is to offer grace and space for others when they need some emotional glue. Everyone must deal with their emotions, pain and problems in their own unique way. Rarely do others want us to fix things for them. They just want to be acknowledged and valued. They want to know that they are not alone. They want to be able to just dump all the pieces of their puzzle out. It is both a release and relief to unburden themselves of all they are bearing. They need a soft place to land and a safe space to share.

As I reflect back on my own life, I can recall the times when I wish someone had “held space” for me. I realize now that I often pushed through pain when I should have stopped and processed it in the moment. That caused me to carry around a lot of old baggage and emotional scars. With this valuable insight in mind, I encourage others to hold space for themselves and others. This is where we find our strength, our resilience and our compassion — the magic that helps us recover from hardships and heartbreaks.

I’ve also come to have deep gratitude for those treasured friends whom I can count on unconditionally to be “my soft place to land and safe space to share“. In turn, I hope to also be that source of great comfort to others.

Recommended Resource:

The Enneagram Institute https://www.enneagraminstitute.com

If you enjoy taking personality tests or those fun quizzes on social media, you might find the Enneagram to be not only entertaining, but so insightful …. check it out to learn more through self discovery

Big Dreams, Wild Imagination

I love discovering recurring themes that seem to bubble up as little nudges from the Universe. Over the past few days, the concept of “dreaming” has been weaving its way into my meditation, inspirational quotes, music and conversations. I have been sorting through a box of old keepsakes recently and found a brightly colored slip of paper with “Dream Big” scrawled across it. It brought back a flood of memories and the impetus to encourage myself to “dream big”.

It was a time of great struggle in my life. The dream I’d been living was now broken, a thousand jagged pieces scattered on the floor. My dear Skip had passed away so suddenly and I entered a year long fog that was thick, heavy and murky. I asked myself a million questions about what I was supposed to do with my life now. I’d lost my compass. As I slowly processed my grief, I found that I was also asking bigger questions about life than I had previously pondered.

Just before he died, I had confided to Skip that I was growing discontent with my banking career and he listened intently to my thoughts and feelings. He agreed that it was probably time for a change and said “whatever you decide to do, Amy, I will support you. Dream big.

I wrote DREAM BIG on a brightly colored piece of paper and placed it on my desk in the home office Skip and I shared. Skip’s desk was neatly organized with folders, tape dispenser, pens and cubbies full of small note pads, envelopes, stamps, bills to be paid. My desk had inspirational quotes of assorted shapes, colors and sizes randomly taped all over it. I had colorful journals, art supplies and a boxful of blank cards for all occasions. There was a small part of my desk that mirrored his, with tidy organization for serious things like work, bills and household to do lists. The “Dream Big” quote was smack dab in the middle of my desk.

A year after his passing, I found myself staring blankly at that quote and thinking mostly of a broken dream.

What I have learned about sitting on the floor with your broken life puzzle is that you often linger with more questions than answers. I believe this is a meaningful part of life and it must be done alone. I was attempting to put my life back together without pieces that were no longer a possibility. The questions that I found myself asking could only be answered by me. It was a leap of faith to follow what my heart was urging me to do. Oddly enough, what once scared me, or held me back, from taking action on a 15 year dream now seemed to be my saving grace. That dream was to have my own business.

I realized that all the fears I once had about the possibility of failing at my dream of having my own business paled next to facing the reality of both breast cancer at age 40 and the loss of my husband at age 50. It put fear in its place — the rearview mirror. I boldly took a leap of faith and I quit my 25 year career in financial services.

My business idea came from imagining a beautiful lingerie boutique for women who were facing breast cancer — a feminine, compassionate environment that was the polar opposite of the “impersonal and clinical feeling” medical equipment supply store that I had relied on for years. I had a bulging file full of ideas and a wild imagination for my vision of a better approach to help women ease into their “new normal” after breast cancer surgeries. Ironically enough, my timing for actually implementing my dream business was probably the best it could have been. I opened Annabella’s, a lingerie and breast care boutique, in Main Line, Philadelphia just when the local hospital systems were launching comprehensive breast care centers.

Dreaming big and imagination go hand in hand. Collectively hospital systems, business owners, medical teams and breast cancer patients had a bigger, better vision in mind for delivering holistic health care. Fifteen years after my own diagnosis, I witnessed a transformation in breast cancer care unfolding across the country. In my own community, I was able to be an active participant in the process. The opportunities I was given to both teach and learn far exceeded my wildest dreams.

This brings me back to this present moment, January 2021. My current meditation pack in Headspace has been encouraging a “dreamlike” quality to the meditation practice. A Toni Morrison quote turned up in an inspirational email. It read, “dream a little before you think.” As I walked the dogs in the morning, I listened to a song that was begging to be heard — Rainbow Connection sung so sweetly by Kermit the Frog. I found myself singing along about finding connection….the lovers, the dreamers and me. I was captivated by a study that revealed that small children are so much more innovative than adults about the plethora of ways a simple chair could be used for a variety of purposes. What might we learn from them when we give ourselves the freedom to DREAM BIG?

My answer to that question came while listening to Caroline Myss’ engaging presentation entitled “It’s Time to Imagine Something New”. Caroline is a New York Times best selling author and an internationally renowned speaker in the field of human consciousness, health, energy and a diverse array of personal development programs. Her discussion about our capacity to imagine was so enlightening and I found myself laughing as she pointed out that when it comes to negavity our imaginations know no bounds.

If you doubt that you possess a creative imagination, here’s some food for thought. Do you lie awake at night thinking about your worst fears? Do you come up with worse case scenarios for things that are happening in your life? Do you ever say “I cannot imagine having the courage to say or do that?” Caroline points out that some of our most creative and complex imagined scenarios come from the shadows of fear.

Rarely do people go over to the positive side of their imagination, she says. What if we could shift — and imagine the good, the better, the best – with the same wild abandon that we do for the worst? Imagination used this way sees what is possible. I was reminded of the phrase “the possibilities are endless”.

Caroline stressed that a lot of the problems we have in life require something new, something we have never thought about before. We often get stuck with only things that are familiar to us or limited by our worst case scenarios. This is true not only for our personal lives, but also for the larger complex problems that our communities and country are facing. The time is right for “out of the box” ideas that our most positive imaginations can conjure.

Brene Brown has been telling us for many years that the birthplace of creativity and invention is vulnerability.

Brene defines vulnerability as risk, uncertainty and courage. When I think of the people I most admire who are willing to risk for a good cause, who are unshakable in their integrity in the face of uncertainty and who show courage to face hard things, I think of them as fearless and brave. Maybe this is just what Brene is striving for — a reframing of what it means to be vulnerable.

Little children don’t limit their imaginations with negavity. They don’t consider risk, uncertainty and courage. They frame their adventures and innovations as opportunities, possibilities. They are fearless, inquisitive, playful. Caroline Myss points out that adults are the ones who place limitations on their imaginations and it is often out of fear. Fear blocks creativity.

Every day I witness evidence of the power of positive imagination, vulnerability giving birth to creativity and innovation, and a big dream of creating a better world. It unfolds before my eyes as I watch parents raising children in the midst of an ongoing pandemic. The creativity and patience they bring to a series of unique circumstances is heroic.

We can chose how we frame our problems. Consider a colorful, expansive frame that invites you to tap into your wildest imagination and see what is possible!

Dream Big. Imagine the world you want for your children and grandchildren. The possibilities are endless.

Recommended Resources:

Dream Big: Engineering Our World https://dreambigfilm.com

Caroline Myss, It’s Time to Imagine Something New https://www.myss.com/its-time-to-imagine-something-new/

Mental Reframing https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/worry-stress-and-mental-reframing/2021/01/22/b8b738d6-54fd-11eb-a931-5b162d0d033d_story.html

Rainbow Connection, by Kermit the Frog https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=awhyiBv-oQc

Greater Good Magazine – Purpose https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/purpose

Love Letters

There are days I find myself yearning to have a conversation with the one person I could count on to offer comfort, wisdom, introspection and perspective — the love of my life, my late husband, Skip. He’s been gone for over 18 years and yet I can almost feel his hand slipping into mine, his long legs falling into lockstep with my own gait. I just want to look in those blue eyes and ask him my most pressing questions. I miss his ability to offer a safe space for complicated feelings. I miss his calming wisdom.

If you ever met my gregarious Skip, you would not have guessed that he had experienced a lot of heartache in his life. He was effervescent. His blue eyes would sparkle like that of a small boy about to stick his hand in the cookie jar. He used his voice like an instrument — tone and inflection combined with a few, but meaningful words could soothe and comfort, or stop you in your tracks. He would wink and smile at me as he offered “if you want someone’s attention, just whisper.

Since I cannot have anything more than a one-sided conversation with him now, I looked for some comfort and insight from the letters he wrote to me all throughout our years together.

Before I opened my treasured scrapbooks of his cards and letters, I reflected on recent conversations with friends who are awash in their own sea of mixed emotions and ongoing uncertainty. We are arriving at a place where we no longer have a lot of resistance to opening up and sharing our vulnerabilities. Perhaps the toll that this past year has taken on us has freed us to “let go” of our armor and just share the raw truth of our stories. The more I hear of others’ stories, the stronger the bond of our friendship has grown. Empathy and compassion become the emotional glue we need.

It dawned on me that this was the very reason Skip and I had the deepest, most trust-worthy relationship I had ever known — our shared respect for each other’s life stories and the inherent vulnerabilities imbedded in them. His handwritten letters to me are revealing the secrets and wisdom of a whole-hearted man who overcame his own trials and heartbreaks to become a role model and mentor for so many.

Many years ago, I came to trust the instinct to randomly open a book and read only the page that revealed itself to me. And so it was, that I opened my scrapbook to page 2 of a letter that Skip had written to me about a year into our relationship.

He wrote about how surprised he was to discover that I was a source of encouragement and strength to him. Though he treasured this, he was confused by it. “It wasn’t supposed to be this way,” he writes. “I am supposed to be stoic, not moved by sentiment.” He went on to share that he had usually worked out his own situations. “Despite my outward and buoyant personality believe me, beneath that veneer lies a man that has been hurt — often. You have allowed me openings to talk to you–and you have listened.”

I could not read another paragraph. I just sat with those written words, speaking directly to my heart, almost as though he were sitting beside me.

Please know that when I began writing this post, I was describing my effervescent Skip from my personal experience with him. I had not read this letter written to me over 20 years ago in a very long time. And yet, here was the confirmation in his own words. He chose an armor of “outward, buoyant personality” to hide his hurt and vulnerabilities. Skip was the kindest, most generous and encouraging human being I have ever known. Over our years together, I came to know that he was always giving to others what he himself needed the most.

What I did not consciously know so many years ago is the transformational power of owning our stories. Skip and I built our incredible relationship on a foundation of the truth of our life stories. Both of us had a lot of baggage and trauma from childhood on into adulthood. We had reached a point in our lives where we were bone weary from protecting ourselves from being hurt — again. So we spilled our broken parts out to each other and found that by being so vulnerable and real, we did not push each other away – but actually pulled each other closer. In fact, we often acknowledged it by saying to each other “two broken halves made a hell of a whole”.

Skip’s written words are resonating with me on deeper levels now. In part, it is due to conversations I’ve been having with friends about helping the men in their life (big and little) uncork their emotions and talk about their own life stories. For far too long, society has encouraged men to “tough it out” and “man up”. That was the stoic environment that Skip was raised in — both at home and in boarding school. But regardless of gender, this is unhealthy and often leads to over-reacting or numbing when emotions are suppressed for far too long. It blocks vulnerability and it blocks empathy — and both are cornerstones of trust.

The most revelational aspect about sharing our stories is the much-needed release from bottled up emotions and hurt. It lightens our emotional load, unpacks the baggage and frees up a lot of space in our life. I saw this in Skip and I know it to be true for me personally. We are no longer tethered to the past and old narratives.

What I have been observing over the recent weeks, is how many people can no longer carry their heavy loads of emotional baggage. I’ve witnessed it first hand in my book club and with my closest of friends. The safer we feel with each other, the more likely that our resistance will crumble and we are bound to open up. It has been much needed relief and an entry point for deeper connection.

And this brings me to the compelling advice that Brene Brown has been teaching to us for years. Trust is paramount when sharing our most personal stories:

“Our stories are not meant for everyone. Hearing them is a privilege, and we should always ask ourselves this before we share: “Who has earned the right to hear my story?” If we have one or two people in our lives who can sit with us and hold space for our shame stories, and love us for our strengths and struggles, we are incredibly lucky. If we have a friend, or small group of friends, or family who embraces our imperfections, vulnerabilities, and power, and fills us with a sense of belonging, we are incredibly lucky.” – Brene Brown

Over this past year, I have been fortunate enough to witness the release of pain and healing transformation that unfolds when we hold space for others to tell their stories, with courage to share their vulnerabilities. Sharing the broken parts of ourselves with someone we trust — and feeling safe, feeling heard and free of judgment is the best gift we can offer to another in need.

Looking back to the beginning of my relationship with Skip, I remember being so afraid to “trust” again. My trust in others had been broken so many times that I was leary to believe that it was real and solid. In fact I told him point blank that love was easy but trust was hard. So the day I told him that I trusted him was pure gold to him.

I think anyone who knew Skip would agree that he was a charismatic, emotionally aware, vulnerable yet incredibly strong, trustworthy man. There is no doubt in my mind that it was his ability to tap into his own narrative and find the common ground with others that created that deep vein of empathy in his heart.

Awareness Activist

It dawned on me with much surprise yesterday that I have become an activist — an awareness activist. It has been through my own personal experiences that I’ve come to realize how unconsciously we operate in our lives — and how we often blindly push away what it is we want the most.

At the core of what most of us desire is to be worthy – to be seen, heard and valued.

My research lately has turned toward estrangements. What started out as a personal mission to better understand the root cause of familial estrangements has expanded exponentially over the past week. It is almost as if the universe has given us a magnifying glass and a child-like plea to look closely.

I am a firm believer that stories help us to see things that we might miss otherwise. Great storytellers pull us into a space where we turn our attention to the main characters and often find a connection with some part of their vulnerabilities. It is my hope today that my story will do just that. There is no doubt in my mind that the overwhelming basic need to be seen, to be heard, to be valued is the root cause of much of our collective estrangement.

I am writing a book with my longest and best friend. In one of our chapters that we have titled “Second Hand Heartbreak”, we explore the many ways we have felt another’s pain as though it were our own. Though we were not the initial cause of that deep pain, we felt some responsibility for being their voice when they themselves were unable to speak up. The pain of heartbreak for one person gets multiplied when a “helper” jumps in and finds that they too are subsequently hurt because their appeals are also ignored or dismissed. It triggers a fractious dynamic that tears families and friendships apart….and yes, even a country.

The story I choose to share today is one that has been heavy on my heart for several years. It was the day that Colin Kaepernick took a knee for social injustice. He took that knee for others — for his own second hand heartbreak that called upon him to speak up for those who could not. He had a platform and he chose a non-violent way to call attention to an ongoing crisis — he was asking for help for a legitimate problem.

Looking back on that moment now…..does his chosen course of action for a humanitarian call for help seem benign?

It was a sliding door moment in our country’s family. We had two choices. We could have said, “tell me more”. We could have faced our truth, accepted the reality that changes were long overdue and pulled together a task force of capable leaders from many disciplines to shape a better future.

We lived the second choice — ridicule and ostracize the messenger, Colin Kaepernick. Then label a group of people and taunt them more. Challenge even diehard football fans to boycott their beloved traditions and support of their hometown teams. How many people got disenfranchised from so many things that mattered to them over this response to a request for help?

Lines were drawn in the sand from all sides….but no solutions were mapped out on the blank canvas of “Help, please.”

Collectively we used a lot of energy, time and resources on all the wrong things. What we fail to see when we are not paying attention, fully aware, is that many times a better choice costs far less and has a better return on investment. But the path to problem resolution is often slow, hard work and that doesn’t sell news, light up social media or keep an adrenaline rush at a feverous pitch. The truth is — we numb ourselves with these responses. I call it the “ostrich syndrome”. Sticking our heads in the sand does not mean the problem goes away — only that we choose to ignore it.

We cannot sweep reality under the carpet. One day the tables turn, the roles are reversed. The ones who previously dismissed an important crisis, now need to be seen and valued for their own issues. This is the root beginnings of double standards. Could it be that what stands in the way is the armor we use to protect ourselves from being hurt, being wrong or having to do the hard work to fix a complex problem?

We can all look around at situations in our own families, where people push away what they want the most. Often when they push too far, they lose the people, the love and the respect that want more than anything. Can you step back from a situation and really put yourself in another’s shoes? After all that we have experienced over the past few years, how would you react or respond today to Colin Kaepernick’s decision to “take a knee” for others?

I have seen Rumi being quoted so often over the past week and I believe there is a valid reason for this. All of us are feeling a bit broken right now, individually and collectively from a wave of unprecedented events. Let’s admit we have blind spots and let us bravely go forward with a renewed awareness of our shared humanity.

Recommended Resources:

I was so taken by this interview that Brene Brown did with Kevin Oakes on Cultural Renovation that it is was going to be my only offering with this post. It’s chock full of do-able action steps and that is what we need right now to get back on track is a healthy meaningful way. But then, I thought about something I had been saying over and over to myself this past week — The Pledge of Allegiance.

Dare to Lead Podcast – Brene Brown and Kevin Oakes https://brenebrown.com/podcast/brene-with-kevin-oakes-on-cultural-renovation/

From my Heart to Yours…

My post today is coming from my heart, my experiences and the stories others have shared in the past few days. It feels like both a public service announcement and a middle of the night phone call.

We are collectively swimming in a murky, choppy sea of events and emotions…..and we have been for nearly a year. Just when we think things will calm down enough for us to recoup, the sea becomes a tempest.

When we are already weary and stretched thin, our emotions get amplified and they multiply like rabbits.

My lifelong friend and I have been keeping each other afloat through this past year with one goal in mind — to be at our best so that we could help others navigate unprecedented times. Over the past few months, we have seen and heard just how exhausted and untethered our friends and family have been feeling. It is especially hard to handle normal life events in the throes of a pandemic and the country’s divisiveness.

When I was in my 30’s and 40’s, raising children, working full time, juggling all that life was throwing at me I used to describe that chaotic wild feeling like being in a canoe, trying to go upstream without a paddle. That image comes to me often when I am in conversation with friends and family right now.

Yesterday as I crawled out of bed, I found myself feeling like a balloon whose knot had just been undone — flying all about the room in a haphazard pattern and ultimately flat….deflated. I acknowledged that it was many emotions that I was feeling both for myself and others swirling in my head and heart. I have learned over these past five years that it is much more beneficial to acknowledge these emotions and to be with them than to dismiss them.

My “go to” remedies are hot tea and meditation. I did the meditation first. It was just as I expected — my thoughts were just like that balloon, flitting in and out, all demanding my focus. Clearly, this day was calling for something stronger — so, a double shot of meditation it was. I did drink the hot tea first — calming chamomile. The second meditation was better, much better. My first meditation was done while the intensity of my emotional swirl was strong. The tea break, the pauses I took….they were helpful in dialing back the intensity so I could take stock of all those emotions.

As the day unfolded, I was blessed with the opportunity to have deep, candid conversations with friends. It was not at all surprising to find that most of us were feeling “a little off”. What was surprising was to discover that a lot of old emotional baggage was beginning to surface — sometimes in the form of PTSD, sometimes in the form of now humorous memories.

While I think of myself as someone who has already peeled off a zillion layers of old emotional baggage and able to keep myself from “reacting” to triggers, it was a friend confiding about the events on the Capitol triggering PTSD for her that touched a similar nerve in me. I too had been feeling PTSD. Both of us sharing that with each other, in that moment when it was feeling so present — was cathartic — both a release of all those bottled up strong emotions and a comfort in knowing we were not alone.

For a brief moment, I thought how lucky we were to be able to “hold each other” in that present moment, safe from the eyes and judgment of the rest of the world, with a sense that it was just the two of us with such a secret. Later, upon deeper reflection, I became acutely aware that there are countless people who also are struggling with PTSD at this very moment — for reasons and experiences that are as innumerous as the individuals themselves. I am sharing this story for a compelling reason — someone you know may also be feeling PTSD. Be that safe place for them if you can.

My trust buddy and I have a lot of friends and family members right now who are dealing with serious life circumstances. A child in the hospital again for her rare disease, the sudden passing of of a loved one, an aging parent needing round the clock care, and COVID diagnoses affecting entire families. My neighbors could not be with their children for over three weeks and they missed spending Christmas together due to their own COVID experiences. Children fear that they may lose their parents or grandparents. My motivation for sharing these insights is to serve as a reminder that hard times continue to unfold every day. But they are even harder now. Be a helper, as Mr. Rogers would urge us to do. A small random act of kindness will be most appreciated. One of my lifelong favorite quotes is:

In the early evening, I was having a much needed decompressing conversation with my dear friend. She was reflecting on some old memories from her first job that sparked spontaneous laughter. (Note to self, laughter is good for the soul.) Her stories prompted me to share some of my own. Both of us were giddy with the incredulous antics of grown people. And then it dawned on us — that the common thread in our hilarious old memories was a lack of self control. We were pretty sure even the characters in our stories would have to agree that they acted without thinking and the results were anything but funny in that moment. What is now funny to my friend in her 60’s had her in near tears in her early twenties. These anecdotes shed a little light on the consequences to others when we act on impulse or react to intense emotions. A little self control will go along way in keeping the peace and our own integrity intact.

Just before I fell asleep last night, I was reflecting on the good role models I have had in my life. I often looked outside of my immediate family because of unstable, unhealthy dysfunction. Our childhood experiences often shape and guide us as we make our way into the world. I share this insight to raise awareness that our actions do speak louder than words. Our children are watching us. They are watching us in their own family dynamics and they are looking out on the rest of us too. Reflect upon the mentors you have had in your life. What attributes did they posses that inspired you to do your best, reach your potential and make wise choices? I remember this quote hanging on the door of one of my most cherished childhood mentors:

I have had countless conversations with people who are in struggle — and they did not bring the extra loads of stress and fear on themselves. They are experiencing the collateral damage that comes from the fallout of a world spinning out of control over this past year due to a series of unprecedented events. We could use some fortification. When you take stock of how you are feeling and reacting, it offers clues to what others are also experiencing. We need to help each other, now more than ever. Brew some tea and listen to James Taylor’s You’ve Got a Friend if you need a little jumpstart.

The Gift You Give Yourself

It is finally here — Day One of a brand new year. What makes a new year feel like a blank canvas where we get to choose what gets painted on to it? Is it a renewed hope that this new year will surely be less stressful and uncertain than last? Pulling a thread from my blog post Brand New Kind of Conditioning, it seems we should be prepared to go into this new year accepting that uncertainty will always be with us. However there will be many choices that will be entirely up to each of us individually to make over the course of the next 365 days. Our best resource for making wise choices is a gift that we give to ourselves — the gift of self-awareness.

I binge-watched the last season of the Crown recently and found myself intrigued when Queen Elizabeth was stunned by Margaret Thatcher’s pronouncement that her son was her favorite child. Queen Elizabeth did not think it was possible for her to have a favorite child. When Prince Philip turned to her and said “your lack of self awareness is surprising,” it set her on a quest to discover what he so clearly already knew. After spending time with each of her four children, she came to realize that she did in fact have a favorite. In subsequent episodes, you begin to see Queen Elizabeth’s self-awareness unfold in other areas of her life as well.

A similar scenario played out with the character Billie in the Netflix series Offspring. While it takes a few seasons of Billie repeating her same old behavioral patterns, she eventually hits rock bottom and does some serious self-discovery work. It’s easy to relate to Billie for all she wants is a life of her own and to feel valued for who she is. Just like we all do.

It’s easy to watch these shows and see so clearly where the characters are making a mess of things so unnecessarily. It is not so easy to recognize that we too might be falling into some of those same patterns. Very often, we are not consciously aware — just like Queen Elizabeth. For the record, Prince Philip had to go through his own self-awareness process when he hit a “late in life” crisis. It seems apparent that he thought it was a very worthwhile endeavor.

How often have you read a Facebook post by an 80 year old espousing wisdom on leading a more fulfilling life? Or heard a dear friend confide “I wish I had learned this when I was 30.” These are self-discovery insights. They may feel just like the the nudge that Phillip gave to Queen Elizabeth. That nudge is an invitation to get to know yourself well.

There are a plethora of tools to help you get started on this whole self discovery process. My personal favorite is the Enneagram. Ian Cron’s Book “The Road Back to You” is a great primer for anyone new to the Enneagram. Prepare to be surprised when you discover what your Enneagram type is — and how accurate it is! The best part about working with the Enneagram is that you will readily recognize where your blind spots are. Once you have that awareness, you’ll pay closer attention. As Maya Angelou said “When you know better, you do better.”

The next best resource (in my opinion) is a trusted friend. It is said that a truly trusted friend is like a mirror. A trusted friend will give you honest feedback without judgment. If you are fortunate enough to have such a friend, you will be helping each other increase self-awareness. From my personal experience, having a trust buddy who was willing to help me on my personal growth journey has proven to be one of the most significant relationships in my life. We help each other uncover what we need to work on, we listen when that work is hard, we celebrate when we witness transformation and we continue to hold each other accountable. My trust buddy is my anchor in life. We got tested in a many ways throughout the past year of pandemic and uncertainty. Not surprisingly, we also learned a lot more about ourselves in the process.

Some other resources are strength assessment tests, personality tests like Myers-Briggs, journaling and guided meditation. The Headspace app for meditation is an easy way to get started with guided meditation. Even if you can’t stop that racing mind right away, the nuggets of wisdom that Andy Puddicombe offers at the onset of the short practice will stay with you all day. That alone will increase your self-awareness.

When I got to know myself better, I started to make changes that brought significant benefits to me, my family and my friends. I no longer ruminate which has given me back oodles of time to focus on the present moment. I pay attention to my “warning signals” as Brene Brown calls them As an example, resentment usually means I have not set a boundary. I have learned to “not be attached to the outcome” and that allows me to be more flexible and open minded.

I continue to give myself the gift of getting to know myself better. I don’t think that ever stops. Neuroscientists tell us that we change with every conversation we have, the books we read, the news we watch — all of our experiences. When we have an increased self-awareness, we actually give ourselves the gift of staying in control and making good decisions. So while this brand spanking new year might have surprises and uncertainties in store for us, we still get to be in control of our choices of how we will respond.

Worth Checking Out:

Headspace https://www.headspace.com/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=1919439341&utm_content=68065219102&utm_term=409649586657&headspace&gclid=CjwKCAiArbv_BRA8EiwAYGs23KF7Yw2BYK00GVvDz3ekzBOeIWJNVnZe3sWvSx8PIt3XQja__Yz-LBoCCmUQAvD_BwE

Creating the Mood

It is fascinating to learn about how malleable our brains really are. My big discovery recently was about how the daily ebb and flow of our emotions actually contribute to overall longer lasting good moods. Incredible findings are being made at the crossroads of neurobiology, neuroscience and the study of the roots of compassion, happiness and altruism.

My keen interest in neuroscience has reached a new level now that I’ve discovered dynamic researchers on the subject who are relatable, witty, and possess an engaging enthusiasm about their work. They share their complex findings in digestible, meaningful ways that helps us take better care of our brains. In the past, so much focus in clinical psychology was on anxiety, sadness and depression. Now there are studies being done on positive emotions and moods — and their major benefits for our mental health and overall quality of life.

A shining example of this research is the “Awe Walk”, which is a white paper published by Dr. Dacher Keltner and the Greater Good Science Center in Berkley. Participants in this study were given a few simple instructions and told to go outdoors once a week and look for something that felt like “awe” to them. From personal experience, I can tell you that a walk outdoors with a curious three year old will open your eyes to a myriad of small wonders that evoke a sense of awe. It was revealed in this study, that the participants who were 75 years old or older tended to be a little more anxious. Over time, with a regular weekly practice of taking the “Awe Walk”, these older participants gravitated toward that space where they were recognizing “awe” in their daily lives — the beauty of their partner’s face, how delectable their meal looked. They were cultivating both awareness and appreciation of the small things in life that felt good. In turn, their anxiety levels were reduced.

Dr. Keltner also collaborated with Pixar on the movie “Inside Out“. If you are familiar with the animated film, Inside Out, then you know that its focus was on our 5 basic emotions — Anger, fear, sadness, disgust and joy. Dr. Keltner describes these five as our core “fight or flight emotions”.

A deeper dive into the world of emotions by Dr. Keltner and his research team discovered that there are not just 5, but 20 distinct and fundamental emotions that we experience in our social lives. These twenty emotions are very much intertwined in all our relationships – with ourselves, at home, at work and in our communities.

Just when you think that is enough to digest, Dr. Rick Hanson added that our physical and attitudinal responses also get “mushed together” with our emotions as we go through our normal days. Our bodies just organically react to emotions we are feeling – a racing heart, a sinking feeling in the pit of the stomach, tingles down the spine or flush of heat on our cheeks. Unknowingly, we can be predisposed by our attitudes towards others to have very different emotions to a given situation just because of the people involved.

Dr. Hanson also points out that we move through our daily experiences in a fluid space of different emotional qualities in a very intimate way. We all experience a wide range of emotions each day and some are strong and some are just bland. Just for fun, track even a portion of your day, to get some real insight into your own emotional ranges.

I did that little experiment yesterday which included overly excited grandchildren FaceTiming me about Christmas, big chunks of solitude since I am home alone, two hours of watching football and rooting for my team with wild abandon, basking in the warmth of the sun in the late afternoon, having a spontaneous dance party in the kitchen while preparing my dinner and then reading about some heartbreaking news on a Facebook post. I confess that I was surprised at the data and marveling that what seemed like an overall benign kind of day was chock full of these 20+ emotions.

Dr. Hanson shared an insight that is significant and directly correlates with the Awe Walk research. As we go through our day, we have residues of our emotional experiences that sink in. He recalled the traditional saying that “your mind takes its shape from what it repeatedly rests upon“. The Awe Walk supports the evidence that ‘if you repeatedly experience moments of gratitude, authentic experiences of grit and resilience, confidence and open-heartedness, those accumulated positive residues become internalized in neurobiological ways.”

He went on to say over time, you will increasingly find yourself centered in a mood that reflects those positive traits. The link between our emotions and our general mood is in the “collecting” of those positive emotional residues that moves you into your preferred space of well being.

Dr. Keltner reinforced this when he said the challenge of life is to gravitate to the space that you desire.” How do you move into these spaces? “You practice, you get outside, you think about what you are grateful for.”

I love the simplicity of this prescription for cultivating positive, happy, resilient moods. Make it a daily practice to look for the awe and to be grateful. The more you stay present in the moment, the greater your chances of realizing your own personal awe and moments of gratitude. Tuck those moments in your heart and your neurobiology. Prepare to be amazed at what this practice will do for your overall well being.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

Being Well Podcast with Dr. Dacher Keltner:

https://www.rickhanson.net/being-well-podcast-compassion-power-and-human-nature-with-dr-dacher-keltner/

Greater Good Science Center:

https://ggsc.berkeley.edu/?_ga=2.99230044.398964819.1608999802-1116506463.1608999802

Greater Good Magazine: The Science of a Meaningful Life

https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/?_ga=2.132729164.398964819.1608999802-1116506463.1608999802