Putting the Practice to Work

It was one of those days when everything just seemed to go sideways. We were all feeling the effects of moving day (actually more like moving week) and had little energy to deal with all the little problems that kept arising one after another. Turns out that this was going to be one of the best opportunities to put some mindfulness and better responses into full action.

It’s not surprising that family members weren’t fully cooperating about the best laid plans we’d made for a relaxing evening after a busy day of unpacking. Everyone was dealing with their own concoction of being tired, hungry and not quite feeling at ease in the new living space. In times like this, it is so easy to see that “tempest in a teapot” brewing.

What is not so easy is to keep ourselves from jumping into the fray, getting caught up in the negative energy of frustration and adding to the mess by losing our self control. And trust me, I have done that in the past and always felt awful afterwards. To be honest, I recall a very similar moving experience three years ago and I did lose my cool, embarrassing myself and hurting another’s feelings.

For me, it always helps to take a few deep breaths when tensions are rising. Initially there was a part of me that just wanted to join the fray and let everyone know that I was also tired, hungry and truthfully, feeling unappreciated. Fortunately I caught myself in time and took those few deep cleansing breaths. It was a testament to the benefits of ongoing meditation practice that helped me let thoughts pass and ground myself before I reacted to the circumstances.

Oh — the frustrations and lack of cooperation were still going on — but at least I had not added to it. That was a step in the right direction.

It wasn’t until I was ready for bed hours later that I realized that by not losing my patience and immediately reacting to my own thoughts in that heated moment, I’d actually downgraded my own emotions to the point where they didn’t urge me to act on them. That happened rather naturally. That was a big “aha” moment.

Something else I noticed as I reflected on the evening’s events was that I had a lot of empathy for other family members who had all their buttons pushed and said things they really didn’t mean. That enabled me to be more sympathetic to their situation and not to take personally what was being stated. This was another “aha” moment. In the past, I would have felt very hurt by snarky comments and innuendos directed at me and might have either shut down or got into a heated conversation trying to defend myself.

This lead to me being able to calmly and clearly articulate my personal boundary about acceptable behavior even in stressful situations. Setting boundaries is admittedly one of the harder growth initiatives that I work on. What I discovered was that because I had remained calm and kind throughout the challenges of the evening, not only was I empowered to state my boundary — I was also respected.

I began to see how all the pieces of the puzzle came together. By recognizing that I was tempted to jump on the frustration band wagon, I could ground myself with some deep breathing. That enabled me to avoid adding to the problems causing us stress. I diffused my own negative feelings in that moment so that I could focus on others. With empathy, I could look at others and sense how they were feeling on that stress-filled evening. I’ve been there many times as a young child, as a parent, a wife, and on my own. Moving is rarely easy. Being grounded and having empathy fortified me so that I was proactive in this situation and not reactive. From a place of strength, I could calmly articulate my personal boundary. I had used three valuable tools to successfully navigate a challenging situation — and avoided what could have culminated in a tense couple of days in the aftermath.

Its often noted that we do mediation not only for ourselves but for others too. When we are more self-aware and possess greater self-control, we bring our better selves to challenging situations.

Recently I had completed a meditation practice on “approaching conflict” on Headspace learning how to handle difficulties in a more skillful and compassionate way. One nugget of knowledge that really stuck with me was that when we get angry, we lose our kindness. Since kindness is a core value for me, I found myself very motivated to improve my reactions and responses in difficult situations. Who knew I would get that opportunity just a few days later? Life has a way of presenting us with learning experiences all the time.

Receiving Mode or Resistance Mode?

During a couples counseling session a few years ago, I was introduced to the book The Five Languages of Love. It is an insightful look into the ways each of us personalizes how we offer tangible evidence of our love to another through:

  • Words of Affirmation
  • Gifts
  • Acts of Service
  • Quality Time
  • Physical Touch

The premise was that we often are conveying our love and support to another in the way that we wish to receive love and support in return. But sometimes this causes conflicts because our partner may offer us gifts (bouquet of flowers or a pint of our favorite ice cream) when what we truly desire is an act of service (help with the mountain of laundry or fixing the leaking kitchen sink).

Even as I took the quiz to determine my predominant “love language” I was feeling a bit confused. It just seemed to me that in a healthy, strong and thriving relationship all of these 5 love languages get incorporated on a regular basis.

It is worth mentioning that this book is not just intended for couples but for all our relationships including children, grandchildren, parents, siblings, etc.

Certainly as a parent you can easily recognize that you offer all 5 of these love languages to your small child all throughout the day — it just comes naturally.

Now that I have some hindsight and mindfulness under my belt, I am wondering if there should have been emphasis on gratitude and an awareness of the love acts regardless of the style. And that got me to thinking about being in a “receiving mode” vs. a “resisting mode”.

When we have blinders on and are only focused on what (or how) we want someone to convey their love to us, we may be missing what they are already doing that is a true expression of their love and support. We are inadvertently resisting (and not even noticing) what someone else is lovingly doing for us and with us.

So what if we started to pay attention to those little expressions of love and became grateful for them? Gratitude is truly a game changer.

Gratitude helps us shift our attitude and perspective – it sets us up to be in receiving mode for lots of good things in life. Expressing our gratitude to those who contribute to our lives strengthens our connection. It enhances that easy flow of give and take in relationships.

From my personal experience, I know that when someone says “thank you or I really appreciate that” after I have folded a load of their laundry, ran an errand, or cared for their pet, it makes me feel valued and very inclined to pitch in again. (This encourages both giving and receiving mode)

However if my efforts go unnoticed or are criticized for not being done a certain way, I can find myself resentful and far less inclined to help out in the future. (This can trigger resistance mode)

This is where things can really go awry in relationships. Being in resistance mode contributes to negativity and resentfulness. It sets up a pattern where no matter how much someone might being doing for you, it is never enough, not the right thing, or never done to your satisfaction. People just stop trying.

A healthy dose of gratitude for someone’s efforts and intentions (even if they missed the mark) can have an impactful effect that yields a much better result for everyone. After all, here is another person willing to offer their time and energy to help you in some way — that alone is worthy of a “thank you”.

Watching my young grandchildren, I can see how they use all 5 love languages interchangeably every day. They gleefully offer a homemade card or sloppy kiss. They say “thank you” to a sibling for sharing a toy. They tell mom she is their best friend. They eagerly want to help fix dinner. They light up when dad builds legos with them for an hour. Kids are naturally attuned to gratitude and to receiving.

As I reflect on the five languages of love, I think any one of them could land softly on a heart. The key is to be aware that someone who loves you is genuinely “trying” and to be sure to tell them how grateful you are. When others feel valued and appreciated, they will strive to bring their personal best to the relationship — and they will be more inclined to see the best in others too.

The Recent “Aha” Moment

When I first began my mindfulness journey, I was completely worn out physically and emotionally and seeking peace — peace of mind, peaceful flow to my days and room to breathe. Looking back, I recall saying out loud that I just needed to preserve my energies and resilience for the really important moments in life. At that time, I was reacting and responding to anothers’ needs and dilemmas as though they were all 3 alarm fires on a very regular basis.

Many times, I was getting caught up in someone else’s stress, almost making it my own. Stress overload was really depleting my energy and clouding my ability to process with clarity. It was also affecting my health and my normally sunny disposition.

Often throughout my younger life I would power through the stressful, tough situations life would dole out and not surprisingly find myself completed depleted a few months later. I would either get so sick that I was forced to take a break, or I would lose my cool over a very minor situation and act way out of character for me. That would lead to feelings of embarrassment and regret.

Knowing that I could easily get caught up in another powering through cycle, I decided it was time to approach things differently. I no longer wanted to be robbed of my joy or sidetracked from my aspirations just to keep the peace — temporarily. I also needed to preserve my strength and resilience to address a health situation I was facing.

It was an eye opener for me to recognize that I always had possessed a lot of patience and I did have a natural resiliency but that I was compromising these gifts by my behaviors. My extraordinary patience prevented me from having boundaries with others and I relied heavily on my natural resiliency to pull me through tough times. But I was turning a blind eye to the fact that resiliency needs to be cultivated and nurtured in order to be replenished.

I had to take care of myself — and in a better, more self-aware way than I had ever done in the past.

If you’ve read my prior blog posts, you will know that I have done a lot of personal work through mindfulness and meditation to peel back the layers I had acquired through the years. Brene Brown was a great source of courage and inspiration through this process and it did require me looking directly at my life story and re-examining experiences that shaped my interactions and behaviors with others. I was so relieved to discover that these experiences did not change me at the core — they just caused me to put on a lot of armor to protect the authentic me.

I’ll share just one example to shed a little light on how I became such a patient harmonizer and rescuer of others. Like many people, I had a rather dysfunctional and unloving childhood. I felt a heavy burden to protect my younger brothers from the fighting and neglect, so I became a protector, a reconciler and consistent source of unconditional love and trust to them. I often paid a heavy price for this role but I was relieved that they were mostly spared. Is it any wonder that I went into my adult life pre-conditioned to avoid conflict and to be the consummate rescuer, safe in my comfort zone as a co-dependent.

Here’s the revelation I am excited to share about my transformation over these past few years. Precisely because I have learned so much about how I was sabotaging my own happiness and peace, I have evolved and grown back into my natural happy, buoyant, positive and resilient self. I have learned to set boundaries and to stand up for myself. I have learned how to support others but stop rescuing them from the consequences of their choices and behaviors. I have learned how to process my feelings in the heat of the moment and to give myself time to respond in a way that reflects my personal integrity. None of this came easy. I had to work and practice, research and practice, journal and practice, seek counsel and practice. The bottom line is it was incredibly empowering.

Most recently I had a long stretch where several of those bigger things in life got strung together and I found myself called into service to help others in a variety of ways. Some of it was fun and most enjoyable — like babysitting two of my young grandchildren for a 5 day stretch. Others tugged on my heartstrings — caring for a very sick family member and supporting a dear friend whose spouse passed away suddenly. And then there was travel made challenging due to delays and rude people, expensive car repairs and an unexpected painful root canal. It was my daughter who recognized that I remained calm, positive, energized and resilient through all of it and for weeks on end. She asked me how it was possible? My answer came easily — its because of the changes I made thanks to mindfulness and meditation. I shared with her that living a peaceful life, free of toxic draining people, and in control of my responses, has enabled me to fortify my foundation of calm, resilience and clarity.

I confess that I am so grateful that I could come through that period of time and feel so good physically and emotionally. The old me would have been exhausted and even sad. It was a big “aha” moment for me. All the work is really paying off in spades.

Brene Brown teaches us a lot about how heavy and dysfunctional all the armor we wear to protect our vulnerability truly is. She encourages each of us to really get to know ourselves so that we can take pride in our own worthiness and take the necessary steps to address old behavioral patterns that sabotage us.

It is my hope that by sharing my story and my experiences, I can help others who are striving for personal growth and more joy in their life. Everybody has a story, everyone of of us has been shaped by our experiences and relationships. We are not defined by this however, and we do have the power within us to rediscover our true selves and to bring our best selves to our families, friend and life experiences every day.

Moments of Joy

I love kickstarting my week with Oprah’s SuperSoul Sundays because I always feel uplifted by the stories of inspiration and rejuvenated by the soothing balm of caring humans striving to be their best selves and to help others do the same.

Today’s SuperSoul Sunday featured Shawn Achor who was both a student and ultimately a teacher of the most popular class at Harvard — the Happiness Class. He is also the author of four inspirational books including The Happiness Advantage and Before Happiness.

There were several key take-aways from today’s discussion that truly resonated with me. I could actually look at segments of my life and find myself nodding in agreement — a resounding YES — I have felt just like that at moments in my life. Once you recognize that you’ve actually experienced some of these rich moments in life that have filled you with joy and gratitude, you know in your heart it is possible to cultivate it more fully in life.

Here is one of those standout talking ;points from Shawn:

Happiness is the joy we feel striving toward our potential. It’s more critical to search for joy than happiness.

What really captured my attention about this remarkable observation is that I have always believed that enjoying the process is as significant as achieving a goal or finishing a project. When I am fully immersed and excited by learning something new, I feel a positive energy that keeps me motivated and engaged. I have experienced this in learning the game of. golf, in learning how to sew, and in my passion for gardening. As I put in the time to practice golf, to rip out a seam and start over, to carefully tend to my seedlings, I felt happy and rewarded by my progress. There were little nuggets of joy in each phase of my learning curve and my passion for these activities that I love just kept growing. When I accomplished my goal of bringing my golf handicap down, creating a magical Halloween costume, or harvesting a bowlful of tomatoes from what once was seedling, it was a true sense of accomplishment — and I felt a long lasting joy. I continue to thoroughly enjoy all of these fun activities and I derive a lot of joy and sustainable happiness in my life because of them.

During his interview with Oprah, Shawn noted that we can find joy even in the tough times in our life and again I found this to be relatable. I’ve invested a lot of my time and energy on mindfulness and meditation over the past few years and not only have I felt the positive changes personally, I know that these changes are noted by my family members and close friends. Others trust me to remain calm and resourceful when they are struggling. They count on me to listen and not dismiss their feelings. I feel a calm joy when I know that I have been a faithful rock for someone in need. I am grateful that I no longer let my own emotions or similar personal experiences get in the way of helping others in need. So, yes I did understand what Shawn was saying when he talked about joy in the context that it does not have to be all smiles and gaiety. There can be great joy in knowing that you have been a source of comfort. Many times this is one of the hardest things we do –” show up” for another in their darkest times.

Shawn encourages us to “practice” happiness in the same way that we practice getting better at other things in our life. Shawn acknowledges that we are all born with genes that pre-dispose us to depression, intelligence, creativity, introversion, etc. Yet we can make a choice to move away from our genes and our environment and make good decisions for a better quality of life.

He introduces us to the concept of Happiness Hygiene — creating a single positive change in our life that shows us that our behavior matters. One 2-minute habit for 21 days can be transformational. Here is his list of positive changes to adopt:

Begin each day by naming 3 things you are grateful for — they must be new ones every day!

Reflect on one meaningful experience that you had in the past 24 hours and take two minutes to write down every detail. (Rick Hansen tells us to hold our positive experiences for 17 seconds to get it to grow some roots in. our brains — this is another super meaningful way to change your trajectory of positivity.)

Write a 2 minute email, text or tweet praising or thanking someone you know. Want to boost this? — make a phone call, or tell them face to face!

15 minutes of fun mindful cardio activity — exercise trains your brain to believe that “my behavior matters”

Meditation — just two minutes of watching your breath go in and out daily can lead to improved accuracy, clarity and calm. (Shawn admits that with all our technology today, he finds himself struggling with attention deficit and mediation can be daunting because his mind races with so many thoughts. Yet just two minutes of quiet and focus on your breath makes a measurable difference.

My biggest takeaway from all of the invaluable information that Oprah and Shawn shared today is this : our behavior matters. When we put some effort into changing our happiness and our reactions, these notable changes create a positive ripple effect on others. Surrounding ourselves with people who are finding joy in the every day moments sounds really good to me.

Here’s the link to today’s SuperSoul Sunday episode: https://www.facebook.com/SuperSoulSunday/videos/449690152519728/

Why I write….

Recently a very dear friend of mine asked me this question: “Why do you write?” I was delighted and touched that she would ask me about what motivates me to write these blog posts. My answer came easily — I want to help others and make a meaningful difference.

I believe that when we share our stories and experiences with each other, we find common ground and build strong connections that help us through all of life ups and downs. We can be a source of courage and inspiration when times are hard. Celebrations of life’s joys and milestones are also sweeter and richer when shared.

As I delved into mindfulness and personal growth in my sixties, I was motivated to share my “aha” moments with others in a way that would be relatable and encouraging to others.

There were many times that I wished that I had known about the tools and skill sets of both mindfulness and meditation much earlier in my life. I could look back without judgment at decisions I made in my 30’s, 40’s and 50’s and see more clearly how my insecurities or learned behavioral patterns from childhood impacted my life.

I’d enjoyed creative writing since I was young and I had a strong desire to share the benefits of mindfulness. After some brainstorming with friends and family, I decided to blog. Admittedly, I found it a little uncomfortable at first to share some of my past personal experiences in such a public forum yet I came to understand that many people share similar life stories and we are all looking for ways to heal, to grow and to gain some wisdom. Comments from my followers and meaningful conversations with friends continue to encourage me to keep writing.

There have been quite a few chapters in my life story so I have many experiences to draw upon when listening to others as they open up about their own histories. Though I have always been a compassionate and empathic person, I now believe I am a better friend and confidante because of all the personal work I have been doing over these past few years. I recall learning that we practice mindfulness not just for ourselves — but for others too — so that we can be much more aware and open to all that another person might share with us.

A small example of this is when a friend is telling you how she feels about a big disappointment she’s facing. From where you sit, her life looks pretty good — great husband, nice house, fun vacations, adorable grandkids. In an effort to boost her mood, you tell her she shouldn’t feel that way — look at the long list of good things in her life. Well intentioned, but not really helpful. No matter what, she feels what she feels. It’s so helpful instead to acknowledge what she is feeling and to genuinely listen with an open mind and heart.

I had a counselor do this very thing to me once after a relationship breakup and although I had to agree that I was better off being out of that relationship, the hurt I was feeling was very real and I needed help to process that. I remember leaving the counselor’s office feeling worse than when I went in. I then worked with a mindfulness therapist and had an entirely different experience. I felt heard and understood for what I was feeling in the aftermath of a broken relationship. It took time to process it all, but it was incredibly healing and enlightening.

This brings me back to why I write. Very few people will get through life without facing challenges or adversities. We need to be there for each other and to pull each other through with kindness, with thoughtfulness, with awareness that others feel and process differently than we do.

My hope is that I can help others earlier in their life than I learned (at 60+) about being authentic, having boundaries in alignment with your values, building emotional control, and asking for help when needed. I wholeheartedly believe that when we bring our best selves to any relationship, we can make a meaningful contribution to others.

I shared with my friend the Starfish Story and how it has been my motto for most of my life. If sharing my life story and the many silver linings along my journey can help another, then I am all in.

Pockets Full of Treasures

When I was a young girl I used to imagine that I had a long flowing colorful coat, rich with textures and designs — and dozens of pockets — all on the outside of my magnificent coat. Those pockets were for all the treasures I would find along the journey of my life.

Not a smooth stone from the babbling creek, not an intricate shell from the white sandy beach, not a shiny penny face up in the parking lot.

The treasures that I tucked into the pockets of this extraordinary coat were people — and specifically the gift or gifts that they gave to me just when I needed it most. Not material gifts — the gifts of their time, their attention and their nuggets of wisdom. My coat of many pockets was filled with touchstones that served as guideposts, beacons and anchors as I moved from youngster to teenager to adult.

I was reflecting about this coat and its multitude of pockets recently. It brought a warm smile to my face. I now realize that this mental imagery was my way of gathering positive experiences that provided me with comfort, hope, a sense of security at a time when my young life was in turmoil.

My younger brothers and I had a very tumultuous dysfunctional childhood and usually were not getting the warm connection of love, trust and safety from our parents. We moved frequently and often without notice. There was a constant undercurrent of uncertainty.

My vivid imagination and a love of fantasy was a great way to escape some of the realities in my young life. So I dreamt up my imaginary coat with an abundance of pockets. I would tuck words of encouragement and happy experiences from caring people in those pockets.. When I was feeling scared or sad, I would pretend I was wrapping that remarkable coat around me and I’d pull a treasured memory from a pocket.

Here’s a sample of the people and experiences I would tuck in a pocket of that imaginary coat:

A choir director from our church offered me to come to her home for free voice lessons when I was 9.

A kind hearted aunt opened her home and heart to me when my parents would have one of their big frequent fights. She’d make me tea and cinnamon toast, treating me like a princess. She instilled in me a love of word games.

An elderly uncle whom we rarely saw throughout the year would faithfully show up every Christmas Eve with small boxes of hand-crafted chocolates for my brothers and me. Such a small gift, but we felt incredibly special to have our very own box of handpicked favorites.

I did not realize the substantial benefits of my imaginary coat and all those pockets chock full of happy moments until I dug deeper into mindfulness and learned how we can re-wire our brains for a “positivity bias” thanks to Rick Hanson Ph.D. , author of Hardwiring our Brains for Happiness.

One of Rick Hanson’s tools is so simple and remarkably effective: It is called “Taking in the Good”.

  • Look for good facts and turn them into good experiences
  • Really enjoy the experience – stay with it 20-30 seconds
  • Intend and sense that the good experience is sinking into you

The reason that “Taking in the Good” deeply resonated with me is that my authentic self views life as “glass half full” but I can loose my footing at times when life goes sideways. I wanted to work on building resiliency so I’d be emotionally stronger in hard times.

I also wanted to find tangible ways to help others find and maintain more happiness in their lives. We can’t escape or avoid the adversities that we will have in life but we can prepare ourselves to be able to handle them with grace and dignity — and to get back on track sooner. Here is a link to this article on Rick’s website about “Taking in the Good”: https://www.rickhanson.net/take-in-the-good/

Looking back on my imaginary coat really underscored what Rick teaches about the long term benefits of “soaking up” the good experiences and accompanying feelings. I’m a firm believer that my imaginary coat protected me from losing touch with my true nature in spite of my childhood experiences.

“Positive experiences can also be used to soothe, balance, and even replace negative ones. When two things are held in mind at the same time, they start to connect with each other.” — Rick Hanson

As a footnote to my story about my coat with many pockets, I wanted to share that not only did these warm memories help me forge a “positivity bias” for my life, they served as a springboard for my own courage, love and kindness:

Because of that choir director, I later had the courage to try out for the middle school choir in spite of being brand new to that school and a blue color kid in a white collar school. I landed the role of lead mezzo soprano.

My sweet aunt consistently demonstrated through her actions, how to be a loving, nurturing mother. She became the consummate role model for the kind of mom I wanted to be for my own children.

My elderly uncle’s small gift brought to life one of my favorite quotes and one that I try to live by : The smallest deed is worth more than the greatest intention

I encourage you to start “savoring” those good experiences in your life – hang on to that warm glow for 20-30 seconds and revisit them when you need a pick me up. And….never underestimate the impact of your random acts of kindness to others.

The Storytellers’ Gifts

Have you ever been so captivated with a great book that it was nearly impossible to put it down? There is nothing like a well written book chock full of intriguing characters and steeped in layers of the complexities of life to hold us captive from beginning to end. A truly great read will have you contemplating about its message long after you have finished that last page.

Encouraged by my engaging seat mate, Allison, on a recent flight from Chicago, I’m sharing a few of those impactful books that I read most recently.

In her best selling book, Melinda Gates shares the gut wrenching, inspiring and triumphant stories of women she’s met from around the world. At this critical moment, it will ignite your sense of urgency, leaving you convinced that equality can’t wait. –New York Times

Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates was so incredibly moving, informative and timely that I highlighted something of significance on almost every page. As a woman, you will even see yourself in some of the stories that she tells about her own life, her career, being a mother and being encouraged by other women who are making a difference. But it is her stories of women and children living under extreme conditions that will open your eyes in a profound way.

I loved this passage from her book so much it has become a daily mantra for me:

Love is the effort to help others flourish. It begins with lifting up a person’s self image.”

An unforgettable memoir about a young girl who, kept out of school, leaves her survivalist family and goes on to earn a PhD from Cambridge University

Educated by Tara Westover is admittedly not an easy read. There were times I had to put the book down and simply process what this remarkable young woman had experienced in her childhood. Tara is the same age as my daugher, and I often reminded myself of this as I read her heart wrenching story. I could not imagine not protecting my child from the atrocities she experienced at the hands of her own family members. At the same time, I found her story of survival, resilience and raw determination to change her life to be relatable and inspiring.

I have watched Tara’s interviews with Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey and highly recommend watching these also. Tara doesn’t flinch at those tough questions about vulnerability and she is very open about how she coped by “normalizing” what was unfolding in her life. Tara has tremendous courage to share so publicly her personal story of pulling herself out of a very toxic family dynamic and building a much better life for herself. Tara’s story provides inspiration and encouragement for anyone who is trying to better their life.

You can love someone and still choose to say goodbye” — Tara Westover during her interview with Oprah Winfrey

A charming novel that prompts reflection on the stories we all should carry to the next generation

The Red Address Book by Sofia Lundberg was an absolutely delightful and heartwarming read though the message was poignant.

When Doris was a young girl, her father gave her a red address book and following his instructions she documented everyone she met and loved throughout her years. Now Doris is 96, living alone in Stockholm and reflecting on those who had an impact on her (many who are now deceased). She begins to write the stories of her colorful life (as a maid in Sweden, a model in Paris, fleeing to Manhattan at the onset of World War Two and of the men she loved). Her beautiful memories and her detailed memoir shed light on unanswered questions for her beloved niece (and just in the nick of time).

“I want to give you my memories. So they don’t just disappear,” Doris says to her niece in her final moments

Creating a love of learning in your family is as easy as lighting a fire. You just need a book of matches. The Brave Learner is that book!

My daugher who is home schooling her two small children inspired me to read this book when she exclaimed that she simply couldn’t put it down. The Brave Learner by Julie Bogart had my attention and stirred my imagination from the very first page. You don’t need to be home schooling childen to benefit from the enchanted lifestyle of education that Julie inspires. If you are a parent or grandparent, an aunt or uncle, you will be awakened to the incredible learning opportunities surrounding us each and every day. Most importantly Julie helps us to avoid accidentally dampening a child’s wild-fire interest and instead fan the flames of their unique passion.

To maximize the value of the practices and attitudes I share, I invite you to be a brave learner yourself. Pay attention to your journey — to what incites your enthusiasm and provokes your skepticism. Be interested in your reactions. Journal. Jot questions in the margins. Recognize the child in you longing for freedom and support. Translate those experiences into empathy for your children’s learning adventure. — extracted directly from Julie’s book.

As I wrap up my book review for you it seems fitting that I am closing with The Brave Learner. May we all be motivated and inspired to learn all that we can from each other, from books and discussing them and from the experiences that unfold in our lives every day. Happy reading 🙂

If you could see my story….

My husband, Skip always used to say “everybody has a story” and I’ve come to realize that because this resonated so deeply with him, his relationships with others were framed in compassion and empathy. He had that rare ability to actually walk in someone else’s shoes and grasp what they might truly need — not just in that moment — but some deeper human connection or kindness that might lift them up from places of hurt or uncertainty.

This rare quality made him an extraordinary leader and mentor. People wanted to work for Skip because they knew he would help them discover their strengths and potential. He recognized that sometimes people were simply in the wrong jobs not that they weren’t capable. Skip took great pride in helping others achieve their full potential, especially when he could see their passion and happiness come alive. I believe that Skip’s real passion and joy was derived from helping others see what he could see in them and for them.

It has taken me a long while to come to a stunning realization — Skip himself possessed such a painful life story that he could deeply feel and understand others often without even knowing their “story”. He had an innate sense of the balm that others might need to heal or feel valued. His beloved grandfather had shared rich guiding life insights into life, love and family — and it was those nuggets of wisdom from the heart that gave him courage and kindness through all the adversities he faced in his life.

Above all, he remained true to his authentic self and never let his own heartbreaking story get in the way of lifting others up, of being trustworthy and loving, and offering support custom made uniquely for each person he met. I believe he filled the empty spaces in his life story and broken heart with the warmth he received from helping others. He gave to others what he himself needed most.

When Skip and I came into each other’s lives, we both had a lot of gaping holes in our hearts and a strong desire to bring our best selves to our relationship and our marriage. What endeared me to him so quickly was his trust in me to share the full details of his own “story”. Skip possessed incredible writing skills and he was fond of sending cards and leaving thoughtful notes. Since he traveled extensively as an international banker, he spent a lot of long hours on a plane or in a hotel room alone. He began to use this time to write letters, pouring out his life experiences and their impact on him. He confessed that it was easier to write about them than to tell me face to face. He was often surprised at the things that would spill out onto the paper from his pen. Skip left me in to the deepest recesses of his heart, unafraid. There is no greater trust in all that world than this. This is the very heart of vulnerability.

There was a moment in our marriage when I looked into those sparkling blue eyes of his and told him — “When I say I trust you, it means even more than I love you.”

You see, my own life story was also painful and confusing. It left me with a lot of self doubt and insecurities. As Skip shared his heartaches, I could feel them with compassion and empathy because I knew just how that felt for me. Parental disconnection, family addictions and dysfunctions, life-threatening health issues — there were incredible similarities in our stories though our paths had been remarkably different. So as we both entrusted each other to see deeply into the scars on our hearts, we grew deeper in mutual trust and in our own self worth. We helped to heal each other from old wounds that we encountered along our life path. And we knitted together our own relationship safety net for life out of that earned trust, deep compassion, unconditional love and immense gratitude.

We used to laugh and say that “two halves became an incredible whole.”

When Skip died, I lost my life compass for a long while. It’s rather remarkable how some of our history and pains in our heart can seep back into our lives bringing self doubts and insecurities to the surface. As a result, I’ve added a few more chapters to my life story. And I have had to relearn some lessons about trust, love and self-worth.

The most profound lesson for me is this — The best gift that we can give humankind is to listen to another’s story with an open heart. You are sure to find something that really resonates with you as they share their life experiences. Let that be the connection to find a way to help each other.

A Year of Meditation

Making a commitment to practicing meditation twice a day for a full year in 2018 turned out to be a meaningful game changer for me. It was the mental equivalent of gaining the benefits from diet and exercise — more energy, more resilience and more clarity.

There were a few reasons I wanted to give mediation an earnest effort. Mindfulness and Brene Brown’s teachings had really opened my eyes to my conditioned responses to various triggers in my life.

So understanding how I get “hooked” and how I might subsequently react was part one of my personal growth process. Part two is getting better at managing those responses and emotions. That is a role that meditation plays.

We’ve all had those times in our lives when inadvertently someone hit a “soft spot” and we reacted poorly — losing our temper, stuffing our true emotions, or numbing ourselves. We get triggered emotionally and react out of habit.

Not getting hijacked by our racing thoughts, not getting caught up in someone else’s negative energy and being able to have good emotional regulation under pressure — those are all great tools that enable us to better listeners, stronger support systems and resourceful problem solvers.

Practicing meditation regularly helps tame those racing thoughts and return to a place of calm. Where there is calm, there is clarity. We can make better decisions with a clear head.

What further motivated me was learning that we practice meditation for others. Does that sound strange? It did to me until I discovered that mediation helps us bring our best selves to each relationship and each experience. A lot of miscommunication and misunderstandings can be averted when we remain calm and are able to give our full attention to another and to the unfolding situation at hand.

Lastly, I have always been fascinated by the neuroscience of meditation and the positive impact that it has on brain health.

Consider this compelling excerpt from The Chopra Center Website: Over the years, studies from the University of British Columbia and Harvard have proven that meditation is more than just a simple relaxation tool… it can have life-altering effects on your brain!  Fascinating discoveries have shown that regular meditation: increases tissue mass in the area of the brain controlling impulses and maintaining attention; Increases thickness in the region of the brain responsible for body awareness and stress management; and shrinks the amygdala which is responsible for processing sadness, anxiety and negative emotions.

Here are a few examples of how daily mediation has impacted my quality of life in a positive way:

No more rumination — I was the queen of rumination, reliving past experiences, with a lot of the strong emotions still very much attached to hurtful experiences. Always looking for answers to questions that will forever remain unanswered. I’ll confess that I have had many a sleepless night thanks to rumination. Today if I recall a memory of a painful experience I can reframe it, review it with the knowledge and awareness I have today and learn from it. The best part is that the strong emotions that were a driving force in the rumination process are not present in the review process.

Being emotionally aware — When I get triggered or feel a strong emotion, I take time to really feel it and then take a big pause before I react. In that space, I can make a better choice about how (or if) to engage. My integrity and intention will guide me not a knee jerk reaction. I feel more in control. I learned a lot about the benefits of being emotionally. aware from Gary Zukav, author of Seat of the Soul. Meditation practice helped me learn how to do this in the heat of the moment.

Setting and keeping personal boundaries — As a born people pleaser, this was an area that I really needed to develop. I frequently gave in to keep others happy only to find myself unhappy, often feeling unappreciated and disrespected. I knew I was allowing this to happen by not having boundaries and it was fear that others wouldn’t like me or would think me insensitive that prevented me from setting them. That is no longer the case. I can articulate my personal boundaries to others clearly. Most importantly, I honor those boundaries myself — I have learned to say “no”. Oddly enough, it turns out that others actually respect you more when you do have personal boundaries. I will share that it was the guided mediation practices on the Headspace app that played a key role. The app offers a variety of courses in the Personal Growth section that help you dig deeper into those areas where you might be feeling challenged or uncomfortable.

Sleeping better – If I wake up in the middle of the night, I can stop my mind from heading onto the speed ramp of racing thoughts. Daily meditation practice has given me the skills to quiet my mind. Yet I think the real reason I am sleeping longer and more peacefully is due to the stress reduction throughout my day. Meditation is part of my daily self care routine — making time to sit quietly twice a day for the formal meditation practice. This really sets me up to be able to bring those skills into my daily life. So my days are calmer, less stressful, lighter and more productive. That’s a great way to go to bed.

I cleared out a lot of real estate in my busy brain thanks to meditation. It is much easier to be fully present to enjoy both the little and big moments in life when racing thoughts and triggered emotions aren’t distracting me.

Helpful Resources:

Headspace app, developed by Andy Puddicombe

Seat of the Soul, written by Gary Zukav

As always, I recommend watching YouTube videos and Ted Talks by Brene Brown, Deepak Chopra, John Kabat-Zinn and Rick Hanson. Oprah Winfrey’s SuperSoul Sundays on Facebook and her podcasts are also inspiring.

Positive Changes

When I started my blog over three years ago, I was in the early stages of learning about mindfulness and creating a vision of what I wanted from life as I ventured deeper into retirement alone.

Part of the motivation to begin blogging about this journey was to help others who also might be struggling with unplanned changes in their life. At the time, I was living in a large retirement community in central Florida surrounded by others in my age group with a myriad of life events that were also altering their well designed plans. A relationship breakup threw me into a bit of a tailspin and I realized I needed to reevaluate a lot of things in a new light.

Relationship breakups, health crisis and loss of loved ones are not restricted to retirement communities and I soon found that so many people at different stages of their life were similarly searching for ways to build a life that was rooted in balance, peace, trust and respect — and that would enable them to fully enjoy people and activities that they loved.

I am deeply grateful for my Florida friend who introduced me to Mindful Magazine because those articles and those teachers became the foundation for the reshaping of my life plan. She and I forged a buddy system for mindfulness in our lives and we encouraged each other as we dug deeper into what matters most for our happiness.

I won’t lie to you and say that it was easy to take a very deep look at myself and commit to changing old behavioral patterns that were not serving me well. Its really uncomfortable when you know in your heart you are a good person and you want only good for others, but just maybe the way you go about it is not beneficial in the long run.

There are so many great resources available to help us all better understand how and why we have developed our coping skills, our triggers and learned behavioral responses and even how our racing mind sabotages our best intentions.

If you check out some of my prior posts, you will know that I’ve been guided through my personal growth journey by Brene Brown, Rick Hansen, Thich Naht Hahn, Jon Kabat Zinn , Pema Chodrun ,Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey (just to. name a few).

I gained a deeper understanding of how my childhood experiences planted seeds of unhealthy behavioral patterns that I carried far into my adult life. I learned a lot about how my fears of confrontation negatively impacted my self esteem and wise decision making.

Perhaps the most enlightening thing that I uncovered was this: I have a passion for helping others and it brings me joy. Without boundaries however, I was devoting my time and energy to people who were unappreciative or unwilling to do for themselves. I became a magnet for needy people. In the process, I snuffed out my own joy. Now I understand why I felt so resentful.

While soaking up as much knowledge and understanding as I could process from all those inspirational leaders I mentioned above, it was necessary to sit alone and work through how all these revelations played out in my life.

That required a lot of journaling, a lot of crying and miles of long walks — not to mention more of Brene Brown’s Ted Talks.

Ultimately it also meant that I incorporated mediation into my personal development plan. And as noted in prior posts, I was terrible at it. Each time I sat down to meditate, ten thousand thoughts came rushing into my brain.

This was perhaps the one time where my natural stubbornness proved helpful. In 2018, I. made a commitment to meditate every day twice a day. Short meditations — after all I was being realistic. I used the Headspace app which helped me stay accountable to this goal as well as providing some really meaningful topics to explore. I did mostly guided mediations but by autumn, I ventured into unguided sessions too and was remarkably surprised to discover that I had the ability to clear my mind with ease. There are so many good things to share about meditation that I plan to devote another blog post to it very soon.

But for now, I want to share one of the greatest tools for breaking new ground while changing old habits — Friendship.

I am very blessed to have an incredible life long friend who has played an instrumental role as confidante, coach, cheerleader and sounding board. Ironically enough, both my friend and I had been taking stock of our lives in our early 60’s and knew in our hearts that we needed to make some serious changes if we wanted different results.

This is precisely where Brene Brown’s teachings hit home for me. My dear friend was the one I trusted the most to share my deepest, darkest parts of my life story. I could openly tell her about my insecurities, bad decisions, doubts and hardships. I’d carried some of this stuff buried deep for years. Being able to unburden myself with a friend that really listened was one of the greatest gifts I have ever received. And not surprisingly, when you find the courage to open up to someone you trust, they will often share in turn with you. My treasured friend and I have deepened our relationship in the most profound way. We have also helped each other through some very difficult but necessary behavioral changes. Today we high five each other when we tell our stories of how we handled a situation in a much more mindful and productive way.

While it is important to gain knowledge and insight from books, Ted Talks, journaling and meditating, I believe that having compassionate, caring friends that you trust are the glue that makes the personal growth process really come together and stay solidly in place.

As a direct result of all the hard work I have done on my self over these past few years, I have a peaceful, balanced and joyful life. That does not mean that I don’t have trials or troubles. It does mean that I can handle life’s adversities with grace and resilience.

I am a firm believer that when we share our stories and talk honestly about the work we’ve done to grow, we are a source of motivation and inspiration for others.

Helpful Resources:

  • Brene Brown, Researcer
  • Soundstrue.org
  • Mindful Magazine and Mindful.org
  • Rick Hanson, American psychologist
  • Pema Chodron, American Tibetan Buddhist
  • Jon Kabat Zinn, American Professor
  • Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Monk