Inhabiting Aloneness

My friend emailed me this beautiful excerpt from the book, Eternal Echoes, written by John O’Donohue. It really captures the essence of why I’ve fared so well during these seemingly endless months of involuntary isolation.

Photo by Domen Mirtiu010d Dolenec on Pexels.com

“Each one of us is alone in the world. It takes great courage to meet the full force of your aloneness. Most of the activity in society is subconsciously designed to quell the voice crying in the wilderness within you. The mystic Thomas a Kempis said that when you go out into the world, you return having lost some of yourself. Until you learn to inhabit your aloneness, the lonely distraction and noise of society will seduce you into false belonging, with which you will only become empty and weary. When you face your aloneness, something begins to happen. Gradually, the sense of bleakness changes into a sense of true belonging. This is a slow and open-ended transition but it is utterly vital in order to come into rhythm with your own individuality. In a sense this is the endless task of finding your true home within your life. It is not narcissistic, for as soon as you rest in the house of your own heart, doors and windows begin to open outwards to the world. No longer on the run from your aloneness, your connections with others become real and creative. You no longer need to covertly scrape affirmation from others or from projects outside yourself. This is slow work; it takes years to bring your mind home.”

Refining Resolutions

Enthusiasm for New Year’s resolutions begins to wane around the second week of January. I’d say that’s pretty normal, especially if the goals you’ve chosen aren’t authentically yours. It’s easy to be swayed by external so-called authority figures who proclaim to know what’s best. Yet I’m here to remind us all, myself included, that we are each our own authorities.

Photo by Anna Tarazevich on Pexels.com

Perhaps your resolutions could be tweaked slightly, rather than tossed out completely. I find it helps to know my “why”, the underlying motivation that causes me to seek change. Oftentimes resolutions are strategies to achieve a why, but there are likely other avenues that could help you reach your destination. There’s no shame in changing course when you realize you’re on the wrong path!

It’s common for people to choose goals related to health this time of year. In spiritual circles, I hear people talking about going vegan and eating more kale. True confession: I’m a carnivore. Yup. I eat meat. Red meat. My body feels better when I do. I’d prefer to be a vegan, frankly, as the cost of grass-fed beef is outrageous. I’d fit in better, I suppose, if I went along with the crowd, but it wouldn’t actually serve my health. I do want to minimize my impact on the environment, so I’m committing to experiment with the minimum quantity my body needs.

Same with dairy. Holy moly, do I love cheese! Yet I’m not interested in supporting the cruel practices of factory farming, so I’m going with small family farm products, switching to goat cheese more, and replacing half and half with homemade hemp or nut milk. If I began the year pretending to be vegan, I’d be ready to throw in the towel about now. I’m glad I’ve learned to listen to the expert on me: me.

Another confession: I don’t like kale. There, I said it! And I have zero interest in eating salad in the winter. No thank you. So, I can just skip those trendy resolutions and opt to eat a variety of organic, locally grown seasonal vegetables, roasted or made into fabulous stew. I’ve thrown out enough slimy kale and wilty lettuce over the years to know that it’s just not going to happen. That doesn’t mean I can’t improve my eating habits; I just need to do it my own way.

I might not like kale, but I truly loathe the gym. Ugh. Voluntarily immersing myself in an atmosphere of suffering is just not my idea of good health. Plus, I can’t turn off my knowledge of body mechanics and it distresses me to see people doing things that are likely to cause injury. Nope, not for me. I’ve recently sworn off vinyasa yoga, which is the primary style offered in my area. It’s just too fast for me. Teachers always say to go at your own pace, but they don’t mean four times as slow as the tempo they’ve set- it disrupts the flow for the whole class.

So, while I’m aware that I do need to move my body more, the most common tactics are not a good fit for me. Luckily the woods are nearby and full of steep hills. My rebounder is even closer and a great choice for intense exercise that minimizes the jarring of mature joints. I know that the stretches I benefit the most from are those that I resist because they’re uncomfortable. Yet I am grown up enough to fit them into a rotation. I don’t want to avoid things that are truly beneficial (there are LOTS of substitutes for kale, just saying…) just because I don’t enjoy them. It’s been no hardship to stick to my plan because I feel so much better already. Imagine a resolution that isn’t a constant struggle!

Here are some other aspirations I’m working towards that aren’t very popular in our consumer culture as there’s no profit to be made. In fact, these actions are nearly revolutionary as they buck the system that is always driving us to do more, work harder, and buy all the newest gizmos. I do love being a rebel, but want to make sure each decision is truly aligned with my values. Going against authority figures just for the sake of doing so is still a decision based on external factors. Feel free to borrow any of these ideas or share some of your own in the comments.

Rest more

Love and accept myself exactly as I am

Minimize screen time, including the habitual checking of my phone

Minimize multi-tasking

Maximize joy

Listen to my gut

Say no to requests that activate a sense of dread

Waste less/ make less waste

I’m wishing you a very happy 2022, and hope you find your “why”!

Dance It Out

Feeling tense, frazzled, stressed, anxious or overwhelmed? Utilize the body-mind connection to upgrade your internal chemistry.

1. Stop doomscrolling. You can always come back later. Nothing has changed in months anyway, it won’t hurt to take a break.

2. Decide you want to feel better.

3. Take action.

Today I used Pandora Radio as an Oracle. What music will help me lift my vibration? When everything seems to be going wrong, music is the perfect remedy.

I offer this song that got me moving and endorphins flowing. If you need some relief, it might help you too. Get your groove on and let the mind go quiet. You might need to purge some thoughts first, preferably in a journal where they won’t cause any damage but can be released from your head, where they can also cause damage.

https://pandora.app.link/AygsquO7klb

I’m Doing Great! And it’s Freakin’ Hard Work.

Lately I’ve been hesitant to share that I’m doing quite well when so many others are suffering greatly. I’ve concluded that it doesn’t help anyone to hide my light, nor do I wish to tell lies or half-truths. So, when someone asks with genuine interest, I don’t hold back.

I’m doing great!

Somewhere in between withholding and gloating there is a middle ground, and that’s what I’m aiming for. Most of the time I hit the mark, but I occasionally still struggle with a strange, misplaced guilt. Who am I to be experiencing such freedom, peace, and joy?

Here’s the thing. I’ve invested great amounts of effort and finances in my wellness. It hasn’t happened by default or simple luck. Every day I make choices that are often inconvenient and spectacularly unpopular.

Choices like prioritizing rest and quality nourishment. Meaning that I regularly say no when people would prefer that I said yes. That I decline invitations for drinks or meals that would not serve my highest good. That I’m unwilling to engage in conversations that are draining or toxic in nature, and that I have deactivated my Facebook account.

The most heroic endeavor, however, is allowing myself to feel all my emotions. Rather than suppressing, avoiding, or numbing, I turn towards the unpleasant reactions.Sitting in meditation when I get triggered and welcoming the totality of the feelings that arise is one of the most important commitments I’ve ever made to myself. This helps me avoid dragging yesterday’s the wounds into today’s interactions.

Protecting my energy field from debris that I might absorb from others, monitoring my thoughts and releasing those that aren’t aligned with my calling, and keeping my heart open through it all requires diligence. Sure, there are times I want to crawl into bed with a pint of ice cream and the remote control. Since I now know such behavior only delays the inevitable, it’s much less appealing.

Yes, I know the world is a crazy place. I am not exempt from what’s happening out there. Being super-sensitive, I’m also aware of the intense cosmic energies. Yet given the choice to embrace my superpower of feeling deeply or opting to feel less, courtesy of self-medication, I choose feeling deeply.

When I’m hiding from my emotions, I have no chance of doing well. The best I can hope for is getting by. When I numb any part of myself, all of me gets numbed. There’s no such thing as selective anesthesia for the psyche.

So… sorry, not sorry, I haven’t posted in ages. It’s because I’ve been busy doing great.

Making a Difference

I’m being nudged to share a newsletter that I recently received from Oren Jay Sofer, subject line: Can any of us make a difference? (Spoiler alert: we CAN!)

It’s a sweet and refreshing message, followed by an announcement of an upcoming communication course. While I haven’t taken “Say What You Mean”, I recently completed a different program of his which was incredibly helpful.

Without further adieu, I’ve copied and pasted his email below.

I’ve had a few conversations with close friends lately about the state of our world. 

While life offers so much to be joyful and appreciative for, and while humankind has made genuine progress worthy of celebration, the affects of the pandemic, the climate crisis, and income inequality are heavy. 

It’s hard to know what to do and easy to feel overwhelmed. 

Sometimes, when I feel stuck by the complex, daunting nature of the problems we face collectively, I remember a story I heard once as a kid. 

One day, after a big storm, a child was walking along the beach. The shoreline was scattered with starfish—thousands strewn up and down the beach, as far as the eye could see. 

Soon, the child came upon a neighbor, patiently picking up the starfish one at a time and tossing them back into the ocean. She watched, puzzled, and then asked: “Hey, what are you doing?” 

 “They’ll die out here. I’m helping to save them.” 

“But—there are so many,” she stammered. “How will you ever make a difference?”

The neighbor paused. She bent down, picked up a single starfish, looked at it, and gently tossed it back to the ocean. “There. To that one starfish, I just made all the difference in the world.” 

The child’s eyes lit up. She picked up a starfish, and threw it to the sea.

None of us have the power to change the course of history. No one can control the future. But we can make a difference in one another’s lives. Every generous act, every kind word, every patient breath makes a difference. 

One area we can all change in life is how we communicate. 

Think of the times when someone has really listened, offered a few words of appreciation, encouragement or reassurance. This can make the difference between sinking into despair and finding the strength to go on. 

Even when there are difficult things to say, we can find a way to speak with courage and love. 

Each year at this time I offer a special, live, 12-week online course, Say What You Mean. We go through my book chapter by chapter, learning how to make a difference in our world – one starfish at a time.

I invite you to join me. Every class includes time for questions and coaching. There are CEs for therapists and other mental health professionals, nurses, teachers, and many others. We’ve even set up discounts for those who register with a friend or small group, and scholarships for anyone who needs one.

If you want to learn and practice together, I’d love to see you there. You can learn more and sign up on my website here

Hope you can join me, 

Oren

Grateful for the Simple Things

Last week, my brother sent me a text with a picture, saying that my nephew wanted me to see it. Since neither of them generally initiates contact with me, I was especially delighted. Since I was having a difficult day, it was especially heartwarming.

Allow me to introduce Captain Theo and Rosie. 🙂 I dare you not to say, “Aw…”!

A friend declared this a “cuteness explosion”, and I couldn’t agree more. Somehow the dining room background just makes it all the more precious. I’m sharing this here for anyone who needs a pick-me-up. It’s a good reminder that the simple things in life can be the most uplifting.

I am grateful. ❤

Affirmations Work!

Last night I started using a new affirmation that I borrowed from Lee Harris, a channeler and intuitive who offers a helpful energy update each month. I’m really enjoying his online Abundance Upshift program. Exploring and upgrading belief systems is a good portion of the work we’re doing; hence the affirmation.

“I allow myself to receive in unexpected and surprising ways.”

These words really resonated with me, so I decided to take them out for a spin. I repeated them several times aloud before bed and copied them into my journal this morning. I find repetition to be helpful for getting new ideas lodged in my mind. Science tells us that creating new neural pathways is possible, but does require some consistent effort.

So… I went about my morning and suddenly felt the urge to get myself to the woods. Since I moved, almost two months ago, I haven’t explored opportunities for hiking in my new neighborhood. Happily, today my mood, energy, schedule, and the weather all collaborated for my benefit.

I walked to the closest trailhead. Meh. It just didn’t feel right, so I continued along the sidewalk. The next entrance pulled me in, and I soon realized I had found the field designated for dogs to run freely. Not having a four-legged friend myself, I turned back around, hoping to find a quieter and less crowded spot. It was at that moment that I crossed paths with a client. When I explained that I was scouting out the new neighborhood, she invited me to join her.

Now I not only have company and good conversation but am being shown around by someone who knows the area well and is able to offer suggestions about which trails to take to get to a variety of places. My own personal tour guide! Unexpected and surprising.

After she peeled off to return to work, I took her advice, but soon got pulled in another direction. I found myself at an intersection occupied by three ladies. When I looked closer, I recognized two of them! Oddly enough, I had no idea that they knew each other! This might not seem like such a big deal if you live in a small town, but I’m located in Philadelphia, one of the largest cities in the US, and hiking in the country’s largest urban park. Running into one familiar face is a rare event for me; three is simply magical.

I was delighted! Unexpectedly and surprisingly finding friendly faces really brightened my day and strengthened my resolve to keep using this new affirmation. I was reminded that abundance can appear in multiple forms. Friendship and connection are certainly some of my favorites!

I’m curious to see what else will happen as I continue to become aligned with the energy of receiving in unexpected and surprising ways. You’re invited to join me and report back when the miracles begin to appear. 😊

Freestyle Homemaking

I recently moved into my own apartment after years of sharing a variety of houses with a variety of roommates. If you can recall the last time that you moved, you know that there are dozens of necessary decisions to turn a space into a home. It’s easy to go on autopilot and simply make the same choices your family of origin or the status quo would make. Ever the rebel, I get a kick out of doing things my way.

For starters, my kitchen drawers are rather narrow and long. My utensil organizer is much too wide to fit. I did a brief search online for something suitable and found nothing. Having much bigger fish to fry, I dumped all the silverware in the drawer and called it a day. My friend who was visiting at the time agreed with me that the spoons and forks don’t need to be segregated. Over a month has gone by now, and it’s simply not an issue. (Mom, I know you’re itching to scour the Container Store or Pinterest for a more civilized alternative. There’s absolutely no need. Truly, I like it this way!)

There’s a built-in microwave above my stove. It takes up a large amount of space, particularly given the limited cupboards generally found in an urban apartment. I knew right away that I wouldn’t use it (haven’t for nearly 20 years) and that I needed to find a way to reclaim that territory. Now, it’s my tea cupboard, housing loose leaf teas and the various superfoods that accompany them. Since many are stored in tins or canning jars, I’ve unplugged the microwave to prevent accidental explosions. I’m rather pleased with this solution! It sure makes teatime more streamlines.

While shopping for a shower curtain, I noticed that an additional plastic layer is recommended for inside the actual curtain. What? Why? I dug my heels in and resisted purchasing extra, needless plastic. Maybe I’m less active in the shower than other people, but so far, not a drop has escaped. Who says you need two sheets of material between the inside and outside of the tub? Martha Stewart? The Plastic Coalition? No thank you. I’m doing just fine with one.

By far, my biggest purchase was an organic mattress that I’ve been drooling over for a few years. I spend more time in my bed than anywhere else, so it’s a good investment in my future health. The cost of the mattress itself was more than I would have spent on a traditional set up, so for the next few months, my wonderful mattress will rest on the floor until I can magnetize a frame worthy of it. I get that this might not be an option for people with mobility issues, but for me it makes a whole lot more sense than going into debt and paying interest on something that is much more of a want than a need. (You can also see the corner of the sheet that is temporarily acting as a curtain…)

Learning critical thinking skills in college was perhaps the most valuable lesson of all. I’m ever so grateful that I have the capacity to question everything, even the small things and the deeply ingrained things so I can make the best decisions for me. I can’t remember how to conjugate German verbs or do advanced math, but I am able to examine costs vs. benefits and customize my decisions to precisely suit my circumstances. It certainly made this transition easier, but also enables me to make bigger choices about my health, lifestyle, and overall value system.

It’s very empowering to lead my life from my own inner compass rather than simply doing things the same way everyone else does. Please consider joining me by thinking outside of the box. Heck, let’s just eliminate the box altogether! Start with something small, like a kitchen drawer, and see how liberating it feels. Before you know it, you’ll be freestyling it all over the place.  

Over the Hill and LOVING IT!

Today is my 50th birthday.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.com

As a modern, western woman, I’ve been conditioned to believe that this is the beginning of the inevitable decline of my health, mobility, cognitive abilities, productivity, and overall worth.

Well, to hell with that! I reject all this nonsense. I am choosing instead to celebrate having survived five long decades in a world whose values are so upside-down. I’m choosing to invest daily in my well-being and have adopted one of Louise Hay’s mottos as my very own.

“Happy, healthy, happy, healthy- dead.”

Meaning, I plan to enjoy myself up until the very end.

I’m not saying it’s going to happen automatically. Yes, my body requires different care than it did when I was younger. Consequences are greater for making unhealthy choices. While society would suggest that I must merely suffer as a result of continuing the behavior that suited me in my 20’s and 30’s, I’m proposing an alternative. Make different choices!

My plan for healthy aging is four-pronged. It is versatile and easily adaptable to any set of unique circumstances and value systems. I believe that if everybody started thinking along these lines, there would be a lot less pain and illness in the elder years.

  1. Cultivate life-force energy (ki/chi/qi/prana). In eastern systems, this is the foundation of health and healing. Here in the west, it’s still somewhat foreign to many. Whether or not we can see it, feel it, or measure it, there is an energy that flows through all living beings. We can enhance this flow through lifestyle choices such as eating natural foods, spending time in nature, moving our bodies, expressing emotions, connecting with loved ones, and getting plenty of rest. Reiki, yoga, martial arts, qi gong, and tai chi are practices designed to build and balance ki.
  2. Minimize toxins. While I’d love to avoid them altogether, in today’s world I just don’t think it’s possible. So I do the best I can with the options available to me. Before I put something in or on my body or bring a product (or relationship) into my environment, I determine its level of toxicity. Yes, this means passing up many things that are quite popular such as donuts and nail polish. Given my 50 voyages around the sun, I have developed the wisdom to see that I value my well-being much, much more than fitting in with an unhealthy crowd.
  3. Manage stress. While I’d also like to avoid stress altogether, I don’t think that’s possible either. Given that I live in the world, and not removed from it on a desert island or mountain top, my options are to just absorb it or take steps to actively minimize its effects. This takes consistent effort, yet I assure you that every investment in reducing stress has a cumulative impact on health and well-being. Enter “stress, disease” in your search engine if you’re curious about the specifics.
  4. Choose joy, creativity, and pleasure. Sadly, these gems are tremendously undervalued in today’s world. In addition to enhancing ki flow, taking this step also activates the connection with Spirit. For me, they are the portal to living openheartedly, compassionately, and generously. I believe they nourish the heart; both in a literal and metaphorical sense. It also tends to draw others to me who are like-minded, which activates an upward joy spiral. Building pockets of enjoyment into every day is an approach that helps me navigate the challenging times with greater ease and prolong the good times with minimal effort.

I’ve spent the past two decades organizing my life around these four principles. It certainly didn’t happen all at once. Nor was it always easy. Going against the standard motto: “work, suffer, work, suffer-decline, sick, dead” is revolutionary. Other people don’t always appreciate the changes we make as these changes can challenge their world views and often put projected responsibility back on their own shoulders. Yet, taking one step at a time while absorbing the rewards along the way creates a positive feedback loop that is very encouraging.

Pick one small change you can make today and start there. Perhaps take the money you’d spend over the next few months on soda and buy a water filter so you have access to the purest hydration possible. Or visit the farmers market for the best quality produce in your area. Go for a walk before work or own your break if it isn’t sweltering outside. If is, make a playlist of upbeat tunes and dance in your living room.

Just one thing is all it takes to begin. This is the foundation for a shift that can have a huge impact on your wellness over time. Make it something simple and easy or it won’t be sustainable. Once you get the hang of it, add another simple, easy shift. And another and another.

If all goes well, thirty years from now you can join me on the dance floor to celebrate my 80th.

Nurturing Creativity

I am reacquainting myself with my recently estranged creative process. The past several months have been emotionally challenging for me. My capacity to read anything but fantasy novels or write anything except necessary emails disappeared. POOF! I didn’t have the energy to navigate this crisis and nurture artistic endeavors. Losing access to my spark was all the more painful as I also lost the fulfilment and pleasure that results when creativity flows.

Keep in mind that when I say “crisis”, I’m talking about first world, white lady problems. Never was my life in danger and I knew the miserable situation was only temporary. It’s too personal to go into detail, but some of my deepest wounds got triggered and I needed to invest all my efforts in maintaining inner harmony despite external circumstances. Certainly not comparable to the depth of crises others are facing around the globe; yet to me it was A Very Big Deal.

I’m not seeking pity or condolences here. It was a rough time, but now it’s over. In fact, the outcome was a huge lifestyle upgrade, and I was always able to see the silver lining. I’m happy to report that I didn’t pile on any needless suffering by judging and blaming myself or fearing that my creativity had been fatally wounded. I have Reiki to thank for this small mercy! I knew deep down that creativity is indestructible. It might go into hiding when the going gets rough, but it’s in there all along, waiting to feel safe enough to reemerge.

Clients and friends alike have told me repeatedly over the past year and a half that they’ve had difficulty accessing their creative, productive, focused selves. It’s been clear to me all along that this is a natural response to the culture of fear that has developed from the pandemic. We’re constantly inundated with messages that the very act of breathing could be deadly, and that mere proximity to other people is extremely hazardous.

Sympathetic nervous systems have been activated like crazy! And when the body is consistently in DANGER Mode, all its efforts are directed to survival. This is a useful mechanism for facing an angry mama bear, but terribly debilitating when the situation endures for months and months. When the alarm bells are constantly ringing, it’s nearly impossible to focus on writing poetry, painting, or reading literature. Obviously, these would be dangerous distractions while climbing a tree to avoid being mauled by a wild animal. The physiological response was only meant to be brief, however, and many people have been suspended in DANGER Mode indefinitely.

I suppose the reason I’m writing this is to let you know that you’re not alone if you’ve been struggling to tap into the well of creativity within yourself. It’s a perfectly natural and normal side-effect of being stuck in chronic fight/flight/freeze mode. There’s no reason to beat yourself up and add self-criticism to your troubles. I have an immense collection of tools, a deep understanding of the effects of trauma, and decades of experience helping people recover from challenges and reconnect with their passions. Despite all of that, I felt pretty helpless as the wonderful habits I’d built over the last decade shriveled up.

It’s incredibly difficult to overcome the hardwiring of the nervous system when plunged into survival mode. Sometimes you just need to ride out the storm and wait for a sunny day. Please trust me when I say, when that day comes, you will also be able to rekindle a friendship with your estranged creativity. It is waiting patiently for you. And it will rise up like a phoenix from the ashes when the time is right.