Resilience: Thriving, Not Just Surviving

In his book, The Beethoven Factor, Dr. Paul Pearsall describes “Thrivers” as those who know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em.” He defines “thriving” as stress induced growth that happens when we face a challenge. The way we respond to change – both large and small – is a good indication of our level of resilience.

I had the privilege of attending a day long training “Thriving vs Surviving During Times of Change: Science of Enhancing Resilience” presented by J. Bryan Sexton, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Director of Patient Safety Research and Training, Duke University Health System. It was hosted by the Minnesota Hospital Association and aimed at exploring the issue of burnout in healthcare professionals. Resilience is an essential component in anyone’s hearth and well-being, whether you work in healthcare or not. I found the day to be totally affirming of the message I share. Here is a brief recap of the day.

Resilience was defined as “a function of one’s ability to cope, and the availability of resources related to health and well-being.” There was a substantial amount of depressing information and statistics about the high percentage of burnout in physicians and nurses in the US (30-40%). That is not a comforting statistic. While Dr. Sexton painted a rather dismal picture of the reality of depression and exhaustion in the healthcare workforce, he also highlighted several ways to counteract that reality with the intention to make resources available to survive and thrive. Those resources do not always require money. They require intention and commitment to bring about positive change.

“Your focus determines your reality.”
~J. Bryan Sexton, Ph.D.

Drawing from research from authorities like Drs. Barbara Fredrickson (Positivity), Ellen Langer (Mindfulness), Robert A. Emmons (Gratitude Works) and Martin Seligman (Flourish), we participated in several exercises to boost resilience. The exercises are beneficial for anyone wanting to increase their resilience resources. Here are some to try:

Deliberately Practice Random Acts of Kindness
Random Acts of Kindness Image

Maintain Strong Social Relationships

Hug More (4 times/day is the minimum)
Physical contact optimizes oxytocin and serotonin – which boost mood and promotes bonding – hold a hug (or handshake) for 6 seconds or more.

Practice Active Constructive Responding – Paying Attention is a Form of Love

Be positive, interested and caring
Maintain eye contact/smile/touch/laugh
Concentrate on asking questions (at least 3)
Listen without judgement

Cultivate Confidants

Have REAL friends not just those on social media
Do you have someone you can call at 4:00 am to tell your troubles to?

Write Down “Three Good Things”

Every night before you go to bed write down three (3) positive things from your day.
You will sleep better and have residual positive affect on your close relationships

Practice Gratitude

Keep a Gratitude Journal
Write Thank You notes

Experience Awe and Wonder

Seek out and take notice of life: from beautiful scenes in nature to witnessing an amazing accomplishment of another person to encountering something vast in size, number, power, or complexity, many things can make you feel awe.

Find Your Strengths and Take Maximum Advantage of Them

Take the VIA Survey of Character Strengths 

VIA Character Strengths

Practice the 5 Pillars of Resilience

Self-awareness – Do what you are good at
Mindfulness – Noticing without judging
Purpose – Being part of something bigger than you are
Self-care – Fatigue management, nutrition, physical activity, etc
Relationships – Loneliness is deadly

As I said earlier, this workshop was an affirmation of what I have long known to be true. Resilience is the outcome of being able to respond to change with resources that promote well-being and cushion us against being overwhelmed by it. Those resources include patience and persistence; along with setting the intention to work toward some goal, having faith in the outcome, accepting help from others, maintaining a sense of humor, expressing gratitude and realizing that grace is present in it all. It is the ability to say, “Yes, this has happened. And now what?”

Much more than a positive attitude, although that is a key contributor, resilience is a complex and significant component in our well-being. Some people are indeed positive by nature. I admit to being one of them. However, resilience is not being a happy-go-lucky Pollyanna, floating effortlessly through life with rose-colored glasses. On the contrary, a resilient response to change is far from effortless. Not unlike a garden, cultivating resilience requires intention, patience and effort which allows us to grow.

How do we increase our resilience? Primarily by putting forth the effort each day to focus on what is right – cultivating the positive. It sounds so simple. The key is focus – where are we bringing our attention? When you stop to think about it, narrow spots actually contribute to our well-being, providing an opportunity for personal growth.

Be Resilient


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Be Kind

As you may already know, I have an amazing and wonderful granddaughter, Amy, who is my role model for resilience. Her remarkably resilient response to all of the challenges (narrow spots), medical exams, tests and procedures she has experienced in her 10 years of life with cerebral palsy and epilepsy sets a high standard for accepting “what is” and moving forward for everyone – most especially me.

Amy and I “keep each other company” on the phone – usually FaceTime – almost every morning. Often we read to one another. Each of us has a copy of the book and we take turns, page by page, chapter by chapter or paragraph by paragraph. We recently finished reading the book, Wonder by R. J. Palacio. This book is truly wonderful.

Wonder Book CoverWonder tells the story of August Pullman, a ten-year-old boy with severe craniofacial abnormalities. Auggie goes from being home-schooled to entering fifth grade in a private middle school in Manhattan, within walking distance from is home. Auggie is bullied and isolated by most of his classmates, befriended by only a few and courageous in his valiant effort to be just another boy in school. It is a remarkable story of resilience.

While reading this book together, I asked Amy, who is certainly “different” from other girls in her class, which characters she thought were most like her. Her answer was always the students who befriended Auggie – never with Auggie or with the bully and his “peeps”. There were several places in the story where I cried empathetic tears with this young boy trying to fit in – undoubtedly projecting my fears and judgements on Amy and her classmates.

At the end of the book, during his commencement address to the fifth and sixth graders at the school; the principal, Mr. Tushman quotes from The Little White Bird by J. M Barrie, “Shall we make a new rule of life…always try to be a little kinder than necessary.” Tushman goes on to quote another book, Under the Eye of the Clock, by Christoper Nolan, in which a young man who is facing some extraordinary challenges is treated kindly by a classmate: “It was at moments such as these that Joseph recognized the face of God in human form.” The simple and powerful act of kindness. Palacio goes on to have the principal deliver a profound message to the students, their parents and to those of us reading the book: “If every single person … made it a rule that wherever you are, whenever you can, you will try to act a little kinder than is necessary – the world really would be a better place. And if you do this, if you act just a little kinder than is necessary, someone else, somewhere, someday, may recognize in you…the face of God.” That is a profound message, indeed.

Today and everyday – Be just a little kinder than necessary.

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Storytelling for Wholeness and Healing

I have known for sometime that telling the stories of our narrow spots is essential to healing. I recently had the opportunity to hear renowned storytellers Kevin Kling and Matthew Sanford in an informal conversation with Dr. Jon Hallberg. The event was sponsored by the Center for Spirituality & Healing as a Kick-off to the American Holistic Medical Association Conference in Minneapolis.

Not only was my belief in storytelling affirmed, the evening inspired me to focus on developing a workshop specifically aimed at empowering participants to tell their stories as a means of moving forward on the path of recovery from loss.
So the question is: If I host a workshop of this nature, would anyone come?

Here is what I propose:
The Heart of the Matter
Everything is held together with stories. That is all that is holding us together, stories and compassion. ~Barry Lopez
I and those who join me will be both storyteller and story listener. When we tell a personal story out loud, we discharge some of its danger, shining a light into a dark closet.
Setting Intention
The fact is that we human beings speak the same language. And the language that we speak is the language of storytelling. ~Harold Scheub
Narrative is an essential part of our human nature. We live it, hear it and create it each day. Stories connect us to others and help us process, heal, problem solve, express feelings, remember and celebrate.
There is a relationship between teller and listener. To enter a story is to make room for its teller. With someone to hear their stories, tellers know they are not alone and feel gratitude for being heard. As listeners to someone else’s stories, we realize that we can help just by listening, and being a witness. The listener confirms the worth of the teller by attending seriously to what he or she tells.
The Invitation
Bring your curiosity (a strong desire to know or learn), and spend a day on a journey of renewal, transformation and healing.
What we will create together
An opportunity for individual discovery and learning:
• to learn from other people’s stories,
• to awaken a spirit of possibility,
• to honor the grieving process,
• to gain perspective on perspective,
• to recognize the difference between “Yes and…” and “Yes, but…”
• to stay engaged in the process of being,
• to create a vocabulary for one’s own healing, renewal ,
• to examine and befriend the moment.
Stay tuned…

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Poetry – Giving Voice and Words to Life’s Narrow Spots

Gratitude for Grains of Sand
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving – a time to be grateful. Why do we need a special day to focus on gratitude – an essential ingredient of health and well-being? Another topic for another day…
I am grateful for the grains of sand breathed in from a 3-week class entitled: LITERARY MIDWIVES: ASSISTING IN THE DELIVERY OF WORDS AND STORIES, offered at Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality in St. Paul, MN. The course description defined “literary widwife” as, “Someone who helps another find words or stories, whether for the unspeakable, the challenging or the sublime….” It was about giving birth to voice, words and poems to experiences in life that might be left untold. The class provided an opportunity to listen, reflect and write. The facilitator was poet, editor and grief educator Ted Bowman, a community instructor in Family Education at the University of Minnesota. He was a well equipped and able guide.
“Everything is held together with stories. That is all that is holding us together, stories and compassion.” ― Barry López
I had previously spent time developing a workshop and speech around the theme of the essential benefit of storytelling in healing. It was my Art of Convening “Final Project” or Case Study. I had not stopped to think of poetry as a part of that telling. I have had a change in perspective. In three weeks, I have actually written three poems about things that I have acknowledged as reality in my life, but not in a poetic form. I have found the experience to be rather profound. You do not need to think my poems are worthy of publication. This is my blog after all…

Poet Patricia Kirkpatrick brought her skills as a “Medical Midwife: Words and Stories for Living With Medical Conditions.” A survivor of successful surgery to remove a nonmalignant brain tumor in 2007, she shared her 4 responses to her diagnosis and treatment: 1. “You’ve got to be kidding!” 2. “Why me?” 3. “This is interesting. I might learn something here.” and 4. “Maybe this is the something bigger I have been looking/waiting for.” In sharing her poems, we were encouraged to see that being witness to someone else’s pain can be the inspiration to write about our own – that stories are contagious. Poetry is meant to be said more than read.
A powerful example came from a poem by prominent Israeli poet, Yehuda Amichai:
From the place where we are right
flowers will never grow
in the Spring.
The place where we are right
is hard and trampled
like a yard.
But doubts and loves
dig up the world
like a mole, a plough.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
where the ruined
house once stood.
Here is the poem I wrote in response to the session:
Oh, to be a poet – to find the words – the vocabulary – and put it down succinctly to communicate the message.
Oh, to be a poet – to find the meter and rhythm to convey the depth and breadth of the inevitability of change.
Oh, to be a poet – to find the metaphor and alliteration to assure the reader that there is a way, and only they know the path.
Oh, to be a poet – to find the illustration to communicate the meaning to be found in being present to whatever is taking place in life and allow it to be a teacher.
Oh, to be a poet – a teacher – a pathfinder – a change agent – a messenger.
Oh, I am.

Guest Poet Jim Moore guided us through thinking about bringing voice to “Living With Contradictions and Conundrums.” Words like: ambiguity, paradox and unsolvable were intended to be the food for thought that evening. Reminded that if something is unmentionable, it is inevitably unmanageable; we were encouraged to think of words that we would say if given permission to say anything. Jim said, ”You showed up. That is an indication of your desire to live through what is happening in your life.” Reading and writing poetry is about asking questions. The answer to which is to be human and present in the moment. My most significant messages was: “Things that are ‘unspeakable’, if unspoken, become unmanageable.” How true is that? James Baldwin said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” Writing brings you space and perspective – sacred space – not solving, fixing or judging. We do not always know the answers. We are just giving space to breath in the reality of life. Again we were reminded, “When written, read poetry aloud.”

Here is the poem I wrote:
Living Without…
My mind is racing with questions:
How will I peel a carrot?
How will I button my jeans?
How will I write my name?
How will I make french braids in a little girl’s hair?
The mind races with questions.
My heart knew:
I had learned to live without my sister.
I had learned to live with lost dreams.
I had learned to live without my parents.
I would learn that there is more to being a grandmother than braiding hair.
I only needed to slow down and listen.
The heart knows.

Guest poet, essayist and lyricist Michael Dennis Browne brought poetry and comment to “Assisting in the Birth of Beginnings: Advent, Solstice and a New Year” with words like regret, resolution, rebound and renew. Quoting notables like Julian of Norwich, Robert Hayden, Robert Sardello, Wendell Berry and Jack Kornfield, Michael wove a tapestry of images and words that challenged participants “to empty yourselves constantly, leaving room to be filled.” The emptying is cultivating a practice of letting go; being present; not investing in negative thoughts and patterns; and reading and memorizing poetry as a vehicle for the filling. Nothing is certain. We are all in the “middling.” And again the admonition, “Read poetry aloud.”
Here is the poem I wrote during the session:
Before She Came…
Before she came, I only thought of what I would NOT be able to do
I would not be the grandmother I had always thought and dreamed.
Before she came there were preconceived ideas about who she would be,
a baby – my first grandchild – healthy to be sure, growing into whatever she could imagine;
and very tall.
Before she came the preparations were like so many others;
Names selected, crib and diaper service; a room made ready for new life.
Before she came our hopes and dreams were in the realm of “normal.”
And then she came – after having a brain hemorrhage in utero,
spending 5 weeks in the NICU,
shattering all our dreams and expectations of “normal”.
A very special gift from God.
Hemiparesis of her right side.
Together we make a complete pair of hands.

It was a remarkably magical time. The three weeks, two hours each Tuesday, flew by. I was entranced by the published, well-written poetry shared by the presenters and intrigued by my response to the challenge to write. Watch for more poetry.

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Irritating Grains of Sand

I attended the 2014 ADVANCING CANCER HEALTH EQUITY Conference in Bloomington, MN last week. It was a half-day program. You will noticed in the agenda that there were two Plenary Sessions and two break-out opportunities. The plenary speeches gave me much food for thought. I need to better understand what attitude is being irritated by these grains of sand.
Here is the briefest synopsis of my afternoon:

“Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” World Health Organization, 1948. Speakers at the 2014 Advancing Cancer Health Equity were united in expressing the reality of, the nature of and serious degree of health inequity in Minnesota. According to Keynote Speaker State Health Commissioner Edward Ehlinger, MD, MSPH, the solution lies in making effort to provide “all people with the opportunity to attain their highest level of health.” We need to “engage and empower communities to create conditions for health.” Easier said than done. It was an information packed afternoon. Many more challenges than solutions, but the process is clear: engaging and empowering underserved communities; focusing on social justice; leading to changes in public policy; and bringing about improved public health.

One of the break-out sessions I attended at the conference, “Minnesota Center for Cancer Collaborations (MC3) Community Engagement Lessons Learned and Opportunities” made it very clear that although efforts are being made to engage communities, after 5 years there has not been substantial gain in increasing their opportunity to maintain maximum health.

As Chair of the Community Advisory Board of the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota, I am familiar with the work, passion and commitment of Kola Okuyemi, M.D., M.P.H..
In this article in the University of Minnesota Foundation Medical Bulletin the reality of inequity in health care in Minnesota is well documented and not overstated. “Minnesota consistently rates as one of the country’s healthiest states — and is recognized as having one of the top health care systems — with a glaring exception: Minnesota has the largest health disparities in the country, even larger than states where there is a deeper level of poverty. Yes, we have one of the best health care systems, but it doesn’t reach out to everyone.” Read More

So what am I to do?

Edward Ehlinger MD, MAPH; Commissioner of the Minnesota Health Department, described the challenges well, using meaningful information, insightful quotes (by Will Durant and others) and statistics:

“As documented in the annual “Cancer Facts and Figures 2011” released by the American Cancer Society, poverty remains one of the most potent carcinogens….Dr. Samuel Broder, who was director of the National Cancer Institute in 1991, had suggested that “poverty is a carcinogen, a cancer-causing agent.”

Commissioner Ehlinger, referring to the 2008 World Health Organization (WHO) Commission on Social Determinants of Health, stated: “The poor health of the poor, the social gradient in health within countries, and the marked health inequities between countries are caused by the unequal distribution of power, income, goods, and services, globally and nationally, the consequent unfairness in the immediate, visible circumstances of peoples lives – their access to health care, schools, and education, their conditions of work and leisure, their homes, communities, towns, or cities – and their chances of leading a flourishing life. This unequal distribution of health-damaging experiences is not in any sense a ‘natural’ phenomenon….Together, the structural determinants and conditions of daily life constitute the social determinants of health.”

He concluded his remarks with the admonition that there needs to be social change – public policy change. Public Health = Public Policy + Social Justice. We need to engage the population and empower the communities to create conditions for health. Public health is whatever a society can do collectively in which all people can be healthy. Using the analogy of a swimming pool, he said, “We need to get out of our individual swimming lanes. Take down the lane lines and be in the pool. The pool is public health.

Everyone has a desire and a need for community. Community Organization is powerful and essential.  I have long admired Parker J. Palmer,  founder and Senior Partner of the Center for Courage & Renewal, and a well-known writer, speaker and activist. Here is a July 2014 article featuring Palmer’s “Thirteen Ways of Looking at Community”.  In it he emphasizes new thinking about community:
New Thinking
• Community is a gift, not just a goal..
• We receive community by cultivating a capacity for connectedness.
• Community does not depend on intimacy and must expand to embrace strangers, even enemies, as well as friends.
• Community that can withstand hard times and conflict can help us become not just happy but “at home.”
• Leadership and the authority to lead toward community can emerge from anyone in an organization.
• Suffering lets our “hearts break open” enough to hold both a vision of hope and the reality of resistance without tightening like a fist.

Closing speaker, Dean John Finnegan, Jr, PhD, MA, University of Minnesota School of Public Health, spoke on how it is that we communicate about health. The statement that struck me most powerfully was “Storytelling is the framework for understanding and meaning.”  I am a storyteller.  I use storytelling in all of my workshops and encourage every audience to “Name their narrow spots. Tell their stories. And gather the resources to navigate life’s journey.”  Narrative is an essential part of our human nature.  We live it, hear it and create it each day. Stories connect us to others and help us process, heal, problem solve, express feelings, remember and celebrate.

There is a relationship between teller and listener. To enter a story is to make room for its teller.  With someone to hear their stories, tellers know they are not alone and feel gratitude for being heard.  As listeners to someone else’s stories, we realize that we can help just by listening, and being a witness.  The listener confirms the worth of the teller by attending seriously to what he or she tells. Storytelling is prevalent in every culture on the globe. “The fact is that we human beings speak the same language. And the language that we speak is the language of storytelling,” Harold Scheub. Can storytelling be a pathway to health equity? Is this a potential tool to enlist and engage communities – underserved or not – to swim, play and work together in “the pool”?

I was introduced to a new term: Medical Narratology.  Certainly a concept that is supportive of my objective and premise. Dr. Rita Charon of the Columbia University School of Medicine, is the architect of narrative medicine, “Narrative medicine,” says Dr. Charon, “is designed to recognize and interpret the stories of patient illness in a comprehensive way, using an integration of humanities, primary care medicine, narratology and the study of doctor-patient relationships.” Read More  It is a brief article concluding with these thought-provoking questions:

• Should physicians be encouraged to study narrative medicine in medical school?
• What do you think are the practical benefits of narrative medicine to physicians, patients and the health care system more generally?

Dean Finnegan also described “Health Literacy” as a key component in creating the opportunity for all people to attain their highest possible level of health. The U.S. population is more diverse than ever before in terms of race, ethnicity, language, socioeconomic status, and education level. According to the The Institute of Medicine (IOM), an American non-profit, non-governmental organization founded in 1970, Health Literacy is “the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, communicate, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.” Read More

A Health Literate Organization:
• Promotes leadership
• Plans, evaluates, improves
• Prepares workforce
• Includes consumers
• Communicates effectively
• Ensures easy access
• Designs easy-to-use material
• Explains coverage, costs
• Focuses on groups-at-risk
Brach, C. et al (2012 Jun). Ten Attributes of Health Literate
Health Care Organizations, IOM Discussion Paper

While this would require a huge investment of time , talent and resources on the part of current health care systems, it would also accomplish the goal of enlisting, engaging and empowering communities, leading to social justice, policy change and a vast improvement in public health.

There…I now have a few more pearls on my string.  While I may not add this issue to the mantle of my mission and message, I have a clearer understanding of the big picture and will continue to strive to respectfully listen when people share their stories.

Thank you for listening.

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It is a Glorious Fall Day

AB-IP-Climb of Nangkar Tshang-0020Today is one of those picture perfect days of September upon which travel brochures are created – warm in the sun, cool in the shade, too nice to ignore and too late to play hooky. So I came home from a full morning of obligations and went for a long walk, long for me anyway.

My five mile trek took me on a very familiar path. Leaving my front door, I ventured forth up the road and around to the park across the lake and back again. While enjoying this glorious weather, I was well reminded of what occupied my dedication to physical activity two years ago now. I was going to Nepal with Above & Beyond Cancer.

Today as I walked (without loaded backpack), I enjoyed the sunshine, the shade, and the opportunity to purposefully engage in physical activity without agenda. While getting me closer to my daily goal of 10,000 steps, the walk was mindful, intentional and restorative. I passed three people engaged in conversation on their mobile devices. Mine was in my pocket for safety and security. It was in my pocket in Nepal too, just in case I wanted to make a call.
I climbed up the flight of 74 uneven wooden steps in the disk golf course in the park, just for fun, and thought of the determination and necessity of building up to climbing 14 times up and down in preparation for summiting three mountains. Nepal was an incredible opportunity and life experience.
Today, taking advantage of a welcome gap on my calendar brought nourishment to my soul. I am home again now, thinking of those who will be traveling the Inca Trail with Above & Beyond Cancer in a short time. Life brings challenges and opportunities almost everyday. How we respond to them is a choice that we each get to make. BTW: I saw a Woolly Bear Caterpillar on the road – a sure sign of fall.

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An Hourglass Fund Research Project

I am so blessed to be able to initiate and support this work. Thank you Drs. Annie Heiderscheit and John Wagner.

Healing notes
A U of M study evaluates music therapy’s potential to soothe, relax, and maybe even accelerate healing
By Nicole Endres
His sick son was irritable, and the father didn’t know what to do. The South American family had come from literally the other side of the world to University of Minnesota Children’s Hospital so the boy could get the blood and marrow transplant (BMT) they hoped would save his life. But that day, the father felt helpless. It seemed like nothing could soothe his son.
Then he picked up a small instrument called a reverie harp, which he’d received from music therapist Annie Heiderscheit. He sat by his son’s bed and played until the boy fell asleep.  Read more…


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Reflections on The Refine Conference

Conference organizer and energizer, Teri Johnson’s final reflections on this amazing conference. It was a privilege to be part of it. Thank you Teri.

[I think I’m FINALLY “decompressed” from The Refine Conference. I’m wrapping up some loose ends, looking forward, and reviewing ALL the notes I took — my take-aways from the speakers who I had the opporturnity to listen to. Here’s a quick list of my “nuggets”:

“Empathetic Competition” – Cathy Paper << I love that coined phrase! I’m not one to pay much attention to competition, I’m more about collaboration. BUT, understanding, caring about the feelings, thoughts, and/or attitudes of another sounds like a healthy approach to competition. That’s one I can coach my clients to embrace. It’s positive and collaborative!

“Make an appointment everyday with yourself. Don’t cancel it, ever — ONLY reschedule.” – Christy Tryhus << I needed this reminder!

“SQUASH worry with taking action” – Beth McBurney << Sometimes I get overwhelmed with life, I go into my tomorrows and worry sets in. Keeping this top of mind keeps me present and in the NOW.

“Take care of your package!” – Dr. Verna Price << We are all blessed + loaded with power to succeed! We need to understand WHO WE ARE, our package and take care of it!

“Apply what you learn in business to your personal life and apply what you learn in your personal life to business.” – Elizabeth Hagen << THIS is how I roll! Love IT!

“We don’t get to choose how change enters into our lives, we can only respond to change.” – Ruth Bachman << Acceptance is KEY, I agree with this wholeheartedly. She followed up this statement with 3 questions to ask yourself each time you experience a change you don’t want: 1. What is truly lost? 2. What remains? 3. What is possible? When we look at unexpected happenings in our lives with this perspective we can move forward and live an abundant life.

“When you empower women, you empower families. When you empower families, you empower generations.” – Sarah Zolecki << What a priceless gift + blessing!]

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Transformation Is Like Tending a Garden

IMG_7957Change is inevitable. In the song, “Closing Time” there is a lyric, “Every new beginning comes at some other beginning’s end.” Transformation is intentional. While a gift of grace, it is purposeful and not effortless. Within the depths of winter, it is hard to imagine spring. The beauty of nature takes time. Think of transformation as tending a garden – your very own little plot of earth. Trust that it can be cultivated and that cultivation will bring it to its full potential. Even though it’s full of rocks and the soil is dry, you begin to plow this plot with patience, sowing the seeds of your future well-being. At the beginning, joy might be found in just feeling that your situation – your little plot of earth – is workable. You stop looking for a different or better place to be. This does not mean that there are suddenly flowers growing where there were previously only rocks. It means you have confidence that something will grow here. As you cultivate your garden, tending it with a quiet mind and an open heart, the conditions become more conducive to growth and transformation. Slow down, breathe deeply, listen to your heart. Have patience. Something will blossom.

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Does Parenting Ever End?

New Joseph Campbell.001Last weekend, I was with a couple of women friends on a retreat – actually it was a slumber party – at a cabin in Northern Minnesota. During conversation that weekend, there were several opportunities to reflect on parenting experiences, current and past. I was reminded of this speech that I delivered in May of 2000, at the time of our daughter, Anna’s graduation from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. Dale and I were invited to share comments from a parents’ perspective at the banquet preceding the graduation ceremony. I have decided to share it here, with only slight revision.
Way back in September, 1996, when Anna was a first year student, I participated in a parent’s panel, answering questions and giving my perspective to other first year parents. I theoretically had some knowledge and experience to share because our son, Bryan, was senior that year. I know I didn’t have much wisdom. I don’t remember much of what I said, but I do remember encouraging parents to subscribe to the Manitou Messenger, the school newspaper, so that they would have some idea of what was going on on campus. And I remember telling the assembled audience about a wonderful pamphlet that we received when Bryan was a first year, Distances, Discoveries and Homecomings: Prayers for Parents of College Students. I had found it immeasurably reassuring throughout my college parent career.
The pamphlet kindly reminded me that, “We never stop being parents or bearing parental concerns. The relationship to our daughter or son is permanent, irreversible. The stages of parental concern coincide with the steps of a child’s education. Kindergarten is the first departure from the intimacy of family and the exposure to new influences. A series of graduations advance the level of intellectual challenge and personal responsibility. Finally, college forces a drastically new independence requiring decisions which are associated with many critical life choices. Parental concern escalates through these successive stages even though at each step parental responsibility diminishes.” Wise words.
From childhood through young adulthood, we essentially walk on what Jon Kabat-Zinn describes as “a tightrope between freedom and limits, trust and distrust, between activity and stillness; between junk and substance; between connection and separation.” We arrive at each new stage together, though not always on the same page. It is a challenging and worthwhile balancing act!
I have heard the college years at St. Olaf described succinctly as 4 years of preparation for life and service. Each student follows a path – prescribed in part by requirements of the college and the majors they have chosen – but uniquely individual because each student is unique. Graduation marks the celebration of the end of the educational foundation of life built from kindergarten through college. However, the word “commencement” means beginning. It is not the end we celebrate, it is the beginning of a new course in life.
A wise man was once asked, “What is the secret to success?” The wise man answered, “Two words, Good Decisions.” “How do you make good decision?’ he was asked. “One word,” he answered, “Experience.” “How do you get the experience?” he was asked. “Two words,” was the answer, “Bad Decisions!”
No matter what the obstacles or challenges, we all aspire to keep building on our foundation. If we have anything valuable to contribute to the world it will come through the expression of our own personality – that single spark of divinity that sets us each off and makes us different from every other living creature.

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