Live the Questions…Now

The news of this last week has entered my consciousness with a wake up call. It is a call for resilience.

I was asked recently after sharing my message on the inevitability of change and the intentionality of transformation, “What do you do when you get down?” I hope I answered that I read my book! I also give myself my speech and draw on my vast resources of resilience, gathered throughout living my life during and after navigating the narrow spots, and put them into practice. I awoke early this morning with the realization that it is time for me to put into practice what I preach.

Our nation is in a narrow spot in the hourglass and the sand is moving through it. We can go kicking and screaming – but we are going! I have made the choice not to stick my head in the sand and pretend nothing has happened. Rather, I am resting head up and alert, sifting through the resources found in my sand that have been refined and redefined in this passage. I am choosing to be a thriver and grow through this narrow spot. I am choosing to live with abundance and not scarcity and say, “Yes, this has happened. And now what?” I am choosing to move forward with realistic optimism and resilience. Will you join me?

Rule # 1 in resilience training is Realistic Optimism – Focus on the positive without denying the negative. To that I would add:
accept the reality of the circumstances;
face the fear;
honestly assess the challenges;
set the intention to see possibilities;
work toward some goal;
have faith in the outcome;
accept help;
maintain a sense of humor;
express gratitude; and
realize that grace is present in it all.

So here are some resources – bits and pieces from my book and my speeches. Use them if you wish and add yours to the list.

“Have patience toward everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves.… Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even knowing it, live your way into the answers.” Poet Rainer Marie Rilke

“The last of the human freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.” Viktor Frankl, Holocaust Survivor

“A ‘thriver’ is one who knows when to hold ‘em and knows when to fold ‘em” Paul Pearsall, PhD.

A favorite definition of fear is False Expectations Appearing Real. Fear keeps us from being open and moving forward – it does not prevent us from experiencing narrow spots – it only makes the passage more challenging.

Grieve the loss of a hope and a dream.
Ask yourself these three questions:
What is TRULY lost?
What remains?
What is possible?

Robert Frost said, “I can sum up everything that I have learned about life in three words: It goes on.” Until it ends, life does go on. When we are learning to live life with the new arrangement in our sand, we have choices: to learn to do some things a new way, to ask for help, or to decide gracefully not to do some things. We get to choose our attitude along the way. Taking responsibility and giving up control are the two sides of the resilience coin. No matter where your emotions run today, over time and with effort and attention, you can change their course.

In the song, “Closing Time” by Semisonic, there is a lyric, “Every new beginning comes at some other beginning’s end.” Change is inevitable. Transformation is intentional, purposeful and not effortless.

The Shaker tune says: “To turn, turn, will be my delight..for in turning, turning, we come round right.” Perhaps narrow spots are meant to encourage us to throw away the old maps, moving us on beyond where we are now to the fullness of life we are here to discover by choosing to accept whatever comes our way, embracing each passage and navigating the ever-changing journey called life.

Here is my call to action:
Make a list of all the freedoms you count on and care about and spend your finite resources of time and energy practicing them. Tell their stories. Respond resiliently to this narrow spot.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Live the Questions…Now

Life Goes On….

september-constant-contact-2016-001

I love this quote. It succinctly states the obvious. Until it ends, life goes on.

We are approaching Fall – the season of transition when we put away our toys of summer, begin  or resume a different routine, harvest the last fruits of the garden planted in the spring and plant bulbs with hope for the spring yet to come. Then we have winter. Within the depths of winter, it is hard to imagine spring. But it eventually comes.

Change is inevitable. Transformation, on the other hand, is intentional, purposeful and not effortless. What change/narrow spot has this new season brought to your life?

When we are learning to live life with the new arrangement in our sand, we have choices. Among them are: to learn to do something a new way, to ask for help, or to decide gracefully not to do some things. We get to choose our attitude all along the way. What attitude will you choose?

All growth is about change and adjusting to “what is”. Suffering, on the other hand, is resistance to change and “what is”. A narrow spot is a place, an event, a relationship, a failing or falling apart of something that brings us to our knees with the realization that we are not in control anymore and we can’t understand it. We are simply inadequate to handle the task. We are all capable of being physically, emotionally, cognitively, socially and spiritually overwhelmed by life circumstances. There are indeed benefits of being forced out of our comfort zone from time to time. If you stop and think about it, narrow spots might actually contribute to our well-being, providing – perhaps demanding – an opportunity for focused attention. Where is your focus this season?

We all have a negativity bias. While the negative screams at us in the dark, the positive only whispers while shining a light on things that are going well. Positive emotions – like gratitude – expand our awareness, making it easier for us to learn new things and discover valuable resources. Positivity is at the heart of resilience and with it comes emotional agility. It is a choice – a choice we all need to make again and again, day after day. We can take responsibility for our life even though we cannot control its twists and turns. When we look back at the narrow spots throughout our life, we will probably see the outcome rarely, if ever, matched the perceived threat. Even the big narrow spots, like divorce, illness and death, which knock us over and shake us to the core, leave us alive and somehow expanded.

We are on a journey of becoming who we truly are. Developing an ongoing practice of letting go as the hourglass turns one more time, and one more time, and one more time, until adjusting to our sand’s new arrangement becomes a way of life. As the Shaker song says, “. . . To turn, turn / will be our delight, / ’Till by turning, turning / we come round right.” Navigate the narrow spots of life as they occur. Say, “Yes” to what is.

Posted in Inspiration, Living Life, Narrow Spots | Comments Off on Life Goes On….

What Questions Do You Live By?


Daily Good: News that Inspires
is something I try to read everyday. It seldom disappoints and frequently comments on a subject that is very near and dear to my message. The expansion of my own thoughts is so valuable and affirming. Here is one I found particularly profound.

Jane Hirshfield Daily Good

 

Read more here. This is too good not to share and give a permanent place in my blog. I hope you find it meaningful.

Posted in Inspiration, Resources | Comments Off on What Questions Do You Live By?

Be “At Home”

Summer – lazy, hazy crazy days…well…not exactly. I have spent the last week committed to relationship (in other words, engaged in care 24/7) with my wonderful grandchildren. It was exhausting and very rewarding. I am so fortunate to be able to be present in their lives and have this experience and opportunity. Getting to spend extended time with the very young reminds me of my life as a kindergarten teacher – a life I enjoyed and look back on with fondness. Witnessing the open honesty. intensity of emotions and whole-spirited engagement in activity are just a few of the benefits. I am “at home” with pre-school children.

July Constant Contact 2016.001

My favorite travel destination – pictured here – is Italy – Tuscany to be specific. I have had the high privilege to be there many times in the last 15 years. It is my “home” place. Yours need not require travel. The essential thing is to have one – to know it and be able to visualize it when needed and/or wanted.

One of the elements I love about the practice of mindfulness is the ability to stop, take a breath, and enjoy the freedom of choosing to take whatever life is throwing my way at that moment and know that if it is good, I can savor it; and if it is bad, I can respond more intentionally and move on. The moment may not (usually it does not) dissolve into bliss – but as I practice this time after time after time – again and again – my resilience is enhanced immeasurably.

I certainly had numerous opportunities to practice patience in the last week. I love my grandchildren dearly and they are unique and special in every way BUT they are still children, with all the predictable unpredictability that comes with the territory. I do not take the responsibility of their care lightly. I am blessed with the freedom to ignore many of my other aspects of the variety of experiences that typically fill my day. There were times when I found myself wondering how I had agreed to do this. Honestly, those moments were few and far between. What I was more aware of was how easily and readily children express their opinion/emotion of the moment and then move on to the next moment.

Invaluable lessons learned to be sure.

Posted in Inspiration, Living Life, Mindfulness | Comments Off on Be “At Home”

I Wonder…

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to choose to face each day with a sense of wonder?

May Constant Contact 2016.001

I recently had the privilege of spending a week with my granddaughter, Tatum.  We were celebrating her 5th birthday and took a trip together – just the two of us.  We went to a place that was familiar and comfortable for us both – but we had never experienced it without other family members present. It was magical. Wonder why?

We were together – with almost no agenda – where Tatum was given the opportunity to make choices and I was able to be with her and watch her enjoy the fruits of her freedom. Whether playing on a playground, on a beach, at an amusement park, reading a story, playing a board game, shopping or simply walking down a street. I observed the sheer pleasure of presence – total engagement in the “now”. There were times when I could almost watch her mind working on navigating the next move – and it was wonderful. There was joy in creating memories together.

Ellen Langer’s most recent book, The Power of Mindful Learning, (which I am currently reading and began after returning home from my time with my granddaughter) encourages the reader to be open to wonder and curiosity rather than being certain or limited by previous experience or “expert” advice . By looking at circumstances with a fresh, new and/or different perspective, we are given the opportunity to enlarge our life experience and explore possibilities.

This is what I observed and experienced in my 7 days with a 5 year-old: wonder, curiosity, freshness, enthusiasm, kindness, generosity, novelty and so much more. Yes – we went to a familiar place. And experiencing it from a “fresh vantage point” made me feel truly alive – and wonder-ful.

 

Posted in Living Life, Resources | Comments Off on I Wonder…

Laughter is Really Good Medicine

I had the privilege of attending and speaking at the 29th Annual Convention of the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor in Mesa, AZ earlier in April. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Brenda Elsagher (this year’s convention chair) for introducing me to the organization and encouraging me to submit a proposal to provide a break-out session.

Speakling at AATHNot only was my message well-received, the attendees and overall spirit of the conference was something I had never experienced before. Humor enthusiasts and practitioners from a vast array of vocations and avocations welcomed and embraced me with remarkable sincerity. The speakers, both keynote and break-out, shared information, research and experiences that unanimously highlighted the significant benefit of mirthful laughter.

I have taken courses in stand-up comedy and improvisation, with the intent of adding more humor to my speaking. The fruits of that learning are yet to be fully realized. (You can watch my stand-up routine here and decide for yourself.) It is much harder than it looks. Setting the intention to use these skills and have them be an authentic part of my message and mission is a challenge. My experience at AATH was enough inspiration to make it a priority, however.

Research – no longer just anecdotal, measurable physical and neuroscience data –   is accumulating that supports the power and impact of laughter on health and well-being.  It benefits you physically, mentally and socially. Just in case you need a reminder to laugh whenever you can, here is a few examples of the therapeutic value of humor:

Laughter relaxes your whole body. It’s like internal jogging.                                  Laughter is contagious – and does not have anything to do with germs.                                Laughter boosts immunity – less stress = more good cells to fight infection.                                                                                           Laughter increases resilience –  it really is easier to recover with a sense of humor.                                                                                   Laughter combats depression – it gets more endorphins circulating in your system.

Laugh often. It really is good medicine!!

Posted in Events | Comments Off on Laughter is Really Good Medicine

Resilience: Thriving not just Surviving

My webinar on Resilience is on YouTube! Check it out.

In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on. ~Robert Frost

Cancer is a very powerful and proficient teacher with the potential for profound transformation. It is a change that draws a line in the sand between the way we once looked at life and death and how we currently live life after surrendering, accepting, letting go and integrating that insight into who we are.
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.
Obstacles:Nobody said it was going to be easy.001Resilience is navigating the complexity of everyday life with resources that promote well-being and cushion us against being overwhelmed. Resilience is a complex set of skills and attitudes that can be enhanced and learned. A resilient response to change is far from effortless.

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? Positivity shines a light on things that are going well and expands awareness which allows us to learn new things and discover valuable resources.

Drawing on several sources, here is a partial list of key components of resilience:

Realistic Optimism – Focusing on the positive without denying the negative
Facing fear – Developing an adaptive response
Self-awareness and Engagement – Doing what you are good at
Mindfulness – Noticing without judging
Meaning and Purpose/Spirituality – Being part of something bigger than you are
Self-care – Sleep, nutrition, physical activity, etc. This is not a selfish act!
Relationships – Isolation is deadly. Connection is the currency of well-being.
Expressing Gratitude – Benefit from the pleasant memory of a positive event
Maintaining a Sense of Humor – Laughter really is good medicine
Having Resilient Role Models -Know who they are and what makes them so.

So does this mean that we only focus on the positive? No, I am afraid not. Key component #1: Realistic Optimism is focusing on the positive without denying the negative. Accepting the reality of circumstances – living with that reality – and setting the intention to look for  possibilities – or at least the possibility of possibilities! Allow yourself to rest, patiently, with an open heart and a quiet mind – take advantage of the opportunity to grow. All growth is about changing and adjusting to “what is”. Suffering, on the other hand, is resistance to “what is”. Narrow spots are tools that provide us with life lessons that lead us to compassion and wisdom. The rest is grace.

Posted in Events, Inspiration | Comments Off on Resilience: Thriving not just Surviving

Time for Possibility

April 2016 Contact.001

pos·si·bil·i·ty
[päsəˈbilədē]

NOUN
1. a thing that may happen or be the case: 
synonyms: chance · likelihood · probability · hope · risk

2. the state or fact of being likely or possible; likelihood: 
practicability · chances · odds

3. a thing that may be chosen or done out of several possible alternatives: 
synonyms: option · alternative · choice · course of action

4. unspecified qualities of a promising nature; potential: 
synonyms: potential · promise · prospects
ORIGIN
late Middle English: from Old French possibilite, from late Latin possibilitas, from possibilis ‘able to be done’ (see possible).

It has been a long winter in Minnesota. It is almost mid-April. In my garden, all that I can see is soil and mulch. The trees have buds, but there are yet no blossoms. It is a perfect reminder for me that the seeds that will bring blooms and beauty of spring are already there. This is the time for cultivating possibility, another form of seed.

Are you stuck in “winter”? Is pervasive negativity getting you down? Are we really powerless in our response to fear and the abundance of bad news? Which bandwagon in the parade of current issues of darkness are you riding on? Looking for a respite? Let’s focus for the next few minutes on abundance (Yes, And…. vs Yes, But….) and possibility (How can we…? vs Can we…?)

Experts in and studies on the field of positive psychology abound. There are over 15,000 titles available on Amazon alone on the topic. I did not read them all in preparation for this post, but I have read several over time. There are some who would advocate that reading 3 or more books on any one subject makes me an expert in the field. I do not subscribe to that opinion. I do, however, subscribe to the theory that “we” trust more in what “they” say; especially if they have initials after their name. I have studied the subject of positivity to bring outside, credentialed authority to what I have found and know to be true in my life: stuff happens that may not be pleasant, convenient or nice and I get to choose how I respond to it.

In his landmark book Man’s Search for Meaning, Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl wrote “The last of the human freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.” Each moment of each day, each of us is given the opportunity to “choose our attitude” and act accordingly. Changing our perspective; noticing variability; bypassing labels; and exploring our capacity to respect (look again) and acknowledge difference, empowers us to shine the light of our uniqueness into the darkness. Collectively, we have the power to bring positive possibilities into reality. Where is your focus?

I do not believe I am alone in wondering how I can make a difference. Won’t you join me in a campaign to see things through a new lens? Be in abundance rather than be harnessed in scarcity. Stay open to possibility rather than be closed off in certainty. While I do not pretend to have all the answers, I do have a suggestion: Wear rose colored glasses and laugh.

Ruth Bachman, W., W., M., G.O.F., R.H.A., A.A.P.P.
(Ruth Bachman, Woman, Wife, Mother, Grandmother of Four, Right Handed Amputee, Almost Always a Positive Person)

Posted in Inspiration, Living Life | Comments Off on Time for Possibility

Transformation is Intentional

 

IMG_7957

Change 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.

Posted in Inspiration | Comments Off on Transformation is Intentional

Be Mindful

I had the privilege and pleasure to spend about 10 hours in the presence of Jon Kabat-Zinn a couple if weeks ago. It was exactly the experience I needed at that time, a worthwhile reminder of the invaluable quality of mindfulness.

Jon was in the Twin Cities to help celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Center for Spirituality and Healing at the University of Minnesota. I had the same privilege in 2005 when the Center was celebrating its 10th anniversary. 10 years ago I was just beginning to carry this message about change, after losing my hand to cancer in 2003. I had been aware of and practicing mindfulness for 10 years before that time, however; having taken a class in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. Jon is the program’s founder and his book, Full Catastrophe Living is the central text. My decision to take the course came along with the great need and genuine desire to grieve well the death of my sister, Kristin. She had died of malignant melanoma early in November of 1991. I knew I did not have the resources necessary for that journey.

Mindfulness, defined as full awareness, Is a subject that I know and subscribe to practicing. I am certainly not expert or perfect in my knowledge nor my practice, but I am keenly aware of it’s value and benefit. Presence, the ability to “be” where you are in the present moment, is a key characteristic of mindfulness. This is the goal of meditation: simply being present to this moment and the next moment and the one after that, for the infinite number of moments we have to live. No matter what form of meditation you practice (and there are many), presence is the conditioning that allows for a whole-hearted response to life’s experiences – good, bad or otherwise; mindfully embracing whatever is happening at any given moment. Being present, saying “Yes, this has happened. And now what?” is the path to awareness and acknowledgment of the richness of life, both the joy and the sorrow.

That is why I was drawn to mindfulness and found it so invaluable in my grieving journey. Every grieving journey is a unique one. There is no road map with which to travel, no time table and no neat progression from one state to the next. It is a necessary, even mandatory journey of awareness, acceptance, integration and …. of what or who is gone. It is a narrow spot, a loss, a change requiring awareness, attention, presence and patience.

Patience is not passively waiting until the pain goes away or while someone else does something. It is an honest, gentle relationship with yourself and the moments of your life. Patience is another key characteristic of mindfulness. When I find myself saying, “I don’t have time for meditation today.”, I (kindly)remind myself that it only takes a minute, a few short breaths, to bring myself around to awareness of what life is showing me at that given moment. That moment is a gift.

Presence and patience are two of the pearls on my string. Oysters create pearls as a result of sand getting inside and causing irritation. If you are at all familiar with my message, you know how important sand is. My pearls have been created by being mindful of the irritation that has gotten inside the hourglass of my life, either by accident, design or happenstance. My sand has been refined and redefined many times by my narrow spots. When I sit, mindfully, with patience and presence, I find the pearls while sifting through and discovering my sand’s new arrangement. It is always a worthwhile endeavor. You know what happens to the oyster that fails to create a pearl. Death will happen to all of us at sometime. I have set the intention to be mindful and create as many pearls as possible until that eventuality. Join me?

Listen to an interview with Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn

Posted in Events, Inspiration, Mindfulness | Comments Off on Be Mindful