Category: Articles

Navigating Holiday Stress & Loneliness

Navigating Holiday Stress & Loneliness

Stress and/or loneliness can drain the joy from our holidays. I’ve experienced both, in spades, in my lifetime. I don’t ever do anything half way! 😊 Wisdom, however, can teach us a different path if we are willing to listen and learn, to open our minds to a new way of thinking and being.

As a young mom, nothing was more important to me during the holiday season than to create magic for my children.  Driven by my over active imagination, I worked night and day to make everything “just right”.  I pushed myself to my limits, physically, emotionally and financially.  Christmas morning, I woke up exhausted. At the end of the day, I was worn out and distraught.  How could I know whether or not my children had captured the magic I had worked so hard to create? I couldn’t.

Like many mothers and fathers, I fell into the parent-trap of trying to give my children what I never had. I was living out my own childhood fantasy, not theirs. They didn’t even have one yet! Wisdom reminds us that the joy of the holiday season arises from the time we spend with the people we love, and celebrating the universal values of love, generosity, gratitude and wonder. It isn’t about material things or fantasy. It’s about living, loving and being together in the midst of all of our imperfections.

Fast forward to the present. My children are adults, living 1,000 miles away and creating their own holiday traditions as they should. My parents and in-laws are all gone and our extended family is spread across the globe. Like you perhaps, I face a new set of circumstances, another challenge to navigate.

Finding ourselves quite suddenly, and sometimes unexpectedly, alone during the holidays, isn’t an easy experience to navigate. Our home rattles with the ghosts of the past and feels disturbingly quiet, even as the rest of the world is amping up and giddy with expectation. The skies even turn gray, heavy with rain or snow, and SAD moves in big time to usher us through this “magical” season. We dare not even turn on the TV for company, for fear of being overrun with unwelcome news and sound bites that will only haunt our sleepless nights.

Change has arrived on our doorstep once again.

NOW WHAT?

Change. It’s the one constant in life and an invitation not to despair, but to adjust our sails. “Happily ever after” is just a Disney created fantasy and there are other more important and valuable paths to travel. Acknowledging this truth intellectually is one thing, but eradicating well-worn patterns of thought and behavior is a lifelong process. Fortunately, discomfort is here to help us do just that. Discomfort presents us with an opportunity to dive in and co-create a different ending to our story. The Universe is inviting us to walk a different path.

A couple of days ago I was reminded how a tiny change in perspective can re-color one’s entire internal landscape. Sometimes it’s the smallest of kindnesses from a friend, a conversation with a stranger, or in my case an anonymous gesture.

On Monday I woke up to a gloomy, gray day. I was feeling just about as gray as the sky when I happened to glance out of the front window and I lifted the blinds. What I saw brought tears to my eyes. Someone had placed a red Santa hat on our mailbox post. As I looked closer I saw that our Secret Santa had donned every mailbox on our street similarly. Goodness and the giving spirit still dwells in our midst, despite what we see and hear everywhere in these divisive times.

SPREADING CHEER

What a gift. Not only did it lift my spirits but it generated festive energy throughout the neighborhood. It opened us all to a tiny bit more of the spirit of Christmas, whether we celebrate the season or not, and it was a reminder that we each have the capacity to offer our giving spirit to others, whether to family members or strangers. We can show our love and concern, offer our interest and attention to whomever we meet as we go through our days. If we are not around people, we can do so in other ways. Write a note to a friend, send an email to an acquaintance, take a minute to speak to the mail-person, wave at the delivery people frantically driving through the neighborhood delivering packages as we walk our dog.  When we spread the spirit of the season it multiplies and comes back to us.

The spirit of the holidays exists throughout the year, across gender, cultural or language barriers. It’s a universal language, captured in a smile or a kind word or a helping hand. Not to mention it’s free and readily available. It is, however, a choice. When we choose to dip into our own well of kindness, we are gifted with more. It’s the law of the Universe and the true gift of the season.

 

DON’T BE LONELY THIS HOLIDAY SEASON. JOIN the Aging Abundantly Circle Meet Up. Open to all through January 3, 2018. Join us for engaging conversation, laughter, games, support and friendship.

Our Thoughts, Our Choice

Our Thoughts, Our Choice

Byron Katie - The Work“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” William James

It’s Monday, but it doesn’t feel like Monday. It feels like Tuesday or Wednesday. I lost a few days last week due to a stomach virus and worked over the weekend to catch up. I’m pretty sure it will take a few days and more than a few reminders to get me back on track. Although staying on track has never been my strong suit. Structure and pre-planned discipline are ever illusive. What discipline I have, and my husband tells me I have a ton of it, is deeply embedded in my subconscious.

Work is not really work for me. I love what I do, and mostly I don’t get paid so maybe I shouldn’t even call it work.  Or, at least what I do earn from doing what I do doesn’t cover the hours I spend doing it.  I keep trying to make enough to get by without compromising my beliefs and values and intent, also a never ending challenge. Money. It’s an issue for so many of us, as I discovered from the results of the survey I sent out yesterday. (If you haven’t taken it, and have the time, it’s not too late. I always appreciate any input you’re willing to share. I’m looking for feedback before I wander off in another direction. I want what I do here to work for you.) At any rate, I am going to get into the issues around money here, soon, in a big way. So if you’re interested, stay tuned.

Before I sat down to write this morning I impulsively pulled out our new vacuum cleaner, which actually was still poised for launch in the living room where I left it yesterday. In fact, since buying this new appliance I’ve vacuumed every room in the house, often more than once a day. My whole attitude toward vacuuming has changed in a flash. It’s not that I don’t like vacuuming before, it’s just that it seemed like a never ending process due to castoffs from the array of pets that too often rule the roost. Up until now, it’s been a very unsatisfactory endeavor. It’s not like the carpets sparkle and gleam like a freshly polished kitchen floor. They just look like they should, fur free. The carpet is too old to come back to life. However, our new vacuum has changed the whole experience for me….because…it has a little red light!

The little red light comes on when it finds dirt and turns to green when it’s all clean! The first time I used it I was instantaneously smitten. I vacuum with such focus and attention on that little red light that vacuuming is down right meditative. (Or, obsessive.) Either way, it works! I can’t wait to get back at it!

It got me thinking about the power of our thoughts to influence our feelings and behavior. As Byron Katie constantly reminds us, a thought arises. It just does.  When we can become aware of our thoughts, then we can choose what follows. When we are unaware of our thoughts, what follows are feelings and actions based upon beliefs we may no longer actually believe. They are based in past experiences.  When we take the time to stop and question our thoughts, we can begin to align our thinking with our true values and beliefs.

For instance, the thought arises “It’s not Monday”. Is that true? My thoughts tell me its probably Tuesday. An external source is telling me it’s Monday and so I double check my belief. Sure enough it’s Monday. Continuing to hold on to my belief that it’s Tuesday when the whole world, including my schedule, is operating as if it’s Monday can cause me major stress. 

How about the thought, “maybe I shouldn’t even call it work”? Is that true? Of course not, I can call it whatever I like. There’s no law against calling what I do work. Chances are good, however, there was a thought that preceded that thought that was totally unconscious; A thought that came from an archaic unquestioned belief that I still hold. You can probably see it. When I dig down I come up with a few belief-based thoughts that led to this statement: 1) anything pleasurable cannot be of monetary value; 2) work by its very nature is not enjoyable, work is hard and grueling and forced upon us, work is what we don’t want to do; 3) writing is fun and enjoyable, therefore it is not work, and therefore has no monetary value; 4) work is something that one takes seriously and requires physical and mental effort alone, not reflective, intuitive, feeling abilities. You get the picture?

When we take the time to go back and find the belief that led to a thought, we can begin to get straight with our true selves. I was raised by parents who believed all of the beliefs I still hold in my unconscious. They did not see value in the me I was born to be and they instilled in me their beliefs and desires as to who I should be. I have to work constantly to strengthened my own beliefs and put aside there’s. Here’s what is true for me: 1) I believe that if we do what we love, with the desire and the practiced intention of making money doing it, then we can make money doing it.  2) I believe that work can and should be enjoyable, and that when it is not, it is still only our thoughts that make us suffer. 3) I believe work is probably an antiquated word in this instance. a better choice would be “career” or “profession”, or used with another word such as “work on a project”, that takes the bite out of it for me. 4) I have come to appreciate and value “down” time that includes deep, reflective thought, meditation, research and quiet reading as an essential part of my profession.

Williams James said it very succinctly in his quote. When we slow things down, and break them down, to get to our truest, bottom line thought in a stressful situation, we can change our thought and remove the stress. The key is to tune in and to pay attention to what it is we are thinking. My thoughts around the little red light created a whole new feeling in me about vacuuming. I’m still thinking on that one!

What thoughts cause you stress? What beliefs are associated with those thoughts?

Byron Katie’s book, Loving What Is, especially in the audio version, is a valuable tool for practicing this process. I purchased all of her audios through Audible and listened to each multiple times. She does live sessions with real people as they work the process together, or “do the work” as she calls it, and it’s very instructive. Incidentally, I find my membership with Audible both immensely valuable and affordable. I only purchase items I know I will listen to again and again. I use Kindle and pre-owned physical books for fiction or impulse purchases.

A Lecherous Dessert

A Lecherous Dessert

Ah, dessert….my favorite part of any meal. I’ve learned in recent months that a little bit of dark chocolate can go a long way in satisfying the need for sweets without leading me down the Prim Rose path. Thanks for the suggestion, Crystal. Who knew?

Hurricane Relief

Hurricane Relief

A huge tree split and fell over the front yard of a home on Carpenter Avenue in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in Sea Cliff, N.Y., on Tuesday.

I remember like it was yesterday the fear that shot through my body the moment I heard the first tree crack and fall, crashing to the ground in the middle of the night over fifteen years ago. Hurricane Fran, a category three storm, swept through North Carolina in September of 1996 and I had my first indoctrination into true southern weather. Growing up in the northeast, blizzards were the worst that nature doled out plus the occasional wind and rain of a tropical storm. Up until that point I had no real understanding of the power of nature.

The next morning when I walked outside and saw the damage, the many downed trees, power lines,  broken limbs and branches covering every inch of our yard, I was overwhelmed. My confidence in the world around me took a major hit. No longer could I be certain that the enormous oaks would remain standing nor had I realized how important the sense of permanence they provided was to me. To see them uprooted like a blade of grass was horrifying.

Five years later on September 11th of 2001, I, like many, experienced another profound jolt to my sense of confidence in the world. Who could have imagined that a structure such as The World Trade Center could be cut off at the knees and crumble to the ground in a heap? I became distrustful of tall buildings, just as I had tall trees. They were not dependable and neither was my sense of security.

We live in a glass bubble in this country, largely protected from extreme weather, extreme people and extreme events. We are blessed. While there are poor among us, we scarcely, if ever, see real poverty and the squalor that accompanies it. We look at the world through rose colored glasses, even as there is ugliness and devastation, misery of a kind we can’t imagine, hunger, thirst, violence, and degradation alive and well throughout the world. Did I say that we are blessed?

Our rose colored glasses crack a bit when we experience the devastation of a natural event, such as Hurricane Fran and now Hurricane Sandy. We are so unaccustomed to having our worlds turned upside down that when it happens we are shocked. It’s a real and lasting shock that alters our perception of reality, as it did mine, and I have great compassion for the people who are suffering through this now. Losing a sense of security can be devastating, no matter what the cause.

It may be harder for the rose colored glasses crowd to absorb this type of shock because we have no inner emotional protection in place. We are in a very real sense, naive. The trick is to eventually not only survive but to carry on without becoming numb; to build confidence again, a confidence in something greater than trees and buildings and to learn to trust life even if everything around us collapses.  It’s a tall order, but we can remain standing and whole, with purpose and a reason to carry on, even if that purpose is only to offer comfort and support to another in a similar circumstance.

It’s too soon for the victims of Hurricane Sandy to come to terms with the trauma they have experienced. It is a process that takes time, but just as buildings will rise up out of the rubble, so too will those who dare to embrace life again, find the meaning and purpose in all they have lost. Those that meet the challenge will find a reason and a way to carry the experience back into the world, and both they and the world will be a better place as a result. Tragedy and misfortune has much to teach us and we will always have much to learn.

Here’s How You Can Help with Hurricane Relief Efforts

Every Day We Have a Choice

Every Day We Have a Choice

 

Every day you have a choice ~ to dwell on the past or focus on today. Ask yourself: what can I do today to bring me one step closer to my dream? You do have today…this moment…now. You owe it to yourself to make the most of it.

Life goes by so quickly. It seems I turned around and in a flash my kids were grown and I’m nearing sixty. Age is just a number to me. I don’t feel old. I certainly don’t feel sixty, but I haven’t a clue what sixty feels like so I can’t be certain. It sure doesn’t feel like what it looked like when I was young!  My body is showing the effects of time, but I often forget to notice and the impact is minimal.

Moving from fifty to sixty was difficult and challenging, but unlike what I had imagined, it has also been extraordinarily fulfilling. Like most mothers I cried when my kids left home and like most daughters I cried when my father died and then my mother. I churned with regret for too long about how I had spent my youth and lived in fear of the future even longer. But through hard work and the invaluable support and guidance of friends and books, I have ventured onto a path that feels like the one I am meant to be on. Trust me it’s not always obvious or blissful ~ but it is amazing and worth getting up for in the morning.

I think the fifties is the decade of change, the narrow, treacherous pathway that takes us from life then to life now ~ from seeking to being ~ from reaching for the future to living in the moment.

Life is richer now. My dreams are more meaningful and feel more attainable. We have today. I have today. You have today. We owe it to ourselves to make the most of it.

 

The Gift of Age

Getting It Together After Fifty

Let Go and Let Love

Let Go and Let Love

 

Simple words. Not always a simple matter. Letting go. It’s the hardest thing in the world to do. We seem to have been born to want to change things, to improve them, make them better. We are driven to fix the broken within ourselves and within others. We can conceive of perfection and so we think it’s possible to achieve it. We can imagine something better and it compels us forward. We love and long to make others love us similarly. Letting go. Is it possible when we are so driven? Should we let go? If we let go would we no longer care? Would we fall into some careless abyss?

I think not. To let go most often means, beneath everything else, to let go of fear. To trust life. To trust this moment. To trust the outcome. Letting go means letting go of our need to control, our need to make something happen, including love, and let life take care of itself, let love take care of itself. There is no room for love to work when we are a constant, demanding presence in the equation. Love needs space to live and breathe and work it’s magic. It will not be controlled or demanded upon. Let go and let love. Let go of your expectations, your demands, your needs, your fears and make room for love in your life. It’s there. Waiting.