Tag: Mid-Life

The Greatest Gift You Can Give … or Receive

The Greatest Gift You Can Give … or Receive

The greatest gift you can give another, is to be fully present with them and to give them your undivided attention. The greatest gift you can give yourself, is exactly the same.

I came flying in for a crash landing at mid-life, after several decades of living hell-bent on creating a life I loved to live.  I’d the greatest giftmanaged to run fast and long and hard into a giant brick wall. In fact, I even managed to get up, brush myself off, get back on the track just long enough to smash into another one. No matter how hard I tried, no matter how much effort, work, thought and determination I put into achieving my goals, they didn’t happen. I did not, in any way, shape or form, have a life I loved to live. Quite the opposite.

Part of the problem, was that I wasn’t paying attention. I wasn’t fully present in my life. I was looking out beyond the stars, and missing the journey completely. Instead of giving myself the greatest gift, I was working overtime trying to give it to others. I didn’t think I was, but in retrospect I see now that I was so ensconced beneath the masks I wore that I had no idea who I really was or what I really wanted.

At an early age, I learned not to listen to myself or pay attention to my own needs and wants.  The last in a long line of children, little attention was paid to me.  I more or less raised myself, with a little help from my very bossy older sister. As time went on, I came not to expect attention or approval, and interestingly enough, I developed a deep commitment to paying attention to others. (It’s a question of balance.)

I developed powerful radar for those in need. I would give them what I knew somewhere deep inside was the greatest gift we can give another human being. I was able to intuit what they were feeling and thinking, often before they knew themselves, and, as a result, I was able to provide for them what they needed in any given moment. I was not listening to myself so I had lots of available antennae to pick up their signals.  My loss was their gain. Or was it?

[tweetthis]”Be present where you are otherwise you will miss your life.” Buddha[/tweetthis]

I learned a great deal from that part of my life. It has given me skills I might not have otherwise had. I learned that giving another person our undivided attention, being fully present to them and for them in any given moment, is valuable, and it requires setting aside all of our agendas. It means putting aside not only our cell phones, our to-do list, but also our expectations, and to some extent our own needs. Being fully present to another is a gift. It must be freely given. And, it is priceless.

However, as I have said many times, it is essential to give from our abundance. We must give, not to fill our own needs or to balance some imaginary scale of giving, but from the very core and essence of our heart and soul. This is a tall order, and one that is always a work in progress. However, there are two steps that we can take every day toward this end.

  • Be fully present to yourself. Being present to yourself means listening to your own needs and tending to them. Do not put off caring for yourself for some other imagined priority. Love and care for yourself first, as you would a child until you feel anchored and present from deep within. Then the next step is easier.
  • Be fully present to others when it is asked for or needed. This does not mean solving their problems. It does not mean indulging their every whim. It means listening. Hearing. Looking into their eyes and seeing them. It means turning off judgement, turning down the volume on your own agenda, and tuning into their signals and energy. You are looking for a heart and soul connection, so that you might hear their heart. Interestingly enough, one can often hear the most in silence.


Navigating Family Drama – Crazy Relatives and Jousting Fests

Navigating Family Drama – Crazy Relatives and Jousting Fests

Family Drama
Pyrography and acrylic paint on oak panel – 12 x 8 inches – Jousting colours from Sir Thomas Holme’s Book of Arms. Originally published/produced in England; before 1448.

Family drama shows up in everyone’s life at one time or another.  Who doesn’t have at least one relative that drives them slap crazy? I know I sure do! In fact, there was a time when there were more family members who agitated me, than those who didn’t! Going to family gatherings was like trying to take a nap in a brier patch! I invariably walked away battered and bruised and completely exhausted. I felt depleted for days after and churned inside like the hand cranked ice cream maker we pulled out to try to smooth things over.

In all honesty, I walked away from these family jousting fests hating myself more than I did anyone else. I’d argue with myself about all of the issues, who was doing what and why; what was driving them, what I could have said or done differently for a different outcome. If I just said the right thing in the right way they’d understand, or they’d see my perspective. Then I’d get mad at myself for getting so worked up over it all! Why did my mind have to sort and chew, sort and chew, for hours or days after? Let it go, I’d remind myself. But, I didn’t listen so round and around my mind would go like a Merry-Go-Round gone rogue.

Do you know what I’m talking about? Of course you do, because there’s not a soul alive who hasn’t found themselves mired in family drama at one time or another and ruminating about it afterward. It’s human nature. At last, I have figured out why we do that, and why the drama happens in the first place.

Family drama is designed to create chaos in our lives in order to inspire us to change and grow. It’s a wake up call, a prod to get us moving in the right direction. It’s a law of the universe and a part of the very reason we are alive on this planet. There’s no getting away from it no matter who we are or how far we run. If we do run, it will follow us … if not in the precise embodiment of family, then in our mates and co-workers and bosses.

[tweetthis]”In the process of letting go you will lose many things from the past, but you will find yourself.” — Deepak Chopra[/tweetthis]

Family drama exists to push us to listen to ourselves … to our intuition, our heart, our soul, and to bear witness to our values and beliefs. The universe offers us this gift so that we might grow into our very best selves. Contrary to the way we’d like it to be, we can only do this by wrestling with our demons.

Only, we don’t. We don’t listen. We don’t engage. We don’t take hold of the challenge we are being offered. We don’t tune in to rumbling and urging inside of us that is pointing us in the right direction. We shove the noise aside and pretend to be someone we’re not. As a result, chaos ensues, and the chaos is all inside of us. It’s not reality.


I will give you one small example. In anticipation of my son’s upcoming wedding, where of course family members will assemble en mass, I had an imaginary conversation with a particularly irksome relative who will remain nameless (not out of respect, but I value my life. :)) In my mind’s eye, I stood there, my feet planted solid as a rock on the ground, my hands on my hips, my body squared … (I’d like to note that I absolutely never take this stance), and I looked the person straight in the eyes and said, “what is it about me that you hate so much?” Of course, even in my imagination the individual didn’t answer. I’ve been asking myself and the imaginary replica this question for decades without a satisfactory answer.

[tweetthis] Dysfunctional families have trouble knowing where they stop and others begin. — David W. Earle[/tweetthis]

The silence I encountered, where the answer was supposed to be, caught my attention. It pushed me a step further. I realized I was asking the wrong question. So I tried again.  “What is it about me that reminds you of something about you, that you don’t like?”  This time I got a few glimpses of possibilities, but I’d done this before as well, and it wasn’t helpful. What I think I know about them is only a guess and, after all, I can’t change them.

Later, while washing the dishes it hit me. I was not only asking the wrong question, I was asking the wrong person! I needed to be asking myself the questions: “What is it about them that reveals something in me that I don’t like or can’t accept?” Bingo! It was like opening a floodgate. Each time I dared to look a little closer, I saw something new. The more I pushed myself to look and examine myself the more I began to see the two of us were really kindred spirits! We should be best friends!

This shift in perspective was eye-opening. I could see the gift the situation was offering me.  I was able to disengage from the mind games I was playing and take a hard look at myself. The individuals issue with me is still a mystery, but I am much clearer on my issue with myself.  Will the individual push my button again? Probably. I believe, however, that I will  respond differently; from a place a little bit deeper inside of me that will reflect back a clearer picture of who I really am. His crazy will be his and mine will be absolutely my own. No co-mingling of  crazy.

Everyone who comes into our lives can teach us something about our self-esteem or lack thereof, our self-acceptance or lack thereof, our gifts and strengths, and our shortcomings and shadows. What we see in them is a reflection of what is inside of us.

Family gatherings stir us up because we have so much unfinished business from our childhood. We like to think it’s over. It’s not. Not by a long shot. As we get clearer on who we are, and grow in acceptance and love of ourselves, the family drama slips away. It’s not that everyone else changes, although they might,  it’s that our reactivity to them diminishes. Our energy stays inside of ourselves.

Reflection Questions:

Who is your most challenging family member?

What do they reflect back to you about yourself?

When you examine the reflection can you get beneath the surface?

Is there a hurt or scar buried there?

Can you bring this wound to the surface and look a little closer?

Can you grieve the hurt?

Can you love that little child who was doing the very best she could?

If you need support in dealing with your family drama, reach out to me. 
Down the Rabbit Hole

Down the Rabbit Hole

Through-the-rabbit-holeLast week I fell down the rabbit hole. I’ve been working my out ever since. I wrote a blog post toward the end of the week and lost it! I don’t know about you, but sometimes my computer has a mind of its own and decides that what I’ve written doesn’t need to be read.

Crystal changed my supplements and I crashed hard. We’re still trying to figure it all out. I’m learning so much about the adrenal system and the ongoing effects of stress and trauma. The difficult thing is that we are treated differently depending on the type of treatment we seek or have available. It’s a source of great frustration for those of us who feel every ebb and flow that takes place in our bodies.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before but depression has been a constant in my life, and I’ve pretty  much been a guinea pig for the changing face of treatment. I will be forever grateful for antidepressants and for what they did for me thirty years ago, but there have been consequences. Every day the growing body of knowledge regarding the body/mind connection gives us better and better alternatives or additions to treatment.

One of the consequences of who I am, my life experiences, and less than ideal medical treatment has been adrenal fatigue/adrenal burnout, a term that I throw around like it’s the answer without really having a firm grasp on the complexities of the adrenal system. It just makes some kind of sense to me, and one of these days I’ll get Crystal to explain it all here.

After caring for my mother, and getting through my husband’s heart attack and two hospitalizations, my kids’ high school graduations and college enrollment, 9/11, and my own stress induced health issues, I discovered “compassion fatigue”. It fit like a glove, and I began to take action to reduce the stress in my life. But, despite my efforts, it was the beginning of the collapse of my adrenal system and I was unaware of how exactly to give it the support it needed. Time went by and as did a level of stress, until the accident put me on my butt again.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that when we come to midlife from a stressful first fifty years, getting things right takes more effort and focus than I know I recognized.  And, we may never be able to recover the adrenal functioning we have lost, or the quality of life we had hoped for. That’s not to say that there isn’t hope, because I will always believe we can learn to do the best with the hand we’ve been dealt.

Crystal cut back on a supplement that contained thyroid support and I went into a deep depression. The one place I fight with every thing I have to avoid. It’s just too incredibly painful. The PTSD returned as well. However, in the process, I did learn how intricately connected our emotions are to our bodies and its proper functioning. I can’t help but ask, “Has my depression always been tied to my thyroid health?” Of course, I’ve had my thyroid tested regularly throughout my life because I’ve always struggled with my weight, and that’s one of the first places doctors go when you say “weight gain”.  A problem was never detected,  but there are so many variables that can be overlooked in a blood test.

She upped the thyroid support and I feel better but not as good as I did before. I’m trying not to feel discouraged. All I want is to be able to take the trip to see my boys in Missouri we tried to take a few weeks ago. That requires getting the PTSD under control, so I can manage the four days on the road without medication.

How has stress affected your life, and what do you do to counteract it?

Dorothy 2014

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Developing Resiliency

Developing Resiliency

Portland Maine
The Waves Came Crashing Full by Charlie Widdis

It’s hard to believe it’s been a week since I last wrote here. Time flies when you’re feeling good, and I’m feeling great! I didn’t think I could ever feel “young” again.  I not only feel younger than a did four weeks ago,  I feel better than I ever have in a body/mind/spirit. It’s been a hard-fought battle and I don’t pretend that there won’t be ups and downs, although wouldn’t it be great if there weren’t?

When we feel great, we always want to feel great. When we feel lousy, we think we’ll never feel good again. I continue to work on accepting the ebb and flow of life, in all its dimensions; to join forces with the rhythm of my body, my mind and my spirit as I live out my life; to pay attention to the signals each is sending me and to do what I can to cooperate with these signals, and to respond to their needs. My goal is to develop a resiliency that I have heretofore not had the good fortune to possess.

Rather than blocking  or ignoring the signals that are attempting to make themselves known to us, perhaps because they seem inconvenient or we fear what they might be trying to tell us, we might choose instead to turn toward them and to learn to trust that they are with us rather than against us. Our body is a gift, a friend, a beloved companion. It knows what we need.

It’s the little things that we do to tend and care for ourselves that fosters resiliency;  stopping often enough, and long enough to listen to what we know; to silence our minds and hear with our other senses. Most of us have lived in mental overdrive for so long, and the world around us is so very loud,  that it does indeed take a concerted effort to tune in to our bodies and to the voice of our spirit guide.

There are numerous ways to develop a practice of tuning in and each is as unique as the individual. An important first step of my healing journey was reconnecting with my body. PTSD, and trauma of any kind, can leave one feeling “outside” oneself, in a bubble, or a box.  I felt numb, detached, disconnected; I had no feelings, no sense of taste or smell, no appetites of any kind; I was unaware that my feet were even touching the floor when I sat. One of the first practices my healing guide suggested was the practice of mindfulness, tuning in to the sensations of my hands on the arm of a chair, my fingers as they gripped the arm’s edge, my feet where they connected with the ground beneath them. It was a slow process, but bit by bit, I began to let sensations back in. Eventually, I moved on to healing massage and chiropractic treatments. I was knotted, frozen, locked up from trauma.

It’s often not just a single traumatic incident that leads us into a state of numbness, but rather layers upon layers of traumas of all sizes, each compounding the one before. When we do not have resiliency, we reach a point where we can no longer ride the waves. That is why so many of us reach our breaking point at mid-life. We have held up the mountain we carried for as long as we could. It’s time to put it down.

Dorothy Sander 2014

A Word About Trauma

Along the Healing Path 




Coming Full Circle – Day #4

Coming Full Circle – Day #4

The Storyteller – A Wise Old Sage by Holly Sierra
Click on Image for More Info

My family moved from a quaint little town not far from Erie, PA, to a small paper mill town on the Androscoggin River in Maine. My father, an electrical engineer,  was perhaps, taking a step up the corporate ladder. Just shy of my third birthday, my mother, my two older sisters and I traveled by sleeper car to our new home. The change was a shock for most of my family, which at that time included five children and my grandfather in addition to my parents and various pets.

I was the youngest and it was my innocent good fortune that I did not carry any preconceived ideas into this beautiful, untarnished part of our country. Indeed, it was magical to me. I loved the snow, the crisp, fresh air, the people, the endless woods and giant rocks. Nature was my refuge, a means to escape into a world that I understood and that fed my soul. I was mostly invisible in my family and in the house,  and so I found a freedom of expression in the great outdoors, where I could connect deeply with my life force.

Raised in the Episcopal Church, we attended weekly services at the local parish. Many of my friends were Catholic, and while my immediate family paid little attention to Lent in a practical  sense, it became a tradition/ritual that I took on each year with heartfelt commitment.  During Lent of my third year, I decided to give up sucking my thumb, and as a symbolic gesture of that commitment, I gave my favorite blanket to my “younger” cousin. The first night, as I drifted off, I was aware of the absence of my usual comforts, but I held fast to my decision.

To my dismay I awoke the next morning with my thumb in my mouth. I had faltered, let myself down…and it was in my sleep! Oh, no!  In spite of my disappointment, I continued on.  I made it through my very first Lent  without any further mishap.

I bring this story up for a reason. I remembered yesterday that it is Lent. As you probably know, Lent is a forty day period of time during which many Christians prepare themselves for the celebration of Easter. It is a time of fasting, prayer, repentance, moderation and the focused practice of a spiritual discipline.  While I long ago gave up following the Christian Liturgical calendar, it strikes me that my life has come full circle, that there is some sort of serendipity involved in my recent dietary undertaking at precisely this time of year.

Spirituality has been a central focus throughout my life, though I shoved it aside during my thirties and forties. At mid-life, and particularly over the last several years since the accident,  I find I turn more and more to spiritual teachers, to prayer and meditation, to the larger spiritual force that lives both within and without; I turn there for strength, guidance and understanding.

I no longer live within the structure of the Christian tradition. I find it too limiting, too often off-center, but I will always be drawn to, and see the value in many of the religious traditions, practices and theologies. They have deep, symbolic meaning in a world that has lost sight of its existence and power.

A period of fasting is a century old practice in most religions, and my experiences over the past week have reminded me of its value. Food is a life-giving substance, without which we could not survive. In our world of abundance, we have lost touch with this, both in a very real sense and a symbolical one. It is a gift of the earth that nurtures, restores and fills us, something for which we should be grateful.  When we take it for granted, become numb or indifferent to its connection to our life force,  we run the risk of forgetting that we are mere mortals. In the process we not only overlook the gift of abundance, we disrespect and overlook another very important gift – our body, and all of the abundant blessings it provides.

We are not just our mind, or our heart, or  our soul, just as we are not only our body. We are all of those things, and as we strive to respect and care for each, we  care for the other.

Lent is a reminder. Fasting is a reminder.  Each helps one gain a new perspective or awaken an old one we may have forgotten. Taking a step back from, or outside of, our day-to-day viewpoint  offers us an opportunity to get things back in balance. We need those opportunities. We need to provide them for ourselves when we can.

Dorothy  3/15/2014 copyright

Day #1 – I’m a Coward

Day #2 – The Morning after the Night Before

Day #3 – There are No Words

Day #4 – Coming Full Circle

Day #5 & #6 – Hyped Up and Nowhere to Go

Day #7 – The Body, Mind, Spirit Connection