An Invitation

You can create a life you love… right here, right now.

You’re going to work with the raw material of your life… exactly as it is.

Start with a willingness to practice creating moments of
Peace, Joy, Empowerment, And love… in each day.

What would that look like?
What is peace? Joy? Empowerment? Love?
How does one live those qualities?

Peace is a deep inner quiet we each have within us, that can be accessed anywhere, any
time, by briefly pausing, breathing deeply and allowing one’s self to be still.

Joy is the exuberant feeling that comes from being aware and awake to the small miracles
and wonder of life in each moment.

Empowerment is recognizing one’s ability to take action, and taking action.

Love is making a choice in this moment to support one’s divine potential or that of
another with kindness and compassion. Love is not an adjective, it is a verb.

You can create a life you love by bringing these qualities to the circumstances of your life
as they are now. All you need is a sincere “yes” to yourself… and a daybook…

A daybook can be on your phone, I-pad, computer. It can be a big beautiful journal or a
little notepad that can be carried easily in a pocket or purse. It can be a graphic journal
where you draw instead of write.

Each day just take a moment to record:

When today did I create a moment of peace?
When today did I create a moment of joy?
When today did I create a moment of empowerment?
When today did I create a moment of love?

As you begin doing this right here, right now… your life will change and you will begin
creating a life you love.

Clarity Beyond Clutter

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“…when you put your house in order, you put your put your affairs and your past in order too. As a result, you can see quite clearly what you need in life and what you don’t, and what you should and shouldn’t do.”   –Marie Kondo, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up

782277_b8kim6GN_c-e1297060276739I choose shoes! Boy do I choose shoes . . . and the walk-in closet I share with Brian is evidence of my inability to say no when it comes to covering my feet.

“The number of shoes I have is obscene,” I recently said to Brian, as we were both in the closet starting to get ready for the day. A litany of self-justification began:

“I get most of my shoes for the price of a big mac, and I never eat Big Macs.” (I have a great second hand store where I find beautiful, hardly-worn brand name shoes.)

But when I am honest with myself I also have to admit that having a closet full of shoes is just one example of the burden of abundance. It doesn’t take long for my shoes to get in a scramble, an unorganized mess that requires time if I’m going to restore order.

EP-141208506Marie Kondo is getting me straightened out. She is the author of the mega-best-selling book on decluttering,

Key word in that title: decluttering. “Putting things away creates the illusion that the clutter problem has been solved,” Marie writes, and then reminds us how quickly our things get too hard to manage, because we have too much!

“This is why tidying must start with discarding,” she says.

Her approach invites us to tell ourselves the truth about the things in our lives. Many of those things—the piles of unread magazines, the extra spices that have lost their zing, more clothes than we could wear in several months, more books than we’ll read in our lifetimes…you get my gist—create a burden versus joy.
Marie suggests getting rid of everything that we don’t love.

Like you, I have a very busy life with multiple roles and priorities. Too much stuff makes my life more difficult.

beautiful-details-of-esprit-homeI’ll never forget when we were looking for a new place to live several years ago. The last of our large family had left and we were downsizing. When I walked into the pristine townhome we would move into, my eyes filled with tears…tears of gratitude. I whispered to myself, “My life is going to be so much easier.”

My sister, Brenda, had her own experience with forced decluttering years ago: her house burnt down! Before that she had been in a constant struggle with all the stuff that accumulates when one is raising children.

I will never forget what she said after her family moved into a new house: “It’s so easy to clean a clean house!”

She had been freed!

Spring-Wallpapers-2014Many of us seem to feel a need to ‘spring clean.’ There’s something about moving out of the darkness of winter and into the light. We also want our houses airy and refreshed. I took a day last week, and bagged up lots of shoes, excess clothes, and books I’ll never read. I tackled stacks of defunct papers with the pleasing sensation of shredding!

I filled the back of our little pick-up truck with large garbage bags filled with the excess of our lives and happily delivered it to Goodwill. I took a breath of relief after the last bag left my possession. It felt like an act of good will towards myself.

Marie reminds us that, “the sooner we confront our possessions the better. If you are going to put you house in order, do it now.”

transitional-eclectic-airy-home-office-300sqSpring-cleaning not only clears the house, it unburdens our souls. As we declutter and discard it’s as if we give our very souls an opening to direct us to what we need to release emotionally. Just as the closet space is cramped, maybe our heart is heavy with resentment; maybe our thoughts have taken a negative downward spiral; perhaps our happiness has flat-lined.

The very act of examining our possessions can lead to an inward inventory. We can release ourselves from emotional burdens by letting go. We can see more clearly our illusions and replace them with the frank and honest truth. We can admit the toll our negative attitudes and criticisms toward self and others are taking and replace them with a desire to notice what is working.

We are free to create more peace, joy, empowerment, and love. Decluttering opens space for us to pursue our passions and discover our missions. When we are free of excess we can more easily live purposely, deliberately choosing what really matters.

As Marie reminds us, ‘Life truly begins after you have put your house in order.’

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Choose Happiness

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I am determined to be cheerful and happy in whatever situation I may find myself. For I have learned that the greater part of our misery or unhappiness is determined not by our circumstance but by our disposition Martha Washington

c97b50226e5701d147806f35e58c3279We are each responsible for our own happiness.

The moment we assign that responsibility to another person or set of circumstances we give away our power.

As a mental health therapist I have worked with people who have suffered great adversity and difficulty in life, and yet have cobbled together a life they are happy to be living.

I have learned from them that happiness is found in how we relate to ourselves and others. It is created by our own thoughts and outlook.

I woke up to dark and foreboding thoughts recently. I did not want to start my day feeling so grim. My inner pessimist was yelling. I remembered something I had read recently (sorry to say, but I don’t remember where) that suggested the creation of an ‘inner mansion’ where our dreams and hopes are held.

d3260a5875fd6e5675b8e7541386e594I decided to imagine what the rooms of my mansion would hold, not that I need a mansion to be happy! I pictured riding my bike near the river, my skin basking in the sun, the vast expanse of a blue sky with white billowy clouds the size of mountains. I imagined the laughter of my children. I thought of the quiet comfort of my desk with my computer, books, pictures and memorabilia.

By expanding our inner narrative, we expand our mood.

We are in a relationship with ourselves longer than anyone else we will ever encounter in our lives. We choose happiness by nurturing an attitude of compassion toward ourselves. If we can’t be kind to ourselves we will always be strapped to some misery, even if it’s held behind an exuberant façade.

Kindness toward ourselves, patience with our own shortcomings, acceptance of our mistakes and eccentricities allows us to do the same with others. And, we are happier as we offer that kind of generosity to ourselves and others.

And when we face the adversity and difficulties that are an inevitable part of life, the more we can find our way to seeing and being grateful for what is working, the more likely we are to thrive.

Amanda-LindhoutAs a young girl, humanitarian and journalist Amanda Lindhout made her way through a rough childhood by collecting pop cans to turn in for money and then buying used copies of National Geographic Magazine for 25 cents each at the local second hand store in her small hometown in Canada. She would lie on her bed for hours gazing at the pictures of all the amazing places there are to see in the world. She vowed that someday she would go to those places. She was already designing her own happiness in that moment.

At age 19 she began saving her tips from her work as a cocktail waitress for travel. She backpacked through Guatemala, Laos, India, and Thailand and many more countries. When she ran out of money she went home and worked another six months then headed out again.

Eventually she ended up in Bagdad where she began doing a little work as a self-made journalist. At that point she set her sights on Somalia. Despite a raging war, famine, and religious extremists, she felt she could make a short visit, write about a place that was largely being ignored, and get out.

It didn’t work out that way. Four days after she arrived, teenage insurgents from the Hizbul Islam fundamentalist group kidnapped her. Her friend, Nigel Brennan, a 37-year-old freelance Australian photojournalist from Brisbane, was kidnapped along with her.

The kidnappers demanded $2.5 million each for their safe return. She was held for 464 days, sometimes in squalid conditions, other times in a normal house. She was given very little food and unclean water. Sometimes she was kept in a dark room. Sometimes she was chained up. She was frequently raped by her captors and often beaten.

article-0-1F4A269200000578-792_306x423Her survival was aided by the fact that Nigel was being held in a room next to hers. They were able to communicate through the walls. She offered encouragement to him and expressed hope. It helped her to not give up.

I could barely put down her memoir, A House in the Sky, written with Sarah Corbett, as I read it over the past two weeks. Most astonishing was how she continued to use her own agency, limited as it was, to make choices of self-support and optimism.

“I found my way into a sense of routine, curbed on all sides by the dark and the rules,” she writes in her book, “but still, there was comfort in anything I could do for myself. . . I stole fifteen critical seconds to make up the bed, tucking the bottom sheet tightly beneath the sides of the mattress, using a hand to smooth any wrinkles. I folded my blue floral top sheet into a neat flat rectangle and set it at the foot. This, for me, marked the beginning of a new day.”

“To pass the time, I reminded myself of what I knew, of things that tied me to the world beyond . . . back at home the Rocky Mountains would be covered in layers of deep white snow. My mother would be wearing a scarf … “

After she was eventually released, she was treated for acute malnutrition and received specialized treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Eventually she summoned the courage to travel again.

Most astonishing to me,29amanda-lindhout-blog480 she also founded the Global Enrichment Foundation to create more opportunities in Somalia by offering university scholarships to women.

Her book was an extreme example of choosing happiness, even if there are only a few crumbs available. Knowing that gives us power. Amanda Lindhout’s kidnappers could hold her hostage, but she held control of how she faced her situation and found that even in the worst of situations she still held the power of her own outlook.

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Our Marriage

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I . . . choose a man who compels my strength, who makes enormous demands on me, who does not doubt my courage or my toughness, who does not believe me naive or innocent, who has the courage to treat me like a woman.” — Anais Nin

9fb5674722cc4c6731c44468b4ec2ec1Today I have been married for 37 years to Brian M Allred. We are in a hotel room at the Oregon Coast. It is pouring outside, so I am on my computer writing and he is lying on the bed reading an article on memory in Psychotherapy Networker magazine. My memory has traveled to November of 1977.

After my post- graduation stint as a newspaper reporter in Salt Lake City, I had gone home to Vancouver, Washington to heal. I was depressed and worn out from the dark shadows I had been faced with—both professionally and personally. My oldest brother Rodney, 17 years my elder, and his wife Jean, had become parental figures for me after the deaths of my parents years earlier in my life.

Rodney had called me in Utah and encouraged me to come home. Then he called my managing editor and told him I would be needing a leave of absence. Once I was home, he urged me to attend a social group for young adults sponsored by our church. I resisted, he persisted. He won.

Begrudgingly I drove my VW bug to the house where the group was meeting. My hair was dirty so I’d wrapped it up in maroon floral scarf and called it good enough. I remember sitting down and noticing Brian right away. I thought he and I were the only ones in the room at first. (I have just asked him and he said “no, Kenny was there too!”)

I believe him. And I think my mental image is based on the importance of that meeting. Something about him made me curious. He says he had a heightened interest in me, that I was “definitely different.” We both agree that it felt like we were the only two people in the room.

e0718e20e8ca6bba98ad80b3237a5326Our first date was a New Year’s Eve dance. Before we even left for the dance we talked non-stop for at least an hour. We both love to dance and danced and talked all night and into the next morning. When I went home, I went into Rod and Jean’s room and said, “I think I’ve met the man I’m going to marry.”

Brian was going to college and living at home after having lived in Bolivia for two years. He told his parents later that morning, “I think I’ve found the woman I want to marry.”

Two days later we got engaged! Three months later, we married!

Meeting Brian was somewhat like washing ashore onto a tropical island after surviving a storm. My heart threw open its doors to this man because he was deeply spiritual, intelligent, and very funny. I fell in love with him because he seemed to welcome the whole of me—the strong accomplished parts that sometimes kept other people at arms-length, my critical side, my vulnerable parts, and perhaps most importantly my potential.

I chose the quote at the top because it so describes how Brian has continued to hold my talents and potential. When we were first married and broke, he made sure I had a typewriter so I could continue to write. A few decades later when I said I wanted to go to graduate school to become a counselor he immediately said, ‘That’s a great idea! You’d be a great counselor! When I told him it was going to cost over $30,000 he simply replied, “We’ll find a way to make it work.”

382473_10201514806737220_397311553_nHe complements my seriousness with his light-hearted-ness. He loves to tease and joke, which sometimes is annoying to me. But as I’ve aged I’ve come to see that he is the perfect antidote to my traumatic childhood, always supporting my efforts to heal, but also nudging me to not take myself so seriously.

“I knew you were deep when I married you,” he chidingly once told me, “I just didn’t know I was getting the Grand Canyon!”

And once, he had the nerve to ask me if having both of my parents die when I was young was “the ultimate home alone experience!” That might sound appalling, but it was actually mind-expanding. He is the only person on this planet I would have allowed such an inquiry. It led to a wonderfully deep conversation about something other than the profound loss. It became an exploration of how in some ways I was very unencumbered and basically could do anything I wanted to without concern about parental approval or disapproval.

487919_4266538270085_1932597733_nUltimately, he has always held a secure base that not only allowed me to be who I am, but allowed a continual unfolding. And his own unfolding has been quite remarkable. Three years ago, at age 56, he received his own master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling. He was the oldest man at his graduation ceremony and the only one with six daughters in their twenties and thirties jumping up and down and screaming as loud as they could as he received his diploma. We are now in private practice together.

It may sound like I’m nominating him for sainthood. Even though he survived living with seven women for many years, I’m not. We both have our weaknesses, our limitations, along with our strengths. We are counselors who have gone to counseling.

So now I’m crying and Brian just said, “Are you crying?”

“Yes.”

“How come?”

“I’m just so thankful for you.”

“You better write about me more often then!”

Enough said, except for “Happy Anniversary Sweetheart!”

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Reclaiming our Lost Selves

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“My life had started to feel so stagnant, like it was atrophied. Everything shrunk down to the roles I played. I had loved doing them, . . . but they were drying up and they weren’t really me . . . I felt there had to be some other life beneath the one I had, like an underground river or something, and that I would die if I didn’t dig down to it.” – Sue Monk Kidd

My ‘to do’ lists were put on hold in early March.

11039592_10203233730995543_1124593088_nBurnt out and needing a break, I boarded a plane to Hawaii with my husband Brian to visit our eldest daughter Annie and her family.

Every day we got up, packed a lunch and our swimming suits and headed to a different beach. Swimming in the warm water, sitting in the sun, and walking on the beach gave me a chance to slow down and contemplate what my soul needed in the crazy current of my life.

Disowned parts of myself rose up to bloom as big and bright as the gorgeous tropical flowers. I knew that if I wanted to live fully alive I needed to make room for my orphaned selves.

How would I do that?

Airplane over ocean.Flying home over the vast Pacific Ocean I considered how I allowed myself to be carried by life’s current. To surrender to life’s flow can bring peace and trust in all that is bigger than us, but there are also whirlpools that can quickly capture us, taking over if we are not mindful.

The myriad tasks and responsibilities of life can end up owning too much of us. And that is what happened to me. My life had become over-focused on work and under-focused on play.

It’s easy to slip into the enticing idea that if we just do a better job of planning and organizing we can reign in the chaos of our lives; make things manageable; create a smooth flow. There is some truth in this. But I believe a greater truth: taking time to tend to the garden of our souls grounds us to manage the myriad tasks of a chaotic world.

With this idea as a guide we ask:

What brings me home to the whole of myself? What parts of myself have I lost along the way? How can I create space for those lost or disowned parts?

bird_of_paradiseBeing on vacation reminded me of the importance of taking time to nurture our passions. An awareness bloomed of how much I had ignored the artistic side of myself. I had a renewed desire to sketch, make some collages, to connect to that largely ignored part of myself. I am endlessly looking for time to write, but I realized I also needed time for artistic creation, something that is not about words.

So this morning I got up at 6:15 and did something I hardly ever do. I got out my art supplies and began to create. I gave myself permission to see it as a process with no deadline, an enjoyable indulgence that did not require perfection, only my presence. My only agenda was to allow whatever unfolded.

11026419_10203243612042563_1683315404_nI also was aware soon after returning that I need more play in my life. I am very responsible and overly committed to ‘doing something constructive.’ My inner child was calling to me to ‘chill,’ to allow for more play, more fun.

We live full and complicated lives – we attend to children; go to work; clean the house; make sure there’s food to eat; launder the clothes; clean the house; drive the school carpool; keep multiple sets of little finger and toe nails clipped; meet deadlines; write reports; return phone calls. The do-list of our lives is indeed endless.

But what if we allowed ourselves to live ‘off-list’ as well?

What if we created a place for parts of ourselves that are lost, to come home?

Lorraine Hunt Lieberson in TheodoraLorraine Hunt Lieberson began her career as an accomplished viola player. While on tour her viola was stolen. Rather than just replacing it, she took it as an opportunity to develop her voice. She devoted herself to that ‘lost’ part of her abilities and in two years became an amazing mezzo-soprano.

We often set aside old passions for new responsibilities; we lose track of our adventurous selves. We can become so wedded to a certain project or purpose that we ignore the part of each of us that longs for variety and exploration. 

It takes introspection and commitment to see the parts of ourselves that are not represented in our daily lives and to create a place for them at the table.

Then and only then can we begin to access our deepest knowing, our wisest guide, and some of the more surprising parts of ourselves.

Flying back from Hawaii I realized I was not just coming home to our house, I was coming home to myself.

 

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