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.

Posts made in February, 2013

Expanding Perception, Expanding Choice

Expanding Perception, Expanding Choice

“ . . . we must look at the lens through which we see the world, as well as at the world we see . .  the lens itself shapes how we interpret the world.”
                       — Stephen R. Covey, International best-selling author and speaker

images-1When Stephen R. Covey’s book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People came out in 1989, I called him and asked for an interview for a weekly column I was writing.  He had been one of my college professors and kindly agreed to do an interview with me when he came to my home of Portland, Oregon for a seminar he was presenting.  He asked for a favor as well, would I be willing to provide him with transportation from the airport to his seminar sight?

It was a timely blessing for me.  Not long before this happened I had completed six months of group therapy for victims of childhood sexual abuse.  I was still in individual counseling.  A daunting question had been floating around in my consciousness, unresolved.  I knew him to be a man of deep insight, wisdom, and compassion.   As we were driving to the seminar I asked him if he was willing to give me a bit of advice about a personal issue. He agreed.

I explained that I had been surprised to realize the many ways in life that I was falling into victim behavior – an insight gleaned from the therapy I was doing.  Even more jarring, was the fact I had been completely unaware of the fact I was doing this.  It was such a contradiction to my outward ego self – seemingly confident, assertive, somewhat driven to achieve.

Unknown-1This was my question for Covey: How do we exercise our ability to choose when we are not conscious of some of our behaviors, behaviors driven by significant past events? To me it literally felt like I had been taken hostage by the past, blindfold and all!

Covey’s answer: Even if we are literally being held hostage we always have some choice even if that choice is a slim as a single strand of hair. He took out a page of his planner, the very planner he had designed, and drew a picture of a tall rectangle, short side down.  Then he drew one tiny line at the bottom of the rectangle.  He labeled the rectangle “choice.”  Then he put his pen on top of the tiny line at the bottom of the rectangle and drew one thin line.  He explained that this might be all the choice a person has in a given moment, but if one consciously exercises that choice for her betterment, immediately her ability to choose begins to expand, climbing its way up the rectangle. Make any positive choice right where you are at in life and it will empower you to make another.

Later, as I thoughtfully considered Covey’s important insight on choice I considered my dilemma in greater detail.  Therapy made me aware, that because of my early victimization, I had a default setting to lapse into moments of victim thinking or acting.  I made a list of ways I did that: being intimidated to return a meal in a restaurant that had been improperly cooked; not expressing my true feelings in a difficult conversation; excuse making; avoiding problem solving when I felt helpless. These are just a few everyday examples of a much larger, Behind_the_Veil_by_azhar1985deeper blind spot and modality of being. Most importantly I began to pull back the veil of my own unconsciousness.  Because of the deep shame I had experienced from my abuse, I developed the perception that other people’s feelings were more important than mine and that I was somehow responsible for other’s feelings.  In the process, I abandoned myself.  Covey taught me that healing required making choices that were difficult and uncomfortable for me and practicing making those hard choices over and over. I could choose to ask for the steak to be cooked until it’s not bleeding!  Or say what I am really thinking, or problem-solve instead of making excuses! One difficult choice at a time, a more healthy perception took residence in my consciousness. As it did I was more able to reclaim my power in life in a healthy way.

Many years later when I had become a therapist and was helping others heal from sexual abuse, I ran a group for women, all who had been victims of abuse, who were struggling with sex addiction.  When I taught them Covey’s model, every woman in the room felt instantly empowered.  They had a place to begin, no matter how small, where they felt some degree of control.  They named the model, “The Tower of Choice.”  Often these courageous women in the group felt so owned by their addictive behavior and their unhealthy self-images, it felt impossible to stop acting out.  Using “The Tower of Choice” model I asked, What can you do?  What choice could you make?  They had all kinds of ideas now.  They could commit to daily reading in the handbook for the group; they could spend some time working on one of The Twelve Steps of Recovery; they could increase their prayer; they could commit to pray even if they had relapsed; they could pick another activity that was engaging and practice choosing that activity versus acting out; they could call someone for help.  We filled the white board with choices that felt possible for them. And over the course of 18 months of choosing where they could, miracles happened.  One woman left her addictive behavior behind and began speaking to women about this issue – a courageous choice.  Another woman also gained months of sobriety and entered into a healthy relationship, later married, and the last time I saw her was excitedly expectant with her first child.  These are just two of the stories.

In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Covey is transparent in sharing a story of how he and his wife, Sandra, were having difficulty with one of their children.  They tried numerous approaches to helping their son, all of which failed.  He writes in the book, ”We began to realize that if we wanted to change the situation, we first had to change ourselves.  And to change ourselves effectively, we first had to change our perceptions.” P. 18.

They took the humble and brave action of identifying the ineffective ways their own egos were getting in the way of working effectively with their son.  After they had done this, they began making new choices in how they interacted with their son, and only then did they all begin to experience change and success.

Often, when we are immersed in unhealthy habits and behaviors, we are operating from a script we can’t see, a story we are telling ourselves we don’t even notice. We have lost sight of the greater potential for peace, joy, empowerment, and love from which we can be living. To restore vision to our blind spots and to in essence create a life we love requires sacrifice – sacrifice of our comfort zones and of our familiar, but limiting stories.  But the definition of sacrifice is giving up something of lesser value, for something of greater value.  We can leave the pauper’s mentality to claim our divine birthright which flows from clear perception and expanded choice.

melaleuca-stephen-coveyI ran into Stephen R. Covey at a church service in West Yellowstone, Montana, over a dozen years after the life-changing tutorial on choice I had received from him.  His book had gone on to sell 25 million copies. Despite the thousands of people he had met, he still remembered me and warmly greeted me.  I was able to give him a brief update – how what he had taught me had brought more expansion than I ever could have imagined.  One choice at a time I had not only found healing, but I had arrived at a place where I could share what I had experienced in my own life, by becoming a mental health counselor.

I learned of Covey’s death last summer through the media.  My encounters with him had been brief, but profound.  I took my well-worn copy of The Seven Habits off the shelf, held it close to my heart, shed a few tears, and said a quiet prayer of gratitude for this important spiritual teacher.

In memory of Stephen R. Covey
Oct. 24, 1932 –July 16, 2012

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Authoring Our Lives

Authoring Our Lives

I first received the call to author my own life when I was 15.

I was spending time with a young woman who would become a lifetime mentor for me.  Elizabeth Morgenegg Smith Wetzel was a darling 25-year-old Swiss girl with blond hair curled into a cute flip, and beautiful brown eyes that held a focused gaze on whomever she was talking to. She was a cosmetologist who always wore the latest clothes. And she was my brother’s wife.

I had the lucky opportunity to spend a week with her in the apartment she shared with my brother in another city.   She gave me a complete makeover- showing me how to pluck my eyebrows, and apply makeup – and giving me a new hairstyle.  She took me shopping and bought me plaid bell bottom pants, ribbed sweaters, and platform shoes. As we shopped, she gave me advice on boys.

I loved the attention and I had some concerns.  My father was now remarried and I was having a terrible time getting along with my stepmother.  My life felt miserable to me and I just wanted to move out of her house and back to my own home where I had lived with my own mother before she died.  That was not going to happen, so I had resigned myself to just enduring until I was 18 and could leave.

I sobbed out my teenage angst to Liz.  She listening attentively, patiently, those rich brown eyes ever focused on me as I talked.

Liz knew a lot about adversity.

02171301When she was seven-years-old, she and her family had left their home of Switzerland and sailed to their new home — the United States of America, on the R.M.S. “Queen Elizabeth.” They were a humble immigrant family, poor in the things of the world, but rich in love. They sold all their possessions except the bare necessities needed to start a new life, a better life with more opportunities.  None of them spoke English.  Liz was allowed to bring just one doll along with a few other personal items.

02161301-1Liz endured enormous difficulties when she arrived in America.  The food was strange, (root bear tasted like medicine to her), she couldn’t communicate, and the customs were unknown to her.  Her family was not readily accepted in their new country.  She was made fun of at school.  When she came to school on Halloween, not in costume (because she had never heard of Halloween) the teacher, thinking she was doing her a favor, put a paper bag on her head with holes cut out for the eyes, nose, and mouth to parade around the school with her classmates adorned in their charming and scary costumes.  She was utterly confused and humiliated.

But she learned English, became more adept at following customs, and gleaned important lessons as she adapted to one challenge after another – authoring her new story.

Now, lovingly hearing my story, she was able to respond not only with compassion, but with great candor and wisdom.

“What an incredible waste of your life!” she said, “. . . to just endure, versus really living!  What I am going to tell you may not seem fair, but it is true.”

And then she said something that changed my life for the rest of my life.

 You can never change another person, you can only change yourself.
 And when you change yourself, you change your life.

She told me that if I would go home and work on myself, learn to treat my step-mother lovingly and appreciatively, no matter what she did, things would change.  She took my suffering seriously, offered empathy and she helped me see things from my stepmother’s perspective.

When I returned home I tried what she said and to my utter amazement our relationship became much better.  Where once I had been counting the days until I could leave home, I now chose to stay — willingly!  I learned I had the ability to create a better experience by focusing on my own actions instead of my stepmother’s.

It was my first lesson in taking responsibility for myself versus blaming.  The trouble with blame is that it gives our power away. When we blame we grant someone or something else the power to make us happy or miserable. Elizabeth’s early tutorial has reinvented itself countless times in my life.  No matter what the difficulty I encounter,  when I address my own issues, life responds in amazing ways.

Often we live our lives in response to the story we are telling ourselves, as I was doing with my stepmother. No matter what has happened to us in life or is happening right now, the story from here on out begins with self.  Authorship is an invitation to expand our perceptions by focusing on and accepting our own role in any problem that is happening.  How is our own inner narrative, with its veiled and distorted perceptions, influencing our life?

imagesThe invitation this book offers – to create a life we love – is based on taking full responsibility for ourselves and in so doing, owning our power in all of its beauty and strength!  When we claim authority for our own lives, we make better choices; we set clear boundaries; we claim new territory; we move from the disempowering stance of victim thinking to empowering act of problem-solving. We discover the willingness to make sacrifices and the courage to take risks – like the Morganegg family did — to create something new in our lives.  As we do, we embrace the expanded narrative that all of our challenges are opportunities for growth and transformation.

Liz taught me I could stop telling myself the story that I just had to endure, that I could tell myself a new story about fulling living life despite its difficulties.  There were great blessings that came with that reframe.  My stepmother, Margaret Wilson Smith, gave me something probably no other person in my little Idaho town in the early sixties could have – an expanded vision of a woman’s potential.  She made sure I got a college education, taught me that every woman needs a life plan, exposed me to the arts and literature, and impressed in me the sense that I needed to know how to take care of myself in life.

This came from her very difficult story of becoming a widow when she was in her early thirties and six-months pregnant with her fourth child.  She didn’t know how to drive a car, had only a high school education, did not have a job and was now a single mother.  Margaret was scared, but owned her power.  She learned how to drive, got a job, and held family together.  By the time my father married her, she had enough savings to pay off his medical debt from my mother’s illness.  Liz saw the potential in living with a woman like that!

newpicI talked to Liz as I edited this chapter.  She is now 69. I asked her if the sacrifice their family made had been worth it over time. She told me she is continually inspired by her parents having the faith to belive they could author a new story for their family.  “I am amazed by all the opportunities we had by coming to this country,” she said, “and as the years have passed I have seen the difference it made not only for their children, but their grandchildren and great grandchildren.”  She said that now three generations of family have had enormous opportunites – to get education, to start businesses, to travel, to have experiences they might never have had.

The Morganeggs are also an example that when we author a new story, others are blessed as well.  Literally thousands of people have been blessed by their contributions through community service and outreach – as teachers, employers, workshop facilitators, church leaders, and social activists . . And, as very kind and giving friends and neighbors.

“My father was 48 and my mother was 45 when they deciced to start over in a country from scratch where they couldn’t even speak the language,” Liz said.  “I don’t know how they did it from such a humble start, but they taught me that anything is possible.”

We do not have to be held captive by our stories, continually repeating painful, but familiar scripts.  To take possession of our stories is a radical paradigm shift – one that both empowers us and frees us to move from the narrow margins of our lives to a landscape of possibility.

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Grieving Loss, Mothering Ourselves

mother-207x300Fifty years ago today, Mon. Feb 4, 1963, I was called out of my 3rd grade classroom at 10:30 in the morning.  My father was waiting outside the door.  He leaned over so his face was close to mine and said quietly, “Mother passed away this morning.”  Cancer had claimed her.

Today, I am taking a pause from sharing my book chapters to honor my mother, Roma Gibbs Smith.  I offer a brief reflection acknowledging the gifts my mother gave me; the grief I suffered; and the important truths I gained from the experience.

As I write, I pause to trace the pronounced wishbone-shaped scar on the right side of my neck. It reminds me that my mother gave me life not once, but twice.

My mother was a registered nurse and noticed when I was age four that whenever I became breathless–after running or while blowing up a balloon–an abnormal bump protruded from my neck.

426214_323019377745899_1843742768_nShe took me to the doctor, certain something was amiss, and was dismissed as an overly worried mother.  But she trusted her own instincts and did not give up.  She took me to a few other doctors until she was taken seriously.  That doctor had me on a plane to a larger city the next day to be checked into a hospital there and be seen by a specialist.  The problem:  I had an aneurysm in my jugular vein that was close to bursting! I needed treatment immediately — if it burst I would have bled to death in minutes.

Experimental, emergency surgery was performed on me. My survival was a miracle. It was the most important gift she gave me, but was far from the only one.  My memories of her include picking wild strawberries together in the forest – little buttons of sweetness; her holding me on her lap and looking at the dramatic clouds in the vast Idaho sky in search of cloud animals and angels; helping me memorize The Lord’s Prayer; watching her come home from work in her beautiful white nurse’s uniform and the dramatic red-lined gray nurse’s cape she wore over it.  I remember going to movies with her.  The last movie we saw together was Heidi, the story of a parentless child.  She bought me a Heidi doll afterwards.

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My mother was a redhead who took pride in adorning herself in lovely clothes and who loved to make our home clean and beautiful—there was always a tablecloth on the table, graced with fresh flowers in a vase.  She loved helping others.  She loved nature and beauty.  She loved Christmas. She loved life.

And she wasn’t perfect.  My older brothers remember that they knew to stay out of her way on laundry day!  A cousin recalls seeing her and my dad in a”quarrel.” My oldest sister was old enough, when losing her, to have known of her shadow side—something all mothers have.  A pedastol, like a prison, is a small place to move around.

I coped with her death by focusing on keeping my father happy.  As the years went by I deliberately distanced myself from her memory as a way to avoid the canyon of loss I quietly carried inside.

Mountains-05But once I began to have my daughters that canyon broke wide open and I finally began to grieve my loss.  Grief took me on journeys to my mother’s sisters, her best friend, and the tiny Utah town where she was born in her grandparent’s bedroom in 1914.   Standing in the shadow of the mountains, the wind blowing the amber wheat into waves, angelic clouds above, I wept.  I was finally letting myself embrace the reality that I didn’t have a mother.

At the time of that acceptance, my oldest daughter, Annie, a redhead like her grandma, was eight-years-old—the same age I had been when she died.  I called my therapist from the little town.  “I don’t have a mother,” I said.  “I know,” she tenderly acknowledged and asked, “If you knew you were going to die what would you tell Annie?”  I thought for a moment and said, “Remember, I will ALWAYS be a part of you, and you will ALWAYS be a part of me.”  “Now,” my therapist continued softly, “say that to yourself.”  I have been saying that to myself ever since.

With that counsel that she wisely began directing me to a truth I didn’t particularly like:  That at some point we all have to learn how to be our own mothers, how to mother ourselves.

Over the years I have adopted a set of practices to help me mother myself.  These practices keep me connected to my true self.  They open me up to guidance, wisdom, and inspiration.  They help keep me healthy.  And they offer protection from the dangers of life on this planet . . . just like my mother did.  They are the Divine Daily Disciplines.  And I find that if I give each of these just a few minutes of attention on the days I am busiest, I do better.

The painting above and on the Divine Daily Disciplines page of this website, is by an amazing Utah artist, J. Kirk Richards (www.jkirkrichards.com) who brings a unique creative approach to spiritual themes.  I fell in love with this painting, “Cheribum and a Flaming Sword,” the minute I saw it because of the majestic presence of three strong women, their bright red hair flowing into the branches of the tree of life,  . . . protectors . . . mothers . . . the very trees of life themselves . . .  And did I mention that Annie’s first daughter, my first grandchild, Summer, is a red head?  I have a filigree locket with precious contents: red strands of my mother’s, daughter’s, and granddaughter’s hair.IMG_3035

And so, The Divine Daily Disciplines of Self-Care.  May you be blessed in your mother loss, whatever form it has taken.

Prayer

Prayer, whatever form it takes, is not about making a Christmas list of requests, but a way of developing a relationship with the Divine.  It is a doorway and when we knock it opens, offering inspiration, direction, comfort, and wisdom.

Stillness

It is in the stillness that we come home to ourselves.  Whether formal meditation or a quiet, mindful, walk in nature, this silent pausing helps us hear our true voice.

Sacred Reading

Even a few moments a day reading from a sacred text that touches our inner divinity brings us to the table of the Divine, providing the spiritual sustenance that carries one through an entire day.

Study

Becoming life-long learners is a way to keep growing, expanding, and feeling alive and inspired. Pick a book on any topic that interests you and read a page or two a day.

Journaling

A few moments with pen to paper, keeps us connected to our experience of life, helps us sort out feelings, and clears our mind.  Let go of perfectionism and just write!

The next three disciplines honor our miraculous bodies as a precious resource.   We hold a sacred stewardship over this temporary vessel for our spirits.

Exercise

Taking a little time daily to go into nature for an enjoyable brisk walk, run, bike ride, or swim, floods our body with life giving oxygen; rejuvenates every life sustaining system; and revitalizes our brain’s chemical mood enhancers. Going outside for this life enhancing discipline also expands our spirit by connecting us to creation.

Wisdom Eating

This discipline invites us to nourish our body with the life sustaining properties of real, natural, food – fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and small amounts of fish and poultry.  As we do, our health flourishes, our energy increases, and we feel alive.

Adornment

Beauty is a spiritual principle — we need only look at creation to know that.  We are beautiful!  And yet we are bombarded by an imposing cultural kaleidoscope of fashion that tells us we are not enough, causing doubts about our beauty.  The concept of adornment moves us away from the dictates of fashion to a daily affirmation and celebration of our own unique and natural beauty.  Taking the time for a simple ritual of getting ready for the day by cleansing, grooming, and adorning ourselves with clothes we enjoy wearing, impacts how we feel throughout the day and help us set our ego aside.  Adornment engenders a sense of well-being and beauty.

The Divine Daily Disciplines of Self Care are life transforming even if we just spend a few minute a day on each discipline.  Simplicity is our creed! Following them, however imperfectly, builds strength and ability to create a life we love and to live our divine potential with peace, joy, empowerment, and love, in all of our important roles as women.

Copyright 2012 Tamera Smith Allred. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

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