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 July, 2013

Releasing Guilt

Releasing Guilt

“I live in a world of ‘shoulds.’  Whatever I am doing, I feel like I should be doing more. Like most women, I rarely do one thing at a time . . . I actually worry if I am not feeling guilty, because I know I have forgotten something.”  Guiltily Yours, A Reader

One time a friend and I were sitting in a talk by Dr. Harriet Lerner, an internationally acclaimed expert on  women’s psychology.  As Dr. Lerner said, “Our society cultivates a garden of guilt in women,” my friend leaned over and whispered, “Mine’s more like a forest!”

Indeed, we are surrounded by opportunities for guilt daily: Did we floss? Did we exercise? Did we recycle? Did we mommy-guilt_zpsf3d61b7dallow sugar or aspartame into our body? Did we spend enough time with the kids? Was it quality time?

If we’re mothers we may feel guilty for working outside of our homes.  Or we may feel guilty if we are working, but haven’t “achieved enough.” As far as the guilt free life, most of us never arrive. The “good enough” inventory runs endlessly on.

Did we call our parents? Did we lose our temper? Did we gain weight? Is the house a mess? We can even feel guilty for not having enough fun!

Women! It’s time to say enough already! It’s time to take back our power from the never ending cultural shoulds!  Whether it’s our family culture (past and present), community culture or the media created culture, we can challenge those messages.  We can claim our own values and standards. And while we’re at it we can cut ourselves some slack! Enough already!

I asked women to write to me and tell me about their guilt when I worked as a magazine columnist.  Over 150 letters poured in reporting the myriad ways we women guilt ourselves.  One stood out because of her success in claiming her right to design the life she wanted without apology.

tight_rope_walker“I was in high school during a peak of aggressive feminism.” The author wrote:   I was an excellent student and my plans to get a Ph.D. in physics were supported by my family and teachers.  In college however, I found myself increasingly stressed out and disillusioned by academic life.

“I was shocked to find myself yearning for a calmer, more serene, domestic lifestyle.  When I got engaged, I decided to try housewifery, as it seemed more suited to my temperament.  The women with whom I worked and studied were overwhelmingly unsupportive of my decision.” She spent a lot of time “fretting over their condemnations and feeling guilty for not doing ‘The Right Thing for Women Everywhere.’”

Finally she came to this conclusion: “I am the only person who knows what is right for me . . . If other people have a problem with my life it’s their problem to solve, never mine.  Other people’s expectations belong to them. I no longer accept them. The energy I once funneled into guilt and angst now goes into serenity and happiness, where it belongs.”

Most of the women I have known have struggled with guilt on some level.  Combine culture and our own unique neurology and we may find ourselves wanting to please, avoid conflict, or make others happy.  We can easily fall prey to an over-focus on the well-being of others at our expense.

As one friend of mine once joked, “Show me a woman who doesn’t feel guilt and I’ll show you a man!”

t1larg.moms.work.giWhile this may be an exaggeration, the genders have different cultural influences and the latest research is showing there are differences in the female and male brain.

A friend of mine, with a large family, experienced a tragic event, where this difference in tendencies played out.  While loading their van for a camping trip, the toddler in the family wandered out into the street and was hit by a car. The driver did not stop.

As the mother rode to the hospital in the ambulance with her child the litany began. “What kind of mother am I? How did I let her get out of my sight?”

The men on the other hand, moved to anger.  “What kind of person does this?” they asked.  They talked of finding the driver, and making sure justice was served.

Fortunately the child came through with minor injuries, the mother was guilt-ridden indefinitely.

There are times when guilt has a legitimate purpose – when we have done something that is a serious violation of our values.  That kind of guilt gives us an emotionally painful signal that we have strayed from our character. The solution is to address the error, make amends, learn the lessons, and move on.

The majority of guilt we experience though is a sort of inner chiding that actually harms our relationship with ourselves and others. That guilt leads to saying yes to activities and commitments of our time that we later regret and resent.

energy-clearingWe can move toward eliminating that type of guilt by continually defining our own priorities and preferences. We can say no to choices and demands that fall outside of those. We can challenge the messages we are giving ourselves that base our worth on appearance and performance.  Those messages can be replaced with acceptance.  We can take time for stillness, moving below the self-nagging to access our true voice. And we can embrace our humanity and relax our standards.

Harriet Lerner, reminded me rather casually at the end of our conversation, “You know Tamera, no one ever died from guilt.  It doesn’t have to stop us.  We can say no and feel guilty. And the next time we say no, we’ll have a little less guilt.”

Next week we will continue this discussion on guilt and explore some ways we can move from guilt to concrete action that supports real change and healthy relationships.  In the meantime I would love to hear your comments about your experience and thoughts about guilt in the comment section.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Perfection in the Process

Perfection in the Process

“I was expecting myself to be infallible.  I did not need to be infallible to get home – nor did I need to be in control.” – Mark Epstein

original-1As I write today’s article, I have just returned from the post office.  I mailed a large set of keys the size of my palm to our daughter, Mary Rose, who lives on Vashon Island, WA.  While visiting her recently, we borrowed her keys to retrieve an item we had left during our last visit.  Afterward, the keys unconsciously got dropped in my purse.  You guessed it, we left with them!

It reminded me of a key incident that happened a number of years ago when our children were still at home and we lost the only set of keys we had to our car. Of course we realized this, just as we were getting ready to go to an important appointment. Panic hit the household!

The children frantically began searching while I interviewed my husband about when he last had the keys, where he had been, what he remembered about where he might have gone when he came in the house. He had total “key” amnesia.

IMAG0100-500x375Meanwhile the girls were looking under the couch cushions, and beds, on top of cupboards and dressers.  We joined them in combing the yard, going through the trash, checking the bathrooms and the dog dish. Mary Rose, who was the youngest at the time, trailed the cat wondering if the lost key could be attributed to cat mischief.

Finally we offered a $5 reward to the searchers. Upping the ante led to even more creativity and curiosity.  Still it took another 30 minutes until they turned up – in the pocket of my sweater! Mary Rose was the one to find them. I immediately headed to the store to get extra copies of the key and treats for my husband as reparation!  The appointment was long missed.

As I drove I remembered a very wise little book, “Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart – A Buddhist Perspective on Wholeness,” by Mark Epstein.  I had heard him speak at Powell’s City of Books in Portland, OR and later interviewed him by phone.  We talked about how our crazy western lives can be blessed by wisdom from Eastern traditions.

“We are always trying to be in control,” he said.  “Our culture teaches us this, when in fact there are many things we cannot control.  We develop a lopsided manner.  We don’t learn to surrender, which is the mature response to that which we can’t control.”

Epstein’s book is filled with amusing and thought-provoking anecdotes. For example, the true story of his first main wavebreakmedia ltd shutterstock_85474510college roommate at Harvard, who abandoned a normal life in a frenzied quest to master every detail of the most difficult courses a freshman could take, only to fall down a flight of stairs on the way to finals.  He hit his head so hard on his fall that he developed a bit of amnesia and forgot everything he had learned that term.

But the story I fondly remembered after losing my husband’s keys was a funny experience Epstein himself had.  A psychiatrist in practice in New York City, he had just finished a 10-day mediation retreat.  Feeling grounded, aware, and present, he walked out into the cold snowy countryside and started his car to warm it up.  Then, as he got back out to scrape the windshield, he locked himself out of his own running car!  A complicated and time-consuming series of tasks followed in order to reclaim the keys from the locked running car.  He felt foolish and chagrinned by this frustrating and somewhat comical set of circumstances.

But then a moment of profound insight prevailed. “Once again,” he said, “I was expecting myself to be infallible.  I did not need to be infallible to get home – nor did I need to be in control.”

A feeling of generosity flowed throughout his being. “Things will go to pieces,” he said wistfully, “we do not need to fall apart when they do.”

Often we flirt with the illusion that we can be conscious of what we are doing all the time.  Life teaches us a different lesson. I recently said to my daughter Maria, one of my teachers in this life, “I hope I live long enough to see everything work out with all of our daughters.”  Her response: “You will live to see it all work out mom because in some ways at every point in time it is all worked out.” In other words, even if all the pieces we long to have in “place” are not, there is still rightness to the “going to pieces” aspects of our lives.  There is new wisdom to be discovered, insight to be gained, layers and layers to the process of wholeness, and a paradoxical perfection in the process as messy as it may seem.

hand keyPerhaps the key here is showing up whole-heartedly to each wonder and each mishap life hands us – surrendering to the possibilities, and trusting the process.

Honestly, I felt comforted by the image in my mind of Mark Epstein, a wise teacher among us, shivering next to his car, the gas running out, even as the car was stationery.  It helped me embrace that despite our hard work, striving, and attention to detail, sometimes we just space out and forget where our car keys are.  We are human after all.  And that is perfect.

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Surrendering to Summer

Surrendering to Summer

“I began these pages for myself, in order to think out my own particular pattern of living, my own individual balance of life, work and human relationships.  And since I think best with a pencil in my hand, I started naturally to write.”   –Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea

Recently my thoughts were drawn back to the years when I was standing thigh high in the deep waters of mothering.  The eldest of our six daughters, Annie, was 13 years old, followed by Maria, 11, Amanda, 9, Sarah, 7, Suzette, 5, and Mary Rose, 1.  In a nostalgic moment I was reminiscing about summers with them.

Early on, with all six girls at home, I had learned the wisdom of “surrendering to summer.” Other than the most basic semblance of order, I raised a white flag in the war on clutter and chaos. Trying to get everything done that I wanted to, was like trying to swim upstream. Just keeping the laundry current was a Herculean task.  In desperation, I had moved all of their drawers out of their rooms and into the laundry room. At least that way we could fold the clothes right into their drawers. They could undress in the laundry room and their dirty clothes were where they needed to be!

But family relationships . . . that was another matter.  Boredom in children breeds conflict.  “Mommy,” she hit me!  “Mommy,” she borrowed my skirt without asking!  “How come she gets to have a friend spend the night and I don’t?”

images-2Overwhelmed by the waves of my children’s needs, I realized that I was being called to relax into the season.  We all needed to get out of the house and bask in the warmth and wonder of summer.

Somewhere in those years we started a routine.  (A routine is something you do without thinking.) I arose early and spent a little alone time reading and regrouping. It was never much, but enough to keep me tethered to my own soul.

Reading from my summer bible, Gift from the Sea, I found the encouragement and wisdom I needed from another mother: “. . . I cannot shed my responsibilities . . . I cannot be a nun in the midst of family life. . . The solution . . is neither in renunciation of the world, nor in total acceptance of it.  I must find a balance somewhere . . . a swinging of the pendulum between solitude and communion, between retreat and return.  In my periods of retreat, perhaps I can learn something to carry back into my worldly life.”

images-3I still have my first tattered paper back copy of Anne Morrow Lindberg’s book.  It is underlined in several colors of ink and carries the precious presence of one of my littler girls’ scribbling’s, who must have gotten out of bed early and sat on my lap as I had my reading time.

Each morning, my quiet time ending, the daughters would come padding out from their rooms in their cute pajamas. There was time for holding and cuddling, and getting food into their insatiable tummies. Then we all pitched in and did just a few chores together – throwing in a load of laundry, a basic pick-up of the house, tidying the bathroom, doing a little dinner preparation.  Next we all gathered whatever gear was necessary and our Golden Lab Ruffy, and headed out for a daily adventure together. The radio was always blaring and we sang along. Often these outings also involved friends and their moms.

Summer found us at the sea, playing in the waves, gathering shells, building sandcastles.  It found us at Hugo V. PedersenSummer day bather on the beachbeaches by The Columbia River where we watched huge cargo ships making their way to port.  It found us hiking in the Columbia River Gorge; picking strawberries in U-Pick farm fields and wild blackberries in roadside patches.  We went to the park. We went on picnics.

We threw our arms wide open to summer and welcomed her wonder.

Part of the key was lowering my standards and my expectations for the rest of life. I realized that which matters most is best not sacrificed for that which matters least. And of course things were not perfect.  There were arguments, and tears, and numerous times I lost my patience. But setting aside the chores and responsibilities I could, definitely relieved the pressure of so many lives intertwined in the same house!

I also acknowledge the challenge for mothers who are employed in work outside the home who don’t have the leeway I had.  Consider allowing yourself to fall into the wonder of summer in at least some small ways with your loved ones, whether in the evening or on weekends, by putting whatever you can on the back burner.

Living life this way taught me that my days as a mother were not wasted though other parts of my life and myself went underground and autumn started with every cupboard, nook, and cranny in the house needing a deep cleaning.  Although surrendering to summer at times required painstaking patience, it was not wise as a mother to swim upstream.  Everyone was just more frustrated when I did, including me… and it showed up in our moods and behavior.

The natural flow of summer offered such gifts and precious memories.  Now the children are adults with children of their own, careers, and life paths they have chosen. I work full time and the chorus of girlish voices is a faint echo in our home. There is a silence that sometimes saddens me and sometimes I savor.

But daughters and grandchildren will join us at the beach in August.  And this past Saturday, my day off, I left the dirty laundry in a sorry heap to head to The Columbia River Gorge for a hike with my husband.

imagesAt the end of one summer, on the first day of school, Suzette, at that time 13, was the last one out the door.  As I hugged her good-bye, tears filled my eyes.  Summer time with my children had become such a sweet treasure with the sand and the sea and these six beautiful girls frolicking in the waves and then running into my arms wet, shivering, and seeking warmth.

“It’s only a day mom,” Suzette said dismissing my sentimentality with typical 13-year-old aplomb.

“No, it’s nine months!” I protested.

“So write a book while I’m gone!” she said.

I looked at her through my tears.  She was so grown up with her honey brown hair highlighted with blond, and wearing darling jeans she had perfectly coordinated with a cute shirt, funky jewelry, and a hip looking back pack.

“Ok,” I said smiling through my tears.

After she rounded the corner of the house to head to the bus I retreated to my office. In the quiet I realized it was the first time since June that I could really hear my own thoughts.

And so naturally, I took out some paper, reached for a pencil, and started to write.

fambeach

 

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Reconnecting, Recommitting

Reconnecting, Recommitting

“No matter what your destination, just be sure to make every journey a journey within. If you travel within, you’ll travel the whole wide world and beyond.”  –Elif Shafak, The Forty Rules of Love, A Novel of Rumi

forestA long neon white flash of lightening cracked the cobalt blue sky ahead of us. My husband Brian and I were driving through Island Park, Idaho, on our way home from a vacation to Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. As Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young sang a musical command from the CD player to “carry on” we sped through lush green pastures dotted with coal black cows grazing.  Armies of Lodge Pole pines were at attention on the surrounding mountains.

It was Independence Day and we felt free.

Two weeks before when I had announced to Brian that my book, Creating a Life You Love, A Woman’s Guide to Peace, Joy, and Empowerment in Every Day” was finished, he immediately began whooping and then asked, “How do you want to celebrate?” Ever supportive!

“I want to go home,” I said, “and I want to go to the Grand Tetons.”

The last chapter had recounted a life transforming experience I had as a teenager, hiking in The Grand Tetons with a group led by Fred Miller, an amazing mountain man and spiritual teacher. In those mountains he had given me insight and inspiration that helped me carry on after my father died. (See June 21, in the archives.)

I had grown up 90 minutes from both Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park. My parents and I visited them numerous times. Their love for the national parks, became mine.

The trip was a powerful coming home experience for me. As Brian and I walked the banks of The Snake River in Idaho Falls, my hometown, I was flooded with happy memories and gratitude at being able to reconnect with my roots.

The vacation was simple, and simply amazing.

We chose to stay in a tent cabin in Grand Teton National Park.  Each morning I arose early for time alone to 0326 colter bay village------------practice my Divine Daily Disciplines (See menu).  Our back porch faced the Tetons. Deer grazed in the sloping meadow scattered with wild flowers and small stands of quaking aspen—their stark white trunks highlighting gently quivering deep-green leaves.

The solitude of nature offered me an invitation to go deeper into my own nature.  As I meditated, prayed, practiced yoga, read, and wrote, I felt my heart opening to ever deepening understanding about my past, the wonder of the present, and my path into the future.

There is wisdom available to all of us by spending time in nature’s solitude—whether surrounded by mountains, meadows, beach, or our own backyard – and listening to the yearnings and contemplations of our own heart and opening to Divine Direction.

We can be alone without being lonely.

Each day, Brian and I took a different hike into the mountains, stopping to wade in pristine lakes, and take in 23 At the edge of Lake Solitude with Grand Teton in viewthe stunning view of the Tetons at different elevations. It gave us a chance to reconnect with each other, away from the demands of our work as counselors. Throughout our lives, Brian and I have read together.  This trip was no different, in the car and in the wilderness, we paused to read a few pages.  This provided fertile ground for conversation about our continuing growth, both as a couple and as individuals.

We were reminded of the human tendency, not only to avoid pain, but, to replace it with pleasurable behaviors that can unhealthy or destructive.  There is a way we humans take adversity personally and run from it.

This reaction is a kind of spiritual immaturity,” Phil Stutz and Barry Michels write in their new book,” The Tools.” “A true adult accepts that there’s a fundamental difference between the goals we have for ourselves and the goals the universe has for us…the universe doesn’t care about our external success; its goal is to develop our inner strength.  We care about what we achieve on the outside; the universe is interested in who we are on the inside.”

This gave us fodder for contemplation as we hiked higher into the mountains.

995409_10201527497177697_1329806142_nAt the top of Inspiration Point, altitude — 7,200 feet, I lay across an enormous slab of tan rock and gazed at the vast tableau in front of me – Jenny’s Lake, plains of forest ground cover, and more mountains in the distance. I was inspired.

Grateful for how far my journey had brought me both in life and on the mountain, I recommitted to my ongoing growth.  To confront our weaknesses requires the discipline of giving up something of lesser value for something of greater value.  In other words, it means making some sacrifices, no longer avoiding the pain that is part of the discipline of change. This is difficult, but meeting the demands of the hike reminded me of the strength we each possess.

We also renewed our commitment to our work as a couple.  We launched this “willingness to accept discomfort at least, and pain at worst” by jumping into the cold waters of Jackson Lake for a swim. The sudden shock of glacier- sourced water was startling, but with several minutes of hard swimming we adjusted. Just like life.

As we broke camp, we said goodbye to our pristine camp site and forest friends with a dose of both melancholy and renewal.  It was the Fourth of July.  We celebrated in nearby Yellowstone National Park, by watching Old Faithful Erupt, almost exactly on time, as we feasted on moose tracks ice cream.

Heading home, we drank in the wonder of it all and carried on . . . .

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Surrender

Surrender

I awake to a golden dawn, my mind burdened by the stories of pain I had heard and witnessed at work the previous day.

I feel the river calling to me and soon have my bike in the back of our old grey Ford truck with purple Road Runner decals. I am greeted by his mischievous grin as he outruns Wile E. Coyote. I am heading to a quiet country road along the Columbia River.

cottonwoodpic2Aloft my bike, I am greeted by solitude and a thousand floating cottonwood seeds held in silky fluff as they drift in every direction away from their mother, the huge cottonwood tree.

But as I ride, my mind relentlessly gnaws on yesterday’s problems.

I had sat with a woman with an abusive husband; a man whose mother is dying—always responsible, concerned for her adult children, she is resisting the call of her broken body to “let go”. . . the final letting go.

As I pedal, part of me wants to let go of these unsolvable sufferings that aren’t even mine.  But like a needle caught in the scratch in a record, the same chord plays relentlessly.

finch in flight closerAs I ride, the earth sings a different song. Three chirping yellow finches escort me into the countryside.  The sun hangs on the horizon, a glowing orange orb. The road is empty. A gentle breeze runs its cool fingers through my hair.  My private sanctuary.

I pray.

Please bless . . . please bless. . . and please bless . . .

And, please help me to release . . .

But my mind, like the relentless Coyote with yet another contraption designed to capture Road Runner is hounding me with the unresolved problems from yesterday’s work.  “What if?” my mind poses, “How could we…? Maybe she needs to… “

I wonder — who am I to entertain the luxury of “solving?”

And whose problem is it?

Could I hold these troubles with tender detachment?

Could I trust that each life is playing out its own purpose, always with an opportunity for greater understanding and wholeness?

Could I trust the process of each person who had sat across from me?

My mind retreats temporarily as I immerse myself in the site of a field of new wheat, still green, a couple of feet high and rustling in the breeze.

And then it presents another bone to chew on from my own family life – the complicated new love of one of my daughters . . . how is that ever going to work out I wonder.

Sssshhhhh! I say to myself.

I go down, down, into my body, out of my head, where a sliver of peace is waiting.

thA quote from Khalil Gibran floats into my mind as gently as one of the cotton seeds, “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain. Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?”

My legs feel heat rising up in them as I push harder and harder, each cycle of the wheels calling my angst to give way to surrender.  Slowly my attention is captured by the earth in all its wonder—the wide gray river holding the weight of a huge red, black and white Japanese cargo ship, enormous bird nests constructed of angled branches atop telephone poles, chocolate skinned cattle grazing on lush green pastures . . .

My mind begins to give up its worries and instead recites portions of a treasured poem to me . . .

Don’t tell me how many miles you ran

Tell me how many flowers underfoot . . .

How the birds sang,When the end was in sight

The way the clouds parted for the light . . .

Tell me the story of the grass:

How it flattened As the wind blew you by,

How it sprang up again . . . .

–Razia S. Ismail

7735545140_4904324c87_zI feel my heart pounding, each breath is a raw rasp; a heron slices the bronze morning sky, its long grey legs and flat feet tightened into an arrow as it flies quickly forward.

Freedom finds me again as I fly along my country road, finally letting go.

 

 

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