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 September, 2013

Choosing Happiness

Man is fond of counting his trouble, but he does not count his joys.  If he counted them up as he ought to, he would see that every lot has enough happiness provided for it. -Fyodor Dostoyevsky

We can choose happiness.

Seeing that statement in writing annoys me.  Shouldn’t happiness just happen?

How can we expect to wake up in a depressive state and just will ourselves to be happy in the same way we will ourselves to get out of bed and brush our teeth? It just doesn’t seem that simple.

But one of my grad school mentors was quick to remind me:

 “The cure is maintenance.”

Greg Crosby taught that just as we need to have practices to maintain good health such as healthy eating, exercise, and getting enough sleep; there are also practices that help us maintain emotional health.

An important practice is challenging our brain’s natural predisposition to negative thinking.  In his new book, Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm and Confidence, Rick Hanson Ph.D., Neuropsychologist, international speaker says it is possible to lower anxiety and stress, lift mood, grow confidence, calm, and contentment, and fundamentally, hardwire happiness into the brain.

girlBalloonThe brain has a negativity bias according to Dr. Hanson. “It’s like Velcro for bad experiences but Teflon for good ones,” he writes. His research shows that by drawing on the positive experiences available in life we can “weave strength and happiness into the fabric of” both our brain and our lives.

“Because of your brain’s built-in negativity bias, it is SO IMPORTANT to consciously, deliberately help your brain register positive experiences.

You have to compensate for the hard-wired tendency of your brain to over-value negative experiences,” Dr. Hanson writes.

He recommends the following steps to help the brain “take in the good:”

  • Pay attention to the positive in your world.
  • Allow yourself to feel pleasure and experience positive activities, emotions and thoughts.
  • Deliberately create positive experiences.
  • Keep your attention focused on the positive.
  • Imagine your positive experiences soaking into your brain.
  • When you go to bed at night, recall the positive you experienced that day.

 

My daughter Rose is a hard worker.  She works on a farm where the meat and poultry is pasture fed, made into 377230_4681608803365_2020877214_na plethora of products, and then sold on the weekends at farmer’s markets.  In a day she might butcher a lamb, make homemade butter or cheese, bottle milk, and gather and package eggs.  Her work is fulfilling and her energy seems to be endless because if that isn’t enough she is ready to create adventures on a whim after work.

Last week she called me and begged me to take off work early and drive up to the Seattle area to see a Blondie concert!  I was feeling responsible and ended up giving her some resistance.  She was persistent.  She would not take no for an answer.  So there I was on a beautiful autumn night, the air crisp, the moon a magical golden orb hanging in a black velvet sky.  The concert was in a park – strings of lights hung everywhere, gourmet food carts offered succulent dishes like range fed beef hamburgers with blue cheese and bacon jam!

Music filled the air and my daughter and I danced under the moon to this glad celebration of yet another rock Moon over Seattle - David VanKeurenrevival.  How inspiring it was when I am on the cusp of age 60 to see another woman on the cusp of age 70 still able to belt out her hits while swinging her hips on stage. The concert was just ending when Rose grabbed my hand and pulled me across the grass.  “Hurry,” she said, “We can beat the traffic and make it in time to see the new Woody Allen movie!”  Twenty-five minutes later we were in a historic movie theater eating popcorn and watching the movie.

I slept in my clothes in the farmhouse when we finally got back to her home. The next morning I got up early, caught the ferry, and drove two and half hours straight back to work.  Part of me questioned my sanity.  But that didn’t last for long. I’m still humming along to that concert . . .remembering the night, my daughter, the bliss of it all.

Taking in positive experiences can be subtle as well.  Walking outside first thing in the morning to smell the 657647newness of the day and revel in the hot pink of a sunrise.  Calling a friend we haven’t talked to in a long time.  Indulging in reading a favorite book again.

Choosing happiness requires deliberately using our ability to make choices, to create positive thoughts and experiences.  Practicing this over and over again creates new neural pathways in our brain and can hardwire us for happiness.

 

 

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Telling Ourselves the Truth

“You are the teacher you have been waiting for. You are the one who can end your own suffering.”                                                                                                  –Byron Katie,  Loving What Is

byron-katie-2Author Byron Katie had been living an ordinary life – kids, marriage, and work – when she plunged into a 10 year bout of depression, rage, paranoia, and despair. Her healing began when she awakened on the floor of a half-way house she had checked into, without her troubling thoughts and without her rage.

In her book Loving What Is she describes how through “inner questioning she realized that her old thoughts were untrue” and found freedom from the pain they were causing her.  Since then her work has been to teach people to challenge their thoughts and to pay attention to the skewed stories they tell themselves.

She saw how she was creating her own suffering by attaching to her thoughts, believing they were true, without making any inquiry.  She invites us to look at our troubling thoughts and ask:

Is it true?

Can you absolutely know it’s true?”

How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?

Who would you be without the thought? www.thework.com

I have lived a majority of my life enmeshed in the story that ‘something is missing.’  In one sense the story is literally true; one doesn’t lose one’s parents in childhood and not experience a profound void.  The problem is, the story took over my life. I became over-focused on what I didn’t have in relationship, in work, in the mundane.  I could stay in a five-star hotel in downtown San Francisco, one of the prettiest cities in America, and the first thing I would notice is that the hotel doesn’t have a pool!

San-Francisco-Bridge-USA

Unconsciously, I believed the illusion that happiness is found outside of one’s self. Lately I’ve been telling myself a new truth: what I need is always available within where I can draw on my true self and the Divine — for me, a well-spring of truth.

Truth is simple. It’s the knowledge of things as they are.  We can find a thousand ways to avoid, deny, fight against, or lie to ourselves about circumstances as they really are.  Too often, we don’t tell ourselves the truth.

We may be destroying our life with addiction and compulsion and believe our behavior is not the problem.  We can have an argument with a loved one and let that brief, angry, relapse into anger define our relationship by losing sight of the bigger picture.  We can stay in a relationship that is unhealthy and destructive and convince our self it isn’t that bad. We can believe a person’s lies when their behavior tells us the truth. We can believe our own lies while our own behavior is telling us something different.  We can enable unhealthy behavior in others  because they are promising to change once again. We can keep operating on the assumption something is going to change that has pretty much stayed the same for a couple of decades or more. We can believe our happiness is dependent on someone else changing, dismissing our power to influence the quality of our lives, by looking at ourselves.

Truth telling can liberate us.  Truth can help us move from a narrow margin in life, to a landscape of possibility.

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Truth is found when we are open to inquiry and curious about the positions we have taken versus being fixed to one perspective.  It may mean seeing situations and people with new eyes. Seeing the truth, can mean facing difficult circumstances, making hard decisions, changing our expectations and behavior, and making wise choices. This can be excruciatingly painful, even disillusioning. We may question ourselves, wondering how we could have been so blind.

But sometimes, remaining less conscious about reality or even lying to ourselves protects us until we are ready to do the difficult work that admitting the truth requires. But life will always give us evidence of our falsehoods. If we accept the journey of awakening we are invited to the deep recesses of our being where we may face, as Carl Jung described it,”‘The Dark Night of the Soul”. Waking up to ‘what is’ may feel intolerable at first. This is our call, to grieve what has been lost, staying in touch with and gently attending to our deepest emotions.

The work of grief is to come to some kind of acceptance of what is:  “She is dead.” “He deceived me.” “ My behavior is causing me problems.” “I need to take a job beneath my skill level.” “My brother is never going to change,” etc. These are examples of telling our selves difficult truth. But as we accept things as they are we are freed from the lies and illusions that can hold us captive. And we have important information about going forward.

autumn-day-in-the-park2-2As we practice truth telling and acceptance of what is, we recover lost gifts, and find ‘atonement,’ (at-one-ment) as Joseph Campbell’s ‘Hero’s Journey’ teaches us. By awakening, we return from the shadow of deception to the light of truth. We are, in some ways, a little more ‘enlightened.’  By accepting the truth, ‘what is,’ we can move into our power by asking our selves one of life’s most important questions, “What now?”

Recently I dreamed of my mother.  This was a profound experience for me because I have not dreamed of her once in the 50 years since she died.  It was on the morning of 9/11.  In the first part of the dream, I was in an old fashioned room holding someone who was dying for an entire dark night. I believe it was symbolic of the part of me that has looked outside of myself for happiness, the part that has focused on what is missing.  I felt great compassion for that part of myself, ’embraced’ it  and  also knew it was time to move on. I was ready. And as I got up to leave, I noticed the dying person was being attended to by a nurse wearing the nurses uniform of long ago — a white, starched-stiff dress with long sleeves, buttons down the front, an A-line skirt,  and a white hat with a black velvet ribbon across its wide band. (By the way, my mother was a nurse!)

I opened a door to another room and to my amazement there was my mother! She was wearing her brown and red plaid Pendleton slacks and one of her soft knit sweaters.  A dainty necklace was around her neck.  She was so beautiful and she was so happy to see me. She had been peacefully waiting for me, but now she came quickly to me and took me into her arms.  The feeling in the dream was one of great joy, even ecstasy.

I immediately awoke and taking in my shock, whispered to myself, “I dreamed about my mother!”  I left my bed with the excitement of a child on Christmas morning.  I felt whole, loved, and complete.  I understood she’s never been far from me, in fact she has been part of me all along.

I realized that those deep longings I have held for that which is missing are a call to embrace all that is. By looking outward I lost some of the precious truth of what is right inside of me. In so doing, I had abandoned myself.

Somehow the dream welcomed me home to myself.  It allowed me to leave behind a very old story I have told myself one too many times — that something is missing, that the circumstances of life need to change in order to find happiness.  I was finally ready to see and tell myself the truth: I have all the power I need inside to create a rich and fulfilling life, no matter what is.

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Being True to Ourselves

“It is your turn to practice telling the truth about that which is unarguable: who you are and how you feel. Today, ask yourself how you are. Make a deep and honest and intentional inquiry into your heart and mind. . . your answer will be ready to spring from your heart, no longer suppressed or covered with the brittle veneer of acceptability. Instead, your irrepressible self will shine through.” – Gay Hendricks

Misty-road-in-the-forest-wallpaper_4664A shroud of morning fog hangs over Vashon Island where I am walking down a country road.  Three-story evergreens are draped with silky spider webs, translucent pinwheels hanging from the tree like silver ornaments.  A rooster crows. A dog barks.  And the bellow of the ferry horn as it approaches the island, breaks the silence of dawn.

As I walk, my mind is trying to undo a tangle of sticky thoughts that have captured my mind. I’m trying to navigate my way through a problem hoping to discover a solution or at least a ray of insight. Each footfall leads me deeper into my own stillness and suddenly a spontaneous phrase takes on the sound of a voice inside me that simply says:

 Be true to yourself.

 I wonder what that would look like. What do I want and need to be true to myself?

There is flutter of little answers — writing more, not saying yes when I want to say no, being brave enough to risk speaking my truth even if it’s met with resistance or unpleasant reactions, not holding on to behavior that isn’t working for me.

Being true to ourselves means saying what we mean; honoring our priorities and values; allowing our authenticity to show and be seen; going confidently in the direction of our dreams; and navigating relationships so that we honor not only our truth, but the truth of the other.

Recently someone close to me told me she was having dreams about an old boyfriend. “This perplexes me,” she said, “because I love the man I am with.”

“What did your old boyfriend symbolize for you?” I asked.

Her answer was immediate: Permission!

“What do you need permission for now?”

Meditation by the Beach“To slow down, to have more alone time,” she said.  “I miss myself.”

“Where do you think that permission might come from?”

“Me,” she replied. And then told me all the things that get in the way . . . . It included her over-laden ‘to do’ list, but also tendencies to avoid her own truth to have approval and acceptance.  These needs lie deep in all of us.

I was thinking of myself, and my own life, when I said, “We all give our power away in small increments. What if you allowed yourself to ‘drop the ball’ so you can be true to yourself?”

“How do you do that,” she asked.

“By practicing selective neglect,” I said.

We talked about the importance of putting ourselves, and our needs, on the ‘to do’ lists of our days.   We decided we could honor ourselves and trust that what absolutely needs to get done, will get done.

We also talked about how being true to ourselves sometimes just feels too vulnerable.  As we explored the challenge of relationships, we admitted to compromising ourselves into codependency to avoid conflict at times.  And we told each other the truth that we get caught in the web of approval-seeking in our quest to be authentic. We were being vulnerable enough to be honest about our failings in being true to ourselves.  In doing that, we were in fact being true to ourselves!  Honesty is the bedrock of authenticity.

Sometimes we think we need to convert someone else to our point of view in order to do something that is true to ourselves.  That is not true.  We can just notice the internal discomfort than can arise when we face opposition or emotional withdrawal from others in our lives when we do what is right for us.

Many years ago I worked with a young woman who had the rare genius and gift of excelling at both engineering and art.  To please her father she was majoring in engineering. She was miserable.  She was depressed.  She used sleep as an escape. Her face was chronically broken out.

Artist painting in his studioEventually she gathered the courage and the cash to change her major.  Her father was bitterly disappointed in her and it took all of her emotional reserve not to completely cut off from him.  But the more she picked up the brush and applied paint to canvas, the happier she became.  She started getting up early and interestingly, her skin cleared up.  (It had been warning her that a boundary was being violated.)

We lost contact for a period of time and then one day I got a letter from a large city in another state.  She had written to tell me that she was getting a master’s degree in art and that her work was being shown in a prestigious gallery.  She didn’t mention if her father was talking to her yet.

On my morning island walk I realized I already knew what I needed to do to be  true to myself. I did not have to become tangled in my own internal web.  Vulnerability and courage would be required. But the way would be revealed by the deepest part of me. The idea of allowing, giving permission to myself for this process felt exhilarating and liberating. I could see that my life was my art, a creative work that leads to feeling fully me and fully alive.

As I headed up the hill to return to the farmhouse where I was staying, the sun broke through the fog illuminating the path ahead.

foggy-sun-rays-and-forest-road-john-burk

 

 

 

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The Power of Planning

“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.”   —Anne Morrow Lindberg

15892062-kids-walking-in-early-autumn-on-sunlit-park-alleySeptember . . . here in the northwest the mornings are getting cool and misty.  A handful of trees are giving way to autumn’s pull, clusters of leaves now vibrant shades of orange and gold. The youth have gone back to school, their backpacks full of the latest technology along with a few freshly sharpened pencils, and some marbled composition books.

As the earth turns toward a new season and parents’ planners are filling up with notations of soccer practice times, back-to-school nights, piano lessons and the like, we are presented with an opportunity for us to “sharpen the saw.”

The story is told of the man who had been feverishly trying to saw down a tree for hours. Someone asked him why he didn’t take a break and sharpen his saw so the work would go faster.  “I don’t have time,” he replied. “I’m too busy sawing!” (From The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R. Covey.)

Autumn-steps-1Fall is a good time to hone and refine whatever system we use to plan our lives, and, if we don’t have a system to get one! Most of our lives are too complicated to rely on memory and good intentions. Planning creates a path to follow.

For the technologically minded, phones, tablets, etc. can do the job for keeping track of appointments and goals.  For old-fashioned folks, like me, a small planner can do the job.  (The computer geeks at the office stores laugh at my system, but I just can’t help myself, I think best with a pen in my hand, not a stylus!)

A system for managing the myriad of details of our lives can be used in three ways:

  1. To create a clear path for navigating the week.
  2. To act as a type of workshop of “self,” where dreams can be translated into goals with a plan of action.
  3. As a storage place for vital information such as birthdays, appointments, grocery shopping lists, meal plans, books to get at the store or library, travel plans, etc.

Whatever system you use, here are a few must-have features I recommend:

Week-at-a-glance calendaring
Every Sunday I spend a few minutes mapping out my week – and getting it down on paper (or screen).  What appointments do I have, including work, personal, and family?  What commitments to myself do I need to pencil in – time for exercise, renewing activities, personal “to-dos.”

I also have a space in this section where I make several “to-do” lists for the week: Tasks to be done; calls or contacts to be made; and errands to be run.

cooking-at-homeMenu Planning
I keep a “possible meals” list in my planner. It’s just a list of about 10 meals I can make.  I also have a master list of ingredients for the meals.  This takes a little time to set up initially, but simplifies life enormously.

Family Information
This section includes, not only, contact information, but birth dates, size information, favorite color and treats.  It makes is much easier to shop for birthdays and holidays.

Personal Information
This is a place for goals, medical information, books I want to read, inspirational thoughts, etc. It can be crafted to fit the specific needs of each individual.

bridge-over-troubled-waterBy taking time to loosely map out a week, we can create an overarching structure for our lives that allows us to be open to the natural flow of life while also having a guide to bring us back on track.  Rarely does a week actually play out the way we plan, but by having a plan we have a foundation to work from and accomplish more with less stress. There is a place for both structure and flow.

But perhaps most importantly, planning can help alleviate crisis management, and bring a sense of peace and confidence to life.  Having a plan can help us bring our dreams into the reality of our lives while keeping us abreast of the tasks that keep life running smoothly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Love’s Labor

“What tasks are on your plate right now and how are you responding to them?”
–Greg Crosby, Mental Health Trainer and Consultant

Taking responsibility for the work we have to do in life can become a labor of love.

Whether it is paid work outside our homes, the work of raising children and caring for our elderly, maintaining and cleaning our dwellings, making sure we have food to eat and prepared, or the work of our particular purpose in life—all hold the potential to be a labor of love.  And when I say labor, I mean hard work.

Imagine doing the hard work of our lives with an open, giving, heart — a heart that is thankful for the physical ability to work; a heart that feels the blessing found in order, completion, accountability, and responsibility; a heart that desires to serve others, to create beauty, to get the job done whether cleaning the bathroom or negotiating a corporate deal.

Hard work requires discipline.

Discipline is being willing to sacrifice our comfort to complete the tasks on our plate in life.

potatosI was born into an extended family of farmers in Idaho. My brothers and cousins started driving trucks anywhere from age 6 to 8.  When it was harvest season everyone worked long hours to bring in the crops to market.  School was closed for two weeks during the harvest because every set of hands was needed.

Truckloads of potatoes bumped along conveyor belts to be sorted and then packed into burlap bags. Huge farms trucks rumbled over the dirt roads to carry the crop from the field to the dirt cellars where the potatoes were stored and processed. Work began before sunrise and ended long after sunset during harvest.

There was purpose in this. The difficult work of farming fed our families by helping to feed the world.

It is easy to get lazy in life, and downtime is also essential, but success in earning a living, raising a family, running a home, requires the sacrifice of sustained effort.  Work can be physical or emotional labor.  It means to bring something to pass or into a desired form.  In my family work simply meant “that which needs to be done.”

potato-heartOur love can be made manifest through work by creating a benefit or blessing for others or ourselves.  Our love comes through our labor by full presence to the task and creativity in how it is carried out.

When Brian and I raised our family, everyone worked.  We had job charts and allowances and the normal things families do to encourage helping and discipline.

Forever imprinted in my mind is my daughter Maria cleaning the bathroom in her roller skates while she pretended to be doing “The Cleaning with Maria” show. Her work was thorough and meticulous and as she rolled from task to task she would stop to educate her “audience” by explaining what she was doing in the bathroom mirror.  “First you soak your rag in hot water while you get the cleanser.  Sprinkle the cleanser like this” she demonstrated to the mirror, “when you are done fold the washcloth taking it by the corners; always take it by the corners!”

Ironically, Maria is now a filmmaker. I can’t say how clean her bathroom is, but when she is in the middle of shooting and editing a film she works long hours and is completely focused, with an attention to detail (corners!), until the work is finished and high quality. It is a labor of love and the love radiates from every film she has produced.  To view one of her films, Guerilla Fire, follow link https://vimeo.com/68909134

Getting started is often the most difficult part of work.  Part of us longs to do something else.  We are daunted by the tasks at hand—or bored!  We have a big story in our heads about how hard the work will be. We procrastinate and avoid and pay the price by our messes and missed deadlines.

The issue of engaging ourselves in “low interest” tasks was addressed at a recent workshop on Attention Deficit Disorder I attended presented by Greg Crosby, a professional mental health counselor, trainer, professor, and consultant. “Action activates motivation,” he said. Studies have shown that within 30-90 seconds after starting a task norepinephrine and serotonin are released into the blood stream invigorating us and producing motivation.  Greg encourages people to set a start time for work and simply start; the motivation will soon follow.

He also recommends setting a stop time so that there is balance in life. This is important because work has the potential to become compulsive or addictive—a way to manage unaddressed feelings that are calling for our presence versus activity.  When it takes this construed form it becomes harmful to us, and those around us.

At age 18, I moved to Vancouver, Washington to live with my brother Rodney, (who is 17 years older than me) his wife Jean, and their five children.  Becoming part of their family was joyful and transformative.  My parents had died and I had gone through some very difficult life trials. Rod and Jean were frugal, hardworking, and a ton of fun.  They laughed a lot and had an incredibly positive outlook on life.

Unknown-1I already knew how to work hard, but they taught me important life skills I lacked.  Jean was the first person to teach me now to cook and helped me start my first recipe book.  Rod, who was the head basketball coach at Clark College, believed in getting up early, getting your work done and then expanding your world through recreation.

And that was the family pattern.  They would wake us at around 7 a.m. to eat a home cooked breakfast together.  After breakfast all the tasks for the day were written on pieces of paper and divided up. Then we pitched in and went to work.   The family raised a garden every year, canned, and sewed their clothes.  So there was always plenty of yard work and housework. We finished early in the afternoon and then it was time for play! And for everyone, parents included!

It was during those summer afternoons on family outings that I first saw cargo ships on the Columbia River and discovered the awe inspiring collection of books at Powell’s used book store in Portland, OR.  (It is now called Powell’s City of Books and is one of the largest used bookstores in the country. You will find me there often!) We picked wild blackberries together and made pies, explored Fort Vancouver, went to the beach, hiked in the forest, and participated in numerous sports.

Camera Van GoghThis perfect combination of work and recreation offered me stabilization, renewal, a sense of accomplishment, and bushels of joy. Truly, their “adoption” of me was a labor of love in which I found healing in honest hard work and the spontaneity of rejuvenating recreation.

Our perception of work can be transformed into something fulfilling, rather than a dreaded task. That shift happens when we focus on work as a vehicle to serve and to love. Our tasks can be viewed as our “offerings” to self and others. All work can be meaningful when seen through this lens.

And without work, play is not play, and loses it vitality.  The tension of these opposites creates a vibrant and dynamic life, an opportunity to embrace rather than avoid as we go about our labors of love.

 

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