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 November, 2013

In the Company of Other Women

With the support of other women you can do practically anything!” – Lynn Andrews, Flight of the Seventh Moon

7146298-lgThe road unfurled before my headlights like a strand of silver ribbon, and a golden crescent moon hung in the deep charcoal sky as I drove through the countryside.  I was heading to a gathering of woman to start my Thanksgiving baking.

When I arrived the kitchen was already a flurry of activity.  A young married woman was delicately braiding dough into a border for pumpkin pie. Her mother, a therapist friend of mine was chopping apples for Waldorf Salad. A 38-year-old graduate student was melting chocolate in a double boiler for French silk pie.  A striking red head in her sixties was talking about her work with juvenile offenders as she kneaded dough for rolls.

I found an empty cupboard in the large bright country kitchen and began unloading frozen blackberries, carefully picked the summer before, to prepare cobbler.

This gathering of women to do our holiday baking en mass was not about increasing our efficiency or upping our production rate.  This night was about sharing the company of other women.  It was also a time to remember the women who had come before us and whose tradition we carried on—mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and sisters.

quilting-bee-1As a small child growing up in rural Idaho, I remember my grandmother, Emma Landon Gibbs, setting up the quilt frame in her living room for a quilting bee. Silently I would sit listening under the shadow of the latest colorful quilt pieced together from the useable patterned fabric from clothes no longer worn.  As needles quickly flew up and down through the stretched kaleidoscope of fabric, the women chatted cheerily about their children, their marriages, and running their households.  Sometimes the mood turned grave as concern was expressed for difficult pregnancies, premature deaths, and poverty.

It was in that company of women that I was introduced to a world where women delivered each other’s babies, nursed the sick, and prepared the dead for burial.  From swaddling to shroud, women were on the front lines of life lending support. Their sisters supported their own survival, whether by blood or bond.

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Now we live in a world with automatic bread makers and microwaves. Professionals deliver our babies.  Our connection is loosely formed by posts on Facebook and Twitter. . . or text messages with smiley faces. Quilting is an art form more than a necessity, but I’m convinced we need the support of other women more than ever.

It was women—Brenda, Jean, and Liz, who helped me get school clothes and supplies for college. It was new women friends who gladly shared their tips about pregnancy and childbirth. It was a woman with two bashful children clinging to her legs, and a pot of soup in her arms, who welcomed us into our first home. My mother-in-law, Beth, came to stay with us when new babies arrived, taking over the care of the siblings and the running of the house.

7-travels_big-pie-country-pies_1500x993Returning to the kitchen of communal cooking…by 1 a.m. the counter was lined with a dozen beautiful pies and a cobbler, the fridge was full of salads, the smell of fresh rolls filled the kitchen.  We had talked our way through the night exploring everything from rebellious teenagers to unreasonable professors.  Now we sat at the table sipping raspberry cocoa and reminiscing about the first women we knew—our mothers.

“I was so amazed at how many people were at her funeral,” one woman said, “I hadn’t realized how many lives she had touched.”

“She always used to make jokes that weren’t funny,” another said. “And then she would laugh and laugh and everyone around her would start laughing.”

“She did everything she could to make sure I had the blessing of college since she didn’t get to go,” another added.

“Her pies were perfect!”

Diving home through the dark night I felt renewed and hopeful.  The gathering had been holy.  In the company of other women the deep essence of my womanhood had been nurtured and fed.

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The Gift of a Good Book

“In books I have traveled, not only to other worlds, but into my own.  I learned who I was and who I wanted be, what I might aspire to, and what I might dare to dream about my world and myself.” –Anna Quindlen, author, columnist

fabritiusIt is 5:30 a.m. and I am awake again, scrambling back to the enthralling pages of The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt.   I have been hurtling back and forth throughout the night between sleeping and reading, engrossed in a book so compelling I feel as if I have been cast into a spell. I must get to the end!

And I don’t want it to end!  I have fallen in love with these characters – brave little Theo who wanders stoically through his “Dickinsonian” life – orphaned, impoverished, but supported and held by a cast of characters so strong and present it’s as though they are real people that I know and either love or revile in all of their complexities.

Donna Tartt, a sheer genius of a writer, has come to inhabit my world.  Each insight of her characters holds relevance to my life; each experience they live through inspires and deepens my own outlook.  By the time I reach the ending, just before dawn, tears are streaming down my face and I already fear the void I am certain will be impossible to fill with any other boAnd such it is with reading . . . .

With my mother’s death at 8-years-old, I found myself in a new life where I was alone a lot and un-mothered.  I turned to books as one way to learn how to live life. Books in a way became my mothers.

71yxy+GInuLI whiled away the hours reading Bird Girl, Sacagawea by Flora Warren Seymour, and Heidi, by Johanna Spyri, the story of a Swiss girl who is raised by her grandfather after her parents die.

At age 13, with my father remarried, I started Junior High School. School was a crucial escape to me with its books, teachers, and the possibility of friends. I had no idea how to fit in, yet understood that fitting in meant survival. I found a dusty copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie in my father’s den and read it. I made a fool of myself at cheerleader tryouts, but did make a couple of friends – one who is still in my life.

When I was 22, just out of college, and now working as a newspaper reporter, I moved into my first apartment. I didn’t know how to cook. So I bought a Good Housekeeping Cookbook, followed its instructions, and cooked my first casserole. The cookbook is still in my kitchen, food-stained pages mostly intact, cover long-gone.

And all along the way, novels transported me to distant shores far away from my own trouble that held new perspectives and possibilities. I remember skipping school to finish reading Gone with the Wind, or hiding books within a textbook during class, so attached was I to story.  With the narrow lens of my own difficult story in life, Margaret Mitchell showed me the universal theme of trials and triumphs in all humankind.

“Reading makes immigrants of us all,” wrote author Hazel Rochman, “it takes us away from home, but most important, it finds homes for us everywhere.

My daughter Sarah is part of two book groups and is considering a third. After receiving her bachelor’s degree in 1452063_10152032115415746_512153966_nTherapeutic Recreation, she worked in an inpatient treatment facility for troubled boys.  Later, she married and had two boys of her own and then most recently a daughter.  By choice, she left career, to be a stay-at-home mom.  Her life, with her husband Grant, took her to family housing both at Stanford University in California and then to University of Michigan where her husband has been working on advanced degrees.

Sarah loves being a mother and is deeply committed to her own intellectual, spiritual, and emotional wellbeing. Book groups in both places have provided her with the perfect forum. “I like the camaraderie,” she told me recently, “and how reading expands the mind.”

The groups themselves have also offered her expansion.  Her fellow readers have included people from all over Women-Reading-bookgroupregistrythe world, from every religious and political perspective, and from varied walks of life – just like the books they read.

“I form my own opinion about the book, and then I go to the book club and someone has the opposite opinion.” she told me, “It’s very enlightening! It teaches you to accept life’s differences, to see a person who has another perspective, and to realize other opinions you may not have considered.

“Our groups have developed such deep intimacy,” she said. “We are painfully vulnerable as we explore new ideas.  I feel safe at my book clubs, searching for the answers I need in life.”

One of the most memorable and searing books her book club has read recently is Half the Sky, Turning Half_the_Sky_(book)Oppression into Opportunity for Women World Wide, by the husband and wife Pulitzer-prize- winning journalism team, Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. The book is described as “a passionate call to arms against the oppression of women around the globe.”

“It was difficult to read,” she said, “but it opened my eyes to problems in the world I want to acknowledge, even as I am working through my own challenges.”

Returning to The Goldfinch, it’s a book that explores the art world, but a book about life. It documents the unfolding of a dear and complicated character from childhood to adulthood, while engaging the reader in a thrilling suspense that is not resolved until the end of the hefty book (771 pages of pure bliss!)  But to me it is also a book about writing and reading. Tartt writes in its pages: “Whatever teaches us to talk to ourselves is important: whatever teaches us to sing ourselves out of our despair . . . we can speak to each other across time.  And I feel I have something very serious and urgent to say to you, my non-existent reader, and I feel I should say it as urgently as if I were standing in the room with you.  That life – whatever else it is, is short. . that maybe even if we’re not always so glad to be here, it’s our task to immerse ourselves anyway: wade straight through it . . . while keeping eyes and hearts open.

Its words like this that help me carry on, words that keep me reading.

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The Power of Pausing

“In the relentless busyness of modern life, we have lost the rhythm between work and rest.”  – Wayne Mueller, author and lecturer

jtg8qslmptz_originalOn a recent Saturday morning my husband, Brian, and I hopped on our bikes and headed down a tree lined lane.  Golden leaves spangled in the sun’s rich autumnal glow. A gentle breeze caressed our faces.

Only the tweets and twitters of the birds broke the morning’s sweet silence. I felt free, unfettered from the never-ending ‘to-do’ list of life.

As we rode we came across something rarely seen in the crush of our cultural commerce – an empty parking lot in front of a closed store.  Eerie in its oddity, we knew that the owners close every Saturday so that they and their employees can honor the Sabbath of their religion – The Seventh Day Adventists.

Both fifties’ kids, we remembered the time when Sunday was slow and surreal in its quiet and calm.  Streets were empty.  Stores were closed. People, dressed in their Sunday best, walked to church – the Catholics, the Lutherans, the Methodists, the Mormons, and others. It was the ‘Sabbath.’

We wondered out loud: “Whatever happened to Sunday in America?”

UnknownNow, Sunday is just another day.  People are working, stores are open, and the incessant activity of American life continues to buzz along.

“Our culture invariably supposes that action and accomplishment are better than rest, that doing something – anything – is better than doing nothing,” writes Wayne Muller, in his book, Sabbath, Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest. “Poisoned by this hypnotic belief that good things come only through unceasing determination and tireless effort,” he continues, “we can never truly rest.  And for want of rest our lives are in danger.”

Sabbath comes from the Hebrew word, Shabbat, and means rest, cessation, or stopping.

What an idea, stopping . . .  or even pausing.  In our technology obsessed world we are always ‘on.’

Unknown-1A movement to slow down is taking root in America. The Sabbath Manifesto, www.sabbathmanifesto.org, is a “creative project designed to slow down lives in an increasingly hectic world,” by a group of “young Jewish artists, and others” according to their site. The manifesto includes such principles as avoiding technology and commerce, nurturing our health, getting outside, finding silence, giving back, lighting candles, partaking of bread and wine.

This year they sponsored a national day of “unplugging” and a website and newsletter called ‘Undo’ at www.undolist.com and on Facebook which offers alternative restful activities to replace work.

Being busy has become somewhat of a badge of honor and importance in our work-driven world. But Muller reminds us that the Chinese pictograph for ‘busy’ is heart and killing.

By honoring the concept of a Sabbath—to cease, to rest—is to replenish our hearts, reground our lives, remember who we are, and receive quiet inspiration that ultimately adds essential direction to our lives. This unburdens us of the false belief that over-rest-van-goghworking is the only means to achieving and accomplishment. It can become a day of reflection and regeneration that enhances our work and our lives.

In the creation story of The Old Testament, even God rested for a day. This principle of ‘resting from our labors’ was so important it was one of The Ten Commandments that Moses brought down from the mountain on gold plates.

And, the Sabbath was a commemoration of the children of Israel’s freedom from bondage.  As slaves they were not allowed to take a day off or worship as they chose.  Free people can do both.

I wonder about our own shackles and what it would look like to set ourselves free for at least a day a week. We too have our own modern bondage.

Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk, poet, and social activist, has called our slavery to work “a pervasive form of contemporary violence.” He writes, “To allow one’s self to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit one’s self to too many projects is to succumb to violence . . . It destroys our inner capacity for peace.  It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”

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What we gain by pausing exceeds what we lose in our staunch cultural mantra to keep on working, shopping, doing. When we take time off from our duties for day or even a few hours, we create a nurturing flow of rest and rejuvenation. Time off could include spending face to face time with friends, relatives, or neighbors; writing letters and cards to loved ones; writing in a journal; reading sacred word; praying; spending time in nature; creating art;  playing music or singing; going for a walk; napping; meditating; attending a worship service.

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Photo by Carolyn Postelwait

A colleague of mine who has honored a Sabbath by attending church his entire life, spoke to me recently about how that practice has helped him to be less self- focused and more focused on others.  That has brought him a sense of purpose in life and happiness.

Several years ago he lived with his family in Beijing for a period of time on a work assignment.  They found a place where worship services for his faith were held close to their new home in China and began to attend.  Soon after, the country was hit with a SARS epidemic which caused illness and even death in many people.  Overnight, everyone was confined by the government to the housing compounds they lived in.

This man and his family held church in their home for other people in the same housing compound throughout the confinement. “My children still remember having other families in our home to worship and the calmness it brought to a scary situation,” he said.

Reclaiming a rhythm between work and rest, honoring needs that can’t be filled by constantly working, goes hand in hand with the process of gratitude I wrote about last week. Both require a slowing down, a pause that can feel divine in its fulfillment.  These practices are worth reflection and attention as we enter a holiday season that can be frantic and hectic in its over-reaching.

When we exit commerce, technology, and the unrelenting pressure of life, whether for a day or a few hours, we can reclaim a connection to that which is deeper, that which can ground us and revitalize us. When we shift the near constant focus on doing, getting, going, and working we are gifted with inner knowing, reflection, insight, wisdom, and a quiet sense of what really matters.

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The Transforming Power of Gratitude

“There was so much I was taking for granted. . . I didn’t want to continue to live unconsciously . . . when I looked at my life with open eyes I saw that I had much for which to be grateful. . . how could I expect more from the universe when I didn’t appreciate what I already had?” –Sarah Ban Breathnach, Simple Abundance

Excitement lit up the night as young trick-or-treaters dressed as Spider Man, Dorothy and Toto, witches, princesses, ghosts, and Dracula, trudged up the hill into the small town of White Salmon in Washington State. The sky was periwinkle and Mt. Hood in its stunning white cape reigned over the quaint town with majesty, a glowing jewel of a planet hovering near the tip.

Shop owners had thrown open their doors and welcomed the small wizards and ghouls with bulging bowls of candy.  The bookstore offered a free book to anyone aged 0 – 99.  The United Methodist Church had set up a “Halloween Hot Dog and Hot Chocolate Ministry!”

ar135190964269908The streets were crowded with a euphoric crowd streaming along. Many adults were also in costume, including the grade school principle as a towering king donned in dark blue flowing robes and a red velvet and gold bejeweled crown. Women wore witch hats, and at least one grandmother was spotted in a Halloween Sweater complete with a graveyard scene, bats, and a full yellow moon, embroidered on the black wool.

The sweet sense of community was joyfully contagious.  My heart was full as my grandchildren scurried around me with little squeals of glee over bags full of sweet treasure.  My own hands were full holding my free book, and balancing the hot chocolate and the first hot dog I’ve eaten in years.  Who could say no to such glad generosity?

As I made my way back to my car to go home, I was filled with gratitude for the good fortune to have been part of such a magical night.

With Thanksgiving approaching I’m recommitting to counting my blessings not just on a single designated day, but every day.

Gratitude is a transformational virtue and tool.

Grateful people tend to be the happiest according to Michael McCoullugh, Ph.D., one of the investigators on the Research Project on Gratitude and Thankfulness at the University of Miami. The research showed that participants who made note of the things they were grateful for reported feeling more energetic with a heightened sense of well-being.  They also felt more optimistic about their lives and were more likely to help others.

3066-1When Sarah Ban Breathnach started writing her book Simple Abundance, A Daybook of Comfort and Joy, she had just survived a serious accident — a ceiling tile fell on her head while she was eating in a restaurant.  Her injury led to soul searching. She realized she was discontented and frustrated with her life.  One day, she willed herself to leave her bedroom where she had been cloistered as she recovered.

Sitting at her kitchen table, she began an inventory of her life’s assets.  Her list grew until she had written down 100 things for which she was grateful.  It was the beginning of a life transformation and the basis of the book which became a national bestseller. In her book she wrote about how most of us, like the country song by Kathy Mattea states, are “standing knee-deep in a river and dying of thirst.”  She suggested starting a gratitude journal recording five new blessings every day.

I find myself swimming in the sea of human suffering daily in my work as a mental health counselor.  Many of the clients I see are struggling with conditions that started through no fault of their own such as abuse, trauma, accidents, and mental illness.  While there are many things in life over which our control is limited, we still possess the ability to direct our own attention.  As one of many interventions I often ask, “What are you paying attention to most? What could you focus your attention on that empowers you? Lifts your mood? Gives you hope?”

SG-JieHanKallawayTogether we gather new possibilities to direct their attention too – the loving arms of a mother who rocked them when they needed comfort; the freedom they felt as the wind blew through their hair running down a country road in autumn; the soft silence of night under their comforter as they gazed at the moon from their bedroom window; a beloved friend who made them laugh.

Gratitude generates hope and facilitates healing.

Gratitude is choosing to see the wonder of life versus the difficulties. That shift in focus changes our thoughts, which leads to a change in our feelings. As feelings change, actions change.  And when our actions change, our life changes.

James E. Faust, a religious leader who lived through the depression, recalled that he had the value of gratitude “burned into his soul” by his experiences with poverty.  “It developed in many, a spirit of gratitude for the meager simple things with which we were blessed, like hot homemade bread and oatmeal cereal.”   During that time the only soap they had was a strong, hard, foul-smelling soap his grandmother made from rendered animal fat and wood ashes.  “I have developed a daily appreciation for mild, sweet-scented soap,” he said.

_________________4c5f20f59e2d1-500x500Gratitude  deepens our awareness, helps us wake up to the small wonders of life whether it’s lilac scented soap to wash with or the miracle of a beating heart, ceaselessly lending us life, without any assistance from us.

When we’re grateful we focus on abundance instead of lack, what’s working instead of what’s not. We enter that state of grace in which we FEEL blessed. A shift in focus leads to gratitude and gratitude leads to a shift in focus.

Martin Short comedian and actor, puts it best,  “It’s not whether the glass is half empty, or half full,” he has said, “ I’m just so glad I have a glass!”

Many people take Thanksgiving Day to reconsider all they have to be thankful for, but what if that became the focus of all the days leading up to that holiday, in fact all the days beyond.  What if gratitude became a way of life?

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