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 March, 2014

Serenity

From Sorting the Pieces of Your Life, A Woman’s Guide to Simplicity, Order, Renewal, and Trust

“Peace is present right here and now, in ourselves and in everything we do and see. Every breath we take, every step we take, can be filled with peace, joy, and serenity. The question is whether or not we are in touch with it. We need only to be awake, alive in the present moment.” ― Tich Nhat Hanh, Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life

Do you ever have fantasies of running away? Do you imagine living in a small cottage on a beautiful, serene 525_10201648544560582_34680106_n-1island?   Would you like to escape the relentless tug of other people’s needs, or of constantly being ‘on’?  Have you lost your self and think you could find her if you just had even 15 uninterrupted minutes alone?

The answer is not found in running away.  The answer is the bedrock of all recovery: SERENITY.  Our inner emotional world can be afloat in the flotsam of unhealthy habits, compulsions, obsessions, and addictions.  Somewhere on the surf we might also find anxiety, resentments, and the sticky muck of shame and guilt.

Digging The Vegetable GardenRecently I reconnected with an old friend I haven’t seen in years. She has faced enormous trauma and tragedy in her life and yet what I felt most in her presence was serenity. She did, in fact, run away so to say. But rather than running away from herself, she was returning to herself.  She retreated from the everyday pressures of her old life and found work gardening.  Her soul bathed in the peace of being alone yet connected to nature.  As she worked she prayed. And prayed. And prayed some more.

And gradually she found herself restored to serenity, and fully reengaged with life.

Life is difficult and it is so easy to seek self-soothing through unhealthy habits, addictions, compulsions and obsessive thoughts.  Anxiety often underlies these emotional escape mechanisms.

Let’s look at a few definitions:

Addiction is overdependence on a substance or activity that interferes with our life and can cause a physiological dependence that leads to withdrawal symptoms if the addiction is stopped. People persist in addiction despite negative consequences in life.  They are drawn by the pleasure the addiction offers, but as deeper work is done, uncomfortable emotion precedes addictive behavior. Despite the temporary pleasure, a person becomes owned by the addiction and as they say in Narcotics Anonymous, “One pill is too many and a thousand are never enough.”

ocd2Compulsion is a persistent, uncontrollable impulse to perform a stereotyped, irrational act that is not necessarily pleasurable. The compulsion is engaged in to find relief from obsessive thinking. But one can never wash one’s hands enough to be free from those thoughts.  Compulsive behavior can also include engaging in any recurring activity to manage our feelings. But compulsions usually end up managing us!

 An Unhealthy Habit is any systemically repeated behavior pattern performed automatically, or without thinking that causes a person negative consequences.

All of these dysfunctional conditions have something in common: They take us away from ourselves.

Serenity is a way of coming home to our true self.  We claim serenity when we come to our own assistance,008_IMG_1083_B instead of abandoning ourselves through destructive behaviors. We learn healthy self-soothing practices. We become very familiar with the feeling of peace and how it is created in our lives. We learn that vital to serenity is accepting what is.  That doesn’t mean that ‘what is’ is alright, but it is, in this moment, reality. We don’t overcome our realities by escaping.

Mary O’Malley, author of The Gift of Our Compulsions, A Revolutionary Approach to Self-Acceptance and Healing, successfully overcame a lifetime struggle with compulsion. It brought her to a place she could write these words: “I trust myself  . . .  I also trust my life. I know how to wake up each morning and open to the unfolding of my day—both the easy and the difficult parts of it—aware that whatever shows up is a part of my journey into an ever-deepening connection with life.”

When we trust ourselves, our lives, our God or Higher Power, our anxiety lifts.  While conscious effort is required in life, controlling is not. As we let go we feel the hummingbird energy of anxiety gently fly away.

But trusting ourselves can be especially difficult. We are often held back by fear. The unknown is daunting. And fresh-spring-bud-green-powerpoint-templates,1366x768,65328past mistakes can cause us to doubt ourselves.  Despite our humanity, we can hold onto trust by meeting ourselves with compassion and curiosity. Our past is no longer baggage, but compost—a natural fertilizer from which we can blossom.

I wanted to run away this week. I couldn’t without being completely irresponsible, so instead I ran to my journal for a bit.  In my writing I found clarity and formed an intention to say “no” to requests for my time that carry me away from my purpose.  I increased my commitment to continue paring down an excess of possessions that complicate life. I decided I am going to stop rushing, that I am going to exit—wherever possible—the impossible pace of life in our culture.

I vowed to seek serenity each day through stillness, more self-awareness, acceptance, prayer, sacred study, and offering myself the gift of my own presence.

It is time to fully come home to ourselves and to therein find spirit, peace, and serenity, the bedrock of emotional health.

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The House of Self

From Sorting the Pieces of Your Life, A Woman’s Guide to Simplicity, Order, Renewal, and Trust

“If I know one thing for sure, it’s that you can do small things inside your mind that will lead to big changes in your brain and your experience of living. When you change your brain, you change your life.” – Rick Hanson, Ph.D., Buddha’s Brain, the Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, & Wisdom

Molecular ThoughtsJust as our homes get cluttered and disorderly, complicating and disturbing our lives, our brains can develop patterns of thought and action that make our lives more difficult.

To experience long-term success in the ordering and improving of our material world requires a deep internal sorting and ordering as well.

We have explored techniques for creating simplicity and order in our homes. Now we focus our lens on the mental and emotional patterns that complicate our lives. We move from ‘physical housekeeping,’ to ‘emotional housekeeping.’

This past week I talked with a woman who had become suicidal despite enormous progress on her part in becoming self-sufficient. Another woman had an alcoholic relapse after a relationship she thought was going to lead to marriage suddenly seemed to be over.  A third woman was on the verge of abandoning an amazing creative project she has been working on for a year because of a disillusioning realization and self-doubt.

Each of these scenarios shines a light on the power our brains hold in creating an inner-narrative that is damaging.

121-feng-shui-buddha-painting-2We begin, as Buddha said, to ‘Be the change you want to see,’ when we take responsibility for our own mental and emotional clutter, our own shadows, and the personal wars we fight within ourselves.

We all have a mental dialogue going on inside of our heads that rarely stops. Part of being human is learning how to pilot that voice so it doesn’t commandeer us down destructive paths.

“You’re ready to grow when you finally realize that the ‘I’ who is always talking inside will never be content,” writes Michael A. Singer in The Untethered Soul, The Journey Beyond Yourself.  “Honestly, when was the last time you really had nothing bothering you?”

The question I pose for your reflection today is simply, “What is holding me back in life?”

My own answer is, “The stories I tell myself.”

Whenever a loved one is late arriving home, my automatic default thought is, “There must have been a car accident!” That is leftover wreckage from the trauma of losing my father in a car accident at age 16 when he never came home from work.

Before I went to therapy I could quickly become hysterical by this old outdated story.  With therapy I learned to take several quick mental actions to calm my own ‘scary story.’

First I learned to merely observe the thought versus attach to it.  I did that by saying to myself, “Oh, there’s spiritual-meditation-women-greenthat old story again.”  This immediately creates emotional distance between the thought and the part of me that is observing the thought. That second part of me feels more wise and most importantly, safe!  This intervention comes from Mindfulness Training.

Next I learned to create in advance, ‘a balanced view’ as they call it in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), so I would be ready for those moments that tapped into my own trauma.  My balanced view is simply, “Whatever life hands me, I will get through it.”  This is self-calming and helps me avoid lapsing into my own destructive behaviors.

Some of the emotional and mental problems that hold us back include the ‘Bermuda Triangle’ of human dysfunction: Addiction/Compulsion/Bad Habits and also such challenges as depressions and anxiety. Negative thinking, procrastination, low self-esteem, and over-involvement with our ego can also plague us.  All of these conditions carry us away from our true self. These will be our focus in chapters ahead.

Returning to the three women I mentioned earlier: the woman who was suicidal was able to redirect her suicidal ideation by developing a strategy for the next 24 hours. To avoid any self- harm she agreed to have a relative spend the night and to focus her thoughts on an important positive event that is coming up in her life.

The woman who had turned to drinking because of her perceived end of a relationship was able to see another Alcoholics-Anonymous-meetingpossibility as we explored what had happened.  The so called “ending” was vague and preceded by an unfinished conversation. Perhaps her partner hadn’t been heard and was only distancing from her. She considered the possibility he needed her to reach out to him with some reassurance. With her expanded story, she felt more empowered and less helpless. She committed to pouring out her remaining alcohol and going to an AA meeting to get back on track with her recovery.

Our young female artist was willing to consider that, despite the failure arrows her inner-critic was shooting into her heart, the delusion she had been immersed in was not a hindrance to her art, but rather, a part of the creative process itself.  She saw that her awakening, though sobering to her, was taking her to the next level of truth-telling through her art which would make it more authentic and alive.  She reconnected with her trust of the creative process which always has a life of its own!

Our true nature is beautiful, pure, and wise. We can trust her. And we can reclaim her by bravely meeting and transforming the inner-obstacles in the house of self.

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Creating Home

From Sorting the Pieces of Your Life, A Woman’s Guide to Simplicity, Order, Renewal, and Trust

“The need for home lies deep in the human heart . . . Few things are more important than finding a home and working at it constantly to make it resonate with deep memories and fulfill deep longings.”  –Thomas Moore, The Re-enchantment of Everyday Life

6a00e54f0ccd95883401156f1e5f5d970c-700wiHome is simply one’s place of residence, but it can be so much more. To be ‘at home’ is to be comfortable, relaxed, in harmony with the surroundings.

In this chapter we explore what it means to create home. When I think of home I think of a place that is welcoming, feels comfortable, and is a refuge—a place that provides shelter or protection. That is what my childhood home felt like.

It was modest, but to pass through its portal was to enter a place of peace, and beauty, that had been lovingly cared for.  It was a white clapboard two-story with dark green shutters at the windows, and flower boxes underneath abloom with lilies-of-the-valley. Inside it was clean and orderly and my mother’s attention to detail was obvious—black wallpaper covered with a sea of red and pink blooming roses adorned the bathroom. Accessories were picked to match.

Once a week my father mowed the lawn with a push mower.  As he pushed he would sweat profusely, but take a clean white handkerchief out of his pocket to wipe his brow.  As he mowed, I gathered the fresh cut grass into piles that I turned into little villages of huts. My mother would care for the garden tending to the hollyhocks and lilac bushes. I would create dolls with hollyhock skirts to inhabit my grass village.  I felt secure and loved in my home.  Enchantment arises for me as my fingers tap out the memory.

My parents worked hard.  My mother was a surgical nurse and my father taught school and always had some kind of second job. But their attention to our dwelling has stayed with me for a lifetime.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not the perfect housekeeper.  Our house gets messy.  Whether I am cooking or writing I seem to have my tools and resources spread out everywhere.  But the yearning for order and beauty always pulls me back to  tidiness.

stones-windowsill_300Creating beauty can be as simple as gathering an armful of flowers into a bouquet, placing a single white pebble or white feather in a windowsill, or starting a collection of heart-shaped rocks that are placed in an unusual bowl.

When artist and author J. Ruth Gendler was young she had a hard time sorting out the qualities of beauty. “I often wanted to distance myself from what I considered our culture’s superficial emphasis on appearances.  Equating beauty with something fancy and inaccessible didn’t make sense with my experience of the abundance of beauty,” she writes in Notes on the Need for Beauty, An Intimate Look at an Essential Quality.

While beauty can arise in the midst of chaos, order creates a simple backdrop in which beauty can truly bloom.

And therein lies the challenge, finding the time and discipline to create order. Order, is a practice. It may not be second nature for many of us. We start small. Creating even a little order makes a difference.

Over the many years of creating home, I have adopted three practices that have helped me enormously: A weekly planning session, a weekly foundation day, and a daily routine.

flowersinkitchen2Once a week, I take 15 minutes and loosely map out my week. I look over my work schedule and see when it will be possible to attend to the needs of life, work, and home. I block out windows of time for some advance meal preparation, getting groceries, caring for the house etc.  I also make several quick to-do lists for the week: Errands, Calls, Tasks, and Meals. Having a loose structure for the week saves me a lot of mental misery and real time crisis.

Once a week, I spend either a portion of the day or the entire day, depending on what time I have available for housekeeping, to lay a foundation for the week.  A foundation is a base upon which something is supported.  The rest of life is made easier if some time is prioritized for cleaning, laundry, and meal planning. I usually make a couple of meals during that time.  (My freezer has lots of batches of homemade soups that were simmering while I folded laundry.)  While we were raising our children, they all had chores.  By our mutual choice, I have always primarily been responsible for running the home and my husband has had areas he is in charge of. But we both help each other.

The Daily Routine was explained in Chapter 9 last week.  But briefly it is just doing a quick pick up of the house every day, throwing in a load of laundry, loading the dishwasher, and deciding what to have for dinner.

6a00d83451e8d469e2016305c5577e970dThese practices create a foundation that supports the many other aspects of our lives—our families and their nurturing, our work, other relationships, the development of our talents and the pursuit of our goals.  And these practices have heft in creating a sense of home that is welcoming and peaceful—with a unique beauty all its own.

Last summer when I was in Idaho Falls, my home town, I drove to my childhood home. I felt sick with disappointment at the neglect it had suffered.  The house was dirty and in need of paint and repair.  The lawn was brown and had tire tracks across it. I knew I could never return again.

But when I returned home to Vancouver and walked through the door of our little dwelling, I felt glad- hearted, peaceful, a sense of security—all the feelings I had felt as a child when I walked into the lovely home my parents created.

I invite you to take some time this week and reflect on what home and order mean to you. What were your experiences of home growing up? How does it feel in your present home?  What would you like to create or change to improve the level of order and beauty in your home? What commitments could you make to support your vision of home?

I leave you with a cherished traditional blessing a reader once sent me regarding home.

May the longtime sun shine upon you,
all love surround you,
may the clear light within you,
guide you
on your way home.

(Traditional Blessing)

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Catching the Rhythm of Life

From Sorting the Pieces of Your Life, A Woman’s Guide to Simplicity, Order, Renewal, and Trust

“Just trust yourself, then you will know how to live.” – Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

 It all started with a palette of primroses. I nuzzled my nose into the soft velvet of their petals—crimson, purple, yellow, and fuchsia. Oh the economy of such wonder at just 60 cents a pot!  Why resist?

Potting primroses was not a part of the plan that day.

In the last chapter I posed the question: How do our lives get so chaotic at times and what is our part in that?

One definition of chaos is simply, ‘any state of disorder.’ It also claims the definition, ‘utter confusion.’ And Webster adds that chance plays a part in chaos.

imagesThus my primrose dilemma…what would it do to my day to take on the responsibility of primroses?  They certainly were a chance happening, there had been snow recently.

And so it happens with our lives.  We are committed to schedules, plans, a way to maintain order in what can be a very chaotic world, or even household. And then opportunities, interruptions, and distractions come along.

Order, unlike chaos, gives us structure, things are in their place, and a plan is holding it all together.

The challenge is how to maintain order in a chaotic world—one that makes constant bids for our time and attention. With an allotment of 24 hours in a day how does one decide between the competing needs and desires of life?

A little over 35 years ago I became a mother. I could not have been more surprised at how I would feel when I 72984039first held my new daughter in my arms—I was instantly head over heels in love.  And I could not have been less prepared for the 24 hour-a-day demands of motherhood and running a home.  Annie was a miracle, but in short order I had let the house become a mess. I had no idea how to create order in the midst of the chaos my life had become.  I was behind on every household chore, could barely get a shower in each day, and was in utter confusion over what had happened to my previous competence!

I had numerous resources to put things in perspective (I was in a major life transition and things would get better!), but there were not many sources offering me a strategy, until I opened the bright yellow cover of a little paperback book called simply, Nursing Your Baby, by Karen Pryor, a biologist, and a mother.

“It’s not the dirt and dust that get us down,” she wrote, “it’s the mess and clutter and disorganization in the house.” She taught that just a few simple practices to create order were possible.

a_mother_making_the_bed_LV0149014aThis was her strategy: Make your bed first thing. Put the dirty dishes in the sink in warm soapy water (yes, last night’s dishes too.) Do a quick pick up of the house.  (We are not talking deep cleaning, just removing clutter.) Clean off the bathroom counter and fixtures with alcohol, then throw in a load of laundry, and decide what to have for dinner.

She said this would take 15 minutes.  Many days for me, I didn’t have it done until noon.  But I can’t say that was a problem because I knew my real priority.

Knowing what our most important priorities are can give us the confidence to trust ourselves and be able to quickly pause and see if our desires are leading us into a promising possibility we couldn’t have first imagined, or a disastrous distraction that would make us late for our own daughter’s wedding!

There is a rhythm to life that is bigger than all of us.  Feeling its gentle tug can be a source of trust or tension depending on how well we know ourselves and our values.

185I went on a walk in the rain yesterday with my third daughter, Amanda. She is in the hectic years of raising children, juggling work, and pulled by the competing needs of a woman’s life.  We talked about the creative tension of life.

“Sometimes you don’t need to sort out the pieces of the puzzle,” she said, “you can let it sort itself out.”

There is a way we can step back and catch the flow and rhythm of life, allowing it to carry us to outcomes that in the end are meant to be.

In my own life, Karen Pryor’s advice to me as a new mother transformed into a life practice I began to call ‘The Daily Routine.’  It was a physical practice carried out each day that created some confidence as I opened up to the unexpected possibilities and problems that would most surely follow.

The Daily Routine consists of a quick pick up of the house, loading the dishwasher, deciding in the morning what to have for dinner, throwing in a load of wash, and getting myself and my children ready for the day.  A routine flat,550x550,075,f.u5when practiced regularly for a while eventually becomes a habit which we carry out without having to think about it.  By creating a routine for what has to be done, whether it’s putting the children to bed, cleaning the kitchen after dinner, or getting a few things ready in advance for work or school the next day—we create basic order in our homes and lives that allows for the unexpected. That foundation gives us the solid base we need to let go and catch the rhythm of life.

We can adapt such practices to the specific circumstances of our lives.  Some may do their daily routing in the evening instead of morning; others, as was the case in our home, have their children help; and some people hire help.

The primroses are planted. They patiently waited on the porch for a couple of days. Then spontaneously, a moment opened up where I was able to putter and take my time creating different combinations of colors in different pots to cluster around the entrance to our home. I was so glad I had listened to myself and bought them, so that they were right there ready to go when I had the gift of some unexpected free time. The natural flow of life had unfolded right at my door!

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A Secure Base

From Sorting the Pieces of Your Life: A Woman’s Guide to Simplicity, Order, Renewal, and Trust

“In any weather, at any hour of the day or night, I have been anxious to improve the nick of time and notch it on my stick too; to stand on the meeting of two eternities, the past and future, which is precisely the present moment . . .”
–Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Life is complicated.

This morning I woke up with the luxury of a wide expanse of time before me . . . or so I thought.  I had my Primroses_(c)_Edwina_Beaumont-Plantlife_lo-resplans. I would weave my week of ruminating and studying into the fabric of this chapter. I would go on a bike ride. I would pot the new primroses I purchased yesterday.

But life had other plans for me . . . an urgent call from a grandson needing some help, a trip back to the store I had been to yesterday for an essential item I’d forgotten, some financial housekeeping that needed our attention today . . . you get the drift, because it happens to all of us.

I am a person who says no. But I am also flexible and can recognize a priority when I see one. And I am guilty of heeding the call of numerous distractions.

As we envision living life from a place of simplicity and order; as we imagine experiencing renewal in our lives and being able to trust life’s process more fully; questions arise.

How do our lives become unduly complicated and how to we contribute to that process?

How do our lives get so chaotic at times and what is our part in that?

As we consider renewal we can contemplate: What holds me back in life?

As we think about the possibility of trusting more we can ponder the power fear has over us. What might happen if we trusted more and feared less?

Considering these questions, it became clear that to create more simplicity, order, renewal, and trust we need a secure base from which we launch.

Henry David Thoreau, who lived from 1817 to 1862, was a Harvard graduate, an American author, poet, walden-pondphilosopher, teacher, and transcendentalist, among many other roles.  He is best known for his book Walden, a reflection on simple living in natural surroundings.

Thoreau embarked on his two-year experiment in simple living on July 4, 1845, when he moved to a small, self-built house on land owned by Ralph Waldo Emerson, one of his mentors, in a forest on Walden Pond.  He began this bold venture to sort out the pieces of his life after some disheartening experiences, and to spend more time writing.

I have my own longings for retreat, but like many of us, my retreat is found in the brief spaces of every day life.  I read the quote at the top of this chapter early one morning a few days ago as I was eating a bowl of oatmeal and blueberries, quietly considering my own conundrums in life.  His words felt as still as Walden upon my soul. I was, for those few minutes, completely present to my experience.

simplicity-in-natureThoreau reminded me that our power, transformation, and fulfillment in life is found right here, right now.  Staying present to each moment offers us a secure base. The past no longer exists; the future has yet to arrive. Our true experience is the present. And yet, we are often mentally tromping around in the past and longing for or agonizing about the future.

Today when I returned to my original agenda after the flurry of activity created by circumstance, I felt an energetic rush swelling in me for my writing. To my surprise all my swirling thoughts from the past week about this book now seemed to circumscribe into one great whole.

With no poster board in the house, I unfurled a roll of Christmas wrapping paper, white side up, on the dining red_winged_blackbird_by_fileboy-d4u2l4eroom table and began to write. Through the window I noticed a quartet of red-winged blackbirds perched on our multi-layer bird feeder for a feast.  My feast was found in the form of my ideas written in a rainbow of colors and a plethora of shapes, arrows, and stars.

As I looked at it, I realized that the call of life’s agenda for me, had given my brain the exact retreat it needed to organize its own thoughts!

As we travel this journey together, our secure base can be full presence to our experience. As many times as we are distracted or as priorities change we can return to the foundation of this moment.

Walden said of his retreat, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.”

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