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, 2014

Awakening to Gratitude

“Both abundance and lack exist simultaneously in our lives, as parallel realities. It is always our conscious choice which secret garden we will tend . . . when we choose not to focus on what is missing from our lives, but are grateful for the abundance that’s present . . . the wasteland of illusion falls away and we experience Heaven on earth.”
–Sarah Ban Breathnach – Simple Abundance

Sarah Ban Breathnach, an American author who helped millions of women start keeping a ‘gratitude journal,’ wasn’t always grateful herself.

514Tjs5uFWLA few years before she wrote her mega-bestseller, Simple Abundance, A Daybook of Comfort and Joy, she was the victim of a freak accident. Sitting in a restaurant, she was hit on the head by a falling ceiling tile. For weeks, as she recovered, she lay in her darkened bedroom discouraged and despairing.

Her injury led to soul searching. She realized she was discontented and frustrated with her life.

One day, as she began to feel a bit better, she got up, went to the kitchen table, and decided to take inventory of her life’s assets. She determined not to leave the table until she had written down 100 blessings. That list changed her perspective and her life. She awakened to the reality that despite life’s difficulties she was very blessed.

She embraced her life purpose: writing Simple Abundance, A Daybook of Comfort and Joy, a book designed to encourage and inspire other women.  It sold seven million copies.

gratitudeWhat we focus on expands. Our attention can be shifted from what isn’t working in our lives to what is. That one choice emboldens our perspective, and empowers our ability to create a life we love one moment at a time.

Tell me Dear Reader, why is that when I sit down to write these articles to you, I often realize the universe is writing them to me?  Just yesterday, I felt discouraged and overwhelmed.  I had big plans for a morning with the luxury of ‘free time.’ But urgent needs arose.

I received phone calls from people most important in my life, two of my daughters.  They were long calls, filled with great difficulties that each were facing. I was spent before I even hit my chair as a therapist.

Now, as I sit with the perspective of a good night’s sleep, I am astonished and a bit emotional about what a blessing it was that I wasn’t working; that I could be there for two of my precious girls; that they would call me to confide; and that together we could sort some things out and breathe hope back to life!

shutterstock_117391966-e1379103878346When I focus on the challenging events of life as being blessings versus burdens, I surrender to the reality that there is always something bigger going on in life that we can’t initially see. When we are open to the possibilities embedded in life’s difficulties we become humble enough to trust and see the wonder in it all.

I want to hold a place for the sacred feeling of well-being, even awe.  I was being reminded anew to ‘count my blessings.’

That is what Simple Abundance invites us to do—write down five things we are thankful for every day—a pretty simple path to a transformation of our outlook on life!

imgresI wonder, What are you paying attention to? Does it empower you, give you gratitude, lift your mood?

I knew a woman who was unjustly jailed. She was strip searched, put in a prison jump suit, and thrown in with other female prisoners who had committed serious crimes.  She was scared and sickened by how she could have ever ended up incarcerated with the kind of life she had been living — a good life.  Hers was a very minor infraction, more of a mistake than a crime.

But because of the person she is, even imprisoned she began to find comfort in the small things in life. She treasured the letters she received from her family. She was glad for work that kept her busy. She heard other women’s stories and realized how many resources she had in life that they didn’t.  She shifted her focus from her lack to theirs. When we embrace our blessedness, we enter a state of grace in which we experience wonder and abundance. We want to share that feeling.

ashd308015That was the experience of this heroine. She organized group prayer at night for those who wanted to join.  She taught them new hair styles and they spent time braiding each other’s hair. She listened to their stories and encouraged them.  Because of her attitude she went from being an inmate to being a ministering angel. Her focus on her own abundance, despite a grave difficulty, transformed her experience.

There will always be difficulties in life calling for our response.  We can shape our experience by keeping our eyes keenly trained on the blessings to be gleaned.  Gratitude is an awakening to the blessings cloaked in our difficulties.

Eagle silhouette in Kachemac Bay where many birds can be seenGratitude makes us happier, and more giving. It deepens our awareness and helps us wake up to the small wonders of life whether it’s seeing an eagle fly over our house or the miracle of a beating heart, ceaselessly lending us life, without conscious assistance from us.

It’s only fair to say that Sarah Ban Breathnach didn’t live happily ever after despite a focus on gratitude that led to enormous success and wealth. She lost everything!  But I feel certain, that among the losses she suffered, it didn’t include the loss of her grateful heart. She has a new book for children just out, it’s called The Best Part of the Day. Beautifully illustrated and lyrically written, this ‘goodnight’ story encourages children to find at least one moment in each day that is worthy of celebration.

Indeed there is a lot to celebrate in life despite our losses.

Comedian Martin Short’s new memoir, I Must Say, My Life as a Humble Comedy Legend, includes a very poignant part of his life story, the death of both parents and a brother before he was 20, and recently the death of his wife, Nancy Dolman.  In his book he reflects on how having an upbeat life philosophy has kept him resilient.

glass-half-full1It reminded me of one of my favorite quotes on gratitude, for which we owe Martin Short thanks.

“It’s not whether the glass is half empty, or half full,” he  said, “I’m just so glad I have a glass!”

Here’s wishing you the happiness that comes from giving thanks!


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Just Listen

“. . . We were changing the way we listen, pulling ourselves out of our usual orientation to the world based on our likes and dislikes . . . we were listening in a simpler and more open way . . . this exercise of listening in another way, turned out to be healing.” -Mark Epstein, MD, The Trauma of Everyday Life

I listen for a living.

woman-listeningAs a psychotherapist, each day, I focus my hearing on the thousands of words that are spoken by my clients as we navigate the sea of human suffering.  There are words of sorrow, anger, surprise, boredom, love, curiosity, fear, terror, discouragement, despair, and delight.

But despite all the words I’ve heard over the past dozen years, I am still learning the art of listening.

I noticed it recently.  During a session, many of the reflections I offered a client in response to her words, were refuted.  I hadn’t quite understood.

Most of us are not taught the skills and art of listening.  And we are distracted by the bings, blips, and tunes of our technology.  At best, we may try basic reflective listening where we hear what is said and repeat it back. But even that can feel contrived and artificial if our heart is not assisting our ears.

listen-to-your-heart-stephanie-estrinWe become “people hearing without listening,” as described by Simon and Garfunkel in their song, The Sound of Silence. There is a vast difference between hearing and truly listening.

Listening well deepens our experience of ourselves, others, and life itself. And it can be healing.

In a workshop he was presenting, Mark Epstein, author of The Trauma of Everyday Life, gave instructions to participants to leave their cell phones on during a meditation.  He writes in his book that he wanted to use sound “as an object of meditation rather than seeing it as an unwanted disturbance.”  (How often have our children’s whining voices become a burden rather than an opportunity?)

buddha“The zings and zats of sound lent an electrical charge to the meditation sparkling like slivers of stars in the stillness that settled over the group as we sat,” he wrote.

Comments followed the meditation.  A young woman, her voice quivering, shared that her father had died several months prior.  She had helped care for him in the year before and had assigned a special ringtone in her phone for him so she would know when he was calling.  After his death, she retired the ringtone versus using it for someone else.  She knew the sound of it would be unbearable.

But someone in the group had the same ringtone and it went off while they were sitting in meditation.  “It was like my father calling to me again—it brought him back,” she said. “ . . . I was afraid to face it, but it felt as if everyone was supporting me while I listened.  I was scared of what I would feel, but it was good.”

75065_10200567108925367_1634413325_nIndeed, true listening requires a certain vulnerability. Perhaps our fears block out what we need to hear whether listening to ourselves, others, or discomforting sounds in our world.

True listening also requires setting our own agenda aside.

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand,” writes Stephen R. Covey in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. “They’re filtering everything through their own paradigms, reading their autobiography into other people’s lives. . . they prescribe their own glasses for everyone with whom they interact.”

To truly listen to others and to our own inner voice also requires:

  • Receiving the message versus blocking it.
  • Releasing preconceived notions and templates
  • Replacing our judgments with curiosity.
  • Surrendering the compulsion to ‘fix’ by trusting the process.
  • Being present instead of distracted.
  • Practicing patience in the face of an urgency to respond.

It is also important to pay attention to word choice, nuances, facial expression, emotion, and tone.

elephant-paintingThere is an utter stillness, close to reverence, that tenderly enfolds a conversation as we listen this way.

Years ago, I worked with a woman who had been struck by lightning as an adolescent. She came to see me about a problem in her life that was keeping her stuck.  She often used the language of someone who has been victimized as she described the challenge she was dealing with.  In exploring her history, however, there was no evidence of abuse, neglect, or other victimizing events.  I was a fairly new therapist and knew hardly anything about being a lightning survivor.  She had told me during our first session, but other than a mild curiosity that she survived, I neglected asking more questions, not recognizing her trauma.

One day she was describing a recent disturbing conversation with a friend.  “It was like her accusations just came out of nowhere,” she said.  “It was so sudden it shocked me and I couldn’t believe the charge it had for me.”

Caught in the StormSuddenly my listening opened. I could scarcely breathe, quietly I replied, “Just like the lightning . . .”

She immediately began to cry and for the next three sessions all we talked about was the lightning strike she had suffered.  I learned of the pain she suffered for years, the months of hospitalization, the side effects still present in her life. I have since learned there is no explanation for how anyone survives lightning. A huge part of who she was had been cloaked until the moment I was really listening.

Sometimes it is very difficult to really listen to others for fear of getting hurt or seeing what we don’t want to see. Certain words and phrases can trigger our own history.

bigstock-Woman-In-Raincoat-Going-For-Bi-11599616Difficult conversations can be assisted by the metaphor of ‘the emotional raincoat,’ offered by Harville Hendix, PhD, in Getting the Love You Want, A Guide for Couples. We can imagine ourselves donning emotionally protective rain gear if what we are hearing is difficult. This is just a method for not taking something personally.  In therapy we call this skill ‘detachment.’ It’s a way to stay actively engaged in listening by kindly asking our ego to take a seat near the back of our psyche.

It’s worth it though. “Listening is the doorway to everything that matters,” writes Mark Nepo in his book, Seven Thousand Ways to Listen, Staying Close to What is Sacred.  This beautiful, revolutionary book resonates with countless reflections on the importance of listening to our inner most self—surely the foundation for being able to practice deep listening with others.

listen 2002Ironically he writes that he was “called to write” his book about listening without knowing that his hearing was breaking down.  “This holds a great lesson about a deeper kind of listening.” he writes. “For something deep was calling, drawing me to explore different ways of being.”

While learning to hear the lessons of his own hearing loss, he penned a book that reminds us to listen anew—to those closest to us, to strangers, to nature, to our own hearts, and even to the ‘sound of silence.’

He also reminds us that there are 7,000 living languages on the earth that we know of. “I realized,” he writes, “that if there are at least 7,000 ways to speak, there are at least 7,000 ways to listen.”

Our practice begins with offering our full presence to the act of listening.  Deep listening can become one of our most endearing ways of living.

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Creating Hope

“. . . when each day is the same as the next, it’s because people fail to recognize the good things that happen in their lives every day that the sun rises.”

–Paul Coelho, The Alchemist

“I was 41 and desperate.”

9780062315007_p0_v2_s260x420So writes Paul Coelho in the 25th anniversary copy of The Alchemist, his international bestseller.

His book had just been published in his native Brazil and sales were dismal.  One bookstore owner reported he had only sold two copies in a year.  The publishing house cancelled Coelho’s contract, completely wiping their hands of the project.

Despite his discouragement, Coelho was not one to lose hope.  After taking some time to regroup, he began knocking on the doors of other publishers until one gave him a second chance.

The book became an international bestseller, selling more than 65 million copies in 56 different languages. It is one of the best-selling books in history and set the record for most-translated book by a living author.

What I love about Paul Coelho is that he didn’t give up hope, nor did his endearing main character, Santiago.

the-alchemist1The story follows Santiago’s journey as an impoverished and homeless shepherd who travels from his homeland, Spain, to the Egyptian desert in search of a treasure he is told about in a dream.  His journey is more spiritual than material because of his open heart. Along the way he faces numerous obstacles—being robbed, beaten, and held captive.

But Santiago never gives up hope.  In each ordeal he discovers a new truth. He chooses to think of himself as an adventurer on an important quest, versus a victim. The treasure he does indeed discover on his journey if far greater than what he originally believed in. And during his journey he learns that everything in life has a price we have to be willing to pay if we want to turn life’s lead into gold. Alchemy was in fact a medieval science and philosophy that sought to do so.

lead-into-goldIn an alchemist’s language, an elixir is a base substance that can do just that.  And Hope is a quality that becomes an elixir for transforming life’s difficulties.

I have looked around my world recently and seen many reasons to be hopeful.  I’ve also noticed causes for concern, especially in the news—school shootings, brazen abductions, the rise of terrorism, and troops on their way back to Iraq.

There are many who deal daily with mental and physical health issues, financial strain and even poverty.  And as the holidays approach I am keenly aware of how one’s losses in life can make parts of the merriment painful.

Rereading The Alchemist inspired hope in me.

where-there-is-life-there-is-hopeWhat is hope? It’s a belief or expectation that something desired can or will happen.

One of the best pieces of counsel my dad gave me in the short 16 years I had him was this simple little adage: “Everything will work out.”  I find that holding that belief is such a practical application of hope.

So how do we create hope in our lives in the face of life’s difficulties?

186266_mountains-dress-god-hope-boats-praying-believe-vehicles-1280x1024-wallpaper_wallpaperbeautiful_18First, a commitment to the practice of hope can be claimed by reviewing current research on the benefits of living with hope.  People who have hope have less depression and anxiety. They recover from illness and injury more effectively and even live longer. They are more effective at problem solving and adapting to difficult circumstances.  And they have more positive relationships. In other words they are happier, healthier, and more effective in life.  Who doesn’t want that?

In my work as a psychotherapist there is no doubt that clients who have hope heal faster.  Some time ago I HelpforPTSDworked with a veteran who had been a prisoner of war in Iraq. His story was the most horrific I have ever been witness to.  I expected to be working with him for at least a year, but to my amazement it was just couple of months. This is not a reflection on those who may need years of therapy who suffer from PTSD.  It is a profoundly difficult condition that can be very tenacious.

What I discovered with my client though, was the power he gained by how he framed his story, the narrative he had developed in his mind about incredible suffering.  He focused on the strength he had gained from his experience. He also acknowledged and felt the profound grief left in the wake of his captivity.  And he accepted what were for him necessary limitations—such as not going to July 4th Firework shows.  He also had deep gratitude for life.

o-GRATITUDE-facebookI saw in him the importance of drawing some gold from the literal lead he had experienced from his bullet wounds. Like Santiago, he chose to transform the victimization he had suffered into empowerment by focusing on the strength, courage, and lessons he had gained and seeing his blessings in life.

Hope is also cultivated as we address our own ability to make our lives better. We can take action versus remaining passive.  Ask yourself, ‘what are my desires and what can I do to make them happen?’

Today I will write a recommendation for graduate school for a friend of mine who was widowed several years ago, leaving her a single mother in poverty with young children.  At every obstacle—and oh there have been so many discouraging obstacles—her response was, “What now?”  That didn’t mean she hasn’t grieved, asked ‘why,’ been depressed, discouraged, or angry. But she has summoned the strength to ultimately focus on action she could take to deal with the current challenge—whether it was getting the whole family into grief recovery groups, learning how to navigate the world of auto repairs, or just keeping food on the table.

full_08-small-victoriesHope is sustained when we focus on our small victories in life: passing a test, exercising, practicing self-care, thinking new thoughts, getting the laundry done, writing a difficult letter, cleaning out the junk drawer, learning new technology, balancing the check book, applying for a job or school, choosing a healthy snack, having patience with a difficult child .  . . or at least saying we’re sorry when we didn’t!

I believe hope is an attitude, a way of being in life. And as these brave examples I have shared today show, when we have hope, anything is possible – even gold!

Cool Images055


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November Reflections

“Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” –Hebrews 13:2

It’s November and it’s been raining nearly every day for three weeks.  I miss the sun, but there is something about rain that makes me want to nestle into my home and make soup from scratch.

I gathered the last of the little pumpkins from the voluntary yield created from last year’s seeds strewn in the compost pile.  I’ve placed them around our doorway, and added orange dahlias in blue vases here and there.

autumn_woman_with_teaNovember, with its turn to hearth and heart, invites looking inward, reflecting.

The year is almost over and I’ve been thinking back on the falsehoods I’ve released for new truths; the mistakes I’ve made and my creeping progress toward some growth; the burdens and the blessings; the sorrows and the joys.

Imagepp10Some of the shadows that fell across my doorstep this year did in fact feel like strangers…but strangers that turned out to be angels who came bearing unexpected gifts, which were at first cloaked.  One never knows when their burdens will turn out to be blessings.

In her insightful book, The Soft Addiction Solution: Break Free of the Seemingly Harmless Habits That Keep You from the Life You Want, Judith Wright invites us to want more!  Not more stuff, but more of the practices of healthy living that bring peace, joy, empowerment, and love.

Judith shares her story of struggling with what she calls, ‘soft addictions’ such as over-eating, over-spending and shopping, partying, watching T.V., etc. Despite her many achievements in life, including national prominence in two careers while she was still in her twenties, she felt “empty, unhappy, and desperate.”

In her work to help students with disabilities to successfully attend college, she noticed the students who were ‘always learning and growing’ inspired her.   She also was deeply touched by parents who released “the picture of the child they had imagined and came to accept and love the child they were given.”

I realized that is an important task of each of us in regard to our own lives.

Edward LamsonJudith discovered that these families who accepted what was had a higher quality of life than she did, despite her success.  They had embraced the stranger at their door and found angels.

“Their success in life had nothing to do with having the perfect circumstances and everything to do with” exercising the divine gift of choice. They had made the most of their lives.  “They had decided to embody an attitude of possibility and gratitude,” she writes.

She now had the motivation she needed to change her behavior. She realized she was spiritually hungry and decided to begin choosing activities and ways of being the refreshed, soothed, inspired and helped her to feel more alive. Her personal work eventually became her professional work.  She has written several books and does workshops to help people overcome ‘soft addictions’ and also create a life of meaning, fulfillment, and purpose.

I was inspired by her story and as I thought about my own negative habits a set of intentions began to pour out onto the paper I was using to take notes.

This is what I wrote:

I practice being more conscious, present, and alive.

Leonid AfremovI notice what feelings my actions bring.

I seek actions and activities that bring me feelings of contentment, peace, joy, empowerment, and love versus anxiety, guilt, regret, and disempowerment

I acknowledge that over-eating is a pseudo-replacement for love and that it is my heart that needs nourishment, not my stomach.

I nourish my heart by creating, helping others, engaging with people, learning, growing, writing, cooking, decorating, creating art, dancing, and listening to music.

I accept and love the life I have been given, even though it is sometimes different than the life I had imagined.

I commit to making the most of my life as it has been given to me, and to dwell in love and possibility. 

I choose to focus on all I have been given instead of what is missing.

I embrace my Divine Gift of Choice by choosing wisely.

I have a friend who has been in a life transformation for the past several years.  She and her young child were Karrie Evensonliving in a shelter with no means to support themselves.  She herself had been battling with alcohol and drugs for a long time. Through the support of others, her own strength of will, and divine grace, she was able to get treatment and gradually work through her addictions. She learned that sacrifice is giving up something of lesser value, for something of greater value.

Sure enough, as she changed her behavior, her life began to change. She was able to get housing. She started counseling to learn healthier ways of dealing with her emotions. She did volunteer work and began to explore what she believed spiritually, finding a community of like-minded people.

It was not happily ever after, but it was getting better one day at a time. She was creating a life that was solid. She was discovering her own power.  And in the process she found more peace, and even joy.

November provides the perfect backdrop to reflect on our lives and the year that is quickly coming to an end.  It offers a meditation on what we have learned, how we might change, and all that we have to be thankful for.  And as Thanksgiving approaches, it is an opportunity to remember the strangers at our door.

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